Update, 7/28/17, 12:00pm PT: We spoke with Eric Romo, one of the founders of AltspaceVR about the future if the company.
One of the virtual reality industry’s early pioneers is preparing to close its doors because it couldn’t secure funding to keep the operation going. AltspaceVR announced that it would be shuttering the AltspaceVR social VR platform.
AltspaceVR got its start long before consumer-grade VR hardware made its way to the market. David Gudmundson, Eric Romo, and Gavan Wilhite founded AltspaceVR in 2013 after the Oculus DK1 dev kits started shipping. In 2015, the company launched an open beta of the AltspaceVR social VR platform, which allowed people with Oculus developer kits to interact with others in VR.
AltspaceVR had a healthy string of exciting technology and content announcements over the years. In September 2015, AlspaceVR released an SDK that would allow third parties to create content for the company’s platform, which led to the creation of licensed Dungeons & Dragons and Boss Monster games inside AltspaceVR. It also allowed Slack to integrate the social VR platform into its collaboration tool. In May 2016, AltspaceVR revealed FrontRow technology, which allows the company to host live events with limitless capacity. Later, AltspaceVR introduced VR Capture, which enabled the company to replay recorded AltspaceVR events at later dates so more people could enjoy the unique content found on the platform.
Following the launch of FrontRow and VR Capture, AltspaceVR started hosting frequent events with celebrity personalities. The company hosted virtual concerts for comedic musician Reggie Watts, a stand-up comedy act from Justin Roiland (of "Rick and Morty" fame, and most recently, Bill Nye held a VR event in AltspaceVR (catch the encore on July 31).
AltspaceVR made several software advancements, but it was also a fearless adopter of VR hardware. Over the years, AltspaceVR adapted its platform to work with the Leap Motion controller (it was the first company to adopt the Leap Motion Orion update), the Perception Neuron mo-cap suit, the HTC Vive and Oculus Touch motion controllers, and mobile VR headsets such as Google Daydream View and Samsung Gear VR.
AltspaceVR said that more than 35,000 people log in to the service every month, and the average user sticks around for at least 30 minutes. That’s a significant number of users for the early days of virtual reality, but it wasn’t enough to convince investors to spend more money on the company. AltspaceVR last secured funding in 2015, and it hasn’t yet produced a platform for monetization.
AltspaceVR said it would close its social platform on August 3 at 7pm PDT. The company encouraged anyone who made friends on the platform to meet up with them this week to exchange an alternate means of keeping in touch.
Even though the social platform is going away, the note Tom’s Hardware received from the company suggests that the closure of the social platform may not be the end of AltspaceVR as a company.
“The amazing people that worked at this company created some awesome technology - things that we think will be foundational to the future of social VR. We’d love to see this technology, if not the company, live on in some way, and we’re working on that.”
Following the announcement of AltspaceVR's closure, we spoke with Eric Romo about any potential future for AltspaceVR. Romo confirmed that the AltspaceVR service would shut down but that AltspaceVR as a company would continue to operate beyond August 3, 2017. Altsapace's founders remain committed to doing all they can to recoup some of the money investors entrusted in them.
The future of AltspaceVR remains uncertain, and the company doesn't have a clear path forward yet. Romo said "it's all up in the air," but he believes the technology they created has a place in the VR market and he and his colleagues are trying to sort out what place that may be.
"I think it's fair to say that we feel and some other people agree that we've created some stuff that's usefull and valuable, and we want to see if there's any way to continue having that used in some way," said Romo. "Our mission from the outset was to create the framework for what we thought social VR could be and would allow it to grow and expand into other use cases. I think that's what we accomplished, and so we really want to see that live on in some way."
Romo confirmed that most of AltspaceVR's employees would be laid off at the end of next week. He declined to comment about who would remain, but we surmise that only a core group of staff would be with the company beyond August 3.