All posts in “Vr”

HTC debuts original Ready Player One content for the Vive

While some don’t care for the hit novel Ready Player One, it’s hard to deny that the book captured the hearts and minds of millions as it climbed the NYT Bestseller’s list in 2011.

At the end of this month, a film adaptation of the book, directed by Stephen Spielberg, will be released in theaters.

And given the book’s heavy focus on VR, it makes sense that HTC wants to get in on the action with the Vive. The company is announcing eight pieces of virtual reality content, which will be available on the Vive and at IRL VR arcades, free to download on Viveport and Steam.

Folks attending SXSW can also get in on the action with the content debuting at the festival.

Here is the content Vive owners have to look forward to:

  • Battle for the Oasis developed by Steel Wool Studios
  • Rise of the Gunters developed by Drifter Entertainment, Inc.
  • Gauntlet developed by Directive Games
  • Smash developed by 2 Bears Studio
  • Fracture developed by 2 Bears Studio
  • Aech’s Garage developed by Sansar
  • The Distracted Globe Music Experience in TheWaveVR developed by TheWaveVR
  • Ready Player One: Avatar Creator developed by Morph3D

You can learn more about each of these titles here.

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LiveLike raises $9.6M to get more broadcasters streaming in VR

LiveLike, a startup that powers VR streaming experiences for broadcasters like FOX Sports and Sky, has raised a $9.6M Series B round led by Greycroft Partners and Lepe Partners. This brings total funding raised to just over $23M.

As a refresher, LiveLike’s VR experience let you select different camera angles, sit in and look around a virtual “suite”, view pre-produced content and more. We’ve looked at the experience before, and think it’s much more interactive than VR solutions that just provide viewers with a floating screen to watch the game.

LiveLike is primarily known for this white-labeled app that it provides broadcasters. These heavily customized apps let rightsholders choose how they want to make VR content available to users. Some decide to make live content available (like FOX Sports with the MLS Cup), and some choose to have achieved VR  footage of past sporting events. Either way, LiveLike will power the VR distribution (and often the production) for the desired events.

In 2017 LiveLike produced 76 games in five countries, and streamed over 300 hours of original VR sports content.

The VR startup has also started working with leagues and federations – like the French Tennis Federation, in a role that has them producing an entire sporting event and making that VR stream available to any broadcasting partner that wants it. Miheer Walavalkar, Co-founder and Chief Business Officer of LiveLike explained that this is a great way for the startup to acquire a lot of customers (i.e broadcasters) at once. Instead of approaching networks individually, league-level deals let LiveLike show off its tech to a bunch of broadcasters at once, which can end up with them liking LiveLike enough to hire them for future, unrelated sporting events.

LiveLike plans on using the funding to support general growth, especially building up the architecture needed to support live streaming on such a large scale. The startup is also known to experiment with different technologies within VR – for example last year the launched a feature that integrates their streaming app with Facebook so you can invite friends into your virtual “suite” and hangout and talk while watching the game. They’re also actively looking at AR and MR as ways to create new viewing experiences for broadcasters (and ultimately viewers).

I just don’t understand these cheesy virtual reality movie ‘experiences’

I’ve always believed that virtual reality has huge potential as an entertainment platform, and clearly some directors are still with me. Oculus supported five “experiences” that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, one of which landed a seven-figure deal

The experiences are innovative and interesting — but they’re suffering from an identity crisis. 

A few months ago I sampled “Coco VR,” a “VR Experience” based on the movie Coco, which was forthcoming at the time. I ran around an animated Land of the Dead in the form of a skeleton, touring an art museum, seeing a mariachi performance, and trying on skeleton costumes. 

And that…was it. It wasn’t a game, and it wasn’t a movie. It was an “experience.”

It was interesting to look at, and the technology and artistry of the work impressed me, but running through virtual art galleries and restaurants with no goal beyond “the experience” didn’t engross me. I can more easily attend real art galleries, and real people to view them with, just a few blocks from my apartment. 

It seems that most non-game VR content these days, even “films” at film festivals, is trying to be an experience, and I think this is a mistake. 

The three Sundance films I experienced with an Oculus Rift and a Gear VR were all essentially films that required the user to participate. 

For example, the Oculus-supported “Wolves in the Walls,” a VR dramatization of a Neil Gaiman children’s book, tells the story of a young girl, Lucy, who insists that she hears wolves in the walls of her house. We watch a cute story of Lucy’s running around her house, trying to convince us of the existence of said wolves, until at one point she hands us a camera and asks us to take pictures for her. Eventually, we capture photographic evidence of the nefarious creatures, and all is well. d3e8 f66f%2fthumb%2f00001

Spheres: Songs of Spacetime (the film that got the massive deal) is a gorgeous film of space and the universe — but we still have to do things to progress the story. We’re asked to raise our arms to fly out of a black hole, or to pinpoint various stars with our controllers. 

And the Black Eyed Peas’ Masters of the Sun is an interesting and engaging story, but we still need to click speech bubbles, and sometimes search for the correct object or door to click on, to advance the story. 

Here’s my question: Why? Why have developers decided that every experience must be participatory? Why can’t I sit back and watch a movie in VR, the same way I’d watch a movie in a movie theater? And, most importantly: Who are these “Experiences” for?

People who want to actively participate in VR have a medium at their fingertips already: games. But these experiences clearly aren’t games. In all three of these experiences, I was following a clear storyline. Nowhere was it indicated that my actions would impact that storyline: It’s not like the black hole in Songs of Spacetime blows me apart if I don’t get out of it in time, or Lucy forgets about the wolves in the walls if I don’t take enough pictures. These films are adding participatory elements for the sake of adding participatory elements. 

(Incidentally, the emphasis on experience is affecting the gaming side of VR as well. It just seems like you fly around and look at things,” my hardcore-gamer friend told me with disdain after trying the incredibly hyped Lone Echo game.)

So these films aren’t for gamers. Are they for movie-watchers? Maybe. But it’s unclear to me how these random participatory elements are supposed enhance the experience of these viewers — who are first and foremost there to view. 

The fact that I was required to fumble with Oculus controllers for several minutes to take pictures with a virtual camera in Wolves in the Walls did not make the movie more entertaining for me. In fact, it took me out of the experience — I had to figure out which buttons on the controllers corresponded to which buttons on the virtual camera, which was time I wasn’t spending focusing on the story. 

At the end of the day, Oculus’ Sundance films are gorgeous, well made, and impressively ambitious. But until they decide whether they’re movies or games, they’re going to be alienating potential fans. 

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Virtual reality’s moment looks to be over in gaming, at least for now

Virtual reality isn’t happening yet, folks. Not for video games, at least.

The latest “State of the Industry” results are in, and a declining interest in VR is one of the key takeaways from the annual survey administered by the Game Developer’s Conference. 

It’s OK to feel a bit of whiplash here. The widely hyped technology seemed like it was about to break through and dominate everything back in 2015 and 2016, between Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR and the subsequent launches of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR (as well as mobile alternatives like Gear VR and Cardboard). But a slow rate of adoption among consumers across 2016 and 2017 amounted to a big, bright reality check.

Of the roughly 4,000 individuals polled — representing a cross-section of creators at all levels of the industry — 29 percent expressed the belief that developing for VR and alternate reality (AR) isn’t a long-term, sustainable business in the gaming world at this point. It’s the third year GDC’s annual survey has asked the question and the first time that number has gone down.

It’s not a huge drop, to be clear. In both the 2016 and 2017 surveys, 25 percent of respondents expressed doubt about AR/VR’s long-term potential. But the 2018 survey digs deeper, and the details matter here.

It’s interest in VR specifically that’s waning. The number of developers working on AR games remains “steady,” but those who are already in the business of creating VR games don’t expect to be doing it much longer.

“I just don’t think the install base has been quite there for [VCs] to make their investments back.”

“Just on the consumer game side of VR, what we’ve noticed is there was a lot of [venture capital] funding for games, but a lot of those games have shipped in the last 12 months,” said Simon Carless, executive vice president at UBM and one of GDC’s organizers, in a recent interview.

“I just don’t think the install base in most cases has been quite there for them to make their investments back, unfortunately. People will continue to work in VR, I just think it will potentially be more indie studios, or maybe more things funded by hardware companies who want examples of the games to showcase.”

AR is more attractive because there’s much less of a buy-in at the consumer level for these types of experiences. A typical VR setup requires either a relatively powerful PC or a PlayStation 4, plus whatever VR headset is supported by each platform (Oculus Rift/HTC Vive for the former, PSVR for the latter).

There are mobile VR rigs, such as Google Cardboard, Gear VR, or the upcoming Oculus Go, but they’re all a significant step down in terms of the types of experiences they can deliver compared to the more expensive options. AR has proven to be a much better fit for mobile because pricey headsets aren’t a requirement and most modern smartphones are up to the task.

Just look at Pokémon Go, undoubtedly the most popular AR release to date. Everything in that game happens on your smartphone screen. More than that, it’s a “play anywhere” type of experience, no tethered headset required. No one’s managed to replicate Pokémon Go‘s impact yet, but that success did prove there’s a market for what it offers.

TOKYO, JAPAN - MAY 12: A visitor wearing an HTC Corp. Vive VR headset plays a virtual reality video game at the VR Park Tokyo on May 12, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. The VR Park Tokyo, a theme park with 7 VR arcade games was opened last year in the Shibuya area of Tokyo, in part, as a response to the growing market for global virtual reality gaming. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Image: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images

Headsets are the real sticking point in the eyes of many developers. Of those surveyed, 31 percent don’t see VR/AR headsets being a common sight in more than one-tenth of households until 2021-2022, and another 15 percent think that won’t be the case until 2023-2024. Only 17 percent expect to see a significant increase in headset ownership over the next two years.

It’s the same cost issue would-be VR adopters face now. Close to half of the developers surveyed — 41 percent — think mobile platforms will be the dominant ones for “immersive reality” experiences in five years.

None of this is new or surprising. On the 2017 survey, one respondent wrote: “At the moment, the hardware is still too expensive. Software is only coming because of first-party funding; once that dries up, I am concerned that there won’t be a large enough install base.”

What we’re seeing in the GDC “State of the Industry” survey’s results is reality setting in.

Fast-forward to one year later and the 2018 survey results bear that observation out. People aren’t buying into VR and, as Carless observed, the outside funding sources that help drive game development are disappearing.

What we’re seeing in the GDC “State of the Industry” survey’s results is reality setting in. The early Kickstarter success of Oculus Rift back in 2012 thrust VR into the spotlight before it was really ready. It took almost four years after the Kickstarter’s launch for Rift’s consumer release to happen, in March 2016.

Even then, VR wasn’t quite there. First-generation Rift and Vive experiences are hindered by the need for headsets to be wired in. What’s more, many users — and city-dwellers especially — don’t have the space in their homes to take full advantage of VR.

All of the early excitement around Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter success and subsequent $2 billion Facebook acquisition came with a cost: Analysts all throughout the industry started speculating a bright future for the technology based on early signs.

One 2015 report from CCS Insight foresaw a $4 billion market for VR by 2018, with an expectation that 24 million devices would be sold this year. Another report from the same year, by Tractica, predicted a $21.8 billion hardware and software market for VR by 2020.

It’s clear now in hindsight that those were ambitious estimates. But all of this isn’t to say VR is on its way out. The tech is still in its infancy, and it continues to improve every year. The majority of consumers haven’t embraced VR gaming, and it’s looking like they won’t anytime soon, but the tech itself has already proven its worth outside of entertainment.

“What we’re seeing in VR … is other applications,” said Katie Stern, general manager of GDC. “So we’re seeing it get more traction in things like training, or education-based things, healthcare has taken to it pretty well. So I think in [those spaces] we’ll see more growth in that area than we will in the entertainment and games spaces.”

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Someone had a seizure in VR and nobody knew what to do

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When someone suffers a seizure in real life, it can be an intense, scary experience. When someone suffers a seizure during a VR chat, it can be even more terrifying. 

This is the exact scenario that Sam Raiffeisen, otherwise known as YouTuber Rogue Shadow, found himself in recently. While playing VRChat, a multiplayer app where people can hang out with bizarre avatars and take part in simple games, one of the users suffered a seizure. 

“We’re so used to technology enabling us to do more, but in this case it was the opposite,” Raiffeisen said over email. “The main feature of VR is immersion, and the way this person seemed to be right in front of us in this agonizing state gave the impression that there must be something we could do, that’s what my instinct kept telling me, but the logical answer was we couldn’t do anything.”

That user is believed to have the username DrunkenUnicyclist. He was wearing a full body-tracking VR kit at the time, and so all the people gathered in the virtual space saw him collapse and shake his limbs in the manner of a seizure, and heard him rasping for breath through his microphone. DrunkenUnicyclist appeared as a damaged, red robot. 

The video, uploaded by Raiffeisen with the permission of DrunkenUnicyclist, captures the tense confusion of the moment when the group collectively realized that the person was going through something serious. Outpouring of support and concern dominated the conversation as they all stood around the fallen avatar. But quickly the helplessness of the situation settled in as players did not know what they could do. 

A few people spoke up with opinions about seizures, but largely the group circled the avatar trying to find ways to contact him IRL and assess the situation. Some even suggested giving the virtual avatar “space” so as not to crowd it.

“We didn’t even know what part of the planet this person lived on and all we could do was just observe.”

“It was definitely interesting to see the way people could come together and show concern for somebody they don’t know, but at the same time it was really weird because there was nothing we could do,” Raiffeisen said in a video he uploaded shortly after. “We didn’t even know what part of the planet this person lived on and all we could do was just observe.”

It’s a strange and touching scene as a deformed Sonic the Hedgehog, Morty from Rick and Morty, Hank Hill’s head on a Minecraft body, a psychedelic Wendy’s mascot, a giant Pokémon, and many more all try to find a way to assist the person behind the avatar.

And it lasted a long time. It took DrunkenUnicyclist over four minutes to come back from the seizure and disorientation to let the group know he was OK. Afterwards, the group gave an endearing rush of care and advice for DrunkenUnicyclist, making sure he reached out to someone and took it easy. 

Raiffeisen got in touch with DrunkenUnicycle after the experience and learned that it was an epileptic tonic-clonic seizure, wherein a person “loses consciousness, muscles stiffen, and jerking movements are seen,” according to the Epilepsy Foundation’s website. 

The situation surfaces some scary questions about the future of VR. With big companies like Facebook investing in it, the technology will only improve and the adoption rate will likely grow. That means that this will probably happen again. 

“Users of VR should know that if they see another user showing signs of distress or harm, people need to either respond with concern or leave the situation,” Raiffeisen said. “[S]ome jokers were not taking the situation seriously, there were however a majority of bystanders that showed a lot of care and concern like myself, and I think that’s how it should be. It also goes to show how the VR community can come together to show concern for a complete stranger.”

It’s not clear if advances in VR technology will eventually protect users in these kinds of situations. 

“We may see features for real life safety protocol implemented in applications, especially with social apps where many people gather and interact,” said Raiffeisen. “For example there may be a feature created where someone enters their emergency contact info into their profile, and that information is kept confidential, but an admin or moderator of a social platform could have the ability to have an automated message sent to that person’s ICE (in case of emergency) phone numbers letting them know the person using VR may be in need of attention.”

Beyond that, this experience really highlights the disconnect between the physical and the virtual. The current technology limits interaction to seeing someone’s actions, and letting you talk to them. There’s still space between users — and nothing makes that more clear than a situation like this. Technology has a long way to go before it closes that gap. 

According to WebMD, if you see a person having a seizure try and protect the person from injury and guide them to the ground. Position them on their sides, but don’t put too much pressure on their body. Don’t force anything into their mouth, and don’t try to hold them down. Afterwards, give them room to rest and stay with them until they are awake and aware.

We have reached out to DrunkenUnicylist and will update if we receive a comment. 

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