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Brexit: VR’s Newfound Foe?

Brexit: VR’s Newfound Foe?

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Two days ago, Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, officially commencing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This is no surprise, as it’s been nine months’ in the making , since this past Summer 2016’s historic referendum that announced the Brexit plan which in turned began discourse in the UK’s VR world.

The referendum announcement was enough to call into question the UK’s relationship with the rest of the world and the value of the pound plummeted. In the following weeks, HTC raised the price of its Vive VR headset from £689 to £759, the price that still stands today. Oculus, also raised the price of its Rift from £499 to £549 when it launched at domestic retailers. Rift has since brought the price back to £499 for UK customers, making it neck-and-neck with the $499 US price tag, however the is before conversions. $499 converts to £401.60, so Britons are now paying nearly £100 more for the same HMD.

Although the hardware pricing is something that is tangibly already hurting VR sales, as its price point prior to the increase was already considered the biggest obstacle for the technology’s adoption, the future of VR employment and partnerships are being called into question.

Employment obstacles seem to be the most realistically feared sector in VR, as much remains unknown legally so far. Simon Barratt from Raiders of Erda developer Cooperative Innovations, believes employment in VR might change. “It’s unclear right now what will happen in terms of EU citizens which are a major part of the UK industry workforce. We need this issue resolved as soon as possible.” At the same time, it’s not going to stop Barratt’s team from reaching far with its recruitment: “We’re pushing on with recruitment of UK, EU and International talent for Raiders of Erda and our other projects,” he says.

Tom Beardsmore of Esper and Augmented Empire developer Coatsink, is perhaps most alarmed,  disclosing that the company is even considering shifting location based on Brexit. “We’ve thought about it a lot, we’ve discussed it a lot. We want as big as a talent pool as we possibly can,” Beardsmore states. Brexit might take away from that.

Partnerships are another aspect being called into question. While some developers applying a simple model to make money out of VR in creating and selling products, others rely on key partnerships to make branded content as a major source of income. These are global partnerships that affect brands and products the world over, and larger clients often have their pick of who to source. However it seems unlikely that Brexit will so cause so much ill will that could dampen developers from wanting to collaborate.

Tim Edwards of newly-established VR/AR innovation studio Giznode doesn’t think Brexit will destroy the UK’s partnerships. “Typically we create experimental applications and prototypes with mostly finance companies,” Edwards says. “We haven’t yet been given any reason to assume that our clients would cease development with us because of Brexit.”

Key to that remaining the case, though, will be support from the UK government. “As the government work out how to make us more competitive globally I would like to see a ramp up in subsidies and grants for VR developers,” Edwards adds. “The UK now leads the way in VFX for films thanks to government support and it would be good to see that strategy used to help make the UK one of the leaders in VR development.” Additionally many of the UK’s VR partners are located in the US, and therefore, shouldn’t be affected.

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