As the days pass by, Virtual Reality is making longer strides from a mere dream to an achievable reality. So far, we have bypassed the technological limitations of such a reality with immersive gadgets such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Similarly, we have made the concept much more affordable with devices such as the PlayStation VR and the Samsung Gear VR, made with the thought in mind to carry virtual reality into the commercial plane using more affordable devices. However, one problem still remains for the industry to solve: the art of making virtual reality a social experience. Though certain titles such as VRChat have been made to alleviate this problem, the concept still remains a mainly solitary experience, having one explore the cosmos, save the world, or even fool around in an office through the isolating atmosphere given by the VR headset and headphones. Overall, it seemed like VR was predestined to be a concept more experienced alone rather than enjoyed in the company of others.
This is where AltspaceVR came in, in hopes to eliminate this concept of isolation in attempts to incorporate virtual reality as another means to interact with others. Beginning in 2013, AltspaceVR began its initial project in 2015, a virtual hangout available for all systems. Rather than using their game to create beautiful simulations like in the conventional VR games, the game explores a large variety of options in social interaction. Though it sounds rather trivial, the players are given a wide variety of engaging choices, from mentally-challenging games of chess to toned-down sessions where people can watch Youtube videos as a group, this hangout has a room for everyone and even offers custom building kits so that you can make one to suit your own needs. If that wasn’t enough, AltspaceVR is especially active in its social feed and even more so with its own patrons. On their twitter they advertise countless social events they host on a nearly daily basis so that they can interact even more with their community. Overall, AltspaceVR has created a wonderful social hangout that allows groups of friends to join together on any system that offers virtual reality and host any event that comes to mind, be it a tabletop board game session, a night of watching movies, a drawing contest, or even a simple conference to talk about whatever comes to mind.
However, the company’s journey was certainly one filled with many hardships along the way. One such pothole was its deep financial troubles back in 2017. As AltspaceVR is a venture-backed startup company, it had last received funding back in 2015. They had planned to make another deal for another round of funding, but the deal fell through. This, combined with the general slowing of virtual reality market growth, then discouraged most of their investors to give them further funding. Though they had attempted numerous fundraising efforts, they ultimately failed and ran out of time and money. On the 28th of July the very same year, AltspaceVR announced their shutting down on their blog, delivering their final goodbyes and talking about what happened and what will happen, as well as announcing a farewell party on the Third of August. Thankfully, the project was met with very passionate sponsors just before it closed, allowing the company to remain in business and saving the platform from extinction.
Today, AltspaceVR is in a relatively actively position, with accessibility in many different platforms such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, and any other system that features a VR set. When comparing it to other VR games, the platform seems to be extremely similar to VRChat, another social VR experience on the steam market. However, AltspaceVR is arguably more noticeable for a friendlier atmosphere and player base. Though both games share many similarities to each other, AltspaceVR is the title that came first and is arguably friendlier than its more popular counterpart.
In the modern landscape, it seems that virtual reality is more of a toy than a practical device. Though it has potential to be a valuable tool for communication and expression, it is more used for the latter half than the former, thus limiting the true abilities of the system and lowering its apparent value to the public. What AltspaceVr seems to be doing is extending Virtual Reality beyond sandbox playing and into the social realm, thus truly showing what VR has to offer in terms of social activity. With its ability to create any setting on the fly with any person or group of people, virtual reality may even see light as business use, as long-distance conferences can be created quickly and easily with virtual headsets and conference rooms. With AltspaceVR’s uses, virtual reality is now seen as more than a mere headset to enjoy games with. It has now become a fun way to talk with friends and get chances to chat face-to-face with people all around the world from the convenience of your own home. Overall, AltspaceVR offers an extremely welcoming opportunity to enjoy fun activities with old friends as well as to make new ones along the way.