Virtual worlds and virtual reality

I can’t help but to be both excited and concerned about the recent acquisition of Oculus VR by Facebook. Many of the initial reactions were kneejerk, and a bit over the top, but at the same time they should not be written off. Once we get over the feeling of betrayal from backers due to the sense of entitlement for getting the Oculus project off the ground, there is a lot to consider.

I get the sense that people are afraid that Facebook will completely dominate the social VR and virtual worlds segment and leave even less room for smaller companies to make any progress. The facts behind these fears are pretty simple, and well founded. Facebook is an absolute juggernaut of a company. They have the technical prowess as well as the people power and money to pull off just about any engineering project they put their collective mind to. I may not be a fan of the way they make their money, but to write them off is a total mistake. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have the chops and the resources to pull off virtual reality at massive scale even if they have to start from proverbial scratch.

Working at InWorldz, I know that the limiting factor is not the size of our imaginations, nor a lack of determination or skill, but very simply a lack of people power. We have a lot of goals and vision, but we have to limit our scope to what we can finish in a reasonable amount of time with the staff and contractors we have. If we had more people, I’d have at least 2 more very out of box projects running in development right now. Every day more and more ideas are developed and we have to choose but a small few to work on during the course of a year. As I begin to extend this time out, I realize that I need to continue to work as hard as I can to realize my dreams within the next 10 years and see if I can truly make a difference.

There is a very fine balance between accomplishing a goal as fast as possible and burnout. A VERY fine line.

Facebook on the other hand has infinite resources in comparison to our little company. They can put more people on a single part of a project then I have ever had working on the entirety of the InWorldz source code. They can do the scaling and performance research in parallel with developing the plans for more elaborate uses of the VR tech. They can afford to have a ton of failures on their way to success knowing that time is on their side.

So where is the good in all of this for companies around InWorldz’ current size? The research and ideas behind whatever technologies are developed will undoubtedly be shared over time. In the way that BigTable and Dynamo were the flagships of the NoSQL movement, it is entirely possible that a bunch of new techniques will be developed pertaining to virtual world scaling and rendering. These ideas will be shared because companies need to show that they’re at the top of their game. This helps everyone.

A second, and potentially larger benefit is that right now VR and virtual worlds are still a very niche segment. We just don’t have the user base we need to sustain a lot of successful companies in the space. A big company like Facebook highlighting the various uses of VR and virtual worlds may bring desperately needed attention to our little niche and bring it into its own. Everyone isn’t going to like the Facebook vision of VR, but that leaves room for people to find alternatives they can grab onto.

Facebook also will not conceive of every good idea that comes with a virtual world and virtual reality. More important than the tech is how the tech can be used to enhance people’s lives and/or give them more enjoyment in their day. There is room for everyone to come up with great use cases in the VR/VW space and then use whatever implementation they think best serves the purpose.

My vote on all of this from a virtual worlds perspective? Net positive effect on VWs.

3 thoughts on “Virtual worlds and virtual reality

  1. “A big company like Facebook highlighting the various uses of VR and virtual worlds may bring desperately needed attention to our little niche and bring it into its own. Everyone isn’t going to like the Facebook vision of VR, but that leaves room for people to find alternatives they can grab onto.”

    To me, this is the most important part of the Oculus acquisition. I have seen this in the past, where the small organizations have trouble getting the word out. Then a larger one with a solid marketing budget and attentive media gets involved and what follows is what I refer to as the “education of the masses”. The larger organization blazes the trail, clearing the path for many others. It educates and markets the ideas and many uses to the general population, who slowly begin to see the utility of something, over time. They are not necessarily the ones to succeed, although it is critical that someone with deep pockets come along and champion the idea.

    I worked for a company in 1993 that had well-established direct “chat” between online users. It was difficult to describe, but it is what we now refer to as Instant Messaging (IM). To put things in perspective, there was no public concept of the web, or browsers then. Mosiac came out that year, Netscape was released a year later. The Internet was “new”, at least to the mainstream, and the concept of IM was alien to most computer users (which itself was still fairly niche at the time). It wasn’t until the big guys came along and made “IM” a better known that we also adopted the term for our existing feature.

    There have been many examples of this. When you look at multimedia in computers, it’s easy to forget that there was almost no sound at all until Ad Lib came along to show everyone why it was so good to have sound in computers. (And once they educated the masses, others like SoundBlaster did it better.)

    Even with just IM, the education of the masses continues. That has evolved into short public social messages (Facebook status updates), public and private Twitter messages, even just WhatsApp messaging is considered, by some, to be quite valuable. But I don’t think and SMS text messages on phones become popular only after the education of the public by the big guys. And merging the Ad Lib and IM stories and taking them even farther leads to newer ideas like MMS and smartphones.

    What would WhatsApp be valued at had Apple not introduced the iPhone? There is room for the little guy to emerge after the education by the cash-rich giants.

  2. Your first sentence already shows the feeling many people have, of which: WOW, can I buy that for Xmas? Such big companies have enough money to play a role in more or less successful self-fulfilling prophecies, but what is in it for me as an individual? The technical news goes faster than the roll-out of what is being talked about, and no-one can predict what individuals really will be using and hat will come out of it, and sometimes technologies are even bought to prevent them becoming a competitor.

    The current (western) tendency of asking the individual to be more in control of their own life, healthcare, education, and even family and peers is interesting, if you extrapolate the possibilities, constantly changing groups of individuals may form (temporary) “governments, companies, foundations, etc”, not based on the old-fashioned set-up of society: those who decide and those who do the work, but on the fact a group of individuals from wherever in the world can together “know” a solution, and build it!

    A company acquiring a technology does not mean our life will change immediately when they buy and even launch a product, while a group of individuals using a technology may very quickly see that technology changing and improving according to what they wish for.

    The average reader will see millions, billions and trillions of dollars/euros/yens being stated when someone buys someone else or something. That makes no sense, it would be much more interesting (and honest) if such a company said: we are buying this because we believe we can do this with it. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Their competitors will love hearing that, until they find out their own customers leave them for someone “more honest”? And in which they are offered a more active role?

    We will see, thank you for your article, very readable and interesting, I hope the above brings some other ideas to others.

    Kind regards,
    Emmanuel

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