My Predictions For The Next Two Years

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’ve been hanging around virtual worlds of one kind or another for over a decade now. I’ve seen them come and go. Some were spectacular failures that provided lessons for other companies. Others just kind of meander along, not attracting very many users or ever becoming very big (like the multitude of OpenSim-based grids).

What usually happens in today’s hyper-competitive computer applications marketplace, is that one or two players in a particular market segment get big (e.g. Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, and yes, in its own way, Second Life), and then continue to grow like a juggernaut, based on the network effect, while the smaller players in the marketplace fight each other over the leftovers. The ones who get big are usually, but not always, the early entrants into the field (Second Life is a prime example of that, although there were notable virtual worlds which were founded before it, like ActiveWorlds).

But social VR and virtual worlds are not a zero-sum game. Many consumers are frequent visitors to a number of different metaverse platforms, and many creators build and sell products in various virtual worlds. Right now, success in one VR-capable virtual world (e.g. VRChat) generates interest in other social VR spaces. As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

It’s still not clear where all this is going, but I’m willing to polish my crystal ball and make a few predictions of what will happen over the next two year period, from now until April 2020.

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:

  • Alphabet/Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook/Oculus*
  • Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:

  • High Fidelity
  • Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
  • Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
  • VRChat

(We’ve already seen this happen with Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR.) We could also see a company buy out a virtual world, just to grab the programming talent, and then shut the world down completely (as Yahoo! did with the promising Cloud Party).

Now, there’s no guarantee that any of the Big Four companies WANT to be bought out by the Big Five. Perhaps instead of a buyout, a strategic partnership deal will be inked. But I bet you anything that it’s tempting for the bigger companies to buy their way into the evolving metaverse marketplace, rather than design something from scratch.

I also predict that a LOT of the new virtual world/social VR startups we see popping up are going to fail over the next two years. There’s a lot of virtual-reality-related (and especially blockchain-related) hype taking place, and some people are investing in startups that are risky. Some smaller companies have jumped into grand virtual-world-building projects without realizing the sheer magnitude of the work involved in creating a fully-featured, viable metaverse. I’m afraid that some investors are going to get burned.

I also predict that Sinespace and VRChat are going to pull ahead in terms of features, simply because they decided to build on top of the popular Unity game engine, and they can use all the cool Unity development tools that are popping up. By comparison, feature development on Sansar and High Fidelity will be slower, as they continue work in-house on their own engines.

And finally, I expect that Second Life’s 15th anniversary celebrations will entice some former users to dust off their old accounts and revisit the platform to see what’s new. It may well herald a renaissance for SL! At the very least, it will help stave off a slow decline in SL’s user concurrency figures.

*Sorry, but as I have said before, Facebook Spaces is not a palatable social VR/virtual world product. It can’t even come close to competing against what High Fidelity, Second Life, Sinespace and VRChat are currently doing. But I bet you anything that Facebook has other plans up their sleeve. They can still try to leverage off their 2-billion-plus Facebook network (not to mention 800 million Instagram users) to become a potential major disruptor in the evolving metaverse marketplace. I’m not counting them out yet!

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Use of VRChat and Sansar in China

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Shanghai, China. Photo by Li Yang on Unsplash

Wuhao, a Chinese user on the official Sansar Discord channel, has shared some information about the current state of VR gaming and social VR in China. He said:

I have feedback from Chinese market. At present several thousands of young Chinese are playing VRChat because of the advertising effect from bilibili, a video sharing website popular with young Chinese. VRChat Chinese community have became the largest virtual world community over Second Life Chinese community based on a view to active QQ Groups (Chinese Discord). The movie Ready Player One is also very popular with young Chinese. But Chinese still have common unstable network problem causing slow loading or uploading in Sansar, and even can’t download the client.

He posted an image of a problem that many Chinese seem to face when trying to use Sansar:

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He also said, in answer to a question as to whether or not VRChat is easier to access:

VRChat should be easier to access in China because it’s a game in Steam.

(I wonder when Linden Lab will release Sansar on Steam?) He added:

VR players are still not mainstream gamers. But more and more Chinese VR [gamers] are buying HTC Vive which has better support than Oculus Rift in China. For me, I only use Steam VR and [the] Oculus Store.

In response to my question about how he is able to run and use Sansar in China, he said:

I use [a] VPN. So I don’t have problem to enjoy Sansar. But many of my Chinese friends and even some Creators in SL who want to develop Sansar really have a common network problem for Sansar.

When asked if he has any information on how common Windows Mixed Reality headsets are in China, he commented:

Not sure. Based on my life in China, I haven’t seen a real AR/Mixed Reality headset product yet and also haven’t experienced one. But it’s no problem to experience VR here even in a small city.

Thank you for sharing your perspective with us, Wuhao!

VRChat Pick of the Day: The Basement

Today’s VRChat Pick of the Day is called The Basement, created by atari. (You can find it by searching under the Worlds tab for “basement”.) It is very similar to the recently published Sansar experience Aech’s Basement, in that they are both Eighties-era suburban basements inspired by the novel/movie Ready Player One, so it gives me an opportunity to directly compare and contrast the two experiences. (If you’re interested, here’s my blogpost on Aech’s Basement.)

For example, I can post a link to Aech’s Basement via their Sansar Atlas listing (like I have in the paragraph above), while VRChat doesn’t have a similar feature (at least, as far as I am aware). Point to Sansar.

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The overall lighting in a Sansar experience, especially with the Global Illumination feature turned on,  is much better than in a VRChat instance. The lighting in The Basement is overly harsh, and it makes all the objects look flat and a little unrealistic. Point for Sansar.

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There happen to be mirrors in both experiences. Aech’s Basement in Sansar is a “fake” mirror, made using what I believe to be a stereographic image, but The Basement in VRChat is an actual working mirror. Point for VRChat. This is a very nice feature to have!

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Waving at my avatar in the mirror of The Basement

Also, you can actually sit down in the chairs in The Basement. You still can’t sit down in Sansar! Point for VRChat.

You can pick up and look at certain objects in both experiences, like game cartridges. Tie.

As for interactivity, both experiences feature interactive elements. In Aech’s Basement, you can trigger an audio account by Aech about many of the 1980s items you see in the basement. In The Basement, you can pick up and put the Atari cartridge into the console for a neat effect, and you can then teleport to special room where you can pick up a neat avatar, that looks like a cartoon version of Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movie series! Tie again.

So overall, the two experiences come out about the same. Aesthetically, I do find Aech’s Basement more visually appealing, though.

Note: I am using the built-in snapshot feature in SteamVR to take these in-world shots of VRChat. This apparently works for all SteamVR apps. I have no idea why they are all tilted like this! I thought I held my head up straight when I took the pictures, but I guess I didn’t (or perhaps I need to compensate for the tilt). Sorry!

VRChat Pick of the Day: GM3’s Art Galleries

Art galleries and virtual worlds are a natural fit. (Second Life has been home to hundreds of art galleries over its fourteen-year history.) I wanted to highlight some pioneering work which has been done in this area in the new social VR space, VRChat. (Yes, you can use it for more than just being a general jackass! There’s culture, too.)

VRChat user GM3 (a.k.a. Godfrey Meyer III) has created and curated four separate collections of paintings, photography, digital artworks, animated installations, and virtual sculptures. To find his galleries, simply search for “gallery” in the pop-up user interface in VRChat. You will find:

  • VR Art Gallery: ASCEND Art Show
  • Art Gallery: LEVITATE
  • “Three” Art Gallery Show
  • Art Gallery: FOUNDATIONS Art

Here’s a three-minute video overview of his ASCEND gallery, created last June:

And one of FOUNDATIONS:

And one of LEVITATE:

He is currently at work putting together art for the fifth show in VRChat. He has recently published an open art call for NEON ECHELON, created in Google Tilt Brush:

Here are some pictures I took at each of the four galleries created and curated by Godfrey (and yes, there’s even virtual wine and cheese!):

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I highly recommend you visit each of Godfrey’s galleries. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in some thought-provoking art! I posted about my visit to GM3’s ASCEND art gallery opening last June to Google+.

You can follow Godfrey on FacebookTwitch, or join his Discord server.