Skip to main content
Move the World.
rec room

Lead image courtesy of Rec Room

In his 2018 book Future Presence, Peter Rubin chronicles the true story of a couple who met in VR, fell in love in VR, and ultimately got married — you guessed it — in VR. It's a story that gives us a glimpse into the future of relationships, and one that tells us a bit about Rec Room, the gaming platform where it took place.

Last month, the Seattle-based gaming company announced a $100M financing round, putting its valuation at $1.25B, making it the first official software unicorn (a company valued at over a billion dollars) to emerge from the VR industry.

The announcement followed a breakout year for Rec Room, in which it tripled its player base, recording more than 1M monthly active VR users and 15M lifetime users.

What exactly is Rec Room and what makes it special — special enough to get married in — in a growing landscape of shared virtual spaces?

Rec Room Explained

Rec Room is a free app that bills itself as "the best place to build and play games together." It was first released in 2016 as a social VR world (sometimes also referred to as a "metaverse"), but over time expanded its availability to players on flat screens.

Unlike a conventional video game, Rec Room is not built around a quest or specific narrative. Rather, it's a space where people can come together in both public and private rooms to hang out and play games. Players can also build custom virtual spaces that they and others can use.

CEO Nick Fajt said in an interview with Freethink that Rec Room was designed to promote direct human connection. Play is a vehicle for connecting with others. While there are competitive games, like paintball, laser tag, and dodgeball, it's more in the vein of game nights with friends than competitive esports tournaments.

"Most social apps today are actually very isolating," Fajt said. "You're interacting with an algorithmic feed, not another human. We wanted to build a place where people could come together to meet new people and create new memories. That's been our goal since day one and it remains our goal today."

Why Cross-Platform Connection Matters

When VR headset sales initially failed to live up to industry expectations, Rec Room expanded from being a VR-exclusive platform to PC, PlayStation, iOS, and most recently Xbox. As a result, users in VR headsets can now play in real time with those on consoles and iPhones, or mix it up themselves.

"We want Rec Room to be the most radically cross-platform social app in existence," Fajt said. "At the end of the day, Rec Room is trying to connect people, not devices."

"At the end of the day, Rec Room is trying to connect people, not devices."

Nick FajtCEO, Rec Room

Rec Room saw a surge in growth during the pandemic, when people stuck at home turned to virtual world for connection. Fajt noted that teenagers aged 13 to 16 comprise Rec Room's primary users — and points to these players as a consistent core audience even once restrictions lift.

"The pandemic accelerated trends we'd been seeing for several years," Fajt told The Verge. "A lot of people are looking for a digital third place that's distinct from home and school or work where they can meet up with friends, hang out, explore, and be creative. I think that's been true whether teenagers were going to school physically or on Zoom. People need a space like this."

The Not-so-Secret Sauce: Creators

Like Minecraft and Roblox before it, Rec Room has made building a core activity on the platform. Any user can build their own environments and games without needing to learn a complex programming language.

"In Rec Room, anyone can be a creator," Fajt said. "You don't need to know how to code, you don't need to know how to 3D model, you don't need to use a separate app or a game engine. If you can play Rec Room, you can build a room in Rec Room. Our tools live inside of the app and you can build together with your friends in real-time."

Tipatat Chennavasin, general partner of the Venture Reality Fund and an early investor in Rec Room, told Freethink in an interview that the app has remained popular across platforms because of this simple, in-app building approach.

"At their core has always been their amazing tools for user-generated content that allows creators to easily and collaboratively build experiences for everyone," Chennavasin said.

The focus on community seems to be paying off; 2M players have already created content on the platform — over 13% of all Rec Room players.

"People are (now) spending more time in community-created rooms than in Rec Room's own rooms," Chennavasin said. "The diversity of experiences is amazing — everything from games, escape rooms, immersive plays, and more — all built by players in-game."

Getting Creators Paid

An enthusiastic core community, a cross-platform approach to building within the world, and the compounding effects of the pandemic are all behind the recent fundraising boost — but underlying all of it is an expectation among investors that Rec Room will generate revenue.

Rec Room's recently launched Creator Compensation program is a revenue-share program that allows creators to monetize their creations through tokens (that are subsequently exchangeable for fiat currency like dollars).

"Creators have built millions of Rooms inside of Rec Room; every day, they're building tens of thousands of new Rooms for players to explore," Fajt said. "This year we're going to pay out over $1M to creators for all the amazing work (through the Creator Compensation program), and we see that number growing much much higher over the coming years."

VR players now make up a minority of Rec Room's audience, but Chennavasin sees it and other social VR applications driving headset sales, both because VR provides the most immersive way for audiences to be creative in these worlds and because now they have a means of monetizing their creative labor.

"We are already hearing about many people buying headsets specifically to use in Rec Room and VRChat, and especially with creator payments systems like what Rec Room recently introduced, we will see that investments in-headset (can) pay for themselves," Chennavasin said.

Fajt said that Rec Room is planning an IPO in the years to come, but for now is focused on continuing to make sure the platform is a fun place for the community to play and build.

"The community creators are adding huge amounts of content every day, so Rec Room is constantly evolving," Fajt said.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Editor's Note: This article has been updated from a previous version to specify that Rec Room is the first software VR unicorn.

Up Next

Neurodiversity
New Google Tool Lets You Experience Synesthesia
experience synesthesia
Neurodiversity
New Google Tool Lets You Experience Synesthesia
Google’s new online tool lets you experience synesthesia like the abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky, who could hear colors and see sounds.

Google’s new online tool lets you experience synesthesia like the abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky, who could hear colors and see sounds.

Medical Innovation
Nerve-Stimulator Helps People Walk after MS and Strokes
foot drop
Medical Innovation
Nerve-Stimulator Helps People Walk after MS and Strokes
The EvoWalk wearable uses electrical stimulation, sensors, and AI to combat foot drop, a condition commonly linked to MS and strokes.

The EvoWalk wearable uses electrical stimulation, sensors, and AI to combat foot drop, a condition commonly linked to MS and strokes.

Cancer
Cancer Cells Can Hibernate to Escape Chemotherapy
cancer cells hibernate
Cancer
Cancer Cells Can Hibernate to Escape Chemotherapy
A new study has found evidence that cancer cells hibernate, slowing down their division and waiting out the harsh environment of chemotherapy.

A new study has found evidence that cancer cells hibernate, slowing down their division and waiting out the harsh environment of chemotherapy.

Future of Medicine
New Drug Could Provide Long-Term HIV Prevention
hiv prevention
Future of Medicine
New Drug Could Provide Long-Term HIV Prevention
HIV prevention typically requires a daily pill. A new, injectable drug may be able to work for over a month at a time.

HIV prevention typically requires a daily pill. A new, injectable drug may be able to work for over a month at a time.

Genetics
Scientists Find What Looks Like DNA in a Dinosaur Fossil
Dinosaur Fossil
Genetics
Scientists Find What Looks Like DNA in a Dinosaur Fossil
Researchers have found what appears to be DNA in a dinosaur fossil — a discovery that could radically change our understanding of DNA’s ability to survive.

Researchers have found what appears to be DNA in a dinosaur fossil — a discovery that could radically change our understanding of DNA’s ability to survive.

Public Health
Can an Algorithm Predict the Next Disease Outbreak?
zoonotic disease
Public Health
Can an Algorithm Predict the Next Disease Outbreak?
Researchers are using this algorithm to predict which regions are likely to see a zoonotic disease outbreak, and hopefully prevent the next global pandemic.

Researchers are using this algorithm to predict which regions are likely to see a zoonotic disease outbreak, and hopefully prevent the next global pandemic.

Future of Food
GMO Salmon Could Forever Change the Way We Produce Food
It’s Time to Embrace the Frankenfish
Watch Now
Future of Food
GMO Salmon Could Forever Change the Way We Produce Food
Would you eat fish that was genetically designed in a lab? What if it was your only option? Like it or not, GMO salmon and other futuristic foods are revolutionizing the global food system right in front of our eyes.
Watch Now

Bioengineered fish have been known to cause mixed feelings. Unnatural, right? Well, after 30 years of debate on whether we should be eating “Frankenfish,” this funky food source is finally coming to a store near you. Like it or not, GMO salmon and possibly other genetically engineered animal meats will soon be on the shelves of your local supermarket. And, these new futuristic foods may be revolutionizing the global food...

VR
This week in ideas: How VR changes our dreams, a stem cell miracle, and the shoes...
This week in ideas: How VR changes our dreams, a stem cell miracle, and the shoes of the future
VR
This week in ideas: How VR changes our dreams, a stem cell miracle, and the shoes...
Virtual reality users experience more lucid dreams, a paralyzed man gets movement back, and self-lacing shoes....
By Mike Riggs

Virtual reality users experience more lucid dreams, a paralyzed man gets movement back, and self-lacing shoes. These are our favorite stories this week.

Science
How to Rebuild a Broken Brain
How to Rebuild a Broken Brain
Science
How to Rebuild a Broken Brain
The unbelievable story of the day Jordan Riley was declared brain dead and his journey of re-learning how to be human.
By Mike Riggs

The unbelievable story of the day Jordan Riley was declared brain dead and his journey of re-learning how to be human.