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:

Somium Space 22 June 2018

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!

Where is Virtual Reality’s Killer App?

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

According to Wikipedia, a killer app is defined as:

In marketing terminology, a killer application (commonly shortened to killer app) is any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology, such as computer hardware, a gaming consolesoftware, a programming language, a software platform, or an operating system. In other words, consumers would buy the (usually expensive) hardware just to run that application. A killer app can substantially increase sales of the platform on which it runs.

Classic examples of killer apps in the early history of computers were the VisiCalc spreadsheet for Apple II series microcomputers, and Lotus 1-2-3 and WordStar for IBM PC compatible microcomputers. The popularity of these software applications drove sales of the hardware platforms they ran on.

So, what is virtual reality’s killer app? What VR applications are driving the uptake of VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the range of Windows Mixed Reality headsets?

Sibjeet Mahapatra writes for TechCrunch:

Compelling virtual reality shipped to developers and consumers nearly two years ago. The first flagship headsets arrived from Oculus  and HTC back in the spring of 2016, offering enough resolution, frame rate, field of view, latency mitigation and position-tracking to produce believable visual immersion.

But no one seems to know what to do with it. To date, no killer app has extended the promise of VR from a novelty to a sticky experience or utility that reaches beyond enthusiasts to resonate with the consumer center of mass.

This isn’t to say that great experiences don’t exist. Apps like Tilt Brush, Elite: Dangerous and Google Earth VR have earned rave reviews and plaudits from enthusiasts. But we have yet to see a household phenomenon like Halo or Lotus 1-2-3 — applications that single-handedly propelled their respective platforms to wide use. At CES 2018, one industry analyst referred to VR as “drawerware,” referring to the likelihood of headsets to be stuffed in a drawer after a few forays into jejune worlds.

Sibjeet ends off his article by saying that immersion or presence is the key to VR:

Each new iteration of core VR hardware is a rising tide that makes any VR application more appealing to users on the margin. But killer apps often emerge on imperfect versions of the platforms they bring to life. The charting function of Lotus 1-2-3 strained the limits of the early graphics hardware on x86 PCs, but until 1-2-3, no one knew that programmatic generation of charts and graphs was even possible.

A killer app doesn’t need to be a perfect encapsulation of a new technology’s potential. All it needs to do is hint at the grand vision by providing a single, irresistible demonstration of value over the status quo.

In the case of VR, I’m not certain if that demonstration will occur on this generation of hardware or the next. But I believe it will be an experience that compares in intensity or joy or uniqueness to the best experiences we can access in reality. If you’re working on VR content or applications, consider this advice: Give us the ability to be present in a vision of the past, or a counterfactual world. Give us the feeling of life underwater or in space. Give us the sense of being present for an experience completely native to virtual reality, not merely an emulation of experiences we can already inhabit. Give us something real in its own right. That’s when the mass market will start to believe — and buy.

Many companies are trying to get at this elusive immersion or presence in different ways. For example, Staramba Spaces is betting that you will want to spend time with a detailed 3D recreation of a famous celebrity, religious figure, or soccer star.

Platforms such as High Fidelity and Sansar are aiming at a sort of sandbox model very similar to Second Life, by giving creators the tools to build whatever experiences they wish. Some programmers have gone so far as to create inventive, fun games such as HoverDerby and The Combat Zone, but so far it’s still been an uphill battle to encourage people to come into Sansar to try out these games.

VRChat had a surge in usage due to the livestreamers on Twitch and YouTube, but most of those people didn’t stick around once they finished trolling each other on the platform. People came, kicked the tires, and (mostly) left.

What’s clear is that virtual reality still hasn’t discovered its killer app yet. Such an app might come from an unexpected corner. But what it will offer is something that is so compelling that it drives the purchase of VR hardware. We’re not there yet. But there’s no telling what might be just around the corner…

Exploring Digital Identity Through Avatars: A Look at Drax’s Our Digital Selves Documentary

Alice Bonasio has written an article for The Next Web about Draxtor Despres (a.k.a. Bernhard Drax in real life) and his recently-completed documentary called Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me.

Titled Exploring Digital Identity Through Avatars, the article looks at how a variety of differently abled people choose to represent themselves in virtual worlds such as Second Life.

For those that speculate about the potential of social VR, it is interesting to note how inhabiting a virtual world allows these people to form and maintain meaningful relationships and connections with others, as SL user iSkye Silverweb recounts:

I don’t think my partner and I ever would have met in the physical world, even if we were in the same city, and it is because I am deaf.  Communication IS an issue for me; I would always be concerned about it, with meeting anyone.

It’s a raw and intensely emotional investigation into the power of living vicariously through an avatar, and how this – as one user puts it – “provides her with sustenance” and helps people to cope with all manner of both mental and physical disabilities.

It’s a great article and I urge you to go over to The Next Web and read it in full.

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Cody Lascala wearing a VR headset in Sansar

Why I Am Excited About Virtual Universe

Yeah, can you tell I am excited about the upcoming beta launch of Virtual Universe?

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(Image courtesy of the Distracted Boyfriend Meme Generator)

And yes, I am part of the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program (I’m currently number two on their VU Token Leaderboard). The main reason I am participating in that program is because it’s the only legal way I can earn VU tokens before the social VR space launches later this summer. Here’s a 10-minute video which explains the partner program in a lot more detail:


I think that Linden Lab should consider such a program to pay people in Sansar dollars for promoting Sansar on their various social media.

But people have been asking me, why am I excited about VU as opposed to other blockchain-based virtual world platforms?

Well, if you haven’t seen my recent half-hour guided tour of VU, I suggest you set aside some time to watch the whole video. I have been blistering in my criticism of other blockchain-based virtual world projects which are more hype than substance (Decentraland is a classic example) because they don’t have anything that you can actually visit yet. But in Virtual Universe, they not only have a place you can visit (currently, only by appointment), but they also have a very easy in-world content creation tool that is actually fun to use! And I was impressed by the many little added touches such as AI-controlled animals like lizards, rabbits, and bluebirds, even individual insects!

Now, Virtual Universe still has a lot of work left to do. Any virtual world project is a mammoth undertaking, and they still have to polish the user avatars (the current ones are merely placeholders, from what I understand) and other features. But it’s a very promising, and very impressive, start.

So yes, I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the beta version of Virtual Universe, even though Sansar is still my first love (and the reason I created this blog in the first place).