Editorial: Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent

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If I could sum up in three words how I am feeling this weekend, they would be: disenchanted, disillusioned, and depressed.

Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

It’s not my own circumstances that leave me feeling this way. In my personal life, things are going well, both at work and in my life outside work. Between my truly wonderful Patreon patrons (thank you!) and my Google AdSense and WordPress WordAds blog advertising, I am covering the hosting costs of this blog, for which I am grateful.

I have a growing reputation as an commentator and expert on social VR. I was recently a guest on Draxtor Despres’ podcast. Kent Bye wants to interview me for his Voices of VR podcast about social VR (that is, if we can ever arrange to be in the same physical location on the planet at the same time!). Hell, I am even accepting my first-ever award for my services to virtual world journalism on December 1st! So, things seem to be going well for me.

But what is bothering me (and especially weighing on me this weekend) is the current state of social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, and the many travails, upheavals, and setbacks it seems to be going through. I spent my lunch hour sitting in my local McDonalds, having a text chat with someone who had invested in MATERIA.ONE (formerly Staramba Spaces), who saw my mention of a possible lawsuit being launched against the company in a previous blogpost, and wanted to know more information. I feel for him; like so many of us, he saw the promise and potential of a particular metaverse platform, and wanted to get in on the ground floor, only to get burned. It can happen to any of us.

After seeing what happened this year to both High Fidelity and to Linden Lab’s Sansar, and how so many other projects are struggling to become profitable, I am feeling disenchanted about the future of social VR. I don’t know if this feeling is a temporary grey cloud in my sky, or an indication of something more pronounced and permanent: an omen of more bad news on the horizon, more bad tidings to come.

Having covered the metaverse so assiduously over the past three years, I used to feel that I had developed a sort of sixth sense for determining which platforms will succeed, and which will fail. That sixth sense has completely abandoned me (or, more likely, I never had it in the first place).

I am humbled that I did not forsee High Fidelity’s abrupt pivot earlier this year; nor did I predict Linden Lab’s wrenching staff changes to the team building Sansar. I believed that those companies would continue to build their platforms in anticipation of future crowds; those crowds never came, and it depresses me to admit that they might never come. Whatever HiFi, Sansar, and other social VR companies are offering, few people seem to want it, at least at the moment.

Someone on Twitter alerted me to a brand-new, 15-minute Sansar promotional video posted by Disrupt, featuring CEO Ebbe Altberg and Sansar’s new General Manager Sheri Bryant, along with other Linden Lab staff such as the hard-working Sansar Community Manager Galileo Linden (a.k.a Ryan Crowe):

It’s a well-produced video, and an excellent, upbeat introduction to Sansar to someone who is new to the platform. Ebbe and Sheri and company cheerfully and valiantly hit all the major selling points of Sansar: an opportunity to make a profit selling user-generated content, etc.

But I watched this video, as good as it is, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I used to believe that Sansar was a sure thing, a can’t-miss bet. Now, I am just feeling disenchanted, disillusioned, and depressed. I’ve got a bad case of the social VR blues.

We’ve seen attempt after attempt after attempt to sell social VR to the masses, with very limited success so far. As Shakespeare once said, now is the winter of our discontent. The question is: when will we get our glorious summer?

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