A Seattle start-up has just launched Pluto, a virtual reality app currently in Early Access that lets gamers communicate with each other via headsets while connected to the Steam service. Much like the Discord app, which lets gamers chat and message each other whether they’re playing together or not, Pluto runs alongside existing SteamVR games.
Using the app control panel, you can design your own avatar, choose the opacity of other avatars, and mute mics. Using the app’s overlay icon, you can adjust the settings on they fly while still in your game. Friends can even call and see what you’re up to while you’re playing. While it doesn’t currently allow real-time sharing, you can grab a screenshot and pass it along.
Forest Gibson, co-founder of Pluto VR, told GeekWire that they want to make online social interactions more like real life. “Ultimately, we’re focused on shaping the future of face-to-face interactions in artificial spaces,” he said. “We want all kinds of multi-user VR experiences to be more interactive, more collaborative, and ultimately less lonely,”
Currently, the app only shows avatars made of floating heads and hands, which are tracked by the headsets and controllers. As tracking technology improves, Pluto VR hopes to add things like eyebrow movements.
Calling it a social network is somewhat of a misnomer, however — the app is not designed to help you find new people to play with. There are no meeting rooms or public chat spaces; its purpose is to virtually connect with people you already know.
The founders of Pluto have an impressive resume, with experience at places like Disney, PopCap Games, Valve, and Microsoft. The company raised $13.9 million in its latest round of funding. There are other communication apps for VR, but Pluto aims to become a familiar presence across a variety of platforms.
Some publications have dubbed Pluto the “Skype of VR,” but former PopCap founder John Veschy doesn’t like the comparison. “We’re not big fans of the ‘this for that,’” he explained. “How do you make a simple comparison of a brand new form of communication? What was the this for that of the telegram?”
Pluto is now available free in Early Access on Steam, with all the normal caveats that accompany a pre-release version. It works with Rift, Vive, and Windows VR alongside existing SteamVR games.