Christopher Nolan’s "Dunkirk" hits theaters later this month, and as has become customary for big movie titles, there’s a VR experience about the film. Unlike most VR movie tie-ins, though, the Dunkirk VR experience isn’t meant to be exclusive to premium VR. Warner Bros. went with the WebVR platform to make it accessible to a wider audience.
Actually a collaboration with the Google Chrome VR team, Jam3, and Google Zoo (Google’s in-house creative think tank), the "Dunkirk" WebVR experience puts you in the shoes of a soldier on the beach, trying desperately to reach the rescue ship. You must traverse the sandy beach while avoiding a rain of bullets and mortars and swim through the choppy waters to the ship without drowning.
It’s not uncommon for new movies to have virtual reality experiences to go along with them. VR is a compelling tool for marketing and Hollywood studios are taking advantage of the new medium. Some examples of VR tie-ins for blockbuster movies include the Paranormal Activity game, which debuted alongside the most recent Paranormal Activity movie, and the John Wick game, which launched around the same time as John Wick 2 hit theaters. Both of those experiences are premium games that take advantage of the HTC Vive and its room-scale tracking and motion controllers for input. Warner Bros. chose a much more accessible platform for the Dunkirk VR experience: WebVR.
Google and Mozilla introduced WebVR 1.0 in March 2016. We haven’t written much about the platform yet because it isn’t yet widely used, but that is about to change. In April, Google announced that WebVR support would be added to the Google Cardboard platform. In June, Mozilla announced that the WebVR API would be built into Firefox version 55, which is due for release in early August. The Dunkirk VR experience is the first piece of WebVR content that we're aware of that was created for Hollywood, but it could be a sign of things to come.
The primary benefit of building VR content with the WebVR API is accessibility. You can view WebVR content from a wide range of devices, and WebVR content automatically supports all WebVR-compatible platforms. From a marketing perspective, WebVR is far superior to the Oculus or SteamVR platforms because the potential userbase isn’t as restricted by hardware choice; you can also view WebVR content with mobile VR devices, such as Cardboard and Daydream headsets, for example. Although you'll have to watch it in 2D, you don’t even need a VR HMD to enjoy the WebVR content, because it's also accessible from a standard smartphone browser and even from your PC’s web browser.