Today before any of the festivities of SVVR even got underway we got our first piece of news from the virtual reality space, Altspace is now officially live to everyone.
Altspace is a social platform for virtual reality that allows you to browse the internet, play games, watch Netflix, socialize, and more – all in a social environment with solid support for non-verbal forms of communication. “We believe that virtual reality is a new communication medium,” said Altspace founder and CEO Eric Romo. “In AltspaceVR, you feel as if you are there with someone, even if they are thousands of miles away.” That is truly the power of social VR – which has the potential to be a transformative medium for society.
Altspace’s approach to social VR makes use of simple, ‘Wall-E esque’ avatars. These friendly looking robots don’t run the risk of crossing the uncanny valley by any means, but that is the point – right now attempting to do so would result in more people being creeped out than anything. Rather, they are equipped with enough expressiveness – through use of things like the Kinect, or Leap Motion, and soon the HTC Vive. By adding some of the non-verbal communication back into the equation (which accounts for 92% of our communicative acts) we restore a lot more meaning into our online interactions – especially in group situations, where Altspace has thrived.
One of the things that has made Altspace and so successful has been its focus on events. From a Superbowl party, to Netflix nights, to Dungeons and Dragons sessions – Altspace is bringing people together along shared interests in ways that simply weren’t possible before. As an illustrative example, imagine being a displaced sports fan. You have been shipped out to a new city for work, but still want to follow your favorite team – and most importantly, be with other fans. Until now you had two options – try and find a ‘local fan bar’ in your area, which may or may not exist, or try something ridiculous like a Google Hangout with your friends while watching the game. Inefficient and ineffective. With Altspace you and your friends could stream the game in and watch together on the couch (and maybe even play some games all the while).