Niclas and I have one thing in common: we both are absolutely ruthless in hunting down social VR and AR products for our respective lists! In his updated list, I notice he mentions the following products, which I have not heard of before:
So, this means I get to do some more exploring and reporting! Watch for new blogposts about these products over the next little while. The marketplace for social VR/AR/MR/XR is indeed getting crowded!
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!
SuperWorld is a social AR platform company which allows users to build community in Augmented Reality. Users and brands can personalize the real world by adding anything anywhere in augmented reality with photos, videos, texts, and 3D objects, and share the AR experience with friends and followers. We are currently launched on iPhone.
As I have stated before on this blog, I do not consider cellphone-based apps to be true “augmented reality”. I prefer to reserve the term for actual AR headsets such as the Microsoft Hololens or the Magic Leap One, which are still considered highly experimental technology.
Basically, the premise of SuperWorld is that you purchase regions (called polygons) that correspond to real-world locations, such as the Empire State Building in New York or the Eiffel Tower in Paris:
Holding a SuperWorld AR Real Estate Token allows buyers to have ownership of the longitude / latitude dimensions purchased and where future AR posts and advertising will be placed. It’s like the game of Monopoly in Augmented Reality. The goal is to collect the best places of real estate in the world or places that you love and to be able to buy and sell that real estate over time, as you like. The purpose of the AR Real Estate Token is to serve as an incentive to lock-in users to our ecosystem.
Now, this is not the first such product; I have written in the past about similar blockchain-based platforms which are superimposed upon the real world, such as Mossland and Worldopoly (which has relaunched as Worldopo). The big problem will all of these projects is that they are being set up well before any kind of wearable augmented reality headgear becomes popular among consumers. According to the SuperWorld white paper:
Social media usage is very popular worldwide but does not align user interests with company interests. Ads are how social media apps stay alive but users do not always see the benefits of ads. Concurrently, content creators and influencers face a fragmented market when trying to start off their endeavors. Few platforms allow content creators to monetize and share in the revenue other than YouTube. We want to create an economic paradigm in which passive content viewers, content creators and marketers’ interests are all aligned…
We believe that in the future AR glasses will be widespread and the lens through which people see the world will be through their favorite AR apps. Currently, smartphones are more commonplace and accessible so we will be focusing on the SuperWorld smartphone app until the future of AR glasses arrives.
So, let me get this straight. You’re expecting people to download the SuperWorld app to their mobile devices, and point them at real-world locations, in order to see more advertising? Why would anybody bother to do this? Aren’t we inundated with enough advertising as it is?
Here’s an eight-minute promotional video for SuperWorld:
The first half of this video is taken up with an explanation of how to set up your MetaMask wallet and purchase Ethereum to use in SuperWorld, so you might just want to jump straight to the second half, just to see how underwhelming this product is. Even worse, when I tried it myself last night, I couldn’t get the map to load, despite several attempts.
Here’s another video, a year-old three-minute promotional video showing you how the mobile app works:
But when I downloaded the app to my iPhone SE to test it out, it was so buggy that it was simply unusable. In my opinion, this product is simply not yet ready for prime time. There seem to be all kinds of bugs and glitches in the implementation.
I do think that attempting to build a global augmented-reality overlay when we don’t have any kind of affordable, consumer-grade AR headset technology is a bit of a folly. There’s absolutely no guarantee that SuperWorld’s way of slicing up the real world is going to be accepted or adhered to by any other company.
(You know me and virtual worlds! For me, hunting down and reporting on all these social VR platforms and virtual worlds is like Pokémon: “gotta catch ’em all!” I take a great deal of pleasure in tracking these sometime-elusive creatures down!!)
So, I loaded up the Stan World website to take a look, and yep, all the standard buzzwords are present and accounted for:
There’s plenty of self-affirming text throughout the website, about building and enhancing community using virtual reality:
But there’s very little technical details on the implementation of Stan World, other than this very vague diagram explaining how all this is supposed to work:
And check out the promotional video for Stan World, which was just posted a couple of weeks ago on YouTube:
Now, I have no idea from where the company cobbled together this veritable mishmash of avatars and scenes from various virtual worlds, but nowhere in this video do I see evidence of an actual deliverable product! (In fact, I would appreciate it of my readers could help me identify where all these avatars and scenes were taken from.)
This is another one of those blockchain-based projects which seems to be selling the sizzle instead of the steak, and pinning all its hopes on earning money up-front via an initial coin offering (ICO) like Decentraland did, as can be seen in the following eight-second video taken from the Stan World website:
(Sorry, I was listening to Stairway to Heaven when I captured this footage! This is not the soundtrack to the website 😉 …)
Now, your guess is as good as mine as to what the woman in the bottom right-hand corner is supposed to be doing, wearing what looks like a very basic, cellphone-based VR headset! (Maybe hand tracking has come earlier than expected?) This all looks like third-party stock images to me.
But what really set off my alarm bells was this part of the website:
You would think that clicking on the iOS App Store button would take you to the App Store, right? Wrong.In fact, it doesn’t matter which of the three buttons you click on; all three do exactly the same thing, downloading exactly the same APK file to your hard drive. A little deft Googling revealed that APK is the package file format used by the Android operating system for distribution and installation of mobile apps and middleware. But the fact that…
It downloads the APK without warning you; and
It makes the download look like actual links to the iOS App Store, the Oculus Store, and the Google Play store;
…makes me seriously, seriously pause.
So, once again, I issue my standard warning, as I do for every blockchain/cryptocurrency product and platform out there. Please do every. single. shred. of your homework before investing in any blockchain-based virtual world. Read the white paper carefully and read through everything on the website, including the Terms of Service. Carefully and thoroughly evaluate what is being offered here in return for the investment of your hard-earned money.
Spatial’s mission is to empower people to be more connected, creative, and productive. Our first product transforms how people work. Organizations are increasingly distributed across offices and information doesn’t flow easily. Success depends on people working together. Spatial is the collective computing platform for organizations to unlock their productive and creative potential.
Among the companies testing out Spatial is Ford Motor Company:
After two years in stealth, Spatial is launching its cross-reality collaboration platform that enables holographic teleportation through augmented reality, turning any room into a 3D workspace. With Spatial, users connect remotely and express ideas seamlessly using lifelike avatars, unlocking a new level of computing that is not confined by space. Spatial runs on various AR headsets including Microsoft HoloLens.
Spatial enables an entirely new way of working together and eliminates the need for video conferencing and work travel. Features include:
Remote presence: Feel like local and remote participants are in the same room with lifelike avatars.
Infinite workspace: Extend your workspace beyond the screen and seamlessly tie together content from all digital devices into an infinite space.
Collective knowledge work: Quickly visualize thoughts and ideas using Spatial’s voice-driven 3D web browser.
Accessible anywhere: Spatial works best with augmented or virtual reality headsets, but is also accessible via web and mobile browser.
Spatial’s cross-reality platform is being piloted by Ford X, a new incubator formed by Ford to unify its product teams working on mobility initiatives.
I guess Ford Motor Company has deep enough pockets to be able to afford the still-expensive augmented reality headsets required to use Spatial!