A List of Upcoming Social VR Research Events and Conferences

Last year was a watershed year for social VR research! When I first started writing this blog three-and-a-half years ago, social VR conferences were a bit of rarity, but now they seem to be popping up all over. So I thought that today, as one of the bloggers who covers any and all aspects of social VR, I would do my best to pull together a sort of calendar of what events and conferences were coming up.

This list will lean strongly towards academic and corporate research events and conferences pertaining to social virtual reality, as opposed to arts, entertainment, and shopping events. If you feel that I have missed something important, please feel free to leave a comment and I will update this blogpost accordingly. Over time, I hope that this will become a comprehensive list of such events.

Educators in VR UniVirtual Experience: Spring 2021, in AltspaceVR and on other platforms

The Educators in VR group (website, Discord server, Facebook group, Twitter feed), which regularly holds events in AltspaceVR, is one of the very best places to learn more about ongoing research into applications of virtual reality in education!

Plans for the successor to the phenomenally successful Educators in VR 2020 International Summit are already underway (and conference organizer Lorelle VanFossen tells me that she already has “evil plans” for me as a volunteer! 😉 ). Although dates have not yet been announced, it will be pushed back from February to sometime this spring, and it will be called the UniVirtual Experience.

CHI 2021 Social VR Workshop: May 7th, 2021 in Mozilla Hubs

According to the website set up for this event:

This is the 2nd CHI Social VR workshop. It is intended for continuing interdisciplinary discussions regarding proxemics, social cues, and virtual environment designs, which were identified as three important aspects of Social VR communication in our CHI 2020 Social VR Workshop.

The deadline for submissions to this workshop is February21st, 2021.

7th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN 2021): May 17th to June 10th, 2021 in VirBELA

Building on the highly successful iLRN 2020 conference, which attracted 3,600 attendees from around the world, iLRN 2021 will be spread out over a four-week period to avoid scheduling challenges, and to give attendees more opportunities to participate. Here is their call for papers and proposals (PDF document with deadlines, etc.).

As I said up top, I will be updating this blogpost over time as I learn of new events to add. Please leave a comment (or ping me via my blog’s Contact Me page) if you know of an event, workshop or conference to add to this list, thanks!

Apple Plans to Release a Virtual Reality Headset Next Year, According to Leaked Details in a Bloomberg News Report

Anonymous insiders have finally shared a few juicy details of Apple’s plans for a VR headset, a development that has been hinted at and highly anticipated by many tech observers. Bloomberg business reporter Mark Gurman tweeted four hours ago:

New story: Apple plans its first headset to be a high-end, niche VR-focused device as a precursor to its future AR glasses. Details on the headset’s design, prescription lens system, inclusion of a fan, features, development hurdles, and more:

The Bloomberg news story linked to Mark’s tweet, titled Apple’s First Headset to Be Niche Precursor to Eventual AR Glasses (original version; archived version) says in part:

Apple Inc.’s first crack at a headset is designed to be a pricey, niche precursor to a more ambitious augmented reality product that will take longer to develop, according to people with knowledge of the matter. 

As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view of the real world, will be more limited. Apple has planned to launch the product as soon as 2022, going up against Facebook Inc.’s Oculus, Sony Corp.’s PlayStation VR and headsets from HTC Corp., the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private plans. 

Gurman’s report has reignited feverish commentary and speculation within tech media (The Verge, Ars Technica, Apple Insider), which quickly began to ripple out to the mainstream news media (USA Today). The Apple VR headset is rumoured to be a high-end standalone (untethered) device, perhaps costing in the neighbourhood of the Valve Index headset (around US$1,000).

One disappointing piece of news is that the rumoured Apple VR headset will not have extra room for people who wear glasses (as I do), opting instead for prescription lenses, an additional expense for those of us with less-than-perfect vision. This will no doubt complicate both the sale and setup of the system.

Among the details leaked in the Gurman report was that Apple “may sell only one headset per day per retail store” of the high-end VR device, which on first reading sounds rather absurdly low to me. Surely, an Apple-branded VR headset would sell like hotcakes, regardless of price?

Anyway, things are definitely getting interesting. Stay tuned! Hopefully we will learn more about Apple’s plans for virtual reality and augmented reality this year.

UPDATED! Wave, the Social VR Music Platform, Is Shutting Down

Wave (formerly known variously as Wave XR, TheWaveXR, and TheWaveVR) has announced in a notice posted to their Facebook group that they are shutting down their service:

In a message posted today to their Steam page, CEO Adam Arrigo said:

We founded Wave almost five years ago to connect humanity through immersive music experiences. That journey started in the VR space, with our community-driven VR app on Steam, and it’s been rewarding watching our community of creators use our tools to host their own VR concerts. We never foresaw the incredible things people would create, and often attending those shows felt like peering into the future of live music / visual art performance and being blown away by the result.

Two years ago we pivoted out of VR into gaming and live-streaming, as the VR industry didn’t develop as quickly as we’d hoped. Artists need audiences to thrive, and we realized VR just wasn’t there yet, and there was a bigger opportunity for artists outside headsets. Even though it doesn’t fit our current business model, we’ve kept TheWaveVR app and servers running just because the community in there has made such inspiring stuff. Unfortunately, we built the user tools on top of Google Poly, which is shutting down.

As much as we’d love to, we aren’t able to spend the resources to build a new backend pipeline, since we are already spread so thin trying to accomplish our current set of non-VR objectives. We are still a relatively small startup. The hardest part of running a startup is choosing what to focus on, which has led us to the difficult decision to sunset TheWaveVR app on Steam and Oculus.

Even though this means the Wave VR shows will come to a pause, we think this is the best decision for the long term future of the Wave community, and we promise to do everything we can to one day bring back this experience in an even more evolved form. Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts for joining us for all those multi-hour VR raves and for helping us craft this vision of the future of music and art. We hope you’ll join us for this next chapter!

The Lindsey Stirling concert in Wave was a highlight of 2019 for me

I still vividly remember the live Lindsey Stirling concert I attended in Wave as a highlight of my social VR experiences in 2019 (here is my review). Like many companies, Wave had built a social VR platform for music events in anticipation of a sizeable consumer audience with high-end, tethered VR headsets, an audience which largely failed to materialize, leading to a pivot away from VR to gaming and livestreaming concerts.

It is notable that Wave would have kept their social VR platform going, were it not for Google deciding to shutter Google Poly, the 3D object platform on which it relied, which underscores the precariousness of corporations relying on external, third-party tools and services when building a metaverse product. Interestingly, the company had successfully raised $30 million in venture capital only seven months ago.

While I am sad to see Wave fold, I am not surprised. I suspect that we will see several similar announcements from other social VR companies this year.


Thanks to Michael Zhang for the tip!

UPDATE Jan. 16th, 2021: Alex Coulombe tweeted in response to this blogpost:

Ryan, I think your headline is misleading. My understanding is Wave isn’t shutting down, they’re just shutting down the ability to see their concerts in VR. They just launched a new website 3 days ago.

And I wanted to make it clear that Wave is only shutting down their social VR platform, but that they are continuing with their livestreaming business. Sorry for any confusion! I wish the company every success in their future endeavours.

Editorial: Preparing to Move from Oculus Rift to Valve Index (and Why the Oculus Quest Continues to Seduce Me, Despite Myself)

My well-worn Oculus Rift (left) and my yet-to-be-unpacked Valve Index VR kit (large box)

Today, I began preparing for the removal of my Oculus Rift VR headset by uninstalling all my apps in Oculus Home. (Fortunately, I didn’t spend a lot of money on games and apps in the Oculus Store over the past four years. My interest lies more with social VR platforms, which tend to be free to install, as opposed to VR games.)

I won’t actually remove the hardware until tomorrow, after which I will uninstall the Oculus software from my personal computer. Hopefully, by this time tomorrow, I will have broken that shiny multi-coloured seal on the large black box containing my brand new Valve Index VR kit, and gotten it all set up and working properly.

As part of my housecleaning today, I also recharged and updated my Oculus Quest (the original version 1, not the Quest 2). I put it on, fully intending to uninstall all the apps I had installed on it, and prepare it for shipping to my sister-in-law in Alberta…

…and damn if the Oculus Quest technology didn’t seduce me again, a full eight months after I had last picked it up! (The space in my bedroom which I had cleared for it is currently piled high with pandemic preps.) I found myself installing and testing out the controller-free option, where the Quest just tracks your hands in space, and I found that it was great fun! Which led to me playing with a few of the installed apps…and, well, a few hours later, there I was, back in love with the magic of it all. Say what you will about Facebook, but this is a awesome little device!

Which brings me to the following uncomfortable truth: while it will be relatively easy to replace my well-worn, much-loved Oculus Rift with the Valve Index, it will not be so easy to replace my wireless Oculus Quest VR headset—at least, not anytime soon. Perhaps, in a year or two, the marketplace will throw up a competitor or two, but for now, the Quest and Quest 2 are simply in a league of their own.

And that uncomfortable truth leads to an equally uncomfortable decision: do I, on point of principle, continue with my avowed, personal boycott of all things Facebook and Oculus, and give up my Quest? Or do I hold on to it until a non-Facebook alternative comes along, knowing that all the while, I am having my personal data while using the device harvested, strip-mined, and sold to the highest bidder by Mark Zuckerberg and company? It is an ethical dilemma.

I do have a two-year window in which I will not be forced to set up an account on the Facebook social network in order to use my Oculus Quest (an option which the people who purchased Quest 2 VR headsets this year do not have). And I also know that a lot can happen in two years…

But it looks as though (for now), my sister-in-law will not be receiving my Oculus Quest, just yet.

Damn you, Mark Zuckerberg! I have been seduced by the technology, yet again…