High Fidelity changes direction (2)

via High Fidelity

In April 2019, as I reported in High Fidelity changes direction: the reality of VR worlds today (& tomorrow?, Philip Rosedale announced that High Fidelity would no longer be sitting within the content creation / public space provisioning area, and would instead switch to focus on software / platform development. This announcement has now been followed with a blog post by Rosedale that expands on the company’s immediate plans for the future.

In the May 7th, 2019 post Rosedale indicated that the company is shifting its emphasis even further and will be downsizing its workforce by 25% (some 20 people) in the process. The blog post is brutally honest – kudos to him for being so open – and its commentary gave me pause to mull a few things over before offering any lay thoughts of my own.

In stating the reason for the change, Rosedale points to the lack of take-up of VR headsets:

If you had asked me when we started the company in 2014, I’d have said that by now there would be several million people using HMDs daily, and we’d be competing with both big and small companies to provide the best platform—but I was wrong. Daily headset use is only in the tens of thousands, almost all for entertainment and media consumption, with very little in the way of general communication, work, or education.

– Philip Rosedale, Toward A Digital World, May 7th 2019

On the one hand, for those of us who never brought into the whole “VR will be a US $70 billion a  year business by 2020” simply on the basis of the “gee whiz” factor ascribed to it, nod knowledgeably and mutter, “told you so”. But this would rather miss a good portion of the point. As I’ve also pointed out in these pages, VR could in time come to have an impact on our lives in a variety of ways, and there are markets available today that could be – dare I say – revolutionised by its presence.

The problem is, no-one has yet found a way to substantially break into those markets for a variety of reasons. Take education, for example (a big focus for High Fidelity in the past): yes, VR could revolutionise teaching in many areas, but until the cost of headsets has come down substantially to the point where schools can afford to equip a class of 25-30, until questions of controlled access and the provisioning of virtual environments for schools and colleges to access (or build for themselves), the widespread integration of VR teaching remains a horizon vision.

Philip Rosedale, High Fidelity founder and CEO (centre) makes the first of what are now two announcements about the company’s direction, on April 5th, 2019

However, when it comes to the broader metaverse in particular – the starting point of Rosedale’s blog post – VR is really just one component. As he notes, since its inception, High Fidelity has worked hard on many of the foundational requirements for a broader framework in which to set “the metaverse”.

We’ve been working as a company for six years now writing open-source software and creating test events and experiences to enable this imagined place to come into existence. We’ve created a 3D audio engine that can handle large crowds, an open-source graphics engine with live editing, scalable servers, a blockchain-powered currency and marketplace, and more.

– Philip Rosedale, Toward A Digital World, May 7th 2019

Could it be that, moving the focus of VR headsets off to the side until they do gain real, broad-based market traction, some of this additional technology, combined with what had already been achieved through non-VR centric 3D spaces, demonstrate real world uses cases business (and others) might want to adopt? And in doing so, might this further lay practical foundations for wider acceptance of the concepts inherent in a “metaverse” type of setting, one that could in time also more naturally offer VR HMD support if / when the latter does start to become more a part of working environments?

That’s what High Fidelity is now setting out to explore, by delving into the idea of a virtual workspace solution.

For two weeks, we sent everyone home, with their computers, and created a private tropical island where we could work together all day, mostly wearing headphones but not HMDs—we didn’t prescribe the medium of use.

Within the first couple of days it was obvious we were onto something. The 3D audio was always on, perfectly realistic and comfortable. We found ourselves walking around and interacting with each other the same way you would in a physical office. We put up whiteboards and spaces for teams … What if the general trend toward remote and distributed work … could be accelerated even faster by virtual worlds?

– Philip Rosedale, Toward A Digital World, May 7th 2019

Again, for those of us who have been around long enough, this approach might ring a bell. Back in 2008-2010, another company Rosedale founded (but had since departed in an active capacity) tried a similar idea through a product called Second Life Enterprise (SLE), designed to provide companies with a “behind their firewall” implementation of a Second Life based virtual environment for collaborative working.

That idea ultimately failed – although it’s fair to say the reasons for that product’s failure were potentially more rooted in how it was implemented and the walls Linden Lab placed around it to (presumably) protect their IP than in any disinterest in the concept of virtual work spaces or sleazy associations appended to SL itself. And times have moved on a good deal since then; if nothing else eight years on, people are now more au fait with things like virtual spaces, avatars and the like to potentially be more open to virtual working environments.

So time will tell if this new approach works for High Fidelity – again, Rosedale admits there is no certainty in the move. But after six years – most recently with a lot of effort poured into high-profile events – High Fidelity is still struggling to grow an audience, and it really wasn’t clear if anything would substantively change in the next six years if they kept on that road. As such, this a brave move for a start-up to take, and a dose of realism when it comes to the state of play with the VR market. And in the meantime, as the blog post also makes clear, High Fidelity will continue to support its open source VR platform.

Which leads to a final question. Is this a sign that more VR-centric virtual spaces could face some hard decisions? Quite possibly. High Fidelity actually isn’t the first to hit the wall of slow VR take-up. In 2017, Altspace VR announced its imminent closure, but was ultimately saved when Microsoft stepped in.

But again, caution should be exercised if tempted to see this as a sign of the future for something like Sansar. If nothing else, the latter doesn’t have the weight of US $73 million investment sitting on its shoulders, quietly demanding the way be shown towards some kind of future return. Plus, Linden Lab have a viable source of income through Second Life, a platform they are committed to continue to develop and (hopefully) grow. If nothing else, this allows them the potential to throttle / steer the development and growth of Sansar to meet the realities of their potential marketplace without the worry of external pressures.

In the meantime, to High Fidelity, one can only say “good luck” with the new endeavour, and it will hopefully be interesting to see where it leads.

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High Fidelity changes direction: the reality of VR worlds today (& tomorrow?)

Philip Rosedale, High Fidelity founder and CEO (centre left) addresses the weekly General Assembly meeting in High Fidelity, Friday, April 5th, 2019. Credit: High Fidelity

On Friday, April 5th, Philip Rosedale stunned attendees at High Fildelity’s weekly General Assembly meeting (see the video here and embedded at the end of the article), when he announced that the company would no longer be sitting within the content creation / public space provisioning area with its platform, and that forthwith all public spaces hosted by the company, together with the large-scale events they have been hosting would cease as the company switches tracks to focus sole on software / platform development.

The news was greeted with a sense of shock by High Fidelity users, and the company certainly moved very quickly to follow through on the announcement, shutting down all of the public spaces it has hosted, included social spaces and their flagship Avatar Island, which opened just over a year ago as a means of showcase virtual commerce, shopping and the power of the platform’s micro payments capabilities (see Commerce in High Fidelity, this blog, February 2018).

One of the driving forces behind the decision is that High Fidelity is currently unable to gain major traction – and this despite major pushes to do so with some large-scale events pushed out to the media for promotion, and the former monthly stress tests of the system, trying to push concurrency rates up to determine just how well High Fidelity domains can handle multiple hundreds of avatars. Which is not to say all events are coming to an end: the platform’s popular bingo sessions are set to continue and – taking a leaf from Sansar’s book – High Fidelity is promoting coverage of the first operational launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with an in-world event on Thursday, April 11th.

High Fidelity have, until now, straddled themselves across the software development, content creation and event hosting environments in both trying to generate an audience for their platform and develop the platform itself. Going forward, they plan to focus solely on the latter

However, moving away from large-scale event hosting and hosting domains and environments to try to encourage user growth and instead turning to users and (I assume) suitable partners for audience-generating content, means the company will no longer be pulling against itself trying to both develop the software and platform and provide engaging content and events intended to acquire an audience and encourage their retention.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty much what Linden Lab have, for the most part, been trying to do with Sansar. While the company have provided various social spaces, for the most part they have left content development to users, or have facilitated content creation on behalf of partner organisations (Intel, HTC, the Smithsonian, OpTic Gaming, Roddenberry Entertainment to name a handful) through Sansar Studios – and it has recently been indicated that we’ll be seeing more of this in the future.

One potential benefit of the move for High Fidelity deomain creators is the move will hopefully spur more interest in their environments, as Rosedale noted:

By shutting down our public servers, I actually make the prediction that there will be… more people concurrent across the servers that you guys run than us. So I’m not saying that we’re giving up on the servers, I’m saying that I want you to run them.

– Philip Rosedale, April 5th, 2019

Another aspect of the decision is the slow growth of VR in the broader public marketplace. In this, High Fidelity is possibly more vulnerable than other platforms, in that while it has a Desktop option, it has largely marketed itself as “the” VR virtual spaces company. All of their major event activities; for example, the monthly One Billion in VR events, the FutVRe Lands festival, etc. (bold emphasis my own), have all been VR-centric in their titles, potentially spurring a feeling among a broader audience that High Fidelity isn’t for them due to the lack of any personal HMD.

One of the factors influence High Fidelity’s decision is the slow take-up of consumer VR

Which is not so say others platform built to try to ride the wave of VR don’t also face issues building an audience. For example, much is made of the “success” of VRChat (which can be played both in VR and via desktop), yet the fact is, its average and peak hourly concurrency is only roughly one tenth that of Second Life. But, having said that, the take up is likely to come in time. In fact, as I’ve noted in other articles on VR, right now there are clear niche markets / environments where VR can have a significant impact  – if someone can leverage them correctly: education; training / simulation; architecture / design / prototyping; healthcare; visualisation and computer modelling, etc. And in the future, as VR / AR (or more particularly MR / XR)  do start to gain a broader consumer audience traction, then opportunities for broader virtual environments will arise.

There is perhaps a broader take-way from the High Fidelity announcement: and that is, companies like High Fidelity, Linden Lab, Altspace VR, etc, are likely to face something of an uphill battle to gain an audience for their emerging platforms, even when VR does gain a firmer consumer foothold.

This is not Second Life in 2004. Second Life actually took off like a rocket, once it got working. Even though it had tons and tons of problems… but it took off like an absolute rocket. And the reason that it did, I think, was that this experience of bringing a lot of people together and letting them build things together live, well, in the time frame when we built Second Life, it had never, ever been seen by anyone …

The problem we have today is that that’s just not true. The internet affords us many, many, many, many different ways to be together as people, for example, or just to chat. And so one of the things we are up against here is that there is not as much of a genesis moment … Coming on-line you just don’t have the kind of meme in the sense of a grand or cultural meme kind of written out there like Second Life did. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to make it. It simply means that we have to be more clever and the strategy that we use to get people in here has to be somewhat different.

– Philip Rosedale, April 5th, 2019

In other words, Second Life has been successful because, at the time of its birth and in the years of its initial growth, it was largely unique on all fronts in the way it captured people’s imaginations*, and its broadness of scope and its ability to embrace people’s imaginations and desires meant it could gather an audience to its shores long before anything came along to seriously challenge it.

This is no longer the case. Today, the digital realms we have at our fingertips are limitless, be they for gaming, socialising, sharing, entire virtual environments, and so on. Whatever we might be seeking, the chances are there is already something there to sate appetites. Even creators can build and mod for a range of games and environments and – through the likes of Unity and Unreal and so on – build environments, all without necessarily getting too hung up on arcane tools built-in to platforms.

Thus, and even if / when VR does become far more consumer mainstream, any attempt to build a world-girdling, audience-rich metaverse is going to face something of a challenge without a significant fiscal weight behind it. Not just in terms of developing the technology, but also into the marketing and PR and – most importantly – the licensing of content. To put this last point another way: were OASIS real, would all the models, characters, and so on from major franchises / brands seen within it really be user-built, or would they more likely be the result of hefty licensing deals that brings the content to the platform whilst protecting the rights (and royalties) of the licensors?

But this is looking further down the road. Right now, High Fidelity’s decision is worth marking; how much of a wider impact it has is a matter yet to be seen.

* Revised, from the original after Will Burns correctly reminded me Active Worlds predated SL.

High Fidelity pilots HFC and Ethereum trading

via High Fidelity

On Tuesday, January 8th, 2019, High Fidelity announced the start of a pilot programme that will allow High Fidelity users to trade between High Fidelity Coin s(HFC) and Ehterium Either (ETH).

Etherium is an open-source, public, blockchain based distributed computing platform / operating system featuring smart contract (scripting) functionality. It incorporates a cryptocurrency  – the Ether.

The latter functions in a similar manner to the Bitcoin, and its use has been boosted over the last two years by the  Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), an non-profit organisation of over 150 members, including national and global banks, technology companies such as Cisco and Microsoft, investment houses and research organisations, with the aim of driving the use of Ethereum blockchain technology as an open-standard across multiple market sectors.

via High Fidelity

Initially, High Fidelity will be allowing users to purchase HFC using ETH. However, over time, all High Fidelity users will be able to buy and sell their HFC for ETH, although an ETH wallet will be required.

Trades of HFC will be handled in fixed amounts of $25 or $50 (HFC 2,500 or 5,000), and will be handled via an in-world banker, through a process similar to that currently used to convert HFCs to USD. As the programme with ETH develops, High Fidelity plan to start offering an automated means of selling HFCs for ETH, and may eventually see the ability to sell HFCs directly for USD values discontinued.

An important point to note with trades is that HFC is a stablecoin pegged to the US dollar (100 HFC = US $1.00), while Ethereum varies against the Dollar. Thus, the exchange rate between HFC and ETH will fluctuate.

This is a further interesting move by High Fidelity, which High Fidelity see as being key to the future of buying / selling HFC:

Over time, we see this being our primary method for purchasing and selling HFC. It’s convenient, global, well-governed and broadly adopted. In future, we may enable trades to other cryptocurrencies or tokens, either directly or through third-party exchanges. We also hope that HFC will be used by other VR platforms or applications, making the transfer to Ethereum even more useful.

– High Fidelity blog post on HFC and ETH trading

You can read the full announcement here.

2018 OSCC: registrations open, and a call to artists

Via OSCC

On Saturday, November 29th, I received an e-mail announcing that registrations for the 2018 OpenSimulator Community Conference are open.

The 2018 conference will take place on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th December 2018, celebrating 11 years of community and development of OpenSimulator and focusing on the evolution and future of this open-source virtual world platform.

Attendance is free, but numbers are limited. Those wishing to donate to the supporting this and future conferences, can do so through a number of donation options, ranging from $10.00 USD through to $200.00 USD, or donate an amount of their own choosing, all of which offer various benefits to purchasers, such as reserved seating areas expo booths at the event, physical t-shirts and other OSCC18 promo items.

The expo area associated with the conference will not be ticketed and so can be accessed by any avatar, subject to constraints on the number of avatars that the exhibition regions can hold at any particular time.

To book your tickets to attend the conference through your avatar, and to see the full range of ticket options and their respective benefits, please visit the conference ticket page.

Note that registration is open on a first-come-first-served basis until the maximum number of virtual conference centre tickets is reached. At that point, community members will still be able to register for the live streamed version of the conference that will be available.

The OSCC conference centre, 2013

Volunteer and Social Events Registrations Still Open

OSCC 2018 is still accepting registrations from volunteers to help run the event, and from those interested in hosting a social event associated with the conference.

The conference needs volunteers to help in a range of activities: greeters / audience assistants ; moderators; builders; scripters; social media / communications; streaming and technical support. Those interested in volunteering can do so via the Volunteer Sign-up form,  Depending upon interests, volunteers can select more than one role if they wish.

Social events can be held on other grids, and can be scheduled on dates leading up to the conference on Saturday, December 8th, 2018, or for after 17:00 PDT on either Saturday, December 8th or Sunday December 9th, 2018. Those wishing to host an event are asked to complete the Social Event Sign-up form.

There will also be limited available space on the OSCC conference grid for those who would like to host an OSCC meet-up or after conference event on Sunday, December 9th, 2018. Please contact the organisers with questions.

OSCC 2014 conference arena. Credit: OpenSimulator Community Conference

A Call To Artists

Also on November 10th, the conference organisers issued a call to artists, which reads in part:

We are looking for artists to Contribute art with us to showcase and to freely share with the community. These artworks will be placed on our Landing Regions and Expo Regions and possibly in the Keynote Regions. We will encourage participants to tour the artworks and make those that are either Public Domain Dedication or Creative Commons Attribution available for OSCC attendees to pick up a copy for their own regions.

Art can be static or kinetic in nature, and multiple submissions from individual artists are welcome, but there are certain criteria that should be noted by applicants:

  • All art must fit a 5m x 5m x 7.5m (height) area.
  • Mesh must not exceed 25K polygon counts.
  • Art must be distributable by Copy or by box, and must be resource considerate.
  • No timers, scanning or logos permitted.

Artists wishing to participate are asked to e-mail opensim@avacon.org, and include a photo or sketch, description, and any other details about the work they would like to submit.

About the Conference

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software. The conference is a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimulator and AvaCon, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces.  The conference features a day of presentations, panels, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.

High Fidelity announces FutVRe Lands

via High Fidelity

On Thursday, October 25th, 2018, High Fidelity announced FutVRe Lands, a one-day VR celebration featuring a host of activities and events to take place on VR Day, Saturday, November 17th, 2018.

Virtual Reality Day is a series of VR/AR events organized worldwide to help virtual and augmented reality become more mainstream. Any individual, company or organization can host a free public VR/AR event and become part of the Virtual Reality Day phenomenon. This is a completely voluntary and grassroots effort. It’s about bringing the energy and interests of the greater community together, and focusing that energy for the benefit of everyone on one special day.

– From the VR Day website

Billed as “a celebration of the communities developing in social VR. It’s an all-day binge of ground-breaking experiences”, the High Fidelity FutVRE Lands event will run from 12:00 noon through to 17:00 PST, and will include live music, performances. art, speakers, games and contests, ways to earn High Fidelity Coins (HFCs) and opportunities to win VR headsets.

Attendance is open to anyone with a home computer (via High Fidelity’s Desktop mode), VR headset or who uses Google Daydream. Attendance is free, but space is limited, so people are advised to reserve tickets sooner rather than later. Those in the San Francisco area can additionally register to attend the event in person.

via High Fidelity

Event Contests

Best Avatar Contest: show-off your best avatar creation and win US $1,000 (100,000 HFC), with two runners-up each receiving US $500 (50,000 HFC). Enter Here.

Favourite Domain Contest: do you know an amazing domain? Nominate it for the Favourite Domain Contest! The festival attendees will have an opportunity to visit it and vote for their favourite. The domain with the most votes will win US $700 (70,000HFC)  Nominate Here.

 

OSCC 2018: call for proposals and volunteers

Via OSCC

The 2018 OpenSimulator Community Conference (OSCC) will take place on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th December 2018.

An annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software.  Organised as a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimulator and AvaCon, Inc., with major sponsors including  the University of California, Irvine, Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games and the Rockcliffe University Consortium.

Call for Proposals

The Conference for 2018 will feature a series of dynamic short presentations and panels that spotlight the best of the OpenSimulator platform and community, and a Call for Proposals has been issued to individuals or groups who are shaping the Metaverse.

The speaker sessions offer 20-minute presentations to engage the mind while the community-sponsored tours, and on the Expo regions, content give-aways and Hypergrid explorations take attendees to faraway places. We are particularly interested in speakers who dramatically tell the story of their work and employ great 3D examples as props and graphics. In particular, the organisers encourage presentations that span current innovations and activities, performance artistry, educational simulations, innovative business cases or  have a publication or track record of real world use.

Those wishing o submit a proposal, please complete the proposal application form. If you have questions or need more information, please contact the conference organisers.

Key Dates & Deadlines

  • October 22nd, 2018 – Proposals are due by 11:59 PM PST (Pacific Standard Time).
  • October 29th, 2018 – Proposal  acceptance emails and with conference information.
  • November 3rd, 2018 – Accepted speakers must register for the conference to create an entry in the conference schedule and the program.
  • November 10th, 2018 – Speaker Orientation & Training sessions and Presenter Booth Setup to prepare speakers for the conference.
  • November 17th, 2018 – Deadline for stage props and audio-visuals (beyond textures) for conference program.
  • December 8-9th, 2018 – OSCC18 Conference dates.
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

Volunteers

The conference needs volunteers to help in a range of activities:

  • Greeters / audience assistances
  • Moderators
  • Builders
  • Scripters
  • Social Media / Communications
  • Streaming and Technical Support

Those interested in volunteering can do so via the Volunteer Sign-up form,  Depending upon interests, volunteers can select more than one role if they wish.

Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

About the Conference

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software. The conference is a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimulator and AvaCon, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces.  The conference features a day of presentations, panels, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.