Virtual reality social network AltspaceVR is testing a new expansion with a show from comedian and beatboxer Reggie Watts. Tomorrow at 11PM ET, Watts — who currently leads the band on James Corden's The Late Late Show — will be performing as part of AltspaceVR's running stand-up comedy program. Physically, Watts will be in JASH Studio in Los Angeles, wearing an HTC Vive headset and a Perception Neuron motion tracking harness. Virtually, he will appear on an AltspaceVR stage, his voice and body language translated into a stylized avatar.
The show will be testing a new system that AltspaceVR says will allow an unlimited number of people to enjoy what feels like a small, intimate event. Called FrontRow, it mirrors a performer's actions across an unlimited number of rooms, which are created as more and more avatars join the event. As AltspaceVR CEO Eric Romo puts it in a press release, "Do you want to have a private party and attend the show with just your friends? You can do that. Do you want to enjoy the show just by yourself? You can do that. Do you want to have the traditional public event experience with 50 new friends? You can do that, too." By default, visitors will be bumped into a public room, but they can use AltspaceVR's calling tool to have smaller sessions.
Many online social experiences, including group events in AltspaceVR, rely on creating many instances of a single location. What's different about FrontRow is the idea of porting one person's actions across all of them, while small independent groups of viewers watch. Attendees won't be able to interact with Watts at this event, but the system could temporarily make any viewer a "performer," so they'll appear across all rooms while asking a question or making a comment. For VR performances — besides comedy, AltspaceVR also hosts game developer visits and book readings — FrontRow will theoretically help stop real-world scarcity problems from creeping in. Granted, scarcity is also a lot of what drives interest in getting things like "the best seat in the house." Virtual reality is also a primarily visual affair, so you're not going to get the precise feeling of sharing a drink with friends in a crowded comedy club — although depending on your perspective, that may be a good thing.
AltspaceVR opened in public beta a year ago, and it's probably the best-known social VR platform, especially while systems like Linden Lab's Project Sansar remain in development. Since launch, it's released free apps for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Samsung Gear VR. For those without a headset, it's also built flatscreen versions for Windows and Mac OS X — not the best experience, but a stopgap for anyone who's more interested in Reggie Watts than virtual reality. Watts himself, meanwhile, has previously worked in virtual reality: he premiered a surreal short film called Waves earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.