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VDA Q&A: AltspaceVR





You’ve just been nominated for a Viveport Developer Award. How do you feel?


We are thrilled to be nominated for a Viveport Developer Award, and particularly to be the first nominee in the Connect category! Of all of the possibilities of  VR, we are most excited about its potential as a new communications medium that lets people connect from wherever they are in the world and really feel like they are together.


Where did the idea for AltspaceVR come from?


When we were experimenting with an early demo in 2013 we realized how much we actually felt as if we were together, even when we were miles, or in some instances thousands of miles apart. It became clear that VR could help people connect in ways that are not possible otherwise. Our mission became to develop VR as a new communications medium.


How big is your team and how long did it take to develop?


We are nearly 40 people working from locations worldwide and operating 24/7.


What goes into producing a live event for AltspaceVR, such as a Reggie Watts stand up session or an Al Roker appearance?


For these events we are have been bringing experimental formats and new technology together for the first time, live in front of an audience.  For example, FrontRow™, the first technology to allow unlimited participants simultaneously in VR, had its debut the night Reggie attracted a record-setting audience.


For NBC News Virtual Democracy Plaza, we recreated an existing, complex urban environment and went live with a series of new program formats and new applications for our feature set. Meanwhile, there are a myriad of other variables such as hardware and software in VR is changing constantly and we seem to get updates at the worst possible time. Operations, Engineering, Customer Relations, and the whole company needs to be alert and working together because the show must go on!


Tell us something about AltspaceVR that we wouldn’t know from just experiencing it on Viveport?


If you click on AltspaceVR in Viveport and read the description you see that we have highlighted multiple different activities. But this does not show the full breadth what is available--the largest selection in social VR. You can join others for NBC News coverage of the US Election or Reggie Watts comedy events; play  card games such as Holograms Against Humanity; or tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons; listen to a DJ heat up a cool club environment, compete in AntiHedral, a new 1st person shooter game, or just hang out and watch videos. New events and activities are added constantly.


During the development process, did anything surprise you along the way you didn’t expect? 


We continue to be surprised by how great the users are. We are developing and experimenting rapidly--things change overnight. The users have been extremely understanding and helpful if something doesn’t  go as planned, needs improvement or change. We simply could not have made the progress as fast as we have without the users working with us and helping us to learn.


What differentiates AltspaceVR from other social or communication platforms?


AltspaceVR is different from other social VR offerings in several ways. We are focused on people connecting with others to do things they would ordinarily do in real life, such as play Dungeons and Dragons, see a comedy show, or just hang out and watch some videos.  We provide the widest range of activities available in VR and expect this to continue to grow. And, since we want to maximize access between friends, we are cross-platform: HTC Vive of course, but also Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR.


Anything you can share as to upcoming features for the platform or marquee partnerships like Virtual Democracy Plaza with NBC News?


NBC News is a major media company using social VR to engage with their audience and this is breaking new ground for their industry as well as ours. VR represents a new communications medium for NBC News to reach their viewers. And Virtual Democracy Plaza brings a new type of content (political, election news) and new program formats to VR. This could appeal to new segments of the population, and expand programming in the VR market.


What do you hope people take away from AltspaceVR overall?


Relationships are about shared experiences. VR can be a unifying technology, letting people overcome boundaries to connect and really feel as if they are together, no matter where they are.


What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other developers?


Experiment, try stuff, don’t hold back! We are all benefiting from the developers’ go-for-it attitude. The VR market offers tremendous potential, but it needs developers with a pioneering spirit.


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