I will be taking some research days (mostly, successive Mondays) from my regular job as a university librarian to devote to these projects. It will likely take me the rest of this winter and probably well into spring to do this work. Thank you for your patience as I head out to herd cats!
This is worth negative ten billion dollars. I would pay ten billion dollars to never use this again. I wanted to have hope that we could do this, and it would be fun, but I mean, you guys agree that this one of the most buggy software experiences, ever.
—Alex Heath, The Verge (transcribed audio excerpt from the video below)
I’m still percolating, alas, but I did want to share with my readers a couple of YouTube videos which caught my attention.
The first, a 15-minute editorial video by The Verge‘s Adi Robertson, discusses Meta’s new Quest Pro VR headset and its Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms social VR experiences. She and her colleagues did not hold back in their criticisms of both, particularly the Horizon platforms (the quote at the top of this blogpost comes from another writer for The Verge, as a group was kicking the tires on Horizon Workrooms).
The Verge staff make it very clear that they are less than impressed with what is on offer from Meta, and that they do not believe that remote workteams will be using either the Quest Pro or Horizon Workrooms, over a Zoom call.
The popular virtual reality YouTuber ThrillSeeker goes even further in the following 15-minute video, which has already racked up over 400,000 views:
In it, he takes Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Meta to task for dropping the ball with their virtual reality hardware and software strategy to date:
How in the hell did it go so wrong that Meta and Horizon have become the laughingstock of hundreds of videos and publications, and that Quests, for the most part, are just sitting on shelves collecting dust?
Meta, I understand that you are a massive corporation…and that running a business like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus is probably incredibly difficult.
But you have somehow managed to turn one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life, into one of the lamest jokes in tech.
Among many other criticisms, he accuses Meta (rightfully) of focusing on wireless VR headsets to the exclusion of high-end PCVR (that is, headsets like his and my beloved Valve Index, which require a good desktop computer with a powerful graphics card, and can run a lot of applications which wireless headsets would struggle with.
What I find so fascinating about both these videos is that they are emblematic of a rising tide of antipathy against Meta, as it tries to repivot to become a metaverse company, sinking tens of billions of dollars a year into a VR/AR strategy that might take a decade or longer before it goes truly mainstream (that is, beyond the early adopters and the hardcore gamers). Both videos mention the recent massive layoffs at Meta, a further sign that all is not well with the company as it struggles to find the next big thing after social networking.
Mark Zuckerberg is placing a very expensive bet on virtual and augmented reality and the metaverse, but will that big bet pay off, and when? Stay tuned.
In a five-minute YouTube video which dropped today, Amy Jo Kim speaks with Linden Lab’s founding CEO, Philip Rosedale, about a stable digital currency that powers a vibrant metaverse economy—and has kept it running for almost two decades! Of course, I am talking about the Linden dollar.
As I often like to say on this blog, Second Life is the perfect mature, fully-evolved model of a working metaverse which newer entrants to the space would benefit from studying! And whether or not you are already familiar with Second Life, Philip is always a good interview: insightful, personable, understandable, and articulate. Highly recommended!
In related news, were you aware that Linden Lab’s financial subsidiary, Tilia, has recently secured a strategic investment (amount unnamed) from J.P. Morgan Payments? According to the official press release:
Tilia LLC, the all-in-one payments platform, today announced it has secured a strategic investment from J.P. Morgan Payments. Tilia’s solution, built for game, virtual world and mobile application developers handles payment processing, in-game transactions, as well as payouts to creators by converting in-world tokens to fiat currency including USD, which serves as the backbone of any functioning virtual economy. Drew Soinski, Senior Payments Executive, Managing Director, J.P. Morgan Payments said “We believe that contextualized commerce – such as virtual economies within games and virtual worlds – is an area perfectly positioned for innovative payments solutions to play a critical role in the coming years. We’re delighted to invest in Tilia LLC, a market leading provider of software gaming payments tools, to develop solutions for these new and exciting marketplaces.”
Tilia’s virtual payment system easily and securely converts in-game tokens and currency into fiat currency. Built from the ground up to power Second Life and its creator-based economy, Tilia was developed over several years to build its unique capabilities. Tilia has secured the required money transmitter licenses in the U.S. to support payouts, allowing for secure transactions on a large scale. Tilia provides developers with the tools to enable thriving, profitable in-world economies that empower their players and users to buy and sell virtual goods and services and facilitate robust play-to-earn programs.
“Virtual economies represent a huge financial opportunity particularly for game, app and virtual world developers,” said Brad Oberwager, Executive Chairman of Tilia LLC. “J.P. Morgan Payments, a worldwide leader and recognized innovator in payments, is the right partner as we continue to expand capabilities in line with these rapidly growing creator-based economies”.
Tilia has been running Second Life’s $650 million dollar economy for the past seven years. Financing for the new company is coming from their strategic partner, JP Morgan. “It’s very important virtual worlds have the instantaneous settlement Tilia provides,” said Brad Oberwager, Executive Chairman of Tilia, and acting CEO of Linden Lab. “We can handle very high transaction volume at very low dollar amount that even with USDC, the systems aren’t built for that kind of stuff. We move one 250th of a dollar sometimes.”
In addition to the investment, Tilia is also working with J.P. Morgan Payments to increase payout methods and expand the number of pay-out currencies. Perhaps most importantly, partnering with the world’s largest bank will enable Tilia to scale to the potential size of the putative metaverse.
Oberwager sees his company as crucial for the metaverse.
“Tilia is money into the metaverse. It’s money moved into the metaverse and money moved out of the metaverse,” said Oberwager. “And why this is so important is because you cannot have this concept of the metaverse without a social economy. It is both the social aspect and the financial aspect. Those two things must work in harmony. To do money, you need some virtual token to make money work.”
He added, “Money has to be rock solid. That is JP Morgan. That’s the partnership. What’s the value of Tilia? You can’t build a metaverse without user-generated content. You can’t build a metaverse without social interaction. You can’t build a metaverse without some sort of financial token that allows people to build a world.”
The company will use the funds to expand its business and go into new markets.
“We are moving money in the metaverse,” Oberwager said. “It’s a real thing. that’s where the investment is going. We have a customer list and people are coming to us.”
Tilia fuels commerce in Second Life, which generated $86 million in payments in the past 12 months. The Second Life economy is still measured at $650 million nearly 20 years after its founding. Tilia has about 48 employees.
Oberwager said the deal took about a year to work out with J.P. Morgan Payments. During that time, Tilia made sure it could be interoperable with J.P. Morgan.
Finance giants like J.P. Morgan make strategic investments like this on the expectation they’ll be accessing a larger market down the road, i.e. burgeoning metaverse platforms with less experience than Linden Lab handling international payments/virtual currency.
I agree with Wagner; I’m pretty sure that this partnership will lead to more metaverse platforms using Tilia to implement their in-world economies! (By the way, this news has absolutely zero impact on Second Life. Everything stays the same.)
We’re in a metaverse déjà vu moment. Companies are spending billions of dollars creating new metaverses, imagining a 3D virtual future. But there’s a metaverse that’s already been around for decades. In this world, people have started businesses, built homes and fallen in love as avatars.
In a new four-part series from The Journal, producer Annie Minoff heads back into that largely forgotten metaverse – Second Life – to tell the story of the metaverse we already have and what it can reveal about the one that’s coming.
Start listening to How to Build a Metaverse on Friday, September 23rd.
UPDATE Sept. 27th, 2022: I listened to the first instalment of this podcast on Sunday, and I can recommend it highly! Annie Minoff interviews many different people—including former Linden Lab senior staff like Philip Rosedale and Cory Ondrejka—and it’s clear that she has immersed herself into Second Life and its culture a lot more than most reporters! I look forward to listening to future episodes of this podcast.
UPDATE Oct. 4th, 2022: The second episode has dropped, and can be found here: Avatars Behaving Badly (LOL!). Note that new episodes of this four-part podcast will be available to listen to on Fridays.