Virtual Reality offers worlds of opportunity for the creation of extraordinary experiences. It’s little surprise then that the technology has seen widespread adoption by the gaming industry, with various development studios creating a wide variety of titles for different platforms such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. The popularity of VR games has also seen a lot of YouTubers create videos of their own experiences playing these titles. Now, US-based startup Vreal wants to take the VR gaming and viewing experience one step further.
Vreal is a unique platform that allows gamers and viewers to share the same VR space in real-time, letting viewers see and interact with the gamers as they play the game. Moving past the traditional setup of viewers watching 2D videos of gamers playing in 3D VR environments allows for deeply immersive and shared experiences. Somebody using Vreal could drop into a fully rendered game world as an avatar and interact with their favourite personality in-game, or even choose to sit back and take a bird’s eye view while participating in discussions and interactions.
At the moment, the platform offers a limited suite of options, including recording and publishing gaming sessions for viewing later, or the option to livestream sessions while viewers watch the session through invisible avatars. Recordings include the game environment, movement of players, their interactions, and voices. Support for voice chat for live interaction with viewers is planned for the next phase of development.
Admittedly, Vreal caters to a rather niche consumer segment – streamers and gamers with VR hardware broadcasting to viewers with VR hardware. However, CEO Todd Hopper is optimistic about the offering’s future. In an interview, he said, “We think it’s going to be a whole new segment of the gaming industry...It’s still pretty small today but it will have its blockbuster titles.”
Todd is clearly not alone in his optimism. Vreal announced today that it had raised $11.7 million in Series A funding in a round led by Axioma Ventures, along with Intel Capital and the AET Fund. This brings their total disclosed funding to $15 million, after two initial seed rounds – $3.3 million in November 2015, and an undisclosed amount in September 2016. As part of the deal, Chet Faliszek (who worked with Valve Corporation on the development of the HTC Vive) and Chris M. Williams (CEO of entertainment company pocket.watch) will join Vreal’s Board of Directors.
Vreal’s service is currently in pre-alpha stage and only available to users on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive; however, the team has big plans for the future and hopes to add support for mobile platforms in the future to capture the market from devices like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. There are also plans to release the platform to a wider testing base later this year; interested users can sign themselves up via a Google form.
The team is currently working on developing tools that will help make the experience of using VR much smoother and more flawless for first-time adopters as well as seasoned users. Todd said, “Immersive virtual worlds are the future of gaming, and we’re building the highway that will take viewers to curated gameplay experiences, all alongside their friends and favourite gaming personalities.”