"With AR, you can bring the whole family around the table. My dad knows how to reach in and push the lemmings off the cliff with [AR]. Put a VR system on him and give him a crazy controller where he’s tripping over the dining room table — that’s more difficult."
- CastAR cofounder Jeri Ellsworth, speaking to Polygon about why she thinks augmented reality games are more broadly appealing than virtual reality games.
Lots of people came to know CastAR cofounder Jeri Ellsworth's name when she and many others were abruptly laid off from Valve in 2013.
Devs are probably familiar with the story of how she was given the green light to take the augmented reality headset technoloy she'd been working on at Valve and continue working on it at CastAR, which she cofounded (as Technical Illusions) with fellow Valve expat Rick Johnson after they were laid off.
But a recent Polygon feature sheds fresh light on Ellsworth's career and how she wound up coming to work at Valve on hardware like the Steam Machines, the Vive VR headset, and other odds and ends. It's super interesting, in part because Ellsworth herself has had an eventful career and in part because it reveals some of the odder things that happen within Valve -- including, according to Ellsworth, some experiments in human augmentation.
"One of my favorites was we had the remote control human, where we ran small electric current in behind your ear, which would mess with your sense of balance,” Ellsworth said, describing how volunteers could actually be "steered" left and right by someone controlling the current.
“They couldn’t control themselves,” she continued. “It was hilarious, but, again, we had the filter of ‘what’s the customer experience?’ And it kind of burns the first time you run electric current in behind your ear. So immediately we knew this is not going to fly, but it’s kind of fun.”
Elsewhere in the (beefy) feature Ellsworth describes why she believes in AR over VR enough to continue working on it, all these years later, and devs may appreciate her perspective on why the broad appeal of AR seems more promising, in the long run, than the isolating nature of VR.
“I love VR, but it is a hard sell to a broad demographic," said Ellsworth, noting that it didn't fit with Valve's "extreme hardcore, extreme experiences" focus.
"It’s really hard to deploy VR into millions of homes around the world, because the experience is that you clear your furniture in your living room and you hang a bunch of sensors on the wall," she added. “I was actively involved with the Vive project, but I thought it was a really high-friction user experience."
You can (and should!) read more of Ellsworth's comments in the full Polygon feature, which covers everything from her childhood hacking VCRs (poorly) to her time as an amateur race car driver.