The 2019 OpenSimulator Community Conference is in progress over the weekend of December 14th and 15th. An annual event, the conference focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software. It is organised as a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimuator and AvaCon, and this year is sponsored and supported by University of California, Irvine, Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games, together with members of the Opensim community.
The conference once again features business presentations, talks, panel discussions, workshops, social events and hypergrid activities, covering a wide range of subject areas, including education, social VR, using virtual worlds and environments for historical recreations – and much more besides.
You can find the full schedule of events on the OpenSimulator Community Conference website, together with instructions on how to log-in and join and of the sessions. Those wishing to register and support the conference can do so through the registration page. This is not required, but those who are willing to do so help to cover the cost of running these conferences.
To encourage interest in the conference, there will be two social events held on Friday, December 13th (as well as during the conference itself). These are:
14:00-16:00 PST- Tour of the International Spaceflight Museum in Kitely: ISM Exhibit Building Chair Mike Lorrey will personally lead and narrate a tour of the ISMuseum region in Kitely, with detailed explanations of the many exhibited rockets, spacecraft, and astronaut/pioneer exhibits. Come prepared to listen in voice. The first hour will be a tour with a considerable narrative explanation.Tour will be followed by a dance party in the Rocket Ring with DJ Rosa Alekseev.
18:00-19:00 PST: Magnolia Gardens Party: explore Magnolia Gardens of Knowledge, interact with the Digital Teaching Assistants designed to guide new users learning to use the SceneGate Viewer, relax, fish, ride the jet skis, or dance the night away with music throughout.
Note: if you land in the default Depot region, select Magnolia Gardens on the quick teleport board; if you use the teleport system with the image, select Magnolia Gardens in the list then click the picture to teleport; if you arrive inside the lighthouse, click the yellow cylinder to teleport to the venue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 domain 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.