Virtual Workplace Update
In May, I discussed the slow take up of HMDs, and how we might accelerate the path to the Metaverse by a focus on desktop access by remote workers:
Could it be that the Metaverse starts with people working together in virtual offices, and then staying around and connecting for various reasons outside of work?
Since then we have been heads-down developing and testing the use of High Fidelity for remote workers. We’ve developed a streamlined desktop version which has been tested by teams from 75+ organizations. In total, we’ve logged thousands of hours in-world as these groups tried working in a virtual environment. We’ve learned a lot and it’s hard to imagine our team working in any other way.
We plan to continue to use our technology as our company’s primary virtual office but we have decided not to commercialize the virtual workplace application at this time. Simply put, having taken a close look, while we can see that remote work is going to continue on its growth trajectory and we do have customers using it—the opportunity is not big enough today to warrant additional development.
The work we’ve done over the past six months has been valuable in helping us understand how to make a 3D VR environment usable, stable, and accessible to first-time, non-gaming audiences, and that is intellectual property we will take forward into future work.
The Road to Mass Adoption of HMDs
Groundbreaking VR is happening, from new genres of gaming, commercial training applications in fields like professional sports and healthcare, to mind-blowing location-based entertainment experiences. And of course High Fidelity, its users and content developers have produced ComicCon-like live events, festivals, concerts, produced television shows, taught improv acting classes, given tours through ancient Egyptian tombs, and more. It remains the most scalable and feature-rich virtual reality platform built to date.
That said, as I detail in Requiem for the HMD, four fundamental advances in hardware need to happen before HMDs replace mobile and desktop general-computing use. Until VR headsets don’t feel like, as The New Yorker’s Patricia Marx puts it, “a gerbil’s casket [has] been plastered onto the upper half of my face,” compelling social virtual worlds won’t gain traction. So where does that leave High Fidelity?
Back to the Lab
Giving up on the current generation of HMDs doesn’t mean we’re giving up on Virtual Worlds. A team is already working on a new internal project, and although we aren’t going to talk about it now, we will have more to share about what we are doing when we are ready. If you’re not already, you should subscribe to our blog to make sure you get the latest updates.
A Commonwealth Codebase
One of the many reasons we opted to develop an open source virtual world is because we wanted people, particularly creators and developers, to have the peace of mind that they were in control of the content and experiences they built and not dependent on decisions made by High Fidelity as a company. We have succeeded in that mission having open sourced the most powerful virtual reality codebase built to date: It can handle large crowds, low-latency 3D audio, live editing, interactive content, open-format file compatibility, and users can host the content however they wish with complete control.
The existing community over the past six months has continued to use the platform and contribute code with little involvement from High Fidelity. Given this, and given that our new project will further reduce our ability to manage the existing open-source repository, we believe that the best course of action is to formally turn over control of the codebase to the community.
As of January 15, 2020, we’re going to make High Fidelity’s Github repository private. We want to give community leaders time to create their own repositories and systems as desired.
Refocus and Restructure
Our new project is different and in early development, which led us to the sobering realization that the incredible and talented team we have built, isn’t the one to take us forward. Consequently, we will reduce our team size in half effective today. We’ll be giving those affected time and support to find new positions in the New Year—these people are brilliant pioneers in VR—developers, designers, program managers, marketers, and support professionals—but we just aren’t ready for their firepower. I’ve already thanked them in private but let me publicly state my gratitude for all their work. They have pushed the boundaries of VR and I am sure will continue to do so, as other successful High Fidelity alumni have done.
I do want to single out Brad Hefta-Gaub, our CTO who is also leaving the company in January. He is not part of this restructure—but after seven years with High Fidelity, he’s taking time to recharge. For him that means spending time with his family and skiing and climbing the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Our technical excellence is in large part due to his ingenuity, determination and positivity. He also hires amazing people, so his legacy will continue here through them. We joke that VR years seem to go faster than the proverbial Internet years—we’ve been working together for a long time and I hope we will again.
As part of the refocus, we’ll also be withdrawing our apps on the Steam Store, Oculus Store and our Virtual You: 3D Avatar Creator app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Since there are no High Fidelity supported environments, we’re not offering registration for new accounts which these enable.
Lastly, I want to take this opportunity to thank our community of users. Your passion and dedication to the possibilities of VR and virtual worlds is inspiring. We’re grateful for your support over the years and hope you’ll try out our new product once launched.
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