Editorial: Are Social VR Platforms Dependent Upon High-End PCVR Doomed?

Today’s Melatopia Festival in Sansar: Less than 45 Avatars Total?

This afternoon, I paid a visit to Sansar to attend the virtual version of the Melatopia South Asian festival. I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and listen to some great music. Sansar is still (to my mind) the most beautiful virtual world, with a vibrant marketplace (44,582 items and counting) providing endless avatar customization options (there was even a mini velociraptor avatar running around amidst the crowd at the concert stage!).

But all the while, I had this nagging little voice in the back of my head, asking: Where is everybody?

To the best of my knowledge (and Wookey may correct me if I am mistaken), the Melatopia event never went above a single instance, and there were never more than 45 avatars total present at the festival (and most of the time that I was there, the figure from the Codex was in the low-to-middle thirties). (UPDATE: There was briefly one time in the afternoon where the festival hit a high if 51 avatars, spawning a second instance.)

Even granted that most people would be watching the show via Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, I find that to be a shockingly, abysmally low attendance figure, especially compared to the multitudes that would have attended the real-life version of this festival, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.

Frankly, this blogger has long ago given up trying to chastise Wookey for their puzzling lack of promotion of events on the Sansar platform. There’s only so many times I can write the same editorial: YOU NEED TO PAY FOR PROMOTION. YOU CANNOT EXPECT PEOPLE TO COME TO SANSAR IF YOU DO NOT PROMOTE THE PLATFORM. But my pleas (and those of many other observers) seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Whatever Wookey is doing to promote Sansar, it’s clearly not enough.

But it does raise a bigger question that I have only addressed in passing in earlier editorials discussing and dissecting the demise of the old High Fidelity and the near-death experience and resurrection of Sansar. And that question is: was it a mistake to build social VR platforms that would only run on tethered, high-end virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Valve Index? The collective term I and many other people use when talking about these VR headsets, all of which require a high-end Windows gaming computer with a powerful graphics card to run, is PCVR.

Let’s face facts: both now and for the foreseeable future, the clear VR headset of choice by consumers will be the wireless, standalone Oculus Quest, especially now that Facebook has released the newer, cheaper Oculus Quest 2. And Facebook will stop selling its Oculus Rift S tethered, PCVR headset (the successor to the original Oculus Rift) this coming spring. Business Insider reported:

“We’re going to focus on standalone VR headsets moving forward,” the company said in a blog post on Wednesday. “We’ll no longer pursue PC-only hardware, with sales of Rift S ending in 2021.”

The Rift line of headsets required a powerful gaming PC to power virtual reality experiences. The headset connected to the PC with a set of wires, but the latest Oculus Quest headsets are able to replicate this experience with a single detachable USB cable in addition to operating without a dedicated PC.

As such, Facebook isn’t outright killing its PC-driven virtual reality efforts. It will continue supporting higher-end, PC-powered virtual reality on the Quest line of headsets. 

“We’ve seen significant growth in PC VR via Oculus Link,” the blog post said, “and the Rift Platform will continue to grow while offering high-end PC VR experiences like ‘Lone Echo II’ and ‘Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond’ well into the future.”

Two years ago, TechCrunch reported on the disagreements within Facebook over the company’s decision to focus on standalone as opposed to high-end, tethered headsets, saying that Brendan Iribe, the co-founder and former CEO of Oculus, was “leaving Facebook  following some internal shake-ups in the company’s virtual reality arm last week that saw the cancellation of the company’s next generation ‘Rift 2’ PC-powered virtual reality headset, which he had been leading development of”.

If Facebook is leaving the high-end PCVR market, what does that mean for the future of social VR platforms which either do not run on the Quest, like Sansar, or do not run at their full technical capacity, like VRChat? (I wrote about my earlier experiences running VRChat on my Oculus Quest here. Although I’m sure the situation has improved somewhat since then, the fact remains that you still need PCVR to really experience everything that VRChat has to offer.) Are those platforms that run best (or only) on PCVR doomed?

No. So relax. (Yeah, all right, I admit that was a click-bait blogpost title. Sue me.)

While the market for high-end PCVR might mature more slowly than that of wireless VR headsets (and definitely more slowly than most overconfident observers had originally predicted), eventually it will come. Devices may come and go in popularity, but the overall trend is clear: ever more data being pushed to your headset, creating ever more detailed environments. Eventually, that screen door effect that can sometimes make it difficult to read text in a VR headset will vanish. Visual fidelity will only improve from here on in. Consumers and businesses will demand it, and they will buy it. It’s inevitable.

While we do not yet know what future headsets various tech companies have on their drawing boards, we can be assured that other companies will definitely step into the PCVR market while Facebook is stepping out, and up the VR/AR/XR game (many eyes are watching to see what Apple will do, for example). As I like to say, a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that many people who get their first taste of VR from an Oculus Quest will no doubt graduate to more powerful, tethered devices. (Even Facebook may decide to change their minds at some point in the future, particularly if they should see any potential competitors do well.)

I myself have already placed my order for a Valve Index kit to replace my trusty, four-year-old Oculus Rift, as part of my personal boycott of Facebook/Oculus products and services (more info here). I have heard through the grapevine that they are selling well since Facebook’s decision to force Oculus device users to get Facebook accounts, which is not sitting well with many early VR adopters at all.

And I very much look forward to visiting future virtual festivals in Sansar in my shiny new Valve Index!

Melatopia: the U.K.’s Biggest South Asian Festival Comes to Sansar on November 7th and 8th, 2020

The lineup of performers at Melatopia in Sansar

The 18th edition of London Mela, the U.K. festival of South Asian culture, will be held in a virtual-reality venue created by the same team that brought you the successful Lost Horizon Festival this past July.

As with Lost Horizon, which was seen by four million people in 100 countries, Melatopia viewers will be able to experience live artists, DJs and dance performances in a virtual world created especially for the event, and on a range of platforms, including mobile devices, desktop computers and VR headsets.

There are three main ways to take part in the Melatopia experience:

​1. Sign up for a Twitch TV account and get ready to experience all the incredible Melatopia festival performers. Here’s the channel.

​2. Follow the Melatopia festival on FacebookInstagram or YouTube and stream the whole event there! You could even start a watch party!

​3. If you own a Windows PC, you can download the Sansar client software and experience our virtual reality Mela. Create an avatar and join in the festivities! You can experience Sansar on your computer desktop or in your virtual reality headset (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Valve Index). You can download Sansar from their website, or from Steam. Here’s a somewhat outdated but still useful step-by-step guide for getting started in Sansar for newbies.

Click here to get your free tickets to the event, and check the official Melatopia website for concert details, performer lineups, and news. (Please note all times on the website are given in London, Greenwich Mean Time/GMT, so be sure to convert to your local time zone!)

The official press release follows. See you there!



Event:
Melatopia

Dates: Saturday 07 & Sunday 08 November 2020

Times: 15:00 – 03:00 (3PM to 3AM) GMT

Venue: www.londonmela.org the gateway to MELATOPIA within Sansar the global VR leader in live events

Melatopia streams live on Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube

The 18th edition of South Asian culture-fest, London Mela will be held online and virtually for the first time ever on 7-8 November 2020. Founders Ajay Chhabra and Julian Rudd reinvent the much-loved festival as a digital and virtual reality event; Melatopia, featuring South Asian music, dance, food, and culture for a one-of-a-kind festival experience within an immersive VR experience in Sansar.

Usually performed at the festival’s home in Southall Park, London Mela organisers have embraced the digital realm with the first Virtual Reality Mela ever staged, to keep everyone safe during COVID 19.

The award-winning event’s partners Nutkhut, Mela Partnership and Remarkable Productions join forces with Shangri-La’s Lost Horizon Festival to create a new online virtual reality venue, MELATOPIA, which is built using Sansar, Wookey Technologies’cutting-edge, photorealistic platform for virtual live events and can be experienced on PC, VR or mobile (iOS), plus will be streamed live on Twitch and across social media.

Audiences will be able to experience live artists, dance performances and DJs in an extraordinary VR online space specially created for the Mela. Whether viewed on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or wearing VR glasses, audiences will be able to engage with the performances and each other in new and innovative ways. Viewers are encouraged to book 7/8 November out in their diaries and invite friends and family to an online watch party. COVID 19 has stopped audiences visiting the Mela in London, so the London Mela will come to them wherever they are in our great city and wherever they are in the world.

The London Mela is best known for its adventurous programming and genre-crossing collaborations from an incredible mix of household names and contemporary artists. This year will be no different with US/Indian rapper The Raja Kumari headlining the show. In support we have an incredible collaboration between Juggy D and Pandit Ram Sahai Sangeet Vidhyalaya (PRSSV), 5 Tabla players from Singh Sabha Southall Education Centre in Southall.

Pop sensation and BBC Future Music Artist Celina Sharma features as well as Roma Sagar and Rio Jai. Panjabi Hit Squad promise to get the audience jumping around their front rooms with a barnstorming set. No Mela is complete without qawwali and the Mela is proud to present Chand Ali Khan, one of the UK’s most exciting qawwali talents, complete with 7-piece live band. Rounding of this first announcement, London Mela presents the legendary Panjabi MC, producer of the seminal Mundian To Bach Ke, possibly the greatest crossover dance tune from the South Asian diaspora.

All artists featured in Melatopia will be recorded exclusively for the event.

London Mela (source)

UPDATED! Burning Man Events in Sansar

Although it is not one of the ten official platforms and services hosting events in the Burning Man Multiverse, the social VR platform Sansar is also throwing a party to celebrate Burning Man.

Bagnaria and Medhue (who collectively are known as FullSpectrum) have been building a Burning Man world, and they invite you to come party with them. A virtual man burn ceremony will take place tonight (Saturday, Sept. 5th) between 10:30 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. Central Daylight-Savings Time (CDT), and again tomorrow (Sunday, Sept. 6th), between 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. CDT, at a time more convenient for Europeans. Just click on the links above to see the Sansar Events listings, which should automatically give you the correct times in your local time zone.

Unfortunately, I will be missing the festivities, as I need to catch up on my sleep. Have fun!

UPDATE Sept. 6th, 2020: Medhue posted the following video of last night’s event (the man starts burning at the 8 minute 30 second mark):

UPDATED! The 2020 Burning Man Festival Takes Place August 31st to September 6th on Ten Different Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

The real-life Burning Man festival has been cancelled, but you can participate in a virtual version of the event on ten different platforms in 2020.

For the first time since its start in 1986, the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, this year the festival is moving into a Multiverse of ten different platforms and services:

Here is a very brief guide to what’s going on where, with information taken from their website.

BURN2 (in Second Life)

Burning Man played a pivotal role in the development of Second Life, as explained in the history of BURN2:

In 1999, a dreamy guy from San Francisco decided to go explore this Burning Man thing he’d been hearing about. Into his car he tossed a tent, water and everything else he needed to survive, then he drove 300 miles out to the Nevada high desert.

He arrived at a featureless, 40-square-mile expanse of cracked mud, ringed by distant mountains. Hot. It was terribly hot. Except when the sun went down. Then it was just plain cold. The Black Rock Desert is an ancient dry lake bed. “The Playa”, geologists called it; harsh, foreign, unforgiving and so shockingly barren that it *begs* to be your empty canvas. A strange encampment had been erected there, ringed around a 40-foot tall anthropomorphic wooden statue destined to be burned the last night.

What the Dreamer found there— a huge group of people, self-organized into a city, collaboratively creating a different reality— tweaked the direction of the project he was working on back in San Francisco, and filled his head with ideas about the nature of reality, creativity, identity and community. He worked some of these ideas into the very fabric of his project, “Linden World”, which you and I now know as Second Life. That Dreamer was Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale.

So it is not surprising that a virtual version of Burning Man has been a part of Second Life since its very beginning, in 2003. This event usually happens in October (so as not to detract from the actual, real-world event), but this year there will be a version of BURN2 running from August 29th to September 6th (here is the calendar of events). You can join the festivities in-world (SLURL) or watch it streaming live on Mixcloud.

The Infinite Playa (in what looks like Sansar?)

ENTRY UPDATED Aug. 30th, 2020: It turns out that I was wrong. I could have sworn that from the pictures on their website (and the video below) that this was taking place in Sansar, but apparently, this is something different. And they are way behind in getting it all set up, too!

We are soooooo close to gates open on The Infinite Playa! Our entire team, in collaboration with 100’s of artist performers, DJs, speakers, teachers and camp leaders have been working tirelessly to get us to launch. Turns out creating an interactive, photo-real virtual playa from scratch in just a few short months is…no small feat – who knew?To give you the best (admittedly beta) experience we can, we have decided to delay the launch a few days.

Not to fear – the free “Watch the Infinite” portal will launch on this site Monday August 31st at noon, where you will be able to access live stream performances, talks and art from within The Infinite Playa.

Tickets will go on sale…really, really soon, no seriouslyplease hold while we write some code…

Here’s their website, and a promotional video. Whatever it is, it sure looks a lot like Sansar!

The ticket portal is not up yet, but once it is, I will put in a link to it here. Also, it’s not clear if you need to register on The Infinite Playa website (the form is at the bottom of the page) in order to attend. I did, but I haven’t gotten an email confirmation back yet. It looks as though a lot of this is being set up frantically at the last minute!

And tickets are NOT cheap, either. This is easily the most expensive of the ten virtual Burning Man platforms that make up the Multiverse:

■ Visitor – Two Hour Pass – $20
Weekend Warrior – Five Hour Pass – $40
Dusty Explorer – Ten Hour Pass – $75
Founder’s Package – 24 Hour Pass – $150 (includes executable file)
Downloadable executable file available for purchase for $100 with unlimited access to the interactive experience all week. A gaming PC with a GTX1080 or higher graphics card required (sorry no MacOS version just yet).

Wait…a 24-hour Founder’s pass is $150, but an unlimited access pass is $100? What?

BRCvr (in AltspaceVR)

BRCvr (website) is taking place on the popular social VR platform AltspaceVR:

Here’s all the information you need to visit BRCvr. The initial meet-and-greet event takes place on Sunday, August 30th (here’s a link to event on the event calendar), and you can check the AltspaceVR Events Calendar to see what is taking place where.

SparkleVerse (in Sparkle)

SparkleVerse will be held in Sparkle, which is an open source fork of an experimental social contextual project which runs on mobile devices and on flatscreen computer desktop, from August 30th to Septemver 7th, 2020. Tickets are by donation via EventBrite.

MysticVerse

MysticVerse bills itself as “a fully immersive, interactive 3D experience: a visionary expression of a virtual Black Rock City”. There’s not a whole lot of information on their website, but according to their FAQ:

The MysticVerse can be accessed from any device (mobile, desktop, VR headset) and on any operating system. RSVP here and be the first to know when the gates open to our universe.

MultiVerse

MultiVerse (website; not to be confused with the Burning Man Multiverse) will be taking place on a mobile/VR app called IIR:

IIR stands for “Interactive Immersive Reality.” This immersive visual technology runs on mobile phones and VR headsets. Think of IIR as a stack of technologies that take an immersive experience to the next level. IIR provides the ability to 3rd parties to access the virtual environment from a web-based portal for certain things. For example, here camps can broadcast live events and music remotely into the environment from a simple-to-use web portal. In addition, IIR shows the 3D objects photo-realistically, meaning that their look and feel as they are in real life, is preserved. In addition, with IIR we can simulate large environments such as the entire Black Rock City with all the camps, art, music stages, etc. and have people appear as 3D avatars that can communicate via live voice.

There’s not a lot of information on their website, but you can RSVP here.

UPDATE Aug. 31st, 2020: I just received an email update from the creators:

We wanted to send out this quick update to let you all know that we just submitted to the Android and iOS app stores. We hope the apps will be live by tonight, but sometimes it can take a bit longer. Like anything on the playa (IRL or digital!), schedules are more like guidelines than anything else!

Please make sure to add this email to your contacts to ensure you get all our messages, and also please follow the Dusty Multiverse social media accounts found at @dustymultiverse both on Instagram and Twitter – we will be putting out critical updates there first – but via email as well.

Please note that the Oculus Quest application is delayed, and will likely be published late Monday.  In the meantime the iOS and Android will be the only way to access the universe.

UPDATE Sept. 1st, 2020: The Multiverse app is now available, and I downloaded it to my iPhone to check it out. The app costs at least US$10.99 for seven days; there is also an option for you to sponsor other attendees at US$3.00 each. The default recommendation was $10.99 plus sponsoring ten others for a total cost of US$52.00! I think I’m going to wait until the Oculus Quest version is ready before I pay for it.

Build-a-Burn (on Topia)

Topia is a webcam app, which will be hosting something called Build-a-Burn. It is described as follows:

Build-A-Burn is an interactive digital space that has already hosted events, including fantastical remote Burns, all by empowering the community to celebrate their creativity. Using just a browser and webcam on any device, participants will be able to wander an art-filled playa with friends old and new. Prepare to bend the reality of time and space, authentically connect with others in facilitated workshops, stand too close to some of your favorite DJs, and more.

MetaBurn: The Bridge Experience

MetaBurn: The Bridge Experience is described as:

Created by the team behind the Love Burn, The Bridge Experience is an interactive, fully immersive, 3D web-based virtual reality (XR) Burn accessible via any device. It is a passion project built by new and old Burners who are committed to simplifying the barriers to entry by adjoining Extended Reality (XR) technology with the 10 Principles.

There’s not a lot of information available; it appears to be some sort of mobile/desktop/VR app which requires registration. Check their website for more details on how to get set up.

The Ethereal Empyrean Experience

The Ethereal Empyrean Experience is described as follows:

In late 2019, Burning Man Project selected “Empyrean” by Laurence “Renzo” Verbeck and Sylvia Adrienne Lisse to be the official Black Rock City Temple for 2020. As announced in the Burning Man Journal, “Empyrean was chosen for its lovely geometry and inclusive design, as well as for its strong leads and crew who have demonstrated the experience, integrity and feasibility necessary to create this unique space.”

Fast forward to Spring 2020, when it became clear the community would not be building Black Rock City this year. The Empyrean creators embraced the challenge, dedicating themselves to creating an inclusive, healing virtual Temple space where visitors can share, express, process, grieve, and heal during this transformative time. The result: the Ethereal Empyrean Experience, our 2020 virtual Temple.

Again, there’s frustratingly little actual information about how to access this. Here’s a five-minute preview of the virtual temple:

Burn Night: Live from Home

According to the webpage for this event:

After spending Burn Week exploring the marvels of the Multiverse, join us on September 5, 2020 for Burn Night: Live From Home

Wherever you live and however you choose to burn, you’re invited to connect with the global Burning Man community for a worldwide, around-the-clock Burn Night extravaganza! 

Create your burnable Mini Man effigy using our blueprint, or something from your own imagination. Then host a small Burn wherever you are, within your local COVID-safe limits, ignited time zone by time zone worldwide on Burning Man’s traditional Burn Night — September 5, 2020. You may choose to upload your Man Burn to our 24-hour live stream. These will all be streamed and shared in a portal with chat, so the entire Burning Man community can connect around our favorite fire for a full day and night of burns.


So, no matter whether you use a mobile device, your flatscreen notebook or desktop computer, or a VR headset, you can participate in Burning Man this year!

Black Rock City Animal Control members and Black Rock Scouts climb on a larger-than-life sculpture during Burning Man 2016. (Source: National Geographic)