I first wrote about MeetinVR back in July of 2018, then promptly forgot about it. The platform falls into the category I jocularly refer to using the acronym YARTVRA, which is short for Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App, that is, any social VR platform primarily intended for business use, to bring together people who may be working remotely into a shared virtual office space.
My spies (and yes, Auntie Ryan has spies everywhere! 😜) tell me that it is now available for the Meta Quest 2 VR headset and for desktop users. According to this document from the MeetinVR Help Center:
• Standalone headsets: Meta Quest, Meta Quest 2, Quest Pro, Pico Neo 2 & Pico Neo 2 Eye, Pico Neo 3 Pro & Pico Neo 3 Pro Eye, Pico Neo 3 Link, Pico 4
Last year, I avidly watched Mark Zuckerberg and other senior Facebook executives at the Facebook Connect 2021 event, as they proudly announced that the company would be rebranding as Meta, and pivoting to go all-in on the metaverse.
This year, I was too busy with my full-time job as a university librarian to watch the Meta Connect 2022 keynotes live, so instead, I read through the tech news media’s coverage of the event. And, to say the least, that coverage was mixed in its assessment of Meta’s new high-end wireless VR headset, the Meta Quest Pro.
Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, covers the VR/AR/MR/XR industry and the metaverse, wrote:
Let’s be honest: Meta Connect was utterly disappointing.
The hardware to be launched at the event had already been totally leaked
We had no unexpected major VR game announced, nor news on GTA or Assassin’s Creed VR
Most pieces of news were already been announced or were not that relevant. Some of them, like the new avatars, were much worse than expected
It was a very lightweight talk about XR, social, the metaverse, and productivity, with almost no interest in giving important information. For instance, many writings were there for such a short time that I could not even take a screenshot: the price of the Quest Pro was on the screen for like 1 second and then disappeared. Some info was absolutely missing, like the specs of the Quest Pro were not specified during the launch. This was total nonsense.
Meta keeps saying VR is the future, but everything it shows us is an inferior rehash of the things we already have. Its event today was, between assurances that everything is great in the Metaverse, a collection of tacit admissions that the best they can hope to do is ape a reality we are all desperately trying to leave behind.
At Meta Connect 2022, the company’s annual developer conference for its VR efforts and Oculus hardware platform, the company announced a lot of stuff — but what it communicated more effectively than anything else was just how incredibly thirsty — one might even say desperate — Mark Zuckerberg is for his metaverse bet to pay off.
Meta just showed off its latest headset, the Meta Quest Pro. While it’s got real-time expression tracking and mixed reality, it’s also going to set you back $1,499. So who’s buying this tech that costs roughly the price of three current-gen consoles? The answer is…working professionals. Mark Zuckerberg wants to replace your dreary work computers with VR headsets…
VR headsets can be clunky, sweaty places, and many people get severe motion sickness in them. Nevertheless, Zuckerberg seems confident corporations will pay top dollar to entrap their workers in them. And maybe they will. VR is currently being used to train surgeons, analyze road scenarios for automobile companies, and design architecture. Maybe I wouldn’t hate myself if I had to write blogs while wearing a plastic headset. Ugh, okay. I can’t do this anymore. I would absolutely hate it. Corporate would have to take my MacBook from my cold dead hands.
All these advantages come with one big cost: the Meta Quest Pro’s battery life sounds very bad. I was told the headset would last between one and two hours on a single charge, then take around two hours to recharge, either on the dock or with a cable. (My demo was held at a series of separate stations with multiple Quest Pros, so I didn’t experience the limits firsthand.) That’s a little more than half the time you’d get with a Quest 2, which lasts two to three hours. The back-mounted battery isn’t easily removable like the Vive Focus 3’s, so you can’t just swap it out and keep going.
This narrows the Quest Pro’s flexibility as an enterprise device. HTC, Magic Leap, and other enterprise companies tend to emphasize how long their products will last — offering either comparatively long-lasting batteries or swappable ones.
I get using Quest for creative and scientific endeavors, such as designing shoes or looking at a virus from all possible angles, but putting on your headset to check your email or make a PowerPoint presentation? Somehow, that just doesn’t sound that exciting.
Avatar legs will be coming first to Meta’s Horizon social VR platform, though it’s unclear exactly when. They’ll be coming to “more and more experiences over time as we improve our technology stack,” Zuckerberg said. During the Connect event, they seemed to move quite naturally, though because it was a prerecorded video, we’re not sure yet how they’ll look in practice.
Meta isn’t just working on legs; it’s planning to add a whole bunch of new avatar-related features. The company is exploring how to make expressive and photorealistic avatars to represent yourself in different situations, for example. You’ll be able to bring avatars to Reels so they can be featured in your videos or to Messenger and WhatsApp for video chats. (They’re coming to Zoom, too.) And Meta is launching an avatar store in VR later this year so you can more easily shop for clothes and specific looks.
But Paul Tasso of Forbes was particularly scathing in his criticism, writing:
When your most significant announcement is the fact that after years and years of investment, you’re on the verge of debuting virtual characters with legs, something has gone wrong.
The entire problem with Mark Zuckerberg’s fascination with the metaverse is that he’s trying to force a sci-fi reality to happen long before the rest of the society wants or needs it to actually exist. His version of an AR/VR-based metaverse remains a niche, not something to focus a trillion dollar company around. And given the trillion dollar company in question, which has spent the last decade rendering Facebook and Instagram close to unusable, this company being trusted with this supposed key part of the future is not something anyone has a lot of faith in.
As they say on RuPaul’s Drag Race, NURSE! Third degree burns over here! (Paul’s not wrong, though.)
But, in addition to the rather underwhelmed response of the major tech news websites, there was something else I noticed. There’s been a shift in attitudes by the general (non-tech) public towards the concept of the metaverse, in the twelve months between Facebook Connect 2021 and Meta Connect 2022. The mood seems to have shifted among some people.
I’m not talking about those people, like me, the early adopters and VR fanatics who have been active and building in various metaverse platforms for years. And I’m not talking about the passionate adherents of the various virtual worlds like Second Life, who were likely around the last time the metaverse was a buzzword. (By the way, The Wall Street Journal’s four-part podcast about Second Life and what it means to today’s metaverse ambitions is one of the best things I’ve listened to in years, and should it be required listening for the employees of any metaverse company seeking to inherit SL’s mantle in the present day—including the beleaguered staff at Meta.)
I am talking about those people who possibly first heard about the metaverse in the splash of publicity which the October 2021 Mark Zuckerberg keynote address at Facebook Connect 2021 ignited. People like the CNBC news correspondent Sam Shepard. Please watch this short news segment where he tries to grasp the concepts; I found it quite illuminating:
In twelve short months, we’ve gone from the general public not really knowing much about the metaverse, to the general public not getting what all this fuss is about, like Sam Shepard.
Even worse, between the ongoing crypto winter and Meta’s many missteps this year, the public is starting to sour on the concept of a metaverse. Most still don’t know a lot about it, but when they see many of the projects to which the term “metaverse” has been attached (like the various now-struggling NFT metaverse projects, and Meta’s attempts to sell Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms), they seem to be developing a distaste for the idea.
I’m sensing a rising tide of antipathy. Many non-technical people, like Sam Shepard, are either scratching their heads, or have already formed a negative opinion. (I’m seeing it arise in places like the cryptosnark community on Reddit, r/Buttcoin, where blockchain metaverse projects like Decentraland are being roundly critiqued, even mocked.)
Many economists are now predicting that 2023 will bring a severe global recession (exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine), and rising inflation sharply affecting the everyday cost of living. People have more important things to worry about—like putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads. They likely will have less disposable income to spend on gadgets like a US$1,500 virtual reality headset.
Last Christmas, the Meta Quest 2 was a hot seller. This year, Meta’s Quest Pro, at four times the price and with half the battery life of the Quest 2, will most certainly not be under very many Christmas trees. It’s just not that exciting a product and (at least until there’s a killer app for it), Meta will just keep trying to sell it to businesses and consumers who aren’t yet convinced that virtual reality—and the metaverse—are all that necessary or compelling in the first place.
Brace yourselves: the next few years might be nasty. And I predict that many projects and companies in this space are going to struggle to get attention, attract users, and gain traction. A few firms might decide to repivot (as Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity has already done), to focus on areas where they can make money. Other companies will simply fold.
But those individuals and companies who can tell a story that ignites people’s imaginations, and come up with compelling use cases for virtual reality and the metaverse, might do very well. Savvy marketing and an unshakeable, clearly articulated vision will be key. Who knows, perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s investments will pay off, in five or ten or twenty years. But it doesn’t look too terribly promising in the short term, does it?
If you visit the Sansar homepage (and you’re not already signed in with your Sansar account), you will see a brand new, revamped homepage for the five-year-old social VR project:
One noticeable change is the “18+” logo prominently displayed, something which I do not remember seeing before. Wasn’t the age limit formerly 13+? I can’t recall, but I was pretty sure that teenagers were allowed onto Sansar, back in the days when naked base humanoid avatars were forbidden (you had to have baked-on underwear, or your avatar would be removed from the Sansar store).
So, it would appear that the new owners of Sansar are going to allow adult content. This would probably give them an advantage, in that few other social VR platforms currently allow adult content. Let me disgress by explaining how Second Life (Sansar’s predecessor in many ways) handles adult content.
BACKGROUNDER: In Second Life, they have a system where a sim (the basic parcel of virtual land) has one of three ratings:
General: “A region designated General is not allowed to advertise or make available content or activity that is sexually explicit, violent, or depicts nudity. Sexually-oriented objects such as “sex beds” or poseballs may not be located or sold in General regions.”
Moderate: “Second Life’s Moderate designation accommodates most of the non-adult activities common in Second Life. Dance clubs, bars, stores and malls, galleries, music venues, beaches, parks, and other spaces for socializing, creating, and learning all support a Moderate designation so long as they do not host publicly promoted adult activities or content and do not use adult search tags.”
Adult: “The Adult designation applies to Second Life regions that host, conduct, or display content that is sexually explicit, intensely violent, or depicts illicit drug use.”
While generally, Second Life is meant for people age 18 and up, in special cases, those age 13-17 can get in. Those 16 and 17 years old are restricted to sims rated General, while those age 13-15 “can access Second Life through an affiliated organization and will be restricted to the private estate of that organization.” Also, for those 13-15, older SL users won’t be able to access these private estates, except for pre-approved adults affiliated with the organization (e.g. teachers). This is intended to create a safe space for young teens, separate from adult areas.
So, it will be interesting to see whether Sansar will hold to a firm 18+ age rating, as I suspect, or if (like Second Life) they will set up some sort of system to gate-keep adult content, thereby allowing those users under the age of 18 some limited access.
Back in 2019, I wrote an entire editorial about adult content and social VR, which you can read here. Much of what I wrote then still applies today, particularly that adult content can be a double-edged sword! However, if managed properly, it can add life ( and longevity) to a metaverse platform. Whether you like it or not, sex sells!
What do you think? Please sound off in the comments, or join us in the RyanSchultz.com Discord, where over 700 people representing various social VR platforms (and flatscreen virtual worlds, too!) meet to discuss, debate, and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and the companies building it. More information here.
UPDATE Oct. 5th, 2022: I have been informed by a Sansar staff member:
Just a small clarification, we are adult only but without NSFW content, so it’s still safe for [a] professional or academic setting.
So it would appear that I was wrong in assuming that Sansar will permit adult content. I stand corrected! The staff member, EvoAv, goes on to tell me:
A lot of other things fall under [the] 18+ category, and mixing adult users with teenagers/kids has potential issues of its own. Our users have been predominantly adults throughout Sansar’s history, so we do not see this as a limitation, but more of a safeguard that will allow us to introduce content geared towards adults, just not NSFW, or at least give us the option to change our minds later if we want to allow NSFW content with some moderation in the future.
I have been waiting a while to write this editorial, but I think the right time has come.
I have been avidly following every twist and turn of the current crypto crash, following various Reddit communities and scouring Google and Apple News for the reports of the latest crypto companies to fail, taking their investors’ money with them. The chain of dominos continues to fall, and nobody can predict where or when this “crypto winter” will end.
In talking about all this, there’s lot of jargon being thrown around which can sometimes be difficult to understand: smart contracts, DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, etc. The following 7-minute YouTube video explains all these and other terms, and I can recommend it highly (and it can serve as a refresher for the rest of you):
From the moment I first began writing about the blockchain-based virtual worlds and social VR platforms (starting with Decentraland, years before they actually opened their doors to the general public), I have been fascinated by the new crop of metaverse projects boasting some blockchain component. These projects seem to split into two kinds:
1. Projects with Non-Fungible Token (NFT)-based virtual real estate (e.g. Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, The Sandbox). All such projects tend to have their own cryptocurrency (or use Ether, ETH), and offer a marketplace where you can buy and sell other blockchain-based goods, such as avatar wearables.
While examples of the second category are few in number, there has been an explosion of projects announced in the first category over the past couple of years. Many of these projects had hoped to duplicate the success of Decentraland, which had the great good fortune to do an Initial Coin Offering at the absolute perfect time, in 2017 raising US$24 million dollars before ever building a platform.
Decentraland’s successful subsequent virtual land auctions (with their frenzied bidding wars for NFT-based virtual pieces of land called, naturally enough, LAND) also attracted a lot of attention and favourable press. This no doubt encouraged other companies to set up similar schemes in an effort to duplicate that success. Among those that have actually delivered a viable product to date are Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, and the still-in-alpha/beta-testing-but-soon-to-launch platform The Sandbox. Each of these projects inspired similar bidding frenzies for artificially-scarce NFT-based parcels of virtual real estate, in some cases setting records.
The following charts show just how much the value of the cryptocurrencies associated with just these six projects has tumbled over the past three months (all charts are via the CoinMarketCap website):
And here’s one that really hurts: the surge and plunge in value of Neos Credits (NCR) over the past year. At the moment, project development has come to a near-standstill as the CEO fights against the CTO and the rest of the dev team about the role crypto will play in the NeosVR platform (and the matter will likely land up in court for the lawyers to battle over).
It’s still not clear if NeosVR can recover from this fiasco, which breaks my heart because it has such great technology! I do consider this to be the textbook example of how crypto speculation and greed can cause problems with an otherwise stellar platform; without being hooked to NCR, a cryptocurrency which has as yet has no practical use on the platform, NeosVR would still be doing very well! Instead, it is bleeding investors.
In addition, you can see the clear downward trend in both sales volume and average sale price for the following NFT-based properties over time (all taken from the NFT Stats website). Some seem to be doing a bit better than others, but all are down:
The overall situation is grim, particularly for those who bought cryptocurrencies and NFTs at the height of the market, perhaps expecting to flip them for a quick profit. But, for the countless blockchain-based metaverse projects who hopped on the bandwagon after Decentraland and the other market early movers, the situation is even worse. In many cases, the newer companies expected to raise funds by minting and selling NFTs to investors, often well before anything concrete was built! Examples of such projects include two I have written about earlier this year, Wilder World and VictoriaVR, but there are literally dozens and dozens more such projects, more than I could ever hope to cover in my blog. The prognosis for these newer projects is not looking especially promising, as potential investors head for the hills.
And, sadly, the bullish crypto market also brought out all the scammers who wanted to take advantage of the hothouse atmosphere of crypto investment, accepting money up front for what was essentially vapourware, and then pulling the rug out from under those who had not done their proper due diligence. Greed and FOMO (fear of missing out) drove a lot of ignorant cryptobros to pour money into a lot of projects which, to date, have had little to show for them but a slick website and an active Discord (or Telegram) server where everybody was pumping everybody else up to buy and HODL (hold on for dear life to) their associated crypto and NFT assets.
Some non-financially-savvy people, believing that they were truly on to a sure thing, gambled money they could not afford to lose—their life savings, their retirement funds, even their childrens’ college funds—and have lost everything, or next to everything, in the current bear market, holding near-worthless assets they cannot find anyone to sell to. I keep reading heartbreaking stories in the various subReddits of investors who have lost everything. Many have spoken of suicide, and many Reddit communities have posted resources to support those who are struggling with their mental health as a result of their poor financial decisions.
In the current environment, I believe that any blockchain-based metaverse (or a metaverse platform with an associated cryptocurrency), is going to be in for a very rough ride over the next few months, as governments around the world raise interest rates, and the easy, low-interest credit dries up, and a global recession looms. People are going to retreat to safer investments, fleeing the demonstrably high volatility of crypto and blockchain assets like NFTs. We can expect to see a mass stampede to the exits in some projects, and frankly, not all the blockchain-based metaverse platforms out there will survive.