My Predictions For The Next Two Years

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’ve been hanging around virtual worlds of one kind or another for over a decade now. I’ve seen them come and go. Some were spectacular failures that provided lessons for other companies. Others just kind of meander along, not attracting very many users or ever becoming very big (like the multitude of OpenSim-based grids).

What usually happens in today’s hyper-competitive computer applications marketplace, is that one or two players in a particular market segment get big (e.g. Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, and yes, in its own way, Second Life), and then continue to grow like a juggernaut, based on the network effect, while the smaller players in the marketplace fight each other over the leftovers. The ones who get big are usually, but not always, the early entrants into the field (Second Life is a prime example of that, although there were notable virtual worlds which were founded before it, like ActiveWorlds).

But social VR and virtual worlds are not a zero-sum game. Many consumers are frequent visitors to a number of different metaverse platforms, and many creators build and sell products in various virtual worlds. Right now, success in one VR-capable virtual world (e.g. VRChat) generates interest in other social VR spaces. As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

It’s still not clear where all this is going, but I’m willing to polish my crystal ball and make a few predictions of what will happen over the next two year period, from now until April 2020.

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:

  • Alphabet/Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook/Oculus*
  • Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:

  • High Fidelity
  • Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
  • Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
  • VRChat

(We’ve already seen this happen with Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR.) We could also see a company buy out a virtual world, just to grab the programming talent, and then shut the world down completely (as Yahoo! did with the promising Cloud Party).

Now, there’s no guarantee that any of the Big Four companies WANT to be bought out by the Big Five. Perhaps instead of a buyout, a strategic partnership deal will be inked. But I bet you anything that it’s tempting for the bigger companies to buy their way into the evolving metaverse marketplace, rather than design something from scratch.

I also predict that a LOT of the new virtual world/social VR startups we see popping up are going to fail over the next two years. There’s a lot of virtual-reality-related (and especially blockchain-related) hype taking place, and some people are investing in startups that are risky. Some smaller companies have jumped into grand virtual-world-building projects without realizing the sheer magnitude of the work involved in creating a fully-featured, viable metaverse. I’m afraid that some investors are going to get burned.

I also predict that Sinespace and VRChat are going to pull ahead in terms of features, simply because they decided to build on top of the popular Unity game engine, and they can use all the cool Unity development tools that are popping up. By comparison, feature development on Sansar and High Fidelity will be slower, as they continue work in-house on their own engines.

And finally, I expect that Second Life’s 15th anniversary celebrations will entice some former users to dust off their old accounts and revisit the platform to see what’s new. It may well herald a renaissance for SL! At the very least, it will help stave off a slow decline in SL’s user concurrency figures.

*Sorry, but as I have said before, Facebook Spaces is not a palatable social VR/virtual world product. It can’t even come close to competing against what High Fidelity, Second Life, Sinespace and VRChat are currently doing. But I bet you anything that Facebook has other plans up their sleeve. They can still try to leverage off their 2-billion-plus Facebook network (not to mention 800 million Instagram users) to become a potential major disruptor in the evolving metaverse marketplace. I’m not counting them out yet!

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Thoughts on the Land Market in Second Life and the Newer Virtual Worlds

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Photo by Jesse Roberts on Unsplash

Through the Second Life Friends group on Facebook, I found out about my new favourite thing/activity in Second Life. It’s a backpack by ScriptWorks that you wear, and when you click it, it teleports you to a random spot anywhere within Second Life! (You can set it to avoid Adult-rated areas if you wish.)

You can buy a set of 5 random teleporter backpacks on the SL Marketplace, which means that you can give them to your friends and go exploring together! A group of backpack wearers can be simultaneously teleported to any random location on the grid, estates as well as mainland sims. It is great fun and a great way to see Second Life!

In spending my time exploring the SL grid with this backpack, I have learned a few things while hopping around from sim to sim:

  1. There is a lot of empty/abandoned land on the SL mainland. According to the Second Life Grid Survey, between 20.7% and 21.4% of Mainland by area is abandoned parcels, but to my eye, it looks like much more than that. No wonder Linden Lab is trying to encourage more land use by decreasing the cost of tier and doubling the amount of free land given to Premium members.
  2. There are a lot of people who are land barons, who buy land, subdivide it, and rent it out to other people. I really had had no idea that it was such a big business in SL! I have visited some attractively designed communities like Cedar Creek, Lionheart, and Orchard Heights, where I was tempted to rent a beautiful home for myself.

Which got me thinking about the concepts of land and land rental in the newer virtual worlds. It’s going to be a lot harder for people to make money as land barons in places like Sansar, where you can get up to three 4km-by-4km spaces for free (and even more land if you upgrade to one of the paid subscription levels).

However, there may still be a market for people who create well-designed spaces that other people want to rent. Drax has said that he wants to rent out the currently empty houses that line the street in his 114 Harvest experience. I’d certainly be interested in renting one of those houses!

The thing is, once you own land, you want to build something on it. This, in turn, drives the economy, as people purchase houses, trees, swimming pools, etc. I used to own land in Second Life, both on the mainland and then in the planned community of Bay City, but I sold it years ago. For many years I was homeless, like many SL avatars (although I did have access to a secret spot with build rights, where I could unpack boxes and change outfits).

Then very recently, I decided to use one of my Premium accounts to get myself a Linden Home in Second Life, and right after that I went out and bought some new furniture from many of the designers whom I have met and gotten to know from my time in Sansar, like Maxwell Graf, Loz Hyde, Froukje Hoorenbeek (a.k.a. Dutchie), and Ria Bazar!

What about newer virtual worlds other than Sansar? I seem to remember visiting a domain in High Fidelity where avatars could set up homes for themselves, but I’m not sure what the status of that project is (and I’m not even sure if I could find it again!). Much like Sansar, Sinespace actually gives you a free home space which you can decorate as you wish.

Frankly, most of the people currently exploring and inhabiting the newer social VR spaces/virtual worlds are creators rather than consumers, who are going to build from scratch rather than select ready-made items from a marketplace to decorate their living space. This means that most people are going to use their own (free) land rather than rent it from a landlord. It might stay that way for quite some time, which could be bad news for wannabe land barons in the newer virtual worlds. And it could be even worse news for people who bought expensive virtual land in places like Decentraland, hoping to be able to make some money by renting it out.

Dancing at Rust in High Fidelity: Depression, Be Banished on the Disco Dancefloor!

I’m feeling really depressed tonight (for reasons that I’d rather not share on the blog), so I decided to put on my Oculus Rift headset and head over to Rust nightclub in High Fidelity, where DJ Phlash is spinning tunes and avatars are dancing. There are some really creative avatars, executing some really funky dancing animations! Avatar animations are one area where High Fidelity definitely has the advantage over Sansar.

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(Note I have avatar nametags turned on so I can see the avatars’ names above their heads. That is an optional bit of code I picked up at the HiFi Marketplace for free which enabled me to do that.)

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Me, I’m justing using the standard Matthew avatar (see above). Nothing special. I just felt like coming and listening and watching tonight. Just to get my mind off my troubles. And then I clicked on one of the dance animation balls on stage to join in on all the fun:

Depression, be banished on the disco dancefloor! The event is still going on, so come join us!

High Fidelity and JanusVR Announce the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance

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Remember that blogpost I wrote, way back when, about the idea of the Universal Avatar? Well, we seem to be one step closer to that today.

Philip Rosedale, the visionary founder of Second Life and CEO of High Fidelity, has just announced that JanusVR and High Fidelity have founded the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance (VRBA), “a group dedicated to establishing a universal digital identity built on the blockchain and outside the control of any specific corporate entity.” He goes on to say:

As a member of VRBA, Janus will host a node of the High Fidelity blockchain and have the ability not just to read from the ledger but to register assets and record transactions on it as well.

As a member of VRBA, Janus will recognize avatar identities created in High Fidelity, and equally personas created within Janus will transfer to High Fidelity. Users of both services will be able to control what information they share or keep private for each experience and tailor how they present themselves. Together we’ll add more features to our identity platform to help build trust as people traverse VR.

Soon High Fidelity users can bring their virtual goods to Janus, along with ownership rights — the precursor to avatars and property moving effortlessly from world to world.

Janus is also developing a Blockchain Explorer that will allow people to view and render their assets, regardless of which service they used to buy them. You’ll no longer have some of your stuff on one platform, some of it on another. It’s just your stuff, everywhere you go.

High Fidelity Coin (HFC) is our cryptocurrency for peer-to-peer transactions and purchases on the High Fidelity Marketplace. Janus will soon support HFC in its digital wallet, meaning anyone will be able to purchase Janus content using HFC. We’re creating a kind of ‘HFC free-trade zone’ between all the virtual worlds on both platforms.

JanusVR, a decentralized service which re-imagines webpages as collaborative three-dimensional webspaces interconnected by portals, also had a statement on their website of this new alliance. It states:

Fundamentally, Janus builds a universe of virtual worlds from the decentralized platform of the web itself. The use of blockchain technology is the next logical step, as it provides a meaningful solution to an important problem: portability of identity between virtual worlds. Such portability enables many new capabilities, for example: avatars that provide a consistent appearance between worlds, or enabling transactions with cryptocurrencies or any other kind of digital asset, with transactions occurring in-world or even between-world. All of this data will exist within a decentralized, public, secure network that will itself allow open exploration and visualization (something we are very enthusiastic about working on).

Of course, there’s still a bit of skepticism in some quarters about how well blockchain technology will stand up in actual virtual world use. It’s a fascinating debate, well worth following. Philip Rosedale is obviously a big believer in the blockchain. Maybe his bet will pay off.

And maybe—just maybe—the day of the Universal Avatar isn’t as far away as it once appeared to be…