John Vechey, a co-founder of Seattle’s PopCap Games, is starting a new company with a group of virtual-reality developers.
Called Pluto VR, it’s initially going to research and develop ways to improve “human collaboration and connection” with new virtual-reality and augmented-reality systems, Vechey said.
The company joins a growing cluster of virtual-reality ventures in the Seattle area, including startups, enterprise dabblers and most of the industry’s biggest players. Facebook’s Oculus VR group does research and content development on the Eastside and in Seattle, Bellevue’s Valve is about to unveil VR hardware and Microsoft last month unveiled its HoloLens.
Pluto VR’s long-term vision is that these new technologies will enable people to “move beyond this idea of being tied to a physical location for interaction,” Vechey said.
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For instance, what if you could invite people to a meeting at which you’d virtually gather in the Roman Colosseum, or if you could play a game of Monopoly with friends while riding together on a virtual Reading Railroad car chugging through Pennsylvania?
Pluto VR will start by exploring seven use cases for virtual-reality hardware: a collaboration room, a white board, a business conference room, a shared workspace, board gaming, social gaming and LAN (local area network) gaming.
Vechey, 37, and two other PopCap founders started building games in a Seattle apartment in the late 1990s. They struggled until they worked out a “try before you buy” system that made their “Bejeweled” franchise a runaway success, selling more than 50 million copies. PopCap was sold to Electronic Arts in 2011 for $750 million in cash and stock and additional payouts of up to $550 million, depending on performance.
Vechey stayed with EA until last September. He connected with Jonathan Geibel, a former director of technology at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and with the founders of VR startup Impossible Object, Forest Gibson and Jared Cheshier. Together they formed PlutoVR last month.
They set up shop along Ballard Avenue and could grow to eight or nine employees by the end of the year, plus contractors. Vechey is providing seed money to get things rolling.
The company is being announced today, in advance of next week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco where virtual-reality is expected to be a major theme. Pluto VR wants to work with different platforms and plans to share a lot of its learning with the development community, Vechey said.
Still, it will take awhile for the category Pluto VR is chasing to go mainstream. Vechey said VR uptake could be similar to what happened with smartphones, which were around for years before they became widely used.
“The odds are mass consumer adoption is going to take some time,” Vechey said. “It’s probably going to be hard-core enthusiasts and businesses first, and take some time to grow beyond that.”