The Killer App for Virtual Reality is the Metaverse

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Anna Bashmakova and Oculus Rift (photo by Sergey Galyonkin on FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0)

Loup Ventures is a research-driven venture capital firm based in Minneapolis and New York investing in frontier technology. They just wrote an article on Medium titled Is VR Dead or Just Getting Started?

Here’s a quote:

VR’s Killer App, the Metaverse

Everyone is searching for the killer app for VR, the application or experience that will be a system seller like Wii Sports for the Wii or VisiCalc for the Apple II. VR’s killer app, we believe, is already in development and should be ready for mainstream adoption in the next five years.

The Metaverse, a term coined in the 1992 sci-fi classic, Snow Crash, is a virtual universe similar in many ways to reality. Players can be anyone, do anything, or go anywhere, regardless of their real life circumstances. The Metaverse will be a place where all of what VR has to offer branches off from. A place where you can socialize, do business, shop, go on outerworld adventures, watch esports tournaments, and more. The limits lie in the imagination of users and developers who will compete for prime real estate in the Metaverse. We will take an in-depth look into the potential of the Metaverse in a future note, but for now, just picture The Oasis from Ready Player One.

High Fidelity raised $35 million in June, with the goal of bringing VR to a billion people through their new VR world. Linden Labs, maker of the popular online role-playing game, Second Life, is also working on bringing a Metaverse to the mainstream with Project Sansar. It remains to be seen who will become the real-life Gregarious Games, but one thing is certain — the Metaverse will play a critical role in the future of VR.

And I do agree with this. VR’s “killer app” will be the metaverse. Sansar and High Fidelity are just two of dozens of platforms which are in various early stages of development, and which could potentially transform the way we use computers and communicate with each other. It’s a major paradigm shift, similar to the one where we moved away from command-line MS-DOS and towards using a mouse with graphical user interfaces like Windows and the Mac.

One day (just not as quickly as the most enthusiastic forecasters predicted), we will all be in a form of virtual reality/augmented reality/mixed reality, both for work and personal use. It’s just going to take time, maybe another decade. In the meantime, enjoy the ride!

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Can VR Make Us More Human? A Chat with Peter Rubin and Philip Rosedale

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This evening, I attended a talk in High Fidelity between Philip Rosedale (the CEO of High Fidelity and the founder of Second Life) and Peter Rubin, a Senior Editor at WIRED who has recently written a book about VR titled Future Presence: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy, and the Limits of Ordinary Life

The premise of the talk (from the event description) was:

Many argue that mobile smartphones and social media have made us less connected to our fellow human beings. VR has the potential to course-correct the isolating nature of much of today’s technology and the opportunity to make us more connected and even more human.

Here’s a livestream of the hour-long talk, which I thoroughly enjoyed (and I even got an opportunity to ask a question at the end!). If you missed the event, I would encourage you to watch this wide-ranging and fascinating discussion about virtual reality and the various social VR platforms, held within High Fidelity.

Can VR Mess With Your Sense of Time?

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am choosing to participate in the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program. Why? Two reasons:

  1. After my recent guided tour of VU, I feel very strongly that this is going to be a successful and popular virtual world/MMO hybrid platform, and I want to be a part of it when VU launches their beta this summer. This is the very first blockchain-based virtual world that I actually feel excited about!
  2. As a Canadian citizen, I reside in one of the three countries where I am currently legally forbidden from purchasing VU tokens (the other two are the United States and China). This means that the only way I can legitimately earn VU tokens to use in this social VR space before the beta launch is via the VU ICO Partner Program.

I want you to know this up front: this blogpost is a promotion for VU, in exchange for VU tokens.  You can follow on this webpage to see how many VU tokens I have earned by completing tasks in this Partner Program if you wish (right now, I am at number two on the VU Token Leaderboard). There’s nothing stopping you from participating in this Partner Program yourself, and earning some VU tokens!

IMPORTANT: VU Tokens are not a real currency. They are ERC-20 based blockchain tokens intended to permit players of Virtual Universe exclusive access to digital assets within a VR game known as Virtual Universe (VU). They are a form of in-game virtual currency.  Virtual value attributed to the VU Token will be as a result of in-game efforts by players, and no future value is represented or guaranteed.


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A recently published article by the team behind Virtual Universe, titled Let’s Do the Time Warp… In VR! raises an interesting question: can virtual reality actually mess with your sense of time?

There are countless reports from VR users that have experienced some level of time dilation after engaging in a virtual world. As users experience a state of flow and presence in that world — enabled by a realistic experience combined with engaging activities — their perception of real time can waver.

This fits the old adage that “time flies when you’re having fun.”

Research from a team led by Dr. Bruder of the University of Hamburg sheds some light on the biological causes of the time-warp phenomenon and how it can be manipulated. Their research noted that the body’s circadian rhythm, or body clock, is largely informed by cues known as zeitgebers. These zeitgebers give the human body an unconscious estimate of the actual real-world time, the most prominent being the sun and its movement through the day.

In a virtual world, particularly in VR, the user inhabits an avatar and has complete freedom and parity of movement. This allows us to play with these zeitgebers programmatically as a scene is rendered. Adjusting the speed of the sun’s cycle, or keeping the user busy with cognitive tasks were shown to have the greatest effects.

It’s an intriguing idea. Have you encountered time dilation—or another form of time distortion—in a VR headset? Sound off in the comments!

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UPDATED: Virtual Universe Has Launched Their Game Portal

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am choosing to participate in the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program. Why? Two reasons:

  1. After my recent guided tour of VU, I feel very strongly that this is going to be a successful and popular virtual world/MMO hybrid platform, and I want to be a part of it when VU launches their beta this summer. This is the very first blockchain-based virtual world that I actually feel excited about!
  2. As a Canadian citizen, I reside in one of the three countries where I am currently legally forbidden from purchasing VU tokens (the other two are the United States and China). This means that the only way I can legitimately earn VU tokens to use in this social VR space before the beta launch is via the VU ICO Partner Program.

I want you to know this up front: this blogpost is a promotion for VU, in exchange for VU tokens.  You can follow on this webpage to see how many VU tokens I have earned by completing tasks in this Partner Program if you wish (right now, I am at number two on the VU Token Leaderboard). There’s nothing stopping you from participating in this Partner Program yourself, and earning some VU tokens!

IMPORTANT: VU Tokens are not a real currency. They are ERC-20 based blockchain tokens intended to permit players of Virtual Universe exclusive access to digital assets within a VR game known as Virtual Universe (VU). They are a form of in-game virtual currency.  Virtual value attributed to the VU Token will be as a result of in-game efforts by players, and no future value is represented or guaranteed.


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Virtual Universe Logo

This summer I have (rather impatiently) been waiting for the beta launch of the Virtual Universe social VR/MMO platform. The company’s original plans were for a private beta launch in July 2018, and a public beta launch in January 2019, and as far as I know, they are still on schedule.

In their whitepaper, VU is described as “part game, part social network, and part social creation platform, blending elements of Minecraft, Second Life and Simcity with innovative artificial-intelligence technologies that drive engagement”, and that is an excellent description of what it tries to be. It’s an intriguing mix of virtual world and MMO/MMORPG where you can collect wood, chop it up, and start a fire, feed worms to the AI-controlled bluebirds, or just explore your surroundings and interact with other users. As I understand from their recent Letter to the Community, explorers will be able to gather resources in the countryside in order to sell them:

Outside the city is our highly immersive LivingVR world, created from the ground up to feel as immersive as possible. Teeming with virtual life, beautiful sceneries and waiting to be explored by you. Let’s say you are exploring further than you have before and suddenly you discover a cave behind a waterfall. Inside it, you find rich copper deposits. You know copper is a desired resource in the city since its an ingredient in many crafting recipes for a wide variety of building blocks. You mine the copper and haul it back to the city. Once there you list your copper on the auction house and collect the cryptocurrency once someone wins the bid on it.

And it is not just resource gathering that can be done in VU, there will be plenty of quests available for you and your friends to experience exciting adventures with plenty of loot to be had!

We do know that there will be one main city in Virtual Universe, called Uruk (named after the ancient Sumerian city considered to be the first city in the history of civilization).

Today (July 6th, 2018), Virtual Universe officially launched their game portal:

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According to this brand-new website, you will be able to do the following in VU:

  • Own Property: Buy, sell, and invest in property. Purchase a unique property and customize it.
  • Start a Business: Generate BTC, ETH and VU through in-game product and service sales.
  • Find Hidden Treasure: Explore the planet and find hidden treasure. Recover lost artifacts in ancient ruins.
  • Adventure: Explore the Virtual Universe with your friends. Hang glide, sail, dive, and explore a vast world
  • Shape the Future: Shape the entire universe with decisions you make. Make your mark in VU.

Here’s the backstory:

THE STORY

You’re awake! Good. We have some catching up to do.

Earth as you know it is gone. Global warming and endless warfare left the planet in ruins. But humanity survived! Sort of… spaceships could make the journey to new planets, but human bodies couldn’t. They can’t survive any exposure to space radiation. The solution? House human consciousness in identity crystals, or IDCs for short, After all, isn’t consciousness that what makes a human, human?

So welcome to Uruk, the first city on the planet Raetis. For the past two years, your robot counterparts have been building Uruk. The ship you arrived on now serves as the city’s power source, which sits at the city center. We call this The Core. You’re joined by the thousands of other humans who continue to live through consciousness alone. It’s all right to not feel like yourself. Your chip has been activated inside an avatar, the way all humans now exist. So what’s next for you on this new planet? That’s for you to decide.

Explore Uruk with your friends. Sell your goods and services for real cryptocurrency. Even try on a new avatar for size – your IDC is compatible with any avatar here in Uruk. You aren’t confined in the borders of Uruk, either. The city relies on rare resources for power, which need to be uncovered and mined. You can help out, or simply explore the rest of your new home planet. But remember, most of Raetis is still a mystery. We can’t be sure what creatures or dangers lie amidst the planet’s rocky and cavernous landscape. The farther you venture from Uruk, the riskier your adventure becomes, so be careful!

It’s your life, do what you’d like. Welcome to your world.

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You can already claim an apartment from the website (there are 1,000 apartments available in what they are calling Genesis Towers):

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Here’s a sneak peek of the avatars from the Gameplay page on the website, which are a definite improvement over the simple placeholder avatars we used in my initial half-hour guided tour or Virtual Universe back in April:

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There are six different types of avatars, which at first glance appear to be similar to the character classes in most MMOs/MMORPGs like World of Warcraft:

  • Starter
  • Explorer
  • Creator
  • Merchant
  • Prospector
  • Warrior

And here’s some more details on the gameplay:

Play, explore and discover

Uruk is a gigantic city with endless opportunities. Participate in exciting adventures in the entertainment district, socialize with your friends in the finest clubs of the city and enjoy big community events!

Earn crypto rewards

Yup that’s right, you can earn cryptocurrency for playing our game. Help the community doing daily quests and get rewarded for your time and effort in VU tokens.

Harvest and sell resources

While you are exploring the vast landscape of planet Raetis, you will encounter a wide variety of resources. Gather these resources, bring them back to the city and sell them on the marketplace for cryptocurrency. But be careful, Raetis is full of hostile creatures so make sure you are prepared for battle before you venture into the unknown wilderness!

Shape the world around you

Collect enough VU tokens and you will be able to purchase your own plot of land on Raetis. Once you own your own corner of the world, you can shape it just the way you like it. Plant trees, place rocks, even design and construct your own home!

Customize yourself

Player will have a wide variety of avatars to choose from, all of them are highly modular so you can customize your character to make it unique!

Run a virtual business and earn crypto

If running around the world looking for rare resources is not your cup of tea then there is another major way for you to earn cryptos while playing VU: start your own virtual business! Purchase a commercial plot, construct one of the available player run ventures and start generating cryptocurrencies.

The website says, under the Beta tab:

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I did have a question. It says the VU closed beta is “only accessible to pioneers”, and when you click through, “This section is only accessible to pioneers. You can become a pioneer by purchasing VU tokens.” So, how will Chinese, Americans, and Canadians (like me) be able to participate in the VU closed beta if we are legally forbidden from buying VU tokens?

I asked this question on the official Virtual Universe Discord server, and Jeroen Van den Bosch, VU’s Chief Creative Officer and co-founder, told me:

We are working on a way that token holders (not just buyers) can upgrade to pioneer (so that would include people participating in the bounty program). But that functionality is not ready yet.

VU is going to have to find ways to include people from countries where we cannot buy the VU token. Otherwise, they will be excluding a large number of potential players.

The more details that the team at Virtual Universe reveal, the more intrigued about this project I become! I’m looking forward to setting foot on the planet Raetis!

UPDATE July 8th: Virtual Universe has announced an airdrop of VU tokens, and their Telegram server has been inundated with floods of new users! Over half of the 1,000 free apartments in Genesis Towers have already been claimed, and the rest are expected to sell out within the next 12 hours, so if you’re interested, you’d better hurry!

SECOND UPDATE July 9th: The apartments in Genesis Towers have sold out!

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What Happens to the HTC Vive If HTC Folds?

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HTC (the makers of the HTC Vive VR headset) is experiencing no shortage of troubles, according to this report from Engadget:

HTC can’t catch a break. The company has announced that in June its sales fell “nearly 68 percent,” according to Reuters. Earlier this week, the company revealed it would cull some 1,500 employees from its Taiwan manufacturing division in its chase for profitability. The last several years haven’t been kind to the company, rife with reorganizations (including one earlier this year), key staff members resigning and desperate efforts to put money in the bank by seemingly any means possible — including selling its Pixel team to Google for $1.1 billion.

Recently, the company combined its virtual reality and mobile divisions in an effort to refocus. Given this week’s news, and the Pixel sale as evidence, it wouldn’t be surprising if, in a last-ditch effort to return to profitability, HTC sold its Vive team to Valve. The two worked closely on the device, and it’s not like Valve’s coffers will run dry anytime soon.

Where would that leave HTC though, like BlackBerry? Vive is the company’s last stand, from the looks of it, and selling it off sounds like a Hail Mary. More than that, pulling a BlackBerry only works if the handsets HTC produces capture the market, something that hasn’t happened in years. And unlike BlackBerry’s keyboards, HTC doesn’t have one defining feature, let alone two (a reputation for enterprise-grade security). The new reduction in headcount probably won’t have the same financial benefits of the Pixel sale, but we’ll have to wait for HTC’s next earnings report to know for sure.

Which raises the question: what happens to the HTC Vive if HTC folds? It’s unlikely they would shelve the prodcut (as the article mentions, they would probably land up selling the Vive to their partner Valve), but if it does happen, it would leave us with one fewer option for high-end VR headsets.

Given the fierce criticism that the company has received over the expensive pricing of its new Vive Pro headset, in addition to all the other bad news at HTC, it seems possible that they may shut down. A sales drop of 68% is a serious problem. Can HTC survive?

What do you think? Please leave a comment with your thoughts. Thanks!

UPDATE: Michael Siebielec commented on Facebook:

If Vive folds it would send a shockwave through the VR investment community which I believe is on thin ice already. With only Microsoft and Facebook, two big profit only centered corporations that will drop VR in a heartbeat if it doesn’t grow more rapidly from a niche to a billion dollar cash cow in a year or two as those original rosy projections have all soured. Sony only sees VR as a toy add-on that isn’t performing high enough for them to tout enthusiastically at E3 very loudly and MS has no plans for VR on the XBOX One. I love VR but can see it going the way of 3D TV quickly with the next and coming economic downturn. Look how quickly Sony dropped 3D cameras and camcorders as well as the 3D option on their TV lines when profit margins weren’t met. I don’t think Microsoft is really invested in VR at all and at this point is just hoping AR will make those billions for them. Facebook could drop Oculus at the next board meeting if the investors want a little higher dividend next quarter. Hopefully the Asian market will keep growth coming as they are the new economic powerhouse in the world and manufacturers of all the tech. Having to import 3D Blu-ray releases from Europe because US distributors won’t carry a niche product in our fragile economy is a great example of how corporate America will throw consumers under the bus to show a little extra profit on the quarterly spreadsheet. Hopefully we can survive as a niche market until the next commercial VR push when big corporate support fails. Hate to be a downer but I don’t think it looks good at all.

A Detailed List of VR Cryptocurrencies

VRCryptocurrencies 4 July 2018.pngThere’s a new website called VRCryptocurrencies.com, which has published a list of VR cryptocurrencies. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll see a lot of familiar names on that list:

Plus a whole bunch of new ones I had never heard of before:

Now, some of these do not appear to be social VR apps, so I won’t bother covering them on this blog. But there are a few interesting ones that merit further investigation!

The VRCurrencies website has a blog as well, which looks like it could be a good place to keep abreast of news regarding virtual reality-based cryptocurrency/blockchain projects in future. As I have stated before, I am extremely wary of crypto/blockchain VR projects at this point:

…I refuse to put one cent of my own money into any cryptocurrency at this point, and I advise anybody who wishes to do so, to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any product or service. It’s simply too risky.

The actions of a few bad apples (both individuals and companies) are threatening to spoil the entire barrel. Also, greed is driving investors into ill-informed and risky speculation, and currently, there is a crypto feeding frenzy that is starting to remind me of Shark Week. I fear that this is a financial bubble that will hurt many investors when it implodes. Caveat emptor!

Somnium Space News—and the Most Outrageous Social VR Company Promise Yet!

Well, I decided to start blogging again, although I doubt I will be keeping up the same fast rate of blog-posting that I used to do!

For my return to regular blogging, the first social VR space I want to talk about is Somnium Space, which I first profiled in early May.

First, Somnium Space has announced that they are joining the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance (VRBA), which I had written about earlier:

Somnium Space will join VRBA founders High Fidelity and JanusVR in the effort to create a universal digital identity platform, built on the blockchain, beyond the control of any corporate entity, bridging virtual worlds and the real one.

As a VRBA member, Somnium Space will host a node of the High Fidelity blockchain. Somnium Space will recognize identities created in High Fidelity and JanusVR, and assets created in JanusVR or High Fidelity will be transferable to Somnium Space. Users of all three services will be able to control what information they share and how they present themselves within each experience.

Second, Somnium Space has also launched a crowdfunding initiative on the new U.K.-based crowdfunding website for VR projects called SeedingVR. If you decide to donate, Somnium Space will give you free land:

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Third, Somnium Space is also proudly trumpeting the fact that someone (an executive of the company) bought the first Tesla in virtual reality:

Frankly, I don’t see what the advantage of purchasing the car in a VR headset was. There was nothing special that virtual reality added to the transaction; it could just as easily been done using a regular computer screen and keyboard, instead of having to awkwardly punch keys on a virtual recreation of a keyboard within a VR headset.

But it was something else on the SeedingVR announcement that really caught my eye:

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What? WHAT?!??

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So, I went to the Somnium Space website and sure enough, it was there too!

Live Forever 22 June 2018

Yes, that’s right. For a monthly fee, Somnium Space promises to record everything you do and say on your property, in order to (and I quote)  “bring you entirely back to life using AI”. This has got to be the single most outrageous promise I have ever heard from any social VR/virtual world/metaverse company!

Now, this is gonna be quite the feat! I still cannot quite believe that someone on the executive team at Somnium Space had the chutzpah to actually come up with this little gem, let alone announce this!

Sorry, not buying it. The people behind Somnium Space can’t even get the “Sign In” button on their website working (or offer me a way to automatically retrieve/reset my forgotten user password from my first visit), and they’re already gonna promise me eternal life?!??

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I had believed that the ridiculous boasting and promise-making made by some of the metaverse-building companies were already at their highest level, but this one really takes the cake!