High Fidelity: Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

I suspect that some people are going to be very angry at me for writing this blogpost, but I’ve been watching things over at High Fidelity with a growing sense of unease.

Back in April, Philip Rosedale dropped the bombshell announcement that they were shutting down all the publicly hosted spaces, and that High Fidelity was pivoting towards the business market. As part of those changes, the regular user General Assembly would be discontinued and replaced with a monthly developers’ meetup. Here is the livestream of that last General Assembly meeting on April 4th, 2019, if you haven’t already watched it:

And here’s the livestream of the most recent Developers’ Discussion held on June 14th, 2019. Notice anything interesting about the thumbnail High Fidelity chose for this video?

Yeah, your eyes are not fooling you. They reused the image taken from the April meeting. Why, you might ask yourself? Well, here’s an actual screenshot from the second video:

That’s quite a drop in attendance, wouldn’t you say? Yes, this is a different and much more technical audience, but what happened to all the people who were active supporters of High Fidelity and who used to come out to meetings?

Most recently, longtime members of the High Fidelity discussion forums (which have been noticeably quieter lately) got a rather unpleasant surprise: their previous “trusted member” levels had been downgraded to standard membership. Some commented:

Is it just me, or is there a general overall sense of HiFi turning off the lights, shutting down various systems, and in general just downgrading services to their loyal userbase? High Fidelity has also shut down the feature request list as of June 1st, 2019, announcing they would no longer triage feature requests from users. (I would put in a link, but that list is now completely gone.)

On top of that, at the top of the redesigned homepage, there’s a brand new page extolling the virtues of High Fidelity for remote work teams. All very well and good, and looking very professional, but as I have said before, there’s absolutely no guarantee that HiFi will be successful at re-positioning its platform for business users (God knows there are already lots of companies jostling for marketshare in this arena already, many of whom seem to be struggling to attract customers.)

And yes, I have heard of at least one developer (whose work was previously proudly mentioned by Philip Rosedale) who is actively looking for another platform for their HiFi project. I’m not going to say who it is, but I doubt they are the only ones who are looking at alternatives.

Who’s staying with High Fidelity? Who’s leaving? Who isn’t sure what they are going to do next? Feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join the ongoing discussion on the RyanSchultz.com Discord channel, where we discuss events happening on any and all social VR/virtual world platforms.

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10 thoughts on “High Fidelity: Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic?”

  1. Thank you for addressing the elephant in the metaverse 😉

    I’ve been meaning to write down my thoughts and feelings about High Fidelity’s change of direction for quite a while now, so I’m happy to seize the opportunity to articulate them here:

    First off I’d like to state that – from the bottom of my heart and mind – I’m really the biggest fan of High Fidelity as well as Philip Rosedale’s visions for it – be it the Open Source development, the decentralized architecture, or the many implementations which just let you feel crazy good in VR – like flying or lifelike physics.
    To me there couldn’t be any better Social VR platform!
    So its sudden re-orientation hit me like a wrecking ball 🙁

    I’ve never had a more prototypical experience of the five stages of grief – ranging from denial (pretending everything was fine by booking a vacation immediately after April 4th‘s bombshell announcement), over anger and bargaining (ranting about HiFi shutting down all communication channels for content creators and begging for a community advocate during the [non-published] second half of May 14th‘s meeting) and also depression (binge-watching Netflix’s whole June catalogue) to acceptance – which has now finally enabled me to analyze High Fidelity’s as well as my own position in the evolution of the metaverse.

    I can understand High Fidelity’s decision and I’m content with it.
    I’ve always pitched High Fidelity as the World Wide Web of VR and I think it’s a good idea to concentrate on developing a great operating system while leaving the content creation to users.
    And if there is investor pleasing b2b revenue to be made by focusing on core competencies like mind blowing spatial audio and/or handling up to 500 avatars in one non-instanced space I’m fine with that too.

    But – to remain with my example from the last century – the WWW didn’t gain traction just by being there, it were services – like Yahoo! or AOL – build on top of it which made it bloom.
    And – even though there is an amazing core community keeping the spirits up on the remaining HiFi grid – I don’t think it is possible to increase concurrent user numbers without the backup of a well-positioned company with profound social media and international copyright skills.
    Through the community grapevine I’ve heard of a minimum of two promising fork projects, but these still have to be staged resp. founded as startup.
    I’ll also never give up hope that High Fidelity might pivot back to Philip’s original vision of a Virtual World, but the fact remains that – at least for now and probably the year to come – we are in limbo!

    As long as I can’t be sure what commerce system is going to drive High Fidelity’s economy in a year’s time, or if there’s still going to be a build focusing on all the cool VR features which are important to me and my work, I’ve decided to allot my creative time and resources elsewhere.

    I’m planning to broaden my SocialVR evangelism from just being based on High Fidelity as an example for a Virtual World to the whole range of platforms out there, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper into Sansar, VRC & Co. in order to promote them as a SocialVR consultant, advising RL folks which platform could best fit their individual needs.

    Regarding content creation I’m happy to (hopefully) finally have the time to learn Unity and maybe even acquire some coding skills.

    I’m also hooking up with VR professionals in my European vicinity in order to create standalone VR art to be showcased on various RL occasions.

    Nevertheless, High Fidelity will always stay my virtual home, and I’m more than ready to jump back into action there as soon as a it has a solid Virtual World framework back in place 💜😎

  2. HF is not the only platform showing burn rate rot. Sansar is also pivoting and failing to go big. Sinespace seems to be promising, if you like closed-source software with a monolithic controlled platform.

    OpenSimulator is stalled in development. The dev team seems to expel newcomers, and lose key members. BUT….the promise is still there with several companies offering hosting, marketplace functions and more. Real VR is technically possible if difficult (someone needs to take over dev of CTRL-ALT-Studio). Despite thinking that I need to move to an new platform, events like this at HF keep me staying put. It is open source with commercial support, and the platform continues to grow.

    Feel free to come and visit:

    1. I agree with everything you say with one exception: I do not believe that Linden Lab has pivoted Sansar. They have been pretty consistent since the closed beta about the purposes and uses of the platform, which include both consumer and business use.

      1. Good catch! But I wasn’t talking so much about non-VR versus VR, as I was about Sansar’s overall VR strategy. I just wanted to point out that they aren’t “pivoting” Sansar as they are High Fidelity. Thanks for the comments!

  3. Ryan, generally I’ve been a real fan of your work. I can’t say I completely agree with you on this. It’s all about building a sustainable model. If you had the vision HF has then you could see the end game. Does your interface still work? Then you have HighFidelity. Can you still build spaces? Then you have HighFidelity. It hasn’t gone away. Don’t expect them to cater to everyone anymore. They were burning too much time trying to pacify everyone. Now they can set their own goals and work toward them without these distractions. They have a vision and I trust them to carry it out to the end. It’s a little close to call them done when they admit they have enough capital to finish. Your article in my opinion is a bit over board. I’m not mad… I just disagree.

  4. Keep in mind I don’t know what I’m talking about.
    My guess it that Phillip sells the concept to investors to get funding and then sets out to execute his vision. Which we have all seen and enjoyed. Later on the investors aren’t seeing the potential returns like they thought they would. What they do see is everyone playing (and developing) on their dime. Then there is probably some squawking and ultimatum hurling that forces the Phillip Team to “refine” their course. And now here we are. I believe this happened before with SecondLife. It may not be the whole story but I bet it’s a part of it.
    My opinion is that for any/all VR worlds to become worldly, it’s going to need EVERYONE to be part of it. Phillip’s vision is along those lines is it not? Mine too. It would seem that surely the best development(s) would come out of a field of many. Too bad this requires resources to support that model. Resources can be hard to come by.
    Just a though…

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