Building a virtual reality experience is one thing. But how do you know if it works? How do you get feedback on your virtual reality content from headset users, at a time when there are not that many users around yet?
Testing the VR yoga routine before opening
I had tested my VR yoga experience on 6 people before I published it, male and female, ages between 14 and 54. Basically, everyone that happened to step into my house, got dragged to my computer.
All of them had very little to no experience with a virtual reality or with yoga, exactly what I aimed my VR experience for.
They stood behind my desk with my VR headset on, while I sat across the room watching them for 10 minutes. I watched to see if they could follow the instructions, had trouble doing the exercises, didn’t hit or bump into anything, if they stayed engaged until the end, if they looked relaxed and if they looked like they had fun.
A beginner in virtual reality
All 10-minute sessions were fascinating to see, but I watched Lukas most closely. If this musician\cleaner\handyman could make it to the end of my yoga routine, anyone could. He was my perfect subject. A beginner in virtual reality that suffered from motion sickness.
Lukas had worn a VR headset only once before, a week earlier. He wore mine and tried to walk around a bit in another experience.
It took no more than 2 minutes tops before the poor guy turned white as a sheet, and said: “Now I know what this motion sickness is they talk about”. I helped him out of the headset and felt bad after that. Not bad enough to ask him to do it again a week later though.
Watched him find his personal space
I watched him doing the whole 10 minutes yoga work out while biting my nails. I watched him find his personal space, a yoga mat. He stood tall. His face relaxed. His breathing changed, he moved his head and arms with the instructions. And he did the full 10 minutes.
When Lukas finally took off the headset, he was smiling broadly. He talked about how some exercises really were strenuous, about the light fall, about how he focussed on the wall painting, on the music, my voice and the beams in the ceiling. Even said he felt good, relaxed, like “he had really done some physical exercise”. He didn’t mention motion sickness at all.
All my first testers said they felt relaxed after doing my yoga routine in my VR yoga studio. They had no problems doing the exercises. They had focussed on my voice and the movements and they said they felt like they were there, in the room. Present.
My VR experience in the Sansar Atlas
I published my VR yoga experience on Monday, August 21, 2017 in the Sansar Atlas. At the exact same time, there was a solar eclipse going on above the USA. And most people there were staring at the sky.
Probably not a good sign for a project you hope will get noticed.
My yoga studio landed at the 50th place or so in the Sansar Atlas, like all new experiences. How the atlas works will probably change in future, but right now it seems to work like this:
The 4 places in the carousel are taken by the creations by Sansar’s own creative team and the first 50 places after that are chosen by Linden Lab. After the first 50, it is the newest experience first.
If your experience doesn’t get noticed, it sinks down the list fast. If I wanted feedback, I had to do more than hope for people to scroll all the way down to find my studio down there.
So I started by asking a few other creators for feedback personally. I explicitly asked for feedback here on this blog and on the Sansar preview Slack channel, where creators and Lindens communicated during the closed alpha stage. A very slow process.
Sansar Atlas hopping with Strawberry Singh and Draxtor Despres
And then I got lucky. My experience had been apparently been noticed and starting climbing up the atlas. It came up high enough for Second Life blogger Strawberry Singh to notice it during her Atlas hopping trip with Draxtor Despres and their guests.
All of a sudden I had 20 minutes of video of about 8 people inside my experience, trying it out and discussing it freely. Thank you so much to everyone there! I have watched it over and over and will use every bit of feedback I heard. I will try to respond to a few things you said here:
About the exercises, sitting or standing, difficulty
I made this yoga routine only with exercises for the neck, shoulders and arms, because only those can be seen on your avatar right now when you wear a VR headset and hand controllers. Also because they are safe and easy to do for beginners in both yoga and VR. And because you can do them both standing up or sitting down.
I can make future routines more complex and for more parts of the body, especially when we have full body immersion in the end. I probably will not ever have anyone standing on their head in VR though, like someone mentioned. I ran all these exercises by a sports coach that works with people with physical impairments or disabilities so they would be safe for everyone to do.
Would it work doing it alone or with a group
One of my goals was to make the experience enjoyable when alone in VR as well as when together with other people. I have seen people do it alone and it seemed to work, it made them come out more relaxed than before.
I have not seen the yoga routine done by more than one person at the same time yet. I imagine it would work much the same as when the visitor was alone if they were seriously concentrating on the routine. And if they were less engaged in the workout and more on each other, it would simply be a bit of fun.
A smelly, sweaty yoga studio or a beautiful view
Someone suggested if he would make a yoga experience, he would have the routine done “on a platform on top of the Himalaya or something. With a brilliant view.” Not in the same kind of place as reality, not in ‘smelly, sweaty places’. “I can almost smell it.”(Loved that last bit, a great compliment.)
It is a very cool idea and I will probably do something like that later, in a more complex VR yoga experience. But it wouldn’t work well for this session for beginners in yoga or VR.
Yoga is about going inside, about focussing on yourself, on your body and feelings. All decor in the yoga studio is only there to support that. I made the experience so you could close your eyes even and think the whole surrounding away. The experience is walled, plain, small and familiar so you and your mind have little room to start wandering. So you can forget where you are and focus on my voice, the exercises, your breathing and yourself.
The room also helps beginners with VR headsets. Visitors cannot accidentally teleport all over the Himalayas and it helps those that learn to manage VR motion sickness greatly if they don’t have to move and look around much. They shift their attention to other senses like hearing and feeling. When they do look around, they have the wall painting and the beams to focus on.
On a practical level: A small room is easier and faster to make than a large landscape. It took me about 150 hours in 3 weeks to make this experience, including writing the routine and doing the audio.
It also loads fast and it doesn’t take much room on the visitors hard drive. A longer yoga routine would deserve more virtual reality content.
Audio or video instructions
Someone in Berry’s live chat did a suggestion to have video instructions. A great idea and I may do that in a future experience. I felt it was not needed for this particular routine because the voice instructions are elaborate and easy to follow, but it will be very helpful when things get more complex.
I could also try with an animated model maybe. So you can walk around it and see the exercise from all angles. And most ideally, with a live yoga instructor.
Finally: synchronization of the sound
When Berry, Drax and their guests where in my experience, the sound was not synchronized for all visitors yet. I thought it was, but I needed some additional scripting to make that happen. The Lindens did some magic since then and created 2 scripts that make the sound in sync for all visitors and more.
I updated the experience with it, so now the whole routine can be enjoyed together at the same time. I can’t wait to see that.
Calming and relaxing
And for everyone that said it was calming or relaxing. Thank you! That is perfect. That is what I was aiming for.
About updating an experience
About updating an experience though? When you do, it falls down the Sansar Atlas hard, to the original place in the order of publishing date. And you have to hope you get noticed again. I think the solar eclipse is doing its thing.