20 Sep

Virtual Reality Video Conferencing May Benefit from the Experience of a Gaming Industry Pro

    If you’re looking for a little more action during your video conferences, your dreams are a step closer to reality. In one of the more surprising tech pivots of the recent times, one of the minds behind the Call of Duty gaming franchise has ditched the battlefield for the boardroom in order to work on virtual reality video conferencing.

    Chance Glasco, founding member of CoD developer Infinity Ward, announced his new venture in August. Along with three other co-founders, Glasco put together the company Doghead Simulations with promises to bring the same immersive, interactive teamwork to the virtual meeting room that he and others brought to seven titles of the multi-million selling game CoD.

    The virtual reality app rumii will use VR headsets, avatars, and 3D virtual worlds to give video callers a new sense of space, and a lot more room to move. Video games have inspired elements of video conferencing before, as we talked about in our post on game technology in virtual reality development, but this is a rare opportunity to see what happens when a gaming mind is let loose in a traditionally formal setting.

    It could even be the solution to the decades-old question of how to socialize and build trust in a virtual workplace.

    A Virtual Meet and Greet

    The rumii experience is different than a traditional video conference right off the bat. Rather than being presented with a series of slowing filling chat windows and nervously staring at yourself while waiting for the meeting to get underway, virtual reality headset-wearing rumii callers instead gather in a 3D virtual lobby. With customized walls and presentation areas to look at, your avatar can make small talk with other invited guests in something that resembles an art gallery or auto show more than it does a video call.

    Mr. Glasco has promised that Doghead Simulation’s VR avatars will feature eye-tracking and full-body gestures to make them seem more human than animation, and the finished product will have some extras from the gaming world, such as spectator mode (so you don’t have to miss out on or interrupt a meeting in progress) and motion-capture, so you can move through your VR world just by moving your head.

    We’ve seen similar VR ideas beginning to be integrated into video calling, so the real promise lies in where rumii may go next.

    Virtual Reality Video Conferencing in Action

    AltSpace VR has been offering a similar version of avatar-led virtual reality video conferencing for a while now. Like rumii, it places callers within an open lobby format that is fully customizable and interactive. It doesn’t have fancy features like spectator mode, and it looks like the graphics haven’t been greatly improved since the days of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing video clip, but it certainly functions the way the early shots of rumii suggest that version will operate.

    It captures the same social air, the same in-room feeling of being able to see whole bodies around a table, not just floating heads, and offers the same relative anonymity–which could prove valuable given how many people get self-conscious looking at their faces in a standard video call.

    AltSpace’s product does a poor job of rendering video callers faces on their avatars, and Mr. Glasco has yet to offer any evidence that rumii will do better. The advent ofcommercially-priced facial recognition technology in the latest breed of webcamscould, however, improve that facet of both platforms. With a more personable face to our avatars, there would be a lot of room for fun and frivolity within a VR video calling world headed by a proven gaming genius.

    Social Video Calling

    While the new app rumii is undoubtedly intended as a corporate platform, you can’t read about a CoD guy getting into video conferencing and not immediately start fantasizing about turning your next remote staff meeting into a game of virtual paintball.

    One of the major complaints about telecommuting and remotely located corporate teams is that the out-of-office lifestyle kills team bonding, and socializing via video chat, while it might be important for the team, is awkward for many people. All this is part of the reason big firms like IBM have walked away from their once-staunch support for telecommuting. They believe that the lack of random social encounters between employees is killing creativity and leading to siloed groups within the company that never interact.

    Maybe rumii, with its social gaming bloodlines, can inject some light-hearted team tomfoolery into the meeting environment–and the company as a whole. It could do this by incorporating some entertainment into that lobby setup, so while the early birds are waiting on the boss to get online, they can challenge each other to virtual games or competitions–creating something a little like a virtual version of a startup’s ping-pong or foosball table. A digital World War II battlefield may not be appropriate for the workplace, but there are plenty of sports, dance, or Mario Bros-style games that our virtual avatars could perform. And these team-building, social activities wouldn’t just take place while attendees wait for a meeting to start. Managers could arrange games between teams, between offices, and between groups within the company, no matter where they were located.

    There’s no need to compromise the business-first approach of rumii, but it could become the first gaming/business hybrid to enter the video conferencing market. Telecommuters and remote workers may not be able to gather for a company picnic, but they could still play cornhole with the team from HR online.

    Alternatively, the VR lobby could be made permanently available to remote and in-office employees alike to let them socialize in a common space away from more formal, purely work-related spaces. Maybe rumii will become the staff room or kitchenette–where employees chat, goof around, and catch up–of the future.

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