In the early going, virtual reality has been a somewhat solitary affair, immersing the viewer into a lonesome 360-degree experience.
But new apps and technologies, including a new wave of multiplayer games for nascent or emerging platforms such as the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, are adding a social twist to those experiences.
And some are already out in the market. For example, AltSpaceVR, a startup that counts Comcast Ventures among its backers, has already introduced a social VR system that, for example, allows users to get together in virtualized environments to watch YouTube videos, play chess or engage in a game of Dungeons & Dragons with players from different corners of the globe.
SUITE LIFE FOR VIRTUAL ‘VIPs’
Also on the horizon is another social VR concept that adds live sports into the mix, allowing fans to assemble in a digital “VIP” room that can replicate the sort of experience one might get in a fancy luxury suite at a large outdoor stadium or indoor arena. Why let Jerry Jones have all the fun?
One company that’s taking direct aim at this opportunity is LiveLike, a startup that has built a platform that can pair a virtualized, digitally rendered luxury suite with existing live-TV sports broadcasts. LiveLike is trying to blend social VR with live sports, company CEO Andre Lorenceau explained.
After building the prototype, the company showed it to a variety of broadcasters “and they loved, it, so we moved forward,” he said.
LiveLike isn’t yet commercially deployed, but the company is already in talks with several major broadcasters. It has already conducted live tests with some broadcasters in the U.S. and the U.K., Lorenceau said.
LiveLike built a version for the Gear VR (which is powered by Oculus), and is also creating an app for Google Cardboard and versions for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Its technology is in the proving out stage, but the company expects to do more public-facing unveilings in the coming months. Lorenceau believes that LiveLike is in position to move forward with several commercial launches later this year, noting that it’s already working on three “major” deals — two in Europe and one in the U.S.
While top-tier sports are part of the plan, the company also believes there are ample opportunities to build VR environments for secondary sports.
To simplify access for consumers, the aim is to have that VR component built into over-the-top and TV Everywhere apps from partners using a specially labeled tab or some other method to alert users that a VR component is available.
As an example of how this would look in action, VR users who enter this computer-generated area would see a live video stream of the game on one wall and virtualized elements, such as interactive scores and stats, in other parts of the room.
The beauty of this approach, according to LiveLike, is that the live stream doesn’t require any special 360-degree camera equipment. Its system can take the traditional 2D feed (as long as it’s captured using a fisheye/wide-angle lens) and relay that and stitch it into the VR experience. “The game is the real video feed,” Lorenceau said.
NATIVE AD OPPORTUNITIES
LiveLike, a company that has about 12 full-time employees and was founded about a year ago, is also exploring ways to help partners monetize the VR experience, including the use of digital advertising.
Because it’s built digitally, those VR VIP rooms can be easily modified. That means it wouldn’t be difficult for broadcasters and their sponsors, for example, to build in ads that could appear in the environment — a digitized can of Coke on a virtual table, for example, or an overlay that appears during a break in the action.
The aim is to make those ads “noninvasive,” but to open up a new native ad unit and a fresh form of inventory for these types of VR environments, Lorenceau said.