Big Metaverse companies keep on growing

Bi-weekly update with the latest insights from the Metaverse: news, posts, creations, and communities.

Hello!! Spring is here! And that’s not the only exciting news this time around.

The big focus this week is on Metaverse companies that keep getting bigger and bigger. Some major milestones have been reached, especially with Rec Room’s latest fundraising round. I think few companies doubt that 3D is the way forward for software, and VR/AR is going to become the main entry point to that software.

Current big companies are already investing heavily, with Facebook at the top. But Metaverse companies like Roblox and Rec Room, and many VR games continue to grow. It’s a great sign of a healthy market. No idea when the growth explosion will be, but we’re getting there.

On the news

  • Epic Games continues buying companies: They recently announced the acquisition of CapturingReality. With Unreal Engine 5 supporting high-quality assets that work on all platforms, having an easy way to create those assets is a great addition. This is also a photogrammetry solution that can be useful to build the Metaverse later on. [Link]

  • Gather raises $26M, led by Sequoia: Gather is a top-down 2D world for people to hang out. It comes with positional audio and a camera feed that fades away if you move far away from others. It’s similar to what High Fidelity is doing now. This is a very big Series A led by the top VC firm. I’m not so sure 2D worlds are the best approach moving forward, but I do think something like Gather is more interesting than a Zoom call. [Link]

  • FB has over 10k people working on XR: A couple of months ago we said there were 6k people. Well, it’s 10k. This would account for 20% of the total workforce. That is insane and scary. I’d be curious to know the total amount of people working on XR outside of FB. Most companies and teams are still quite small. They are clearly betting their future on XR. [Link]

  • Rec Room valued at $1.25B: Yeah, you read that right. They just raised an extra $100M from Sequoia, Index, and others with a unicorn level valuation. I believe it’s the first software-based (to exclude Oculus and Magic Leap) VR native company valued at >$1B. They have 1M monthly active users. These are crazy numbers and a big milestone for the VR community. Congratulations and keep up the great work. [Link]

Food for Thought

  • Designing the architecture for the Museum of Other Realities: It’s one of my favorite VR applications. The artists behind its architecture have written a lengthy blog post explaining all the different decisions. I enjoyed their explanation of how they designed lighting. It’s well worth a read to see how deeply every detail is thought out. [Link]

  • VR vs Video Conferencing: This is an old post from about a year ago at the start of the pandemic. Early mentions of Zoom fatigue started to appear, but multiuser VR is a very different experience. The author of the post points at the fact that you actually turn around to look at someone, or that you have certain body gestures that make the experience more natural. We obviously (for now) lose on facial expressions, but depending on the objective, one platform’s pros and cons may be better than the other. [Link]

Cool Creations

  • Create a platformer with Figma: I don’t want to hype too much, but this is very cool. It’s a set of templates to easily design a platformer from Figma. Create the levels and backgrounds, and when you’re all set, copy the link to your Figma file, paste it into the website, and you have a game. I think this is very creative. [Link]


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Thanks for tuning in, that’s it for today. If you find anything interesting that we should post in the next one, reach out via Twitter or Email.

See you in 2 weeks!

Alberto

The Metaverse continues to grow

Bi-weekly update with the latest insights from the Metaverse: news, posts, creations, and communities.

Hello! Welcome to another newsletter. It’s starting to feel like Spring here in Madrid. Trees are regaining their colors, sunny days are frequent and lower temperatures no longer require Artic coats.

Some very interesting things have popped up these last few weeks. Rec Room is starting to become pretty big and Microsoft is getting into XR services. Another exciting WebXR application launched. And there’s a very interesting essay about our freedom to decide our avatar’s form.

On the news

  • Hack Week at Mozilla Hubs: The Hubs team organized an internal hackathon to experiment with different features. They recently shared the outcome and it’s very interesting indeed. There’s an easy-to-use avatar creator, a way to use your webcam feed instead of your avatar, and a 2-way link into Zoom. I’m just happy to see that Hubgs continues to evolve and improve at a fast pace. [Link]

  • VTubers now do virtual concerts: VTubers are a big trend, especially in Japan. And now they are jumping into the virtual concert bandwagon. Virtual events have big pros that just aren’t possible in physical events. The kind of spectacle you can organize can be truly magical, and more and more influencers will start experimenting with them. Even virtual influencers. [Link]

  • Wonderland Engine moves to a royalty model: It’s a whole engine to build WebXR applications. I’ve talked about it in a previous newsletter. They just moved from a subscription model to a royalty one. I think this is the right approach for developers to decide to test out the engine and play around with it. [Link]

  • Microsoft Mesh to build multi-user XR applications: It’s a new Azure service that supports all the necessary ingredients for a multi-user application. Things like spatial voice and cloud-based asset management. It also provides a common avatar system, which means that you can use the same avatar on all applications that use Mesh. [Link]

  • Rec Room reaches 2M creators: This is a huge milestone. 2M people creating rooms and objects. And there’s now a way to monetize those creations. Shawn from Rec Room indicates that this success comes from Rec Room supporting all platforms, including mobile. It’s becoming a very powerful universe with a lot of content already. [Link]

Food for Thought

  • The rise of Avatarism: Greg Fodor, from Jel, has posted an essay on Avatarism. A concept he defines as a movement to protect Freedom of Form. This can be applied both to your physical appearance to your digital appearance as an avatar. But the key for this movement is that digital avatars are way easier to create and modify. More and more applications and platforms will have a 3D environment and XR headsets become the entry point to them. This increases the importance of our virtual representation. Greg explains in detail the implication this entails. How does my freedom to project the appearance I want affect others freedom to see what they see fit. [Link]

Cool Creations

  • City of Mementos: Dani Gatunes has used his voxel framework to create a 1km2 city in WebXR. It’s full of colorful buildings that you can easily get lost in while in VR. The interesting feature is that people can leave audio messages for others to find. These kinds of experiences are right up my alley. I sure had fun exploring. [Link]

Interesting Meetups & Communities

  • WebXR Awards: They happened a couple of weeks ago with watch parties on multiple platforms, including Hubs. Check out Kent Bye’s thread outlining all the winners and nominees. Congratulations to everyone and thanks for your great work.[Link]


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Thanks for tuning in, that’s it for today. If you find anything interesting that we should post in the next one, reach out via Twitter or Email.

See you in 2 weeks!

Alberto

Are human-like avatars here?

Bi-weekly update with the latest insights from the Metaverse: news, posts, creations, and communities.

Hey there! Hope you’re doing well and continue to stay safe.

This week’s focus is on APIs. We have machine learning for 3D, high-quality spatial audio, and realistic human avatars. These are the sort of tools that will build the foundations for the Metaverse. Unreal Engine’s Metahumans cause quite a stir. They look outstanding and run in real-time.

On the news

  • Tensorflow 3D to understand 3D scenes: Google recently announced Tensorflow 3D. It comes with different pipelines to efficiently understand a scene. This means segmenting the different sections, grouping voxels that belong to the same object, and general object detection. There’s been a lot of work on using machine learning for 3D, and state-of-the-art algorithms are used in mobile AR and for tracking in VR headsets. It’s nice to see that more people will have access to these models. [Link]

  • High Fidelity spatial audio API: They pivoted from Social VR to an only audio 2D space. Now they just released an API as an npm module. It makes it easy to use their great audio capabilities from any Web app. It’s free while in alpha and will then cost $0.003333 per minute per user. That comes at ~$20 a day if there are 20 people active for 1h each. It’s not cheap, but audio is very important, and high-quality spatial audio is rare. [Link]

  • Realistic digital humans in Unreal Engine: A surprise announcement by Epic Games showing Metahuman. It’s a very realistic digital human creator tool that will work seamlessly with Unreal Engine. Same as the upcoming UE 5, it will easily scale down to lower-end platforms. They run in real-time and still look amazing. They support a vast amount of customization and animation, and can be rigged manually or using motion capture (even with mobile applications). I believe we’ll need realistic humans to be able to truly be with friends and family in the Metaverse and feel a true sense of presence. [Link]

  • Over 60 Quest apps made $1m: It’s almost double the amount from back in September. It’s a fast-growing market and Quest 2 is proving to be a big push. With more people jumping into VR and now with App Lab that more experimental applications are allowed on the platform, it does feel like it can start to become mainstream. Can’t wait for proper Quest competitors though. [Link]

Cool Creations

  • Tutorial to deploy Hubs Cloud on Digital Ocean: Fabien Benetou, who I’ve talked about previously for his cool Hubs experiments, is back with a great stream on how to deploy your own Hubs Cloud instance on Digital Ocean. This is still in alpha and the stable way is with AWS, but Fabien is doing a series on how to move away from monopolies. And that includes Amazon’s cloud infrastructure. [Link]

  • Tilt Brush port in WebXR: msub2 has created another Tilt Brush port. But this one uses the Unity WebXR exporter. It’s still buggy but it mostly works, and hey, big accomplishment. This proves that we can have more complete apps running on the Web. [Link]

  • Skittish is a fun virtual space for events: Andy Baio has made this Web-based virtual space where avatars are animals. It’s a fun-looking world with proximity chat and creating tools to modify the space around you. Something like this could be on top of Hubs for sure, and I think it’s a very good approach to make the space welcoming. [Link]


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Thanks for tuning in, that’s it for today. If you find anything interesting that we should post in the next one, reach out via Twitter or Email.

See you in 2 weeks!

Alberto

The Quest Store opens up

Bi-weekly update with the latest insights from the Metaverse: news, posts, creations, and communities.

Hey hey! A bit late this week. We’re launching soon in my day job and things are slightly crazy.

It’s a shorter newsletter this time around. There are still a couple of very interesting essays. We’re used to staying with headlines and short-form content, but it’s worth going deep into topics from time to time.

The WebXR awards are coming soon as well. Make sure to check them out!

On the news

  • Hubs has a new design: Big changes coming to Hubs. There’s a whole new UI for 2D devices instead of having the same interface for all platforms. They’ve also added a full chat sidebar instead of just ephemeral messages like before. We hadn’t heard much from the Hubs team lately, and now we know they were busy with this. [Link]

  • Tilt Brush is now open source: Sad news with a silver lining. Tilt Brush is no longer supported by Google as they continue to de-invest in VR. At least Owlchemy Labs have said that it doesn’t affect them. And the silver lining is that Google has put in tremendous effort to open source the code to keep the app alive. There are already forks out there. It’s one of the most loved VR apps and I don’t think it’s going to die anytime soon. I really hope I’m not wrong on this. [Link]

  • Apps can now easily circumvent Quest Store: App Lab is here. It allows for any application to use the Store infrastructure without being featured in it. Developers can link to their particular Store page, and support updates through it. SideQuest is going to integrate with it, allowing developers to submit a link from App Lab. This should be a great improvement to get more experimental and indie applications and games. These also tend to be the most successful ones that are pushing the boundaries forward. [Link]

Food for Thought

  • Metaverse talks on Gamesbeat: They’ve organized a 2-day virtual event focused on the Metaverse. There have been very interesting talks by the likes of Tim Sweeney and Raph Koster. Definitely worth a look. It’s interesting how after 2020 the word Metaverse and discussions around it have grown exponentially. [Link]

  • Where crypto meets the Metaverse: Piers, a partner at Delphi Digital (a crypto consulting organization), has written a long essay about the importance of crypto for the Metaverse. Of course, there are wide-ranging opinions about this argument, but it’s an option that should be considered. NFTs create a wrapper around a digital asset that allows setting all sorts of rules for its usage while allowing for interoperability. Communities can be self-governed with a good level of trust while maintaining high levels of privacy. Current crypto tech is very inefficient, but scalability solutions that reduce pollution and fees while increasing throughput are already arriving. [Link]

  • Apple’s control affects the Metaverse: Matthew Ball is back with another essay. This time he outlines Apple’s control over their platforms, and the subsequent effect on other tech companies. Apple decides which apps can be downloaded and taxes all payments. As there is no competition possible, neither the taxes nor the pieces they control (browser, identity…) can be improved on. As iPhones are so popular in western countries and throughout the world, they can hold everyone else hostage to this. [Link]

Interesting Meetups & Communities

  • The WebXR awards: They are happening on February 20th at 7 pm GMT. Also, Sophia Moshasha will interview Mr Doob, the creator of Three.js. Should be fun! [Link]


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Thanks for tuning in, that’s it for today. If you find anything interesting that we should post in the next one, reach out via Twitter or Email.

See you in 2 weeks!

Alberto

VR indie creators are the best

Bi-weekly update with the latest insights from the Metaverse: news, posts, creations, and communities.

We’re back after the holidays! I hope you were lucky enough to be able to spend some quality time with those closest to you in a safe way. I was very happy to have that opportunity.

Over this past month, things have been very busy. Especially from indie creators. The Cool Creations section is packed, and lots of interesting News as well. We have Rec Room raising a big Series C, WebXR platforms growing rapidly, tooling advancing, and much more.

The sad news is that the VR side of Wave is closing down. This hit hard in the community as it was a beloved project. I just want to reiterate what Lucas Rizzotto had to say:

On the news

  • Rec Room raises $20M: This is their Series C, bringing the total to $50M. Existing top-notch investors like Sequoia and First Round also participated in this round. They have 10M active users and a record of 35k concurrent users. These are great numbers for a VR native app that is also available on most 2D platforms. They said they have 2M unique VR users in VR. We’ll continue to see bigger and bigger VR applications as time goes by. [Link]

  • Facebook smart glasses coming out this year: They were announced at Facebook Connect and are poised to release earlier than expected. But these won’t be AR glasses. They will be more of a HUD with cameras like all other glasses that have come out since Google Glass. The main distinction is a more streamlined design from Ray-Ban. With this news came a comment that there are ~6000 people working on XR at Facebook. That’s 6x the people working on Instagram. That further proves their big investment in the sector. And it’s pretty scary. [Link]

  • Wave deprecates VR functionality: Wave XR has been one of the most creative outlets for VR. Lots of concerts with incredible 3D visuals have happened on the platform, but, due to the small VR market, they’ve moved on to 2D virtual concerts. Now, with Google Poly closing down and their platform depending on it, they’re now also shutting down their VR experiences. It’s very sad to see them go, but the market is just not there. [Link]

  • Brave adds native IPFS support: It’s finally here. A mainstream browser supporting a decentralized protocol. No need for browser extensions or a complicated setup. Open Brave and go to an IPFS URL and that’s it. It’s a very important milestone and congratulations to both parties for making it happen. [Link]

  • Twitter’s Bluesky released a review of the decentralized ecosystem: Bluesky is the group inside Twitter that is seeing how Twitter can become decentralized. We haven’t heard much from them since the announcement in late 2019 but they just released an extensive report of the state of the decentralized ecosystem. [Link]

  • Aardvark, AR in VR, is gaining traction: We talked about Aardvark almost a year ago, but it’s now in early access in Steam. It’s an application that supports 3D widgets. Each widget is made with Web technologies and fetched from a URL. They can be loaded inside SteamVR at any moment. It’s still very much a prototype, but I’m confident that most VR apps should work like this. It makes no sense that most utilities require to stop an application to open another one. They should work seamlessly wherever you may be in VR. [Link]

  • Building the Webaverse: The team at Webaverse has been creating very interesting tools for quite some time. Now things are starting to come together. It’s a crypto-based platform emulating the Street from Snow Crash. Objects are crypto NFTs, meaning that they can truly belong to someone. There’s also great Discord integration with the platform. This is one of my favourite projects. I believe it has most of the right components and the Discord integration, meeting the community where it is, is killer. I do prefer a Web-based approach where people can link to their own hosted worlds instead of buying parcels and having to move linearly over a fixed world. [Link]

Food for Thought

  • Roblox CEO advents the coming of the Metaverse: He posted a short article on Wired explaining the metaverse. He outlines the potential on different fronts and also bets that 2021 will be a big year for the metaverse. He predicts that we’ll see bigger and more frequent virtual events. I think it’ll be more of a linear progression. 2020 was a good year, with Fornite and Roblox leading the way and smaller platforms also making strides. I don’t believe we’ll see exponential growth just yet though. [Link]

  • AI in the Metaverse: a16z posted a short essay on how digital social interactions will evolve with the Metaverse. For them, the key part is generated content. And user-generated content is good, but it’s just a step to be able to build a big universe. They believe AI-generated content will be necessary, and also realistic AI NPCs. I’m not so sure that most of the Metaverse should be created by AIs. It’s unproven terrain, we just can’t know how that might turn out. But my gut feeling is that we will want to participate in the creation of the worlds we want to spend time in. [Link]

Cool Creations

  • A new WebXR modeler: With Blocks being abandoned, having easy to use tools to prototype 3D models is very important. And I’m excited about one made with WebXR. Here we have an ongoing project with a great start. [Link]

  • Arturo Paracuellos made a WebXR meeting space: This is actually a very polished app. It’s like simplified Hubs for meetings. You can easily create a room with a personal link. It generates an isometric room with floating screens that show your webcam feed. It’s easy to use, so I think it shows a lot of promise. [Link]

  • WebXR library with lots of helpers: XR.js is a multifaceted library to make it easier to create WebXR applications. It comes with many different utilities from locomotion to UI components. The UI itself doesn’t look very polished, but 3D utilities like this are necessary. Tooling is getting better, but it’s still hard for new people to WebXR to create a compelling experience. [Link]

  • Ada shows us how to make an AR experience: Ada is back in this newsletter with a stream live-coding an AR application. She’s done 2 streams to complete the project. It’s a simple basketball game that takes us from 0 to a physics game that works in VR and AR. Make sure to check it out. [Link]

  • Shader editor in WebXR: Makepad is a known shader editor. The noteworthy thing is that it also works in WebXR allowing you to see the shader changes live.[Link]

  • Museum of the Fossilized Internet: Nice Hubs room that acts as a Museum of important Internet moments. [Link]

  • Voxel World comes with a new UI and Editor: Dani Gatunes, who you might remember from creating different voxel-based WebXR experiences, has made an important update. It comes with a new UI to easily move between realms, but that UI also acts as an editor. It allows us to create our own voxel-based worlds. It’s becoming one of the most interesting WebXR platforms out there.

  • Tivoli Cloud VR founders explain platform: At Dutch VR Days, the 3 founders gave a short talk explaining how the platform works. It’s a great demo of very interesting features. Tivoli is pushing forward on what virtual worlds can do. [Link]

Interesting Meetups & Communities

  • Immersive Web 2021: Today at 6pm GMT there will be a virtual event. The speaker is Ada, from Samsung and Co-chair of the W3C Immersive Web Working Group and Community Group (mentioned in many previous newsletters). Make sure to check it out. [Link]


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Thanks for tuning in, that’s it for today. If you find anything interesting that we should post in the next one, reach out via Twitter or Email.

See you in 2 weeks!

Alberto

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