I can still remember the first time I hopped into a room in Mozilla Hubs for the first time. I had clicked a link to what I expected was a traditional flatscreen meeting, but instead I had joined a 3D room that looked a lot like a video game! There were people in avatar form milling about and chattering away while someone was getting ready to give a presentation at the front of the room. After a few minutes I understood what I was looking at, understood that this was something different, and knew it would be something that I would return to.
A few years ago, I would not have believed how much time I would be spending on Zoom, Teams, Slack, Google Meet, Facetime, and the myriad of other video conferencing tools that have come to dominate social connection during the pandemic. Before the Covid-era I think I had joined a few zoom calls, but little did I know how much 2D meeting platforms would come to dominate my life in the near future. While I am incredibly thankful that these platforms have enabled my world to continue (somewhat) like it did pre-pandemic, I am also very ready for something different to overtake our flatscreen meetings.
Why spatial event spaces?
A valid question! Spatial event spaces bring an element of presence to gatherings that 2D platforms cannot replicate. Being inside of a room with others, even if you are using a 2D monitor, helps one to feel like they are inhabiting the same space rather than sitting side by side in virtual unmoving squares. Joining a 3D space where users can move around, hear conversations around them using spatial audio, and interact with other users makes virtual events feel much more human. Interaction inside a VR headset brings the whole experience to a new level, but neither of the platforms I highlight in this article require one and most people in early 2022 will still join from flatscreen monitors.
Are these spaces part of the Metaverse?
The platforms I highlight in this article are two of the platforms that I think most closely resemble the ultimate ideal of the Metaverse in early 2022. Both platforms are web based, can be accessed from (nearly) any device, and give the ability to link to other virtual spaces via hyperlinks. In many ways this is the beginning of the promise of the interoperable metaverse, just starting to appear in these new virtual platforms! I won’t get into more details on the Metaverse for now, but I wrote a recent article that you might find interesting if you want to learn more on the topic.
Where to Begin?
Many of us have become experts at moderating group video calls, and most spatial event spaces work in a comparable way. You can interact voice chat, video chat with shared webcams, use text-based chat, share emojis, etc. There are also moderation tools that allow the hosts to mute and kick users, as well as limit their ability to do things like place images and 3D models into the environment which as you might expect can get quite distracting! Though the 3D element does add a good amount of complexity to the meetings, entering the events with the expectation of it being like other virtual meeting software is a good mindset to start in.
The best way to get a handle on setting up events in 3D is to hop into a room and start exploring! In the rest of the article, I will highlight the two platforms that I think are the most versatile and easy to use today: Mozilla Hubs and Frame. Both platforms are free to start exploring and setting up a space of your own just takes a few minutes. Both are accessible from PCs, mobile devices, and any VR headset you happen to have lying around. With that, let’s dive in and check them out in a bit more detail!
Yes, that Mozilla! The same people that make Firefox make an awesome project called Hubs. The platform is free, open source, and quite simple to jump into. To open a room it’s as simple as going to hubs.mozilla.com, clicking ‘Create Room’, then joining. Once inside your room you can rename the space, change your avatar, place objects, share your screen, and invite others to join you. While easy to get started with, the customization and moderation of hubs gets quite in depth for those who want options. And for those that want to run hubs at an enterprise scale there is also the option to host your own instances of the software on AWS & other comparable options.
Once you are inside the hubs space it is simple to add content and customize the template spaces provided, some of which have been made by Mozilla and some by the larger community. To truly make a Hubs space yours you can also customize the space by using their simple room editing platform called Spoke. As far as 3D modeling/building software goes, Spoke is about as easy as it gets and it took me just a few minutes to pick up and start working with. It gives you the ability to ‘Remix’ other scenes that the community has created which makes making small customizations to rooms a breeze, and allows you to arrange a room much more efficiently rather than trying to do it within the Hubs space.
Below is a great intro video posted by the Hubs team that gives a deep overview of the product. It’s definitely worth a watch, and you can find much more content on their YouTube channel.
And now we get to Frame. While keeping the ease of Hubs it adds many more layers of customization, moderation, enterprise solutions, and more. Perhaps the most awesome thing about Frame as it stands today is that you can have up to 150 people inside one space as of their last release! Compare this with the 25 people that can be inside of a Hubs room at any one time. This is a game changer for spatial meetings and provides much more flexibility for those who want to host large events.
To get started in Frame is just as simple, if not simpler than Hubs. When you join a room at www.framevr.io you land in a tutorial room that gives you an overview of the platform and instructions on how to navigate. From there creating your own room is as simple as opening the side bar, finding ‘Create New Frame’, then selecting a name and environment. Once created you will be able to customize the frame with many kinds of media, both 2D and 3D.
The platform is still in beta and I did have a hiccup during a live event I ran recently, but luckily the Frame team is -very- responsive and we were able to get the issue sorted in real time then back up and running before any lasting frustration was felt. A big drawback to Frame as it stands is that there is no editor like Spoke to customize environments, so adding in content can be quite tedious if you are attempting to make things picture perfect. Frame does allow you to upload 3D environments you create outside just like Hubs, but if you don’t have experience working with a modeling platform like Blender you will need to hire help to create the space you want. Frame will of course create amazing environments for you, but expect to spend a few thousand dollars. Though, if their current environments are an indication, it would be money well spent!
Below is a quick tutorial put out by the Frame team. It gives a quick overview of the product and how to navigate the first time you join a space. Frame also has a lot more content on website to help you dive in and start creating.
Where to go from here?
Now that you have (hopefully) had a chance to hop into both platforms and play around I encourage you to invite a few others to join you! Maybe run a standup meeting within Frame, or a small team gathering in Hubs. It can be a lot of fun to hop in with others and explore, especially if a few people happen to have added a VR headset to their home over the holidays. People run all sorts of events within these, and other spatial event platforms. You can see lots of examples if you head into the Discord channels for Frame, Mozilla Hubs, and the Spatial Network.
Whether you are presenting to a group, hosting a small gathering, or advertising a large event to a group spatial event spaces can help break up the monotony and add some fun into virtual gatherings. Hopefully this article helps you get started setting up your event, if it does I would love to hear about it! You can comment down below or message me on LinkedIn. See you in the metaverse!
Other Platforms to Try
Though Frame and Hubs are (I think) the best overall for hosting spatial events as of now, there are many other platforms out there that you should check out! Below are a few more that I think are worth checking out.
Alt Space is an excellent meeting platform that you can access via PC, mobile, or VR headsets. All things considered it is an excellent gathering platform, but the platform is not browser based which drastically limits its flexibility. Forcing participants to download a separate app creates a large barrier to entry and makes hosting large events more difficult. The platform is also only PC based, through a Mac app is currently in beta. If you have a PC and/or a VR headset it is worth checking out, and there are lots of ongoing events in the platform you can find on the event page here: Main Events | AltspaceVR | AltspaceVR (altvr.com)
Meta’s own social meeting platform Workrooms is another viable alternative. The big limitation here is that the space is only accessible from Quest headsets, though Meta plans to one day make it browser accessible. If you happen to be in a group with a high volume of VR headsets it is worth checking out! While in early days still, the platform is beautifully designed and getting more useful with every new feature update.
Foto: A spatial gathering held within Mozilla Hubs