My comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds is starting to get rather unwieldy, with almost 130 separate entries! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would grow to this size, after only two and half years of blogging!
So I am going to have to spend some time pondering how best to break down this list by category. In effect, what I am trying to do is establish some sort of taxonomy of social VR/virtual worlds, hardly a task for the faint of heart! So, it’s probably going to take quite a bit of time to do this, and I will probably do it in stages.
The first and easiest breakdown would be to form three groups as follows:
- virtual worlds which do not support virtual reality and augmented reality (e.g. Second Life);
- social VR and other virtual reality platforms (e.g. Sansar);
- social AR and other augmented reality platforms (e.g. Avatar Chat for the Magic Leap One headset).
According to a recent report from The Information which was widely re-reported by many mainstream tech media news publications, Apple’s plans for an augmented reality headset (something similar to the Oculus Quest) have been pushed back to 2022, and they don’t expect to release a real pair of AR glasses until 2023. It’s going to take significantly longer for new and improved augmented reality goodies to reach consumers, but we can expect that trickle to turn into a flood of products by the middle of the next decade. How that will impact existing VR products and platforms is unknown. Nobody can say for sure how VR and AR will co-exist as consumer products.
Virtual reality is much better established, but still facing a bit of an uphill struggle to attract more end-user consumers. As I have said before:
So, it would appear that those social VR platforms that do have in-world economies can’t attract large numbers of users, and the ones that don’t have in-world economies might be popular, but obviously can’t keep running indefinitely without a means of generating profit. It seems like a Catch 22, a rather hopeless situation at this present point in time.
Add to this the fact that the 900-lb. gorilla in the room, Facebook, is planning to launch their own social VR platform in 2020, and you’ve got a situation that must be keeping the CEOs of these various companies up at night, pacing the floor, wondering how, when and where it all went wrong.
The bitter truth is this: most of those 130 products on my list are NOT going to survive, thrive, and grow into profitable companies. A lot of companies rushed into the marketplace and built these platforms with stars in their eyes, but building a platform is only the first hurdle in the race. You also have to know how to promote your product, which means you have to have a clear understanding of what market need it is meant to address—something which some companies have thus far neglected to address. The adage “build it and they will come”, as major metaverse companies such as High Fidelity and Linden Lab have come to realize to their chagrin, is simply not going to work on its own. Even mighty Facebook has stumbled in previous social VR attempts, such as the godawful dud of Facebook Spaces.
I look at failures to launch, such as MATERIA.ONE (formerly Staramba Spaces), which had such a ludicrous concept to begin with: virtual worlds linked to celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan. I for one was hardly surprised when they suspended project development. I have even heard that some of the people who invested in their cryptocurrency now want to file a lawsuit. This example is typical of many of the blockchain/cryptocurrency-based virtual world projects that I have seen so far, where greedy investors leaped in before doing their homework, expecting instant profits. Caveat emptor!
Those companies that choose to focus on a niche audience (e.g. ENGAGE in education), and those companies which have small, nimble development teams (e.g. NeosVR), are going to fare better than the big boys in this interim period. Every company is going to have a Plan B to get them through the leaner-than-expected next few years.
And, in the meantime, I will reorganize my list to make it more useful for my readers. Any suggestions would be appreciated, thanks!