Could social platforms Altspace and Geekzonia help give VR a shot in the arm?

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It’s fair to say that the virtual and augmented reality market has grown significantly since 2010 when American teenager Palmer Luckey first created his VR headset prototype, which later evolved into the Oculus Rift.

Yet despite the growing fascination with both AR and VR, the number of actual users still remains quite low – an estimated 43m worldwide – while sales of virtual reality headsets in 2016 have so far fallen below expectations. Playstation VR, for example, was expected to sell 2.6m units but has this has since dropped to 750,000.

The lack of quality content and games has been partly been blamed for low sales figures with even popular VR games like Out of Ammo failing to make money for developers. See our story here.

What’s more, there are also other issues to contend with. The technology itself is by no means ‘there yet’ with visuals and resolutions currently lagging way behind that of standard computer games.

Also there is some evidence that the bulkiness and imposing style of the headsets (necessary because of the amount of computing power required for the headset to work) may also be holding back sales.

Virtual wedding

However, could this be about to change with the emergence of a new type of VR called Social VR which instead of relying on expensive and not always brilliant computer games uses the benefits of the technology for social interaction over a new medium?

San Francisco-based social VR platform AltspaceVR certainly hopes so. Undoubtedly, the most established of the social VR platforms to date it worked with US TV network NBC on a number of VR events during the recent US election and has also just announced the first VR wedding.

As Altspace VR Founder Eric Romo told The Guardian: “I thought it (the VR wedding) was perfect. This is exactly […] the sort of thing we think is a really good use of the technology. What we’re trying to do is bring people together and make them feel connected in a way that we can’t on a phone call or video chat.”

The wedding will take place at a virtual nightclub called the Spire, complete with a red mottled sky and lava lake. Cardiff couple Martin Shervington and Elisa Evans have invited 150 of their friends and family to attend – many of whom wouldn’t have attended a real-life wedding in Cardiff.

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Nor is Altspace alone in the Social VR space. Now there’s another social VR outfit called Geekzonia. The brainchild of Carina and Stephen Walsh and CEO Peter Dobson (the faces behind comic book shop and cafe chain Geek Retreat, which has stores in Glasgow, Newcastle and Birmingham), it is set to offer a free social, entertainment and retail space, built to be experienced entirely in virtual reality.

Last month, it launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and is hoping to raise $40,000 USD (£32,000 GBP) in funding by April. 

Aimed at geeks, VR and tech enthusiasts and people with passions, Geekzonia uses Improbable’s SpatialOS platform to build a social haven for users to get together and share their interests in a new environment.

Create your own avatar

According to the press blurb, Geekzonia will ‘transport users into a virtual world divided by separate zones of sci-fi, horror, fantasy and more. Each zone will allow users to explore content from watching the latest movie trailer to shopping merchandise at a comic store.’

Launching in August 2017, users will be able to download and install Geekzonia from one of the VR app stores, like Oculus or Steam, and they can build a unique avatar along with a profile detailing their interests. These interests will allow the platform to notify the user of potential like-minded friends and build upon their social experience.

Says Stephen Walsh, co-founder:

“If you’re a geek like us, the potential of Virtual Reality makes you giddy. Growing up, the idea of virtual worlds was the work of Science Fiction, from The Matrix to the Holodeck in Star Trek.

“Geekzonia is turning Science Fiction into Science FACT, creating a Universe that hosts unlimited VR users and delivering a 24/7 Comic-Con of WONDER. We’re so excited to open the floodgates and get Geeks investing in a world they’re really passionate about.”

Geekzonia Indiegogo campaign

Planned VR events on Geekzonia 

  • Fan Hangouts – head to the Sci-Fi Zone, join international fan group discussions about Doctor Who, automatically find friends who love the same fandoms as you do and regularly meet up in a space port, even if they live oceans away in real life.

  • Quiz Shows pitting fan groups against each other, with themed rounds like Name the Super Hero! Sing that Theme Tune! Reenact this Scene!

  • Viewing Parties for live events like eSports Tournaments or exclusive 360° trailers and Movies.

  • Workshops with eSports coaches, Comic Book writers/artists, Cosplayers, VR Vloggers or even Virtual Sculptors so you can learn how to create your own Avatar Cosplays, that you could then make and sell.

  • Virtual Shops where staff working in a Virtual World, will be able to communicate face to face with worldwide customers like never before.

  • Celebrity meet & greets, enabling users to chat to the stars of geek culture, just like you would at a real world comic-con

Chris Price

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