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Confinement interview with Louis Cacciuttolo, founder of VRrOOm

14 April 2020

During these times of confinement, let’s give the floor to our friends and partners. To assess life under the current crisis together, but also to try and imagine the formats and tools mutations of “post-Covid-19” new images.

The VRrOOm company, founded by Louis Cacciuttolo, has been by our side since the beginning of the NewImages Festival adventure… How are you living this strange moment in time? What does it change for you, right now and in the long-term?

Louis Cacciuttolo, founder of VRrOOm

“A huge opportunity and at the same time, a threat”

Who are you, what is VRrOOm, and what is your main activity?

I’ve always sought to make the emotion of performing art accessible to the widest possible audience. Those who live in remote areas not everybody has access to spectacles, to theatre, to concerts … with the advent of VR, I figured it was really the ideal tool to bring that to reality.

Our main activity evolved over time. I first created the website VRrOOm.buzz [1] four years ago. At first it was a marketing tool to evangelize and create a communauty around VR, to discuss entertainment, culture, lifestyle and creation.

Progressively, with the evolution of technology, I was able to propose more interesting things. In 2018, in collaboration with the Forum of images, our first partner, we launched the application VRrOOm VR/AR 2 in 1 for the screening of 360° movies and augmented reality content. Since then, twenty or so partner festivals present their program month after month on the platform.

VRrOOm world on VRChat [2], which we just launched is an extension in 6 DoF – 6 degrees of freedom – of this first VRrOOm platform. The 6 DoF – 6 degrees of freedom – allows people to meet, exchange, move around, grab objects etc… what the previous application did not allow for. The Social VR universe VRrOOm on VRChat platform allows people to meet up in a virtual space: to chat, dance, participate in events… at any time of day or night, especially right now. With the Covid-19, there’s around 10 000 people at the same time on the platform, which is really huge for VR!

4 weeks ago, when this confinement period was announced, had you seen this crisis coming?

I saw in early January that there was this crisis in China, a country where I lived for a long time and where I have strong ties to friends and family. I know practically everything that goes on there on a day-to-day basis and so I immediately got informed on the effects that this crisis was already having on Chinese internet users. We immediately saw an explosion of online video gaming, of mobile applications … I told myself that if the pandemic was to get generalized, to get worse, it would certainly have an impact on VR, so I put the work in to be ready in case it would happen.

At first, I planned on launching VRrOOm on the VRChat platform in September 2021, so we speeded things up a bit and it launched! A lot of functionalities still have to be added before September but we still estimated that now was a good time to launch it, precisely to help this captive audience to have entertainment alternatives, to shake things up and breathe a little…

What did confinement changed for you, concretely?

It had an obvious impact on attendance figures: we saw an augmentation of around 20% of traffic in a month. The platform is mostly used by people in Asia and North America and since we know that in North America the confinement only just began…

A lot of discussions are currently taking place to carry festivals on our platforms: a very important European VR festival with which we already had an agreement in principle; NewImages Festival, for at least a part of the program, another Easter European festival is in the process of closing a deal with us… And of course our own festival, Break Down These Walls [3], launched in partnership with Stereopsia [4] in Brussels and Virtual Worlds [5] in Munich. During the entire confinement period, we’re offering 360° films to audiences around the world, to watch with friends and to meet its creators 24/7 on the platform.

For my daily work… VRrOOm never had offices, we’ve always worked remotely with my collaborators, since I created the company. In fact, nothing has changed! I had started to develop the future platform at the end of last year and had already planned to have this amount of work, I just hired an extra person.

Break Down These Walls festival poster

What differentiates VRrOOm on VRChat from current competitors?

A huge number of applications are already organizing B to B virtual conferences for enterprises. They extend the frame of their activity to festivals because they can see all the opportunities that come with all these cancelled events: the need to facilitate meet-ups, meetings, discussions, workshops, conferences…

Our approach is different: we don’t create our own application, but a universe, on a Social VR network, that takes advantage of the traffic generated by this social network, with an audience that is already there. Maybe festivals will have a tailor-made tool, but one that will force the public to download another application that is not a place, a world where people meet up very regularly. This limits the population we reach out to and it bothers me.

Then, there’s the formatting issue. In most existing conference applications, there’s already huge constraints on the design. Basically, we have rather sad-looking rectangular meeting rooms where the only customization possible is to add your logo. There’s a lack of fantasy and of flexibility at the level of event conception, how we re-think it. We have developers and an architect and are offering to create exactly the environment a festival might want. If it wants it in a garden, it’ll take place in a garden, if it wants it on a beach, or in a skyscraper, it’ll be that, there are no limits! That’s a chance for a physical festival forced to project itself in a virtual universe: it can help it re-think and escape all these constraints that are present in the material world… A virtual festival costs a fraction of the price of a physical festival, and can potentially touch many more people.

Has there been VRrOOm on VRChat developments directly linked to the confinement?

The confinement is a tragedy when we think of the dead and a financial catastrophe for a lot of people. But the situation also pushes us to be more creative, to analyze the needs of people that need to take their minds off things and to tame new tools. We learn a lot – first off, to teach people how to use these tools, and most importantly what they expect from them – it is not necessarily what we would’ve thought of at the start.

For example, 4 weeks ago, we did workshops with the Venice Biennale [6] in private mode because they knew that the platform was practically ready. Venice was just put under quarantine and overnight they asked me if it was possible to host these workshops on the platform – that’s what we did. They were very serious workshops where people talked of film projects in VR, there was a jury, a whole group of people that were evaluating the quality of these projects. They worked on it for four days, at least eight hours a day on the platform- it was really a record number of people wearing VR headsets or that were on PC. What was very surprising is that in the environment redesigned for the Biennale, we had attributed fairly realist avatars to people. But actually, the first thing they did was swap them for completely wacky avatars! It absolutely did not bother anyone to talk to a banana or a football! We realize that if we give people certain possibilities that they precisely don’t have on these platforms that offer rather serious things, they sometimes prefer completely unexpected stuff…

vrroom session zeroevent
VRrOOm on VRChat

What would you need right now for your work to go smoother during this confinement?

I need more visibility, precisely, and so I’m happy to be doing this interview! It’s important to talk about us, we’re still lacking visibility with the general public.

Do you have a message for the XR community?

The situation we’re all currently living through is a huge opportunity and at the same time, a threat. We must address everybody, the audience, and to facilitate as much as possible accessibility to VR. We have a big responsibility, whether it be in terms of pitched content or in terms of its availability. VR is a tool: even without a VR headset, there must be ways to access it by phone and PC, as to not limit ourselves and give the widest possible audience the opportunity to discover this technology. And why not, eventually to create vocations, talents and other fields of creative exploration.

NOTES & HYPERLINKS
[1] the VRrOOm.buzz platform is available online here
[2] the VRChat platform is available online here
[3] the Break Down These Walls festival is available online here
[4] the Stereopsia festival is available online here
[5] the Virtual Worlds festival is available online here
[6] the Biennale de Venise festival is available online here