Facebook has officially made VR scary, but there's still light

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

Hey there! It’s been a while. And what a while. Covid is far from gone. We’re still dealing with the aftermath of the first quarantine and the second wave is already hitting us hard. We’re all dealing with it as best we can and I personally needed a break to engage with those I couldn’t see with lockdown in place. But it feels good to be reconnecting with online communities again.

The world didn’t stop and neither did the XR space. Many outsiders believe it was a missed opportunity. I tend to agree that we weren’t ready to receive as many users as we should have been. But this is still a very new ecosystem. The hardware, platform and apps still need more polishing. There are many problems we haven’t cracked yet.

That doesn’t mean it was a missed opportunity. I did see this crisis propel these 3 categories forward. Now we have the Quest 2 coming out with more advancements than we expected. Games continue to grow deeper. Remote work apps are pushing more and more features out. Social VR applications are getting much better and many physical events have tested them heavily. And that’s great. Some of these events are pretty big and the environments created for them wouldn’t have happened this soon without Covid.

I love the XR community. This sentiment became stronger as I saw how people showed up when Facebook continues to try to close off the platform. Facebook has a big lead over competitors and they’re trying to control the whole ecosystem. It’s not the digital platform most of us want. And it’s not the platform we believe would be beneficial for society. This is going to be our greatest struggle, but I have confidence that we’re ready to take it on.

On the news

  • Oculus Quest 2 with mandatory FB Login: At the now named Facebook Connect, they announced the new Oculus Quest 2. A better than expected update 1.5 years after the original. And it costs $100 less. Go and Rift S are now also discontinued. The controversy came with the mandatory FB account to use it. We all knew this would happen at some point, but that didn’t stop the fear. Facebook is so far ahead of competitors that there really is no other option for mainstream devices. They’re probably using this lead to force this on us. The decision triggered many developers to speak up about the times about negative interactions with Facebook. Two examples are BigScreen and Virtual Desktop, but many more on Twitter. I’ve linked to their Voices of VR podcast if you’re interested. I also posted a Twitter thread commenting on how Facebook by building a closed platform is making a zero-sum game. [Link[

  • Oculus buys Ready at Dawn: Another major VR developer gets acquired by Facebook. I can think of 2 reasons for why they are buying so many of the most successful VR game companies. The first is because these studios aren’t making enough money and buying them is a way to keep them alive producing great VR games. The second is to maintain exclusivity on their platform. Either way, having Facebook control so much of the VR platform limits creativity as all the big bucks are coming from a single common mind. VR is just starting and so many of us want to see all sorts of crazy experiments and feel free and safe while experiencing them. [Link]

  • Mozilla layoffs affect the WebXR team; Hubs continues: Mozilla has let go another 250 people which includes the WebXR team. They were the first proponent of the spec and one of the core teams pushing the needle. It’s very sad news and I wish the best for the team. The Hubs team continues for now and I hope they will continue for a long time. It’s probably the most important WebXR application everywhere. With Covid, many teams have used Hubs Cloud for work and events. [Link]

  • Epic takes Apple to court over 30% tax in the App Store: For some time now, Epic has been at war with App Stores. They’ve even launched their own, the Epic Store, which greatly reduces the percentage kept by the store for every sale. Now, Epic has gone to court to denounce antitrust practices. The developer community seems to, generally, back Epic. BigScreen brought Facebook into the mix, outlining how this 30% makes it impossible for them to be profitable while Facebook reduces the tax for Fandango and they themselves don’t need to pay it for their movie rental services. As mentioned in my Twitter thread above, these close platforms limit innovation and creativity by creating a zero-sum game. We don’t want future ecosystems to maintain this framework. [Link]

  • Frame continues to push updates: We’ve talked a lot about Hubs here, but Frame is another interesting multiuser WebXR tool. And these last few months they’ve continued to add new features and hire great WebXR developers. They’ve added things like drawing, a virtual whiteboard, and webcam support. They also have a virtual convention center coming soon with support for more simultaneous users. [Link]

  • SideQuest receives funding: From the likes of Boost VR, The Fund, and even Palmer Luckey, the team behind SideQuest has raised $650K. This is good news as we need alternatives to this close model. Robert Long, from Mozilla Hubs, is also offering $5K to anyone who can jailbreak a Quest 2. I love the VR community for things like this. We take these issues seriously, and we fight for the open platform that will make the ecosystem sustainable and beneficial for everyone. [Link]

  • Hiber raises $2.25M: An interesting platform that lets creators make their own 3D games on the Web has received a substantial amount of funding. Hiber has worked with WebXR for some time and we need more tools for creators to easily make content for the platform. Even if it looks rough around the edges right now, it was the same for Roblox 10 years ago, and look where they are now. [Link]

Food for thought

  • VR to examine Wikipedia and mind palaces: A VR & Philosophy podcast with Fabien Benetou recorded in his private Hubs Cloud. Fabien explains how he uses this instance for his mind palaces and how Wikipedia can look in VR. Spatial information is a passionate topic of mine. With an extra dimension, we’re bound to see new ways to transmit knowledge that makes it easier to be both understood and kept in memory. I love to see people experimenting with this. [Link]

Cool Creations

  • Run in StreetView with WebXR: Ruben van der Leun, a well known WebXR developer, showed on Twitter an unreleased running experience. It uses images from Google Streetview letting you go jogging around the world while in lockdown. [Link]

  • A platformer with WebXR: Feiss, while at Mozilla, has made a Lucky’s Tale-like level that works with WebXR. It’s more of an example for people to learn how to make these kinds of WebXR experiences. [Link]

  • Modbox, a VR game creation tool: In the same vein from as Dreams in PSVR, the team behind Modbox decided to relaunch with their 2.0 on September 9th adding desktop support. We’ll have to see if they’re able to attract creators like Dreams has been able to. But either way, we should expect to see more and more tools like until a few win the market. The Metaverse can only exist when every one of us can express ourselves and live how we want. [Link]

  • Mario Kart AR: A surprise announcement by Nintendo. It comes with a physical toy car that includes a camera. It’s controlled by a Nintento Switch and on the screen you see AR Mario Kart objects appear like coins or the objects you can throw. All of this in your living room. It looks like a really fun experience that can bring more AR to households today. [Link]

  • WebXR coding environment: Mr Doob has created a Glitch that’s a nice 3D coding environment. You’re in a nice (but small) apartment with a window that shows the code. Next to it is a real-time rendering of the code. This is what coding environments can look like today and no reason why they shouldn’t. With current VR headsets (including Quest 2), the resolution is now good enough to do it for at least an hour straight for many that can sustain the weight of the HMD. [Link]

Interesting Meetups & Communities

  • VR Toronto in Hubs: Due to Covid, they had to cancel the physical event and in its place, they organized a virtual event in a custom Hubs Cloud instance called The Flotilla. They counted on different collaborators who created other connected spaces in other platforms like JanusXR, Webaverse, or Altspace. Very impressive work by all the parties involved and I can’t wait to see more events like this. Mixing different collaboration tools and embracing the presence provided by VR takes us way further than just plain Zoom calls. [Link]

  • VR Festival: Folks behind the physical arts and music festival Shangri-La have teamed up with other companies to create Lost Horizon. It took place on 3-4 July with 4 stages. It worked from any device including VR headsets as it was done in Sansar. Again we see this pandemic forcing teams to get creative and embrace new technologies. VR concerts are definitely going to be a thing. The way creators can fuse music and art will produce shows for the ages. [Link]

  • Burning Man in VR: The pandemic also forced Burning Man to cancel their physical event this year. But that didn’t stop them from trying something new. They’ve used a mix of online tools including VR. Many Burning Man events occurred in different Social VR platforms including AltspaceVR. [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