#640: John Root on VRLA, AR, Privacy, & eSports in VR

john-root John Root co-founded VRLA with Cosmo Scharf in 2014, and it has organically grown into a thriving VR event with over 10,000 attendees in the Los Angeles Convention Center. VRLA is a non-profit where funding from sponsors helps to support about half of their exhibitors within the Indie Zone, which helps them feature a lot of innovative independent VR experiments and start-ups. VRLA is happening this year on May 4-5, and the full press release is down below. I had a chance to walk the showroom floor of VRLA 2017 with Root where he took me on a guided tour through the history of VRLA, his thoughts on AR, using VR for film production, the future of privacy in AR/VR, as well as why he is interested in seeing where eSports in VR is headed.


Here’s the full press release for VRLA 2018:

Announcing VRLA 2018 Keynotes & Expo Highlights
The Biggest Immersive Tech Event of the Year Returns May 4-5, Exploring “A New Reality”

Los Angeles, CA (April 12, 2018) – Experience next generation immersive technologies and explore “A New Reality” at VRLA, the leading virtual and augmented reality expo, May 4-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Industry-leading companies sponsoring this year’s expo include Intel, Dell, Qualcomm, VIVEPORT, Microsoft, Neurogaming and OptiTrack, as well as a full lineup of innovative companies shaping the future of immersive tech. Passes are available now and start at just $30, and for the first time ever attendees can register in VR via the official Payscout VRLA Registration 2018 app.

Saturday’s keynote will feature a live performance by Light Balance, the captivating dance group from “America’s Got Talent.” Equipped with custom-designed suits that integrate a complex light system with unique wireless controllers, Light Balance blends expert synchronization of music, neon lighting and choreography with breathtaking performances. The Saturday keynote lineup also includes:

  • Walt Disney Imagineering SVP Jon Snoddy
  • A world premiere from Skydance, with Chris Hewish, EVP Games & Interactive and Pablo Leon-Luna, VR Developer
  • Special announcements from Intel, with Kumar Kaushik, GM, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
  • YouTube star Vsauce3 (aka Jake Roper)
  • A special announcement from Ricoh
  • VR/AR expert and futurist Charlie Fink

VR and AR professionals who purchase the 2-day industry-focused Pro Pass will gain access to Friday’s keynote in the Dell Theater, featuring a mesmerizing performance by Digital Deception, aka Doug McKenzie and Ryan Oakes – an illusionary duo that combines interactive magic with technology for an unforgettable live spectacle. Friday keynote speakers include:

  • Cliff Plumer, CEO, The VOID
  • Rikard Steiber, President Viveport and SVP of Virtual Reality, HTC Vive
  • Gary Radburn, Director, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Dell
  • Hugo Swart, Senior Director of XR Product Management, Qualcomm
  • Katie Kelly, Head of Engagement, AltspaceVR / Microsoft

In addition to Friday’s keynotes, attendees who purchase the Pro Pass will benefit from access to the full expo, shorter demo lines and an exclusive lineup of professional and developer programming – including “VR Valuation: What Drives ROI,” “Artificial Minds in Artificial Spaces,” “Can VR Be Decentralized Using Blockchain?” and “Discovering New Worlds: Using VR/AR/MR for Space Exploration,” a session with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Saturday sessions feature industry experts from companies including Facebook, Glitched, VIVEPORT, The Third Floor, Vulcan, Kilograph, Framestore, VIBEHub, Walt Disney Animation, TheWaveVR, Chaos Group, Light Sail VR, Sunnyboy Entertainment, OTOY and more.

From location-based entertainment, motion simulators and VR arcades, to next-gen haptics, 360-degree cameras and the hottest product launches across virtual and augmented reality, this year’s expo will feature something for everyone to explore.

In collaboration with LACMA, the breathtaking centerpiece of this year’s show floor will be Mezo, a 20-foot tall futuristic temple equipped with synchronized LED panels, lasers and spatial music. The interactive art installation will evoke an alternate future where ancient Mesoamerican societies have become technologically advanced, taking attendees on a visually and sonically stunning journey through destruction, creation and rebirth.

For horror fanatics, Red Frog Digital’s Zombie Holomaze will offer a terrifying AR experience for attendees to explore while wearing a Microsoft HoloLens. Mega Particle will debut its cross-platform Virtual Poker Table, with live play culminating in a tournament with award-winning poker champion Phil Hellmuth. For zen and psychedelic experiences, attendees won’t want to miss the Visual Reality Zone, featuring mind-bending immersive digital art installations. Additional expo highlights include Xtrematic’s extreme sports simulator, bHaptics’ full-body haptic suit, Bioflight’s VR medical training simulations and Phasespace’s large-scale motion capture system.

For industry professionals, students and attendees looking to cultivate their skills in VR and AR development, Circuit Stream – the official workshop partner of VRLA 2018 – will offer a variety of cutting-edge educational sessions designed to teach Unity development for platforms like Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, ARKit, ARCore and Microsoft HoloLens. Attendees can sign up for Circuit Stream’s workshops when they register for VRLA. The “Girls Make VR” workshop is also returning to this year’s expo, offering teenage girls 13-18 the opportunity to learn and create with the latest technology behind today’s most popular VR experiences.

For more information on VRLA 2018 and to purchase passes, visit: http://virtualrealityla.com/

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So VRLA is coming up from May 4th to 5th, and I'm going to be there for the Voices of VR Podcast, seeing all the different various experiences and just see what's happening with the entertainment industry. VRLA is interesting and different from other conferences because about half of the different exhibitors that are there are there for free. take a lot of their sponsorships that they get and they make available about half of the different exhibits there to different people who are doing different projects. And so you tend to get a lot more of that indie vibe and indie spirit as to what's happening and what people are creating within virtual reality. So it's also within LA, so there's a lot of the film industry and what's happening within the entertainment industry. Also a lot of location-based entertainment type of experiences as well. So last year, 2017, at VRLA, I had a chance to walk around the expo floor with one of the co-founders of VRLA, John Root, who at the time when VRLA started, he was working at Digital Domain. He then since went off to work with other VR startup companies, and now I think he's gone back to Digital Domain, and I think he actually was working on the Ready Player One movie as one of the motion capture lead solvers. It was his title in the credits there. He tells the story of how VRLA came about with Cosmos Sharf back in April 7, 2014, was their first meetup that happened at Digital Domain. And he kind of talks about the evolution of VRLA and where it's at now, but also what he's interested in following when it comes to both motion capture technologies, how to use VR to do film visualization, augmented reality, as well as the future of esports within virtual reality. So we'll be talking about all that and more on today's episode of Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with John happened on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at VRLA in Los Angeles, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in. All right, did you want to start walking?

[00:02:07.171] John Root: I can. It's good to finally be talking with you. So we're walking the show floor. It's 8 a.m. I think. Nobody's here yet. We're looking at a bunch of empty booths. And I wanted to explain sort of how this all came to be and what it all is. So these tables here around the outside are all here for free. And this is the indie zone. And the way this works, you know, there's a submission process. And we get hundreds of submissions from all over the world. And the people who we select get a free table. It's dressed tablecloth, chairs, pipe and drape, power. We try to make it plug and play. They can bring a demo and go. So we get hundreds of submissions and Cosmo and I will sift through them all and we look for a diverse spectrum of different kinds of things. Being that we're in LA, we tend to get a lot of 360 video. you know, just the nature of this town is, you know, film directors, creators, you know, producers, actors, people who know how to light a set, direct actors, and, you know, move a camera, and they're all looking at VR, thinking to themselves, like, you know, wow, that's rad, I wanna get into that, but they don't know, you know, they're not about to go learn Unity or Unreal, so they'd use the 360 video. Anyway, the Indie section, we'd look for, a good cross-section of all things VR, AR, immersive technologies, and we try to pick, you know, in this case we had 70 tables, so 70 of the 140 exhibitors are here. You know, thanks to the generosity of Intel, Unity, Unreal, you know, the people who, the platform holders, the hardware manufacturers, the people who can afford to come in and sponsor. And we put that money towards, you know, the people who've cashed in their 401ks and quit their day jobs and have, you know, gone big on VR. And so we're trying to create a platform for them to stand on and get noticed. We do our best to invite all the press and media, venture capital, publishers, people that are spending money and trying to highlight VR, and we draw their attention to the indie zone. So the indie zone is a big part of who VRLA is. And that was born out of Cosmo and I when we first met almost three years ago to the day. you know, he said on Reddit, you know, hey guys, I think it would be cool to have a VR meetup in LA. And at the time I was a motion capture supervisor at Digital Domain and had this big virtual production stage and we were using VR to help visualize, you know, the movies. So I said, you know, well, maybe we could do it here. I caught this post within seconds of it going up just because I happened to be browsing Reddit at the time. So it was the next day, him and I met at this little Vietnamese noodle shop. And he told me, he was thinking, maybe we could get some people at a coffee shop. And if we were lucky, one of them might have a rift. And I said, no, man, let's go big and fill the whole stage up with all the, we'll get all the best. I was thinking maybe I could call in some of my friends at Activision. It was very much like I was on the B2B side of things and he was on the B2C side of things. And I was like, no, we'll make it all the right influencers and decision makers and the C-level dudes. And he's looking at me going, but I want my friends to be able to come from USC. And it ended up like somewhere in the middle, right? Like so I was able to actually bring in some cool content and he was able to bring in all this excitement and like just unbridled enthusiasm for VR. So, you know, I've always said, you know, if I were to, if I would have done VRLA by myself without Cosmo, it would have been a dismal failure because I would have tried to do one of these like, you know, expensive things with all these, you know, decision-maker-y people, and it would have been a bunch of hammers walking around looking for nails, you know, like, it would have sucked. And I don't know what it would have looked like if Cosmin did it by himself, but it would probably be a really fun time in a coffee shop somewhere. So, you know, it is, it has always been that, you know, in my opinion, there's like a, there's a beautiful thing here where it's almost like that gladiator thing where you win the hearts of the people and then the important decision makers have to get on board. I look at PAX as a good example. It's about the people. It's about the culture of gaming and it's all things gaming. The people who are buying games and dressing up as video game characters and competing in eSports games, this is their place to go. Because they're all there and because they're all excited about it, it attracts all the big brands. And so I guess it's kind of a bottom-up approach. We just love VR, and we're going to continue to get together and meet up and talk about it and play with it. And eventually, there's going to be, and already there's so many of us here now, that it's attracting the Oculuses and the HTCs of the world to come and show us what they've got. Show me what you got.

[00:07:42.970] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's the thing that I find really fascinating about the VRLA and the evolution and how you've set yourself up as this nonprofit that is able to serve the public in this way. And I think in looking and tracking the VR industry, what I'm seeing is that there is a little bit of economic fallowness in terms of the capital and the revenue. And people are talking about, OK, when are we going to get the market penetration to get the market sizes to make this viable? VRLA doesn't care.

[00:08:12.501] John Root: Viharela is going to continue to come together and celebrate it, and experience it, and have fun with it, and figure out new ways to combine the various things. And if it gets smaller, then it gets smaller. If it gets bigger, it gets bigger. I think we're just a reflection of the industry and the excitement of it. You know, I think that when you pay $1,000 to go to some conference and it's like, you know, $500 hotel rooms and like, you know, those aren't the people who are VR, right? Like the people who are... The people who backed the Oculus Kickstarter, the people who have these things and are tinkering them within their garage, they don't want to pay that amount of money, but they want to connect with their people and learn what's happening. What did you try that worked? What did you do that didn't work? They want to get together and share these stories, and it's just not fair to charge them $2,000 for a ticket to a conference where all the prices are jacked up everywhere to do stuff. That's not who VR is, that's people trying to capitalize on VR. We run this thing on a near zero margin so that we can build a laser blossom in the middle and an Easter egg hunt over there in the visionary art zone. We're trying to have fun with it.

[00:09:32.522] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that that's, to me, I see that there's a lot of people here that are kind of chasing their dreams and may not have a full economic funding. They're maybe doing it as a side job. Even me on the Voices of VR podcast, I'm still in this process of getting what I do as being completely economically sustainable and viable and a balance between getting sponsors and Patreon sort of community supported. The thing that I think is really exciting about VRLA is you have that grassroots excitement of people really doing experimental stuff or being kind of on the cutting edge of either experimenting with 360 video or interactive storytelling. And so, yeah, it feels like there's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and experimentation. And so I'm curious to hear from your perspective in organizing it as a nonprofit rather than a for-profit. you are able to do this and in a way that you're able to have this enthusiasm and the scale of, you know, 10,000 people. When you look at the economics of it from the perspective of someone like Oculus or HTC, some of these big brands, they're looking at like market exposure and trying to reach a large number of people. And so by lowering the prices, creating a nonprofit, you're kind of hitting this sweet spot of being able to both create a big experience, have a lot of that enthusiasm, and draw people here. So in terms of the nonprofit though, does that allow you the freedom to be able to take donations and to be able to operate in a way that's different than if you were trying to run it as a for-profit?

[00:11:02.353] John Root: Well, I guess this is probably where I should point out, we're not a charity, but we are a nonprofit. So we don't have the 501c3 status, but we had to create an entity to take people's money. have to have some kind of company. We created it as a non-profit because we didn't intend it to be some kind of None of us have a background in conventions or anything like that. We just wanted to see VR happen. So, you know, we do spend the money on the free tables and all the cool stuff you see here and keeping the prices low and bringing in speakers and, you know, making these amazing theaters and all that kind of stuff. So I do think that, you know, because we all have day jobs is really the point of this. You know, we are able to, yeah, keep the prices low and do big, neat things.

[00:11:53.003] Kent Bye: Great. And so for you, what do you see as kind of the big exciting things and trends that you're seeing, especially as you're sifting through all these different submissions, what to you is kind of standing out in terms of what's new and different or interesting for you as you're curating these kind of free tables here?

[00:12:10.188] John Root: Yeah, well, my passion is, I like all immersive technologies, but I've been spending a lot of time lately with augmented reality, or mixed reality as they like to call it now. You know, it's my belief that AR is what gets us to this like, Gene Roddenberry future. Like this is how man and machine are going to work together. This is how humans are going to evolve to a new level of intelligence, right? This is how information on demand will be, you know, fed into our brains all day, every day. You know, there's a lot of interesting technologies that all have to come together and honestly get a lot better before it's going to sort of work as advertised. And the road to get there is going to be a weird one. You know, I believe that we're going to get into a place real quick where the technology is going to get rejected by a lot of people. And what I mean by that, if you imagine like, you know, sort of the Google Glass effect where it creeps people out that there was these cameras on people's heads recording and streaming all the time. And, you know, when you combine that with, you know, facial recognition there, you know, you can imagine this like, you know, Yelp for people where you're walking you know, down the street and you're seeing, oh, that's, you know, so-and-so and you see information that that person may have shared about themselves. But then you might see information that people have tagged about that person. So like, you know, you could see something like, you know, just jackass cut me off in traffic. But then like, you know, tag next to that guy's name would be like this guy tags a lot of people that way. So his opinions don't matter. And, you know, but once you've in essence lost privacy, which is where this is headed, the world turns into a weird place like this. I was quoted as having said once in order to get to the Gene Roddenberry future We have to first pass through the George Orwell future where everything you say and do is judged and recorded But ultimately, once we've given that up, I think it leads to a better place where we're responsible for the things that we have to say and do. So, you know, I look at a lot of the, you know, my passion, my background is in like, you know, motion capture and computer vision-y technologies. So I've been sort of dreaming about how all that stuff is going to, you know, come together and, you know, define the future. Now we're seeing it get combined with like machine learning and artificial intelligence in a way that is super interesting. So when you say like, what trends am I seeing and looking at, you know, it's it's things like, you know, facial recognition detection, where we can, you know, derive meaning from images collected by these devices, and how we use them to you know, create an immersive experience or tell us more about the world around us. And I think that, you know, that that version of reality is the one that I see coming fast and it's going to get really weird. And then once we get on the other side of that sort of George Orwell future, we're going to head into this like what they call the second machine age. The first machine age was when steam and combustion engines took what we could do with our muscles and it expanded it. So we were able to build these giant skyscrapers and pave all these roads and make amazing things because of the power of the combustion engine. Now our brains are going to be extended the same way because of computers. So, you know, if you look at, like, when the first engines were created till when the industrial revolution happened, it's about the same time period of, like, when computers were created to when the second machine age, the second, you know, the industrial revolution of our brains is about to happen. So humans are about to take an evolutionary jump. You know, Ray Kurzweil, there's all these predictions out there about how this stuff works that you can find, but it's about to happen. We're witnessing the beginning of it right now. And I believe that immersive technologies, AR, VR, all of that is going to be at the heart of it. And so we're going to see all of that merge with machine learning and artificial intelligence. And that's going to take us to the stars, ultimately.

[00:16:08.512] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's really interesting to hear you say that. Because as a journalist covering this space, and I've had a wide range of virtual reality experiences, of full arcade, beyond room scale experiences, as well as some AR experiences. VR in terms of an immersive experience is so much more compelling than anything that I've seen in AR so far but yet the thing that VR is going to have difficulty in doing is the haptics and so being able to actually run around and touch things and perhaps be in a co-located environment with other people at the same time and maybe doing some sort of physical interactions with them, whether it's laser tag or some type of experience like that. But I think we're still quite a number of years away from seeing a void-like experience with mixed reality in a way that's as compelling as what you can do just in purely VR right now. So that's one thing. The other thing in terms of privacy is that I I sort of have an open question in terms of whether or not that is something that if we cross that threshold, if that's something we're going to ever be able to reclaim and get back. And so I think there's a lot of big open questions around privacy. And as we start to pull in more biometric data and basically surrender our right to the data to our bodies and faces so that we create, essentially, these black mirror scenarios, like you said, where you're walking around and quantifying other people in that way.

[00:17:33.413] John Root: Let me give you an interesting example of what's happening, the way that's happening right now. There's a company who's measuring data coming off of the courtside data in an NBA game. They can measure how fast players are running and how quickly they cut, like all kinds of thousand frames per second style data from cameras or IMUs or RFIDs. They've got a number of technologies they're using. And they're starting to be able to make predictions about what these players are going to do and can do. The Players Association, if I understand it correctly, is putting rules in place about who owns that data and what can be done with it. Because, you know, coaches might say, you know, pull a player based on the computer prediction coming from this, you know, data that, you know, player now has less hours and there's less minutes in a game and then like, like it's, it's already getting weird. And anywhere there's giant piles of money, like in the case of, you know, an NBA game, you know, they're deploying this technology. And so if you imagine a mocap system that can say like, you know, seems like, you know, this player is favoring his right hip and, you know, did he have an injury? you know, all right, let's pull them. And then, you know, now they're already thinking about like, you know, now who's going to be in the next game. Like it's, it's getting weird already. And so there's, as I understand it, systems going into place to prevent this, right? Like players won't allow that. And can they not allow that? Like what's to stop them from, how do you stop it? You know? So it's already starting to get weird.

[00:19:06.588] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I think it comes down to data and what data do you own. And when you start to bring in more and more of these immersive technologies, you start to be like, OK, is what you're looking at, your eye-tracking data, is that public or private data? Because when you're in a public space, you can tell what you're looking at, but you're not able to aggregate that over time. And so you're able to kind of add the time dimension to this information that is somewhat in the middle between public and private. But yet, if you start to incorporate eye-tracking data within VR, then you're tracking what people are looking at. All of a sudden, you're looking at what you value, what you pay attention to, your emotional states once you start to get in facial tracking. And so, you start to have this situation where you have your whole emotional profile, and there's this third-party doctrine which essentially says that any data that you give over to any third party is essentially not protected by the Fourth Amendment. So you have no reasonable expectation for any of this data to be private. So I think we're moving in. And to me, AR is the thing that we have these public spaces, but yet we still have a certain level of anonymity. and you look at the first episode of season three of Black Mirror and you see sort of the extent to which you are now quantifying and de-anonymizing everybody in a public space, you kind of have these interactions that create this level of inauthenticity because you're constantly worried about what you're saying and doing in public and how people are rating you, which could have a positive impact, but there's a lot of loss of privacy in that way. So to me, I feel like VR is not necessarily It feels like it has the potential to be able to maintain that integrity of that privacy. But yet, once you start to bring a lot of these AR technologies, and you, like you said, may have these blowbacks where you have the Google Glass where I don't want cameras. And I was doing an interview with somebody here, and they put down their Snapchat goggles, and there are spectacles. And they started recording right in the middle of the interview. And it completely threw me off because the context suddenly switched to something that we were doing, but now I'm on camera. And that level of context switching from what used to be private now into a public context You know, there's millennials, people growing up in that, in that they don't have that sort of appreciation of what it means to have private information. And so, I don't know, it just feels like AR to me is going to be on this front lines of these privacy issues. And I think it's going to get complicated in that VR at least is more of a private experience such that it's more of an incubation to be able to really prove out these immersive technologies.

[00:21:33.494] John Root: It's going to get creepy for sure. Imagine this scenario in AR. I'm in my apartment, and I'm reconstructing the walls and whatnot so that I can place my pictures. And you're in the apartment next door, and you're doing the same thing. Now, both of these meshes are uploaded to the cloud. so that when I come back in, I don't have to re-reconstruct this thing. It remembers where I was really quickly. But there's a version of this technology where I could see through my wall into your room, right? If I could get at your data or this data. If I'm in this convention center, how does this technology know the difference between I don't know, a bathroom and, you know, like, you know, there's parts of this world that maybe you don't want to reconstruct and you don't want to augment. And how does this technology know my space from your space and stopping me from seeing what's in your space or what you've said? Like, it gets weird and it's there's, you know, laws that are going to get written and like people are going to have to meet and discuss and figure this stuff out because we just don't know yet. And it's going to get weird, and it's going to get ugly. And then on the other side of that is this amazing future.

[00:22:48.154] Kent Bye: So what do you want to experience in AR or VR then?

[00:22:54.197] John Root: One of my big things right now is e-sports. I think that if you look at the curves, e-sports is on a similar trajectory as VR. It's blowing up quickly. And I think that VR plus e-sports could be an amazing thing. I think it will be an amazing thing. You know, it's like if you look at esports now, like I find the games sort of a little bit boring to watch, like when they you look at the players and they're not, you know, they're kind of just mouse and keyboard, right? The game is cool to watch, but the players themselves are not. So when I imagine. like a mixed reality green screen kind of thing where you've got two players playing, say, Discs of Tron, you know, and you're injecting them into a digital world, but there's still a physical aspect to it. Like, I think eSports has a bit of a stigma where they're like, you know, cyber athletes, really, like athletes. And I think that VR plus video games has the ability to take all the coolness of a video game where like, you know, physics and all that stuff is kind of like up for grabs, but bring a real physical dodge, duck, weave, jump, you know, like prowess to it. And that, you know, a cyber athlete becomes exactly what you imagine it to be when you hear that phrase. So I think that's something I'm sort of waiting to see happen. I want to see Esports plus VR on ESPN I think that like, you know television for me is like I don't watch television anymore and to qualify that statement What I mean is that like, you know I DVR everything, I on-demand everything, I still consume the content, but I do it on my own time. The only reason to sit down at 8 o'clock and be in front of your television is for, like, you know, sports. Like, nobody ever binge-watched a season of the NBA, right? And so, you know, you kind of have to watch it when it's on. But the ad buys, you know, are super expensive, right? Those are the best times to buy commercials because you can't skip them or you don't want to skip them because they're live. And there's only so much of that to go around and so eSports is starting to get super interesting to the television networks and stuff because it is an event that happens that you want to see it while it's happening. And so I think we're going to see a lot more of eSports on television and I think that VR eSports will make it a much more interesting thing to watch.

[00:25:04.888] Kent Bye: Awesome. That's really interesting. And yeah, I think that's true. And right now, it is very abstracted, a lot of these esports. And so I'm sort of curious to see how that fuses as well. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:25:21.988] John Root: Yeah, again, I think it's the man and machine working together. It's about extending our brains into new places. I spend a lot of time trying to understand what should be VR. You see a lot of stuff, a lot of games that you in the experiences and you're like, like, why did this need to be in VR? Like it wasn't better for being in VR. I enjoy the novelty of VR and this is great looking graphics, but like, I don't feel like VR is bringing anything to this. And so then I started going down this like vision quest of like, you know, what is it when people put that headset on for the first time that they get so amazed by like, like, why is there that magic? And how do we use that to our advantage? Right. And, You know, one of the things that I learned was that, you know, most of what's happening in VR is happening in the visual cortex of your brain. So this is this area of your brain where every time you move your head, dart your eyes around, you're changing your perspective on the world around you, and your brain is able to build up a three-dimensional understanding of the world around you. because of that. Now when you look at a television screen or a movie screen, no matter how you tilt your head or dart your eyes, you don't gain any new knowledge about the depth of that scene. Now the cinematographer can move the camera in a way that can give you more understanding, but now you're You know, sometimes you'll get a little sense of vertigo or something from a movie, but VR, when you move your head, it feeds your visual cortex as it expects to get fed. And that's what makes you sort of believe that, you know, it triggers these things in your lizard brain, like, you know, vertigo. So how can we control that? Like, so we've, there's like the monkey brain, which is like, you know, how we communicate and we like emotions and like, you know, how we relate to the humans around us. And cinematographers, actors, directors have been sort of storytellers, masters of manipulating the monkey brain. But we've never really had the keys to the lizard brain. And now we do. And we don't even know what to do with it. Most people are just like, you know, they've got... lizard brain stuff, but they're still doing monkey brain stuff, right? And so it really is like, you know, the scientists that study perception and, you know, cognitive science, like, read that stuff because that's where you will learn what to do in VR, when to do it, why to do it, and how to do it.

[00:27:40.781] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid you'd like to say?

[00:27:43.841] John Root: No, I got to get back to the show.

[00:27:46.722] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thanks, man. Have a good day. So that was John Root. He's one of the co-founders of VRLA and the upcoming VRLA is happening on May 4th to 5th, 2018. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, I love the indie spirit of VRLA, and I think it was really striking for me to hear Jon Root saying, you know, if I were to do this alone, it would have been just all the decision makers. And if Cosmo would have just done this alone, it would have been a good time at a coffee shop. But together, they were able to really create something that I think is very unique and interesting within the larger VR industry, which is it being run as a non-profit so you get this scale that you get so they get like 10,000 people that go through which draws the attention of a lot of people like the big sponsors like Oculus and HTC and Intel and so you have all these big sponsors that are there but It's not that great of an experience if you're there with 10,000 people. Um, so you really should, if you want to see the experiences, get the VIP badge, which allows you to go there the day before. And then the next day you can still kind of pick up the different stuff that you didn't see around the indie developers on the outside, or to just kind of network and go to different talks and whatnot. So that's what I like about VRLA is it just gives me an opportunity to try out a lot of experiences that I don't get to see like anywhere else. And it just allows me to see what else is happening within the larger VR industry. Now in terms of like privacy and VR, obviously this was recorded about a year ago. And I think, you know, in that time, a lot has actually changed and developed when discussion about privacy and virtual reality, especially with the public news, with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, it just happening more and more in the discussion. And I hope to be covering more topics about privacy here coming up soon. But the other thing is just esports in VR. What's that going to even look like? I expect that with mixed reality, we're going to start to see what's interesting for other people to watch with the virtual reality. I think that I've done some of my own experiments with live streaming within virtual reality, and it can be difficult and challenging because something that is very centered in putting me present within an experience isn't always as compelling to have someone else watch me go through that experience. So I'll be curious to see like this trade-off between the more inner Yin aspects of embodied or emotional presence type of VR experience versus something that is typically eSports, which is the action of you actually watching competition and people getting to peak flow states. And it's just really exciting to see people get into their peak performance and competing against each other. I know that at Oculus Connect 4 there was Echo Arena, which had these people that were playing this game together, but I watched the replay of it. I didn't see it live, but even people that I talked to that were there said it was a little bit difficult to actually track what was happening. Whenever you start to break things into a three-dimensional space, then it becomes just more challenging and difficult to be able to actually track all the stuff that's happening. You kind of need to figure out a way to do some sort of blending of mixed reality so that you can see people's embodiments within these experiences, but also how to deal with this three-dimensionality of the spaces that you're operating in. And people who are immersed in that space can really get a sense of it. But most of the sports that you watch are on a 2D plane, and it is very good for showing cameras, you know, football, basketball, soccer, all these things. They're just kind of made for television, but once you add the third dimension, you're moving around in 3D spaces, then it actually makes it a lot more difficult to capture that and translate that into a 2D experience that makes sense for other people to watch and that is exciting. I suspect that there's going to be things like Beat Saber. I'm really looking forward to seeing that as that gets released sometime in the next month or so. where people are going to maybe do something that is more akin to live streaming on Twitch. So I think there's a differentiation between what is going to be interesting to watch on live stream, just more of a casual embodiment or someone really expressing themselves in different ways. Something like the walking simulators like PUBG or the Fortnite are both nice to watch and are dramatic within a Twitch live stream, but they don't necessarily have all the key components to make it an interesting Esport because it's like this battle royale and it's hard to follow all the stories of people and they just haven't found a good way to actually tell that story maybe they'll be like replays or something to be able to to not see it live in real time because it's actually like really difficult to like figure out what's going to happen what the stories actually are as you're broadcasting some of these huge battle royale type of experiences. So those are the different things that I see is that like some of the stuff that people are actually watching on Twitch aren't necessarily always going to translate to like a competitive situation where perhaps the things on Twitch are more about the personalities and the emotions and the catharsis of someone going through that and you kind of have to, you know, roll the dice to see whether or not they're going to actually come to the end of their experience while watching them on Twitch and come out a victor or winner versus something that's a team sport that is a little bit more like watching a basketball game of two people that are only thing that is happening are these two teams that are involved within this and what that even looks like within virtual reality and whether or not that is going to be super compelling enough to draw people to come watch. That's something that we haven't seen yet. And That's one thing to be in a game that is fun to play yourself and it's another thing to be able to capture in 2D and have other people have fun watching it. But the point that John had made about how eSports is potentially gonna be this really interesting thing for a lot of these people because in this DVR type of world, that's actually one thing that's happening live and in the moment where you actually wanna watch it in the moment and you don't wanna watch the replay. After the Super Bowl is over and you know who won, you kinda lose a lot of that juice about the excitement of what's gonna happen in the game. That's why John said, you know, nobody actually goes through and rewatches an entire season of the NBA or any sports event because sports events are very ephemeral. It happens in the moment and then you move on. And I think, is there going to be similar types of events that happen within video games? Certainly that's already happening. with all the different esports events that are out there, but how is that going to actually get translated into virtual reality? And is it going to add some new affordance of embodiments and moving your body around and people actually becoming more physical athletes? And that's something that I think is yet to be seen. And also the stuff with what John was working on, I'm very curious to actually catch up with some people from digital domain and other people within the industry that actually worked on Ready Player One, because I think they actually did use a lot of virtual reality technologies to do pre-visualization and You know, a lot of the Ready Player One movie was actually CGI. And so how do you give something to the actors for them to give a sense of where they're at so that then they can then get a sense of the context in which they're at to be able to act and be able to have a sense of presence within themselves within the larger context of the space when that space is all virtual and digital and it's just being shot in front of a green screen. So VRLA is coming up May 4th to 5th. I look forward to checking it out again this year and seeing the different projects that are there. And yeah, I hope to be doing some different interviews there as well. So that's all that I have for today. And I just want to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon. This is a listener supported podcast, and I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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