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Systemic Issues in Metaverse Implementations

PREFACE

This article is much longer than I would have liked, yet I wasn’t able to dive into each of the subtopics in as much detail as I would have hoped for. Still, it provides some foundational material for a later examination and proposal for a metaverse implementation. If you are a serious virtual world or metaverse enthusiast, this article is probably for you. The more casual reader may want to skip this article.

If you are involved in a metaverse project, you may find it referenced below. Nothing you read here should be considered a harsh criticism of any one particular approach. In most cases, these implementations are named to illustrate an example or a counter-example. This article doesn’t attempt to perform a complete review of platforms or to call winners.

INTRODUCTION

Previously, we identified seven issues which hold back our current metaverse implementations. Can a metaverse actually break through all of these issues to become a major platform?

What if we build on a distributed services architecture? Should we position the desktop client as a 2D/3D content browser? What if we use open standards, or build upon a proven engine? These and other suggestions may turn out to be very good ideas, but we don’t know. We’re still trying to understand the underlying issues which are holding us back.

Image Source: Intland Software, Using Root Cause Analysis to Drive Process Improvement

Image Source: Intland Software, Using Root Cause Analysis to Drive Process Improvement

SPECIFIC PROBLEMS ILLUSTRATE SYSTEMIC ISSUES

Clearly, there are more problems than the original seven which were provided in the first article, but those seven create a pool from which we can look for more systemic issues. Read More…

Fundamental Problems with Metaverse Implementations

INTRODUCTION

We can define a metaverse in a number of different ways. At a minimum, a metaverse must allow users to experience and perform actions with others in shared virtual spaces.

Years ago, we should have recognized and learned from the painful problems associated with a social metaverse platform which focused on user generated content. Today, a new crop of companies are gearing up to repeat those same mistakes.

As we look back, it was never really the user generated content that was the problem. It was the metaverse platform itself. It couldn’t live up to the hype. The platform was not capable of capturing a large audience, much less living up its roots in science fiction.

The Metaverse (image copyright 2015 by <a href="http://www.123rf.com/profile_michelangelus">michelangelus</a>)

The Metaverse (image copyright 2015 by michelangelus)

The concept of a metaverse (or even “The Metaverse”) is something that might yet deliver a compelling experience, but not in its current form. The design in use today needs to be shelved and replaced with something better. Read More…

Metaverse Observations and Beliefs

This article contains a listing of some metaverse observations and beliefs.

There do not appear to be any similar lists to compare this to, so your feedback on this list (and what is missing) is appreciated. I know that many of you can be tough critics, but constructive criticism is welcome. On the other hand, if this list strikes you as boring and unchallenging, that’s welcome news for me.

Observations

VR hardware and software is evolving rapidly.

  • Hardware and software solutions are not stable
  • Large investments can quickly become irrelevant
  • Poor solutions are quickly replaced by better ones
  • Continued investment is needed to stay current

There are limited rules for deciding what a metaverse is or how it should behave.

  • Many definitions exist
  • Fundamental definition is the ability to experience and perform actions with others in shared virtual spaces
  • Guided by previous attempts at metaverse implementation
  • Guided by current metaverse implementations
  • Guided by existing virtual worlds
  • Guided by science fiction

It is difficult to create a metaverse.

  • Barrier to entry is high
  • Expectations are high
  • Investment period is long
  • Significant investment required in money, people, and resources
  • VR ecosystem is rapidly evolving, adding to risk
  • Return on investment is unproven and uncertain

Competition already exists. There will more than one metaverse.

  • Stranded content
  • Fragmented userbase
  • Increased innovation
  • Increases risk for metaverse providers, developers, investors
  • Increased choice for users, developers, advertisers, investors

There will be many different possible sources of revenue for a metaverse provider to choose from.

  • Transactional advertising (“click here for our store”)
  • Brand advertising (long-term exposure to brand “Nike!” “Nike!” “Nike!”)
  • Connection or usage fees by users
  • Connection or usage fees by commercial developers
  • Premium content (models, features, events)
  • Premium services
  • Special placement of content/locations/events
  • Rent, building or land ownership, and development
  • In-world currency and in-world transactions
  • Cloud storage services
  • Cloud hosting services
  • Consulting services

Beliefs

  • For most companies, the metaverse will be used as an opportunity to extend their existing business models.
  • In the short term, major metaverse platforms which intend to use surveillance or data mining of their clients are less likely to fully disclose that information for fear of backlash and reduced adoption rates.
  • In the long term, major companies which are currently engaging surveillance and data mining of their clients are expected to continue that practice on a metaverse platform.
  • A metaverse does not need to limit itself to real-world constraints just for the sake of closely simulating reality.
  • The more complex and integrated a platform is, the slower that innovation becomes.
  • Users and developers are dependent on platform providers for technological innovation.
  • While competition can result in waste, it still remains a net positive for metaverse development. A competitive market is good.
  • The choices made in the initial design of a metaverse are critical to its character and its success.
  • A general-purpose metaverse cannot succeed inside of a self-contained bubble. It must interface with the real world to be successful. (Novelty will bring the users in, but utility will keep them.)
  • A metaverse could be embodied in different forms which have yet to be demonstrated.
  • A metaverse is most likely to be created and maintained by a small team effort, web-based company, or gaming company (rather than the telco or an organzied non-profit model as given in science fiction).

How do you Solve the Metaverse Problem?

When you meet someone who has a metaverse or virtual world project, ask them what they’re creating. If their answer is something like, “I’m creating a engine in C++ that uses a distributed computing to present an interactive world that is defined by point clouds”, they’ve only described their solution. Do you fully understand the problem that they’re solving? More important: do they?

An artist's interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

An artist’s interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

I came across a great quote about systems engineering at Wikipedia. “The systems engineering process must begin by discovering the real problem that needs to be solved; the biggest failure that can be made in systems engineering is finding an elegant solution to the wrong problem.” When we’re making a Metaverse, what is it that we’re trying to solve?

When I read the quote above, it resonated with me. Why don’t we make a fresh attempt to start with needs and then work towards a technical solution? Who’s problems are we trying to solve, what are they, and how important at they?

We are going to try to understand the needs behind something that is very thorny: a metaverse project.


It is worth pointing out that even though we’ll start our focus with needs and we’ll end up at solutions, we’re still following the same path that has been made many times before us. We’re going into this by saying that our solution is a metaverse. The only uncertainty is what form that metaverse will take.

The mistake? We’re defining the problem in terms of a solution. At least this time we recognizing that fact up-front. Perhaps this illustrates yet another reason why the very attempt to intentionally create a metaverse can result in its failure.

Now, back to determining needs…


The Users

To understand the needs that drive a metaverse, we could start by asking people what they want or need in their everyday life. (Finding an expert summary would make more sense.) It might be hard to turn their answers into something useful, but I think there is a lot of insight into basic human needs and desires that shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Read More…

Trademark Battle: Oculus VR vs Oculus Info

oculusinfo

Oculus Info logo

The company formerly known as Oculus Info reported that in 2013, the United States Patent and Trademark Office refused to register Oculus VR as a trademark, and as a result, Oculus VR initiated proceedings with the USPTO to try to cancel Oculus Info’s existing trademark.

This isn’t the only trademark-related court case with Oculus VR, the first being Oculu vs Oculus VR.

Our original research unveiled more about this new case which barely made it into the public eye. In the end, the two parties reached a confidential settlement with undisclosed terms, and the case was dismissed with no further litigation. The trademark for Oculus Info was cancelled. Oculus Info became Uncharted Software Inc in February 2015.

If you would like more information about case, it was filed as a civil case in the Virgina state court, case #1:14-cv-00436-AJT-TRJ. You might find additional interesting information inside some of the supporting documents.

Timeline of events (as seen in public records and as told by Oculus Info):

  • 2008 July – Oculus Info applies for a trademark
  • 2011 May – Oculus Info’s trademark is registered
  • 2013 February – Oculus VR applies for a trademark
  • 2013 May – Oculus VR warned of issues by USPTO, given chance to respond
  • 2013 November – Oculus VR responds
  • 2013 November – USPTO communicates with Oculus VR, sends suspension letter
  • 2013 November – Cancellation proceeding initiated (reported to be on behalf of Oculus VR) at USPTO against Oculus Info
  • 2014 April – Oculus Info takes Oculus VR to court on trademark issues
  • 2014 June – Settlement agreement between Oculus Info and Oculus VR
  • 2014 August – Oculus Info’s trademark is cancelled
  • 2014 December – Oculus VR’s trademark is registered
  • 2015 February – Oculus Info becomes Uncharted Software

Was Oculus VR trying to bully a smaller company? Was Oculus Info trying to leverage a weak or improper trademark? Did Oculus VR pay Oculus Info for the trademark? These are good questions, but we do not expect to find those answers. It ended in a confidential settlement agreement.

Valve’s Lighthouse as USB: Anything More than a Bunch of Spin?


This is the third article in a series on the Valve/HTC Vive Ecosystem. If you you need additional context, please begin with the first article in the series.


Quote from Gabe Newell's interview in The Nerdist Episode 306. Image source: unknown

Quote from Gabe Newell’s interview in The Nerdist Episode 306. Image source: unknown

Introduction

A famous quote from Gabe Newell is about a lesson that Valve learned early-on when dealing with the Internet. You can find it in Episode 306 of the Nerdist Podcast at 00:12:14.

Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the Internet because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. The will remember everything you ever say for eternity. -Gabe Newell

At this year’s Game Developers Conference where Valve announced their Virtual Reality partnership with HTC, and at that time, Gabe made an incredible claim about the Lighthouse tracking technology:

So we’re gonna just give that away. What we want is for that to be like USB. It’s not some special secret sauce. It’s like everybody in the PC community will benefit if there’s this useful technology out there. -Gabe Newell (Valve)

The story which accompanies the interview describes Lighthouse as a way of providing infinite input solutions into Virtual Reality. “As long as tracking is there, anything can be brought into VR, like how USB ports enable you to plug (virtually) anything into your computer.”

What the Technology Brings

In the previous two articles, we’ve dug into the technology itself, and it supports what we’ve been told. Spend perhaps $100-150 for two of Valve’s Lighthouse units and mount them in opposite corners of the room. At that point, you can almost forget about them. But any enabled device that you bring into the room can take advantage of:

  • Rock-solid positional data with high precision and resolution
  • Rock-solid orientation data with high precision and resolution
  • Very low additional power use (passive sensors, undemanding electronics)

Read More…

Competitors with Different Goals: Valve versus Oculus

The recently announced HTC Vive looks to be a strong technology competitor against the highly anticipated consumer release from Oculus in the PC space. While Oculus has long-ago stated that they are working to deliver their consumer VR headset at a lower margin, possibly even at cost, HTC/Valve has announced their entry of a premium VR experience.

A Different Focus

What is overlooked by many is that while these two companies compete in VR hardware and software, their focus couldn’t be any more different. Read More…

Gabe Newell, the Killer App, and the Metaverse

Did you catch Geoff Keighley’s interview with Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson from Valve? The fact that they covered a very large number of virtual reality topics wasn’t so surprising. The interview was recorded at this year’s E3, the event where Valve revealed their partnership with HTC to manufacture the Vive (a head-mounted display as part of a new virtual reality platform).

There were a number of notable responses from Gabe concerning Valve and virtual reality. One Reddit user, gotta_ban_them_all, slaved five hours on a full transcript of the podcast.

Gabe Newell, image courtesy of Kotaku

Gabe Newell, image courtesy of Kotaku

At one point, Gabe talks about how there isn’t a yet a killer app for VR. But they believe that they’ve set the stage with hardware that is “good enough” where someone else will be able to put something out there, and people will recognize that as what people should be doing with VR.

This is similar to what John Carmack said in the Future of VR panel at Oculus Connect 2014. “It would be sad if Oculus made the killer app.” He and Palmer go onto say that not only would they be disappointed, but really, they think that scenario is unlikely. Read More…

A very cyberpunk future for tomorrow’s Metaverse?

Image Source: Unknown (multiple uses)

Image Source: Unknown (multiple uses)

In the Oculus Rift forum, I came across an interesting letter. It claimed to be written by someone who previously worked for Valve’s VR team. In it, he talks about the future of the Metaverse. It is unnerving how plausible his prediction plays out.

He believes that a combination of three things will take us in the wrong direction:

  • ┬áVirtual reality is a more engaging experience than other media types
  • The perception that “the pinnacle of VR is a gigantic shared MMORPG” (the Metaverse)
  • The ad-financed model that is pervasive in the online industry (because we want free services)

Is the Metaverse destined to be run by a companies that are trying to maximize your engagement and sell your attention to advertisers? Will they build a detailed profile personal based upon your every action (if only to enhance their ability to engage and advertise to you even better in the future)?

What would a Metaverse that is born out of today’s environment look like? You really need to read his perspective on the future of VR. Perhaps the Metaverse of tomorrow will be nothing but a treadmill to keep you hooked, advertised to, and recording/analyzing your responses to refine the process?

Travelling Between Unrelated Virtual Worlds


If this is your first time visiting Metaversing, please read:

This blog is about going beyond the science fiction descriptions of the Metaverse and actually fleshing out some of the concepts, designs, and details that are useful in bringing it to life. The ideas described here are not to be interpreted as the exclusive way for the Metaverse to be designed. We’re here to put a stake in the ground. We hope to start the conversation (where it doesn’t already exist) and to move the conversation forward.


How do you navigate between unrelated virtual worlds?

Back in August 2013 when I first envisioned how I wanted a different model of the Metaverse to work, one of the fundamental questions I had was in how to glue everything together. Instead of building one large Metaverse and splitting it into pieces, as has been done before, I looked at a different solution. How do we start with a bunch of unrelated pieces of software and combine them together to form a larger Metaverse?

Images: VRChat, JanusVR, Anarchy Arcade, Minecraft

Image Sources: VRChat, JanusVR, Anarchy Arcade, Minecraft (house by PoPlioP)

Our universe starts with completely different and unconnected virtual environments, games, and virtual worlds. There are different authors, languages, graphics libraries, and more. If you wanted to create a way for players (avatars) to actually move between them, how could it be done? How would you move from JanusVR to Minecraft? How do you walk from Minecraft into VRChat? Read More…