Virtual Reality vs. Virtual Currency

The tech battle no one is discussing, because in the end, neither will win.

rdacouchtalk4

In 2015, Oculus Rift was supposed to be the beginning of the VR revolution, it wasn’t. In 2016, Samsung Gear VR was supposed to be the beginning of the VR revolution, it wasn’t. In 2017, Playstation VR was supposed to be the beginning of the VR revolution, it wasn’t.

With hundreds of VR games available, VR ready social and building platforms like Sansar and High Fidelity ready for open beta use, and billions of dollars invested in what everyone calls the next big thing, it is rather disappointing that it is not happening. Thanks to a likely big blockbuster in Ready Player One coming to theaters in March, maybe 2018 will finally be the year.

ready player1

Or not! There are plenty of reasons why VR has not become mainstream. The biggest is the bulky helmets you have to wear, and that most people experience dizzyness or nausea after only about 20 minutes of use. There is a great fix for this last issue that hasn’t been implemented enough: Virtual noses.

But, the biggest challenge to VR mainstream continues to be cost. You can spend $900 for a Samsung Galaxy 8 and Samsung VR headset, or you can spend about the same amount for a Playstation 4 and a Playstation VR bundle. If you want to do VR on your PC, you need around $1400.  That’s $400 for recently reduced price the Oculus Rift, and a $1000 required video card.

tumblr_p2xmqjw78h1qapm0ao1_1280

When did it cost $1000 for a video card?

Why are video cards so expensive? One word: “Bitcoin”.  Virtual currencies like Bitcoin have skyrocketed in price over the last year, so much that it is worth building your own computer to “mine” number combinations that fit the fairly simple formula required to create a new Bitcoin (and if you find a combo, you get to keep it). Regular PC processors are not powerful enough to efficiently “mine”, but graphics cards are.

According to sources, one graphics card can “mine” around $5 to $10 worth of virtual currency a day, though the best strategy is concentrate on the small lesser known currencies, as too many other resources are being used to mine the expensive ones. This means your $1000 graphics card will pay for itself in about 4 months, assuming prices stay high enough. But before you invest, consider that you will need a 500W power supply that has to run 24 hours a day, so expect to lose on your electricity bills, too.

The recent trend is that virtual currencies are declining in value, losing half their value in the last two months. If it continues to decline, you won’t make enough to pay for the electricity. Maybe then video cards will come down in price.

My prediction: Both will fail

Despite being friends with both VR pioneers and crypto currency advocates, I have to take the rational position that they are both doomed to fail.  VR is the next Kinect, WiiU, 3D TV, or many other trendy “cool” techs that ultimately failed.  Crypto-currencies are riding a bubble like “Tulip Mania”.

Advocates of both will insist that they have heard these criticisms before, and my answer is “because they are valid”.

I might invest in VR gear if the price comes down to a decent level. In the mean time, I’m using my graphics card for gaming and 3D rendering.

 

Is the Virtual World Dream Dying?

cparty1

One of the things I have on my website is a list of 3D Virtual Worlds that I try to maintain.  Although I don’t play them much anymore, I have a few reliable sources I go to keep me up to date.

It has been about two years since I added a new program, and that program was Cloud Party.  This week I removed it, as well as Free Realms, and MooveCloud Party got bought out by Yahoo!, and Yahoo! has decided not to keep it open.  Free Realms, a MMORPG designed for kids that also included virtual world elements like personal houses, is closing its doors too due to lack of growth.  I’m dropping Moove because no one seems to be using it anymore, and no one is supporting it. The web site hasn’t changed in 2 years.

A fair number of others are on their way out.  Information on Kaneva is sketchy, no twitter updates in months.  The virtual world side of Blue Mars seems to be already dead population wise, though the app side is alive and kicking. Playstation 3 Home is declining since the “Home”less Playstation 4 was released.

Some of the major ones are still doing well.  Second Life is still popular.   There.com still has an active community and still making a profit. IMVU is not advertising like they used to but still pulling in big numbers of users (just pulled up my client to check, 115,000 users online). My contacts inside Nuvera Online say its doing well, too. I am also still seeing continuing interest in Twinity.

In business, this is called a consolidation phase. The 3D Virtual World industry as a whole is declining, but the ones that are well established are growing as the less well established ones close their doors.

Why the decline?  Two reasons: 1.  Almost all 3D Virtual Worlds are designed for keyboard and mouse play on PCs. With the rise of tablets and phone computing, interest in Virtual Worlds is declining, as these worlds are not designed for those devices.  3D Virtual World Apps do exist, but they are not doing enough business to stop the decline.

2. The rise of Free MMORPGs, which I have talked about before.  MMORPGs have basically adopted every aspect of 3D Virtual World play except user created content.  Maybe that is why Second Life, There, IMVU, Nuvera, and Twinity are the survivors — they are the ones with user created content.  If that is not important to you,  if all you want to do is meet and play and chat with other people online, the MMORPG’s now cater to those interests.

I used to think that 3D Virtual Worlds would eventually lead to a 3D internet.  I still think a 3D internet is possible in the future, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.  I expect more closures in the short term.

Meanwhile, there is hope of new things around the corner.  High Fidelity is going into alpha mode.  A Yahoo! based virtual world could be coming using the Cloud Party tech they just acquired.  Also a wild card in this is VR hardware like Oculus Rift, which will no doubt renew interest in all things 3D.

Book Review: “Ready Player One”

ready player1So far I have only done one book review on this blog.  I read more than that of course, I just stick to talking about books that echo the themes of this blog.  The novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline does just that.

Ready Player One is one of the latest young adult dystopian books, though not as sick and twisted as the highly overrated Hunger Games.  It is set in the 2040’s when gas is so scarce that everyone abandons the suburbs for the big cities, but the cities don’t have room.  Oklahoma City comes up with the idea to build high rise trailer parks.  The books protagonist 17 year old Wade lives in the laundry room of a double wide, occupied by his aunt, her latest boyfriend, and two other families.

But Wade spends most of his time hiding in an abandoned van in a junk yard which he powers with a bicycle powered generator.  He jacks into a 3D Virtual World called OASIS, which thanks to technology allowing thousands of players to play in an area lag free, OASIS has become the 3D internet.  Wade attends a virtual high school, getting a better education than he would in an overcrowded school he lives in.

You can probably understand why I like this book so much.  The world is very similar to Snow Crash in that there are two worlds, a dystopian stink hole called the real world, and a utopian paradise everyone prefers to live in.  Ready Player One has a distinct advantage over Snow Crash, however, 20 years of hindsight.  Many of the conceptual ideas of the “Metaverse” in Snow Crash seem rather dumb with today’s technology.  OASIS, on the other hand, seems plausible if you take today’s technology and project it forward three decades.

A major theme of the book is the difference between the online world and the real world.  Our avatar personification vs. who we really are; Living in a fantasy world vs. dealing with the real world.  I have delved deeper than the novel has on these topics, but the novel does a good job dealing with them.

The central plot involves the creator of OASIS, a game designer turned multibillionaire  who upon his death wills nearly the entirety of his estate, including control of OASIS to whoever can solve the hidden puzzle he left behind hidden somewhere in the OASIS world.

With such a huge prize everyone goes out looking for it, but the puzzle is so well hidden, that 5 years go by before anyone manages to discover the beginning of the puzzle (which has 6 parts, 3 keys and 3 gates).  The person who discovers it is Wade.

I have mentioned a couple of times how different the world will get once energy starts to get scarce, and how gaming will become a welcome escape from that reality.  Here is a book that echoes that theme in a very entertaining way.

There is another interesting part I have yet to mention.  It seems that the mad gaming designer grew up during the 1980’s, and is obsessed with the books, games, comics, music and movies of that decade.  Solving the central puzzle requires expert knowledge of this material, and the players dedicated to solving the puzzle have to become experts on the 1980’s pop culture.  Lots of this novel is filled with references to  the ’80s.  Being someone who grew up in the 80’s as well, I got all the references and knew all the songs referenced in the novel.

This unfortunately may be the biggest negative of the book, there is too much 80’s references which are likely to get lost on kids who grew up in later decades.  Since this is a “young adult” novel aimed at teen audiences, I’m not sure how well it will go over with the target audience.  But it did go over well with me.  Ernest Cline created an “official soundtrack” here if you want to hear many of the songs referenced in the novel.  You might also want to familiarize yourself with the movies WarGames, Ladyhawke, Blade Runner, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail if you don’t already know them (If you don’t then shame on you, they are classics).  There are major references to the games Pac Man, Tempest, Joust, Adventure, Black Tiger, Dungeons of Daggorath and Zork, too.

Since this book seems like it was written specifically for me, I ran through it in a few days time.  General audiences may not be as well versed in these subjects as I am, though the author does spend a lot of time explaining things for the general reader’s benefit (mostly unnecessary in my case).

The book is currently available hard copy and e-book via links at the Official Site, paperback and cheaper e-books coming in June.

Other Virtual Women

More random notes from around the metaverse…

The Vanity  Google

Ever heard the term “vanity google”?  It’s basically where you google your own name and any online monikers you may use, and it is actually a good idea to do every now and then, especially if you are being cyber bullied.  I tried googling myself (arianeb) and of course I get a lot of links to my website, as well as blogs dedicated to my dating game, and a growing number of walkthroughs.

It is not surprising to find out that I am not the only Ariane B on the planet.  I already knew about Ariane Blanc, a German Ariane B who owns the “Ariane” sim in Second Life. (If you are in the market for virtual furniture, check out her store), but there is also a French Canadian Ariane B.  I run arianeb.com, and I am arianeb on tumblr and wordpress (which you knew from reading this blog), but arianeb on twitter is a Montreal based singer/songwriter.   I’ve listened to some of the stuff she posted online and its pretty good.  I also found out there is a Facebook ArianeB page, which is about me, but I am not the one who created it. Whoever did, needs to update it, and as for the rest of you, I could always use a few more “likes”. 🙂

Other Dating Sims

But the really cool thing I found while googling myself is that there are a growing number of dating sims similar to my own.  Ugo.com recently did a list of Virtual Girlfriends You Can Date of which I am number 5.  Its an entertaining list covering many kinds of virtual dating with virtual girls. Stay away from #4 (3D Girlz) I got a malware warning when I went there.   Another list that had me as an entry is a list of dating sims at playforceone.com (link NSFW due to ads), a list of 36 other dating sim games available online.  A couple I have tried before were not that good, but that still leaves 34 I have not tried.

One other dating sim appeared on both sites called Keely, a dating sim very similar to mine, in that it is written in HTML with a branching storyline, and uses a lot of Poser graphics based on Victoria 3.  I assume that the character is based on British model Keely Hazell.  I have not played too much with Keely, but it has a much more involved storyline, taking place over many days, like the Japanese dating sims do.  Also, you don’t have to arrow around the picture to find the choices, they are usually at the bottom of the page to choose from.  The thing I’m most jealous of is that Keely already has a sequel, and I still have a lot of work to go on my sequel.

The Virtual Popstar

And since we are on the topic of virtual women online, a recent story from Japan gave me a good chuckle.  Virtual pop stars are hot right now in Japan, the most famous one is Hatsune Miku, a manga styled character who’s singing voice is created artificially using a vocalizer, and does concerts using rear projection technology.

But there is a pop band in Japan called AKB48, and they are very popular (the top 10 chart for 2010 in Japan consisted of songs from only two bands AKB48 and Arashi).  It is a band consisting of a choir of cute young teenage Japanese girls, with new young girls being added as older ones leave.

One of the new girls this year was Aimi Eguchi, a 16 year old according to her bio.  She appeared on magazine covers and videos before it was revealed, she does not exist.  Aimi Eguchi was a composite of 6 other members of AKB48, to the shock of many. It was a silly publicity stunt, and the fun only lasted a few days before the secret was revealed, but the idea that fake can pass as real has generated a bit of buzz.

Reminds me of that under appreciated film S1m0ne from 2002.

Is The Sims Online returning too?

I have mentioned a few times that I got my start on the metaverse via The Sims Online, a 2.5 dimension virtual world first released in 2003.  I only lasted 6 months before moving on to There.  Well it looks like a new incarnation of TSO will soon be returning, this time called The Sims Social, and it will be a Facebook App.

All attempts to attach a 3D Virtual World to Facebook have resulted in failure due to incompatibility of purposes.  If any can succeed it would be The Sims, so it will be interesting to see how this goes.