Metaverse January 27, 2023
The Weekly Metaverse Review: Apple Cancels, Microsoft turns to Mesh, Tokens Go Up
MetaNews picks through another week of Metaverse hype with equal amounts of hope and skepticism as we chart a path through difficult waters to our brave new virtual world.
Here are the stories that made landfall this week on the metaverse review.
Canceled Apple of my eye
This week Apple announced that its mixed-reality headset will arrive as promised, but its follow-up product – Apple Glass – has been suspended indefinitely.
Apple Glass was originally scheduled for 2023 before being delayed to 2025. The company has now kicked the product into the long grass. Goodbye Apple Glass.
Apple will now seek to bring a less expensive, but not widely affordable, product to market in the nearer term. Apple’s premium mixed-reality device is set to cost $3,000. The less expensive option will look to compete with Meta’s mixed-reality device which retails for $1,500.
Metaverse hype counterproductive
Regular readers of MetaNews will know that there is no shortage of hype to be found in the metaverse and with metaverse-related topics.
With that hype comes raised expectations, which are sometimes difficult to meet in the shorter term. Alexandra Kuzmina, innovation consultant at Nova MMR, summed up the phenomenon in a panel session for The Market Research Society’s (MRS) Metaverse conference earlier this month.
“There has been no shortage of hype,” admitted Kuzmina as reported by ResearchLive on Thursday. “It is important to remind ourselves that what we see currently are only the fragments of what eventually will become the metaverse. There is a tendency today to believe the fragments, such as VR and augmented reality, are actually the metaverse.”
As for what happens when those fragments coalesce, Kuzmina went on to add, “I wouldn’t bet against the metaverse dream just yet.”
A real Microsoft Mesh
Software giant Microsoft has been making great progress in the field of artificial intelligence lately, but in virtual reality and the metaverse it appears to be doing less well.
The company has announced it plans to close its AltspaceVR and Mixed Reality Tool Kit, as part of a company-wide cost-cutting exercise that will see the company shed 10,000 jobs.
The news comes just one week after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates stated, “I don’t think Web3 was that big or that Metaverse stuff alone was revolutionary, but AI is quite revolutionary.”
AltspaceVR is hardly a landmark product for Microsoft. The VR firm was acquired in 2017 for an undisclosed fee after falling into difficulties, and the change of management seems to have done little to turn things around.
Microsoft now plans to ‘sunset’ – corporate speak for shut down – the platform on March 10. Those AltspaceVR staff lucky enough to hold on to their jobs will be folded into the team bringing Microsoft Mesh, the company’s new VR and videoconferencing product, to market.
Should Mesh ever become successful perhaps Gates will change opinion on which technologies he is willing to consider revolutionary.
MANA, SAND, RBLX perform well
Crypto-metaverse projects have performed well over the course of January with the Decentraland (MANA) token at $0.662239, up 105.7% over the previous 30 days, and Sandbox (SAND) at $0.727717, up 65.6% over the same period.
Outside of the cryptosphere, the Roblox (RBLX) share price now stands at $35.97, up 36.6% on the month. That’s seriously good price action for an industry that mainstream media outlets continually write off.
My brain is my weapon
Twitch streamer Perri Karyal has posted videos showing using a brain wave (EEG) interface to control her character in the popular role-playing game Elden Ring.
It’s the sort of claim that provokes curiosity and skepticism in equal measure, even if Karyal does seem genuine. Controlling computerized avatars through brainwave interfaces is the subject of ongoing experimentation, but so far, the level of control remains limited.
Fortnite to lead the charge, maybe
A recent survey conducted by Game Developers Conference (GDC) found that game developers have most confidence in Epic Games to deliver the Metaverse. Of the 2,300 respondents to the poll, 14% believe that Fortnite’s creators will charge to victory in the sector.
Of the runners up Meta and Microsoft took joint second position with 7% of the vote each, while Roblox claimed 5%. Google and Apple both received a paltry 3% of the vote.
The survey also found that 45% of respondents believe the metaverse “will never deliver on its promise,” but respondents also confessed to being unclear about what that promise is.
With that level of confusion, perhaps the survey results can be taken with a significant grain of salt.
Metaverse for mental health?
Interacting with a metaverse avatar may help some people to better cope with social anxiety, or to interact with others. It could also overcome issues of accessibility and affordability according to Psychology Today.
Mental health practitioners are now looking into the potential benefits of breakthrough technologies, but caution is warranted in this highly sensitive field. A recent experiment that leveraged the ChatGPT AI in mental health support at first seemed to yield positive results but ended badly.
On that note, it’s time to call an end to another weekly metaverse round-up. Join us throughout the week for more metaverse and technology-related news.
Epic CEO Says Apple Could Try to ‘Crush the Metaverse’
Tim Sweeney, the CEO of video game and software developer Epic Games, is a big believer in the metaverse – but thinks Apple will try to either crush it or “extract all the profit from it.”
Sweeney made the comments during an interview with GameIndustry at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this week.
The executive has been a long-standing critic of Apple’s walled garden approach, having previously been entangled in a legal battle with the company relating to its App Store policies.
Also Read: Apple May Launch Reality Pro VR Headset Early
‘The metaverse must be open’
Apple is expected to release its Reality Pro VR/AR headset later this year, and many believe the launch could be a watershed moment for the much-hyped metaverse, encouraging mainstream adoption due to the tech giant’s name value.
Sweeney, though, isn’t buying it. In the interview with GameIndustry, the CEO predicted that Apple will “either try to crush the metaverse, or extract all the profit from it, one or the other.”
Explaining the rationale for his claim, the outspoken executive noted, “Apple doesn’t let you use a competing browser engine. So they can do the same thing with the metaverse, so they can say, ‘You must use Apple’s limited metaverse engine, you can’t build your own, you can’t use Unreal.’”
Such a policy would be anathema to the grand vision of an interactive, interoperable metaverse accessible to all users. As Sweeney himself says, “The metaverse has to be open, it can’t be another walled garden.
“Open is a natural state of things, it’s only in the past 15 years that we’ve seen walled gardens take over the world with iOS and Facebook and other companies.”
Unreal Engine is an advanced real-time 3D creation tool for photo-real visuals and immersive experiences. At the GDC, Fortnite developer Epic has been busy demoing the latest features of Unreal 5.2, such as a nifty substrate shading system that lets artists create materials at a level of quality and fidelity that was previously impossible.
Apple faces anti-competitive claims
Although it’s unclear whether Apple would actually disallow Unreal Engine, this isn’t the first time complaints have been levelled against the company and its anticompetitive practices.
Earlier this year, Spotify and eight companies and associations co-authored a letter to the EU Commission’s executive vice president, dubbing the firm “harmful, anti-competitive, and monopolistic.” Signatories called for greater regulation to combat Apple’s app distribution practices, which they claimed “imposed unfair restrictions” on their businesses.
Sweeney, for his part, believes antitrust laws are necessary to keep Apple in check, saying, “We see them as utterly dominating this business if they’re allowed to use their market power and hardware to do so. So we’re fighting that.”
We’d like to, but Apple kicked Fortnite out of Mac by terminating our developer account. We have no idea why they did this, because we broke no Mac rules, but here we are!
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) March 23, 2023
Appearing alongside executive VP Saxs Persson at the GDC’s State of the Unreal event, Sweeney brought the audience up-to-date on all things Epic including animation tools for virtual humans (MetaHumans) and an Unreal-powered creation tool for Fortnite (UEFN), which has been launched in public beta.
The metaverse ain’t dead
Last year, Epic announced a $2 billion funding round to advance its vision of building the metaverse, with the likes of Sony Group Corporation and LEGO investment firm KIRKBI pledging capital.
This week, Sweeney sat down with The Verge and said the metaverse was “a much more enjoyable and personal and empathetic medium than today’s social networks.”
He also took the opportunity to throw shade at Facebook, where everyone “gripes about politics and shows how awesome they are through photos.”
You gotta love Sweeney’s scorched-earth approach to interviews, where tech rivals are routinely trampled underfoot. But his comments about Apple in particular are likely to be shared by many metaverse maximalists, such are the measures it takes to prevent rivals from competing with its App Store.
According to a recent report by Bloomberg Intelligence, Apple’s entry to the metaverse could be a catalyst for faster growth, and the metaverse space could be worth $615 billion by the end of the decade.
The question is, will walled gardens be the norm – or will the metaverse be open to all?
Taco Bell’s Metaverse Wedding Actually Happened
Last year, fast food chain Taco Bell claimed to have found a couple that would marry in its eponymous metaverse. Months went by without further updates from the outlet, but now it appears that the unusual wedding actually went ahead.
The lucky couple from California had the ceremony in February of this year, and details of the event have now become public.
The Taco wedding bells
In August of 2022, Taco Bell ran a competition to find a couple it said would be married in its metaverse. The setting would be virtual but it was promised that the wedding would be real.
Sheel and Amruta from California were the lucky couple. To keep in theme with the high-tech nature of the metaverse event, Sheel said he wrote his vows with help from ChatGPT.
“I promise to always keep your phone charged,” Sheel said at the virtual altar.
“I promise to help you look for your AirPods every single morning… I promise to be your human gravity blanket whenever you ask for it. I promise to laugh at your jokes… I promise to never let our love become stale, and to always keep everything spicy and exciting. I will cherish and adore you for all eternity and spend all my days with you by my side.”
As it turned out, the Taco Bell metaverse was actually hosted within Decentraland, an open 3D virtual environment in which the land itself is owned by users. Unlike the common public perception of a metaverse that is accessed via headsets, Decentraland is browser-based, making the environment easy for anyone to enter.
Guests included people near and dear to the couple, but random Decentraland users were also apparently able to gatecrash.
A Twitch streamer going by the handle Legiqn recorded his attendance at the celebration to preserve the evening for posterity. As Legiqn pointed out, the couple had a long history with the fast food chain.
“Their first date was at a Taco Bell,” said the influencer. “I don’t think it gets anymore romantic than that.”
This takes the cake
Besides being Taco Bell-themed, the wedding also conformed to Indian traditions that the couple and their family wished to be respected.
Actor Kal Penn, known for the Harold & Kumar film series, was among those in attendance.
On conclusion of the wedding, when the couple were pronounced husband and wife, Penn interviewed the happy pair to see how they felt about their Taco Bell wedding experience.
“I’m super stoked,” Sheel said.
“It’s real,” Amruta added. “We’re married.”
From there the guests headed to the reception so the pair could have their first dance as a married couple. That was not the end of the highlights, however; there was still the small matter of who might be the next lucky person to be married in the Taco Bell metaverse.
Twitch streamer Legiqn was determined to catch the bouquet when the bride threw it over her shoulder.
“Yes, bouquet time, this is what I’ve been most excited for,” said Legiqn as he prepped himself to ‘grab’ the flowers. “This is where my gamer skills come in,” he announced to his followers as the big moment arrived. Unfortunately for Legiqn those gamers skills did him little good, as a user named Bleace caught them instead.
With the formalities over, guests danced on the virtual dancefloor to celebrate the unforgettable occasion, as a QR code flashed on the screen so they could all order Taco Bell. If that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.
Metaverse-themed Coworking Hub Opens in Central London
A dedicated hub for metaverse-centric startups has opened in the West End of London. Huckletree’s 22,000 square-ft office, located at 213 Oxford Street and spread across two floors, is the company’s fifth hub in the UK capital and the first seeking to “bring together Web3, creatives and investors in one place.”
Announcing the space back in September, Huckletree said the hub would see “Web3 builders working alongside Metaverse pioneers, avant-garde designers, animators, digital disruptors and a passionate investor community.”
Also Read: Mark Zuckerberg Hasn’t Forgotten the Metaverse
A space to create
As well as providing a space for web3 entrepreneurs and builders to work, Huckletree has put an expert advisory board in place to help establish the venue as a go-to workspace for industry professionals.
Board members include Founder of metaverse-focused FOV Ventures David Hanes, Jack Smyth, who manages Chanel’s web3 strategies Chanel for BrandTech Consulting, and Daniella Loftus, head of digital fashion firm This Outfit Does Not Exist.
“Web3 and the metaverse have the potential to transform every industry as we know it, and the community working behind the scenes, be they on the investment or business side, are in need of a space to call home that can also be a platform for funding, deal-flow, ideas, talent, and togetherness,” Huckletree CEO Gabriela Hersham told CityAM last year.
Themed around Web3 and the metaverse, our vision for Oxford Street is to house the most curated community of impactful brands, talent and investors, building the future of web – and the future of everything 🤘
Discover more >> https://t.co/ODD3hqcoZ5 pic.twitter.com/fCt8PFf2u6
— HUCKLETREE (@huckletree) January 4, 2023
“I’m excited to see how a space like this can help to push the physical realm and physical possibilities of Web3 to be a place where new, old, imagined and physical can converge,” added board member Ashumi Sanghvi, who is also the CEO of creative production agency MAD Global.
The workspace will be equipped with demo areas wherein tenants can stress-test new technologies and products. There is also a rooftop terrace for events, an NFT gallery for artists to display their talents (or collectors to show off their collection), an immersive meta-lounge for gaming, and several reading booths.
As well as supporting startups during working hours, the venue is expected to host web3 workshops, Q&A sessions, product demos, and meetups.
Huckletree Oxford Circus already has a few notable tenants who operate in the web3 space, including Surreal DB, MassMutual Ventures, Project A, Haven and FivePointFive. The company’s other London-based hubs include Huckletree White City, based in the Mediaworks building, and a space dedicated to GovTech, AI, security and policy in Westminster.
Appetite for physical coworking
Critics may wonder why a dedicated physical workspace is required for metaverse ventures. Isn’t the whole appeal of the metaverse that you can don your VR headset and trade ideas in a colorful virtual environment, while maintaining the same levels of productivity? In theory, yes. But though many startups favour a remote-working policy, others still prefer a hybrid or office-based model.
In a recent blog post, Gabriela Hersham pushed back against the notion that embracing the metaverse means plugging into VR and abandoning face-time with colleagues. “We’ve seen the appetite to gather in physical places for the Web3 community, take the NFT event in New York in 2022, which was claimed to the Superbowl of NFTs,” she wrote.
“Where there is community, there is a need to gather, exchange and actively collaborate… We believe there is a need to bridge connections and unlock new opportunities and deal-flow, whether that be introducing traditional creatives into how to design in the metaverse, or to upskill corporate brands on how they can unlock blockchain technology or NFT tokens for their customer campaigns or back-ops functions.”
Huckletree might be the first metaverse-oriented workspace in London, but it isn’t the first globally. Last year, EmpireDAO leased 36,000 square feet in Manhattan to create a coworking space for web3 project builders. Spread across six floors, it offered hot desk memberships tokenized as NFTs. However, the venture hit difficulties in crypto winter and closed shop at the turn of the year.
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