We’ve reached out to Google for confirmation.
Update: A Google spokesperson responded to TechCrunch with a statement confirming the shutdown. “Since its inception, Spotlight Stories strove to re-imagine VR storytelling. From ambitious shorts like Son of Jaguar, Sonaria and Back to The Moon to critical acclaim for Pearl (Emmy winner and first-ever VR film nominated for an Oscar) the Spotlight Stories team left a lasting impact on immersive storytelling. We are proud of the work the team has done over the years.”
“Google Spotlight Stories means storytelling for VR. We are artists and technologists making immersive stories for mobile 360, mobile VR and room-scale VR headsets, and building the innovative tech that makes it possible,” the group’s site reads.
The Spotlight Stories team was part of the company’s Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) group. Much like Facebook’s ill-fated Oculus Story Studio, there was never a big focus on monetizing what was being created internally.
The studio’s best-received work, “Pearl,” was nominated for an Academy Award and won an Emmy in 2017. The group also worked with Wes Anderson to bring a VR behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of his film “Isle of Dogs.” In November, the group released its last major work, “Age of Sail,” a narrative film that could be watched on mobile and high-end VR systems.
Google has made significant investments in AR and VR, but has allowed competitors like Facebook and Apple to surpass their consumer efforts.
Google’s efforts on its VR program went full throttle in 2016 and early 2017 while the company sought to keep pace with Samsung, which was aggressively hocking mobile hardware it had built alongside Oculus. It’s rumored the company made significant changes to its immersive divisions after Apple introduced ARKit in mid-2017, aggressively shifting resources from its VR division to AR projects like its ARCore mobile augmented reality platform.
The company has not updated its Daydream View VR headset since 2017; it has ceded most of its ground to Oculus as it allowed products like Lenovo’s Daydream View to die on the shelf as it failed to make updates to its platform or direct significant resources to bringing new content on board. Now, with the reported shutdown of Spotlight Stories, the company is making it clear it doesn’t think building their own content is the right approach either.