Today, I began preparing for the removal of my Oculus Rift VR headset by uninstalling all my apps in Oculus Home. (Fortunately, I didn’t spend a lot of money on games and apps in the Oculus Store over the past four years. My interest lies more with social VR platforms, which tend to be free to install, as opposed to VR games.)
I won’t actually remove the hardware until tomorrow, after which I will uninstall the Oculus software from my personal computer. Hopefully, by this time tomorrow, I will have broken that shiny multi-coloured seal on the large black box containing my brand new Valve Index VR kit, and gotten it all set up and working properly.
As part of my housecleaning today, I also recharged and updated my Oculus Quest (the original version 1, not the Quest 2). I put it on, fully intending to uninstall all the apps I had installed on it, and prepare it for shipping to my sister-in-law in Alberta…
…and damn if the Oculus Quest technology didn’t seduce me again, a full eight months after I had last picked it up! (The space in my bedroom which I had cleared for it is currently piled high with pandemic preps.) I found myself installing and testing out the controller-free option, where the Quest just tracks your hands in space, and I found that it was great fun! Which led to me playing with a few of the installed apps…and, well, a few hours later, there I was, back in love with the magic of it all. Say what you will about Facebook, but this is a awesome little device!
Which brings me to the following uncomfortable truth: while it will be relatively easy to replace my well-worn, much-loved Oculus Rift with the Valve Index, it will not be so easy to replace my wireless Oculus Quest VR headset—at least, not anytime soon. Perhaps, in a year or two, the marketplace will throw up a competitor or two, but for now, the Quest and Quest 2 are simply in a league of their own.
And that uncomfortable truth leads to an equally uncomfortable decision: do I, on point of principle, continue with my avowed, personal boycott of all things Facebook and Oculus, and give up my Quest? Or do I hold on to it until a non-Facebook alternative comes along, knowing that all the while, I am having my personal data while using the device harvested, strip-mined, and sold to the highest bidder by Mark Zuckerberg and company? It is an ethical dilemma.
I do have a two-year window in which I will not be forced to set up an account on the Facebook social network in order to use my Oculus Quest (an option which the people who purchased Quest 2 VR headsets this year do not have). And I also know that a lot can happen in two years…
But it looks as though (for now), my sister-in-law will not be receiving my Oculus Quest, just yet.
Today, I put my money where my mouth is. I went and placed an online order for the complete Valve Index VR Kit. I am told that it will take eight or more weeks to get to me, because of coronavirus-related delays in production. That’s fine. I can wait. And I’m not going anywhere.
I will be boycotting Facebook hardware and software from this point forward. It’s time for me to kick the Facebook habit, once and for all.
Well, after waiting almost three months (due to manufacturing and shipping delays caused by the pandemic), I was able to confirm the purchase of the Valve Index Kit on my credit card today, and now the shipping process begins! I am so excited!
This is not going to be cheap. The total cost, including import fees, comes to CDN$1,477 (which, according to today’s exchange rates, works out to about US$1,131).
It’s expensive, but I can afford it, and I am leaving Facebook (and Oculus) behind for good. My trusty Oculus Rift has served me well for almost four years now, through many memorable adventures and experiences, and I have certainly gotten my money’s worth from it, but I absolutely refuse to set up a new Facebook account in order to use it. (I won’t sell it, because the headset is so worn; I’ll just box it up and keep it in case anything goes wrong with the Valve Index.)
As for my original version Oculus Quest, I must confess that I haven’t touched it in at least eight months. The empty space I had cleared in my bedroom in order to use it is currently piled high with rice, canned soup and beans, Clorox wipes, toilet paper, face masks, surgical gloves, and various other pandemic preparations. (I have already decided to donate my Quest to my sister-in-law’s workplace, where she is part of a team of people who work with developmentally challenged adults. They can put it to good use. I still need to Google to find out exactly how best to wipe all my personal account information and purchased apps off my Quest before I mail it to her.)
The good news is that I haven’t spent a lot of money on games on the Oculus Store, for either my Rift or my Quest (most of what I do in VR is social VR, almost all of which is free to download), so I won’t lose much money there. And, of course, any purchases I made on social VR platforms like Sansar is tied to my Sansar account, and not to Facebook/Oculus. From now on, I will be dealing either with Steam, or downloading software directly from the company’s website.
Buh-bye, Facebook/Oculus! Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. I am going to enjoy uninstalling the Oculus software from my personal computer.
I just paid almost $1,500 just to be able to say this: fuck you, Mark Zuckerberg.
And, once my new Valve Index arrives, I have decided to completely redecorate my living room to convert it into a room-scale VR space. This means I have to throw out some furniture, including my ancient, ratty old sofa and busted, cathode-ray-tube TV set (which died on me at the start of the pandemic). I have zero plans to purchase a new television set; I never watch broadcast TV anymore, and I do not miss it. I can get all the video content I need from streaming services like Netflix.
I currently have four large bookshelves in my living room loaded with books I no longer read or want, so I will be taking them to the nearest dumpster (I would have donated them to the Children’s Hospital Book Market, but that event has been cancelled and they are asking people not to drop off books at local fire halls.) As a librarian, I am really rather surprised at just how easily I can part with paper books these days; I used to be a book packrat who scoured used book sales like the Children’s Hospital Book Market. I also practiced a lot of what the Japanese call tsundoku: buying books but never getting around to reading them!
I will be creating a new category on my blog, called Valve Index (this blogpost will be the first one put into that category). Wish me luck as I embark on a new adventure!
This afternoon, I paid a visit to Sansar to attend the virtual version of the Melatopia South Asian festival. I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and listen to some great music. Sansar is still (to my mind) the most beautiful virtual world, with a vibrant marketplace (44,582 items and counting) providing endless avatar customization options (there was even a mini velociraptor avatar running around amidst the crowd at the concert stage!).
But all the while, I had this nagging little voice in the back of my head, asking: Where is everybody?
To the best of my knowledge (and Wookey may correct me if I am mistaken), the Melatopia event never went above a single instance, and there were never more than 45 avatars total present at the festival (and most of the time that I was there, the figure from the Codex was in the low-to-middle thirties). (UPDATE: There was briefly one time in the afternoon where the festival hit a high if 51 avatars, spawning a second instance.)
Even granted that most people would be watching the show via Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, I find that to be a shockingly, abysmally low attendance figure, especially compared to the multitudes that would have attended the real-life version of this festival, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.
Frankly, this blogger has long ago given up trying to chastise Wookey for their puzzling lack of promotion of events on the Sansar platform. There’s only so many times I can write the same editorial: YOU NEED TO PAY FOR PROMOTION. YOU CANNOT EXPECT PEOPLE TO COME TO SANSAR IF YOU DO NOT PROMOTE THE PLATFORM. But my pleas (and those of many other observers) seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Whatever Wookey is doing to promote Sansar, it’s clearly not enough.
But it does raise a bigger question that I have only addressed in passing in earlier editorials discussing and dissecting the demise of the old High Fidelity and the near-death experience and resurrection of Sansar. And that question is: was it a mistake to build social VR platforms that would only run on tethered, high-end virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Valve Index? The collective term I and many other people use when talking about these VR headsets, all of which require a high-end Windows gaming computer with a powerful graphics card to run, is PCVR.
“We’re going to focus on standalone VR headsets moving forward,” the company said in a blog post on Wednesday. “We’ll no longer pursue PC-only hardware, with sales of Rift S ending in 2021.”
The Rift line of headsets required a powerful gaming PC to power virtual reality experiences. The headset connected to the PC with a set of wires, but the latest Oculus Quest headsets are able to replicate this experience with a single detachable USB cable in addition to operating without a dedicated PC.
As such, Facebook isn’t outright killing its PC-driven virtual reality efforts. It will continue supporting higher-end, PC-powered virtual reality on the Quest line of headsets.
“We’ve seen significant growth in PC VR via Oculus Link,” the blog post said, “and the Rift Platform will continue to grow while offering high-end PC VR experiences like ‘Lone Echo II’ and ‘Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond’ well into the future.”
If Facebook is leaving the high-end PCVR market, what does that mean for the future of social VR platforms which either do not run on the Quest, like Sansar, or do not run at their full technical capacity, like VRChat? (I wrote about my earlier experiences running VRChat on my Oculus Quest here. Although I’m sure the situation has improved somewhat since then, the fact remains that you still need PCVR to really experience everything that VRChat has to offer.) Are those platforms that run best (or only) on PCVR doomed?
No. So relax. (Yeah, all right, I admit that was a click-bait blogpost title. Sue me.)
While the market for high-end PCVR might mature more slowly than that of wireless VR headsets (and definitely more slowly than most overconfident observers had originally predicted), eventually it will come. Devices may come and go in popularity, but the overall trend is clear: ever more data being pushed to your headset, creating ever more detailed environments. Eventually, that screen door effect that can sometimes make it difficult to read text in a VR headset will vanish. Visual fidelity will only improve from here on in. Consumers and businesses will demand it, and they will buy it. It’s inevitable.
While we do not yet know what future headsets various tech companies have on their drawing boards, we can be assured that other companies will definitely step into the PCVR market while Facebook is stepping out, and up the VR/AR/XR game (many eyes are watching to see what Apple will do, for example). As I like to say, a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that many people who get their first taste of VR from an Oculus Quest will no doubt graduate to more powerful, tethered devices. (Even Facebook may decide to change their minds at some point in the future, particularly if they should see any potential competitors do well.)
I myself have already placed my order for a Valve Index kit to replace my trusty, four-year-old Oculus Rift, as part of my personal boycott of Facebook/Oculus products and services (more info here). I have heard through the grapevine that they are selling well since Facebook’s decision to force Oculus device users to get Facebook accounts, which is not sitting well with many early VR adopters at all.
And I very much look forward to visiting future virtual festivals in Sansar in my shiny new Valve Index!
Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 460 people participating from every single social VR platform and virtual world! More details here.
I deactivated my Facebook, as I often do. It made my Oculus Quest 100% unusable. Not “hard to use” or “unpleasant to use.” Unusable.
My Oculus Quest didn’t degrade gracefully after I deactivated my Facebook account. Instead, the home app went into an ANR loop. When the Quest came back up after I hard rebooted it, the home app loaded, but blocked me using anything until it could connect to my Facebook account again.
So true and so sad. I can’t believe VR tech (which is getting better) is dominated by one company whose track record clearly suggests they will cause harm to those who would use these devices. What a bad situation.
And I replied:
This is why we need to promote and support open source social VR solutions such as Tivoli Cloud VR and Vircadia (based on your HiFi code). Thank you for your part in building that universe of possibility, Philip.
And it’s true; Philip Rosedale’s decision to make the original High Fidelity social VR platform software code available for other developers to build upon has already led to two separate, distributed open-source successors to HiFi, both of which I have written about before on this blog: Tivoli Cloud VR and Vircadia (which I would strongly encourage you to check out, if you haven’t already done so). I have recently had a guided tour of both platforms, and both look very promising!
And, of course, there are numerous examples of other, non-Facebook social VR platforms which people should explore (NeosVR, Sansar, and Sinespace* are three I highly recommend you try).
Facebook already has too much power and control over the current and future development of social virtual reality, unnecessarily forcing users of its Oculus VR devices to create accounts on its Facebook social network (so that their personal data can be further strip-mined and sold to corporations and campaigns for profit).
We need to actively promote and support metaverse alternatives to the Facebook ecosystem, which do NOT track our every click, like, relationship, glance, and gesture.
*Full disclosure: I am an embedded reporter for Sinespace, writing sponsored blogposts about the people, news and events on that virtual world/social VR platform.