Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 500 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and the companies building it. Come join us! More details here.
PCVR is the umbrella term used to refer to tethered VR headsets, which require a high-end desktop computer with a powerful graphics card to run. Examples of PCVR headsets are the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and my beloved Valve Index. Right now, the standalone Oculus Quest 2 is selling like hotcakes, and Facebook has in fact stopped selling the Oculus Rift headset:
It was only a matter of time, really. Facebook announced in April of this year that it would not be sending more Rift S units to retailers—once they sold out, that was it for the Rift S.
“Rift S is still available for sale currently in some channels around the world, but as we announced last year, we plan to stop selling Rift S in 2021,” Facebook told UploadVR at the time. “Generally speaking, as channels sell out of stock, they won’t be replenished.”
Is PCVR indeed dead, as Cix asserts? His tweet raised a lot of comments, among them Kent Bye, a thoughtful VR commentator and podcaster of the Voices of VR podcast:
Kent Bye: There’s still lots of things at the frontiers of digital culture still in PCVR< like film festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Venice and SXSW) happening in the Museum of Other Realities, full-body tracking, LBE [location-based events], live theater in VRChat and NeosVR. It’s an open platform that’ll never really die.
Cix Liv: “Die” is an extreme claim that is lacking nuance. The more expanded nuance would address the specific use cases where it will never die: mocap [motion capture], LBE, emboded docial [platforms] like VRChat. For broad consumer uses, it’s dead [in my opinion).
Kent Bye: I disagree. New communications mediums never fully replace previous mediums. We still have radio, TV, PCs, phones. PCs are ‘open platforms”. Mobile has thermal/power tradeoffs and people will ALWAYS want premium experiences like Half-Life: Alyx, Also, Steam Deck is an open PC.
Thrillseeker actually dropped a 15-minute YouTube video on this very topic today:
The video is engaging and raises lots of good points, but Thrillseeker eventually declares himself for the PCVR-is-not-dead camp, noting that the Oculus Quest 2 can also be used as a PCVR headset. He predicts that PCVR will never die, as Kent did.
Please god tell everyone else that in the thread who is lighting me up for saying this.
I am not hating on PC VR because it’s trendy, the numbers so low Devs can’t even make a living now.
The reasons can be debated, but it’s the reality.
Cix argues that the numbers of sales of PCVR hardware and software are now so much lower than standalone VR, that it’s not worth the risk to develop for PCVR. For example, Oculus just announced that Lone Echo 2 would be the last PCVR exclusive that they would be shipping. Steam statistics show that PCVR usage is down. There’s haven’t been any really big PCVR releases in a while, with really nothing to match the hype of Half-Life: Alyx. And PCVR-only social VR platforms have struggled lately, either pivoting to new markets (e.g. Sansar, to live events) or shutting down completely (e.g. the old High Fidelity platform).
So, what do you think? Is PCVR doomed, or it just having a pause? Are standalone VR headsets going to kill tethered VR headsets? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join in the never-ending, freewheeling discussions and debates taking place among the 500+ users on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server. Thanks!
Steven King is an associate professor of multimedia journalism and emerging technologies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, holding a joint appointment with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and the Kenan-Flagler Business School. In his work, King combines computer science concepts, human-centered design and storytelling to create new ways to present information through emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and other interactive media forms, such as interactive data-driven graphics.
If you ask a UNC student what their remote classroom experience has consisted of, they will likely tell you about video lectures through Zoom. But for students in Steven King’s class, they are experiencing remote learning differently — through virtual reality.
“I’m always trying to figure out a better way to teach and communicate,” King, a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said. “I know virtual reality is an immersive experience.”
King built a virtual 3D version of his classroom, which allows his students to walk around in the classroom and break out into groups.
He said he has tested out a lot of different platforms for hosting 3D classrooms. The first experience, he said, was through Mozilla Hubs. But King said his class will likely stick to AltspaceVR because of how pleased the students have been with it.
“When you’re faced with a crisis, these are times to step up and figure things up and make new discoveries,” King said. “We don’t need to limit ourselves to the tools we have. We need to develop new tools to move us forward.”
King sent Oculus Go Virtual Reality headsets to his 28 students to use at home. King and the students built their own avatars, and they are all attending class together in a virtual world as robots, panda bears, ducks and other characters. King chose the superhero Ironman as his avatar.
The emerging technologies class was tailor-made for this type of experiment, King said. Students had become familiar with the technology throughout the semester while learning about artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
To help the students prepare for class. I gave the students an assignment to be completed before the first class hosted in AltspaceVR. I asked every student to signup for an account, go through the tutorial in their home space, and to go to the InfoZone, which is a tutorial in the form of a social fair about going to events. The final step of the assignment was to send me a friend request. I also recorded a video on how to enter the room/event…
This assignment was critical to the success of the next class. I needed the students to work through any technical issues on their own and to feel confident in another social VR environment. Once I got a friend request, I added them to the group so they could see the private event…
Most students arrived early and were ready to go. I let them spend several minutes interacting and exploring the space. There was lots of personal chatting, like I would see before an in-person class, which has been absent in my Zoom class.
At the University of Michigan, the Center for Academic Innovation seeded six new XR projects in spring 2020 as part of an ongoing effort to fully embrace immersive education. One upcoming project explores the challenges of working within nuclear reactors. The school’s Ford Nuclear Reactor in Michigan permanently shut down in 2003 and was decommissioned in the years following, leaving the top-ranked university program without a research reactor. This XR project will develop an Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory simulation where students can virtually walk around the reactor, look into the core, and interact with the control panel.
As Brendan Kochunas, project manager and assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences described it (2020): “In reality, one does not simply walk up next to an operating nuclear reactor core, but in virtual reality one can. We can also overlay simulation results on the virtualized physical systems allowing students to experience neutron fields or temperature fields visually, where in reality this is not possible.”
The College of Engineering is home to the No. 1 nuclear engineering program in the country. For several decades up to the early 2000s, the program included training at a physical nuclear reactor. The Ford Nuclear Reactor, originally established as a WWII memorial under the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, permanently shut down in 2003.
It was decommissioned over the next four years, leaving U-M as one of the only programs without a research reactor, both in the Top 5-ranked university programs and the Big 10, said Brendan Kochunas, project manager and assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.
The Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory simulation would allow some retired courses that used the Ford Nuclear Reactor to be taught again to upper level undergraduates and graduate students.
“I hope to gain experience and insight into how to apply XR technologies in a practical way to enhance education and research in the field of nuclear engineering,” Kochunas said. “I think XR has such potential for this area of science, or really any area of science where the reality is you have a physical system that is expensive or potentially hazardous.”
Over the past year, a project team within the U-M Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences (NERS) has been working with the XR Initiative in the Center for Academic Innovation to develop the Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory—a virtual representation of the now decommissioned Ford Nuclear Reactor (FNR) that was once the center of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project (MMPP).
Yuxuan Liu, a member of the project team and an Assistant Research Scientist within NERS, has received a Simulation Grant from the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education (ADUE) to develop a simulation of heat transfer in the original FNR. Understanding the heat transfer in a nuclear power reactor is essential to its operation and maintaining safety, making this virtual experience an important lesson of the NERS Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory course. The other member of the project team is NERS Prof. Brendan Kochunas.
The XR Initiative is a good example of a university-wide program to make XR technology more accessible on campus and encourage its use in higher education, working with university faculty to actively look for new ideas and opportunities to support immersive learning projects, and enhance students’ learning experience. I look forward to seeing other such initiatives spring up on university campuses!
Some will respond that Google, Apple, Amazon, and many other firms commit the same level of personal data vacuuming that Facebook does, which is true. However, I actually have more faith that those companies will at least not weaponize their data against me. Few companies have seen the level of public distrust rise as high as Facebook (and frankly, the company’s recent fight with Apple over the latter wanting to make transparent how much data Facebook collects on you, is SO nota good look for Mark Z.).
Time and time again over the years, Facebook has shown that it cannot be trusted (see: the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the incitement of violence in Myanmar, to give just two relatively recent examples of egregious behaviour happening on the platform). Combine that lack of trust with its overweening ambitions, and you have a potentially serious problem.
I responded by voting with my feet and my wallet, deleting my Facebook and Oculus accounts, and vowing to never again purchase or participate in any Facebook/Oculus hardware and software, a decision which I explain here, and one which I continue to stand by in good conscience. I full well realize that I might be missing out, but I consider the price of admission to be too high (and frankly, too opaque). God knows how my personal data is being used, and Facebook’s track record frankly sucks.
I even went so far as to ask Facebook to delete all the data it had on me, but I also know that the Facebook social network probably has some sort of “shadow account” on me, based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family who are still on Facebook. I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually verify this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which, by the way, I very strongly recommend you watch).
Facebook earned roughly 86 billion dollars in profit last year, mostly from its data-harvesting/advertising business. It therefore has ample deep pockets to fund an army of public relations staff to curry favour with the news media in order to revise its less-than-rosy corporate history. And no, some people are NOT having it, and pushing back:
(Thank God for the salty counterpoint of Twitter. And yes, I know, Twitter has its problems, too. But at least Twitter gives you better control over what you see in your timeline, including blocking any promoted tweets that happen to irk you.)
So, I therefore take anything that Facebook says with a grain of salt. The news that Facebook has decided to take on the metaverse has already resulted in videos such as this one, by Thrillseeker:
“Biggest VR Announcement of the Decade”? Really? I would beg to differ. (That particular section starts at the 5:13 time mark in the video. There are quite a few other interesting news items which Thrillseeker covers in this video, by the way.)
Here’s a quote from that video:
What’s more shocking is that Facebook says they don’t want to own [the metaverse], they want to help build it, which immediately raises a red flag to me. Facebook has been pretty open about wanting to practically own VR. They’re not just a player in the industry at the moment, they’re essentially an entire team that owns the referee and the field you play on, having more than 60% market share in PCVR and nearly 100% market share in standalone VR.
As I said up top, Facebook’s past corporate history shows that it tends to dominate rather than participate in those markets it enters. Combine that with Facebook’s horrible track record with respect to user privacy and algorithm-driven psychological manipulation, which has contributed to a more divisive society rife with conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation, and I share Thrillseeker’s feelings of worry and skepticism at the idea of a Facebook-imprinted metaverse. I don’t trust Facebook.
Casey Newton: Because I know some people are going to hear this vision for the metaverse and just reflexively wish that you wouldn’t build it. They’ll say, Facebook wasn’t governed effectively when it was in two dimensions, and trying to build it in three dimensions is pure hubris. And people feel that way for different reasons. But one that has come up a lot over the past couple of weeks is misinformation. President Biden has since walked this back, but on Friday he was talking about misinformation related to COVID vaccines. And he said, “Facebook is killing people.” How do you respond to the idea that Facebook has played a role in making people hesitant about getting vaccinated?
Mark Zuckerberg: Well, I think that our basic role here — and I appreciate you mentioning the fullness of the context there, because I do think that the president offered more context on that after his original comment. There’s multiple prongs here. One part of it is we need to basically help push out authoritative information. We do that. We’ve helped, I think it’s more than 2 billion people around the world, access authoritative information about COVID over the course of the pandemic by putting it at the top of Facebook and Instagram. We’ve helped millions of people, including here in the US, basically go use our vaccine finder tool to actually go get their vaccine. So I’m quite confident, just looking at the analytics and the net impact, that we’ve been a positive force here…
And for the metaverse, I think that there are different types of integrity questions. One of the big issues that I think people need to think through is right now there’s a pretty meaningful gender skew, at least in virtual reality, where there’s a lot more men than women. And in some cases that leads to harassment. And I think one of the things that we’ve been able to do better in some of our experiences than some of the other games and things out there is give people easier tools to block people, just be able to have a sense of when there might be harassment going on, to keep it a safe space that can be inclusive for everyone, that everyone wants to be a part of.
Because ultimately, you’re not going to have a healthy and vibrant community if it skews so much towards one gender or the other, or a whole part of the population just doesn’t feel safe. So this stuff is going to be critical. It’s not just critical for having a good social impact, it’s critical for building good products. And it’s something that we’re focused on from the beginning here.
Essentially, Mark resorted to corporate bafflegab in responding to Casey’s question, sidestepping what was at the heart of the question: trust in what Facebook does.
Facebook Reality Labs is “standing up a Metaverse product group”, but it isn’t clear what this actually means…
The group will be led by former Instagram VP of Product Vishal Shah, and will report directly to [Facebook Reality Labs Vice-President Andrew Bosworth…
But there’s an important question the announcement didn’t answer: what exactly is this “metaverse” group building?
At first glance you might assume the answer is Facebook Horizon. But Horizon is only a part of this group. As the announcement notes, Horizon’s lead will report to Metaverse lead Vishal Shah.
Horizon was marketed alongside Quest 2 and was originally supposed to launch in 2020, but is currently still in a closed beta. Facebook no longer actively markets Horizon, and hasn’t given any specific updates on its progress.
It’s clear that Zuckerberg has been thinking about this metaverse idea for a while. But the timing of Facebook’s announcement is interesting, to say the least. Facebook has “a history of doing these kinds of technical projects that look like they might be revolutionary at times when they’re being criticized for their lack of social responsibility,” Jen Goldbeck, a computer scientist and professor at the University of Maryland, told Ars.
It’s probably an overstatement to say that the metaverse news was released to serve as an intentional distraction from the company’s current problems. But the thought undoubtedly crossed someone’s mind at the company. There’s a “70 percent” chance that Facebook’s metaverse project is a “distraction from all the bad things that are going on,” Goldbeck said. “The last thing they want is more discussion of their algorithms and Q-Anon and extremist groups.”
…I think it’s easy, and wise, to be skeptical of Zuckerberg and Facebook being the ones to pioneer the Metaverse, given the company’s history. Oculus has already run afoul of its users by experimenting with in-game, in-headset ads (literally the thing the villain of Ready Player One was trying to engineer), but past that, the entire point of the Metaverse runs contrary to what Zuckerberg seems like he’s trying to build. Facebook products, whether Facebook itself or Instagram, are about a digital presence for your real self, or at least a happier, filtered version of yourself. A main ideal of the Metaverse is about not being who you really are, and the ability to be anyone at all. Facebook won’t even let you use a fake name, and is busy harvesting all your personal data that it shares far and wide with advertisers all over the planet. A core tenet of the Metaverse is the ability to hide your true identity and retain all the privacy you could ask for. It’s the exact opposite of the entire history of Facebook.
Zuckerberg talks about sitting on his friend’s couch as a hologram like that’s some sort of pinnacle Metaverse experience. It’s cool tech, it is not the Metaverse, and I think he’s missing the point of the entire concept, along with why people actually want this thing built in the first place. I do not want to sit on my friend’s couch as a hologram. I want to attend a virtual Ariana Grande concert as Batman.