FIVARS: The Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories Runs February 21st to 28th, 2022

Established in 2015, FIVARS (short for the Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories) is a Canadian festival focused on curating the best immersive story-driven VR/AR/MR/XR content from around the world, with the aim of exploring and nurturing this platform for new narrative forms. Their website states:

As with the modern cinema experience, through Virtual Reality, we can explore truth, happiness, sadness, and the science fiction that will be tomorrow’s science fact. 

The difference is that, unlike modern cinema where you explore these worlds through a window, with Virtual Reality you can now transport into the center of the action, standing inside of the world you wish to explore. Just like real life, if you try to look away from what is in front of you, you will now see what is behind, below, above, to the right or left of you. 

The real-time response of your head’s movement creates a powerful sense of physical immersion that allows you or your intended audience to connect to the content on a deeper, more visceral level.

FIVARS (Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories) openly encourages viewers to enjoy and connect to stories in this newly emergent narrative form, while challenging content creators to showcase ideas that defy and transcend the status quo.

At the festival, there is also an opportunity to share conversations both with our team and other industry members in attendance to discuss how to take part in this snowballing revolution in tech, entertainment, research and information sharing.

The 9th FIVARS festival is a browser-based immersive virtual festival featuring 360 video projects from around the globe online, rwhich runs from February 21st to 28th, 2022, with additional private in-person showcases for interactive content.

  • Immersive festival featuring Virtual Reality, 360 Film and Dome Experiences in browser-based immersive theater–available on desktop, mobile, tablet or in VR headset
  • In-person interactive content (by appointment only in select cities, stay tuned for more information)
  • Talks & Panels with content creators and industry experts from around the world

And it’s not too late for creators to submit entries to the festival! The Late Deadline is January 25th, 2022, and the Extended Deadline is February 15th, 2022. More details are available via the FIVARS website.

Tickets are available to purchase via EventBrite. It promises to be an exciting event!

My Predictions for Social VR, Virtual Worlds and the Metaverse for 2022

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 600 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.


I was going to write up another entry in my ongoing Pandemic Diary series today, but then I read Wagner James Au’s predictions for 2022, and I suddenly realized I had neglected to write up my own blogpost, with my predictions for the next twelve months! So let me polish my crystal ball and see what comes up… 😉

Among Wagner’s predictions is this one, which I agree with 100%—make that 1,000%!

There will be a major scandal or controversy around one of the blockchain/NFT-oriented Metaverse platforms.

With NFTs beset by scams and NFT/blockchain-oriented metaverse platforms seeing low user numbers but extremely high investment and speculation, this is only a matter of time.  

It’s only January 12th, 2022, but I have already written about a number of questionable NFT projects which at best are crazy schemes, and at worst are outright scams! MetaWorld springs to mind as the perfect example of the latter (ALLEGEDLY, I hasten to add, although IN MY OPINION, I don’t believe there is any actual MetaWorld platform, aside from a prototype which was created years ago by someone who has since left the company to work for Somnium Space).

By the way, I have been reliably informed that, after an absence caused by the publication of this damning recent piece of investigative journalism by Engadget, Dedric Reid is once again active on Clubhouse, shilling MetaWorld in his own rooms and in other rooms about the metaverse on the still-popular social audio platform. He’s also relisted his (ALLEGEDLY, IN MY OPINION) worthless virtual land NFTs on OpenSea, after NiftyKit took the original listings on his website down when the original artist he stole the images from to illustrate his NFTs lodged a copyright complaint.

Despite all the negative press from the Engadget exposé and my series of blogposts about MetaWorld, Dedric continues undeterred. Someone joked to me via Discord DMs that Dedric Reid is the Elizabeth Holmes of the metaverse, and I laughed out loud because it’s such an apt, concise description! Harsh, savage, but accurate.

But on to other topics; I am tired of talking about Dedric Reid and MetaWorld (and frankly, whoever falls for his ALLEGED scam at this point is simply not doing their proper due diligence, IN MY OPINION). There’s a lot of actual progress being made by many legitimate metaverse companies building social VR/AR platforms and virtual worlds!

First, Facebook—sorry, Meta! I predict that Meta is going to have a very bumpy year ahead. The company was roundly criticized by the virtual reality community when they announced that. starting in October 2020, all Oculus VR hardware users had to set up accounts on the toxic Facebook social network. While Mark Zuckerberg, in his now-infamous Connect 2021 keynote, said that the company was looking at removing this requirement, I’ll believe it when I actually see it happen. Words are hollow, Mark; what matters are actions.

I predict that Facebook (sorry, Meta) is going to have a rough year

Meta is facing such a never-ending litany of complaints, scandals, and even legal actions that this is, once again, a very easy prediction to make for 2022.

Next prediction: there’s going to be a lot of activity this year in the fuzzy overlap area between games and virtual worlds, what I like to call the “metaverse-adjacent” space. Both games (e.g. Fortnite, Minecraft) and game platforms (e.g. Roblox, Core) will continue to add new features in an effort to become more like social VR/AR apps and virtual worlds. And, given their immense popularity, especially among children, tweens, and teens, many people will get their first taste of the metaverse via these games and game platforms, in much the same way as an entire generation got their start in the metaverse via Second Life.

Speaking of Second Life, in my predictions for 2021, I wrote the following:

And, indeed, 2021 was the first year in which VRChat began to consistently surpass Second Life in user concurrency figures (Rec Room did too, I believe). VRChat has been breaking new user concurrency records, leading up to and including New Year’s Eve 2021, as Johnny Rodriguez tweeted:

Last night, 88,700 people put on a VR headset and decided to join the VRChat New Years event to countdown [to] the new year. For reference, this is Husker’s Memorial Stadium [at the University of Nebraska], which fits around 86,000 people when completely full. VR is here to stay.

Turning back to Second Life, the coronavirus pandemic caused a temporary surge in usage (and the current Omicron wave might well prompt people to dust off their avatars and give it another try, too). I still estimate that SL has somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 active users per month (that is, people who sign in at least once in the past thirty days). I really wish that Linden Lab would regularly release statistics like this, but if they are declining (slowly or quickly), I can also understand why the company would be reluctant to do so.

It doesn’t help matters that Second Life’s userbase skews significantly older than most other social VR platforms, virtual worlds, and metaverse-adjacent apps like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox. SL users are (literally) dying off! However, Second Life still remains popular enough (and a reliable cash cow) to keep merrily coasting along for many years. And with the deep pockets and good connections of the Waterfield investment group (of which Second Life is now a part), the future looks bright.

I wish I could say the same about Sansar, which from my (admittedly limited) perspective, seems to be circling the drain. I wrote the following post in the official Second Life community forums late last year:

I was part of Sansar since I was invited into the closed beta in 2016/2017, and I was there for the whole crazy ride. Sansar is now on life support (the company that bought it from Linden Lab, called Wookey, furloughed all of its staff recently, and I believe that they could shut down at any moment without warning). Being there from beginning to end, I still marvel at how Linden Lab thought they could build a new virtual world/social VR platform and just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself in this competitive marketplace for metaverse platforms. “Build it and they will come” might have worked for SL in 2003 but it sure ain’t gonna work nowadays. You have to PROMOTE yourself to get noticed.

Also, Linden Lab could have done a lot of things to try and entice SL users to a) visit Sansar and b) make them want to stay, build worlds, create content, and form a new community. Instead, what happened is that Second Life folks (rightly or wrongly) saw Sansar as something which distracted LL from its work on SL, and as a result most SL folks hated Sansar and refused to have anything to do with it, hastening its downfall in my opinion. It also didn’t help that Linden Lab made a bet that many people would be owning high-end VR headsets tethered to high-end PCs with good graphics cards, and instead the Oculus Quest wireless headset took off.

I still shake my head and wonder “what if?”. Say a prayer for Sansar, it needs it. 

Right now, Sansar’s best hope for survival in 2022 is for another company who wants to enter the metaverse marketplace to buy the platform from Wookey, much the same as Microsoft stepped in at the eleventh hour to snap up AltspaceVR.

Another prediction: we are going to see an increase in the number of companies providing services to metaverse platforms. Wagner James Au mentions the Linden Lab subsidiary Tilia, which provides financial services, in his blogpost which I linked to up top; I predict that they will land a few more clients this year. Another example of a company doing well in this niche is Ready Player Me, the avatar system currently in use in VRChat and over 1,000 other apps and games on VR, mobile, desktop, and web. Expect this nascent business-to-business sector to explode this year!

Well, that’s it for me, for now. I might update this blogpost with other predictions for 2022 as they come to me.

And I ask you, my faithful readers: what predictions are you making for the next twelve months? Feel free to leave a comment, or use the feedback form on my blog if you’d prefer to contact me directly. You’re also welcome to join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, a cross-worlds community where over 600 people, with experience in various metaverse platforms, welcome you! Just click the button on the left-side panel of my blog as shown (image right). If you are connecting via a smartphone or tablet instead of your computer desktop, just click the three-bars menu button in the upper-right hand corner, then scroll down until you see the Discord widget displayed.

Editorial: Meta’s Horizon Social VR Strategy Is Currently a Bit of a Mess

As many of you already know, I responded to last October’s announcement by Meta (then still called Facebook) that owners of Oculus VR hardware would have to set up accounts on the Facebook social network, by personally boycotting all Meta products and services—including the Horizon Venues, Horizon Worlds, and Horizon Workrooms social VR platforms. (Here’s the blogpost where I announced my decision.)

Since that announcement (full text here), I have replaced my trusty Oculus Rift tethered VR headset, which up until that point I had been perfectly happy with, with a Valve Index (which I love to use and I consider an upgrade in every single way from the Rift). I also did a factory reset on my Oculus Quest 1, sending it to my sister-in-law in Alberta, who might use it in her work with developmentally-challenged adults (she has no qualms about having a Facebook account, and it’s going to a good cause). I had already deleted my Facebook account previously, and I followed by deleting my Oculus account as well and removing the Oculus app from my iPhone. Yes, I burned my bridges, and I voted with my feet and my wallet!

While it might be considered a bold, gutsy, and even audacious move to boycott what is likely to become one of the significant players in social VR, in a blog specifically about social VR, I am still quite comfortable with my decision four months later. As I wrote on my popular and comprehensive list of metaverse platforms:

I am DONE with Meta, and I refuse to come back unless the company reverses its decision to force its VR headset users to have accounts on the toxic Facebook social network.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I won’t write about Meta and its social VR strategy; it’s just that I won’t be writing about it from a first-person perspective! (And I have a whole network of metaverse enthusiasts, who are not personally boycotting Meta hardware and software, to keep me reliably informed as to what’s going on in-world.)

From my onlooker, outsider perspective, Meta’s social VR strategy seems to be a bit muddled at the moment, with no less than three different social VR apps as part of their current metaverse offerings. And I’m not the only one who has noticed. Tech pundit Ben Lang tweeted yesterday:

Idea: We’re one of the biggest social network companies in the world, let’s make a social VR platform that everyone can enjoy!

Execution:

As a recent Road to VR article written by Ben, titled Meta Plans to Fuse Its ‘Horizon’ Apps & Make Them More Accessible… Eventually states:

Although all three share a common umbrella name, and even share the same avatars, they’re really entirely different applications. You might be sitting right next to your colleague in Workrooms and invite them to watch a show with you in Venues after the meeting, but there’s no seamless way for both of you to actually go from A to B without quitting your current app, launching a new one, and then eventually find each other on the other side. Not to mention dealing with an entirely different interface and features between the two.

In an interview with Digiday, Meta’s VP of Horizon, Vivek Sharma, hinted that the company hopes to eventually bring these experiences together in a more seamless way.

“Eventually, Sharma plans to stitch [the three Horizon applications] together to create a cohesive virtual world,” writes Alexander Lee. “Though he didn’t offer specifics about the timeline for this union or what the overarching platform would be called.”

“You can imagine us building out an entire ecosystem where creators can earn a living, where communities can form and do interesting stuff together,” Sharma told Digiday. “So it’s not just a place for games; it’s not just a place for people to build creative stuff; it’s all of the above.”

At present, Horizon is scattered in more ways than not being able to navigate seamlessly between apps. Accessibility is also an issue… you’ll need an Oculus Quest 2 headset if you want to be able to access all three. If you have the original Oculus Quest you can only use Worlds and Venues. If you have an Oculus Rift you can only use Worlds. And if you have a non-Oculus headset well, you’re out of luck.

Ben Lang raises an important point: everything that Meta is currently doing is constrained to run on Meta’s VR hardware. In fact, I’m not even sure how Meta plans to make Horizon Venues, Horizon Worlds, and Horizon Workrooms available to headsets like my beloved Valve Index. It will be interesting to see how—or even if—Meta tackles this issue.

If they don’t support other brands of virtual reality headsets, the utility of the Horizon line of social VR platforms is going to be limited, particularly as new competitors enter the market (like Apple, who is widely anticipated to launch a VR/AR headset sometime this year or next year).

Facebook/Meta’s New Metaverse Commercials: Is There a Method to Meta’s Madness in Their Current Advertising Campaign?

I first heard about Facebook (now Meta)’s new metaverse commercials via the following tweet by Andrew Woodberry:

This Meta ad ran during tonight’s Notre Dame vs. UVA football game. I’m not even sure Meta knows what “the metaverse” is.

If you happen to have missed this commercial, as I did, and in case you’re curious, here’s the advertisement in full, via the official Meta channel on YouTube:

What is notable about this commercial is that it is not promoting a specific Meta hardware product or platform; it is promoting the idea of the metaverse (and using some surprisingly acid-trip visuals!).

As I predicted, Facebook (sorry, Meta!) is spending a small portion of its billions of dollars in earnings to do a little public relations: to try and implant the idea among the general public that Meta now a metaverse company; and to attempt to distance itself from the now-tarnished Facebook brand.

Here’s another ad in the current campaign (at least this one is for an actual product, the newly-rechristened Meta Quest 2 (formerly known as the Oculus Quest 2):

Jason Aten, a tech columnist with Inc., writes about Meta’s recent round of advertisements in general, and this last video in particular, in a recent editorial titled Facebook’s Ridiculous New Ad Reveals Its Vision of the Metaverse. It’s Everything Wrong with the Company:

If you want people to buy headsets, and Facebook definitely does, you do what companies do and you make an ad. That’s exactly what Facebook did, designed to highlight the Oculus Quest 2. 

In it, two men are playing video games in virtual reality using their Oculus Quest headsets. The two men are apparently neighbors, but have no idea. In fact, they don’t even like each other in real life, demonstrated by the closing scene where they yell at each other for making too much noise through the wall.

In the game, however, they are both teammates and friends. They even complain about their bad neighbors, again not realizing they are referring to each other. The ad is meant to be humorous, of course. It’s not, but that’s not even the biggest problem.

The real problem is that Facebook–which now calls itself Meta but is still the same company, with all the same issues–thinks this is a good representation of why you’d want to put on a VR headset and jump in the metaverse. If that’s the case, it’s a brilliant example of everything wrong with the company.

Jason goes on to write:

…the people who are friends don’t even realize they can’t actually stand in each other in real life. They live next door to each other, never interact in real life other than to ignore each other’s small talk in the elevator, or to yell at each other through the wall. 

Except, that’s everything that’s wrong with the way people connect online. And Facebook is largely the reason. Over the last decade, Facebook has worked hard to make us think that scrolling through a feed of images and posts from people we are loosely connected to is a substitute for actually engaging with real people. 

Not all connections are equal. Following someone on Twitter, or sending a friend request on Facebook doesn’t mean you have a relationship. It doesn’t even mean you know the person in real life. The problem is that we think that we know people because we scroll through an endless feed of carefully curated photos and moments they share. 

Part of the problem of eliminating the friction in making those connections online is that it makes it easier to connect with people you don’t actually know. Real relationships–the kind that add actual value to our lives–require proximity, conversations, and physical interaction. 

If the metaverse is going to be an amplified version of the kind of relationships people have been building online for years, I’m not sure we’re better off. 

In discussing the (in)effectiveness of this advertising campaign on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, somebody made the following insightful observation:

They don’t need the ad to tell anybody anything- everyone is talking about it. The commercial did what it was supposed to do, get people’s attention and put Meta in the public consciousness.

Say the family is gathered together for the game—the less computer savvy family members go “what the heck was that”, then the techies in the family explain it to them, and have the time to get them to understand it better than a 1 minute ad could hope to do. The tactic was to get people to ask the question.

Hmmm, perhaps there is some method to Meta’s madness after all. The commercials are intended to be some sort of a conversation starter. From an experienced metaverse user perspective it’s bonkers, but then, WE (i.e. the hardcore virtual reality and virtual world crowd) are not the target audience here; the broader general public, who knows little to nothing about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, is the target.

And, again I say something I repeat often on this blog, the adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. Meta’s continued pouring of profits into this sort of advertising means that many more new people will be introduced to the concepts of the metaverse. In the long run, this is a good thing for all metaverse world builders and content creators, whether or not they are on board with Horizon Workrooms and Horizon Worlds, or use Meta-branded VR hardware like the Quest 2.

In other words, Meta’s recent promotional push is good for everybody—provided that we (the people and companies who are passionate about social VR and virtual worlds) seize and pursue the opportunities which will arise due to this greater metaverse awareness by the general, non-computer-geek public. Everybody wins.


P.S. I wanted to leave you with something which I found extremely clever and amusing. The government of Iceland has brilliantly parodied Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Connect keynote address in the following funny three-minute video: come to the Icelandverse!

Now THAT is the kind of advertising which Meta should aspire to! 😉