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10 Things I Learned Hosting a Meetup in VR

This month, as we were unable to hold any events at The FuseBox, we decided to trial hosting our Brighton Immersive Meetup in VR, using the online platform AltspaceVR for the first time. We thought it might be useful to share our learnings from hosting an event in this way.

1. Know your audience

Given the enthusiasm our attendees have for innovation and the evident excitement towards trying new technologies, I felt that this would be one event that could undoubtedly survive the transition to an online platform. 

And being the Brighton Immersive Meetup, it only made sense that a VR platform would be the way forward. It was fantastic to see so many friendly faces, including some who joined us from overseas.
 

2. Pick the right platform

I’m not going to go into too much detail around the different social VR platforms, as Make Real has already written a fantastic blog post summarising the features of each. There are many to choose from, each providing very different features and benefits, so do some research. 

In the end, we settled with using AltspaceVR, a social VR platform which provides meeting spaces in Virtual Reality. In private or public “rooms” users can have conversations, watch videos and play games together. 

Other features of Altspace include the ability for presenters to control and share their slide decks remotely and for us to set up virtual cameras enabling a more professional recording/livestream experience. Altspace also provides adequate moderation controls to handle a large number of users and an excellent event management system making it easy for attendees to join the event at the right time.
 

3. Cater to everyone

One significant benefit of Altspace is that although designed for VR, users can still join events and participate as an avatar through their 2D desktop application. Despite the majority of our audience having some access to VR, even within our community of immersive enthusiasts, not everybody would be able to join that way. 

For those attendees potentially put off by installing software onto their PC’s or those without access to a Windows PC, we decided to also livestream the event to our YouTube channel. 

In the end, around 50% of the attendees chose to participate by watching the livestream, so it was unquestionably the right decision.
 

4. Communicate with attendees

Asking people to try new things can be a challenge, and we expected that joining the event wouldn’t be seamless for everyone. We wrote guides for joining the meetup through VR, the desktop and the livestream, which we distributed through the Eventbrite page and pre-event emails to attendees. This preparation meant we could get the event started as quickly as possible with minimal delay.
 

5. Coordinate with the speakers

Fortunately for us, our speakers already had VR and Altspace experience, which meant that getting prepared was reasonably straightforward. We arranged to meet in Altspace half an hour before the event to ensure that everyone was comfortable and knew what they were doing.

If you are hosting or speaking in a VR event on a new platform, I’d highly recommend getting some practice in the day before to test that your audio and controls are configured correctly to avoid any awkward moments.
 

6. Things in VR take longer than expected

On the night, there were a few more interruptions than I would have liked, mostly due to speakers and attendees dealing with unexpected technical issues. We decided to delay the start of the event by 15 minutes as some attendees were still having trouble connecting and ultimately had to watch through the livestream.

While the delay wasn’t intentional, it was fortunate, as it allowed the other attendees time to chat and get used to their new, virtual environment.

7. Expect technical issues

There were a few technical issues aside from the aforementioned floating audience members. Just before starting the event, we found that although I had successfully managed to play videos on the big screen when testing, it turns out videos play client-side only, meaning I was the only person who could see it, which wasn’t ideal.

We also had a few attendees finding that their microphones weren’t working; the occasional dismembered limb floating on by, due to VR controllers losing tracking; and a few found themselves unexpectedly flying above or sunken into the floor of the event space, which honestly was pretty entertaining for everyone...
 

8. UK broadband is unreliable

The technical problem that had the most significant impact on the event was the internet. When organising the meetup in January, we didn’t expect it to be virtual, and we certainly didn’t anticipate everyone would be working from home. As such, the speeds of our speakers home broadband didn’t come into consideration.

Unfortunately, this meant that on the night, one of our speakers was unable to join as their PC couldn’t get a stable enough internet connection. When paired with another speaker falling ill with a fever on the night, this did leave us a little shorter on content.
 

9. The social interaction was real

What was fantastic to see was the enthusiasm from our attendees who immediately started chatting with friends and colleagues upon joining. It was surprisingly easy to recognise FuseBox residents and regular attendees from their voices and often accurate, yet decidedly “blocky,” avatars.

Due to the livestreaming arrangement, I was hosting through the desktop application - which a few people mentioned caused my avatar to look somewhat lifeless without the use of virtual hands. I had to pay attention to nodding and moving my camera/head to make attendees in VR feel less uncomfortable.

The feedback for the event has been phenomenal and a significant driving factor of why...
 

10. We will try it again!

Although I would like to remain optimistic about the current situation, I suspect if we want to keep our meetups monthly, then we will be hosting more events in Altspace before we return to our home at the FuseBox. So I am currently researching speakers and topics relevant to the ongoing health crisis.

It was a fantastic learning experience, and although there are now new and different things to bear in mind on top of just selecting speakers, it is an exciting glimpse into the future of online communities and events. Thank you to everyone who took part, and we hope to see you at the next Brighton Immersive Meetup.

In case you couldn't make it to this Meetup or would like to watch the talks again, check out the video of the event on our YouTube channel:

About the author

Chris Chowen

Hi, I'm Chris, Wired Sussex's Emerging Technologies Coordinator. I help to facilitate the Brighton Immersive Lab, offer support to the FuseBox residents and lead our programme of Brighton Immersive events.

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