High Fidelity sets new local concurrency record

via High Fidelity

Yesterday I gave slightly late (my bad, it slipped my mind!) notice of the September 7th 2018 High Fidelity avatar concurrency load test.

The aim of these events is to enough as many people as possible to sign-up / join-in with an event held in a single contiguous space within High Fidelity (no instancing or sharding) and see how the system stands up to the load. The programme is part of what High Fidelity refer to getting “one billion in VR”, and it was hoped that the September 7th event would break the company’s previous record of 256 avatars, set during the August load test.

As it turned out, the record wasn’t just broken – it was shattered.

From 256 to 262 – before the September 7th 2018 load test had officially started

People had been encouraged to register and turn up ahead of the official start of the event at 13:30 PDT on September 7th, and a few minutes before the official kick-off, High Fidelity were able to announce the August record had been superseded with 262 avatars in The Spot.

That wasn’t all, by the end of the event, some 356 avatars were in the event region, raising the August record by 100 – not bad for a Friday afternoon when large swathes of the USA are liable to be at work, and many in places like Europe might be out and about at the start of their weekends.

Goal achieved; time to level up at the next event!

Must of those attending had a good time; however, the event wasn’t all plain sailing.

Some people reported arriving and being unable to see any avatars at all.  Philip Rosedale acknowledged the problem was at High Fidelity’s end of things, and they are working to address the issue.

Oopsie to be fixed!

The One Billion in VR road tests are a monthly event with High Fidelity, and gift card / HFC rewards on offer to those attending. To help boost numbers, events from October onwards will be held on the first Saturday of the month.

This means the next load test will be on Saturday, October 6th, 2018 at 11:00 PDT, and those wishing to participate  can find the details and register via Eventbrite.

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High Fidelity: help break concurrency record and earn a USD gift card

via High Fidelity

Updated September 8th: the record was broken, with a total of 356 avatars in the same contiguous space, as tweeted via the High Fidelity Twitter account. Read more here.

On Friday, September 7th, 2018 at 13:30 PDT, High Fidelity will be attempting to break their avatar concurrency record  – which currently stands at 256 avatars in the same virtual space. The load test is part of the company’s drive towards seeing “One Billion in VR”.

These tests are handled on a monthly basis, with the September event offering a couple of enticements for those wishing to join in: the chance to earn gift cards (or an Amazon credit), or have the equivalent USD amount donated to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

People wishing to participate in the event will (obviously) have a High Fidelity account, and be in a position to log-in to the platform during the test period (commencing at 13:300 PDT, as noted). Registration is required, which is offered free-of-charge via Eventbrite. Registration, together with requirements for entry can be found on the Eventbrite website, with the nature of the US dollar rewards specified as:

Every registered attendee who checks-in at the event will receive at least $10 in Visa or Mastercard prepaid gift card, or Amazon credit, or you can redeem High Fidelity Coin (HFC) donate your rewards value to the ACLU.

The “at least” aspect of the reward value is due to the fact that High Fidelity is offering it on a sliding scale:

  • Up to 100 people // $10
  • 100+ people // $15
  • 200+ people // $20
  • 1000+ people // $25

As well as the gift card / credit / donation options, those who prefer can take their reward in High Fidelity Coins (HFCs).

On top of all this, all registered participants have the chance to win a custom avatar created by Doob3D, and quoted as having a value of US $550.

Philip Rosedale at the August 2018 Road to One Billion load test event in High Fidelity

Registrations will remain open to the start of the event, and new users are advised to go through the High Fidelity tutorial once logged-in, as this has a portal that will take users to the load test location, referred to as The Spot.

The event itself offers various activities and well as the means to meet other High Fidelity users, and is designed to be a fun activity with a serious edge. Following the August load test, High Fidelity published a short video of the event, which I’ve embedded below – note that it opens with a brief look at people checking-in to the event, which is required in order to gain the USD reward.

High Fidelity: earn and exchange HFC for USD

On August 23rd, Philip Rosedale announced High Fidelity users can now convert High Fidelity Coin (HFC) into U.S. dollars.

This is a major step for the blockchain based crypto-currency used by the platform, and for High Fidelity users. In the latter regard, Rosedale notes:

This opens the possibility for people to earn real money creating and selling virtual goods and services within High Fidelity. We see this as a vital step in the emergence of a thriving High Fidelity economy: the flywheel of innovation and creativity in any marketplace starts when creators have positive incentives to contribute to the growing body of content for sale. In time, we hope creators will be able to support themselves by selling items in the Marketplace, charging for the experiences they create, and offering useful in-world services to other creators and performers.

– Philip Rosedale, High Fidelity CEO

The move is one of three contained within the blog post, and represents the latest stage in High Fidelity’s development of a blockchain-based economy.

In  late 2017, the company provided a roadmap for the development of the company’s currency and for IP protection within High Fidelity. Since then, the company has been building steadily towards presenting an infrastructure to allow comprehensive economic activities to take place within High Fidelity, including a comprehensive means to track and protect original IP on content. As such, the ability for users to convert HFCs to fiat money (US dollars)  is part of this wider programme.

via High Fidelity

The HFC / USD exchange rate is fixed by High Fidelity at 100 HFC to the US dollar. The cashing-out process is currently a manual activity undertaken by High Fidelity in response to user requests made via a BankofHighFidelity appointment, as is explained in a FAQ included with the blog post. This FAQ also indicates:

  • It is not currently possible to purchase HFCs – but they can be obtained through the BankofHighFidelity once a user has set-up their Wallet, the focal-point for economic actions.
  • Those wishing to convert HFCs to USD can only do so for a minimum of 5000 HFCs per transaction, and must have a PayPal account.
  • HFCs cannot currently be converted into other crypto-currencies or tokens – although this (like the ability to directly purchase HFCs) is intended to be a part of the system in the future, again governed through the BankofHighFidelity.

The second part of the blog post is an announcement designed to encourage creators to get involved in wider content creation for High Fidelity:

Creators who have assets already developed, or who prefer to use go-to applications like SketchUp or Google Poly, can now import them into High Fidelity. We’re officially launching support for these applications and others alongside our trading services now that the entire workflow from creation to monetization is in place.

– Philip Rosedale, High Fidelity CEO

The high Fidelity website includes details on how to how to add content to the Marketplace. Supported file formats comprise: models – .FBX and .OBJ; images and textures – .JPG, .PNG, and .TGA; audio – .WAV (mono or stereo or ambisonic, 16-bit at 24 or 48 Khz).

The third announcement in the blog post is aimed at spurring the development of the platform as a whole through the launch the High Fidelity Development Fund. Initially comprising 1 million HFC, this Development Fund will be used to pay developers willing to help develop features and capabilities High Fidelity have defined for the platform.

Projects for these features are (and will be) listed in a public group on the cross-platform Telegram service. Developers interested in taking on a project can then indicate their interest via public chat with a proposed price and time-line for completion. Bids are reviewed by the High Fidelity team, and those gaining approval will receive a public notification of their acceptance. HFCs earned through the fund are eligible for cashing-out if the developer so wishes. Again, refer to the official blog post and FAQ for further details.

Taken together, these three moves represent further significant – and logical – steps in High Fidelity’s growing maturity as a platform, and which could see creators take renewed / further interest in developing for them platform. At the same time, the High Fidelity Development Fund further underlines the open approach the company is taking towards building-out the platform – which is itself becoming something of a signature element in Rosedale’s approach to developing tools and platforms.

High Fidelity raises a further US $35million funding

High Fidelity, the social VR company established by Philip Rosedale, has netted a further US $25 million in venture capital in a block D round of funding.

The funding was led by Blockchain investment firm Galaxy Digital Ventures (US $20 million), along with Blockchain Capital, Vulcan Capital, Breyer Capital, and IDG Capital Partners. The funding round marks a further investment point for Vulcan Capital, the company founded by former Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. In 2014, the company led a block C round of investment in High Fidelity that raised US $11 million for the company. As a part of the investment by Galaxy Digital Venture, co-founder Sam Englebardt will join the High Fidelity board of directors.

We’re happy to announce today that we have raised $35M in a new round of investment led by Galaxy Digital, with additional participation from Blockchain Capital, as well as our existing investors. This round brings the total investment in High Fidelity to more than $70M and will enable us to substantially increase R&D and Hiring.

Part of the High Fidelity announcement of the block D investment round

The involvement of companies particularly focused on blockchain technology is perhaps indicative of High Fidelity’s own promotion and use of blockchain technology. In late 2017, the company announced its blockchain-enabled currency and IP protection plans, which was followed at the end of 2017  and early 2018 by the deployment of their commerce tools, currency and Digital Assets Rights (DAR) capabilities.

Sam Englebardt co-founder and Head of Strategic Partnerships at Galaxy Digital led the company’s $20 million investment in High Fidelity, and joins HiFi’s board. Via everpedia

These tools and capabilities mean that High Fidelity users actually own the digital goods they buy, tying the goods directly to their digital persona. A key factor with the system is that it is completely decentralised, providing a high degree of redundancy and security.

As well as working directly on blockchain technology for their own platform, High Fidelity has also been the prime mover behind the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance (VRBA), a group of early adopter companies aiming to let users’ avatars move freely between platforms and bring their blockchain-linked purchases with them.

This broad-based approach to using blockchain technology  for things like asset management, rights management  and tracking, authentication, etc., as well as for management digital currency flow and exchange within the domain of virtual environments, is the thing that has investors excited as it offers a means of testing the kind of blockchain capabilities that could have far-reaching impact on our ability to interact and do business with one another through digital means (directly and corporately).

Virtual reality may be the first killer app for blockchain. It’s a global phenomenon that fundamentally requires a trustless consensus mechanism for currency, property and identity Ventures. That’s what the new generation of blockchain protocols like EOS enable, and High Fidelity has the vision, team and open platform to lead the worldwide transition from atoms to bits.

Sam Englebardt, founding partner of Galaxy Digital Ventures

In the meantime, with Second Life turning over around Us $700 million a year in transactions, Philip Rosedale doubtless has an eye on the potential of a whole new, and broad-based virtual currently capability – particularly as he sees a market of a billion people in around a decade’s time, engaged in VR spaces to socialise share, create, buy, sell, learn, and so on.

Even without the potential for blockchain outside of these virtual spaces, the $72 million so far invested in High Fidelity seems to suggest people are persuaded by his views and ideas – and the care with which High Fidelity is building-out its back-end systems to achieve their aims, rather than focusing on glossy front-end capabilities which can so often be a focus of user wants, is also perhaps testament to their determination to present a global platform.

High Fidelity recently launch a VR tour of Nefertari’s tomb from ancient Egypt, and experience that somewhat echoes Sansar’s Voyages Live experiences. Credit: High Fidelity

Which is not to say the company is solely focused on back-end work. Recently, HiFi has been promoting a range of new experiences to demonstrate the broad-based social capabilities of High Fidelity, some of which echo moves by Linden Lab with Sansar. These include:

  • Nefertari: Journey to Eternity by CuriosityStream — students and adults enter an Egyptian tomb captured in 3D for a guided tour led by an Egyptologist (not unlike Sansar’s Voyages Live: Egypt experiences and activities)
  • Speaker Series — join the audience in an auditorium for discussions with prominent thought leaders.
  • RUST — a nightclub with live performances from DJs and an audience of people from around the world.

With thanks to Loki Eliot for the pointer.

Note: image of Sam Englebardt updated after K. Jewel pointed out that the initial image was incorrect.

 

 

Commerce in High Fidelity

It’s been a while since I last looked at High Fidelity, however, there have been a number of developments on Philip Rosedale’s VR platform over the last several months, specifically related to the last HF subject I blogged about: currency and IP protection.

In August 2017, Rosedale wrote two blog posts on the company’s currency and IP protection roadmap, setting out plans to use a blockchain-based crypto-currency – the High Fidelity Coin (HFC). Since then, they’ve issued a series of blog posts tracking their ideas and developments towards building a blockchain centric currency / IP management capability.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the attraction of blockchain systems is both their “openness” and their security. In short and simply put, a blockchain can be thought of as a completely decentralised database duplicated across the Internet, with the information held on it both immediately shared and reconciled across all instances of the database after any transaction, anywhere, any time. It is almost entirely self-managed, with nodes on the network of databases acting as “administrators” of the entire system.

All of this makes a blockchain environment transparent and exceptionally difficult to hack; it has no single point of data which can be corrupted, nor is it reliant on a single point of management for its continued existence. Thus, blockchain networks are considered both highly robust and very secure.

Following these initial posts, High Fidelity issued two further blog posts charting their steps towards building a blockchain based commerce system using the HFC as its crypto-currency, and which can provide a means of authenticating and a chain of ownership for valid digital goods (assets) within High Fidelity domains. These were:

  • A First Look at High Fidelity Commerce in Action, published in October 2018, demonstrating how their proposed approach, as a decentralised, independent service, would integrate into the shopping experience for people within High Fidelity domains.

  • An examination of their approach to handling worn assets (clothing / accessories), published at the start of November 2017. This included how worn assets would be technically managed (including allowing in-world / in-store demonstration / trial versions), and how the blockchain mechanism will not only handle the purchase of goods in HFCs, but provide certification of validly purchased goods which can be reviewed by any other user when examining the purchased item itself.

Then, in December 2017, the company launched a closed beta of Avatar Island, a shopping domain offering more than 300 avatar clothing and accessories from designers around the world for High Fidelity users to try in-world and, if they wish, purchase them. first environment within High Fidelity which starts to weave all of the threads from those earlier blog posts together into a whole.

Avatar Island is impressive on a number of levels, including the real-time, interactive ability to try on different items; the ability to resize accessories to fit, to share the shopping experience with a friend, etc. The items offered for sale within it are the first digital goods (assets) certified by HF’s Digital Asset Registry (DAR), a decentralised, publicly auditable blockchain ledger.

The DAR serves a number of functions: it uniquely identifies every digital asset on the system; it enables such goods to be  purchased with the High Fidelity Coin; and it serves as a record of transactions made by High Fidelity users. At its heart is the use of Proof of Provenance (PoP), which documents an asset’s chain of ownership, its characteristics, and its entire history, from certification onward. It’s a record which cannot be altered, deleted or denied, establishing an asset’s chain of ownership — its sale and resale — that sits entirely in the hands of the asset’s owner.

Furthermore, PoP can be used to authenticate digital assets in any High Fidelity domain – and even allow domain owners regulate the objects allowed into their virtual spaces (e.g. a restriction could be placed to only allow items in keeping with the theme of a space into it, or only allow items from approved vendors, etc.). Thus, DAR / PoP is potentially a powerful way of managing asset ownership, identification, purchase and use across High Fidelity’s distributed environment.

Since the start of February 2018, High Fidelity offers a means for users to pay one another in HFCs. Credit: High Fidelity

At the start of February 2018, the company announced they were launching the ability for users to pay one another directly in HFCs (so tips can be given to performers, etc.). To kick-start this, early adopters of High Fidelity (e.g. those who had signed-up and been involved in High Fidelity over the course of the last couple of years) have been awarded a range of HFC grants, made available through a server called the “BankofHighFidelity”.

Together, the HFC, DAR, PoP and the “BankofHighFidelity” provide a solid foundation for commerce within HF domains. Currently, there is no means to cash-out HFCs for fiat money, but given that High Fidelity is well aware of the powerful attraction of being able to do so (and allowing for regulatory adherence), it’s hard to imagine this would not be a part of the company’s plans.

As it is, the company has stated it plans to operate “BankofHighFidelity” as an exchange where HFCs can be exchanged for other crypto-currencies (I assume the likes of Ethereum and Gloebit) – a quite ambitious move in itself.

High Fidelity, approaching the second anniversary of its open beta, had laid down and impressive commerce roadmap for their environment with some impressive technical capabilities for “in-world” transactions and shopping. It’s not entirely clear how this approach might work a supply chain approach to commerce, something Linden Lab is attempting to build into Sansar, or even if High Fidelity is thinking along those lines.

Given these developments within High Fidelity and the fact that linden Lab are hoping to have their own approach to commerce in Sansar more firmly established later in 2018, – and allowing for the key differences between the two environments, it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast how each tackles commerce, digital rights, asset provenance, etc., down the road.

High Fidelity reveal currency and IP protection roadmaps

In a pair of blog posts, Philip Rosedale of High Fidelity revealed the company’s plans to use blockchain technology as both a virtual worlds currency and for content protection.

The blockchain is described as “an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value” (Don Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World). It allows transactions to be simultaneously anonymous and secure by maintaining a tamper-proof public ledger of value. While it is most recognised for its role in driving Bitcoin, the technology is seen by more than 40 of the world’s top financial institutions as a potential means to provide speedier and more secure currency transactions. However, the technology has the potential to have far wider application.

To understand the basics of the blockchain, think of a database duplicated across the Internet, allowing any part of it to be updated by anyone at any time, and the updates being immediately available across all the duplicates of the database. Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — database existing across multiple nodes. The decentralised blockchain network automatically checks with itself every ten minutes, reconciling every transaction, with each group of transactions checked referred to as a”block”. Within the network, nodes all operate as “administrators” of the entire network, and are encouraged to join it through what is (mistakenly) referred to as “mining”  – competing to “win” currency exchanges, sometimes for financial reward to the node’s operators (High Fidelity indicate that node operators will not gain directly from “mining” activities, but will instead be paid in HFCs for their computing resources used by the network).

Centralised, distributed and de-centralised networks – blockchains utilised decentralised networks

The key points to all this is that the blockchain is both openly transparent – the data is embedded in the network as a whole, not in any single point, and is by definition “public”. The lack of any centralisation also means it cannot be easily hacked – doing so would require huge amounts of computing power; nor is there a single point of data which can be corrupted or reliant on a single point of management for its continued existence – as High Fidelity point out, this means that the service can continue, even if High Fidelity does not. Thus, blockchain networks are considered both highly robust and very secure.

An estimated 700 Bitcoin-like crypto-currencies are already thought to be in operation, although the potential use of blockchains goes far, far beyond this (identity management, data management, record-keeping, stock broking, etc., etc.).

High Fidelity plans, over the coming months, to deploy their own blockchain network which will support both a new crypto-currency, the HFC (presumably “High Fidelity Currency”), which will ultimately operate independently of High Fidelity’s control. In addition, the system will provide a mechanism to protect intellectual property by embedding object certification affirming item ownership into the blockchain. This means that creators of original digital content. As High Fidelity explain:

Digital certificates issued by the High Fidelity marketplace (and likely other marketplaces choosing to use HFC) will serve a similar function as patents or trademarks — creators will register their works to get the initial certificates, and these certificates will be given out only for work that is not infringing on other or earlier works…. Once granted, these durable certificates cannot be revoked and can then be attached to purchases on the blockchain to prove the origin of goods. The absence of an accompanying digital certificate and blockchain entry will make digital forgery more obvious and impactful than in the real world — for example, server operators may choose not to host content without certificates and end-users may choose not to ‘see’ content according to it’s certificate status.

This approach could provide an extremely durable and trusted means of sharing digital content, one which is more durable than other approaches to digital rights management, for the same reasons as the blockchain offers security, transparency and robustness to operating a crypto-currency.

That the HFC blockchain is designed to operate independently of High Fidelity means that it can become self-sustaining, providing a currency environment that can be traded with other crypto-currencies and which can be exchanged for fiat currency through multiple exchanges.

The two blog posts – Roadmap Currency and Content Protection and Roadmap: Protecting Intellectual Property in Virtual Worlds – are very much companion pieces to be read in the order given. The first provides an overview of the HFC blockchain system and currency management, including how High Fidelity hope to establish a stable exchange rate mechanism without running into the issues of speculative dabbling in the system, inflated ICOs, etc., and on the use of digital wallets and personal security. It also outlines the certification mechanism for content protection, which the second article takes a deeper dive into, explaining how the relative strengthen of a blockchain approach as very quickly sketched out above could be used in protecting creator’s IP and controlling how their products / creations are used.

The decentralised approach to currency and digital rights management is something that has been pointed to numerous times during High Fidelity’s development, but this is the first time the plans have been more fully fleshed out and defined in writing. It’s an ambitious approach, one likely to stir debate and discussion – particularly given the current situation regarding the Decentraland / Ethereum and the risk of speculation around ICOs (again, something High Fidelity hope to avoid).

it’s also one which again points to High Fidelity’s founders looking far more towards more of an “open metaverse” approach to virtual environments and goods than others might be considering.