This month I'm excited to bring to you Bruce Wooden.
Bruce has been described as virtual reality's first celebrity. He currently works with AltspaceVR, staying on the pulse of the VR developer community. He also hosts his semi-monthly VR livestream show, and is the co-founder of the Silicon Valley VR meetup.
As a reminder, the purpose of QTime is to learn how talented people in our industry and beyond are great at what they do. No one ever asks the really unique, fascinating people in our space these types of questions. So I decided to find these people and share super short profiles. They are meant to be a small happy part of your day.
If you have any comments or ideas, please reply to me. I answer every email personally. Hopefully you find QTime to be a community of thoughtful, smart people coming together to share insights.
BS: You have been called VR’s first real celebrity. How do you feel about that and how did it start?
BW: It’s really wild. It didn’t really hit me until I went to a couple VR events, and people would literally stop me from across the hall. People would yell out my name. I was like, “What? Who am I?” (chuckling). It’s just been wild. Very gratifying...contributing to the community and it’s definitely opened doors as well.
It started back when I was just conversating in this online VR forum in late 2011. A lot of people were talking intelligently about VR. Next thing you know a prototype built by Palmer Luckey is being sent to John Carmack. I got in my head to put something together, develop something, change my career path. And everything sorta swiveled. Once I got my unit, I made some videos. At the time, most of the videos were not so informative. A lot of Devs were asking design questions or specific questions that were not getting answered, so I filled that void. Next thing you know, that video blows up, and I’m just known in the VR circles and everybody's like “Hey!”. Really wild.
BS: How did you decide to take the big leap?
BW: I was pretty comfortable in my old role. The career path was progressing and I was definitely satisfied. When the transition started, it gave me a difficult choice. I was a director of a huge summer camp, grossing over $1m a year, and I was part of the camp’s brain trust. But I told them there is a VR opportunity I just can’t pass up, and I need to leave.
I was definitely out of my comfort bubble! But I would just go back to the idea that VR is so special and interesting. This is one of those moments in history, like when the PC started. I don’t want to be an old man that said, ‘Oh yeah, I was around and watched that happen.’ I’d much rather say, ‘I was in the thick of it and I contributed. This is my story.’ That’s the position I want to be in. It’s too cool to fail! I just had to be in the middle of it.
BS: Why are you good at what you do?
BW: I have a talent for explaining complicated things in a simplified manner. I think that’s really helped me a lot, especially when making my video content. I try to communicate the experience I’m having in the words I choose and also in the emotion. The reactions. And that’s genuine. I have people come to me all of the time and say, “Hey, I got involved in VR because I saw one of your videos. I knew it was something special.” And that makes me incredibly happy. The gift of communicating the essence of something well.
BS: What do people in the industry not realize about VR right now?
BW: We still have quite a few people who are not enthusiastic about social VR, about being in VR with other people. On the face of it, most of this community is game focused. They want VR to escape to another place. There is something so cool about being with humans in VR. VR has this phenomenal ability to bring people people together. It’s far more fulfilling than leaving messages on a wall.
BS: Who will be the next VR celebrity (besides yourself?)
BW: There could just be some kid out there who is waiting to get his headset. Reverend Kyle is a beloved figure in the VR community doing some super cool stuff. But it’s so early. Some kid is going to do something we can’t even imagine yet. VR is a brand new medium, and we’ve ventured into it using a lot of the same paradigms of TV and the internet. There will be things that can only happen in VR, and that’s going to be the thing that gets us excited.
BS: Coolest thing that gave you goosebumps lately?
BW: Elite Dangerous. It’s probably one of the most polished experiences out there right now. You’re in a spaceship flying and exploring the galaxy. The galaxy is accurate to star maps in real life, and you even have voice commands. You can say “computer, retract landing gear” and the ship says “landing gear retracted” back at you. The hairs on my neck stand up! This is the dream of 8 year old me. It’s better than anything I have ever experienced at Disneyland and it’s right here in front of me.
Also when I was at the VRLA conference, there was this really cool app with 3D abstract shapes. You could float through the shapes. It was a profound moment for me. I was basically able to take a tour through another person’s imagination. People have these ideas and dreams, and it’s hard to communicate them in words. It turns out VR is an empathy machine where you can instantly experience another person.
BS: Are you betting on a particular platform?
BW: Hard to say. The community is really excited about the HTC/Valve Vive. Valve has been doing VR research for just as long as Oculus. Vive had such a great showing at GDC. I’m all in on the Vive. Just so impressive. They have a firm hold on exploring the language of VR. The analogy is film. When moving pictures started, there was no concept of making a cut, a wipe, or even panning. That all happened over time. Even when the talkies came along, it took years to ascertain the language of the medium. Vive/Valve is exploring the language of this medium with an open attitude toward development. They let the devs go wild.
BS: What are you reading right now?
BW: Dune. It’s a classic.
If you would like to subscribe to QTime, just click here