Twitch is a monster force in the game industry, now boasting 8.5 million daily active users, with the average viewer watching Twitch broadcasts for 106 minutes per day. Its resounding success can be attributed to many things, but I’ll simplify it: the people behind the live streaming service expertly tapped into our innate desire to form communities around the things we love, and effortlessly share what we’re doing.
It’s still early days for virtual reality, but aside from a smattering of multiplayer-enabled games and social apps like AltSpace, VR is a pretty solitary experience right now. Early adopters and game developers are clamoring to form communities around their new careers and pastimes, but falling back on what has traditionally worked outside of VR is proving difficult.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. A few weeks ago I decided to jump on Twitch to stream a few hours of VR gameplay inside my HTC Vive. I had a blast, but I was concerned about the disconnect between myself and my audience. I couldn’t launch or manage the broadcast from inside the Vive. I couldn’t see what they were saying in the chat, and that just didn’t feel right. So every few minutes I removed my headset and headphones, walked back over to the PC, and caught up. It was cumbersome for me, and not very interactive for them. I found myself hoping that top minds over at Twitch had foreseen this area of opportunity and were working on a solution.
Twitch probably is working on a solution to make VR livestreaming more elegant on their platform, but Seattle-based VREAL (that’s “Virtual Reality Entertainment and Livestreaming”) is beating them to the punch with a platform designed from the ground up for VR, and one that seems to tap into what makes virtual reality so special.
I jumped on the phone with VREAL founder and CEO Todd Hooper to learn more about what they’re building, and our conversation kicked off with the observation of two very dominant trends.
“With the rise of Twitch and YouTube, we now see more people watching games than are actually playing them, especially with eSports,” Hooper says. “If you create a breakout game that people want to watch, they become entertainment franchises.”
That’s no exaggeration. Remember back in 2013 when the League of Legends World Championship was watched live by 8.5 million concurrent viewers? That’s more than most cable TV networks have during primetime.
“When I experienced my first VR headsets I realized pretty quickly that this was going to be the future of gaming, and that gamers are going to be crazy about VR,” Hooper says. “It might take a few years; we’re at the very beginning.”
Hooper wanted to combine these two trends into something that everyone involved in the VR space could capitalize on. VREAL was the result.
Think of VREAL like Twitch, but with an additional, self-contained layer of social interactivity and much more control for both streamers and viewers. VREAL lets you natively stream a VR gaming experience to literally any screen. Viewers without VR headsets aren’t locked out. VREAL works on VR devices like the Oculus Rift, HTCHTCCY +0% Vive, or Samsung Gear VR, but it also works on traditional 2D screens.
Imagine I’m playing a game like Vanishing Realms, and you strap on your own Oculus Rift or HTC Vive to watch me play. Once VREAL is implemented (which the company says is easily integrated via an SDK into any Unreal Engine or Unity-powered experience), the game basically gets re-rendered for the viewer. This allows them to have their own independent camera, and freely move about in the world instead of being locked into the player’s view.
This is important. Essentially, the viewer is finally a spectator in the truest sense of the word. And the idea that my friends can virtually hang out in the game world right alongside me? That’s ridiculously exciting.
So what happens if you’re on a system that isn’t capable of re-rendering the game? Perhaps a lower-powered mobile VR headset like Google GOOGL +1.69% Cardboard? VREAL turns it into a 360 video. What about people who just want to watch on their flat TV or monitor? They’ll get a traditional 2D video stream. This allows for a maximum audience size across platforms, and peak social interaction.
Speaking of social interaction, VREAL will also have its own “single, shared social VR environment,” allowing players and viewers to project and communicate via their customized avatars. This is a big deal in VR, because the sense of presence amplifies these personal encounters and truly makes you feel as if you’re speaking with actual people, even if they’re animated.
There’s much more for us still to learn about VREAL, but the concept sounds very exciting. VREAL is launching a beta this summer, and I look forward to finally streaming my virtual reality experiences in VR.