Taking a Second Look at Arthur

It’s been a little over a year since I first wrote about Arthur, one of the social VR products that I like to lump togather under the acronym YARTVRA, which stands for Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality Application (and which I am still trying, and still failing rather spectacularly, to popularize). *sigh* Work with me, people!

The new rallying cry of the remote online workplace: YARTVRA!

Anyways, Arthur makes an appearance in a December 8th article by WIRED, titled VR meetings are weird, but they beat our current reality, by Lauren Goode, who writes:

The press briefing was one of a few ever to occur in VR*, a spokesperson for this new app claimed. It’s called Arthur, and part of the pitch is that it’s going to catapult VR for work into the mainstream, that meetings and collaboration sessions and deskside briefings will become… headset briefings.

The app launched on December 8, but it’s been in development for four years. The company behind it, also named Arthur, is headquartered in San Mateo, California, with employees scattered around the globe. It has secured seed funding from VC firm Draper Associates, and it lists the United Nations, Societé General, and a large automaker as its beta testers.

Taking a meeting in Arthur requires a literal suspension of reality. You exist only from the waist up (hey, just like Zoom!), and your shirtsleeves taper off to reveal blue computer arms, which move according to how you move the Oculus Quest controllers in your hands. Your digital eyes are obscured by Matrix-style glasses, and a headset microphone covers your virtual mouth. This is because the technology can’t yet mimic facial expressions in VR, and “it’s better than looking at dead eyes,” says Arthur founder Christoph Fleischmann. My avatar looked nothing like me except that it had dark brown hair.

Lauren was kind enough to share a picture of what her avatar in Arthur looks like:

Reporter Lauren Goode’s avatar in Arthur (image source: WIRED)

Holy Toledo! I’m sorry, but if you expect me and my coworkers to shell out for VR headsets in order to feel more immersive at our virtual business meetings, you’re going to have to do better than this. These are among the butt-ugliest avatars I have seen in any social VR platform or virtual world—and trust me, I have seen them all in the three years I have been writing this blog. (As a matter of fact, there are a few I wish I could unsee. Is there such a thing as YARTVRA PTSD?)

These avatars still look the same as they do when I wrote about them 13 months ago:

Frankly, Arthur’s avatars leave a lot to be desired. To avoid having to rig eye movements, the avatars all wear black sunglasses like Corey Hart (“I wear my sunglasses at night…”). To avoid having to rig the mouth, they all wear wraparound black microphones that cover the avatars’ mouths so closely, they look as if they are being gagged! And the avatars’ arms fade out to controllers instead of hands. The avatars look extremely off-putting, and it’s a definite strike against Arthur.

Now, to be fair, there have been a few developments since then. Arthur now supports the Oculus Quest 2 wireless headset according to the article (although a keyword search for “Arthur” pulls nothing up in the Oculus Store). The WIRED article says that Arthur launched on December 8th, 2020, but the Arthur website only talks about joining a waiting list for the product.

There’s the usual YARTVRA jabber on the Arthur website about enhanced productivity:

Virtual Real(i)ty

Arthur is a virtual office space that enables you and your team to meet, collaborate and manage your work. It empowers you to maximize your level of remote productivity and free yourself from geographic and physical constraints…

Arthur is intuitive to use and its functionalities aim at maximizing productivity for you and your team. Thanks to automated onboarding guides, it takes only very little time to be productive with Arthur – by which time you can enjoy a vast array of features, including:

• Presentations
• Whiteboards
• File Management
• 3D Objects

I particularly rolled my eyes at what appears to be an animated GIF in the bottom right hand corner of this image (although I cannot copy and paste it here to show you on the blog; you’ll have to go over to the Arthur website to view it). Resizing and rotating what look like 2003-era Second Life prims in social VR!!?! Oh yeah, businesses are really going to use that feature to get that vital point across to a potential sales client, aren’t they?

Sorry, it’s 4:00 a.m., I have insomnia, and I am feeling particularly cranky (Ryan, sweetheart, step away from the keyboard…).

But this looks absolutely dreadful, especially compared with much more fully-featured platforms, with far better-looking avatars. Avatars with eyes. Avatars with actual hands. Avatars whose mouths move. Platforms which actually already have working solutions, instead of their founder saying inane things like “the technology can’t yet mimic facial expressions in VR, and it’s better than looking at dead eyes“.

Sweet minty Jesus.

To name but one example, Sinespace’s corporate/conference/educational platform Breakroom can run circles around Arthur. For example, how about an avatar facial driver using nothing but your webcam?

You say that’s unfair because you can’t use a webcam in a VR headset? OK, then. Social VR platform NeosVR recently demonstrated full mouth tracking on their avatars. (And NeosVR can do everything you mention in Arthur’s feature list above, plus pile a whole bunch of envelope-pushing innovations on top of that.)

Give me some so-called “dead eyes” instead of these Men in Black sunglasses! Frankly, I’d rather have myself seen in Zoom, Cisco Webex, or Microsoft Teams with a severe case of “COVID-19 hair” and a ketchup stain on my shirt, than represent myself with these creepy-looking, budget-basement, cookie-cutter avatars.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!?? (image source: WIRED)

If you wish to learn more about Arthur, you can visit their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter or LinkedIn.

Arthur is already on my listing of social VR/virtual worlds, which I am still in the process of reorganizing and categorizing (it’s taking me a lot longer than I expected).


*raised eyebrow

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