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

Editorial: The Wall Street Journal Looks at Breakroom and Other Virtual Office Spaces as an Emerging Business Trend

Yesterday, in an article titled Miss Your Office? Some Companies Are Building Virtual Replicas, the American financial newspaper The Wall Street Journal took a look at a current trend: businesses setting up virtual office spaces for their employees who are working remotely because of the pandemic:

Stay-home orders and the shuttering of workplaces have given corporate employees some respite from getting dragged into time-wasting water-cooler conversations.

But some companies and their employees don’t want to leave everything about the office behind, it turns out, and are replicating their offices in “SimCity”-like simulations online.

And, among the companies that WSJ reporter Katie Deighton spoke to was Sine Wave Entertainment, the makers of Sinespace and Breakroom:

Sine Wave Entertainment Ltd. last month introduced Breakroom, a virtual-world product for remote workforces. It can accommodate all-hands meetings, secure one-on-ones and document sharing. Clients of the product include Virgin Group Ltd. and Torque Esports Corp.

Many customers initially assume they will recreate their offices, then realize they can make tweaks that would be impossible in the real world, said Sine Wave CEO Rohan Freeman.

“We spend our lives wishing we were working in open, sunny campuses with butterflies outside,” Mr. Freeman said. “Here you can realize that dream.”

Although clients can use Breakroom to create their office utopia, the platform also enables real-world elements such additional privileges for senior staff. In Sine Wave’s own virtual world, senior members can lock the boardroom, which is located on top of a hill overlooking the rest of the office.

A meeting in Breakroom (source: WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal article is a signal that corporate America—and indeed, businesses in countries around the world—are increasingly interested in virtual worlds. As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats“. I predict that Breakroom and a host of competing YARTVRA* firms are going to see a continuing boom in interest and inquires as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

*YARTVRA is an acronym I coined that stands for Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App, which I am still hoping will catch on!


This blogpost is sponsored by Sinespace, and was written in my role as an embedded reporter for this virtual world (more details here). 

Nathie Looks at YARTVRA Apps: Nineteen Virtual Reality Apps for Remote Work and Education

Yes, I am still on my little one-man crusade to make the acronym YARTVRA a thing!

For those of you who are new to my blog, YARTVRA is short for Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App, that is, any social VR platform primarily intended for business use, to bring together people who may be working remotely into a shared virtual office space.

Nathaniël de Jong (a.k.a. Nathie) is a well-known Dutch YouTube influencer with over 558,000 subscribers, who often posts review videos of the latest and greatest VR hardware and software on his channel. A couple of days ago he decided to take a look at, yes, YARTVRA. Obviously, this market segment has received a lot of attention lately because of the global public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which is probably why Nathie decided to make and release this video.

Nathie actually manages to squeeze no less than 19 different platforms into this 20-minute video, which unfortunately means that he only talks about each platform in a very brief and general sort of way for about minute, before he promptly moves on to the next one.

After a while, the relentless succession of all the look-alike business-oriented YARTVRAs, in particular, tends to overwhelm rather than inform. (ENGAGE still manages to stand out from the crowd in this video, though. And Oxford Medical Simulation definitely gives me some rather creepy uncanny valley vibes.)

Oxford Medical Simulation (image taken from their website)

Nathie appears to have taken as his starting point the recent Road to VR article, 34 VR Apps for Remote Work, Education, Training, Design Review, and More, and, much like the article, he breaks the various platforms down into four groups as follows (with links to their websites, courtesy of the credits in his YouTube video, and also links to where I have written about the products previously on this blog):

Team Collaboration and Presentation Platforms
– MeetinVR https://meetinvr.net/ (which I blogged about here)
– Glue https://glue.work/ (which I blogged about here)
– Connec2 https://connec2.nl/en/ (which is new to me)
– MeetingRoom https://meetingroom.io/ (which I blogged about here)
– Dream https://dreamos.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– VSpatial https://www.vspatial.com/ (which I blogged about here)

Social VR Platforms (those which Nathie thinks could, at least theoretically, be repurposed for business use)
– AltspaceVR https://altvr.com/ (blogged here)
– Bigscreen https://www.bigscreenvr.com/ (blogged here)
– Mozilla Hubs https://hubs.mozilla.com/ (blogged here)
– Facebook Horizon (currently in closed alpha testing, and a non-business-oriented product, so I’m rather mystified as to why Nathie chose to include it in his overview; blogged about here)
– VTime XR https://vtime.net/ (blogged about here)

Education and Training Platforms
– ENGAGE https://engagevr.io/ (which I blogged about here)
– Oxford Medical Simulation https://oxfordmedicalsimulation.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– Rumii https://www.dogheadsimulations.com/rumii (which I blogged about here)
– Acadicus https://acadicus.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– Wonda VR https://www.wondavr.com/ (which I blogged about here)

Design, Creation, and Prototyping Platforms
– Sketchbox https://www.sketchbox3d.com/creation (which I have not yet covered)
– The Wild https://thewild.com/ (blogged here)
– Softspace https://www.softspace.io/ (which is also new to me)

So between Nathie’s video and the Road to VR article, I now have a whole bunch of new YARTVRA to explore! Expect more blogposts soon, to add more products to my ever-growing list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

Second Life Seeks to Capture Business from Nonprofits and Educational Institutions During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Many social VR platforms and virtual worlds are currently trying to woo business users who are unexpectedly forced to shift to support remote workers in the face of an unprecedented coronavirus pandemic.

Screen capture from Second Life’s new micro-website

Today, Linden Lab’s virtual world, Second Life, announced:

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how Second Life can help organizations, events, and conferences continue to safely and efficiently operate during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Many individuals and organizations are being affected by this unprecedented public health crisis, and we recognize that Second Life can provide an important and valuable way for people to stay in touch with their friends and co-workers amidst new social distancing protocols, mandated remote work requirements, and other precautionary measures.

One of the first things we’ve implemented to help is a reduction in pricing to a flat $99/month per region to qualified accredited nonprofit or educational institutions. Effective immediately, this limited-time price reduction is applicable to any new or added regions including renewals of existing regions.

Linden Lab has also announced that they are expanding their Second Life support, although no exact details were given in the blogpost.

As part of this new initiative, there is a new micro website and a detailed Second Life Work FAQ.

I think that this is quite a savvy move for Linden Lab to make, and the lowered sim costs might just entice a few non-profit and educational institutions to take a second look at Second Life. (I hope that they keep Sansar alive, for many of the same reasons. I now wonder what would have happened if Linden Lab had decided to keep Sansar going for just another six months or a year. A coronavirus-based boost might have kept the project going. Of course, we’ll never know for sure…)