#311: Karl Krantz on VR Startups, SVVRCon, & Time Dilation

karl-almost-smile-269x200Karl Krantz made a strategic move to California in order to start the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality meetup in May of 2013. One year later, he organized the first consumer VR conference with SVVRCon that had 400 people and 35 companies. SVVRCon 2015 had 1400 people and 100 companies, and Karl is expecting it to double once again for SVVRCon 2016 on April 27-29 with a projected attendance of 3000 people and 200 companies.

I caught up with Karl to talk about VR startups, fostering the VR community, plans for virtual components for SVVRCon, content creation & imagination, and the phenomena of “time dilation.” Karl had an experience of playing a VR game for 12 straight hours without a break, but he only thought he was in VR for around 3 hours. He’s concerned about the addictive potential of VR, and that it’s a technology that’s going to force us to face our demons otherwise VR could be really disruptive to our lives.


Palmer Luckey said in an interview at E3 2015 that his longest play session was between 12 to 16 hours. He wanted to beat a game in one sitting, and so it’s possible that he experienced some time dilation.

I’ll be exploring more experiences of time dilation in some more interviews that I did at Unity’s AR/VR Vision Summit.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.918] Karl Krantz: My name is Karl Krantz, I'm the founder of Silicon Valley Virtual Reality, aka SVVR. We are the original VR meetup, at least the first one since the 90s. The original VR professional conference for VR, we're now ramping up for our third annual conference and we've been cranking along with monthly meetups for about three years now and just kind of acting as all-around connectors in VR. connecting startups with investors, with partners, employees, developers, whoever we can. We just want to help the industry grow.

[00:00:42.900] Kent Bye: Yeah, it really does feel like the Silicon Valley and SVRcon has really been at the nexus of this VR revolution. Originally, Oculus was based outside of the LA area, but eventually now they're up in Silicon Valley and moved up to be with Facebook. You've really been at the center and nexus of this movement. So from your perspective, just kind of reflecting back, looking to see where all this began to where we are now with just on the cusp of the consumer release here and a matter of just a few weeks.

[00:01:15.383] Karl Krantz: Right? Yeah, it's been a crazy ride, I'll tell you that. It's in some ways taken longer than we thought, but in other ways it's a lot faster. It's amazing now, you know, in the beginning we were really kind of swimming upstream, really trying to convince people VR is going to be a thing. Now everyone is just coming to us, everyone believes, everyone knows, they all just kind of intuitively know VR is a thing. The money's coming in, the investment's there. Yeah, it's been really amazing to watch everyone in this community grow. And the best thing about it from my standpoint is that, you know, this started as a really tight-knit community, the VR community, and it's maintained that. Even as it's growing, it's maintaining this really collaborative feel. Everyone's working towards the same goal of making VR. It's not too competitive. You know, there's not a lot of animosity among competitors. Everyone is just working on the same goal and just, you know, let's make this thing real.

[00:02:04.359] Kent Bye: And so SVR Meetup and the conference has really facilitated a lot of connection and community. And for you, I'm just curious, what has continued to sustain you with your passion and motivation to keep this going?

[00:02:17.403] Karl Krantz: Yeah, well, I mean, it's watching the startups grow. I mean, that is really the fuel that keeps us going. It's just watching VR get better. I mean, that's amazing. And then watching people's lives change. I mean, I can tell you how many people that we met that when we first met them, they're passionate about VR and their dream was to one day work in VR. And so many of those people now have careers in VR. You know, they have great jobs. They have companies that have funding. You know, they're living their dream. And that's just been amazing to watch. It's just amazing to watch the personal growth among the people in this community, too. You know, people that would never speak in front of two people, now they're speaking in front of a thousand people. There's so many people like that, including myself. Yeah, it's just been... Watching the growth has really just been really the fuel that keeps us going.

[00:02:59.402] Kent Bye: And because you've seen a lot of, you know, startups from their pre-launch and incubation into the launch and then, you know, probably still are privy to a lot of companies that haven't even come out of stealth mode. And so, from your perspective, what are some of the most compelling VR startups to watch?

[00:03:17.833] Karl Krantz: That's a tough question. Pick my favorite startup. That's like picking your favorite child. I mean, right now, the thing that's happened in the past year is just the quality of content has gone up. In part because it takes a long time to develop quality content, but in part just because a lot of the really talented people from other industries are starting to come in now, and it's really raising the game across the board. I'm really excited about just the level of quality in a lot of the animated stuff. I love, like, Baobab Studios. I'm really excited to see what the DreamWorks VR guys are doing now. They seem to have spun that off into something new. I mean, they were doing amazing work all along, and to see them turn that into something even bigger is really exciting. And also just like there's so many useful tools coming out now, like analytics tools, all these things that we kind of dreamed and thought we might need, but they weren't really there. You know, tools that will help us develop better. And then even, you know, as we're here at the Vision Summit, we're getting announcements about developing VR in VR. And that's really like getting over that hump where you can actually go into VR and do your modeling and do your developing and you know, use VR to make VR better, that becomes very meta and there's, you know, that starts a snowball, I think, you know, where everything will just get better.

[00:04:29.025] Kent Bye: Yeah, and we mentioned that because you have monthly meetups and also you have the conference of SVVRCon, that eventually you want to have a virtual component. So what would a virtual component look like?

[00:04:43.036] Karl Krantz: We are right now figuring that out. We are going to definitely have a virtual component in SVVR 2016. We're figuring out what that looks like. I don't think that that means forcing everybody to go in to pick your favorite platform. I think that it has to reflect the kind of fragmented nature of VR right now. There's not one virtual world to rule them all. There's a lot of different social virtual worlds. There's a lot of approaches. There's web approaches. There's Unity-based approaches. There's 360 video approaches, 180, all sorts of things halfway in the middle. I think that anything that accurately and truly reflects that's going to create a nice virtual conference has to reflect this kind of fragmented nature. It's going to be a little bit messy, but it's also going to offer a lot of different ways, a lot of variety. I mean, the important part is, you know, bringing people together around this. You know, bring people together for conversations. There's a lot of great social platforms out there. A few years ago, you know, there was really nothing that worked at all, and now we have a lot of great platforms that work, and they all have their own communities, and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Yeah, so we're kind of going to embrace the chaos, which is what we always do, you know, just get everyone together and see what happens. That's how we're going to approach the virtual side. But that really is how this is, I think, the most scalable thing about the VR community. Pretty soon, we're going to be spending a lot more time in VR than we are now. And, you know, I think we all need to be ready for that. And especially, you know, people throwing events and organizing community like SVVR. That's where we need to focus because that's where our growth is going to come and that's where a lot of the new people are going to come in through VR, not through physical events.

[00:06:13.642] Kent Bye: Yeah, I feel like it's a challenge. I know working with companies, for example, that have a mixture between people who are physically co-located and have some remote employees, that the ones who have completely entirely remote tend to do better than if there's maybe one or two remote people and everyone else is co-located because what ends up happening is that you kind of leave out the people who aren't actually there. So last year I remember, for example, that there was telepresence robots that were walking around, but yet I don't feel intrinsically motivated to necessarily interact with a 2D representation of somebody versus if I could talk to a real human that's there.

[00:06:48.584] Karl Krantz: Yeah, I totally agree and my background is telepresence. I came from the telepresence industry and I'll be the first person to say, you know, nothing beats real world connection. Being in the same space, the fidelity you get, the level of communication, body language, you know, micro expressions. It's going to be a long time before we can accurately mirror that in VR. But that said, you can get pretty far, you can do a lot of cool things and we have to start experimenting. That's how it's going to work out. We've got to just try stuff and see what happens. Some of this stuff is going to work, some of it's not. You've got to try a hundred different filaments before you find the one filament that works for their light bulb, right?

[00:07:21.465] Kent Bye: I didn't get a chance to actually talk to you at SVVRCon 2015, and so maybe you could sort of compare and contrast where you were in 2014, 2015, and what you expect here in 2016.

[00:07:32.203] Karl Krantz: Yeah, so in general, for the past few years, we are more than doubling every year. So from our standpoint, it's just about scaling, right? We went from 400 people the first year, 1400 people the second year. You know, we had 35 companies the first year, 100 companies the second year. Now we're planning the third year, 200 companies and 3000 people is our target and our current estimate. And that may be slightly bigger, slightly smaller, but that's what we're aiming for and everything we've done so far has sold out and we've been right on with the numbers so far. So it's all about scaling and, you know, the scary thing for us is does the community scale? Because there is such a magic in this community. Everyone is friendly, enthusiastic, there's a real family feeling and the important thing for us is does that scale? And so far, you know, event after event, it continues to scale. Not just at SBBR events, but at Oculus Connect, at events like this. You know, that community feeling, it's getting stronger, I think, as the community grows. And I hope that continues once the consumer products hit the market. You know, my gut says yes, I hope it does.

[00:08:30.291] Kent Bye: And so what are you personally really looking forward to doing in VR?

[00:08:34.084] Karl Krantz: Content creation. I love building. I was so obsessed with building in Second Life back in the day with other people, like social building. And now we're starting to see all these tools where you can actually build in VR with VR. That's super exciting to me. I'm a nerd. I come from a Dungeons and Dragons childhood. That's how I learned how to read. That's always been, you know, One of the motivations for VR is you want to create these virtual worlds so that I can go and live in my Dungeons and Dragons fantasy from when I was 12 years old. That really drives me, these kind of large-scale social virtual worlds. The social stuff is super interesting to me. But yeah, content creation is really creative expression, using VR to express myself. That's what I love. I think everyone has a little bit of this. When you get in VR, one of the first things you want to do is build the world. You say, OK, this is cool, but I want to build my own world. I see that across the board. People come to a VR meetup, and then the next week, they're a VR developer. They're learning Unity. There's just some sort of drive when you go into these virtual worlds. It just drives people towards wanting to create virtual worlds and kind of be the creator. Yeah, for me, that's a big motivation.

[00:09:39.752] Kent Bye: And maybe you could tell me the story of what that would look like for you to go on a Dungeons & Dragons quest from, you know, the dream of a 12-year-old Carl.

[00:09:46.797] Karl Krantz: Oh yeah, I have no idea what that would look like, but that's what makes me excited about it. It could be anything, right? Yeah, it's hard to predict. I haven't really seen anything like that yet that's really going down that path, but there are a lot of people working on a lot of cool things. I mean, there is an official Dungeons & Dragons implementation now in alt space. That's more of like kind of tabletop style. It's not really, you know, what I envision, which is more of like the first person where I become, you know, the ranger or the druid or something like that, you know, fighting the dragons. I haven't quite seen it yet, but I'm always looking for it.

[00:10:17.334] Kent Bye: Yeah, I really wonder whether or not our imagination is going to be... It's kind of like reading a novel and then seeing a movie and being disappointed, you know? It's like, all these sort of imaginal experiences that you have, is VR even going to be able to approximate that? Or is it just going to be somewhat disappointing that we're taking somebody else's vision of that? Or is VR going to be enabling us to really explore our imagination and creativity in a way that it becomes our own expression of our imagination?

[00:10:45.142] Karl Krantz: Yeah, that's a good point and I think that goes back to this kind of drive that we all have when we go in these virtual worlds to actually be the creator ourselves and express ourselves creatively. I mean, to go back to Dungeons & Dragons as an example, a big part of being involved in that is building your character and I think the equivalent in VR is building your avatar and we know that that That's a huge business in something like Second Life, you know, avatar customization. There's many, many platforms that really kind of play into that and that's a real drive for people. And then also this kind of nesting kind of drive that we all have to build our spaces and build our worlds and build our castles and stuff. I believe that we will have the ability to express ourselves creatively in a way that makes it feel like the world that we all wanted ourselves. It'll be a little messy because you don't get that kind of top-down single design, single aesthetic. You can look at any of these virtual worlds to see how that messiness comes into being in these virtual worlds, but I find beauty in the mess. I always say, embrace the mess.

[00:11:45.180] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what that might be able to enable?

[00:11:51.084] Karl Krantz: The ultimate potential of virtual reality? Well, the ultimate potential, I guess, is to go anywhere, anytime you want, be anyone you want, be with anyone you want, be anywhere you want, anytime you want. I mean, it's unlimited, right? It's kind of mind-boggling and even hard to express because there is so much you can do with it. But really, the thing that I think is that VR is going to force us to become better people, because we're going to have to face our demons. I mean, VR games are going to be addictive. There are companies that prey on that in the mobile space. That will carry over to VR. People's lives will get ruined. That's going to happen. But the good, I think, will outweigh the bad. But it means we're going to have to grow as people. We're going to have to really develop self-control, because when you can be anywhere at any time and do anything at any time, You really have to kind of pace yourself, right? You can't just dive in and go hardcore and binge and, yeah, it will have a negative effect on our lives. So I think it'll kind of force us, by necessity, through kind of a bumpy road, it'll force us to become better, stronger people with more self-control.

[00:12:52.443] Kent Bye: Have you had to face your demons in VR with being able to have that amount of self-control?

[00:12:56.831] Karl Krantz: A little bit. I've had some really weird experiences where I've gone into VR and thought I played for three hours and then came out and realized I had been in there for 12 hours. I've had that happen a couple times, like my sense of time goes all wonky in VR. It's kind of inverse inception, where I feel like I'm in VR for three hours, I'm actually in there for 12 hours. I don't know how that happens. You know, you totally forget about, you know, eating and sleeping and everything else. And it's just like, how did that happen? Where did that time go? It's a little bit troubling for me, because I've had that happen in games where I felt like I was just giving it a little taste, but I realized the whole day is gone. Just like that. So yeah, I've had to face that a little bit. You know, I think I have decent self-control with that stuff. I know a lot of people out there are a lot more susceptible to addiction in this. And I think we're going to see, there'll be a lot of struggles over the next couple of years, but I think it'll be worth it in the end.

[00:13:48.395] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that level is, this specific question is something that comes up a lot. Like, aren't people just going to go in VR and never want to come out? And it would be a little, frankly, concerning to hear somebody who's so steeped in the VR community go from 3 to 12 hours. It's quite pushing the limits, and what are the implications of that? So what was the experience? Or maybe you could tell me a bit more, what happened there?

[00:14:12.178] Karl Krantz: Yeah, okay, so the exact experience I'm referring to is actually, it was one of the candidates in the Vision Summit Awards that I was a judge for, that we're having an awards ceremony for tonight, and it was a tower defense game that I just felt like, you know, I know those are addictive on iPhones and stuff, and it was, you know, a fairly simple tower defense game, and it just seemed like, hey, I'll just go in here and pop in and have a little fun, and before I knew it, you know, a whole day was gone. But I've had similar experiences, too, with Alien Isolation, where I really was in there for a lot longer than I thought, and some of these other games and experiences. And then even in Fantastic Contraption, just getting totally sucked into building things. That's also a huge... I feel like that's almost constructive. It's not time-wasted. You're being creative, you're building things, you're solving problems. It's good for you mentally, I think. So it's not a negative thing, but it's something to watch out for.

[00:15:05.179] Kent Bye: Cool. And anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:15:07.901] Karl Krantz: Yeah, no, I just want to thank you for doing such a great job. I listen to all your podcasts as part of my commute. And yeah, I really want to thank you for doing such a great job. It's a real service for the community. And you always pick top-notch guests and ask great questions. And yeah, thank you.

[00:15:20.292] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you.

[00:15:21.473] Karl Krantz: Awesome. Thank you.

[00:15:22.995] Kent Bye: And thank you for listening. If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash Voices of VR.

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