In this article, I am going to guide you through some of the lessons I learned while introducing remotely newcomers to VR collaboration. I ended up writing more than I expected and decided to split the article in two. In this section we will discuss:
- General considerations with some important stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else
- Preparation with an overview of what you have to think about before shipping the headset
- Explanation of the hardware
- How to manage the participants right before and right after they wear the headsets
- How to make the transition from the video conferencing app to VR
By the time you finish reading, you have managed to get everyone in your VR platform of choice and, in the second part, I will look in detail at the in-VR experience.
I decided not to stick to a specific platform or hardware and I will instead discuss generic principles that can help you shape a robust onboarding process based on your own needs. As you can imagine there is a lot to cover but don’t get discouraged! It is possible! So far I got a 100% success rate in getting people through the whole experience (even the one that never wore a headset before). Some of the recommendations might sound “silly” but I learned of not giving anything for granted and, since the real mission is to get more people to try and adopt this technology, I deliberately decided to cover steps that might sound obvious for some.
Do not expect to send a headset over and schedule the actual meetup without a formal introduction to the hardware and the software that is going to be used. For the sake of accessibility, I would suggest using a self-contained headset with inside-out tracking like the Oculus Quest or the Pico. I would stay away from anything that requires an external PC or external sensors. I have arranged this onboarding with up to three participants with no prior VR experience and went over the basics to get anyone started with VR collaboration within 1h (based on my experience 45’ are sufficient but assume that some people might be late and that Zoom or whatever platform you use for the initial communication will give you some trouble).
In the image below you can see there are a whole bunch of activities that you have to account for before shipping the headsets.
I will not go over them because they are very dependent on the hardware and software. Installations of the app, shipping of the hardware, making the Oculus/Steam account, etc are all activities that have to be planned in advance.
I also prepared and sent an introductory video via email but, with people’s busy schedules, very rarely anyone takes the time to go through it. Despite that, I don’t think making the video tutorial was a waste of time because you will figure out and practice many steps that you might have otherwise overlooked. You will also have to pick a video conferencing tool to enable the initial communication before everyone put the headset on. Having a collaborator join the call is also quite helpful but I can imagine it is not always possible.
Let’s start with the hardware.
Let’s then start from the moment you and the aspiring “Virtual collaborators” join the video call after they got their headset delivered at home. This is the introductory session that will allow them to make the most out of the event that will take place one or two days after.
The first step is explaining the functionalities they will need in order to operate the HMD AND have a comfortable experience. This means showing where the ON button is located but also how to correctly position the strap in a way that “cups the nape” and how to fasten and loosen the top strap. Think about who will use glasses and consider setting up the headset already adjusted before shipping. If your headset supports the IPD adjustment remember to show where it is located. Do not forget to go over the controllers and name each one of the buttons (grip, trigger, thumbstick etc).
The quiet before the storm
Before wearing the headset you should enable screen sharing, show them a video of the first view they will have in VR and explain to them what to expect. If you picked an Oculus quest as the hardware of choice the first thing they will see is the prompt to set the guardian system. In this case, I have used the standard video from Oculus that explains the process very clearly. It is very tricky to provide directions while you don’t know what they see and they have never seen the interface before. While in VR we cannot see each other’s view of the world and there is a complete lack of visual feedback. Making this short through-the-lens video is going to mitigate that. Here is an example of the one I made for the use of Oculus Quest with Mozilla Hubs.
Step by step guide to learn how to access and use Mozilla Hubs on your Headset
You can make similar videos for the collaboration app you are going to use and show how to interact with the UI. If the app supports video you can play it once you are all in VR.
It’s time to wear the headset! From now on ANYTHING can happen! Here is a short list to give you an impression of what happened to me:
- I had people not removing the lens cover and describing the world as “all black”,
- The controllers didn’t turn on unless pushing the menu button
- People forgot where the ON button was
- The headset couldn’t connect to the WiFi
The key to get through this is to find the right balance between freedom and guidance. Different users will need a different level of support based on their familiarity with technology. These systems are also easy to operate nowadays and you will see some users fly through the whole set up process. Be patient with the people that need more guidance. Just call them by name asking what they see (remember at this stage you are still communicating via Zoom). Do not limit to one question and follow up with more detailed questions to really understand how you can help them. Here is an example of a typical conversation:
“ Hi Sarah, how are you doing? Where are you?”
“ mmmm I am in a grey space with a menu in front of me”
“ So the space around you looks like your own room in black and white right?
“Perfect, and what is written on the menu?”
“ There is an image of a guy touching the ground”
“ Right! That is the step we saw together about setting the floor of your space. You should click on “set floor”, gently move the controller to the ground to see a grid matching the height of your floor. Once you have done that, you can click the blue button where is written “next”
To make up for the difference between fast and slower users I would also strongly encourage setting up a checkpoint. This means that no one will proceed forward and open the collaboration app until everyone has created the boundaries and connected the headset to the WiFi. You have to be clear about this in advance, but is going to save a lot of headaches while trying to catch up and align the explanation
The (echo) storm
The transition from Zoom to VR is quite a delicate moment because you will have to transfer from 2D to 3D communication. There are at least 2 mics and 2 sound sources per user and I strongly recommend doing the following:
- Use earphones on your HMD and do not rely on the built-in speakers
- Once people are IN the VR environment mute everyone on Zoom (you will be able to hear people in the VR environment through the audio of the HMD)
- Tell people to (at least) lower the volume from the speakers of their pc because any audio coming out of the PC might be captured by the mic of the headset
- Keep the chat open so that in case anybody has problems you can write to each other
If you have done everything correctly, everyone is in VR and ready to rock! This is a screenshot from one of the sessions I did using Spatial and I think it gives a good impression of how it might feel like.
Stay tuned for the second part of the article where I will explain:
- What to expect and how to manage a group of people in VR
- How to learn the basic commands while playing
- How to deal with (hardware) diversity