High Fidelity changes direction (3): layoffs & shuttering apps and access

via High Fidelity

In April 2019 during a High Fidelity General Assembly meeting, Philip Rosedale announced the company would no longer be sitting within the content creation / public space provisioning area, and would instead switch to focus on software / platform development. He followed-up on that announcement a few days later with a blog post outlining the company’s move to try to develop a virtual workstation / environment that would allow people to work collaboratively whilst geographically separate.

Since that time, the company has been working on the virtual workspace idea, apparently developing it to a point where a desktop versions has been undergoing widespread testing involving teams from some 75 organisations.

However, in a December 11th blog post, Updates and a New Beginning, Rosedale announced that while the company plans to continue use the technology they’ve developed, and hopefully carry it forward into the future, they  do not plan to commercialise it at present, and are again pivoting to a new project.

Simply put, having taken a close look, while we can see that remote work is going to continue on its growth trajectory and we do have customers using it—the opportunity is not big enough today to warrant additional development. 

The work we’ve done over the past six months has been valuable in helping us understand how to make a 3D VR environment usable, stable, and accessible to first-time, non-gaming audiences, and that is intellectual property we will take forward into future work.  

– Philip Rosedale, December 11th, 2019

The pivot means that the company is shedding a further 50% of its staff (approx 40 people, given 20 people, or 25% of staff were let go in May 2019). Further, and as from January 15th, 2020, High Fidelity will be shuttering public access to its code repositories on Github (although users are welcome to fork them, if they wish), and will also be withdrawing all their apps from the Steam and Oculus stores and from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

For now, Rosedale is not revealing what the new project is, but given the shuttering of the current platform code repositories and a comment in the December 11th blog post, it might be related to a more virtual world style of platform / application.

Giving up on the current generation of HMDs doesn’t mean we’re giving up on Virtual Worlds. A team is already working on a new internal project, and although we aren’t going to talk about it now, we will have more to share about what we are doing when we are ready.

– Philip Rosedale, December 11th, 2019

A FAQ has been produced to accompany the blog post, answering core questions existing user might have about platform accessibility, account registrations, blockchain use, buying / selling HFCs, etc. And those who have a High Fidelity account should refer to that document. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a blog post from Rosedale published on December 9th, 2019, in which he continues to ruminate on the hard realities surrounding the state of VR at this point in time.

In Requiem for the HMD, he admits something that many of us have always felt: the the current generation of HMDs can at best only enjoy a modest success, and the technology as a whole still has a long way to go before it is liable to reach a “mainstream” place in the consumer market. In particular, he notes four things he believes the technology requires in order to reach this point: comfort of wearing, the inclusion of see-through displays and at desktop screen resolutions, and the ability of people to be able to type tat normal speeds in VR. To these I’d actually add more fundamental requirements such as cost per unit, overall ergonomics and compelling use cases – but these are topics for another blog post.

In the meantime, Updates and a New Beginning makes for interesting reading, as it offers a further honest evaluation of VR as it is today from someone who has been one of its strongest evangelists. For those who are having to depart High Fidelity as a result of the company’s further shift in direction, the hope is that they are able to transition smoothly into other work opportunities.

For those users who would like to keep the spirit of High Fidelity’s VR platform alive, as noted, they have until January 15th, 2020 to fork the code into their own repositories. There also the likes of Tivoli Cloud in development by former High Fidelity alumni Caitlyn Meeks and Maki Deprez that may blossom into new homes for HiFi users.

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