Microsoft’s Social VR Platform AltspaceVR Gets Improved Event Hosting

Microsoft’s social VR platform, AltspaceVR, has been updated with a renewed emphasis on event hosting. While it’s always been possible to hop into AltspaceVR just to hang out and chat, the platform is honing in on a use-case where users come to the virtual world to see specific live events hosted by creators.

AltspaceVR was one of the first social VR platforms to grace the modern era of virtual reality. After raising more than $10 million in venture capital well before the first consumer headsets actually hit the market, the company nearly bit the dust back in 2017, but was saved in a surprise acquisition by Microsoft which at the time said it intended to build it into the “preeminent [AR/VR] community.”

That hasn’t quite come to pass, with other social VR apps like Rec Room, VRChat, and Bigscreen appearing to draw significantly more users, but AltspaceVR is now leaning into a use-case that’s been naturally developing on the platform over time: creator hosted events.

Image courtesy AltspaceVR

In the earliest days, AltspaceVR was effectively just a chat room, and while the social immersion afforded by VR is uniquely engaging, there wasn’t much to do beyond just chat with whomever happened to be logged on. And where social VR apps like Rec Room and Bigscreen have garnered sustained usage thanks to their respective focus on shared games and media viewing, AltspaceVR has been steadily expanding its focus around live, virtual events. The platform has been host to events featuring Reggie Watts, Bill Nye, and more, and now its streamlining things to make it easier for creators to host their own small and large scale events alike.

“We believe that social VR has the power to become the next major influencer platform,” the company wrote in its announcement of the updates. “In AltspaceVR the community is the content! It’s through events that Altspacers meet interesting new people, showcase their skills, share interests, and have memorable experiences.”

To facilitate this expanded focused on events, the app’s Main Menu has been revamped to make discovering and searching for events easier. The platform also now includes interactive billboards which serve to advertise upcoming events and can even be used as a menu through which users can RSVP to events or even travel directly to them.

Image courtesy AltspaceVR

Additionally, events can now be categorized by type to help users find more of the kind of events they like to attend: Presentations, Performances, Talk Shows, Watch-Parties, Gaming, and Meetups.

The AltspaceVR update also aims to streamline the process of creating and hosting events by improving the in-VR hosting tools to included simple event templates with descriptions, imagery, and pre-made environments designed around specific event types.

Image courtesy AltspaceVR

“Talk Show spaces will have all the furniture, microphones, and stage blocking set up. Presentation spaces will feature ready-to-use interactables like laser-pointers and instructions on how to showcase slides. As always, you’ll still have the option to customize your event as much as you want; but we’re also adding some helpful default options for those who are less interested in the set-up process,” the company writes.

One of AltspaceVR’s unique selling points as a social VR platform is its audience scalability. The platform offers a system called FrontRow which the company says is being “relaunched” as part of the update; FrontRow generates additional room instances on the fly—while allowing participants in each room to continue to see the main act in real-time—to accommodate events that draw crowds larger than one room could reasonably handle (both for performance and organizational limitations); AltspaceVR said previously that with FrontRow it could theoretically handle as many as 40,000 people in a single event.

Image courtesy AltspaceVR

To showcase the new features, AltspaceVR is hosting a live event featuring Alex Kipman, Head of Mixed Reality at Microsoft, and Katie Kelly, Program Owner at AltspaceVR. You can RSVP for the event here, and attend via SteamVR (Index, Vive, Rift, WMR), Oculus (Rift, Quest, Go, Gear VR), WMR, and even without a headset in 2D mode.

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