UPDATED: High Fidelity’s Virtual Coworking Island Cam: Really? REALLY?!??

Screen capture from the video linked to below

Look, I am just going to come right out and say this: whoever is doing the marketing for High Fidelity needs to be fired.

Check out this four hour livestream posted to the official High Fidelity YouTube channel, of what they call the Virtual Coworking Island Cam (no, don’t adjust your sound, there is no sound):

A commenter on the RyanSchultz.com Discord, who alerted me to this disaster, said:

No audio and the entire thing’s frame rate is god awful. I showed this to friends and they seriously thought this was Second Life, and to be fair, I can’t blame them.

A commenter on the actual YouTube video said:

What is this? This looks like an Older Version of Second Life? Or maybe a Crappy Sims game. AND WHERE IS THE AUDIO!

I’m watching the video now with my jaw ON. THE. FLOOR. in disbelief that they actually released this video. It’s already had 185 views, too.

About halfway through the video, I noticed that High Fidelity seems to have added AltspaceVR-type emoticons over avatars’ heads, which I don’t remember seeing before. A new feature, perhaps?

Sooo… your product supports VR and you’ve got 3D spatial audio, but you’re relying on 2D emoticons over your head to communicate? You chose to emulate one of the corniest features on AltspaceVR, to appeal to your new target market of business users?!??

I commented on my Discord:

Somebody should save a copy of this for posterity. They can’t have put this up without checking it, surely?!

And they seem to have added AltspaceVR type emoticons over the avatars’ heads, too.

WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

If this is the best way that High Fidelity thinks they can attract business users for their repurposed social VR platform, then I think it’s time to start a HiFi Death Watch.

I give up.

UPDATE Sept. 17th: I’ve had a good night’s sleep and I’ve re-read this, and I’ve checked the video again. It’s still up, and now it has 259 views. Isabelle Cheren made the following comment on the automatic cross-posting of this blogpost to my Twitter:

If it’s virtual co-working does that indicate the conversation may have been confidential with the no sound? Just a thought but yeah why put it up on YouTube LOL. Good Lord.

And, even given this extremely charitable, possible explanation as to why there is no audio, I still find it almost impossible to believe that High Fidelity actually posted this four-hour, silent video to their official YouTube channel.

People have been talking about this at length on the #highfidelity channel on the RyanSchultz.com Discord all evening and into the wee hours of the morning as I write this update. Here’s an anonymized sample of what they are saying:

A: I mean, I threw them a bone in saying that they can focus their efforts on making this all work but like… really? I give them a single ounce of a break and then this happens.

B: No spawned media during the entire stream.

A: Wait… I didn’t even look for that. Yeah, they didn’t spawn any media/web entities? Oh boy…

B: I don’t think they realize that remote work apps coming out have [the] ability to share files and screens easily. Or how important that is.

Yes, I was extremely harsh in my assessment. But I am not alone. Many other people are looking at this gaffe and are saying the same things about High Fidelity that I am. Way, way harsher than I, was one comment posted to my tweet by Will Burns, whom I have blogged about before, who said:

SECOND UPDATE Sept 17th: Well, High Fidelity is livestreaming again today, and once again, there is no audio. It’s just up there on their YouTube channel, without any explanation or context whatsoever:

There is one difference from yesterday’s livestream, however. High Fidelity has turned off the ability to leave comments on this video. In other words, they don’t even want feedback on this.

To have this happen once could be seen as a mistake. To have it happen two days in a row is a deliberate marketing decision. I also noticed that High Fidelity took down yesterday’s four-hour livestream video, for whatever reason (perhaps because of the negative comments).

Finally fed up with this nonsense, I had to resort to contacting Jazmin Cano, High Fidelity’s User Engagement Manager, via Twitter (the only way I have at present to reach out to anybody on the HiFi team):

Hello Jazmin! Sorry to bother you again, but is High Fidelity aware that the daily Virtual Coworking Island Cam livestreams they are posting to their official YouTube channel have no audio at all? Yesterday’s didn’t and neither does today’s.

I’ll keep you posted if/when I get any sort of reply from the company.

THIRD UPDATE, Sept. 17th: Well, Jazmin didn’t bother to respond to me, but at least High Fidelity has now taken down today’s embarrassing video.

Sweet minty Jesus, what a fucking circus.

FOURTH UPDATE, Sept. 18th: Well, I finally got a reply back from Jazmin:

Hey Ryan, I’ve got time to message you back now that I’m off work. Please know that this is a personal account and not an official High Fidelity channel, sorry!

So, I still have no idea whether or not the livestreams were intentional or an accident, or if my message to Jazmin was what finally alerted High Fidelity that their co-working island cam livestreams had no audio. At this point, the only possible way I can actually communicate with High Fidelity staff is to post a message to their official user forums, and hope that somebody from the company (eventually) responds. The last time I did that, I waited over three days for a response. This is no way to run a company!

A quick-thinking viewer did save a copy of the original Sept. 16th livestream for posterity, though, and you can watch it here (remember, there was no audio in the original or in this copy):

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Guest Editorial: Imagining a Successful High Fidelity

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? Discuss and debate anything and everything related to social VR and virtual worlds, on the first cross-worlds Discord server! More details here


Dale Glass as written a follow-up to his first guest editorial, What’s Wrong with High Fidelity. Here is a very lightly edited version of the article he sent me (apparently, Dale is not a firm believer in the use of commas 😉 ). I have taken the liberty of adding my own images to illustrate his text.


Imagining a Successful High Fidelity

by Dale Glass

Now that I’ve discussed what I think is wrong with High Fidelity, I’m going to try and propose a working model that would preserve as much of it as possible. I’m going to ignore solutions that involve a radical reorganization, because I think the interesting question is whether HiFi could make money being what it currently is, rather than doing things the easy way by turning it into a Second Life clone, for instance.

A successful High Fidelity will need two parts to it: a thriving community, and a thriving company. The company hardly can succeed without having users, so I will start with them.

HiFi needs content, because not everyone can make their own artwork, or code. It’s hardly an inviting proposition to join a new virtual world to find out it’s a virtual desert devoid of anything interesting, and that if you want a nice looking house, your only resort is to spend a lot of time learning how to use Blender. So one of the very first things HiFi needs is a large amount of content creators churning out a large variety of things: avatars, clothes, houses, toys, tools, scripts, etc.

To start with, here’s what I think won’t work: imitating Second Life. SL creators expect there to be asset permissions, which don’t exist in HiFi, and don’t make that much sense since without a central asset server and servers being under user control, any restrictions can be ignored. SL creators also won’t be happy with that scripts are just as vulnerable as 3D assets, because many rely on scripts to make their creations harder to clone. HiFi has made a token effort towards content protection by attempting to verify that something was officially bought on the High Fidelity Marketplace, but this is an entirely opt-in scheme, which is unlikely to make creators happy.

Any attempt to make SL businesses establish themselves in HiFi, as-is, is likely to end badly, as they will find people can do anything they want with their assets, and that there’s nothing in place to deal with it, and no solutions on the horizon, either.

How to do business in such an environment, then? My suggestion is basically Patreon and commissions. Rather than trying to shoehorn the SL business model into High Fidelity, it would be a lot better to go with a model that doesn’t need to fight against HiFi’s nature at every step, and Patreon seems to be that. A lot of artists on Patreon release work to the general public on places like YouTube, and thus don’t need to be concerned with ensuring only the right people can get at it. Patrons contribute money to creators voluntarily, wanting specifically to support the artist and not to buy a single copy of a product.

Patreon homepage

I realize that this is a rather tricky proposition, but it’s the only thing that would seem to work in such an environment. Doing things the Second Life way either requires drastically changing High Fidelity, or results in creators leaving for greener pastures.

Another thing HiFi users need is a lot of small improvements to the way the platform works. It’s missing many of the features needed for large groups of people to communicate and manage themselves – groups, group permissions, land and object ownership, to name just a few. HiFi shouldn’t stop at replicating SL here – surely one can do even better. HiFi would be well served to listening to what long time SL users have been complaining about and trying to give their users that.

Of course, the company’s business model also needs to be considered, and the problem is that in the previous article I concluded that there’s nothing much HiFi can earn money from. So what now? I see two ways forward.

The first is pivoting towards an “Open Source business model”, in which the company sells technical support, custom work, and perhaps additional functionality to primarily corporate clients. The public is allowed to play with the code without much support on the part of the company, mainly for the sake of publicity, testing, and gathering third party fixes from people who never were going to pay for a 24/7 support contract anyway. Here HiFi could benefit from changing to a “scary” license like the GPLv3 or AGPLv3, which, while perfectly okay for the general public, makes many companies deeply uncomfortable. This creates another potential source of money by offering an alternate license scheme to those who don’t like this. HiFi is under the rather oddly permissive terms of the Apache 2.0 License, which allows anybody who wants to take all their work, do anything they want to it, and contribute nothing back. This is very generous, but a dangerous way to try to earn a profit. A license like the GPLv3 ensures that any third party work also benefits the company.

GPL Version 3 Logo

Some of this already seems to be happening on HiFi’s part to some extent, and on the whole I think it’s a pretty sane direction to head in, except for that, currently, it’s not really clear what is it that High Fidelity has that other companies would want to pay for. Second Life already gave this a try, and it ended up fizzling out. It’s also a pity that this seems to involve disconnecting from the community.

How about High Fidelity being profitable by serving the users, like Second Life does? That’s rather trickier, but I think there’s some potential. HiFi would need to move to a community supported model. Since it gives everything away, there’s almost nothing that absolutely must be paid for, so the only thing that can be done is asking nicely.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. This idea is usually adopted by non-profits and Open Source projects like Wikipedia, KiCad and Blender, but there exist some rare for-profit examples. For example, Reddit partly works a bit like this, selling premium memberships that don’t give the buyer much, since the base access is free.

Following this idea, HiFi could offer some sort of premium membership. For instance, you could get your name listed among the list of sponsors, get some sort of distinctive sign or title next to your name, and perhaps get some privileges, like access to test servers or technical support.Most such advantages would probably be largely symbolic, but I think there’s a fair amount of people who’d send some money HiFi’s way if the cards were played right.

High Fidelity also could, and in my opinion, should at least try, offering domain and asset hosting. While they couldn’t compete with established vendors like Amazon on price, they can offer something Amazon doesn’t have: a deep knowledge of the platform. Having HiFi host your stuff should result in it being taken care of by people who know very well how it all fits together, and who are very close to the original developers. HiFi itself would also benefit, in that this would allow them to have a much better idea of how exactly the software is being used, and what problems the users run into.

A harder-to-get-right possibility would include paid custom work, on a level accessible to average people. For example, one could create bug and feature bounties where people could pledge money in exchange for features. This would be fairly tricky, but I recall that for instance OpenSim used to have bounties. Paying to be able to talk to a member of the team is another thing comes to mind. It could be useful to just be able to pay to speak to whoever wrote a given piece of code for half an hour.

To add another revenue source, I would consider selling merchandise. Things like T-shirts and coffee mugs seem like a no-brainer, providing both income and advertisement in exchange for little effort.

Developing a digital economy and taxing it is another possibility, but I do not think such a thing can amount to much in the early stages.This would be more of a long term plan, as a large user-base is needed for this to amount to anything. If High Fidelity catches on, however, this could be a pretty nice source of income.

A crucial part of such a plan would be removing all roadblocks possible for paying the company. This would involve accepting payments by every method that’s remotely practical, as well as removing every possible roadblock to content creation in general. It could be worthwhile to improve in-world creation abilities, so that something can be accomplished without needing to learn or install anything besides HiFi itself.

Let’s resume, the issue of making money by trying to sell pretty much anything that can be sold. HiFi being what it is, making a profit off it isn’t going to be trivial, so I think no possibility should be left unexplored. While HiFi’s openness allows third parties to take all their hard work and do their own thing with it, the company has the most knowledge about their own platform, and by playing their cards right, and taking advantage of an established user-base, they could outrun any competition without that much trouble.

For all this to work properly, HiFi would also need to improve its relationship with the community. By that I mean more openness and more communication, with regular meetings with users, easy access to the developers and in general a sustained effort on HiFi’s part to say “we care”. If you’re going to depend on the users’ goodwill, you have to convince them that you’re a lovely bunch of people well deserving of money.

I don’t have a whole lot of hopes on High Fidelity doing anything of the sort, of course. Part because that’s really unlike what I’ve seen of them so far, but also partly because this is not the way they’ve chosen, and it would take an awful amount of work, as well as restructuring the company and probably shrinking it by quite a bit.

What I think is a bit more likely is some third party giving this a try. Given that the code is out there, nothing technically stops anybody from taking it and trying to go in their own direction. Somebody would need to fork it on GitHub, set up a pretty website explaining their ambitious plans, put in a lot of hard work both to improve the code and to communicate with the current community, and regularly mention “please support us on Patreon”. This would be a tricky gamble to pull off given the small size of HiFi’s community at present, so I think if somebody ever does this, it’ll be an effort from an established community member.

If HiFi survives, what I think might happen is those two things, run by different entities. High Fidelity seems to have committed itself to corporate work and abandoned its original user community. But if it keeps delivering code that’s useful enough for a community to use, and the userbase grows enough, then I expect that eventually somebody will try to make a community edition. From there it doesn’t take much to fork the source, and start accepting donations, and that could get the ball rolling again.


Thanks, Dale!

Guest Editorial: What’s Wrong with High Fidelity

The following guest editorial is by Dale Glass, who had an interesting perspective on the economics of the social VR platform High Fidelity. I asked him to write up his thoughts to publish on my blog, and here they are:


What’s Wrong with High Fidelity

by Dale Glass

I showed up at High Fidelity a some months ago, looking for greener pastures. Second Life isn’t living up to its potential in my opinion, so I started looking for alternatives. I checked out several, and HiFi is the one I fell in love with. The source code is available, the system is far more flexible than SL, it actually supports VR, JavaScript is far more sane than LSL, the community is amazing… but unfortunately, there had to be problems.

I quickly found the Federated HiFi Users Discord, and one of the first questions I had to ask was: “This is very neat, but how is it going to make any money?”. Not only is HiFi free to use, but it’s pretty much impossible to give the company any money if you wanted to.

High Fidelity is a bizarre thing for a business to make. If it had been named something like “Open Metaverse” and was run by a volunteer group, it would have made perfect sense. The very structure of HiFi seems to be made to resist corporate interests and to be usable by a group of random people spread around the globe. The entirety of the source code is open, the architecture is distributed both for hosting domains and assets, and the local currency is a cryptocurrency. Now, none of those things are in the most anti-business state possible (for instance, HiFi has exclusive control over the cryptocurrency), but it’s not a terribly business-friendly design either. Normally such designs come either from projects that are Open Source or Free Software from the start, or from projects that normal people aren’t expected to be interested in paying for anyway and that expect primarily corporate clients, like databases. But HiFi decided to try to target the average person at first, and that’s where things get weird.

The main issue for High Fidelity in its original incarnation is that there is no business plan in sight whatsoever. Accounts are free. Charging for hosting content won’t work because domains are self-hosted, and so are assets. And skimming off user-to-user transactions isn’t a viable plan because it requires a huge, thriving economy which has yet to materialize, and that the company doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to support.

Compare this with Second Life. I used to think that SL’s model of selling people virtual land was a weird idea that should be done away with, but now I think that it was actually a stroke of genius. Virtual land provides a huge incentive for people to reliably pay a fixed amount into Linden Lab’s coffers, and businesses just love that sort of periodic, predictable payment. And the way SL land works provides an incentive to buy more of it: right after you buy your first parcel you find out you have limited space and prim counts, and start thinking: “if only I had a bigger one…” Even SL’s deficiencies work in its favor here. Should one want better frame-rates or a bit more privacy, it’s possible to build in the sky. But most people want to keep something on the ground, so that of course that quickly eats into one’s prim limit, which adds yet another reason to give LL even more of your money. And there’s just that people can see how big your parcel is, so having a large one can certainly be a point of personal pride. SL’s model very nicely reproduces the impetus to keep up with the Joneses.

The benefits of this model don’t end there – Second Life land allocation corresponds directly to server usage, so as the user base grows or shrinks payments and the needed resources stay in sync with each other. And since the payments are periodic and automatic, Linden Lab also derives some benefit from people who pay for resources and then forget to use them.

Of course, Linden Lab also took care of ironing out any issues that got in the way of making money – such as stopping the fluctuations of their currency, and making it as convenient as possible to get money into and out of Second Life.

This is why despite being old, not making the news anymore, and slowly shrinking, SL is still chugging along and doesn’t seem to be in any kind of imminent danger.

So let’s review how High Fidelity could possibly make money from the way things are right now:

Accounts? No, accounts are free. And in the current state, nobody would pay for one.

Hosting? No, HiFi delegates that entirely to users. It’s the likes of Amazon and Digital Ocean that make the profit here.

Registrations? True, HiFi does charge $20 per year for place names. But I can’t imagine this paying for much more than HiFi’s coffee budget. There are way too few domains around for this to amount to anything.

Charging an amount for converting USD to and from HFC? They already do so, and this is often the suggested solution to HiFi’s woes, but it’s not viable. Let’s suppose HiFi taxed transactions at 20% (which would be very excessive and cause people to transact outside of HiFi). Let’s also suppose that an employee can be had for $50K/year (which would be unrealistically cheap in California in my understanding). Then it would take 416 people, using $50 worth of HFC each and every month to pay for that single person. Supposing HiFi could exist with just 20 employees (the current team page has 60 people), that would require it having 8,320 such users. People with such an intense desire for virtual goods are going to be very rare, meaning the number of active users in such a scenario would be far higher, probably at the very least in the hundreds of thousands. With HiFi currently being deserted and not growing any, this is a completely unrealistic expectation.

Then there’s HiFi’s attitude towards all of this. Even if HiFi suddenly became popular, for some strange reason the company seems intent on making it as hard as possible to give it any money. Buying HFC involves making an appointment (!), and even then you can’t pay for it the normal way: the company wants to be paid in Ethereum (!!). It boggles the mind that in 2019 a company working with the very latest VR technology is using a banking model out of the previous century, except for the cryptocurrency part, which while very modern isn’t particularly convenient. This of course puts a brake on what little economical activity there is in it, because even to get started one needs to find a cryptocurrency exchange, register, and prove your identity to it. I have paid another HiFi user and it was easier and faster to do it through their forgotten Second Life account. The fact that the state of HFC is so bad, that the best thing to do is to ignore it entirely, isn’t good.

So, that’s how things are. HiFi in its current incarnation doesn’t have a working business model, doesn’t seem to be making any real progress towards one, and is oddly apathetic about the one way it has of earning some cash. They are pivoting now and changing track to something else entirely, but it makes one wonder how they expected the old model to work out.


Thanks, Dale! Not too long ago, I had written about somebody saying that High Fidelity was making it difficult to give them money, but I couldn’t remember who first voiced that idea. It was you! It was such a succinct and memorable phrase that it stuck with me.

Review: Loveseat Gives Us a Innovative Look at Theatre in Virtual Reality

This morning I got the following email with detailed instructions from the producers of Loveseat, Double Eye Productions:

Dear Lovely Humans (and your respective digital avatars),

We look forward to seeing you today for the live show from the Venice Biennale. Our schedule has been shifted, so most importantly, the show will start at 4:30 p.m. CET. Today will be a live dress rehearsal for press and industry in the room, and VIPs like yourselves online. We will whitelist (give you access) to the event domain in High Fidelity around 30 minutes beforehand so you can get settled. The domain name to connect to (using the GOTO button) is: loveseat.

If you are unfamiliar with High Fidelity, you will receive a follow up email with detailed instructions on how to access the show easily. If you have any questions, please respond to this email, and we will do our best to help you out as fast as possible!

Excited to see you and your avatars soon,

The Loveseat Team

So, armed with all this useful information, I was able to join the Loveseat domain and take my seat while the actors got set up:

A picture of the Loveseat stage as the company sets up (the screen behind the stage shows you the audience watching the event at the Venice International Film Festival)

I noticed that for some reason, I couldn’t switch my microphone away from my Oculus Rift headset to my USB headphones (I decided to attend via desktop rather than in VR), so I just decided to leave myself muted. As it turns out, this was a deliberate decision by the producers to have the audience muted (which makes perfect sense). So I settled for using the emotes in my emote app to wave and clap!

The three actors started off with a dance performance in real life, which we could see on the screen at the back of the stage. Then they put on their VR headsets to start the show! The emcee, named Bartholomew Best, kept a running commentary to engage the audience and introduce them to the game show, called (of course!) Loveseat:

We are then introduced to our two game show contestants, Abby the beekeeper and Bruce the hedge trimmer, where the sets rose up smoothly from the stage floor:

After that, I decided to focus on the play, rather than try to capture pictures or report on the proceedings. I won’t give away any more of the plot, in case you want to see the show yourself! The actors made clever use of the tools available to them in High Fidelity to enhance the performance, things you could never hope to see on a real-life stage!

The show was enjoyable, and I can recommend it, especially if you are the kind of person who is interested in what makes relationships work. The actors had their lines down, and obviously had spent a lot of time learning how best to animate their avatars for this performance. Overall, the production was really well done! If you want a taste of what VR theatre looks and sounds like, Loveseat is the perfect introduction.

If you are interested in catching this show, you must first buy a (free) ticket via EventBrite, giving your High Fidelity user name (so if you haven’t created a HiFi account before, you will have to do that before you try to buy a ticket. Loveseat runs daily until Sept, 7th, 2019.