Over the last three weeks the engineers at VR startup Spaces started working 16 to 18 hour days from home in social isolation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within a few days they had a barebones version of a free add-on for Zoom and other video conferencing apps which allowed for joining the conversation from inside a PC VR headset. After three weeks now they’ve added a subscription tier to the software which allows for some pro features, like the removal of a watermark, HD streaming, and priority support.
The startup co-founded by Brad Herman and Shiraz Akmal originally spun their work out of Dreamworks in 2015 and previously built out location-based VR attractions, like one for Terminator Salvation. But like the broader world, VR arcades everywhere started closing their doors in March following orders from governments seeking to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes the Los Angeles location for Two Bit Circus, which features one of Spaces’ Terminator attractions. Underscoring the rapid shift in the wake of COVID-19, and its response, the venue originally planned to install a thermal camera to detect fevers in prospective visitors at the door, but closed fully within a few days. A survey in mid-March sent to operators of SpringboardVR, one of the leading platforms supplying VR arcades with content, showed that the vast majority of VR arcades were closing at least temporarily, with at least 16 percent closing their doors permanently starting in April.
But as out-of-home VR attractions ground to a halt, there’s now a greater need to connect to others through the Internet. There’s a robust debate about whether requiring a current generation VR headset makes sense to access social connection, but an optional add-on like Spaces might be a welcome break from the monotony of staring into a webcam in back-to-back Zoom meetings.
“We are fighting for our company, for our jobs, for our employees,” Herman wrote to me in explaining the rapid development effort. “Not going to let four years of work just vanish in the blink of an eye.”
Herman said they are planning additional environments and features for Spaces, including the ability to access multiple camera angles with the press of keyboard buttons. You can try out Spaces for free here.