UPDATED: AltspaceVR Support for the Valve Index VR Headset

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The Valve Index

In a disappointing piece of news, it appears that the popular Microsoft-owned social VR platform AltspaceVR has dropped support for the Valve Index virtual reality headset (which is, of course, the one I currently use at home). All mention of the Valve Index has been removed from the documentation on its website:

A year ago, the Road to VR tech website reported that the Valve Index was the second most-used VR headset on Steam, and even as recently as last June, demand for the product has remained strong. So it is a bit of a puzzle as to why AltspaceVR would decide to stop supporting the still-popular Valve Index.

One person on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server reports:

It worked a year ago, but now when I try to start up the app using the Index, the login screen is skewed and distorted and appears on the bottom right of my field-of-view. Totally unusable now. So no more AltspaceVR for me.

Another noted, “It’s not even on the website anymore, I wonder why they keep it as supported on Steam, it confuses users.”

The Steam page for AltspaceVR still lists the Valve Index as supported

There has been some speculation that, with the recent announcement that Microsoft is working with Meta to integrate Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams with Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms, Microsoft might be preparing to shutter AltspaceVR. I do find this a little hard to believe, since it is still a popular social VR platform, supporting dozens of meetups and events. I guess we’ll see.

UPDATE Oct. 13th, 2022: BenG tells me:

Just saw the new blog post, the Valve Index was never listed as a supported headset anywhere except for the Steam page and that was only because it was automatically added to all SteamVR games when the Index launched. I’ve been asking for Index support ever since I got mine in 2019, but I was always ignored. So they didn’t drop support for it, they never supported it in the first place. It somewhat worked, but the controllers were seen as Vive wands, so it wasn’t great. I had a much better experience using Revive to get into AltspaceVR, since the Index controllers match up with the Oculus controllers.

Thanks for the clarification, Ben!


Thank you to passTheKetchup and CGVR on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server for the heads-up on this news!

UPDATED! EDITORIAL: Minecraft Bans NFT Servers and In-Game Items, Catching NFT Worlds Off Guard

In the wake of the ongoing cryptocrash, and the falling dominoes of crypto firms, I have been spending a bit of time lately learning more about the blockchain space, hanging out in various Reddit communities where such matters are discussed. As I commented on one post:

Crypto culture is kinda fascinating in a train wreck kind of way.

Yesterday, Mojang Studios (the makers of the phenomenally successful voxel-based building game/metaverse Minecraft, which is owned by Microsoft), posted the following announcement on their official blog:

Hello everyone! Recently, we’ve received some feedback from members of the community asking for clarification and transparency regarding Mojang Studios and Minecraft’s position on NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and blockchain. 

While we are in the process of updating our Minecraft Usage Guidelines to offer more precise guidance on new technologies, we wanted to take the opportunity to share our view that integrations of NFTs with Minecraft are generally not something we will support or allow.

This news appears to have come as a most unwelcome surprise to the blockchain gaming company NFT Worlds, which posted the following message to their Discord announcements channel* and to Twitter:

First and foremost – this out-of-nowhere announcement by Microsoft/Minecraft to outright ban all possible uses of NFTs & blockchain tech within Minecraft feels like a step backwards in innovation, and may even have painful downstream effects for them in the long run—we’ll see how that plays out.

Regardless, we’re working through this internally and have all hands on deck brainstorming solutions around the Minecraft EULA changes, as well as outright pivots for the NFT Worlds ecosystem and team if necessary.

Our order of operations in figuring this out is as follows.

We’re working to get in contact with the right decision makers within the Minecraft policy enforcement team as well as the general Minecraft studio to understand the details of this policy change, what the true internal motivators may have been, and how if at all we can find an alternative outcome that’s beneficial to the Minecraft player base as well as Microsoft’s vested interest in Blockchain / NFT technology and GameFi.

In the event after the above conversations we come to the conclusion we can continue to operate, the show goes on as it’s been.

However, if we’re truly banned because of the risk of C&D/DMCA/Lawsuit by Minecraft/Microsoft from innovating on top of the Minecraft ecosystem, we move forward, we pivot.

The first option from here is we transition into our own Minecraft-like game engine & games platform. There’s been dozens of minecraft-like game engines developed over the last decade by various 3rd party teams – These were people wanting to innovate beyond the idea of Minecraft and add their own spin on it. This option means acquiring one of these engines & development teams to join us, and developing on top of it to bring the same vision for NFT Worlds to fruition but with Minecraft & Microsoft entirely out of the picture with no ability to stop us.

The second option is a pivot to a GameFi platform as a service for any game developer or games studio to effortlessly implement the same proven, patent pending, friction removing tech for GameFi we’ve developed over the last year and have intentionally generalized the last 9 months in the event we decided to or needed to branch out into a GameFi platform. All the systems that we’ve already built would be extremely quick and easy for us to pivot to an implementation for anyone to use. The other interesting piece here is as soon as the Minecraft news was announced, we’ve had multiple other metaverse / gamefi projects immediately reaching out to us wanting to use this tech we’ve already proven, strongly kickstarting possible adoption of such a platform. If we go this route, existing NFT Worlds, $WRLD and Genesis Avatar holders would have an equivalent stake via token and/or NFT(s) related to this platform based on their NFT Worlds related holdings once launched.

Like always, we’d love to hear our community’s opinion on everything presented above.

Bottom line, we’re not leaving. We have the community, we have the war chest, and we know we can build.

Here’s more details on that “war chest” they’re talking about (this article is dated February 24th, 2022, well before the crypto crash):

Clearly, people are into it — NFT Worlds has already generated $90 million in trading [on Opensea], even though it gave the 10,000 worlds away for free and only makes money from “royalties and secondary sales.” Worlds are currently going for a minimum of $45,000.

Yes, that’s right—NFT Worlds created 10,000 “fully decentralized, fully customizable, community-driven, play-to-earn” Minecraft worlds, which people have been buying and selling on the NFT marketplace Opensea. Gee, I wonder what those US$45,000-apiece worlds are worth right now, because without Minecraft’s cooperation, they’re pretty much worthless.

Needless to say, over on the blockchain/crypto/NFT snark subReddit community called r/Buttcoin†, people are having an absolute field day discussing this! Honestly, you need to go over there and read through the discussion, it’s quite entertaining. One commenter, after reading NFT Worlds’ announcement above, summarized it hilariously:

TL;DR: We want Microsoft to know they are wrong, and we are innovators. If they don’t allow the project, we will make our own, better Minecraft with blackjack and hookers.

Another Redditor responded:

Wow, imagine running a business totally dependent on someone else, yet being caught unaware on major business decision of this entity on whom you completely dependent upon.

Sounds like just the way people in crypto do business…with zero awareness of whats going on around them.

Seriously…how on earth do you build a company whose business model goes out the window with a single decision by the corporation who RUNS THE PLATFORM THEY’RE DEPENDENT UPON?!?? This is a prime example of a harebrained, half-baked cryptoscheme that somebody hatched up and was able to earn a tidy profit from, selling highly volatile, speculative blockchain-based assets to ignorant customers, who perhaps thought that they would be able to sell them for a profit to the next fool who comes along. It’s maddening.

Minecraft goes on to explain its decision:

In our Minecraft Usage Guidelines, we outline how a server owner can charge for access, and that all players should have access to the same functionality. We have these rules to ensure that Minecraft remains a community where everyone has access to the same content. NFTs, however, can create models of scarcity and exclusion that conflict with our Guidelines and the spirit of Minecraft.

To ensure that Minecraft players have a safe and inclusive experience, blockchain technologies are not permitted to be integrated inside our client and server applications, nor may Minecraft in-game content such as worlds, skins, persona items, or other mods, be utilized by blockchain technology to create a scarce digital asset. Our reasons follow.

Some companies have recently launched NFT implementations that are associated with Minecraft world files and skin packs. Other examples of how NFTs and blockchain could be utilized with Minecraft include creating Minecraft collectible NFTs, allowing players to earn NFTs through activities performed on a server, or earning Minecraft NFT rewards for activities outside the game. 

Each of these uses of NFTs and other blockchain technologies creates digital ownership based on scarcity and exclusion, which does not align with Minecraft values of creative inclusion and playing together. NFTs are not inclusive of all our community and create a scenario of the haves and the have-nots. The speculative pricing and investment mentality around NFTs takes the focus away from playing the game and encourages profiteering, which we think is inconsistent with the long-term joy and success of our players.

Amen. 100%! CRYPTO ADDS NOTHING TO MINECRAFT! (I can’t believe I am cheering for Microsoft here…)

It is honestly refreshing to see yet another major corporation draw a line in the sand, and explain so clearly why they are drawing that line! Minecraft is a game, and games are supposed to be fun, people. (By the way, it would appear that Axie Infinity and all the other “play-to-earn” NFT games are bleeding users during this cryptocrash, as they can no longer earn enough to make it profitable. And it’s not just play-to-earm, it’s all the X-to-earn NFT schemes, like the NFT-based running app StepN, whose payouts to users have cratered in just two months.)

As I have editorialized before, a harsh, long, bitter crypto winter is going to shake out a lot of sketchy companies with poorly-thought-out plans, like NFT Worlds.

I suspect that NFT Worlds is going to go through a rough patch…

*To see this message, you will have to join the NFT Worlds Discord, which requires you to jump through a few hoops to verify that you’re a human being. I joined just to get a copy of the announcement, but I might stick around as a lurker, just to see how the company and its users attempt to spin this disaster 😉

†Seriously, if you haven’t checked out r/Buttcoin yet, please do so, along with Molly White excellent website, Web3 Is Going Just Great (the title is meant to be sarcastic), which outlines the latest crises, hoaxes, scams, and fiascoes in the blockchain space, keeping a running total of money lost to date in a ticker in the bottom right-hand corner.

UPDATE July 27th, 2022: Ars Technica has an update on the saga here. Apparently, the NFT Worlds token’s value has plummeted over 60 percent in a week following Mojang’s announcement.

Ignite 2021: Microsoft Is Adding Avatars to Microsoft Teams

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Hard on the heels of Facebook (now Meta) and their Connect 2021 event comes today’s Microsoft Ignite 2021, where Microsoft shows off some of the technology they’re working on. And, of course, give their own spin on the metaverse!

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella presents the company’s metaverse solutions

Here’s a seven-minute clip from Ignite of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talking about his vision for the metaverse:

Tom Warren of tech news website The Verge reports:

Microsoft is entering the race to build a metaverse inside Teams, just days after Facebook rebranded to Meta in a push to build virtual spaces for both consumers and businesses. Microsoft is bringing Mesh, a collaborative platform for virtual experiences, directly into Microsoft Teams next year. It’s part of a big effort to combine the company’s mixed reality and HoloLens work with meetings and video calls that anyone can participate in thanks to animated avatars.

With today’s announcement, Microsoft and Meta seem to be on a collision course to compete heavily in the metaverse, particularly for the future of work.

An example of a 3D avatar within Microsoft Teams (image source: Microsoft, from TheVerge)

And—if you’re having a bad hair day—hey, no worries!

Microsoft Teams will get new 3D avatars in a push toward a metaverse environment, and you won’t need to put a VR headset on to use them. These avatars can literally represent you both in 2D and 3D meetings, so you can choose to have an animated version of yourself if you’re not feeling like turning your webcam on.

Bloomberg reports that this new feature will be released next year:

If you’re worried the metaverse will be all fun and games, fear not: Microsoft Corp. is taking its own stab at the idea, and it will have PowerPoint and Excel.

The company is adapting its signature software products to create a more corporate version of the metaverse — a concept promoted by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg that promises to let users live, work and play within interconnected virtual worlds.

The first offering, a version of Microsoft’s Teams chat and conferencing program that features digital avatars, is in testing now and will be available in the first half of 2022. Customers will be able to share Office files and features, like PowerPoint decks, in the virtual world.

It would appear Microsoft’s avatars (like those in Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms) will lack legs (image source: Microsoft, via Bloomberg)

Of course, most people already know that Microsoft acquired the social VR platform AltspaceVR in 2017 (which, by the way, is still absolutely killing it with live events programming!). Altspace is being used for a variety of purposes, including higher education (for example, teaching a psychology course at Mount Royal University).

AltspaceVR (image source: VRFocus)

It looks like we will see more integration between established business software such as Microsoft Teams with concepts from the metaverse, including avatars, over the next twelve months. The era of avatarism appears to be in full swing!


Thanks to Rainwolf for the heads up!

UPDATED! The Launch of Microsoft Mesh at the Microsoft Ignite Event: Lots of Sizzle, But Little Evidence of Steak

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On Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021, I put on my shiny new Valve Index VR headset and went to the Microsoft Ignite event, which I attended in a virtual auditorium on the social VR platform AltspaceVR (which, of course, is owned by Microsoft).

There was the usual enthusiastic corporate keynote by Microsoft Satya Nadella, with special guests such as film director James Cameron. Almost everybody was sporting a Microsoft HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset.

Here are a few pictures I took at the event:

The purpose of the event was to promote something called Microsoft Mesh. What is Microsoft Mesh? Good question. Engadget writer D. Hardawar attempts a concise explanation:

…Microsoft Mesh, the company’s ambitious new attempt at unifying holographic virtual collaboration across multiple devices, be they VR headsets, AR (like HoloLens), laptops or smartphones. Powered by Microsoft’s Azure cloud, Mesh isn’t just an app, it’s a platform that other developers can use to bring remote collaboration to their own software. If remote work is here to stay — and by most accounts, it is — Microsoft wants to be the company taking us beyond Zoom video chats, and towards holographic experiences that everyone can join.

“Not only are we going to be able to share holograms, but we’ll be able to do so in a way that gives us agency and presence,” Sullivan said during our virtual meeting. “We can create these experiences, where even though we’re physically separated, it feels like we’re in the same room, sharing in an experience and collaborating on a project.”

Here’s the requisite slick two-minute promotional video (played to the audience in AltspaceVR during the Microsoft Ignite event) which tries to impart what Microsoft Mesh is all about:

The Ignite event finale was a showstopper, promoting a still-in-development joint venture with Canada’s Cirque du Soleil called Hanai World, which featured not one, but FOUR people captured in volumetric video gathered around a magical campfire, 360-degree video of dancers and jugglers and other Cirque du Soleil performers, and AltspaceVR spectators (like me!) who were able to wander around and experience the space in 3D:

Afterward, there was a mix-and-mingle event which was attended by hundreds of AltspaceVR avatars (no bots, from what I could tell). It was the first time in almost a full year of pandemic lockdown that I truly felt that I was part of a crowd, and it reminded me of the big, splashy events that the old High Fidelity social VR platform used to hold, before they shut down. (*sigh* I still miss the old High Fidelity.)

The Microsoft Ignite mix-and-mingle afterparty in AltspaceVR (which was my first taste of being among a crowd of people in almost a whole year!)

Overall, it was a slick, very polished presentation, and I came away from it with a favourable impression. Other observers were less impressed with the show. Lucas Rizzotto sternly took Microsoft to task when he tweeted:

Microsoft Mesh’s announcement trailer is a highly misleading CG [Computer Generated] concept video that isn’t representative of what launched whatsoever. I love the HoloLens, but we really need to stop with these CG trailers. It’s setting false expectations & confusing EVERYONE.

Lucas continued:

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with “vision CG trailers”. Those can help audiences envision the future & they have a place in a marketer’s toolbelt. But this trailer was tied to an actual software release & that crosses a line. It’s advertising something that doesn’t exist.

I tried the app and was surprised to find something no different than Magic Leap’s Avatar Chat or Facebook Spaces. And honestly, that would have been fine to announce. They could have even done the CG bit later as a “Mesh in 5 years” segment. But they chose to mislead. Why?

Fabien Benetou linked to Lucas’s thread of tweets, saying:

I still didn’t have time check it BUT when I saw the hype and seeing some behind the scene professionally staffed green screen setup I did warn collaborators to NOT get excited before I can see what it actually is, not what it claims to be. Mind the marketing gap!

In my case, that initial “WOW!” first impression has not aged very well as I thought back about what I had seen. There was certainly lots of sizzle, but little evidence of actual steak: currently-available, deliverable VR/AR/XR/MR consumer product.

UPDATED March 6th, 2021: Charlie Fink alerted me to this technical overview of Microsoft Mesh, which you might find of interest (thanks, Charlie!).