Now instead of keeping up with friends on Facebook, you can hang out in virtual reality.
The AltspaceVR social platform, which just launched, allows people to create an avatar and enter common VR spaces for social events, or create their own private VR spaces. Over 200 people gathered to watch the Super Bowl this year in VR at an open beta event the company hosted.
Eric Romo founded AltspaceVR in 2013, after he discovered that some design firms were collaboratively designing products in VR. Romo saw an opportunity not only for marketing executives in the U.S. to meet virtually with Shanghai factory owners without having to fly, but also the potential for early VR adopters to have a place to meet up socially.
Romo, who previously designed rocket engines for SpaceX as a mechanical engineer and founded and sold solar startup GreenVolts, says the audience for VR today is only 100,000 people, but that number will grow to more than 10 million a year from now. The goal is for his company to learn how to improve this VR platform so when the first million people enter virtual reality AltspaceVR is a better experience for them.
“We’ve designed this as a consumer-facing technology rather than as an enterprise technology, but there are opportunities in both spaces,” Romo says. “Most VR demos today are 3 to 5 minutes long and often the person feels a little funny afterward. We’ve designed our product for people to use for a long time. Our average user session time is 25 minutes, and a large percentage of users spend an hour or more in our platform.”
The company has seen new business potential sprout from its closed beta testing, as well as its internal usage. AltspaceVR uses the platform for job interviews for remote applicants, as well as for media interviews.
“There’s so much non-verbal communication and context that comes through that we think is important,” Romo says. “We’ll be talking to a movie company that’s interested in doing a VR event around a movie opening and they’ll end up asking if they can use this for meetings because they have offices in LA, New York, and London that need to collaborate on something. We’re getting pulled into that space.”
AltspaceVR has raised over $5.5 million from investors like Dolby Family Ventures, Formation 8, Google Ventures, Lux Capital, Foundation Capital, Rothenberg Ventures, SV Angel, Haystack Fund, Tencent, Raine Ventures, Promus Ventures, Startcaps, Maven Ventures, and Western Technology Investment.
The platform is free for anyone to download and use on PC, Mac, or Oculus Rift. Romo envisions a free base level offering with value add features that users can purchase like multi-user whiteboards, creative tools for collaboration, and the ability to bring in a 3D model from CAD (computer aided design) and look at it together. Other revenue opportunities include companies and brands paying to establish virtual storefronts or meeting places that consumers can explore and purchase real world merchandise in.
“Whether it’s physical goods or video games, we see commerce for digital or real goods as a business model area where the user isn’t getting anything forced down their throat and we’re helping that brand succeed in that space,” Romo says. “We can find a way to make money in there.”
An audience of 12.2 million VR headset owners will be looking for things to do in VR by the end of 2016, and right now AltspaceVR is the only social platform out there.