Building an ecosystem that can sustain a production chain and generate investment return will be key to the future of virtual reality content development in Taiwan, says HTC, a tech giant headquartered on the self-governed island.

Reaching out to a global network of co-producers, investors and distributors of VR content will be the next important step to enhance the production and further expand the international market for Taiwan’s VR content, said Liu Szu-Ming, president of content arm HTC Vive Originals.

“HTC has been striving to boost its hardware development while building a VR ecosystem in Taiwan. Once we have a healthy ecosystem in place, we can attract more developers and players to complete the VR production chain,” Liu told Variety.

With seven works showcased at this week’s Venice Film Festival, Taiwan is demonstrating its VR content development potential.

Five Taiwanese productions backed by Taiwan Creative Content Agency have been shortlisted to compete in the Venice VR Expanded section, a record achievement for the agency established under the Executive Yuan and the Ministry of Culture. Two further works from Kaohsiung VR Film Lab have also been selected for the Out of Competition section Best of VR and the Special Project in the Official Selection’s Out of Competition category.

“The Sick Rose,” a stop-motion animated short featuring the traditional dough figurines produced by HTC Vive Originals, plays in one of the competition slots. Liu said the company has been trying to boost its development in both hardware and software. Its latest offering, shot in 8K S3D macro photography, is a statement piece on what the tech giant strives to achieve.

Although HTC Vive Originals has been producing VR content that has been gaining international recognition since 2019, when five of its productions were selected for Venice VR Expanded, Liu says it will require greater effort to build a VR ecosystem on the island.

“The current market for VR is not that mature, as there is still limited investment return. As a result, availability of funding is also limited, both in Taiwan and the rest of the world,” Liu said.

Government grants and public funding are currently the prime sources of funding for VR productions, Liu says. Only those companies which have specific demand for VR content are willing to make strategic investments in the field, while others watch on the sidelines.

“Hence we want to develop a full-fledged VR ecosystem to groom developers,” he said. “With more content available in the market and growth in the IP market, we expect angel investors to come into the VR industry. When the industry grows further and production scales up, commercial investors will then take follow.”

HTC Vive Originals has also been building a global network to export Taiwan’s VR content to the world, said Liu. The company has teamed up with Astrea, a distribution company handling international sales covering Europe and North America, to expand its VR content’s global licensing, while HTC itself handles Asian territories. “Whether it is co-production, co-investment and distribution, collaboration with others is necessary to turn VR content production into a real industry,” he said.

Taiwan VR Films in Venice 2021 Festival: Competition

“The Sick Rose” (HTC Vive Originals, Taiwan)
Dirs: Tang Chi-Chung, Huang Yun-Sian (aka Tang Zhi-Zhong and Huang Yun-Hsieh).
Synopsis: With a magical rose, a little girl is going to travel through a city filled with viruses and indifference, in order to dedicate the rose to her mother on the front-line in hospital.

Samsara (Virtual and Physical Media Integration Association of Taiwan)
Dir: Huang Hsin-Chien
Synopsis: A protagonist escapes to a new planet after the earth nuclear destruction, but finds that he/she returns to learn the profound lessons of life.

“The Last Worker” (Oiffy LLP, Wolf & Wood, Pumpkin Studio, U.K.-Taiwan)
Dir: Joerg Tittel
Synopsis: The player, in the body of Kurt, the last human worker in the JFC-1 fulfilment center, experiences a brutal power fantasy, dives into Kurt’s past and meets Kurt’s broken co-bot, Skew, as their old work routine is about to be disrupted forever.

“The Starry Sand Beach” (Lucid Realities, Oready, Taiwan, France) 
Dirs: Nina Barbier, Huang Hsin-Chien
Synopsis: A scientific fairy tale about the starry grains of sand found on multiple beaches across the East China Sea and a mythical sea serpent.

“Bedlam” (El-Gabal, Taiwan, U.K., France)
Dir: Mat Collishaw
Neither a game or an educational tool, “Bedlam” is an artwork, attempting to reflect on the human condition, relationships with technology, perceptions of reality and the appetite for spectacle.

Best of VR-Out of Competition
“Speak to Awaken Ep.2 Kusunda”( NowHere Media, Taiwan, Germany) 
Dirs: Gayatri Parameswaran, Felix Gaedtke
Synopsis: a voice-driven VR experience about the sleeping Kusunda language in western Nepal, it is also an inter-generational story.

 Special Project in the Official Selection
“In the Mist” ( Very Theatre and Very Mainstream Studio, Taiwan)
Dir: Chou Tung-Yen
Synopsis: An unspeakable life experience of the gay community culture, exploring a male sauna through poetic lenses.