The Project Athena Fork of High Fidelity Now Has a New Name: Vircadia

The company’s new logo

Project Athena (which I first wrote about here) is one of at least three forks of the open-source High Fidelity software code that have sprung up since Philip Rosedale’s company essentially pulled the plug on January 15th, 2020.* (The other two forks are Tivoli Cloud and an as-yet-unnamed project by Kitely.)

In a blogpost published today to announce the first alpha release of Vircadia, developer Kalila L. wrote:

The team has been hard at work to produce the first release of Vircadia, codename “Project Athena”. It’s a bit rough around the edges but it serves a great many functions effectively to fulfill various needs. We provide both desktop and VR, knowing full well that desktop is the gateway drug to VR.

What is Vircadia?

In short, Vircadia is a social metaverse platform and engine. It is completely open source and decentralized while still maintaining its always connected functionality. Think VRChat or Second Life except with far less restriction on your ownership and control. As a result, your creativity in the worlds have no bounds.

Because of the high efficiency and of the platform servers, the cost to run your own instance is very low. A basic world can run on a $10/mo server from DigitalOcean, which you can scale up as needed for events or to support more of your friends in the virtual world.

Vircadia is the only open source full-featured desktop and VR solution available which enables enterprise customization and security while simultaneously paving a way for every day social use.

What you do with it is up to you.

I spent some time this morning interviewing Kalila L. via text chat in Discord, and here is an edited version of that interview:


Ryan: So, why the rebranding?

Kalila: So, there were concerns about competing against say Intel’s Project Athena, and since Google is tougher on new entries it would take forever to climb past [Intel’s project], we figured it would be:

  1. Easier to pick a name completely unique to us; and
  2. Get one that’s short and sweet, so when you say it… it refers to us, no matter what.

Ryan: How big is your development team? How many people are working on this project and how many are former HiFi staff?

Kalila: The core team is six people, the wider development group is over 20 people. The core team has two former HiFi staff, the wider group has active (still working there!) and former staff. We are all volunteers, as always.

Ryan: How do you plan to differentiate Vircadia from the other two known forks of the open-source HiFi codebase?

Kalila: So the main selling point is: FOSS (Free and Open Source), an Apache 2.0 license means that we’re the only one that businesses can use if they want to protect their investments while keeping the door open for returning contributions, if they desire.

Vircadia scales, so we can support any business, large or small. Even just one or two people who want a co-working space for their little startup, or maybe your IRL work group needs a place to meet and share presentations. We currently have multiple small business/professional people looking into implementing the platform as we speak.

Secondly, we have a huge focus on open-ended ecosystems, so every vital component is open source and deployed, even the in-development launcher. It’s all there, so you have a secured social future.

Thirdly, our focus is UX and working towards making it a usable experience for enterprise and social in these troubling times.

This is alpha! So there will be bugs (and I’m sure you remember that HiFi left us with their own bugs…), but! No one who is FOSS (Apache 2.0) is as feature complete as us. So Vircadia is the best option if you need a deployable social platform.

Ryan: So could you share what you hope your roadmap/timeline will be for the rest of this year for Vircadia? You said it was alpha.

Kalila: I mentioned a lot about the open source and its licensing in the blog post so that can help explain that. So, our timeline is currently where we want to shorten the release cycle, so our next release will have less neat stuff, but we still want to get the same amount of updates/features/fixes out in the same amount of time.

Shortening the release schedule just means we get those interim points of progress out to everyone faster! We want to merge in many new features but I’ll give you more on that later, we’re still ironing out which features we want to add in and which we want to wait on. But I can say it’s pretty awesome what we’ve got in store on a technical level which will result in better, more vibrant worlds for all.

Our plans are to really grow the platform by focusing on groups and people who would like to use it for their various purposes such as holding meetings or get-togethers. But as always, all are welcome and our true goal is fully decentralized, social living metaverse.


If you want more information about Vircadia, you can

I have added the tag “Vircadia” to all my previous blogposts about Project Athena, and moved the link to the project from the P’s to the V’s on my alphabetical, comprehensive listing of social VR platforms and virtual worlds. Thanks for Kalila L. for answering all my pesky interview questions! 😉


Vircadia’s new icon

* I did also ask today in the Vircadia Discord channel if I could still use my original High Fidelity user account to connect to Vircadia, and I was told that existing HiFi accounts can still access the original platform. However, I learned today that this relies heavily on High Fidelity’s infrastructure remaining active, and that it might be shut down at any time without warning (although the company actually did promise to keep it up until the last registered place/domain name expires, which will be closer to the end of this year). Kalila L. tells me that Vircadia has a new user account system under development.

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Housekeeping Note: Theanine’s Guest Editorial on High Fidelity

Just tidying things up… (photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash)

Just a quick housekeeping note.

Last December, Theanine wrote a detailed, insightful analysis titled High Fidelity—What Went Wrong? on his Medium account. I liked it so much that I asked permission to repost it as a guest editorial to this blog, and Theanine graciously agreed.

However, it can be difficult to keep two versions of any document properly synchronized, and Theanine has asked me to remove the copy on my blog, and point back to his Medium blogpost instead. So this morning, I have done so.

The stub of the original guest editorial on my blog now redirects readers to Theanine’s original Medium post.

It is an excellent write-up, and if you haven’t read it yet, go over to Medium and do so, thanks!

Dr. Fran’s Weekly Salon Continues in High Fidelity

If you already have an account on High Fidelity, you should know that the weekly discussion groups hosted by the indefatigable Dr. Fran are still being held every Sunday. (Unfortunately, no new user accounts can be created in High Fidelity, which has essentially shut down as of January 15th, 2020. However, if you had set up an account previously, it will still work, even though HiFi has taken down its own servers.)

The conversations are always interesting! This week’s topic of discussion is What does it mean to be objective?

Date: Today, March 1st, 2020
Time: 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Place: hifi://salon.fran.thoys.nl

XaosPrincess Reflects on High Fidelity: What Went Wrong?

(“We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming…”  If you are looking for my blogposts about the Wuhan coronavirus/2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, please click here. Thanks!)


XaosPrincess at the virtual Burning Man festival in High Fidelity

XaosPrincess (about whom I have written before here and here) has just written an extensive, insightful piece on Medium, titled How to propagate a Virtual World: Conclusions from a dweller’s POV, in which she discusses various problems that she feels led to the downfall of the High Fidelity social VR platform.

As most of you already know, HiFi essentially shut down its operations on January 15th, 2020. While existing users can still sign in, all High Fidelity-hosted domains have closed, and no new user accounts can be created. However, there are at least three forks of HiFi’s distributed, open-source software code currently being worked on by various groups.

Xaos writes:

Having completed my five stages of grief about High Fidelity’s change of direction, I’m now able to view last year’s events through an analytical eye, drawing my conclusions on what can be improved in getting a virtual world to thrive.

Using Mark Zuckerberg’s breakdown of virtual reality (hardware and systems; apps and experiences; and platform services), she lays out several well-reasoned criticisms of HiFi:

In the part most important to Mark Zuckerberg – apps and experiences – High Fidelity both excelled and fell short: While all of the experiences produced by the company…were stellar, apps that facilitate social communication or media consumption – like e.g. text chat or synced video – showed great need of improvement and were often only made possible by efforts of the open source community.

However, she gives high marks to High Fidelity’s platform services:

What always had been High Fidelity’s main enterprise is the second most important area on Mark Zuckerberg’s list: platform services. While quite some users had their doubts about Philip Rosedale’s approach of favoring bleeding edge technology when it came to new implementations, to me personally there couldn’t be any better social VR package than the one High Fidelity was offering:

The open source code enabled community members to implement desired features themselves and is now – that the company has gone offline – keeping its promise of an eternally functioning virtual world.

The peer-to-peer architecture enabled content creators to be the masters of their own domains – without having to follow any TOS, everybody was responsible for their own content – free to install whatever they imagined, ranging from super safe G-rated worlds to X-rated dungeons.

By splitting up the server load into different assignment clients, High Fidelity also managed to gather 500+ avatars in one non-instanced space. Whoever has gone through the hassle of trying to join their friends in an instanced experience or game just has to love this option. And who – like me – also loves the stirring feeling of being part of a large crowd will find nothing comparable in today’s VR environment.

Noting that others such as Theanine had already written at length about the technical problems with High Fidelity, XaosPrincess saved her critique for the social side of HiFi. She raises several good points:

  • that the term metaverse needs to be redefined;
  • the importance of social VR companies in defining, knowing and catering to their target audience (using ENGAGE as an example);
  • HiFi needed to focus on creating a satisfying, bug-free user experience (“Instead of investing into flashy one-time events it might have been advantageous to focus on creating a permanent and entertaining starter experience with a bullet proof tutorial and enticing things to do in order to motivate visitors to come back.”);
  • HiFi didn’t pay attention to competitors and was overly confident that it could replicate the success of Second Life in a different era from 2003 (as I have also written about);
  • High Fidelity’s long history of communication problems with its userbase, which led to a sense of alienation;
  • HiFi’s lack of a clear code of conduct, which left many users feeling insecure: “High Fidelity never stated what kind of offenses would be met with which kind of punishment… nobody could ever be sure how bad behavior would be met.”

But Xaos saved her strongest critiques to one area where she feels High Fidelity made some grievous tactical errors: the company’s impatience to grow. She writes:

Unfortunately High Fidelity applied its mantra “Build it and they will to come,” not only to content creation in VR but also to its real life assets. When there were still no more than 30 concurrent users around in 2018, High Fidelity went on a hiring spree, quadrupling its original headcount to a workforce of 80 while tripling its original office space to two subsidiaries in San Francisco and one in Seattle. I never managed to calculate the exact burn rate, but I believed Philip Rosedale when he argued last April’s pivoting with US$10,000 monthly expenses per user.

To this day this unrealistic growing attempt is inexplicable to me. If I had been an investor I surely would have put a full stop to this amount of spending too, but as one of its highly engaged high-cost users I just wish High Fidelity would have balanced its expenses in line with its slow but steady population growth.

The snowball effect of visitors becoming content creators and enticing new users themselves could have led to an avalanche of attractions for even more new users, if High Fidelity wouldn’t have been impatient.

Instead of giving its community members time to grow into their roles as content creators or event organizers, High Fidelity turned to setting up unsurpassable events by itself, and even paid users for attendance by handing out prizes or Amazon gift cards. This irritated the natural growing process, as these well-meant contests kept the content creators busy, while also being a big competition to individually organized community events.

And when High Fidelity then pulled the plug on all its company operated domains in April 2019, there weren’t enough skilled and motivated community event organizers around to attract new users, and without events there was no more appeal for new users to pay a visit.

As I see it, a more natural growing attempt, incentivizing community members to attract new visitors, could have been beneficial to the overall user numbers.

These are just a few choice quotes from XaosPrincess’ blogpost, which I strongly encourage you to go over to Medium and read in full. Thanks, Xaos!