From 2D and spatial audio to 3D and real-time with rich media, INTERACTIVE COLLABORATION is moving faster than we can zoom.
There are hundreds of virtual work, event and play-based platforms for bringing people together, whether you’re out to have fun or striving to build something together. From architecture to events, there are unique affordances to each platform that make it great for specific use cases. As a showrunner, producer and strategist I’ve created experiences in dozens of virtual platforms, so here’s a guide to the playability, ease of use, accessibility and adaptability of these apps and tools for your use cases.
Take a look at a few of the options based on the types of work you’re striving to create (Part 1: Immersive Workspaces below) and join me for a workshop on virtual events creation and production for a deeper dive if you’d like to ask questions or go in-depth into the design specs of your experience. This is just a sample of where we can go!
Rundown of the top spaces for a mix of use cases
Meetings for Small Groups and Teams
ImmersedVR: An easy workspace solution for collaboration spaces
Great video on this platform included in this best of CES devices for VR and collaboration, this desktop-sharing VR platform works best with Oculus Quest and can work alongside other platforms.
Spatial.io: Holographically Working Together, in the same space
Stable, easy for beginners and capable for VR/XR or PC devices if you have a mix of people joining your meeting from a number of interfaces. You’re in a natural-looking room with post-it notes and other collaboration standards while you can also import models to discuss together.
PLAYABILITY: 5 out of 5 (Easy to get started & make your own avatar to collaborate)
EngageVR: Simulated meetings or models in any environment
EngageVR excels at both large and small meetings, conferences, educational gatherings, simulations, storytelling and collaboration. The tools are easy and work best in VR but a PC version also exists for mixed groups meeting together.
Mozilla Hubs: Making Open Web Spaces Portable, VR or Mobile
Open web, available across devices from mobile to VR, very open to new plugins and capable, you can make your own rooms easily for unique workspaces in any setting. Streams or 360 video is supported along with live web content for theatrical video experiences. Hubs can support 25 people per room and tied together on your own server, thousands can participate in experiences where each room is a unique space. Best part of Hubs is that no download is needed, it’s all browser-based and very easy.
Virtual Events (Large Scale Gatherings)
Virtway Events: Flexible spaces for education or professional events
Quite a bit of avatar customization and capacity for larger events of all sizes, this solution works for everything from science fairs to trade shows, talks and meetings. Price is right for groups to gather easily with rich media and collaboration spaces.
VFairs: Virtual Fairs and Shows of all sizes
Easy to use for professional events and training programs, anything that would have happened on the educational trade show or fair circuit can happen in VFairs.
INXPO: A professional expo floor solution with branded spaces
Professional solution for larger scale trade shows and events that look and feel like a convention hall with all of the interactive bells and whistles you’d expect in a virtual expo center. Relatively easy for professionals to use via app, costly but features strong analytics on engagement for sponsors with larger trade shows or conferences.
We’ll be demoing new solutions soon for those who want a 2D expo hall experience with 3D objects, but no avatar embodiment, subscribe @PlayableAgency on YouTube.
Virtual Events (Smaller Gatherings)
Mozilla Hubs is a clear winner in this space with a wide variety of open, flexible and smaller spaces used weekly for meetups, gatherings and educational workshops from classrooms to conferences, even spaces like this for families and friends to gather for free memorials and funerals. Create your own branded meeting spaces in Hubs Spoke in a matter of minutes, a few hours at most. Additional worlds supporting social virtual communities regularly include VRChat, Gather.Town and Sansar.
AltspaceVR (PC or VR versions)
More festivals and conferences are opting for this Microsoft-led platform for VR events and social virtual world that’s also available on PC. Downloads are quick, avatars are easy to customize and advanced builders can create their own event spaces in a few weeks to plug into larger event strategies or create a clubhouse for your own community meetups. Many social groups and meetups happen here regularly along with art, comedy, games and theatre from Burning Man events to DreamlandXR at CES where I hosted a panel on virtual events this week with spatial and XR creators.
Altspace during DreamlandXR events included panels with producers
Spatial Audio & Collaborative Experience Zones
In addition to platforms like Spatial.io, 2D spatial audio platforms are growing in popularity. Try Sophya.ai for coworking with whiteboards or any of these solutions for social hours with a mix of music and friendly conversations:
Topia - create your own camps and worlds to meet up and connect
This space is a bit of a hybrid approach with video and 2D spatialized connection zones mixed with whiteboards and gameplay for socializing with colleagues. It’s very easy to use and many people like the embedded games inside the rooms.
High Fidelity - Evolution of virtual social spaces for audio play
High Fidelity works for larger groups with spatialized audio for an approach that feels more like a club that you can actually hear each other in, designed by you to match your theme and event
Architecture and Design Sessions
The Wild: Design Reviews and Process for Collaboration across Devices
While this platform is uniquely built for design pros to collaborate, it can also be useful for teams that have less direct architectural experience to meet with you ahead of a new project. It can also be useful for design education and review process as you’ll see below for 3D model integrations from other design suites. VR is not required.
IrisVR: Tools for Large Builds with Professional Architects
Architects and other AEC professionals may already be familiar with this set of tools that brings professional architectural collaboration to a mix of VR headsets. Again, the focus is on design review, and in this case we can see infrastructure or layers of a building in development, for example to revise plans for HVAC or other systems inside large and complex architectural plans. IrisVR has been steadily adding to their collaborative tools for a few years with stable releases on most VR headsets.
Spatial.io and other platforms emerging can also be used for sharing 3D models and other design assets (Mozilla Hubs can even do this in a browser) so if you are looking for a solution that can manage single objects or less complex builds, you have a wide range of options outside of VR. In VR specifically, look to the collaboration and workspace sharing tools listed above combined with Iris or TheWild. While virtual architectural collaborations have been happening in Second Life and other platforms for well over a decade, the most robust integrations will be found in a pro design and architecture suite vs. a game platform or social virtual world. If you’re interested in the history of these experiences, we have machinima videos on YouTube going back to 2006 that outline how to organize global architectural collaborations for the public.
Performance Arts & Multimedia Experiences
There are a number of great articles on the game worlds that work for concerts, but little attention is given to best platforms for art events, festivals and experiences that mix media with the environment. For recent art shows with performances for example, videos inside a 3D world were used to create a sense of immediacy and intimacy with an environment built inside AFRAME to run in most browsers.
Nowhere: New Platform Mixes Video, Streaming & AFRAME
I personally love this platform for a number of reasons, especially as it drives small group interactive art experiences that feel both otherworldly and natural at the same time. Humans are humans in their video nonagons (their bubbles are 9-sided shapes) as you float through the sky or forest of creative possibilities such as we created for a series of EdgeCut art shows with NY Live Arts. Live interactive games, biofeedback and playful engagements bridge the gap on themes like Sanity and Captivity in this age of virtual experiences where the performance is a dance between the environment, the embodiment and the interactions designed for the event.
Inside Nowhere, Sylvain Souklaye leads an interactive breath meditation in a sky
Sansar: Social Virtual Worlds for Events & Experience Communities
Sansar grew out of the Second Life community which has been used for robust virtual worlds and collaboration for almost 20 years. The tools are mature and work well for performances of up to 100 people, with some broadcast & streaming capacities along with advanced tools for machinima (capturing camera angles inworld for broadcast). There are regular communities and events there with avatars and streaming.
VRChat: Amazing fun for narrative worlds & immersive theatre events.
Consistently the social world where I have the most fun, this persistent world works on PC or in VR and is both social and event-driven. Personally I head into VRChat weekly to meet with colleagues and try new live concerts, art spaces and experiences.
Sinespace: Social Worlds for Events, Fests or Educational Gatherings
David Lynch was born to be a metaverse hopper, his avatar is wild!
Sinespace may boast the highest current capacity for any virtual event space in a single server, although those targets are changing wildly with platform tests across many of these companies. I’m deeply sad to have missed the Guanajuato International Film Festival this past year where David Lynch came and spoke last September.
Visual Arts Experimentation
Many arts groups are opting to create their own bespoke or custom platforms using WebXR or AFRAME in the browser (or running an Unreal Engine experience like the recent Balenciaga catwalk game). For this rundown, we’ll stick to persistent worlds that provice spaces for other artists to create galleries or showcases - a rundown of crypto-enabled platforms for art markets will be posted soon.
RecRoom: An easy space for all ages to make art together, VR or PC
RecRoom may be one of the most simple yet adaptable virtual spaces out there for artmaking, small group collaboration or just simple fun with friends. Very few social VR worlds are as accessible as this solution and kids and adults alike can come into spaces to try out their art skills at the Better World Museum and artspaces created by Paige Danzinger outlined in this Virtual Experiences talk on my YouTube.
InDreams: Creator worlds for games, experiences or wild collabs
A functional digital pinball machine of Twin Peaks. You’re welcome.
Personally one of my favorite apps of all time, In Dreams is a game/app native to PSVR and works well on PS4 or PS5 as a user-created world of games and experiences that can be artistic, experimental or unique. It’s completely worth the cost. While there are game mods that take existing mechanics in new directions, there are also music videos, new worlds in development and games of games with fandom links, such as a Twin Peaks Pinball Machine that I personally love for all of its quirky pleasures.
Horizon: Creative Social Spaces in Early Development
The Oculus Horizon platform is coming out with a wide mix of art experiences thanks to the amazing Paige Danzinger and many developer/artists behind the scenes making these new galleries and studios available for creators using the Quest or other Oculus VR headsets. See the Rec Room video above for our recent livecast with Paige on the Better World Museum and the Horizons Art Gallery experiences in development.
Open Web & Interoperability: Future XR Open Metaverses
Webaverse: Advancing Access & Interoperability Across Worlds
Webaverse was just announced as open for beta as an interoperable hub between worlds and metaverses
A new creation currently out in early testing from a consortium of builders with deep experience across interoperability, standards & immersive world solution sets. Watch this space for great strides in both asset and avatar portability across worlds with a connected Webaverse approach to open and interoperable marketplaces.
In the Mediaverse Lounge inside Hubs I recently gave an AMA with Brett Leonard, creator of the film Lawnmower Man, hosted by Larry Rosenthal & Blu Topalli.
Mozilla Hubs remains an open web metaverse leader for those who need small, flexible and easy spaces that can be created on the web to host for specific events or use cases. From film fest AMA sessions with filmmakers and producers to educational demos and poster sessions, the open web accessibility of Hubs makes it a flexible choice for old school web professionals and new media students alike. Some people like the Immers.space team are creating immersive web game spaces using this open framework as you can see in the latest episode of my livecast with producers.
If you have specific questions on Hybrid Events related to producing virtual and physical events together, find me at http://showup.events this February 1, 2, 3 or check out our recent panel from DreamlandXR, hosted in AltspaceVR as seen above.
Additional posts here on Playability with virtual platforms will be coming soon on best of immersive crypto worlds and platforms, spatial audio breakdowns and best practices, 2D virtual event spaces (Konf, Hopin, Run the World, Zoom and many more) for traditional video-first conferences and events with demos of new platforms - subscribe and share or get in touch if you need help with your virtual event strategies.
I offer a weekly workshop OnZoom that offers a great starter to get going in virtual event production. Let me know if you need support or want to hire creator teams!