Japan’s Cluster to launch social VR hangout rooms for live events and gatherings


See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Cluster is developing a virtual reality (VR) platform under the same name capable of holding events on a participant scale of thousands in a metaverse. The company announced this week that it will launch the official release of the service in May while unveiling a sneak peek. Together with this announcement, they revealed a teaser page and started accepting user pre-registration for the official release.

Compared with the alpha version released last year, the official version added a function that allows users to create rooms of their own in VR. Users can share it by a hashed unique URL, and only users who know it can enter the same room and share experiences. Currently, users can only select the room from around ten kinds of prepared variations, such as a conference room or a living room, but the company has looked at making it necessary for users to design the room by themselves in the future.

One other interesting feature of the official version is the ability to screen share in VR. Users gathered in one room can see the same image on the screen provided in the room in VR. Because you can project games and YouTube screens here, it is also possible for multiple users to discuss their opinions while watching video content or to share their experiences while watching live sports broadcasts.

Incidentally, the broadcasting of TV shows and the sale of DVDs is premised on the idea of individual viewers. It is assumed that families and friends who gather in the same place to appreciate them together is permissible. There is currently no clear law or precedent to define how many people (or under what circumstances) are permitted to watch together in a “shared space” in VR.

From his personal perspective, if up to several people gathered in VR were watching the same content together using the WebRTC-based version of Cluster like they would for a house party, Cluster CEO Naoto Kato conjectured that it could possibly be interpreted as them in an actual living room to view it.  However, as it is possible for thousands of people to share the same event space at the same time in VR by making full use of Cluster’s back-end servers and CDN (content delivery network), there is a high possibility of conflict with copyright infringement, and in this case it would be necessary to take measures to avoid this.

On the flipside, if a content holder or licensee hosts an event, it would be possible to provide an environment where multiple users could view the same movie or live sports broadcast publicly on Cluster. Here we can imagine any number of business opportunities.

The key idea behind the development of Cluster is the ability to stay where you are most comfortable. Kato noted that just the other day he took the stage at an event in Shibuya, Tokyo and how troublesome it was to have to take the Yamanote line train from his office in Gotanda (just three stops from Shibuya, a ten-minute ride). Considering the time and cost of travel, the cost and logistics it takes to ensure places where large numbers of people can gather, and the business people who have run around all day, Cluster can be regarded as a new alternative means for companies involved in the event business.

Companies also competing in this field include America’s AltspaceVR and Japan’s EmbodyMe, launched last week, among others, but Kato noted that Cluster would like to focus on pursuing convenience, as opposed to the entertainment value of VR. To that end, it seems they are intentionally recruiting users who will participate in testing new functions and those who will hold events on Cluster with the teaser page.

In April of 2016, Cluster raised around 50 million yen (about $450K US) from Skyland Ventures, East Ventures, and several individual investors in an angel round.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda