2020.exe Has Stopped Working

Ryan pokes his nose outside of the self-imposed news blackout of his pandemic bunker…

Looks at today’s reporting on the Twitter/Facebook/Zuckerberg/Trump dumpster fire:

… and Ryan hurriedly retreats back into “social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse”, slamming the door shut behind him, until at least 2021.

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Two Early Images of Facebook Horizon Have People Talking on Reddit and Twitter

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Given that Facebook Horizon has asked its alpha testers to sign strict non-disclosure agreements, it’s hardly surprising that there is next to nothing publicly known about the social VR platform Facebook plans to launch sometime in 2020. (Those who do know, can’t say anything, or they risk being booted out of the alpha, and perhaps even banned from Facebook Horizon for life.)

However, a single image has leaked out, and was posted to the Oculus Quest subReddit community on Reddit (the usernames of the avatars in this screen capture have been erased):

The original poster says:

I’m not a Alpha Tester, but I managed to find a screenshot of the Horizon alpha somewhere on the web. It’s unique, couldn’t be reverse searched, and not a promotional shot. (names removed)

Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, often has reviews of products and interesting news reports about the VR industry, posted this image to Twitter, asking:

Is this a screenshot from Facebook Horizon? If it is, it looks a bit simpler than I was expecting…Will it be like this in its first release, or [are the] shaders…going to improve?

Somebody responding to Tony’s tweet posted an image from a closed Facebook group, which appears to confirm that the image is indeed legitimate (I have edited it to blur out the avatar usernames over their heads):

I do not know if somebody broke their NDA to use this image for this group, but it is already out there on Twitter, and the Facebook group is listed as Visible, which means anybody can search for, and find, this particular group. In fact, there are not one but two such groups already, this one and a second one, also Visible, with the following image (which might have been part of Facebook’s original press kit):

Given that there is so little information currently out there about Facebook Horizon, people have weighed in (on both Reddit and Twitter) about these images. Robert Scoble said:

I sure hope it is better than this. Sigh.

And Charlie Fink commented:

I should feel better about this image than I do.

Jossi Sivonen said:

What an anticlimax if so! The gfx (graphic effects) looks way better in this early teaser… (which clearly states that this AIN’T actual VR footage);

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time that a tech company’s promotional teaser video did not resemble the final delivered product (hellooooo, Magic Leap?).

And, I must admit, based on the two “leaked” images above, Facebook Horizon does look a tad…underwhelming. (One person on the Twitter thread said that the shaders looked “cheap”.) Robert Scoble’s comment led to the following exchange:

Tony: I mean, I think that I can do this graphic myself in Unity LOL! I’m sure that a billionaire company like Facebook can do better…

David: Can you do graphics like that at [a] constant 72Hz on Quest with 50 people in a fully customized (from inside VR) world?

Tony: VRChat can do that (the world is built in Unity though), Rec Room has better graphics as well. ENGAGE the same. So, if *this* is the final graphics, it is disappointing. But we all know it is going to be better, it’s impossible [that] it is this one when version 1 will be released.

David: Of the apps you mentioned, only Rec Room has true dynamic inside-VR world creation, and its graphics are pretty much on par with this.

So, what do you think? Are you excited about Facebook Horizon? Do you think that, with Facebook’s clout and deep pockets behind it, it will be the first massively popular social VR platform? Or do you think that, like Facebook Spaces, this will also be a failure?

Please feel free to leave a comment below or, as always, you are welcome to join the freewheeling discussions, arguments, and debates about social VR and virtual worlds taking place among the over 400 people who hang out on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion forum! We’d love to see you there.

Spatial, Originally a Social Augmented Reality Platform, Expands to Virtual Reality and Offers a Free Version During the Pandemic

When I first wrote about Spatial back in October of 2018, it was a social augmented reality (AR) platform which only ran on the first generation of AR headsets available for purchase by consumers: the much-hyped Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens.

(By the way, if you are looking for definitions of terms such as augmented reality, I have compiled a handy list of definitions for my blog readers.)

Since I wrote that first blogpost, Magic Leap has struggled, laying off about half its employees in April 2020, and choosing to focus on enterprise users instead of chasing the consumer market. (It is interesting to compare the recent troubles of Magic Leap with that of Sansar and High Fidelity. In all three cases, the lack of the previously-confidently-predicted massive consumer uptake of VR/AR/MR/XR headsets led directly to their downsizing and restructuring.)

Well, VentureBeat reported on May 13th, 2020 that the company is making Spatial available for free during the pandemic, and they are now supporting the Oculus Quest standalone VR headset:

First, the company is offering multiple months of free access to its premium-level Spatial Pro enterprise service, including support for users without full-fledged AR or VR devices. Businesses will be able to share any Spatial room with team members using just a web link, enabling desktop, laptop, and small device users to join meetings with a web browser, no download or headset required. Spatial’s headset UI has been carried over to the web, enabling 2D screen users to easily observe the 3D spaces.

Second, Spatial is making an Oculus Quest app generally available today, including a “much improved experience” compared with the prior private beta. Although Facebook hasn’t announced sales figures for the hybrid standalone and PC-tethered headset, Spatial characterizes the repeatedly sold-out Quest as “the most widely available XR device today” and says it has refined its user interface to make the experience easier for new users.

Here’s a screencap of Spatial’s pricing page, reflecting this change:

Spatial is free during the coronavirus pandemic!
Spatial is now available on the Oculus Quest, Microsoft HoloLens 1 and 2,
Magic Leap One, and Via Desktop/Flatscreen Web and Mobile Devices

Now, choosing to expand to include the popular Oculus Quest wireless VR headset is a smart move. Facebook does not disclose sales figures for the Quest, but some have estimated (based on game sales) that the company has sold approximately 425,000 Quests in 2019. Contrast this with the poor sales reported of the Magic Leap One:

The Information‘s Alex Heath is reporting that Magic Leap managed to sell just 6,000 units of its $2,300 Magic Leap One headset in its first six months on sale, a figure made worse by CEO Rony Abovitz’s internal claims that he wanted the startup to sell at least one million units of the device in the first year, a goal the report states he was later convinced to rethink — Abovitz later projected the company would sell 100,000 units in the first year.

Of course, such sluggish sales were one of the reasons that Magic Leap essentially gave up on trying to sell to the consumer market, and focused squarely on the corporate market. (Microsoft is a little more forthcoming with its HoloLens sales figures, but at roughly 50,000 units reported sold in 2018, they also are dwarfed by Quest sales.) It only makes sense for the company to add a headset which beings more potential customers—and, hopefully, enterprise sales—to the table. Spatial already boasts Ford, Mattel, T Mobile, Purina and Pfizer among its corporate clients.

Here’s an 11-minute YouTube video demonstrating how Spatial works on the HoloLens 2 AR headset, from 2019:


I happen to own an Oculus Quest, and normally I would leap on an opportunity to test-drive Spatial, except for one small problem: the large space I cleared in my bedroom for my Oculus Quest is now piled high with my pandemic stockpile of non-perishable food, Lysol disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper! So obviously, that’s not going to happen. So I am going to have to rely on second-hand reports on how well Spatial works with the Quest (I am rather curious to know what differences would appear in someone using Spatial in virtual reality as opposed to augmented reality.)

In a separate VentureBeat article, reporter Jeremy Horwitz waxes rhapsodic about his experience using Spatial on his Oculus Quest:

I’m not often at a loss for words, but as I re-entered the real world after my second holographic media briefing this month, I realized that I was struggling to speak or type. Mentally, the sensation was awe — my sincere belief that I had just experienced the future of remote work and meetings…

The breakthrough here is Spatial, a collaborative workspace app that just became available for the popular Oculus Quest VR headset. It’s not hyperbole to say that Spatial has unilaterally reignited my enthusiasm for the Quest, which has recently gathered dust on my desk, as the potent pairing enables me to quickly participate in 3D group meetings filled with multiple realistic participants. Instead of using cartoony avatars or floating video tiles, Spatial users appear as “holograms” with real faces, motion-sensed head and hand movements, and even lip motions keyed to their live voices.

The text under the three smaller pictures along the bottom of this image, which is a bit hard to read here, says:

– Create your 3D-realistic avatar from a single selfie in second
– Your avatar comes to life as you talk, move and interact
– Shake hands and high-five each other

So, if anybody out there wants to try the free version of Spatial on their Oculus Quest, and write up a review, I would be happy to provide the blogpost for a guest review! Thanks! I hope somebody takes me up on my offer.

If you want to learn more about Spatial, you can visit their web page, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Editorial: The Rapidly Changing Face of the Music Industry—What Sansar Is Doing Wrong (and Fortnite Is Doing Right)

Earlier this year, after an extended break, I rejoined the official Sansar Discord server, and while I have not nearly been as active there as I used to be, I still lurk from time to time. I had a good laugh at this snippet of conversation from the day before yesterday (and yes, I do have both Medhue’s and Vassay’s permission to quote them, and to post this image here on the blog):

Medhue: Literally, Ryan Schultz does more marketing for Sansar than Sansar does.

Vassay: Funniy (sadly) enough, that’s true.

Medhue: IMHO, we have a bunch of people who live in the past, when music was a 50 billion dollar industry. It is not anymore, and likely won’t ever be again. Gaming has always been growing and there are really no signs of it slowing, grabbing more and more of the entertainment market each year.

Wookey has been strangely silent since its purchase of Sansar, and their team have been largely absent from the Sansar Discord. And yes, it is indeed true: even though I barely write about Sansar at all now on this blog, I still do more promotion of Sansar than Sansar does! This relative lack of marketing activity is frankly baffling to me. After all, the often ineffective marketing of Sansar by Linden Lab contributed to the difficulties it encountered in enticing people to visit the platform—and keep them coming back for return visits, a key indicator of success.

As you might know, the money-losing Sansar was recently sold by Linden Lab to Wookey. Many Linden Lab staffers who worked on Sansar moved over to Wookey, including Sheri Bryant, who was Vice President of Strategic Business Development and Marketing and then General Manager at Linden Lab, and is now President of Wookey Technologies (LinkedIn profile). She is widely credited with saving Sansar by setting up its sale to Wookey, and it is under her management that Sansar has significantly shifted its primary focus from a VR-enabled platform for world builders and content creators (i.e. a second-generation Second Life), to a VR-enabled live events venue.

An example of the recent shift in emphasis in Sansar (from the Sansar website)

While a quick glance at the Sansar Events calendar shows that the deal Linden Lab previously struck with Monstercat to bring live musical events into Sansar has continued now that the platform is owned by Wookey, the company is going to have to do a lot more work to attract musical artists to give virtual concerts in Sansar.

Let’s contrast the modest success that Sansar has had with Monstercat with what has been happening on other virtual world and game platforms in recent years:

In addition, both Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR (which has recently announced a pivot to live events) and the ever-popular VRChat (which is already home to popular talk shows such as ENDGAME, and many other regular live events) are no doubt eyeing the possibility of hosting live concerts on their platforms. And let’s not forget the upcoming Facebook Horizon social VR platform, where Facebook will probably take what the company has learned over the past couple of years with Oculus Venues, and where they will want to sign their own exclusive deals with musical performers to entice people to visit their platform after it launches.

And this is the important point: some profitable companies with very deep pockets—Epic Games (the makers of Fortnite), Microsoft, and Facebook to name just three examples—are going to want to get into this potentially lucrative market. Smaller companies like Wookey, trying to shop around Sansar as a live events platform, are going to find themselves outbid by companies like Epic Games to bring in top talent, which of course brings in more users to Fortnite. It’s a vicious circle; the big players get bigger, while the small ones fight each other for the leftovers.

Following on from Medhue’s point in the quote above, the music industry has already seen many changes and gone through many wrenching shifts in how it operates and how it makes money in the past (notably, the shift away from physical media like CDs to the now-ubiquitous music streaming services). But now the gaming industry is bigger than both the music and movie businesses combined!

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered real-world concert arenas for the foreseeable future, which has only increased the economic pressure on the management representing the artists to sign deals with various metaverse-building companies in order to host virtual concerts and events. There’s probably already a lot of activity going on behind the scenes that we can’t see, but I expect we shall see quite a few announcements for virtual concerts with major musical artists, as well as many smaller artists, over the next six months.

Where Fortnite is already running circles around Sansar, even at this very early stage of the game, is their ability to sign deals with the highest level of talent (using all those billions of dollars of profit earned from their games like Fortnite), and their ability to host massive live events for millions of attendees (again, leveraging off their technical know-how to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure to support millions of Fortnite players playing the game simultaneously all around the world).

One thing that Wookey could be and should be doing for Sansar is promotion—and yet they are leaving it to bloggers like me to talk about the product. Where is the marketing? If they are holding off on marketing, waiting until they land some big-name events, I think that would be a tactical error.

Wookey needs to get Sansar’s name out there; many people in our attention-deficient society still have no idea that the platform even exists. Yet everybody and their grandmother has heard of Fortnite by now. That is no accident. Epic Games did a masterful job of fanning the flames of user interest. Wookey should be taking notes.

If no action is taken, Sansar is going to continue on its downward trajectory, slowly circling the drain, and eventually will fold. Linden Lab has already made many grievous errors in trying to effectively promote the platform; Will Wookey continue making the same mistakes?