Traveling Between Social VR Platforms: Does VR Market Success Depend Upon a Seamless, Interconnected Metaverse?

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One of the people I follow on Twitter is Ben Lang, who is the co-founder and executive editor of the popular virtual reality news website Road to VR. Yesterday, he posted:

I’m starting to think that VR won’t have its consumer mainstream moment (smartphone levels of adoption) until a comprehensive metaverse emerges that interconnects and makes *all* VR content social to some extent. Stuff like this awesome immersive music video is really freaking cool, but would be 100 times richer if discoverable through something a simple as a ‘VR hyperlink’, as well as easily being able to bring a friend along to experience it. Telling a friend ‘hey there’s this cool new thing, come check it out with me’, and then asking them to download an app and then coordinating a time to get online together to invite each other and then *finally* seeing the thing for 10 mins isn’t tenable for smaller experiences.

The immersive music video he refers to is a new free VR experience on Steam called Sheaf – Together EP, and it’s truly a wonderful, relaxing experience, which I can recommend highly:

Ben is making the point that it shouldn’t be so difficult to share VR experiences such as this with friends. And a seamless, interconnected metaverse would probably give a huge boost to the consumer VR market.

Another Twitter user called Matrixscene responded to Ben, with a link to a two-part report on how a metaverse working group did a field test for traversing disparate virtual worlds to see how they interconnect with each other.

Part 1 of the report gives several examples of links or portals between social VR experiences, for example:

  • Portal links in JanusVR
  • Links in Cryptovoxels to other WebVR sites

Part 2 of the report details a “field trip” the author and several other people undertook to see how well they could navigate between various virtual worlds. The places visited included:

The author, Jin (Madjin) writes:

We were communicating over Discord’s voice chat the entire time. Anarchy Arcade served as the most premium base reality we ventured to on this trip for several main reasons:
– Shortcuts were easy to launch
– Universally compatible
– Optimized heavily in the background

So, as you can see, the first tentative steps in cross-linking virtual worlds have already been taken. However, the work of creating a much more comprehensive and seamless metaverse to benefit VR consumers still faces many significant hurdles—including a patent filed by IBM in 2008 that appears to cover teleporting avatars between disparate virtual worlds.

How soon do you think it will be until we get a truly seamless VR metaverse? Or do you think it will never happen? As always, you are invited to join the ongoing conversations on this and many other topics on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion group!

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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!