Nobody was more surprised than I was when Microsoft stepped in at the last minute to save AltspaceVR. Most people assumed the virtual world was doomed when they announced last July that they had run out of money. But obviously, Microsoft felt that the product was worth saving, as their potential foot in the door in the increasingly crowded room of social VR apps. God knows they have enough money to do something interesting with it. God knows AltspaceVR needs someone to pour money into it.
AltspaceVR is a California-based company which was founded in 2013, and which launched its social VR application in May 2015. So they’ve been around for a while now.
My biggest problem with AltspaceVR is the platform’s avatars. They are dreadfully cartoony. I can only assume that they made this deliberate design decision so the avatars are very quick and easy to render on a platform that supports not only the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets, but also Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, and the numerous Windows Mixed Reality headsets, plus Windows computer desktop users. But I find them to be butt-ugly, and terribly unappealing. Let’s hope Microsoft has plans to upgrade them.
I personally found it extremely funny that Microsoft felt they had to tart up the default AltspaceVR avatars in the following promotional video titled “Ushering in the era of Windows Mixed Reality”, issued in October 2017, shortly after they bought AltspaceVR.
If you click on the following YouTube video, it should start around the 15:40 minute mark, which is where the AltspaceVR segment occurs. I can assure you that the avatars used in this Microsoft promotional video were ones with completely redesigned and customized heads, which are NOT available to current AltspaceVR users! User avatar customization options in AltspaceVR are very limited, still. Truth in advertising, hmmm…
There are a few interesting regular events happening in AltspaceVR, notably VR Church, an initiative launched by Pastor D.J. Soto (WIRED article), which I wrote about in an earlier blogpost on religion, spirituality and virtual reality. (SacredVR also holds weekly guided meditation events in AltspaceVR.) Of course, religious events are hardly new to virtual worlds; Second Life has had churches operating almost from the very beginning.
AltspaceVR is worth keeping an eye on, if for no other reason than to see what Microsoft plans to do with their acquisition.