Tivoli Cloud VR Shuts Down

Yesterday, Caitlyn Meeks posted the following message to the Tivoli VR Discord server, which has now shuttered most of its channels:

Hey Folks!! It’s been a while! Obviously the two of us have been pretty distant from the platform of late, as we have been living our lives and evaluating our priorities. Anyway, no point dilly-dallying around it: we’re taking good old Tivoli Cloud VR offline.

We’ve had a great time, we’ve met terrific people in the community, written some great code. It’s quite an experience operating a multiuser VR platform, complete with backend services, and sustaining it in operable condition over a couple of years, especially for a two person team. We’ve decided we’d rather make new things, fun things, and see where creativity, serendipity and fortune take our little hearts.

We will be publishing the entirety of the Tivoli code base on Github where it will be freely available, including our backend and metaverse services, Blender tools, awesome assimp importer, and much more, to folks who continue to further the Excellent High Fidelity code base.

To those who participated and contributed, thank you so much. You’re all so unique and creative in your own ways, and it’s been delightful to get to know each and every one of you who we’ve met on the platform. A huge thank you to the original High Fidelity team who made Tivoli possible by open sourcing the original.

We’ll be moving the Squirrel Nut Cafe over to VRChat and probably hang around there once in a while for old time’s sake. For fans of the platform, we suggest you check out the new Overte fork. They’ve got some smart people, and the right vision. And perhaps they’ll pick up some of the code we are making available from our codebase.

If you’ve got files on Tivoli Files or content we are hosting on our servers, let us know and we’ll do our best to recover them for you. Just DM me directly. Once that’s done, all personal data will be deleted and destroyed.

Big love from both of us!

Caitlyn, Maki, Eentje and the rest

Tivoli Cloud VR was one of two successor platforms to the old, now-shuttered social VR platform built by Philip Rosedale’s company, High Fidelity (the other was Vircadia, which is still running).

I’m feeling pretty gutted that Tivoli Could VR has ceased operations, but I also understand just how hard it can be to get a social VR platform up and running, even if you are starting with the open-source software code from the old High Fidelity platform. I wish Caitlyn, Maki, and everybody on the Tivoli Cloud VR team every success in their future endeavours!

One of my many fond memories of Tivoli Cloud VR was talking to an AI-powered toaster around this tropical beach campfire, which every so often would shower down a rain of waffles! Good times.

What was the website URL now points directly to their GitHub. I hope that somebody makes good use of that open-source code to build something even more remarkable.

Note: I have been aware of the Overte fork of the Vircadia social VR platform for some time, but I wanted to wait until they had a website set up before blogging about them. There’s actually a bunch of developments with respect to both Vircadia and Overte that I have been wanting to write about, so expect a blogpost soon!

UPDATED WITH AUDIO LINKS! Philip Rosedale: Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse—Some Notes from a Wide-Ranging Conversation Multicast on Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, Callin and Second Life

Today at 11:00 a.m. CST, Philip Rosedale (the founder and former CEO of Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, and the current CEO of High Fidelity) hosted a discussion titled Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse, where people had an opportunity to ask him questions. Dr. Fran Babcock and Dr. Hayman Buwaneswaran Buwan from the MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show were key organizers. Philip is always an engaged, articulate, and informed speaker, and if you missed this event, I will update this blogpost with links to an archived version which you can listen to via Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, and Callin. UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Links are at the end of this blogpost.

Philip was on Twitter Spaces, with well over 100 listeners in the room, but the conversation was also extended to the social audio apps Clubhouse and Callin, plus there was a virtual auditorium set up in Second Life, with almost 50 avatars present! Participants in all four spaces could both hear and ask questions. To my knowledge, this is the first time something like this set-up had been attempted.

Philip shared a couple of “first stories” from his experience with Second Life, real stories from the early years of the company, both pre- and post-launch in 2003, e.g. Steller Sunshine’s beanstalk. He talked about how it was a challenge to provide backwards-compatibility, and how this affected the design of SL over time (for example, changing the friction elements would affect how people could climb the beanstalk). He talked about how he was able to drop a virtual pebble into the virtual water to create ripples (something which was later taken out because it was so computationally expensive!).

When asked why Second Life did not create mobile apps, Philip says that SL, when launched in 2003, predated mobile devices like the iPhone (introduced in 2007) and apps like Facebook (launched in 2004). While Philip is an advisor to Linden Lab, he is not a member of the executive team running the company day-to-day. He says that running SL on a mobile app is a “hard problem” to solve (I agree).

I asked Philip about his opinions regarding Meta’s surveillance system to enforce good behaviour, which includes constantly recording what happens in Horizon Worlds in case someone wants to send an abuse report to the moderators to act upon. Philip talked about his misgivings about AI-based surveillance and targeting systems in the metaverse, and how they could be used to gather information about us in new and disturbing ways, such as using how we are feeling to decide what ads to show us.

Philip has grave concerns about a business model of metaverse designed around advertising and surveillance. Talking about moderation, Philip wants the metaverse to be designed largely driven by the actions of the (human) people who are there, rather than implementing an automated behavioural surveillance and reporting system.

In answering a follow-up question, Philip said he felt that it it is indeed possible to have a metaverse with consequences for trolls and griefers, while still building strong social connections between people, citing as an example banning a person from a public place such as a restaurant where they were misbehaving.

Philip mentioned, in an interview he gave to a media outlet earlier today, that Second Life still has a higher revenue per person per year than YouTube does, with most of that income coming from fees: fees on sales and fees for virtual land (tier). He feels that a business based on fees (as opposed to surveillance advertising) is most definitely scalable, citing the approximately one million users in Second Life.

Philip talked about how presence can change communication dynamics, such as how how walking up to another avatar, and being physically near another avatar, triggers a response where people tended to be more civil than they might be in a text-only environment like a chatroom, and how quickly such presence could help defuse potentially negative communications.

Among the speakers present were Avi Bar-Zeev, the person who created SL’s primitive system, the digital atoms used for building anything and everything in the early days of Second Life! In fact, many content creators in the metaverse got their start by prim-building in SL. (One SL historian remarked that today was the 20th anniversary of the first-ever created prim in Second Life, made on January 25th, 2002.) Philip talked about how Second Life’s prim permission system could be seen as a forerunner of newer digital asset systems being considered for the metaverse.

Avi also talked about the necessity to design the metaverse to be human spaces, a place to rehumanize rather than dehumanize those who participate.

Philip talked about how VR headsets are still not affordable and accessible enough (i.e. uncomfortable if you have to wear them all day), to be able to have the kind of social community that we experience in virtual worlds like Second Life. He said (and I was transcribing madly while he spoke, so this is a paraphrase!):

It’s difficult to get people to communicate normally in a virtual world. It’s easy to forget that this is an experience that most people would not be comfortable with, yet. We’re not there yet, and the way we get there is to make avatars more visually expressive, which is a tough problem to solve.

—Philip Rosedale

Philip talked about spatialized audio products such as High Fidelity’s 3D audio as an aid to community-building, but adds that we still need to work on nonverbal communications (the listener leaning in to the speaker to indicate engagement, etc.).

There was a lot more discussed, including Philip Rosedale’s thoughts about virtual economies and NFT real estate, which unfortunately I did not have a chance to transcribe. Philip is always an articulate and informative speaker, so you will want to listen to the recording if you missed this event.

I will, however, provide a link to an archive of this wide-ranging and fascinating discussion on Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and Callin, once Dr. Hayman posts it! He is to be thanked for juggling everything in order to make this multicast such as success.

UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Here, as promised, are links to the recordings made:

Twitter Spaces recording 1:43:44 (Dr. Hayman tells me, “this recording has less of the interruptions from Second Life, as I muted the mic when feedback and keyboard noises were present in SL”)

Callin recording 1:40:08

Enjoy! I know I will be relistening to portions of this.

UPDATED! High Fidelity Invests in Linden Lab, the Makers of Second Life, and Philip Rosedale Rejoins Linden Lab as a Strategic Advisor

The Second Life website (image source)

Today, Linden Lab (more formally known as Linden Research, Inc., the makers of Second Life) dropped a press release:

High Fidelity announced today that it acquired an interest in Linden Research, Inc. (“Linden Lab”), the pioneering developer of the virtual world Second Life. The deal includes a cash investment and distributed computing patents. Members of High Fidelity’s metaverse team are joining the company, and Philip Rosedale, who is a founder of both companies, is also rejoining Second Life as a strategic advisor.

The transaction will help Second Life further scale its operations and strengthen its commitment to growing an innovative, inclusive, and diverse metaverse where its inhabitants’ ingenuity drives real-world value for themselves and others.

“No one has come close to building a virtual world like Second Life,” says Second Life founder and High Fidelity co-founder, Philip Rosedale. “Big Tech giving away VR headsets and building a metaverse on their ad-driven, behavior-modification platforms isn’t going to create a magical, single digital utopia for everyone. Second Life has managed to create both a positive, enriching experience for its residents — with room for millions more to join — and built a thriving subscription-based business at the same time. Virtual worlds don’t need to be dystopias.”

High Fidelity is the company Philip Rosedale founded after leaving Linden Lab. Its first product, an ambitious social VR platform called High Fidelity, failed to catch on and was shut down in early 2020. Its successor product (also called High Fidelity) is a 3D spatialized audio system for use in other metaverse platforms. So, when I’m talking about High Fidelity (HiFi for short), I always make sure to indicate whether I am talking about the company itself, its former social VR product (the old High Fidelity) or the new 3D audio product (the new High Fidelity)!

The website for the new High Fidelity (image source)

Wagner James Au, writer of the long-time virtual worlds blog New World Notes (from whom I first learned about this breaking news), has this to say:

Just got this message from Philip Rosedale, about the future of Second Life:

“I’m not back full-time, but it feels great to get to be talking to Lindens about design! I think the vital thing to focus on is demonstrating that a virtual world can scale to greater capacity while being inclusive and fair and safe for humanity.”

Exciting and welcome news, indeed! I will update this blogpost with more details as I acquire them. Stay tuned!

UPDATE Jan. 14th, 2022: The Wall Street Journal, in an article titled Second Life Founder Returns to Take On the Metaverse (archived version), reported yesterday:

Philip Rosedale in 2003 launched the online game where players using avatars can hang out, socialize with other players and make purchases. Second Life is a forerunner of the virtual worlds that big tech companies are now trying to create and that are often referred to as the metaverse. Mr. Rosedale is returning to the company he left in 2010 to serve as a strategic adviser and shepherd its expansion as the metaverse gains wider traction, he said in an interview…

Mr. Rosedale said that the business models underpinning some of the current tech giants, such as tracking user behavior to target ads, would be potentially harmful in the metaverse, which is more immersive than current digital platforms. “I think that there is a real genuine, existential risk associated with how that gets done,” he said.

Second Life may have had a head start on some of the metaverse companies it aims to compete with, but to some extent is the underdog. Second Life rolled out before Facebook was founded, but has hovered at around one million users since 2008, according to a company spokesperson. Meta’s Facebook, Instagram and other services sported more than 3.5 billion monthly users combined, according to its most recent earnings. Epic Games Inc.’s Fortnite videogame and game company Roblox Corp. , which are also making moves in the metaverse, have many times the number of users that Second Life has.

Brad Oberwager, chairman of Second Life parent company Linden Research Inc., said he is working with Mr. Rosedale to inject momentum into the business. Second Life already offers the ability for people to withdraw money from in-game sales into the real world, a feature lacking in some other emerging metaverses, which should attract users, he said. Coming upgrades focused on further improving the social and economic components of the game, such as the avatars and digital marketplace, promise to drive user growth, he added.

The Wall Street Journal article goes on to state that “Mr. Rosedale is bringing with him to Second Life a small cadre of developers, a number of patents and an unspecified financial investment from the company he founded in 2013, High Fidelity Inc.”

In an interview with c|net, titled Second Life founder returns to revamp his original metaverse, Philip goes into a little more detail:

Rosedale is going to be a “strategic adviser” for Second Life, while his company High Fidelity looks to infuse Second Life with some new ideas, simultaneously working on other ideas for future tech, including – at some point – VR again. “We’re announcing that we’ve shifted a group of seven people, some patents, some money. We’re investing in Second Life, to keep working on Second Life,” Rosedale told me. “Two of those patents are moderation in a decentralized environment patents, which is really cool.”

The reason for the shift is that Second Life still makes money and still has a considerably larger community than most VR platforms: It’s had over 73 million accounts created since it launched, and estimates of active users hover around 900,000. Rosedale sees the shift as solving problems while VR hardware still gets thought out. 

Despite the seeming success of the Oculus Quest 2, he still doesn’t think it’s enough. “The headset is so broken that it’s going to actually take, I think, five years to get to something that’s good,” he says, “and we as a startup would neither survive, nor would it make sense for us to sit around for five years.” He sees building up Second Life as a better platform that will be VR-optional until that magically perfect hardware arrives. 

The entire c|net article is well worth a read, by the way. This news has also been covered by publications such as The Verge, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and CoinTelegraph.

Honestly, the more I read, the better this sounds! I think this is exciting news for both Linden Lab and High Fidelity, and I wish all involved every success in this endeavour.

Editorial: Will Sansar Survive?

Sansar is the reason I started this blog a little over four years ago, and it with a very heavy heart that I write this blogpost. As many of you know, I found that I had become too emotionally attached to what was going on with Sansar, and I had to step back from my previously comprehensive coverage of the Linden Lab-founded social VR platform, to gain some much-needed perspective and to be able to write about it dispassionately.

While the rumours of Sansar’s impending demise have been circling for quite a long while now, over the past few months, I have been hearing persistent gossip, from various well-placed sources, that Wookey-led Sansar is in serious trouble. I should rush to add that I have zero official confirmation of any of this, but every time I hear a new rumour, it seems to confirm what I have already heard from others. In other words, I am hearing the same thing from many different people.

Most recently, I’ve been told that the Wookey team is missing in action, both on the official Sansar Discord and in-world. I’ve heard that Sansar has lost big-name clients like Lost Horizon and Monstercat (although Sansar is still listed on the Lost Horizon Festival website). I’ve also heard that many people who used to be actively involved in Sansar have left, leaving for platforms as various and diverse as Helios, SapphireXR, and CORE (where I see many Sansar alumni chatting on their Discord servers).

My latest source tells me:

There hasn’t been a product meetup in monthsthey were all working like crazy on Splendour in the Grass…after that, crickets.

The marketplace for hosting live events has become extremely competitive, with social VR platforms competing with game companies like Fortnite and Minecraft to sign deals with artists and festivals, and to host concerts and other musical events. And if Sansar is struggling to do this during a pandemic, how will it fare when things return to (relative) normalcy, with a resurgence of live, in-person events? Can Sansar compete against better-funded companies to attract the kind of A-list talent which brings in audiences—and more to the point, can they get that audience to stick around and become content creators and community members after the music ends?

I am in a better position that most external observers to play armchair quarterback and try to pinpoint exactly where it all went so wrong, but I must confess that, like so many others (including numerous employees laid off in at least two rounds of wrenching, painful layoffs), I really thought that Sansar would succeed.

But the expensive bet placed by Linden Lab (and Philip Rosedale’s company, High Fidelity, which shut down a similar service in early 2020, and pivoted to a spatial audio product), is that there would be tens and even hundreds of thousands of people using high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Valve Index to access social VR platforms boasting beautiful high-end graphics. It didn’t seem like such a risky bet at the time, but looking back, perhaps it was.

Certainly, part of the problem is that these companies spent millions of dollars and many years building platforms, only to find that the VR hardware market was evolving so quickly that they couldn’t keep up. I mean, the Oculus Rift is no longer being sold by Facebook, which decided to put all their eggs into the standalone Quest, which is selling like hotcakes—and which Sansar can only run on if you attach a cable from your Quest to your high-end gaming PC.

What does it take for a platform to catch fire, like VRChat and Rec Room? Again, I don’t really know the answer (although social media, particularly YouTube and Twitch, certainly played a pivotal role in at least VRChat’s ultimate popularity and success).

At a time when the metaverse has again become a hot buzzword tossed around by many companies, both big and small, who knows what will happen to Sansar. But I must confess that I am very worried.