Looking at Altspace VR’s closure

Courtesy of AltspaceVR

Update: AltspaceVR is hoping to remain open – see my update for more (such as was available at the time of writing).

Altspace VR, once regarded by The Verge as “one of the most fully developed platforms” for social VR, is shutting down. The new came via an AltspaceVR blog post, which was quickly picked-up by a number of tech media outlets.

In A Very Sad Goodbye, the company state:

It is with a tremendously heavy heart that we let you all know that we are closing down AltspaceVR on August 3rd, 7PM PDT. The company has run into unforeseen financial difficulty and we can’t afford to keep the virtual lights on any more. This is surprising, disappointing, and frustrating for every one of us who have put our passion and our hopes into AltspaceVR. We know it will probably feel similarly for you…

What happened?
We’re a venture-backed start-up. We had a supportive group of investors that last gave us money in 2015. It looked like we had a deal for our next round of funding, and it fell through. Some combination of this deal falling through and the general slowness of VR market growth made most of our investors reluctant to fund us further. We’ve been out fund-raising but have run out of time and money.

In all, AltspaceVR raised some US $26.3 million in funding through two rounds of investment, with US $16 million raised in 2014, and a further US $10.3 million raised in a second round of funding led be Raine Ventures. Techcrunch reports other investors including Comcast Ventures, Dolby Family Ventures, Lux Capital and Rothenberg Ventures.

Playing Dungeons and Dragons in AltspaceVR. Image courtesy of Techcrunch

Initially, AltspaceVR was seen as quirky given the initial avatars were simple in approach compared to virtual world platforms, but users who tried it out tended to be attracted by the platform’s ability to offer virtual spaces for socialising, giving the company something of a lead in the so-called “social VR” space which is now the subject of much talk. Fellow blogger and VR / tech expert Austin Tate was one of those who dipped his toes into the application, and he offered insight into things as it opened its doors, including a look at the interactive capabilities then on offer.

At its height, AltspaceVR reported around 35,000 monthly users on the platform, who use it for around 35 minutes each per day. That might not sound a lot by Second Life standards, but considering the slow take-up of VR outside of certain niche areas of early adoption, it’s actually not bad and perhaps indicates there is potential for VR environments where people can get together and share time and (web-based) content (the platform also offered a dedicated SDK for building “in-world” content and games).

Certainly, the take-up was enhanced by the push to make AltspaceVR genuinely cross-platform in approach and accessibility  – although some of the claims around the application, such as it hosting the “worlds first VR wedding” did cause some eye rolling among established users of virtual spaces given just how long wedding in VR (albeit without fancy headsets) have been going on. Nevertheless, the platform has developed a loyal and supportive community – and may have done as much as anything else to convince the likes of Facebook that there is something to the “social VR” thing.

Elsewhere, the news of the closure is likely to be seen by some as a stroky-chin-I-told-you-so moment, quite possibly with sagely negative nods towards the future of Sansar and similar platforms. However,while Sansar is making a play for the “social VR” space as well, it’s important to remember that AltspaceVR is a very different, more focused beast than Sansar, despite some (incorrectly) labelling AltspaceVR as “Second Life for VR” in the past.

The recent AltspaceVR MACH event featuring Bill “the Science Guy” Nye showcased the use of “social VR” space for outreach whilst also, perhaps, highlighting some of the applications’ limitations in terms of fidelity and immersiveness. Image courtesy of AltspaceVR

Sansar is clearly aiming for a much higher sense of immersion, with far more involved capabilities which will allow it to function as an effective platform across a range of potential markets and audiences and meet the needs of a broad range of use cases. However, it is perhaps a salient reminder as to just how nascent the current VR market really is, and why keeping a weather eye on how things progress  – and the time frames involved in seeing them progress – is vital.

In the meantime, AltsapceVR is unsure as to what might happen in the future, the blog post noting that the team has poured a significant amount of effort into the application, which might be “foundational” to the development of “social VR”. As such those behind the company would, “love to see this technology, if not the company, live on in some way, and we’re working on that.”

For those engaged in AltspaceVR, the announcement of the closure is worth reading through in full, as it offer tips on saving photos and friends lists, and how those using the SDK might see the web content they developed for AltspaceVR live on elsewhere. There’s also a note that come Thursday, August 3rd, there was be a final party in Altspace VR, which will culminate in the doors closing at 19:00 PDT.

Alchemy Release

On Monday, July 24th, Alchemy issued an update to the release version of their viewer. Version incorporates all of the updates found in the last Beta update (version, reviewed here), which included Project Bento and Avatar Complexity support (although no Graphics Presets), updates to the right-click context menu for better avatar and estate management, and numerous other improvements.

The new release, available in both 32- and 64-bit for Windows, and 64-bit only for OS X and Linux, brings with it assorted improvements and updates, some of which are very much “under the hood” in the form of a revamp of the rendering system, together with nips and tucks to the UI.

This release also sees Alchemy achieve parity with the Lab’s 5.0.6 code-base, and so includes all the recent updates from the Lab, including, but not limited to:

The most visible change to the viewer is that while maintaining the LL “v5” look about profiles (avatar, group, object), Alchemy now displays profiles in separate floaters, rather than “tabbing over” in the current People / Friends / Nearby People / Group / Inventory floater or mucking about with a sidebar, making it a lot easier to browse multiple profiles in each class / across profile classes.

Profiles now open in their own floaters in Alchemy

For OpenSim users, this release of alchemy also provides a warning when log-in credentials are being sent over an insecure connection, while the grid manager has received some reliability improvements. Alchemy also now has the ability to store avatar log-in credentials.

Much of the work on this release is said to be geared towards performance improvements. Alchemy has always – for me – produced pretty solid results FPS when on a near-like-by-like comparison with other viewers as it is possible to get (same graphics set-up, same region, same windlight defaults, similar / the same avatar numbers, etc.). Such tests are by no means perfect (you cannot account for the graphics load of individual avatars on a region, for example, even if the numbers are the same, for example). On my i4 / 16 GB DDR3 / GTX970 system, I found  this version of Alchemy continues the tradition of providing me with on average higher FPS than the LL viewer (roughly 10-20fps on average) and Firestorm (between 15-30fps), although the differences could be negligible in popular spots.

There’s no RLV / RLVa in this release, nor has the Lab’s Graphics Presets been implemented – which in my personal view is an oversight, as they do allow for much smarter use of graphics settings by those prepared to put the (not exactly extensive) effort into setting things up. That said, Alchemy continues to do what it says on the tin, and this update should keep regular users of the viewer happy.

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