Editorial: My Social VR/Virtual World Predictions for 2019

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Time to peer into that crystal ball and make some predictions!

First: Second Life is going to continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity. It will continue to be a reliable cash cow for Linden Lab as they put a portion of that profit into building Sansar. And I also predict that the ability to change your first and last names in SL will prove very popular—and also very lucrative for Linden Lab! Remember, they’ve got seven years of pent-up demand for this feature. (I have a couple of avatars myself that I’d like to rename.)

Second: An unexpected but potentially ground-breaking development in OpenSim was the announcement of the release of a virtual reality OpenSim viewer to the open source community at the 2018 OpenSim Community Conference. There’s still lots of technical work left to do, but if they can successfully pull this off, it could mean a new era for OpenSim.

Third: I confidently predict that one or more blockchain-based virtual worlds are going to fold. Not Decentraland; there’s too much money tied up in that one to fail. But several cryptocurrency-based virtual worlds are starting to look like trainwrecks of epic proportions (and I’m looking at you, Staramaba Spaces/Materia.One). Somebody still needs to explain to me why people will want to pay to hang out with 3D-scanned replicas of Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan. The business model makes absolutely no sense to me. Another one that I think is going to struggle in 2019 is Mark Space.

Fourth: I also predict that one or more adult/sex-oriented virtual worlds are going to fail (yes, I’m looking at you, Oasis). I’ve already gone into the reasons why even the best of them are going to find it hard to compete against the entrenched front-runner, Second Life.

Fifth: High Fidelity and Sansar will continue their friendly rivalry as both social VR platforms hold splashy events in the new year. (I’m really sorry I missed the recent preview of Queen Nefertari’s tomb in HiFi, but it looks as though there will be many other such opportunities in 2019.) And High Fidelity will continue to boast of new records in avatar capacity at well-attended events (it certainly helps that they’ve got those venture-capital dollars to spend, to offer monetary enticements for users to pile on for stress testing).

Sixth: the Oculus Quest VR headset will ignite the long-awaited boom in virtual reality that the analysts have been predicting for years. There; I’ve said it! And those social VR platforms which support Oculus Quest users will benefit.

Seventh: Linden Lab’s launch of Sansar on Steam will likely have only a modest impact on overall usage of the platform. I’m truly sorry to have to write this prediction, because I love Sansar, but we’ve got statistics we can check, and they are not looking terribly encouraging at the moment. And where is the “significant ad spend” that was promised at one of the in-world product meetups back in November? Now that they’ve pulled the trigger and launched on Steam, it’s time to promote the hell out of Sansar, using every means at Linden Lab’s disposal. Paying bounties to Twitch livestreamers is not enough.

And Facebook? If they thought 2018 was a bad year, I predict that we’re going to see even more scandals uncovered in 2019 by news organizations such as the New York Times. And more people (like me) will decide that they’ve had enough of being sold to other corporations and data-mined to within an inch of their lives, and jump ship. The public relations people at Facebook are going to face a lot of sleepless nights…

And, still on the same topic, we might yet see the launch of a new social VR platform backed by Facebook, after they decide to ditch the lamentable Facebook Spaces once and for all. Maybe it will be based on Oculus Rooms; maybe it will be something completely different. But despite my negative feelings about the social networking side of Facebook, they still have the hardware (Oculus), the money, and the reach to be a game-changer in social VR. (Just not with Facebook Spaces. At this point, they should just kill the project and start over. Any improvements will be like putting lipstick on a pig.)

Finally, I predict that the RyanSchultz.com blog will head off into new and rather unexpected directions (that is, if the past 12 months’ activity is any indication!). I never expected to cover blockchain-based virtual worlds, or Second Life freebies; they just kind of happened.  Expect more of the same in 2019, as various new topics catch my interest.

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Goodbye, Facebook

Today was the day I finally deleted my Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram accounts. I also deleted all three apps from my iPhone and iPad. In addition, I removed the Facebook and Instagram social media buttons from the left-hand-side panel of my blog.

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I have mixed feelings about this, of course. I know that there are certain people that I will no longer be in touch with because of my leaving. But I made sure that everybody knew how to get ahold of me in other ways. I still feel strongly that it was the right time to take this step. Facebook tells me it won’t delete my data for 30 days, in case I change my mind, but I won’t be coming back. My sense of trust in Facebook has been completely betrayed.

This also means I am leaving Facebook Spaces, which is really no great loss.

If I feel anything right now, it’s anger. Angry that I wasted so much time on Facebook in the past. Angry that I was an active promoter of Facebook to my family, friends and acquaintances in past years, urging people to get accounts. Thinking that Facebook was going to change things.

Well, Facebook certainly changed things, all right. And not for the better. The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed how Facebook was misused to tilt the most recent American federal election in Trump’s favour. And look at the mess we’re in now, just from that one event. Not to mention the overall negative effect that Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are having on society as a whole.

From now on, I’ll be watching Facebook (the company) and Facebook (the social network) evolve from an outsider’s perspective. Goodbye, Facebook.

VR is NOT Dying: Members of the Virtual Reality Group on Facebook Respond to My Blogpost on Drift0r’s YouTube Video, And Set the Record Straight

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Not too long ago, I wrote a blogpost about the video which avid VR gamer Drift0r posted to YouTube, which outlined his take on the state of virtual reality in general, and VR gaming in particular. The blogpost and video were controversial and I got a lot of feedback. (For the record, I myself did NOT say that “VR is dying”, like Drift0r did in his video. I said, and I quote, “Virtual reality may not be dying, as this YouTuber asserts, but it isn’t looking overly healthy, either.”)

Well, nowhere did I receive as much feedback as I did when I cross-posted that particular blogpost to the very active Virtual Reality group on Facebook, with over 47,000 members.  I got by far the biggest and best responses overall in this group. The members are great bullshit detectors overall, and I learned a lot by reading through the comments.

So many people made so many well-reasoned arguments that I wanted to post a follow-up on this blog, with a compilation of the best positive and negative comments. Where I explicitly received permission, I have attached the person’s name to their comments; otherwise, the comments are anonymous.

And yes, it would appear that this triggered a lot of people who got upset. I get that. From my perspective as a still-learning-the-ropes blogger (and a NON-gamer), I found that Drift0r’s video raised some interesting points I had not previously thought about it and merited more discussion. I got that back in spades! Thank you to everyone who responded.

One commenter shared a TED Talk by Los Angeles sculptor and street artist Zenka explains why she thinks VR and AR will have a huge impact on society:

I can recommend this inspiring 15-minute TED Talk unreservedly.

Some commenters thought my blogpost was clickbait journalism, plain and simple:

Such a clickbait title… of course its not dying. Sure, some in the industry have a goal that goes beyond the Moon… but how do you go from unreached goals to “VR is dying!”? Thats just stupid and wrong. VR is steadily growing and obviously not going away.

“Clickbait”? Well, maybe (I certainly did try to choose a title that would make people click through to read the article/see the video), but “journalist”?!?? Hardly. I do not consider what I do on this blog and what a professional journalist does to be the one and the same thing. I am an amateur VR enthusiast, and I do try to be as accurate as possible on my blog, but sometimes I miss the mark. This just happens to be one of those times.

A great many commenters took exception with the premise of Drift0r’s video that “VR is dying”. Here’s just a sample of opinion:

Although I can see how many in the game industry have reasons to complain. VR training for the cooperate sector is booming, we continue to get more and more clients and create experiences that are not only useful but really help people gain a better understanding of the task they plan to perform in the real world. We save companies millions of dollars in on sight training and offer something beyond games. The VR market is filled with people with complaints but it’s usually because they were too cheap to buy a quality setup. Not everyone drives a Ferrari, not everyone lives in a million dollar house, new tech requires financial investment and to think that over night everyone would buy a high end VR headset is just silly and unrealistic.

No its not all of VR. VR is starting to take off in the education sector. Now think about that for a minute. We are getting kids into VR early and done right it builds a fanbase.

Thank god our clients don’t agree with this article! There’s a lot more to VR than just game applications. Just ask the military, hospitality, healthcare, transportation, real estate, automotive… etc industries. Obviously the writer of this article needs to get out of the house more often.

And of course, in writing up my original blogpost, I had completely forgotten about the many good and useful non-gaming applications of VR, such as education and healthcare (e.g. the treatment of phobias). This was definitely an oversight on my part, and I’m sorry!

Raphael Baker commented:

I found his video raised all the cliche rhetoric I’ve heard over the past few years. He opens with a false statement about VR was supposed to go mainstream and it went downhill from there. His statements won favour largely with non-VR gamers who dislike VR and also people like himself who are unable to distinguish between quality VR titles versus unregulated amateur pish flooding steam. Even his critique of popular VR games was largely DECEPTIVE and unrepresentative of quality VR titles.

The problem is there is too much of that kind of crap posted about VR and people who don’t know better are easily swayed.

His whole speech was built on a false narrative that gaming VR had a course set for total mainstream infiltration within 4 years. That is absolutely insane but people just buy it automatically.

Those who understand VR including its much longer history than post oculus era; know that not even gen 2 will see mainstream adoption. 

Gerald Ferreira said:

So Here is my opinion – Posts like “VR is Dying” is attracting a lot of attention and people who is willing to invest in VR reads this bull, and then decide not to invest into VR because of bull post like this. In the end it is more damaging to the market than the clicks one receive for posting “VR is dying” articles. I am doing very well in the VR space, I have more clients that I can handle at the moment. My prices are good and my clients are happy and see the value, my biggest clients is marketing agencies, banks, entertainment and education.

Another person added:

If you want to be a successful social media blogger today, I guess you’re on point. If you want to write without using trendy blanket statement headlines and actually care to shed light on a medium you are (I hope) enthusiastic about, you have some work to do. Like Gerald Ferreira says, this type of clickbait is what turns people away from the medium.

Follow some actual VR streamers like Derky Sprawl or Rowdy Guy. Read some Jaron Lanier or Jeremy Bailenson for pioneer reference and history. Do your homework.

And I mean all that in the nicest way possible because you clearly enjoy writing and the industry needs good writers, but don’t confuse sensationalist backlash with constructive criticism. I look forward to your writings either way.

One person talked about how smartphone-based VR really did nobody any favours in terms of setting user expectations:

honestly talking from experience id blame mobile phone vr…while kind of cool at first.. it was one of the main reasons i didnt even care to try the more expensive ones like the rift…but after getting into projection mapping and 3d as well as augmented reality …i decided let me give this a try …..and now im hooked…but yea those cardboard / half ass VR devices i believe is sending the wrong msg while kind of cool im not spending all that money…even tho the rift and Vive are way beyond that level…honestly the way i feel right now about it i can shut up to people about it…so ive been doing my part to educate people that VR is more then just games.

This was a major discussion point 2 – 3 years ago. The general point being ” is smartphone VR good enough to be an entry point into VR, or is it going to sour the perception. ” Here we are a few years later and so far I’m going to say Sour the Perception. This is from talking to people at festivals showing high-end VR, and just talking to people far outside of the tech bubble in general.

Many whom I’ve talked to that had tried smartphone VR cases thought “what’s the point” and didn’t look any further.

Also as a VR dev who targeted the smartphone VR market for at least one published project: It’s very difficult to know if the software is working right across the hundreds of devices that are listed as good enough to play it. So one person might get a great experience with it, while the next it doesn’t play right.

And a few commenters said that they agreed with what Drift0r was saying:

I’d say VR is dead right now. But will make an awesome comeback in a few years, it’s inevitable. But currently my Vive is more used as a tool than a gaming system. I use mine for 3D modelling/creation, and VR racing. That’s about it. if I didn’t do simulation racing, I would probably regret my Vive purchase. Gotta say I’m quite disappointed with the softwear/gaming side of VR.

Yup. I was just in a meeting and brought our headset in. Client was like “I like it on a tablet, but hate those helmets”.

It’s got a long way to get, imho. Until the resolution is on par with HD it’ll struggle. No idea when that will be, but seems years away at the current rate.

He has some pretty valid points in my opinion. But I’d layer it with this lens… he’s talking about “desktop VR.” The one with the wire that costs a minimum of $1k to get into (for the average user). In that case, he’s on target. Sales of those machine/headsets/games are pretty disappointing when compared to traditional AAA title sales. That’s the folly of the whole argument… the market for desktop VR is desktop gamers with a budget. That’s all there is to say about that, really.

The real VR market is emerging right now… the one without wires, where the consumer experience is controlled like Android/iOS – by designers, not engineers. The one where the experience is so smooth that one person buys several (price point) so their friends can join them in the fun.

It’s not about games, though that’s important. It’s not about GPUs and specifications or which CPU is the most amazing.

It’s about the feeling that the user has when they put on the headset for the first time. That is the next generation of VR… and it’s beginning now.

One man, Robert Long, even shared his inspirational story of how he has lost 200 pounds so far by using VR games as exercise:

VR is going to be big. Sure it has had the most hype of all tech ever made. Well aside from quantum computers lol. It can take as long as it likes. Once Gen 2 comes out it will shake things up. The tech just needs to match the hype. And it is starting to with the new added tech such as suits that give feedback and even neural connections that move when you think to move. The 1-way end of course. But 2 way is going to change everything. The ability to send and receive signals with the CNS. But that 2-way tech is a long ways away from reality. Right now its limited thanks to the bulky head displays and huge controllers. But it is getting there. Point is. Once the tech is solid cheaper and they see people living inside their virtual avatars instead of real life they will get jellyfish and everyone will want them. Those graphics just need to match 4K and up and that will attract more people. Plus once more software companies get involved in making AAA games for VR only. That is when it will force people to get one. But the mobile units are doing pretty good to get people to get involved and want more VR stuff. So just sit back and relax. It will happen. I dropped over 200 pounds using VR. So if it can do that for people. You would be surprised how well it will do this upcoming year. With all the mobiles they have coming out that are pretty decent.

Not gonna lie. I have always dreamed of VR stuff my whole life. I see its bad and good areas. And sure we don’t come close to the hype at all. But the issue is not the tech really because it works fine for gen 1 consumer level. It is coming along at least. The issue is the games atm. They are nice and all but they really don’t make any VR only titles that are considered AAA games that everyone wants to play. The first place to sign a deal with a VR tech company that releases best sellers on consoles and they make it VR only and hype the living shit out of it to the point that you dream about playing it and hate those that do. That would be when I see VR taking off and getting the consumers and money they need to merge other tech needed to get it to where it needs to be. But like all guesses on what is coming it’s all best guess. Just like science. But so far I am happy. I was going to die and now I am healthy thanks to VR. Do you know what its like to have anxiety issues for a few months because you are healthy and don’t remember what its like to be healthy?. Well VR got me out that fat man prison I built for myself. So I love VR even more. But the point is my 2 cents and all. I think it is doing just fine. The price tag on the tech is a major issue atm. Like the vive pro. That 1600 bucks for a pretty decent setup is why people laugh at VR right now. Because no games that would even make you consider putting that kind of cash out does not exist. Say they created Red Dead redemption 2 for VR only. You can bet your ass people would be playing the hell out of it and showing it off. Next thing you know that Christmas everyone has VR. And we hit the next level for progress in the field. But like I said. Just my 2 cents lol.

And for the record yes I was being hard on myself. The car wrecks did cause depression and not being able to get around added to me getting to like 500 pounds. But at least I got only like 70 pounds to go and I am back where I was before the wrecks! And VR helped me do that. Gen 1 tech did that. I can’t wait to see what gen 2 tech can do.

https://www.vrfitnessinsider.com/robert-long-looses-138-pounds-playing-beat-saber-and-hes-still-going/

So, it seems pretty clear to me that VR still has a lot of life in it! VR is far from dying. Thank you to all the members of the Virtual Reality group on Facebook for the reality check!

Why I Am Leaving Facebook and Instagram

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This evening I finally made a decision. Last summer, I had shared VR pioneer Jaron Lanier’s 10 arguments for deleting your social media accounts on my blog, but I decided at the time that, while Facebook was evil, it was a necessary evil, a way to promote my blog and to stay connected with other people in exchange for being data-mined and sold to advertisers, and therefore I stayed put.

But after reading the latest New York Times report on how Facebook allowed other companies to access its users’ private information without their knowledge or consent, it was the last straw for me:

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

I strongly urge you to go to the New York Times website (using the link above) and read the entire article. This is the latest of several damning exposés by the New York Times and other news media on just how much we have been abused—yes, I said, abused—by a social network where we are the product to be bought and sold.

I am fed up. I have had enough. And I am fighting back the only way I can: by shutting down my Facebook and Instagram accounts and deleting all of the data that Facebook has gathered on me. Here’s a link to another New York Times article that gives step-by-step instructions on how to do this. Here’s another article by Consumer Reports.

When am I doing this? At the end of the year. It will give me a couple of weeks to let everybody know, and for me—and them—to set up alternate arrangements to communicate with me, if they wish to do so outside of Facebook.

How is this going to impact me? Well, the biggest thing that I use Facebook for right now is to promote my blog in various Second Life and virtual reality communities on Facebook. I can find other ways to do that. I have also used Facebook to keep in touch with a wide range of real-life and online friends. I will find other ways to stay in touch with people.

As for Instagram, well, I barely use that anyways, so it won’t be any big loss.

But I have finally decided that enough is enough, that Facebook is no longer a necessary evil, but a true evil. And I will longer support it or participate in it, after the end of this year. I will continue to use and support the Oculus VR hardware. But I will no longer use any social media operated by Facebook (that includes Facebook Spaces, the incredibly lame social VR app they launched over a year ago). Using Facebook Spaces requires you to have a Facebook account, so it gets ditched as well. No great loss there either.

I will also be boycotting any service which requires me to have a Facebook/Instagram account to use it. (Thank God, I didn’t use Facebook to log into other websites whenever they offered that as an option. I always went the personal username/email and password route instead. That means that untangling myself from Facebook should be much easier for me.)

It’s going to be an adjustment. I’m going to miss communicating with many of you on Facebook and via Messenger. You and I are going to have to find other, better ways to communicate. Like email, texting/SMS, Skype, FaceTime and the telephone. Like this blog and its comments section. Like my new Discord server. I have lots of options available for you to get ahold of me.

I will be giving up traffic from Facebook to my blog, which was significant but not irreplaceable. I will find other places to promote my blog, other ways to let people know what I’m doing. You can sign up to get blog updates via email (see the left-hand-side panel, under FOLLOW RYANSCHULTZ.COM VIA EMAIL, right under the eight social media buttons). And I’ll be turning off a couple of those social media buttons, too.

goodbye

Good-bye, Facebook. It’s been a fun 13 years. But I no longer trust you, and I’m leaving, and I’m deleting my account and all my data before I go.