Interaction Designer Alan Chao Writes About Lessons Learned Building Successful Worlds in AltspaceVR

Alan Chao (website, Twitter) describes himself as:

I’m an interaction designer in NYC, currently a Senior UX (User eXperience) Designer at Storefront. I have over 6 years of experience in UX and product. I’m also doing work in virtual reality.

Alan has written a post on Medium—the first of a planned series—where he talks about the lessons he has learned from building successful, popular worlds on the social VR platform AltspaceVR. His first post, whimsically titled Don’t Get Stuck in the Hot Tub, is absolutely required reading for anybody who is at all interested in social VR.

I’m just going to quote a few choice bits here because I want you to go over there and read the whole thing. I’m serious; it’s that good. And it’s not that long. Go. Read.

*sigh* Are you still here? O.K., fine, here’s my quote…

People in VR love their Starbucks. This was one of the first lessons I learned with my first attempt at building worlds in Altspace. It was mostly a naive experiment to bring 3D models into VR, which I had never done before. However, the first two worlds I made taught me a lot. The first was a Starbucks.

Something is amusing about bringing a mundane place like a Starbucks into VR. The building was a boxy structure modeled in Sketchup with wood textured walls and white signage. Inside, I included the glass pastry display, refrigerator case, cash registers, several coffee-related props, the drink pickup area, and the little bins with sugar packets and straws. To my surprise, when I teleported a group of users into the world, some immediately assumed positions behind the cash registers, and a line of customers formed and started ordering drinks. There were even roleplayed arguments about the drink orders being too complicated. For whatever reason, everyone in the space bought into this “game” and maintained character. As the creator of the world, I was even named the General Manager of the store.

Alan Chao’s Starbucks Coffee in AltspaceVR

Here is a short summary of the lessons Alan learned while building this and many other worlds in AltspaceVR:

  • Spaces shape behaviour: nowhere is this better illustrated by the visitors to the Starbucks Coffee, who automatically began roleplaying!
  • Start with a feeling: “To achieve immersion, start with the feelings you want a world to convey.” This does not necessarily mean increased photorealism:

I’ve found that in Social VR specifically, photorealism doesn’t mean it feels more realistic. Too real, and it sort of falls into the uncanny valley, primarily in stark contrast to the style of avatars. High poly counts can also be detrimental to performance on mobile headsets. The key is to find the balance between just enough geometry, materials, and lighting consideration to support a real feeling.

I am quite looking forward to reading the rest of this series!

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