Is PCVR Dead?

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Does the sales success of the Oculus Quest 2 spell doom for tethered VR hardware and software? (Photo by Remy Gieling on Unsplash)

Cix Liv, a VR developer who has a bit of a reputation as a gadfly in the virtual reality industry, made the following bold claim on Twitter yesterday:

Sorry to my VR friends.

I declare PCVR dead.

Prove me wrong.

PCVR is the umbrella term used to refer to tethered VR headsets, which require a high-end desktop computer with a powerful graphics card to run. Examples of PCVR headsets are the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and my beloved Valve Index. Right now, the standalone Oculus Quest 2 is selling like hotcakes, and Facebook has in fact stopped selling the Oculus Rift headset:

It was only a matter of time, really. Facebook announced in April of this year that it would not be sending more Rift S units to retailers—once they sold out, that was it for the Rift S.

“Rift S is still available for sale currently in some channels around the world, but as we announced last year, we plan to stop selling Rift S in 2021,” Facebook told UploadVR at the time. “Generally speaking, as channels sell out of stock, they won’t be replenished.”

So, while you can probably still get your hands on an Rift via resellers (you can still find units on Amazon, for example), its days are clearly numbered.

Is PCVR indeed dead, as Cix asserts? His tweet raised a lot of comments, among them Kent Bye, a thoughtful VR commentator and podcaster of the Voices of VR podcast:

Kent Bye: There’s still lots of things at the frontiers of digital culture still in PCVR< like film festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Venice and SXSW) happening in the Museum of Other Realities, full-body tracking, LBE [location-based events], live theater in VRChat and NeosVR. It’s an open platform that’ll never really die.

Cix Liv: “Die” is an extreme claim that is lacking nuance. The more expanded nuance would address the specific use cases where it will never die: mocap [motion capture], LBE, emboded docial [platforms] like VRChat. For broad consumer uses, it’s dead [in my opinion).

Kent Bye: I disagree. New communications mediums never fully replace previous mediums. We still have radio, TV, PCs, phones. PCs are ‘open platforms”. Mobile has thermal/power tradeoffs and people will ALWAYS want premium experiences like Half-Life: Alyx, Also, Steam Deck is an open PC.

Thrillseeker actually dropped a 15-minute YouTube video on this very topic today:

The video is engaging and raises lots of good points, but Thrillseeker eventually declares himself for the PCVR-is-not-dead camp, noting that the Oculus Quest 2 can also be used as a PCVR headset. He predicts that PCVR will never die, as Kent did.

Cix Liv eventually got so much blowback that he tweeted:

Please god tell everyone else that in the thread who is lighting me up for saying this.

I am not hating on PC VR because it’s trendy, the numbers so low Devs can’t even make a living now.

The reasons can be debated, but it’s the reality.

Cix argues that the numbers of sales of PCVR hardware and software are now so much lower than standalone VR, that it’s not worth the risk to develop for PCVR. For example, Oculus just announced that Lone Echo 2 would be the last PCVR exclusive that they would be shipping. Steam statistics show that PCVR usage is down. There’s haven’t been any really big PCVR releases in a while, with really nothing to match the hype of Half-Life: Alyx. And PCVR-only social VR platforms have struggled lately, either pivoting to new markets (e.g. Sansar, to live events) or shutting down completely (e.g. the old High Fidelity platform).

So, what do you think? Is PCVR doomed, or it just having a pause? Are standalone VR headsets going to kill tethered VR headsets? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join in the never-ending, freewheeling discussions and debates taking place among the 500+ users on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server. Thanks!

Editorial: Some Facebook Musings on a Lazy Saturday Morning

Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

It’s been ten oh-so-glorious months since I decided to boycott Facebook and trade in my Oculus Rift for a Valve Index, and I continue to celebrate (nay, revel!) my near-complete emancipation from Facebook software and hardware. (I did have one person tell me he would no longer bother reading my blog after my decision… to which I responded Bye, Felicia!)

I have done a factory reset on my Oculus Quest (first edition), and it sits quietly in its box, waiting to be shipped to my sister-in-law in Alberta, where she plans to use it in her work with developmentally-challenged adults. I have completely deleted both my Facebook and Oculus accounts, and I asked Facebook to delete all my personal data. The Facebook app has never graced my relatively new iPhone. I even installed Privacy Badger and uBlock origin to block the setting and sending of tracking cookies to Facebook while I surf the Web! I think I have burned my bridges pretty effectively. (Now, I am not kidding myself, I am quite sure that Facebook has some sort of “shadow account” on me.)

In fact, the only remnant of Facebook left in my life the Oculus Rift I had purchased for my suspended research project, which sits in my office at the University of Manitoba Libraries, untouched as I continue to work from home during the pandemic. (I’m still figuring out what my new academic research project will be!) That VR headset has an Oculus account, and I have a little under two years to decide if I want to get a Facebook account for it when I am forced to do so. I can tell you one thing: if I do, it sure the hell won’t be in my name! I’m quite sure that many institutions of higher education are dealing with the thorny issues of being required to set up Facebook accounts for Oculus hardware. I’m also quite sure that Facebook/Oculus has lost some business because of that requirement!

At the same time, I am glad that the Oculus Quest 2 is selling well. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as I like to say, and greater consumer uptake of VR will only mean good things for the entire VR/AR/XR ecosystem. People whose first taste of virtual reality is in an Oculus Quest will no doubt migrate to other hardware over time (many people are eagerly awaiting to see what Apple will do). I’ll tell you one thing: I trust Apple with my privacy way, waaay more than Facebook! I watch with amusement as the privacy battle between Facebook and Apple continues.

My experience with Facebook has informed the skepticism with which I look at all social media platforms, including the ones I use the most: Twitter and Reddit. I still derive value (and leads for potential blogposts!) from both, and I intend to continue to use them, and I still hang out on the new drop-in social audio apps Clubhouse and Spotify Greenroom (although I suspect that the Clubhouse boom has turned into a bust). However, I will never again use social media without wondering about data and privacy issues. Remember, if it’s “free”. YOU are the product!

I’ve also been watching Facebook take its first tentative steps into introducing advertising in Oculus apps. The BBC reported:

In what the social network described as an experiment, ads will begin to appear in a game called Blaston with other developers rolling out similar ads.

It said it would listen to feedback before launching virtual reality ads more widely.

It also revealed it is testing new ad formats “that are unique to VR”.

In 2014, shortly after Facebook bought Oculus, creator Palmer Luckey told concerned gamers: “We are not going to track you, flash ads at you, or do anything invasive.”

But in a blog on Oculus’s website, the firm said: “We’re exploring new ways for developers to generate revenue – this is a key part of ensuring we’re creating a self-sustaining platform that can support a variety of business models that unlock new types of content and audiences.”

Shortly after this was written, Blaston withdrew from the program after the negative press and review-bombing by unhappy players:

Barely a week has passed since Facebook started testing ads in Oculus apps and already the initiative has run into trouble. On Monday, one of the handful of developers involved in the initial ad experiment said it was pulling out of the test. Resolution Games tweeted that it had decided that in-app ads were not suitable for its multiplayer shooter game Blaston after “listening to player feedback.”

The developer had encouraged its user base to leave their thoughts on an ad feedback channel on its Discord server. As spotted by Upload VR, angry players had also review bombed Blaston on the Oculus Store and Steam shortly after its participation in the ad trial was announced.

Resolution Games’ decision marks a setback for Facebook’s burgeoning ad strategy for Oculus. After squeezing more ads into Instagram and its main platform, the company risked irking passionate gamers by bringing ads to VR. Unlike those other services, Oculus isn’t free: An Oculus Quest 2 headset alone starts from $299. While Blaston is also a paid game. 

I have been informed that, in fact, Facebook sells the Oculus Quest at a loss, hoping to earn back that money through software sales for the platform (which makes sense). In a discussion with Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye (whom I admire greatly), I mentioned that I didn’t feel the need to subscribe to VRChat Plus, and he challenged me to consider the alternative: paid advertising in VRChat. I can tell you that the very thought made me shudder, and I changed my mind in a hurry, happily shelling out for a VRChat Plus subscription. And apparently, they are selling well:

Our community has shown their support by buying our optional subscription, VRChat Plus, which unlocks some enhancements and perks. VRC+ has been greatly successful, and has been instrumental in helping us expand via features like Regions. We plan on expanding VRC+ by enabling purchases on the Oculus platform, as well as allowing players to gift subscriptions to each other. We are so grateful to our community for their support!

I also find myself wondering about Facebook’s latest attempt at a social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, which many people expected to be launched by now, and which seems to be stuck in closed beta testing. I don’t regret not participating in Horizon by boycotting Facebook, not for one instant, but I do find the delay in launch perplexing. I have heard second-hand accounts that, while the in-world building tools are nice, there’s not a lot to do, and user moderation has been a problem area, despite Facebook’s surveillance attempts, which I mention in this blogpost. The longer it takes for Facebook to roll out Horizon, the more people wonder what’s really going on.

It just seems that Facebook can’t put a foot right these days. Even worse, the company itself doesn’t seem to know exactly what it is nowadays, as it lurches from market to market in an attempt to remain dominant. Shira Ovide of The New York Times wrote recently in an On Tech newsletter editorial:

This question might sound silly, but I’m serious: What is Facebook?

Did you know that Facebook has a dating service, online job listings, a version of Craigslist, a new collection of podcasts and live audio chat rooms, multiple copycats of Zoom, a section just for college students, two different spots for “TV” shows, a feature like TikTok (but bad) and software that office workers can use to communicate? On Tuesday, the company also outlined new developments in its efforts to get more businesses to sell merchandise directly inside Facebook and the company’s other apps.

If you knew that Facebook was doing all of this … gold star, I guess. You spend way too much time on the internet.

…The company’s constant tinkering raises the question: Is Facebook trying so hard because it’s excited about what’s next, or perhaps because, like its peers, it is no longer so adept at predicting and then leading digital revolutions?

(The entire On Tech column is well worth a read, by the way.)

Anyway, these are just some assorted musings about Facebook this lazy Saturday morning. As always, I’d love to hear your comments and perspectives! Feel free to join the burgeoning RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where well over 500 of us like-minded social VR/virtual world enthusiasts gather to discuss, debate, and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it! Or just leave a comment on this blogpost, thanks!

UPDATED! Big Tech Bans Donald Trump (And Kent Bye Sounds a Warning)

I must confess that I haven’t been very active in social VR and virtual worlds this week, glued as I have been to the news media, Twitter, and Reddit, since Wednesday’s U.S. Capitol riot.

In the past 48 hours, many Big Tech companies have acted to ban or impose restrictions on Donald Trump’s accounts (a step which should have been taken long ago, in my opinion). In a deliciously ironic twist, even TikTok (a platform which Trump threatened to ban) has banned the soon-to-be-ex-president!

Notably, Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account, cutting him off from his millions of Twitter followers at the push of a button. When Trump tried to evade that by tweeting from other accounts, those were also quickly suspended.

My measured response to Trump’s comeuppance late Friday evening is best summarized by this five-second TikTok video someone tweeted:

Buh-bye, Donald Trump! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

UPDATE 9:26 p.m.: The New York Times is reporting that three Big Tech companies have acted to take down a platform where many speculated Donald Trump would land up after being evicted from Twitter, the right-wing social media app Parler (original version of the NYT article; archived version). Yesterday, Google removed the Parler app from its Google Play store, and today Apple followed suit, removing Parler from the Apple app store. Apple’s and Google’s actions mean that users would have no way to install or update the Parler app on their mobile devices (although Android device users could theoretically still sideload the app). And later today, Amazon, bowing to pressure from its employees, decided to remove Parler from its web-hosting service, effectively crippling a service which had relied on Amazon Web Services to operate. It looks as though Parler is doomed; even more reason to rejoice!

However, Kent Bye sounds a cautionary note in this must-read thread of tweets, saying:

Centralized Big Tech platforms have been the defacto police of dangerous speech and harassment. They’ve historically done a terrible job reining it in (ask any woman, LGBTQ, BIPOC, etc). But it’s also a cultural issue not solvable via purely technological, deterministic means.

As soon as anti-democratic populists move to completely decentralized networks and encrypted, peer-to-peer communication networks, there isn’t going to be any technological deterministic “ban hammer” method of mitigating dangerous speech, aside from banning underlying peer-to-peer tech.

Again, I’d strongly urge you to read through his entire Twitter thread of reasoning. Kent argues that we are only seeing “the beginning of a new cycle of violence, and not the end”.

The Virtual Market 5 Shopping Event in VRChat Runs from December 19th, 2020 to January 10th, 2021

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Virtual Market 5 starts today, and runs until January 10th, 2021, and the phenomenally popular avatar and avatar accessories shopping event is bigger and better than ever, leaping from strength to strength with each iteration! (I blogged about my previous excursions to Virtual Market 2, 3, and 4 here.)

I am seriously impressed by all the companies exhibiting at Virtual Market 5, including some big real-world name brands! Other social VR platforms would absolutely kill for this kind of corporate attention!

While VRChat is still working towards an in-world economy and currency, with a marketplace for user-generated content, the sales transactions at Virtual Market still take place outside of VRChat (usually via external websites).

Here’s a sneak peek at the worlds created for Virtual Market 5:

VRChat vlogger Shanie MyrsTear has created the following ten-minute overview video introduction to Virtual Market 5:

I am excitedly looking forward to joining Jin and his friends as he conducts several guided group tours of Virtual Market 5! Kent Bye of the Voice of VR podcast has already tweeted a thread of his personal highlights and recommendations of what to see and do, and episode #968 of his long-running podcast features an interview with the team behind the Virtual Market events.

Here’s the official Virtual Market 5 website. See you there!