VR Maker Vrse Gets a New Name—Within—and Millions in Funding
Virtual reality is on fire. Oculus and Vive headsets are making their way into homes, filmmakers are starting to experiment with it, and investors are lining up to get in on the fun. But even as consumers try to figure out where VR fits into their lives, the people who have been working with the tech for a while are looking for the next phase of its development. Today’s example? VR outfit Vrse, which is changing its name to Within.
The name shift, according to co-founder and CTO Aaron Koblin, isn’t about leaving VR behind, just accepting that the kind of storytelling his company wants to do can go beyond it. “There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of hype around VR these days, and what we’re trying to think about is the big story around narrative and around storytelling,” Koblin says. His co-founder, Chris Milk, announced the name change today at the WIRED Business Conference and in a Medium post. “Making virtual versions of the real world isn’t really what we’re after,” Koblin says. “Even the idea of open-ended virtual reality is very different from a very craft-driven, experiential virtual reality, which is more where we want to be.”
Leaving Vrse behind for Within signals more than just a move away from the vowel-averse nomenclature of Silicon Valley. (Ever since the original name was announced, the company has struggled to explain how to pronounce it—it was “verse,” and it wasn’t an acronym. “It was doing lot of things—and not doing any of them right,” Koblin says.) It’s also a move toward significant Silicon Valley backing. With the new name, the company also announced a $12.56 million funding round, lead by VC mega-firm Andreessen Horowitz, which also led their seed round.
That’s just the latest cash infusion into the VR/AR space. Ever since Facebook bought Oculus for an astounding $2 billion, investors have been looking for ways to back VR/AR companies. Augmented reality company Magic Leap raised $793.5 million earlier this year. Disney lead a $65 million investment round in VR equipment company Jaunt last year. And just yesterday VR studio Felix & Paul announced their $6.8 million Series A funding round, which was lead by Comcast.
Like Jaunt and Felix & Paul, Within also has a Hollywood investor: 21st Century Fox. “You can read into that as you will,” Koblin said of the Fox investment, declining to elaborate on what that meant for his company’s forays into movie-related content. (Another Within backer is Megan Ellison’s indie powerhouse studio, Annapurna Pictures.)
At minimum, the new investment means that Within can draw from California’s sometimes unconnected creative communities. “It’s really the fusion of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Hollywood meets San Francisco,” Koblin says. “There’s so much hype and excitement and there’s barely any content still… [But] I think this going to be a very big year.” And that goes well beyond a mere name-change.
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