The Past, Present and Future of Virtual Reality
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Social VR refers to social experiences in a digital environment created by virtual reality technology. Social VR experiences enable people to interact with each other in a virtual world, with VR headsets or other VR equipment.
In this video, UX Design Consultant Frank Spillers discusses the characteristics of social VR.
Social VR is seen as a significant step towards more immersive and interactive forms of digital socialization, blurring the lines between the physical and virtual worlds. Here are some of the key elements of social VR experiences.
Immersive Interaction: Social VR places users in a fully immersive 3D environment where they can interact with others. This interaction can be more engaging than traditional screen-based social platforms due to the sense of immersion and presence it offers.
Avatars: Users typically represent themselves through avatars, which are customizable digital characters. These avatars can often mimic real-life movements and expressions, enhancing the sense of realism in interactions.
Communication: Social VR enables various forms of communication, including voice, text, and even body language through avatar movements. This makes communication more nuanced compared to non-VR digital interactions.
Activities and Experiences: Social VR platforms often offer a range of activities, from games and entertainment to educational experiences and collaborative workspaces. Users can participate in these activities together, creating a sense of community.
Accessibility and Inclusivity: While social VR can be more accessible for people who are geographically distant, it also faces challenges in terms of requiring specialized hardware and dealing with issues like motion sickness.
Virtual Communities: Social VR platforms can foster virtual communities with shared interests, providing a new dimension of social interaction that transcends physical boundaries.
Privacy and Safety: Like any social platform, social VR poses challenges in terms of privacy, security, and ensuring a safe environment for users, especially considering the immersive nature of the interactions.
Social VR and traditional social media are both platforms for digital interaction, but they differ significantly in their approach, experience, and technology. Here are some key differences:
Social VR is highly immersive—platforms like Facebook's Horizon Workrooms and VRChat offer 3D environments where users can explore, move and interact in a way that mimics real-life experiences. In contrast, traditional social media like Instagram or X (formerly known as Twitter) is accessed through 2D interfaces on smartphones or computers. They are mainly focused on sharing images, text, or videos.
This video shows how users can interact, explore and create in VRchat.
In social VR, interaction is often more holistic and involves body movements. In the social VR platform, AltspaceVR, users interact through avatars with gestures and spatial navigation. Traditional social media platforms like Facebook primarily involve interaction through text, likes, comments, and sharing of media, which lacks the dimension of physical presence.
Social VR offers a sense of presence that traditional social media cannot. Users in VR can feel like they are in the same room as others, which enhances the realism of social interactions. Platforms like Oculus Rooms make users feel as if they are in the same space as others, with realistic avatars and environments. This level of presence and realism is absent in traditional social media, where interactions are limited to digital exchanges without a sense of shared physical space.
Social VR requires specific hardware such as VR headsets, controllers, and sometimes powerful computers, whereas traditional social media can be accessed on widely available devices like smartphones and laptops.
Users can create and interact with 3D content in social VR. In applications like Sansar, High Fidelity and VR Chat, users can make their own virtual environments, objects, and avatars. Traditional social media, such as YouTube or Facebook, emphasizes creating and sharing 2D content like videos, photos, and text.
This video goes over the basics of how to build in Sansar:
Social VR often allows for more personalized representations through avatars, which can closely mimic a user's appearance and movements. Traditional social media, while offering profile customization and avatars, does not usually offer the same level of personal embodiment.
Traditional social media platforms like X can host conversations with thousands of users simultaneously, albeit in a more stilted way. Social VR, on the other hand, often has limitations on the number of participants due to technical constraints, focusing on smaller, more intimate and fluid group interactions.
The immersive nature of social VR can lead to more intense forms of harassment or discomfort, as users feel more present in the environment. Traditional social media platforms also face privacy and safety concerns, but the lack of physical presence offers a more detached experience and a different level of safety.
Platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn are more accessible due to minimal hardware requirements and options for users with disabilities. Social VR is improving in terms of accessibility but still faces challenges due to the need for specialized hardware and the physical nature of the interaction.
While traditional social media is often used for casual communication, sharing updates, or marketing, social VR extends to immersive applications like virtual classrooms. Engage VR offers collaborative workspaces, or virtual events and conferences, which allows users to work together more effectively and connect more closely than on platforms like Twitter and Instagram.
As with any successful user experience, social VR products should be user-friendly, intuitive, and engaging. Designers should create functional, accessible, and immersive environments that cater to a diverse range of users. Here are practical points on how to achieve this:
Immersive Environment Design: Design environments that are not only visually stunning but also immersive and realistic. This means paying attention to spatial layout, scale, and environmental dynamics. The goal is to make users feel truly 'present' in the VR space.
The VR game Half-Life: Alyx has realistic environments with meticulous attention to spatial layout and scale, which offers players an immersive experience that makes them feel truly present in the game world.
Intuitive Interaction: Ensure that users can navigate and interact within the VR space effortlessly. This includes natural-feeling gesture controls, voice commands, and easy-to-navigate menus, all crucial to maintain immersion and user engagement. Natural social interactions should have features that support both verbal and non-verbal communication, like gestures and facial expressions, to enrich social dynamics.
Customizable Avatars and Characters: Provide users with extensive options to customize their avatars. This is essential for identity expression and helps in creating a more personal and relatable social experience.
Onboarding and Education: Offer effective onboarding experiences to familiarize users with the VR environment and its mechanics, making the platform accessible to newcomers.
Accessibility and Comfort: Make the VR experience accessible to everyone, including people with various abilities and preferences. Adjustable settings, alternative control schemes, and designs that prevent motion sickness are key. Microsoft’s SeeingVR tools enhance VR for visually impaired users and offer accessibility options like text-to-speech and magnification, demonstrating how VR experiences can be made more inclusive.
Dynamic and Interactive Environments: Create environments that react to user actions, whether objects that can be interacted with or environments that change based on user input. This responsiveness makes the VR world feel more alive and engaging.
Encourage User-Generated Content: Empower users to shape their environment. This could involve allowing them to design spaces, create art, or host events, which fosters a sense of ownership and community.
Safe and Moderated Environments: Implement robust safety features to protect users from harassment. Privacy settings, reporting tools, and moderation are crucial to ensure a safe and comfortable experience.
Diverse Social Settings: Strive to give users control over their social experience—offer a range of social settings to cater to different interaction styles and social needs, from quiet, intimate spaces to larger, more active communal areas. Public spaces are great for meeting new people, and private spaces are ideal for more intimate gatherings.
Enable users to organize and participate in events within the VR space, from casual meetups to structured activities like concerts or educational sessions.
Regular Feedback and Iteration: Continuously gather user feedback and iterate on the design to address issues and improve the overall experience.
Cultural Sensitivity and Ethics: Be aware of cultural and ethical implications and ensure that the VR environment is inclusive and respectful of all users.
When these factors are taken into consideration, designers can create social VR experiences that are not only engaging and enjoyable but also intuitive and comfortable for a wide range of users.
Learn more about VR in our course, UX Design for Virtual Reality.
Read up on social VR safety tips in The Metaculture’s blog post, How to Stay Safe in Social VR.
This chapter, Social virtual reality (VR) applications and user experiences, explores the user experience of social VR.
Here’s the entire UX literature on Social VR by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Take a deep dive into Social VR with our course UX Design for Virtual Reality .
Virtual reality is a multidimensional universe that invites you to bring stories to life, transform digital interactions, educate with impact and create user-centric and unforgettable experiences. This course equips you with the skills and knowledge to embrace the possibilities and navigate the challenges of virtual reality.
UX Design for Virtual Reality is taught by UX expert Frank Spillers, CEO and founder of the renowned UX consultancy Experience Dynamics. Frank is an expert in the field of VR and AR, and has 22 years of UX experience with Fortune 500 clients including Nike, Intel, Microsoft, HP, and Capital One.
In UX Design for Virtual Reality, you’ll learn how to create your own successful VR experience through UX design. Informed by technological developments, UX design principles and VR best practices, explore the entire VR design process, from concept to implementation. Apply your newfound skills and knowledge immediately though practical and enjoyable exercises.
In lesson 1, you’ll immerse yourself in the origins and future potential of VR and you’ll learn how the core principles of UX design apply to VR.
In lesson 2, you’ll learn about user research methods, custom-tailored for the intricacies of VR.
In lesson 3, you’ll investigate immersion and presence and explore narrative, motion and sounds as design tools.
In lesson 4, you’ll delve into interface and interaction design to create your own user-friendly, compelling and comfortable VR experiences.
In lesson 5, you’ll gain insights into prototyping, testing, implementing VR experiences, and conducting thorough evaluations.
After each lesson you’ll have the chance to put what you’ve learned into practice with a practical portfolio exercise. Once you’ve completed the course, you’ll have a case study to add to your UX portfolio. This case study will be pivotal in your transition from 2D designer to 3D designer.
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