'James Bond' studio MGM backs virtual reality start-up Survios in Hollywood's latest VR investment

Movie and television studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has invested in Culver City virtual reality gaming start-up Survios, marking the latest move by Hollywood to bet on the cutting-edge entertainment technology.

Survios, founded in 2013 to make games for virtual reality devices, said Tuesday it has closed two separate rounds of funding totaling $50 million, led by New York-based investment firm Lux Capital and Beverly Hills-based MGM, respectively. MGM Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Barber will take a seat on Survios’ board of directors, the company said. 

Nate Burba, Survios’ 31-year-old co-founder and CEO, said his company will use the additional capital to grow its 60-employee staff, develop more gaming titles and expand internationally. He said MGM, known for movies such as the enduring James Bond franchise, is an ideal investor because of its knowledge of the traditional entertainment industry and its vast library of films and TV shows. 

“They’re the perfect partner to learn from,” Burba said. “We wanted a partner who understands how to develop, produce and release high-end creative content. … They definitely have a robust catalog of titles to explore, and we’re excited to get into that.” 

Burba wouldn’t say what MGM properties they might consider adapting for the nascent virtually reality industry. Besides “007,” MGM’s film library includes “Rocky,” “RoboCop,” “The Hobbit” and “The Magnificent Seven.” Its James Bond super-spy property already has been featured in popular, more traditional video games. 

Studios including Lionsgate, STX Entertainment and 20th Century Fox have partnered with and acquired virtual reality start-ups to make movie-based games and “experiences” to promote their releases. Lionsgate and VR producer Starbreeze recently unveiled a headset game based on its “John Wick” Keanu Reeves franchise. 

But VR remains a wait-and-see bet for many in Hollywood as manufacturers such as Oculus, HTC and Sony try to get their pricey devices into the hands of more consumers. A standard virtual reality setup costs hundreds of dollars. 

Survios is best known for its game “Raw Data,” a first-person robot-blasting game for HTC’s Vive device. The company is working to adapt the game for other platforms, and add other games to its library.

“We’re definitely in the early stages of a growing industry,” Burba said. “There’s still an incredible amount of potential in the market.”

MGM has continued to mine its storied film library in recent years, with mixed results at the box office. This year’s “Magnificent Seven” remake starring Denzel Washington was a multiplex winner, but “Ben-Hur” flopped. Much of the company’s revenue comes from licensing its films for television networks. 

MGM also has a growing TV production business that includes shows like Mark Burnett’s “Shark Tank” and “Survivor.” The company in January took full control of United Artists Media Group, which was previously a joint venture with Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey. 

ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

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