AltspaceVR’s large-scale event platform debuts with comedian Reggie Watts

Reggie Watts. (image courtesy Reggie Watts.)
Reggie Watts. (image courtesy Reggie Watts.)

AltspaceVR, the leading virtual reality social platform, announced a new event tool today, FrontRow, that can scale up to tens of thousands of simultaneous users. The technology will make its public debut tomorrow night with comedian Reggie Watts, who currently leads the house band for The Late Late Show with James Corden.

Other social platforms also support virtual reality, but AltspaceVR has been VR-centered right from the start.

“People often say ‘we support Oculus Rift’ but that support is unused or hardly finished,” AltspaceVR CEO Eric Romo told Hypergrid Business. “We’ve been designed for virtual reality. That’s the focus of how everything in the product works.”

How it works

There are typically three main ways to get a lot of avatars into a single event space.

The Second Life approach is to put four regions together, and put the performers on the corner where all four regions meet. But the total number of attendees is still limited to the combined total number of avatars each of the four regions can support.

The OpenSim Distributed Scene Graph approach is to distribute the workload of supporting all the avatars between multiple servers. Intel first contributed the code in 2011, and the U.S. Army has been experimenting with it since then but it hasn’t been used for any public events yet. Learn more here.

Utherverse, a virtual world focused on adult content, has an approach where the event venue is duplicated as many times as necessary. Each copy of the venue holds a different group of avatars, but the stage area is shared across all the copies, so that all attendees see the same performance. This allows an unlimited number of avatars to attend the same event and interact with their friends who sit near them. Last year, the platform hosted 8,000 attendees at the Adult Entertainment Virtual Convention. However, although Utherverse does have experimental Oculus Rift support via its Curio browser, most if not all attendees attended via the standard desktop-based client.

The AltspaceVR approach is very similar to that of Utherverse. The venue is duplicated as many times as necessary, while the stage area remains the same. All attendees see the same performance but anyone, if they want, can sit in the front row.

A front row seat in AltspaceVR. (Image courtesy Altspace VR.)
A front row seat in AltspaceVR. (Image courtesy Altspace VR.)

“If you have a good seat, its a drastically different experience, its a totally different experience than sitting in the back,” said Romo. “We have made it so that literally everyone can get a front-row seat.”

The sound varies based on where the user sits, he added.

“The sound is attenuated,” he said.

As a result, attendees feel that they are actually in the same physical space with the performer. “You feel like you are in that crowd.”

The platform also allows users to sit near their friends, he added.

“If you want to just attend by yourself or with another person, you can do that,” he said. “If you want to attend with a group of 50 friends or 100 friends, you can do that. If you want to go to public space, and just attend with a group of random people, you can do that.”

Reggie Watts’ performance

Typically, AltspaceVR users choose from a few hundred different humanoid avatars or robots, but the company created a custom avatar for Watts.

In addition, he will be wearing a full-body motion capture suit during his performance allowing him to walk around the stage and gesture. AltspaceVR is one of the few platforms today that support gestures, with support for Perception Neuron and Leap Motion input devices.

Reggie Watts' avatar. (Image courtesy Altspace VR.)
Reggie Watts’ avatar. (Image courtesy Altspace VR.)

The AltspaceVR avatars are not realistic or as highly detailed as some of those in desktop-based virtual worlds, but that is a deliberate choice, said Romo.

In virtual reality, there’s a higher feeling of physical presence, and when you are next to another avatar, looking at them directly in the face, there’s a very clear view of their facial expressions.

Eric Romo
Eric Romo

“If you’re looking in the eye of another avatar, and they’re very detailed but not animated, it can be very creepy,” Romo said.

It’s the uncanny valley effect, where avatars that are almost but not quite human can be extremely disturbing, so AltspaceVR has decided to go with simpler avatars that don’t trigger this negative reaction.

“Most people’s assumption is that they want a hyper-realistic avatar, but what they feel after they use the product is quite the opposite,” he said. “If you sat and looked at an avatar with a face that didn’t look the right way your brain would think that something was wrong.”

Watts will perform live at 8 p.m. Pacific on Thursday, May 26, in what AltspaceVR expects to be the largest public event in VR so far.

AltspaceVR currently supports the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and the Samsung GearVR headsets, which, combined, have more than a million current users.

AltspaceVR does not yet have support for Cardboard-compatible headsets.

“Working with AltspaceVR has allowed us to create a digital stage, bringing our favorite comedians to an audience that was unimaginable even a few months ago,” said Brett Kushner, Director of JASH VR Studio, in a statement. “Taking shows that might normally play in a 100-seat theater in Los Angeles and bringing them to an infinite-seat theater with a worldwide audience is proof that there’s a global appetite for quality comedic experiences.”

JASH is the first entertainment company to open a VR comedy stage, and Reggie Watts’ performance will mark the launch of a whole series of VR comedy programs.

Maria Korolov