Thoughts on Slush Play, 2nd edition

On Friday the second edition of Slush Play came to close, after two days packed with talks and panels about VR and gaming. All in all, it was a great event and the Icelandic Startups team deserves great praise for their work.

Iceland’s VR ambitions

Over the recent months, people and pundits have described Iceland as a (or the) place for VR. Journalists have announced that we’re in a VR boom and we’ve asked whether Iceland can become VR valley (link). There are promising signs. CCP’s big fundraise and launch of both Gunjack and Valkyrie. Sólfar’s Everest and RVX’s decision to focus on VR. Aldin Dynamic’s Waltz of the Wizard and data platform, and Breakroom’s productivity software. All are innovative VR products produced right here in Iceland.

In the Nordics, Iceland is definitely punching above its weight. We learned on Wednesday at the warmup event that Iceland has attracted 35% of the VR investments in the Nordics in the last year. Although CCP’s $30m investment is a big part of that, it’s only one of seven investments in the space over the last two years.

Becoming a hub for VR is possible, or at least people in the industry believe so. In our newest podcast, CCP’s new GM Stefanía G. Halldórsdóttir said she was optimistic for the outlook for VR in Iceland. In his talk, Lawnmower Man director Brett Leonard said that innovation in VR storytelling would happen outside Hollywood. Following that he believed Iceland could become a hub for VR content.

Icelandic Startups team on stage receiving applause

Where Slush Play fits in

Slush Play, second edition, showed that it’s possible to bring together VR and gaming professionals from all over to Iceland. The schedule was full, interesting, and diverse. In addition to bringing people to Iceland, the event brought together the local industry for a two-day extravaganza. I foresee two important functions for the event going forward.

Firstly, as speakers mentioned, we might very well enter a desert walk in the next years. Fewer investments and less general interest. It’s part of the classic hype cycle, and the Icelandic community should be prepared for it. Continuing the event and growing it all the way through a desert walk is important. That way, when VR is closer to mainstream, one of the most relevant events will be in Iceland. Because when VR gets closer to mainstream, VR events will start popping up all over the world. Having a 5 year-old proven event happening in Iceland competing for attention will be a great asset for the Icelandic community.

Secondly, Slush Play can build interest in the field from both the public and students. Introducing engineering and design students to the world of VR will further the chances of Iceland becoming relevant in the space. As we all know, talent is very important.

Of course, not everything was perfect. The venue, Austurbær, was beautiful and cozy but was on two floors, which hindered the flow of people. It was also a bit cramped during breaks. The lecture hall could have had more attendees (a big part of the seats were behind an “off-limits” tape). In hindsight, filling the room with students by giving away free tickets might have been a good idea. To be fair, both these points were minor and didn’t hurt the experience.

All in all – great event, promising outlook. Excited for next time.