• Rodger Caudill

6 Fixes for Virtual Reality Meeting Platforms

A few weeks ago I talked about why your, my, and everyone else's video calls are a bit awkward. In that piece, I talked about six ways that VR can save these painful calls. Here's the recap:

1. No black dot - First off, no black dot. In VR meetings you get to look at people and stuff, and you can be in space. This is great because focusing on a camera is exhausting when you constantly want to look at the speaker's face. Check out the screen capture from a recent meeting we had at MXTreality about our VR wheelchair training simulation. We are all looking at someone speaking on our computer and not the actual camera.

2. You can move - You can use body language, you can throw bananas. Just normal communications stuff.

3. Tools, tools, tools - Integration of screen sharing, collaborative tools, and more. In VR we can bust out the chalk-board and add tools that we already have on our computer through screen sharing. Check out the classic shared theatre of bigscreen below! Yes, this can be used as a meeting tool!

4. Organic Grouping - This is a weird one. In most VR meetings, break-out rooms are literally rooms. You can walk off and just chat.

5. Emotes - You can emote with most VR meeting platforms that go beyond the thumbs up or clapping that often goes unnoticed in many video calls.

6. Timing - It takes a bit of getting used to, but by being able to move and see responses for the whole body in real-time (largely due to not having to look at a camera) makes conversations feel more natural. The space between speaking is full of movement and interaction like it should be.

But despite these perks with VR meetings, we are still missing social and technological aspects of communication that can take VR meetings over the top. There are gaps and there are peaks for each VR meeting program, but they still excel well past the “Am I muted, can you hear me?” of video calls.

Here are a few of the problems I see with VR meeting rooms and some possible fixes we are working on here at MXTreality:

1. Perpetual smiles - Avatars need to stop smiling at me. It’s creeping me out and people don’t do this. People can’t actually fake what an authentic smile looks like because there are muscles around your eyes that can’t be voluntarily moved, the zygomatic major and the orbicularis oculi, AKA, the crow’s feet muscles. Check out the evolution of the Facebook VR avatars below. Look at the last smiling avatar. Do you feel safe?

Easy Fix: If you can't force a smile, make your avatar stop smiling at me like it wants to murder me.

2. Avatar Formality - This is what VR chat does right, well kind of. We are in VR. This is still a novel space. Why do all our avatars look like cut-outs from an animated GQ magazine? This is not to condone the absurdities that exist in VR chat, but just to say, VR is not an episode of Mad Men. Below is the most sterile image of what VR chat avatars have to offer.

Easy Fix: Less formal, more customizable, approachable avatars. Have some fun, but don't be weird.

3. Offices - Just why? Why make an office in VR? We could be talking on Europa for science’s sake. Easy Fix: Placing meetings in inspirational settings that relate to what the meeting is about could have huge effects on motivation! Check out the image of Mars below we made for one of our VR experiences.

4. Writing Tools - It’s 2020 and we still haven’t figured out how to write in Virtual Reality. Hard Fix: The best option for text communications in VR is still to put down the controllers and use a keyboard with a mixed reality (XR) overlay that shows the keyboard's positioning and allows you to type using a physical keyboard all the while being in virtual reality.

5. Water Cooler Talk - It’s pretty awkward to make a ‘just chatting’ VR room for your office, but that’s because there never was a ‘just chatting’ room in the office. The reason why we chat by the water cooler is that we are ALSO GETTING WATER.

Medium Fix: All you gotta do is add some semblance of activity and maybe a little common ground and people will chat. This could be as simple as a rotating gallery for folks to check out images uploaded by members of the group.

6. Latency - If your frame rate is too slow or your connection is bad, problems will happen. Anyone with experience in VR knows how bad a choppy experience is. And lag can make conversations even worse than a bad phone call.

Medium Fix: Lower resolutions and a meeting space that doesn't overpower the average computer can help with frame rate, but if internet connection is an issue this could be problematic no matter what communication medium you use.

It’s important to note that not all of these criticisms apply to all VR meeting platforms and that these platforms are WAY better than another video call. These are just some common complaints that have circulated in the VR space as we’ve turned to use these platforms more.

So let us know if you agree with six problems and solutions for VR chat rooms. What else would you add to your list? I know we have many more stored away, but we’d like to hear from you first!

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