Established in 2015, FIVARS (short for the Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories) is a Canadian festival focused on curating the best immersive story-driven VR/AR/MR/XR content from around the world, with the aim of exploring and nurturing this platform for new narrative forms. Their website states:
As with the modern cinema experience, through Virtual Reality, we can explore truth, happiness, sadness, and the science fiction that will be tomorrow’s science fact.
The difference is that, unlike modern cinema where you explore these worlds through a window, with Virtual Reality you can now transport into the center of the action, standing inside of the world you wish to explore. Just like real life, if you try to look away from what is in front of you, you will now see what is behind, below, above, to the right or left of you.
The real-time response of your head’s movement creates a powerful sense of physical immersion that allows you or your intended audience to connect to the content on a deeper, more visceral level.
FIVARS (Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories) openly encourages viewers to enjoy and connect to stories in this newly emergent narrative form, while challenging content creators to showcase ideas that defy and transcend the status quo.
At the festival, there is also an opportunity to share conversations both with our team and other industry members in attendance to discuss how to take part in this snowballing revolution in tech, entertainment, research and information sharing.
The 9th FIVARS festival is a browser-based immersive virtual festival featuring 360 video projects from around the globe online, rwhich runs from February 21st to 28th, 2022, with additional private in-person showcases for interactive content.
Immersive festival featuring Virtual Reality, 360 Film and Dome Experiences in browser-based immersive theater–available on desktop, mobile, tablet or in VR headset
In-person interactive content (by appointment only in select cities, stay tuned for more information)
Talks & Panels with content creators and industry experts from around the world
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 600 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.
There will be a major scandal or controversy around one of the blockchain/NFT-oriented Metaverse platforms.
With NFTs beset by scams and NFT/blockchain-oriented metaverse platforms seeing low user numbers but extremely high investment and speculation, this is only a matter of time.
It’s only January 12th, 2022, but I have already written about a number of questionable NFT projects which at best are crazy schemes, and at worst are outright scams! MetaWorld springs to mind as the perfect example of the latter (ALLEGEDLY, I hasten to add, although IN MY OPINION, I don’t believe there is any actual MetaWorld platform, aside from a prototype which was created years ago by someone who has since left the company to work for Somnium Space).
Despite all the negative press from the Engadget exposé and my series of blogposts about MetaWorld, Dedric continues undeterred. Someone joked to me via Discord DMs that Dedric Reid is the Elizabeth Holmes of the metaverse, and I laughed out loud because it’s such an apt, concise description! Harsh, savage, but accurate.
But on to other topics; I am tired of talking about Dedric Reid and MetaWorld (and frankly, whoever falls for his ALLEGED scam at this point is simply not doing their proper due diligence, IN MY OPINION). There’s a lot of actual progress being made by many legitimate metaverse companies building social VR/AR platforms and virtual worlds!
Meta is facing such a never-ending litany of complaints, scandals, and even legal actions that this is, once again, a very easy prediction to make for 2022.
Next prediction: there’s going to be a lot of activity this year in the fuzzy overlap area between games and virtual worlds, what I like to call the “metaverse-adjacent” space. Both games (e.g. Fortnite, Minecraft) and game platforms (e.g. Roblox, Core) will continue to add new features in an effort to become more like social VR/AR apps and virtual worlds. And, given their immense popularity, especially among children, tweens, and teens, many people will get their first taste of the metaverse via these games and game platforms, in much the same way as an entire generation got their start in the metaverse via Second Life.
Second Life will continue to be successful and profitable—but it will face increasing competition from newer platforms such as VRChat, and it will no longer be the most popular virtual world.
My first prediction is a no-brainer. In my predictions for 2019, I wrote that Second Life would “continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity”, and that still holds true.
And, indeed, 2021 was the first year in which VRChat began to consistently surpass Second Life in user concurrency figures (Rec Room did too, I believe). VRChat has been breaking new user concurrency records, leading up to and including New Year’s Eve 2021, as Johnny Rodriguez tweeted:
Last night, 88,700 people put on a VR headset and decided to join the VRChat New Years event to countdown [to] the new year. For reference, this is Husker’s Memorial Stadium [at the University of Nebraska], which fits around 86,000 people when completely full. VR is here to stay.
Turning back to Second Life, the coronavirus pandemic caused a temporary surge in usage (and the current Omicron wave might well prompt people to dust off their avatars and give it another try, too). I still estimate that SL has somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 active users per month (that is, people who sign in at least once in the past thirty days). I really wish that Linden Lab would regularly release statistics like this, but if they are declining (slowly or quickly), I can also understand why the company would be reluctant to do so.
I was part of Sansar since I was invited into the closed beta in 2016/2017, and I was there for the whole crazy ride. Sansar is now on life support (the company that bought it from Linden Lab, called Wookey, furloughed all of its staff recently, and I believe that they could shut down at any moment without warning). Being there from beginning to end, I still marvel at how Linden Lab thought they could build a new virtual world/social VR platform and just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself in this competitive marketplace for metaverse platforms. “Build it and they will come” might have worked for SL in 2003 but it sure ain’t gonna work nowadays. You have to PROMOTE yourself to get noticed.
Also, Linden Lab could have done a lot of things to try and entice SL users to a) visit Sansar and b) make them want to stay, build worlds, create content, and form a new community. Instead, what happened is that Second Life folks (rightly or wrongly) saw Sansar as something which distracted LL from its work on SL, and as a result most SL folks hated Sansar and refused to have anything to do with it, hastening its downfall in my opinion. It also didn’t help that Linden Lab made a bet that many people would be owning high-end VR headsets tethered to high-end PCs with good graphics cards, and instead the Oculus Quest wireless headset took off.
I still shake my head and wonder “what if?”. Say a prayer for Sansar, it needs it.
Right now, Sansar’s best hope for survival in 2022 is for another company who wants to enter the metaverse marketplace to buy the platform from Wookey, much the same as Microsoft stepped in at the eleventh hour to snap up AltspaceVR.
Another prediction: we are going to see an increase in the number of companies providing services to metaverse platforms. Wagner James Au mentions the Linden Lab subsidiary Tilia, which provides financial services, in his blogpost which I linked to up top; I predict that they will land a few more clients this year. Another example of a company doing well in this niche is Ready Player Me, the avatar system currently in use in VRChat and over 1,000 other apps and games on VR, mobile, desktop, and web. Expect this nascent business-to-business sector to explode this year!
Well, that’s it for me, for now. I might update this blogpost with other predictions for 2022 as they come to me.
And I ask you, my faithful readers: what predictions are you making for the next twelve months? Feel free to leave a comment, or use the feedback form on my blog if you’d prefer to contact me directly. You’re also welcome to join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, a cross-worlds community where over 600 people, with experience in various metaverse platforms, welcome you! Just click the button on the left-side panel of my blog as shown (image right). If you are connecting via a smartphone or tablet instead of your computer desktop, just click the three-bars menu button in the upper-right hand corner, then scroll down until you see the Discord widget displayed.
If you really want your platform to become the seed for “The Metaverse”, then you need to give it away.
Lars Doucet is an independent game developer and consultant for various multi-million dollar game projects (through his company, Level Up Labs), as well as a games industry analyst, commentator, and blogger at Fortress of Doors.
On July 1st, 2021, Lars wrote a Fortress of Doors blogpost titled So You Want to Compete with Roblox, which is primarily directed at those companies who desire to become the next billion-dollar-valued metaverse platform (Roblox, as many of you already know, obtained a market valuation of UA$41.9 billion when the company went public this past March). However, much of Lars’ wisdom also applies to any social VR platform or virtual world that wants to break into the big leagues, especially if they are competing against an entrenched front-runner in a particular market segment, so I decided to write up this blogpost as an introduction to Lars’ ideas for my regular readers (if you’re not interested in my thoughts, just click over to read Lars Doucet’s blogpost in full; I have links to other content of his at the tail end of this post).
Lars starts off by dashing any dreams of would-be Roblox competitors, saying that they are too late to try and overtake something which has been building for years:
I used to get so many pitches from startups eager to knock PC gaming powerhouse Steam off its block, that in 2018 I wrote one big standard response called So You Want to Compete with Steam, with a follow-up a year later. The dust has now settled and the result is clear: all of the new contenders failed but Epic, and even they have a long upward climb ahead of them.
Flash forward to today, and my inbox is stuffed with pitches from start-ups wanting to compete with Roblox, that plucky Lego-ish multiplayer game-creation platform currently valued at 41 billion dollars.
So I guess we’re gonna do this again. Here’s how you can build a successful business that competes directly with Roblox: DON’T.
I say this out of love: the vast majority of you are going to fail. I admire you and your hard work and dedication; I’m pessimistic simply because your task is incredibly hard.
First of all, you are late to this party. Roblox first launched in 2006, a full fifteen years ago – that’s five years before Minecraft, if you can believe it. They have a massive head start and are playing by an entirely different set of rules. Your only chance is to flip the entire problem on its head.
Lars outlines three components which absolutely must be in any product that tries to make a dent in the ever-evolving metaverse, they are:
High quality multiplayer support for user creations out of the box
High performance servers with excellent reliability
Powerful, user friendly, and joyful creation tools
Note a couple of the words he uses very carefully. “Multiplayer” support for user creations out of the box means the ability to support collaborative creation of user content (an example of this are the user creation toolset in NeosVR, although I would argue that they are not particularly “user friendly”, as they are powerful, but also have a rather steep learning curve). Many social VR platforms still lack collaborative building tools, or any sort of in-world building tools, forcing content creators and world builders to use external tools like Blender and then import 3D models.
Note also Lars’ reference to “joyful” creation tools—in other words, make it FUN to create something. From what I understand, one of Horizon Worlds’ strengths is its content creation tools, which are apparently easy and fun to use. Do this part especially well, and you will empower your userbase to create wonderful worlds, which attracts new users, who then also become content creators—it becomes a virtuous circle.
He then talks about how Roblox spends a lot of money on hosting and network infrastructure, and how cloud provider costs (e.g. AWS) can eat up a significant chunk of cash as your platform grows. He then discusses what he sees as the three big problems you’ll face as a metaverse platform creator:
• You need players • Players won’t show up without content, so you need creators • Creators won’t show up until you have players
Joel points out that you can’t expect this deadlock to solve itself – instead you need to just go out there and deliver a truckload of chickens or a truckload of eggs. Typically this means spending a lot of money. Anyone able to rely on organic growth alone started ages ago and that door is now closed to you.
Note particularly that last sentence, which I am going to repeat in bold for those of you who still don’t get it: ANYBODY ABLE TO RELY ON ORGANIC GROWTH ALONE STARTED AGES AGO AND THAT DOOR IS NOW CLOSED TO YOU. I have repeated versions of this statement on my blog until I was blue in the face, and few of the newer social VR platforms have been paying any attention.
Linden Lab’s fatal mistake with Sansar (one of many) is that they 100% expected that they would be able to build a high-end social VR platform with a in-world currency and an integrated marketplace for user-generated content, just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself! What worked for Second Life in 2003 most assuredly did NOT work for Sansar in 2017. A last-minute, hail-Mary pass. pivoting from social VR to a live events platform, essentially failed, and Linden Lab landed up selling Sansar to Wookey. At present, Wookey has suspended all development and furloughed all its staff. Millions and millions of dollars† were sunk into a platform which is currently on life-support, hanging on by a thread, and could be unplugged at any moment. Say a prayer for Sansar; it could use one.
Lars Doucet advises:
Seed your platform with awesome material by paying your own employees to build beautiful creations. Hire contractors and independent content creators and then pay your staff to train them in your tools. Pay these people to make tutorials and guides and videos and post them all over the internet and don’t stop. Set up an affiliate system with creator and influencer rewards. And that’s just the obvious stuff – you need to be thinking about new and innovative solutions to this problem 24/7. Pay any and every price to get high quality content onto your platform.
Second Problem: Platform Dynamics
Here Lars differentiates between different kinds of platforms, from open to closed:
On one end you have open platforms like the World Wide Web where each of the five aspects is owned by no one but the commons.
Towards the middle you have different kinds of closed platforms like Windows and Steam where certain components of the stack are proprietary, but others are unowned; the owner either refrains from (or is simply unable) to capture most of the value that creators produce on the platform.
On the far end are digital company towns, proprietary platform stacks privately owned from top to bottom. In the physical world company towns are communities where a single corporation is not only the sole or principal employer, but also owns all the housing and stores – the company is your boss, your landlord, and even your grocer. Total ownership grants the company power over not only every aspect of their workers’ lives, but also their families and the entire local economy. Digital company towns likewise squeeze as much value out of creators as possible.
And he makes the point that Roblox is a company town, controlling the creation tools (Roblox Studio), the playback engine (the Roblox app), the discovery methods (the Roblox discovery portal), and the marketplace (items can only be bought and sold using Robux through the Roblox Marketplace, with all financial information managed by Roblox). While it might look tempting to set up wannabe Roblox competitors using the same model, Lars makes it very clear in his article that this is a tactical error:
Look, I know some of you as customers actually like company towns from giant companies like Apple precisely because they’re locked down and you trust the platform holder. Good for you, sincerely! You are more than welcome to continue liking them as a customer. But this article isn’t addressed to you; it’s addressed to startups who think they can deploy this kind of vertically integrated stack without already starting from a position of strength.
Simply put, if you’re trying to build a Roblox competitor in 2021 under the company town model, you’re delusional. You should not build a company town for two very good reasons:
1. Company towns are bad, and you shouldn’t do bad things* 2. It’s way, way, way too late to succeed with this strategy
So, if you can’t rigidly control everything in order to compete against the entrenched front-runner(s), what can you do? Lars suggests giving something away:
Give people a reason to build on your platform. Make them owners, not tenants.
What should you give away? Well, that depends on your specific situation, but I recommend “as much as you possibly can.” Recall the five components of a platform:
• Creation tools • Playback engine • Discovery methods • Marketplace / transaction engine • Relationship with the customer
Platforms tend to follow a certain kind of life cycle, and there’s no better primer than Dan Cook’s Game of Platform Power. In it he outlines how platforms transition through “Growth” and “Engage” phases where they are friendly and generous to the creators who produce value on their ecosystems, before maturing into the “Extract” phase where they leverage their size and power to lock-in users and capture as much creator-produced value for themselves as possible.
A classic example of this is Second Life, which is now merrily coasting along, collecting fees for the sale of in-world land and currency, still going strong at the ripe old age of 18 with a locked-in, relatively small but highly passionate userbase who resist leaving their friends and communities behind to join other virtual worlds. For example, it’s hardly a surprise that Linden Lab, now owned by the deep-pocketed Waterfield Network investment group, has recently raised its fees for buying Linden dollars. Second Life is a cash cow, and they are rightfully milking it!
And Lars makes what I think is a somewhat counterintuitive, very nervy, and potentially game-changing suggestion on how to build that trust with content creators: make it easy for them to pack up and leave!
No matter how generous your platform is today, content creators aren’t dumb, they know how this works, and they’re being exploited right now by company towns like Roblox. Words are cheap. What they want is assurance. Trustless assurance. And no, I’m not talking about blockchain.
You really want to shake things up? Give content creators a loaded gun pointed at your platform’s head.
Another word for this is “exit rights.” If you want creators to come over in the first place, give them the power to leave anytime they want.
Mind. BLOWN. I can see how Lars Doucet is a highly-paid and in-demand consultant, just for these few paragraphs of advice alone! However, I would also add that we need to see some metaverse interoperability and standards before we can really put this into action. However, Lars makes a rather compelling case for doing at first what sounds like corporate suicide, using companies such as Substack as an example of how and why such an approach works.
Lars wraps up by dispelling some common myths about what is the “metaverse” (for example, that the metaverse cannot and should not be owned by any one person or company). And he wraps up by saying that anybody who wants to become the next Roblox is embarking on a wild, crazy, risky venture—but that “simply the riskiest thing to do is to play it safe.”
As I said in my blogpost title, this is some harsh advice that many commercial social VR platforms probably don’t want to hear, but should definitely read through at least once.
*As an aside, Lars wraps up his Fortress of Doors blogpost with the following highly-accurate-but-snarky observation:
That’s not to say someone fundamentally can’t craft a “Dark Metaverse” under the company town model. It’s just that their name is Facebook, it will be a dystopian hellhole, and you don’t have a chance of competing on those terms.
This is the first time I have shared this figure on my blog. Mark and his V.P. are currently the only two Wookey employees left on the payroll; as I have said above, all the rest of the Wookey staff have been furloughed.
The MetaMovie is exciting beyond words. It may actually be now doing what history will see as the beginning of a brand new interactive movie entertainment industry.
—Karel Hulec of NeosVR (where Alien Rescue takes place)
This afternoon, I had the privilege of participating in the impressive new MetaMovie production Alien Rescue, created and directed by Jason Moore and starring Marinda Botha, Nicole Rigo, Kenneth Rougeau, Craig Woodward—and you!
Yes, you don’t just watch Alien Rescue; you’re a key part of the show! There are two roles: Hero and Eyebot. The Hero is the one audience member right in the centre of the story, where they role-play with the cast. Heroes can say or do anything they want, and they can even affect the storyline (the woman, who was the Hero of the performance I attended, landed up giving a hilarious nickname to one of the characters, which became a running joke throughout the rest of the performance!).
The rest of the audience are small, mute Eyebots, who only communicate with the actors via red, green, or yellow lights, but who play an integral part in moving the story forward (often by scouting ahead and warning the Hero and the other actors to hidden dangers). Even better, you can maneuver your Eyebot to catch the performance as it unfolds from any possible point of view! You can choose to follow a particular character if you wish, or you can just wander around as you please, and follow your fancy.
The actors in Alien Rescue are all professionals with years of VR acting experience, physically located across the globe, from New York to South Africa, from Kansas to Connecticut. This troupe has been working closely together for nearly three years. All the actors used the HTC Vive Pro Eye headset, which features eye tracking, along with the newly released Vive Facial Tracker, which tracks the movements of the mouth and the lower face. These added expressions—subtle shifts of the eyes, a blink or a wink, a slight grin or a strong grimace—help bring their avatars to life. Here’s a demonstration of just how realistic avatar movements can be with these features enabled.
At times, the action splits into two separate conversations or scenes. One example was when we all entered a laboratory through a series of dark, winding corridors, while the two actors ahead of me (leading the group) were having one conversation, and the two actors behind me (acting as a rear guard) were having a second one! As an Eyebot hovering between these two groups, I heard snippets of both conversations, which felt like a very natural and intuitive way to learn more about the characters, much as if you were drifting from conversation to conversation at a cocktail party (only this one was with random, weird alien creatures popping up!).
Speaking of alien creatures, all the imaginatively designed avatars in Alien Rescue were created by the very talented Chris McBride (NeosVR username: Ultranique), whom I interviewed in season one of the Metaverse Newscast (back when he was still practicing his artistry in avatar creation on the former social VR platform of High Fidelity, before he moved to NeosVR to work on the MetaMovie project):
And here’s another Metaverse Newscast interview I did with director Jason Moore (again, two years ago, in High Fidelity, when Alien Rescue was still in its earliest planning stages):
(Fun fact: I was the original Hero, and was the very first person to experience the MetaMovie Project, many years ago in High Fidelity, on their first project, called A Very Old Mystery in New New York.)
The set for Alien Rescue is just absolutely insane in its overall dimensions (the following quote comes from the press kit I received). The production design was by Zach Harris (NeosVR username: Nexulan), who managed the entire design team.
With seven large and detailed maps (game lingo for levels, or areas of a world), Alien Rescue immerses audiences into a dark and spooky sci-fi environment with barely-lit passageways, creepy labs, and eerie soundscapes. The crown jewel is the incredible Blackhawk Spaceship, at 160 meters long (nearly two football fields) and 55 meters high, with four levels and over twenty rooms. And, our maps are all connected using a custom programmed ‘instant teleport’ system that reduces load time from one map to the next to zero seconds. Audiences traverse the world of Alien Rescue seamlessly and instantaneously, without the typical “loading screen” found in most VR games and experiences.
Jason Moore tells me:
Lead Programmer was Raul Anthony “RueShejn” Ybarra. He did all of the programming using LogiX. He invented the ‘instant travel’ system that gave us those seamless transitions from map to map, he’s a freaking genius.
This afternoon’s performance was the last of a series of private, invitation-based shows before the official premiere next week. According to a press release:
This form of live storytelling in the metaverse is truly new, therefore the prestigious Raindance Film Festival has selected the work to have its world premiere there in late October 2021.
I am telling you right now: you do NOT want to miss this event! It’s the most incredible and imaginative thing I have experienced in virtual reality all year (and trust me, I’ve seen a lot in these past twelve months of pandemic lockdown). The MetaMovie project is a genre-defying mix, combining elements of cinematic storytelling, video games, role playing, improv, and immersive theatre into something completely new, different, and exciting. GO SEE THIS! I loved it!!
Now, a few important points. You can experience Alien Rescue in flatscreen, desktop mode, but obviously for greater immersion, virtual reality is the way to go! Experiencing Alien Rescue in VR requires a PCVR setup. All major VR headsets will work: HTC Vive, Valve Index, HP, Oculus Rift, and Oculus Quest (tethered or Air Link). The minimum graphics card requirements are a Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD RX 570 with a minimum of 8GB of RAM. A wired connection is strongly recommended!
You should know that you will need a higher-end CPU and GPU on your personal computer to experience the show comfortably in VR; I have an Intel Core i5-6600 chip and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX1080 graphics card on my PC, with 16GB of RAM, and I crashed—twice!— while loading the map for Alien Rescue (however, once the world was fully loaded, I encountered few problems). Every so often, one of the actors’ voices would get all robot-y, but any such audio problems were temporary.
The show is approximately an hour and a half long, from beginning to end, and if you stick around, you might even win an award for your participation in a ceremony held in the credits lounge. (I won two awards!)