Q&A: Colopl VR Fund chief speaks to the state of VR dev in Japan

After announcing one of the largest VR development funds in the world, Colopl Next CEO Shintaro Yamakami shares his perspective on where VR is at in Japan, especially among Japanese game makers.

Let's talk a bit about the state of VR game development in Japan.

That's what I asked Shintaro Yamakami, CEO of Colopl Next, after we learned last month that his company would be managing Colopl's new $50 million fund for VR game developers.

It's not limited to Japanese developers, either -- Yamakami says Western developers are encouraged to apply for financing through the Colopl VR fund. It's one of the largest VR development funds in the world, and it's coming from a company that many in the West have never heard of.

Colopl Next is a subsidiary of Colopl Inc., a major Japanese mobile game company well-known for (among other things) operating the free-to-play mobile hit White Cat Project, which launched in 2014 and has since proven popular enough to merit multiple spin-offs (including a version for the West called Colopl Rune Story) and make Colopl one of the most valuable mobile game companies in the world last year.

Now Colopl is funneling some of that money into development of VR hardware and software, something it's already begun experimenting with by prototyping its own VR games (pictured) and experiences. In a brief back-and-forth via email Yamakami shared his perspective on Colopl's interest in VR, and I've taken the liberty of excerpting the relevant bits here to shed a bit of light on where the Japanese game industry (or at least, one of its bigger mobile players) feels about the future of VR development.

In your opinion, how do Japanese game developers feel about VR?

Yamakami: Japanese game developers have always valued VR and the potential it has. It should not be forgotten that Nintendo once dabbled in the space back in the 1990s! And Sony is about to launch their PlayStation VR device with a healthy lineup of games coming this year.

What's the state of public opinion of VR in Japan, and how do you think that differs from other regions?

At this moment on the developer side, there has been a little less activity around creating VR-focused content compared to overseas; the Japanese games industry dedicated the most resources to console and mobile game development.

However, since the release of Samsung Gear VR, consumer excitement here has been growing and I believe it will only speed up once other devices like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR become publicly available. Seeing content is king when it comes to making VR a success in any region, I predict Japanese developers will ramp up the release of software as these upcoming devices approach their launch dates. Our job then is to make Colopl a vanguard in leading VR content development in Japan.

What attracted Colopl to VR, and why is it choosing to pour resources into VR hardware/software development instead of, say, mobile game development?

Mobile games will always be the crux of our business. It is an established platform that isn’t going away anytime soon. Colopl is attracted to VR for the same reason we were attracted to mobile games in the first place -- it has potential to be that device that changes the way we consume media and entertainment.

The dedication of the VR development community and companies like Facebook betting big bucks on the head-mounted displays before their launch show that VR has potential to make the impact the iPhone did on consumers less than 10 years ago. And in order to push it over the edge, it requires as much support it can get from the games industry, where its strongest supporters are.

How do you plan to distribute the money in the Colopl VR Fund?

The Colopl VR Fund is not exclusive to nor focused on any one country. It is aimed at any developer creating an interesting game, development tool, or new technology related to VR. Funding amount will be decided depending on the growth stage of the product and the size of each company. There is so much potential for the VR platform and we are open to proposals from any developers looking to disrupt the space.

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