IEEEVR2020: “Avatar Driven VR Society Trends in Japan”

Liudmila Bredikhina
GREE VR Studio Laboratory, Research Intern / University of Geneva

IEEE VR and VR in VR workshop

Since 1993, the IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (IEEE VR) has been focusing on presenting results in the broad area of VR. The IEEE VR conference was supposed to be held in Atlanta, from March 22nd to 26th 2020. Due to COVID-19, the event switched to an all-online format, using Twitch for conference steaming. The main conference activities were organized in Mozilla Hubs (a series of virtual rooms were created and participants could attend keynotes, panels, and workshops in small groups). Other platforms included: Slack was used to exchange information and issues between participants, panelists, and organizers; Sli.do was sometimes used by the audience to ask panelists questions; Zoom was used in some cases for further discussions between the panelists and the organizers.

“Virtual conferencing workshop (VR in VR)” (https://sites.google.com/view/vrinvr2020) was part of the IEEE VR main event. The workshop was organized by Blair MacIntyre, Anthony Steed, and Rob Lindeman. The workshop issued a calling for short and full papers exploring the topics of virtual conferencing and the issues that revolve around the conferences themselves. The goal of the workshop was to discuss and evaluate key pieces of collaborative technology that might facilitate new types of online meetings. Here’s what was written on their webpage: “With VR technology we can reduce flying by supporting virtual conferencing, from pure virtual conferences to remote attendance at physical conferences to providing the glue that supports multi-site events. Beyond climate impact, remote and distributed conferences offer the potential for many more people to get the benefits of attending academic conferences they would not otherwise have access to, due to personal, financial, or political constraints.”

“Avatar driven VR society trends in Japan”

Intrigued by the workshop call, a group of researchers came together to write a paper titled “Avatar driven VR society trends in Japan”. The four researchers were: Liudmila Bredikhina, Takayuki Kameoka, Shogo Shimbo, and Akihiko Shirai. Liudmila Bredikhina is an anthropologist at the Geneva University and researchers on virtual characters. Takayuki Kameoka is a graduate at the University of Electro-Communication Tokyo and has previously helped organize several VRSionUp meetings as well as Virtual Gakkai. Shogo Shimbo is a Waseda graduate. Akihiko Shirai is the director of GREE VR Studio Lab.

“Avatar driven VR society trends in Japan” reports recent development, experiences, and evaluations of social VR platforms in Japan that have been motivated by VTubers and VRChat since 2018, especially the “Virtual Market”. Virtual Market was emulated from the conventional ‘comic market’ model which drives “Doujinshi”, fanzine creators. This paper also reports six cases of “VRSionUp”, which include hybrid workshops in both physical locations and VR, and an international live performance between Australia and Japan by “Virtual Cast” in SIGGRAPH ASIA 2019 Real-Time Live. As the latest challenge of a pure virtual academic conference, the paper introduces “Virtual Gakkai”, an academic conference with poster and keynote sessions.

VR in VR workshop

The workshop, took place on March 22th, between 9:00 AM and 12:30 PM. It was organized by Blair MacIntyre, Anthony Steed, and Rob Lindeman. Panelists could choose between several presentation formats: they could send a video presentation, give a real-time talk in Mozilla Hubs, present via Zoom, or create their own room in Mozilla Hubs and give their talk there. We decided to opt for the video format and create a Mozilla Hubs room from which the video was supposed to be steamed. We created a Mozilla Hubs room because we wanted to present our research in 3 dimensions and because we wanted to archive our talk. Our Mozilla Hubs consisted of our presentation, paper, and other videos that were mentioned in our research. All of the above-mentioned elements were available for public consultation from the Mozilla Hubs room. Making it accessible for anyone with an internet connection and a desire to learn more about avatar driven society in Japan. Moreover, as Mozilla Hubs supports approximately 25 users per room, attendees could interact with one another, creating an interactive experience for everyone.

Our video presentation presented current developments, experiences, and evaluations of social VR platforms in Japan. The video included case studies and discussions from VRSionUP (hybrid workshops in both physical locations and VR), international live performance between Australia and Japan by Virtual Cast in SIGGRAPH ASIA 2019 Real-Time Live, VTechChallenge 19, and we presented “Virtual Gakkai” as the latest challenge of pure virtual academic conference.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET-_R2Hly88&t=9m27s (09:27) Avatar Driven VR Society Trends in Japan — IEEEVR2020 “VRinVR”

As mentioned previously, we also created a Mozilla Hubs room from which our video was streamed (https://hubs.mozilla.com/fYnpc8m/avatar-driven-vr-society-trends-in-japan/). Attendees could watch our presentation, read our paper, and watch other videos related to our research. Our goal was to push a step further the concept of presentation and think about what it meant to present in a virtual environment. Mozilla Hubs allowed us to present our research in 3 dimensions, create an archive that would be left behind in the history of humanity, and create a room accessible for anyone who wants to learn about Japanese avatar society.

At the time of the workshop, Mozilla Hubs did not allow for personalized avatars, and the majority of their avatars looked robot-like. The four of us had our own virtual avatars, which we decided to incorporate inside the MozillaHubs room. We wanted to leave behind in the history of humanity not only our research archive but also our virtual presence.

Presentation in Hubs
VRM based avatars by authors, here are accepted papers on their back.

Source: https://hubs.mozilla.com/fYnpc8m/avatar-driven-vr-society-trends-in-japan/)

During the workshop, our speech was streamed from our Mozilla Hubs room on Twitch. Unfortunately, as Twitch does not achieve its streams, the content is no longer available. Once the conferences were over, speakers gathered in a Zoom meeting and had to answer one question from the public (the viewers could ask questions on Sli.DO). Originally more time was supposed to be left for the Q&A session, however, due to technical issues the talks were running late and only 2–3min were left for the Q&A. The question that the organizers proposed to answer was: “I am interested in each speaker’s ideas about the accessibility of each of the platforms, both from a physical point of view, but also aesthetics”. Our team replied that we focused on presenting platforms that were user-friendly and easily accessible. Our goal was to present viewers with platforms and case studies that provided with an alternative to human/physical like appearance of avatars and bring kawaii aesthetics to the academic world and embodied experience.

Source: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/572700869?t=8181s (02:31:15)

Conclusion

In the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IEEEVRinVR conference was a success and provided alternative solutions to academic participation. With Mozilla Hubs, it was possible to create a room and design an experience around our presentation. There were some critiques in regard to Zoom participation: presenters had to appear on camera in their physical form which could lead to privacy issues. Moreover, the Webinar like participation on ZOOM lacked engagement and interactions with viewers and between presenters. On the positive note, the online meetings reduced carbon footprint and food/beverage expenses, participants could participate from any physical location given that they had access to the Internet.

The workshop presentations discussed and evaluated key pieces of collaborative technology that could facilitate new types of online meetings. Mozilla Hubs in itself, mixed with other platforms, facilitated online conferences, discussions, and meetings in the pandemic world. Actually, we met for the first time in VR thanks to this conference. Virtual environments enable us to create spaces where participants can come together and learn without having to worry about time zones. In other words, creating 3-dimensional presentations in Hubs can enable us to leave behind in the history of humanity a virtual room for learning about avatar driven VR society in Japan.

As we move on further in the avatar society and the pandemic world, we must ask ourselves, how can virtual platforms facilitate academic exchange, what do we want to leave behind in the history of humanity, and how can we virtualize the real experience of conferencing. And if we want to create public content that is redistributed on different platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Mozilla Hubs, how can we resolve copyright issues? Some of those issues were tackled during the EMTECH conference. But more about that in another article.

See you in virtual!

Reference

L. Bredikhina, T. Kameoka, S. Shimbo and A. Shirai, “Avatar Driven VR Society Trends in Japan,” 2020 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW), Atlanta, GA, USA, 2020, pp. 497–503, doi: 10.1109/VRW50115.2020.00103. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9090603

Memorandum by Akihiko SHIRAI

R&D division for Creating a new future with XR entertainment research and VTuber industry with REALITY, Inc. in GREE Family.