Guest Editorial: Imagining a Successful High Fidelity

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Dale Glass as written a follow-up to his first guest editorial, What’s Wrong with High Fidelity. Here is a very lightly edited version of the article he sent me (apparently, Dale is not a firm believer in the use of commas 😉 ). I have taken the liberty of adding my own images to illustrate his text.


Imagining a Successful High Fidelity

by Dale Glass

Now that I’ve discussed what I think is wrong with High Fidelity, I’m going to try and propose a working model that would preserve as much of it as possible. I’m going to ignore solutions that involve a radical reorganization, because I think the interesting question is whether HiFi could make money being what it currently is, rather than doing things the easy way by turning it into a Second Life clone, for instance.

A successful High Fidelity will need two parts to it: a thriving community, and a thriving company. The company hardly can succeed without having users, so I will start with them.

HiFi needs content, because not everyone can make their own artwork, or code. It’s hardly an inviting proposition to join a new virtual world to find out it’s a virtual desert devoid of anything interesting, and that if you want a nice looking house, your only resort is to spend a lot of time learning how to use Blender. So one of the very first things HiFi needs is a large amount of content creators churning out a large variety of things: avatars, clothes, houses, toys, tools, scripts, etc.

To start with, here’s what I think won’t work: imitating Second Life. SL creators expect there to be asset permissions, which don’t exist in HiFi, and don’t make that much sense since without a central asset server and servers being under user control, any restrictions can be ignored. SL creators also won’t be happy with that scripts are just as vulnerable as 3D assets, because many rely on scripts to make their creations harder to clone. HiFi has made a token effort towards content protection by attempting to verify that something was officially bought on the High Fidelity Marketplace, but this is an entirely opt-in scheme, which is unlikely to make creators happy.

Any attempt to make SL businesses establish themselves in HiFi, as-is, is likely to end badly, as they will find people can do anything they want with their assets, and that there’s nothing in place to deal with it, and no solutions on the horizon, either.

How to do business in such an environment, then? My suggestion is basically Patreon and commissions. Rather than trying to shoehorn the SL business model into High Fidelity, it would be a lot better to go with a model that doesn’t need to fight against HiFi’s nature at every step, and Patreon seems to be that. A lot of artists on Patreon release work to the general public on places like YouTube, and thus don’t need to be concerned with ensuring only the right people can get at it. Patrons contribute money to creators voluntarily, wanting specifically to support the artist and not to buy a single copy of a product.

Patreon homepage

I realize that this is a rather tricky proposition, but it’s the only thing that would seem to work in such an environment. Doing things the Second Life way either requires drastically changing High Fidelity, or results in creators leaving for greener pastures.

Another thing HiFi users need is a lot of small improvements to the way the platform works. It’s missing many of the features needed for large groups of people to communicate and manage themselves – groups, group permissions, land and object ownership, to name just a few. HiFi shouldn’t stop at replicating SL here – surely one can do even better. HiFi would be well served to listening to what long time SL users have been complaining about and trying to give their users that.

Of course, the company’s business model also needs to be considered, and the problem is that in the previous article I concluded that there’s nothing much HiFi can earn money from. So what now? I see two ways forward.

The first is pivoting towards an “Open Source business model”, in which the company sells technical support, custom work, and perhaps additional functionality to primarily corporate clients. The public is allowed to play with the code without much support on the part of the company, mainly for the sake of publicity, testing, and gathering third party fixes from people who never were going to pay for a 24/7 support contract anyway. Here HiFi could benefit from changing to a “scary” license like the GPLv3 or AGPLv3, which, while perfectly okay for the general public, makes many companies deeply uncomfortable. This creates another potential source of money by offering an alternate license scheme to those who don’t like this. HiFi is under the rather oddly permissive terms of the Apache 2.0 License, which allows anybody who wants to take all their work, do anything they want to it, and contribute nothing back. This is very generous, but a dangerous way to try to earn a profit. A license like the GPLv3 ensures that any third party work also benefits the company.

GPL Version 3 Logo

Some of this already seems to be happening on HiFi’s part to some extent, and on the whole I think it’s a pretty sane direction to head in, except for that, currently, it’s not really clear what is it that High Fidelity has that other companies would want to pay for. Second Life already gave this a try, and it ended up fizzling out. It’s also a pity that this seems to involve disconnecting from the community.

How about High Fidelity being profitable by serving the users, like Second Life does? That’s rather trickier, but I think there’s some potential. HiFi would need to move to a community supported model. Since it gives everything away, there’s almost nothing that absolutely must be paid for, so the only thing that can be done is asking nicely.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. This idea is usually adopted by non-profits and Open Source projects like Wikipedia, KiCad and Blender, but there exist some rare for-profit examples. For example, Reddit partly works a bit like this, selling premium memberships that don’t give the buyer much, since the base access is free.

Following this idea, HiFi could offer some sort of premium membership. For instance, you could get your name listed among the list of sponsors, get some sort of distinctive sign or title next to your name, and perhaps get some privileges, like access to test servers or technical support.Most such advantages would probably be largely symbolic, but I think there’s a fair amount of people who’d send some money HiFi’s way if the cards were played right.

High Fidelity also could, and in my opinion, should at least try, offering domain and asset hosting. While they couldn’t compete with established vendors like Amazon on price, they can offer something Amazon doesn’t have: a deep knowledge of the platform. Having HiFi host your stuff should result in it being taken care of by people who know very well how it all fits together, and who are very close to the original developers. HiFi itself would also benefit, in that this would allow them to have a much better idea of how exactly the software is being used, and what problems the users run into.

A harder-to-get-right possibility would include paid custom work, on a level accessible to average people. For example, one could create bug and feature bounties where people could pledge money in exchange for features. This would be fairly tricky, but I recall that for instance OpenSim used to have bounties. Paying to be able to talk to a member of the team is another thing comes to mind. It could be useful to just be able to pay to speak to whoever wrote a given piece of code for half an hour.

To add another revenue source, I would consider selling merchandise. Things like T-shirts and coffee mugs seem like a no-brainer, providing both income and advertisement in exchange for little effort.

Developing a digital economy and taxing it is another possibility, but I do not think such a thing can amount to much in the early stages.This would be more of a long term plan, as a large user-base is needed for this to amount to anything. If High Fidelity catches on, however, this could be a pretty nice source of income.

A crucial part of such a plan would be removing all roadblocks possible for paying the company. This would involve accepting payments by every method that’s remotely practical, as well as removing every possible roadblock to content creation in general. It could be worthwhile to improve in-world creation abilities, so that something can be accomplished without needing to learn or install anything besides HiFi itself.

Let’s resume, the issue of making money by trying to sell pretty much anything that can be sold. HiFi being what it is, making a profit off it isn’t going to be trivial, so I think no possibility should be left unexplored. While HiFi’s openness allows third parties to take all their hard work and do their own thing with it, the company has the most knowledge about their own platform, and by playing their cards right, and taking advantage of an established user-base, they could outrun any competition without that much trouble.

For all this to work properly, HiFi would also need to improve its relationship with the community. By that I mean more openness and more communication, with regular meetings with users, easy access to the developers and in general a sustained effort on HiFi’s part to say “we care”. If you’re going to depend on the users’ goodwill, you have to convince them that you’re a lovely bunch of people well deserving of money.

I don’t have a whole lot of hopes on High Fidelity doing anything of the sort, of course. Part because that’s really unlike what I’ve seen of them so far, but also partly because this is not the way they’ve chosen, and it would take an awful amount of work, as well as restructuring the company and probably shrinking it by quite a bit.

What I think is a bit more likely is some third party giving this a try. Given that the code is out there, nothing technically stops anybody from taking it and trying to go in their own direction. Somebody would need to fork it on GitHub, set up a pretty website explaining their ambitious plans, put in a lot of hard work both to improve the code and to communicate with the current community, and regularly mention “please support us on Patreon”. This would be a tricky gamble to pull off given the small size of HiFi’s community at present, so I think if somebody ever does this, it’ll be an effort from an established community member.

If HiFi survives, what I think might happen is those two things, run by different entities. High Fidelity seems to have committed itself to corporate work and abandoned its original user community. But if it keeps delivering code that’s useful enough for a community to use, and the userbase grows enough, then I expect that eventually somebody will try to make a community edition. From there it doesn’t take much to fork the source, and start accepting donations, and that could get the ball rolling again.


Thanks, Dale!

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Decentraland: A Project Update

Did you know that you can help support my work on this blog (as well as the Metaverse Newscast show), and get some great rewards in return? Here’s how.


Decentraland (DCL for short) is making progress!

The company is slowly letting more and more users onto the closed beta test platform (around 50 to 75 new people per week since July, last week they raised it to 150, and this week they raised it again to 400). DCL is also running weekly stress tests to see how well Decentraland performs under maximum avatar load. I have been participating in the stress tests when I can.

A quaint little lowpoly cottage I visited during today’s Decentraland stress test
Another picture taken during today’s stress testing
A closer look at the variety of avatar customization options

There are several new features in their web-based Decentraland Explorer client: a mini map in the upper-left corner so you can see where you are (a much-needed feature!), and a small user profile icon in the upper-right corner which, when clicked, displays information about your avatar. Also, they have finally integrated the avatar customization system on their website, so that your avatar now looks the way you designed and clothed him, and has the name you selected for him.

Prior to this, your avatar just had a randomly-generated appearance, and had a name of the form Guest ####, even if you had paid 100 MANA to register a custom avatar name. At current exchange rates, 100 MANA works out to about US$3.00. I still believe that charging for a custom username is a tactical mistake, and a potential roadblock to the average, non-crypto consumer that DCL will need to market to. On the other hand, it might cut down on the number of alts, which tend to be abused by the griefers who plague other virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Overall, I do get the strong impression that Decentraland is going to be the epitome of free-market capitalism in virtual worlds, charging people left and right for things that other virtual worlds offer for free. Want to play boar hunt? You gotta pay for them arrows, bud. Ten arrows cost 10 MANA (approx. US$0.40). Living and playing in Decentraland could get rather expensive! Decentraland developers and investors may want to take a close look at the 16-year history of Second Life to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t in a virtual world economy.

Many people are busy building wonderful scenes on their virtual parcels of LAND, and there is already much to see. There’s even a spreadsheet making the rounds, listing all the places the DCL sightseer can visit!

Life on the Blockchain (a tower with scenes of everyday life),
a Decentraland scene built by Interweaver

Don’t forget to join the Decentraland SDK Hackathon (which seems to have been renamed as the SDK Game Jam), running from Sept. 16th to 30th, 2019, where you can win a share of 2,500,000 MANA and/or 200 LANDs (with a total cash value of over US$250,000)! Just click the link above for more details on the contest, and how to apply. Good luck to all the contestants!


However, one of the things that I do find a little troubling about this virtual world project is that there seem to be a lot of people who have piled onto the cryptocurrency bandwagon, and rather blindly invested in MANA (Decentraland’s cryptocurrency) or LAND (Decentraland’s virtual land) without doing a lot of proper research into the project. Some people still think (wrongly) that DCL supports virtual reality, for example. I find that people are asking the same newbie questions over and over again. It’s not hard to scroll through and find comments like the following over on the official Decentraland Discord channels:

A: Can I explore without an invitation? I set up an avatar etc.

B: Does anyone know how to get early access to DCL?

C: So can we build things & bring them into Genesis city, for example?

D: hi all. i am new. i dont know how this works. what is the first step i should take here?

E: Hello I have one parcel. Can I rent it ?

I almost get the feeling of the Yukon Klondike Gold Rush, where everybody and their dog headed north, eagerly in search of gold, fueled by greed and tales of the few people who became millionaires. It will be fascinating to watch Decentraland’s economy evolve over time.

Image of one of Decentraland’s plazas

Amazon Sumerian: A Brief Introduction

I have mentioned Amazon Sumerian in passing on this blog, but I thought it was time to look at the product a little more closely.

Sumerian is a tool for creating 3D experiences, built on top of WebXR. Amazon says that developers do not need any specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise to create VR, AR, and 3D applications. One advantage of Sumerian is that developers can use the software to build a scene once, that can be published and viewed on laptops, mobile phones, VR headsets, and digital signage. You can also integrate AI-based hosts with whom you can talk and interact (basically a high-end chatbot):

The following overview of Amazon Sumerian is presented by Kyle Roche, the General Manager of the Amazon Sumerian project:

Among the use cases that Amazon is promoting for Sumerian are:

  • Employee Education: Build scenes that let you on-board or train employees remotely. Employees can learn in a virtual classroom setting that is led by a Host, or walk through an environment that mimics their actual working environment. This can help employees retain information better while allowing you to train more employees at lower cost. 
  • Training Simulations: Build scenes that train skilled employees by simulating real world scenarios. Employees can get hands-on training in specialized fields such as healthcare, aviation, law enforcement, or industrial machinery. For example, you can create a simulation to train surgeons to use a new kind of surgical equipment. 
  • Field Service Productivity: Build scenes that improve the productivity of field and service workers in areas like repair, engineering, oil & gas, manufacturing, and more. For example, you can build an AR app that helps technicians troubleshoot and repair machinery. Looking through a mobile device screen, a user could see diagnostic metrics or animations of how to perform a repair on top of the machine.
  • Virtual Concierge: Build scenes with a Host that acts as a concierge to your end users for almost any industry. The concierge can greet users, answer common questions, and guide users through your company’s services and offerings. Users could see and engage with the concierge through a mobile device or kiosk on-site at your company, or they could interact with the concierge in a completely virtual portal using a head-mounted display.
  • Design and Creative: Build scenes that aid in the creation of new products or creative assets. Designers, creative professionals, and business professionals can use VR/AR to visualize and review mock-ups of a design as though it were real, helping to improve the efficiency of the product design cycle.
  • Retail and Sales: Build scenes that help you market and sell your product. For example, a retailer could create a mobile AR app that lets users see how furniture would look in their homes before buying. You could also create a scene that uses a Host as a virtual sales person who sells products and answers questions. 

The pricing for Amazon Sumerian consists of two components: charges for scene traffic (at a rate of $0.38 per gigabyte per month) and, if you decide to use them, additional charges for Amazon Lex or Amazon Polly hosting.

Now, I do not believe that Amazon Sumerian allows for true social VR (that is, the ability to create a scene which more than one avatar can experience at the same time), so therefore, I am not including it in my list of social VR/virtual worlds. But it is very interesting to see the direction that Amazon is going with this.

Like the rest of what I like to call the “Big Five” (Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft), Amazon has deep pockets to fund the future development and promotion of Sumerian (Amazon earned US$10 billion dollars in net income in 2018). The company has the potential to become a major disrupter in the social VR marketplace if (or when) they decide to include support for avatars representing the users, as opposed to just having virtual beings as hosts.


Thanks to NyushaZoryAna for the heads up!