Editorial: Are Social VR Platforms Dependent Upon High-End PCVR Doomed?

Today’s Melatopia Festival in Sansar: Less than 45 Avatars Total?

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.

Let’s face facts: both now and for the foreseeable future, the clear VR headset of choice by consumers will be the wireless, standalone Oculus Quest, especially now that Facebook has released the newer, cheaper Oculus Quest 2. And Facebook will stop selling its Oculus Rift S tethered, PCVR headset (the successor to the original Oculus Rift) this coming spring. Business Insider reported:

“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.”

Two years ago, TechCrunch reported on the disagreements within Facebook over the company’s decision to focus on standalone as opposed to high-end, tethered headsets, saying that Brendan Iribe, the co-founder and former CEO of Oculus, was “leaving Facebook  following some internal shake-ups in the company’s virtual reality arm last week that saw the cancellation of the company’s next generation ‘Rift 2’ PC-powered virtual reality headset, which he had been leading development of”.

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!

Herding Cats (Again): Organizing and Categorizing My List of Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

Git along, l’il kitties! Hyah! Hyah!!

I woke up bright and early this morning, showered and shaved, brewed a large pot of black coffee, and immediately set to work on my task for the day: trying to impose some semblance of order on my sprawling list of over 150 different virtual worlds, social VR platforms, and other metaverse products which I have written about on the RyanSchultz.com blog over the past three years. I’ve been putting this task off for too long; it’s time. I mean, I originally said I was going to do this a year ago!

I thought I would start by creating six rough, top-level categories as follows:

  • Virtual Worlds Which Do NOT Support Users in Virtual Reality Headsets (e.g. Active Worlds, Kitely, Second Life)
  • Virtual Worlds/Social VR Which Support Both Virtual Reality Users and Non-VR/Desktop Users (e.g. Sansar, Sinespace, Tivoli Cloud VR)
  • Social Virtual Reality Platforms Which Do NOT Support Desktop/Non-VR Users (e.g. Anyland, Facebook Horizon)
  • Blockchain and Cryptocurrency-Based Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds (e.g. Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Somnium Space)
  • Social Augmented Reality (AR) Platforms Which Support Users in AR Headsets (e.g. Avatar Chat, Spatial, Spatiate). As we are only in the first generation of augmented reality headsets available for purchase by consumers, e.g. the much-hyped but now struggling Magic Leap One and the Microsoft’s HoloLens, there’s obviously not a lot here yet, but give it time (and there are consistent rumours of a future AR headset to be released by Apple, sometime in 2022 or 2023). Please note that I do not consider cellphone-based “AR” (e.g. Pokémon Go) to be true augmented reality.
  • Stuff Which Doesn’t Fit Elsewhere: Miscellaneous Worlds, Platforms, and Products Covered on this Blog (e.g. the new, 2D-with-3D-audio iteration of High Fidelity)

Then, to start, I would simply copy and paste six copies of my original list under each of these six headings, and then go about my work by deleting those items which do not fit under that category, starting with the A’s and working my way through to the end of the list (currently 3DXChat). Speaking of 3DXChat, I have to decide what to do about the very few worlds I have written about that are pretty much exclusively focused on sexual content (although they, too, can sometimes serve a non-sexual, social purpose). I’m not interested in trying to categorize purely adult/sexual worlds, however; I will leave the herding of those particular kitties to others 😉

Some products on my original list, like Avakin Life and IMVU, have literally dozens of similar products, all pitched at the teen/tween market (another category I do not wish to cover on this blog).

I had breezily assumed that this reorganizing task would take me a couple of days at most. After all, I already had the starting list, right? However, it’s been quite some time (in some cases, years) since I last looked at some products and platforms. In quite a few instances, projects have since shut down or have been put on hold (a lot of blockchain/crypto startups fall into this category). So, this probably will take me several weeks of work, instead of several days.

I also have to find some way to integrate my previous attempts at herding cats:

Also, I want to include pointers to other people and organizations on the internet that are trying to do the same sort of work, such as XR Collaboration: A Global Resource Guide (which I first wrote about here), and Niclas Johansson’s report The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Meetings with VR/AR (which I wrote about here and here). Compared to when I started this blog three years ago, there’s now quite a bit of work going on in this area, particularly in corporate applications of social VR! Even YouTube vloggers like Nathie have jumped on board. It’s wonderful to see.

So, I will be beavering away on this, making use of my two-week vacation to get a good head start on the project. I’ll keep you posted!

Herding Cats, Part III: Taking a Third Step Towards Developing a Taxonomy of Metaverse Products by Categorizing Social VR Platforms by Architecture, Game Engine, and Scripting Language

H’yaaah, little kitties! H’yaaahh!!

OK, I have shared a first draft of the following infographic to as many social VR Discords as I could find, and I got a fair bit of feedback, so I’m reasonably certain that this will stay Version 1.0 for a little while longer than my thrice-updated Venn diagram of social VR platforms by purpose (here, and the original blopost is here).

As with the previous infographic, I have set this one to CC BY 2.0 CA. Feel free to reuse and remix this, just give me credit, please.

The following diagram is available to view and download in various sizes from Flickr, up to a whopping 800 by 2000 pixels.

Please note that this is an updated and expanded version of the information from the last three columns of this table (my original blogpost). I really need to update that table too, especially since things are evolving so quickly in the social virtual reality marketplace.

As always, comments and corrections are welcomed. Thanks!

I created this infographic using Canva.com, which happens to be a great tool for this sort of thing.