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Version 13: On the Road
The overwhelming value of bringing a VR headset to a boring hotel with tweens
Welcome back to Threshold! I took a brief hiatus last week to reflect on the last 3 months of this newsletter and how best to deliver value to you as my subscribers going forward. Now that I'm back in Unity 3D engine development, I have plenty to share about the process and what it means for the larger developer community. So from now on, each week I'll put out one big idea or thought related to my latest AR/VR/metaverse developments. Industry news and link roundups will take a more succinct form, as an industry appendix for the week.
Hotels + Headsets
The big question for consumers of virtual reality devices has always been, what's this thing for? "More immersive video games" still is the consensus today, which new headsets haven’t yet changed. While traveling to both Seattle and Portland over the last week, I was surprised at how often I used my headset. One reason is biased, as I'm actively developing a multiplayer sports game and need to QA it as we onboard more users. But the other reason isn't.
Trapped in a Portland hotel room for my twelve-year old's club soccer tournament, a headset became something to do. As it poured rain outside, and without much else to do in between soccer games, VR was an activity that brought variety to our dreary Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel room. My ten-year old, who still consumes YouTube via an iPad as her primary activity, used the Quest so often she couldn't charge it fast enough. She rocked out to music while cooking in Job Simulator, and hit dozens baseball homers in my early VR game Derby. Even without much space in the room, she sprawled out on the bed (safely) to make room-scale navigation work.
This is a pretty niche and privileged use case: families traveling and spending idle time for sports events in chain hotels. But it is one! It creates a new market that is slightly different from say using a Nintendo Switch in that same hotel room (which I also had, and used while my headset was occupied). At home, we have an Xbox, multiple gaming PC's, and plenty else to do. On the road, though? VR made our hotel experience slightly less boring.
In 2018, I licensed my VR experience The Crystal Reef to a company called Tink Labs that was providing free headsets to hotel guests across Japan. The distribution went okay, with enough views to show that there was a market for people bored in their hotel room willing to try something new. Tink Labs ultimately couldn't find a business model that worked, and shut down their efforts.
It was thought that virtual reality would eventually replace physical travel. Just look at the new Oculus app Wooorld, which lets users virtually visit any city using 3D map data. But in the realistic near-term, it's the opposite. Affluent travelers might want a taste of their lux home amenities like a personal gym, or home entertainment center. Celebrities and performers often talk about the lonliness of a life spent in hotel rooms, and while that's a rich kid problem to have, it's indicitive of a larger market of consumers isolated in an environment that isn't their own, with time to burn on an immersive experience.
If consumers start traveling more often with personal headsets, especially international business travelers (if those even exist post-pandemic), that could be enough of a use case to drive more VR retention. At home, gamers will likely use a mix of other consoles and platforms. On the road though, and away from a desk, VR headsets might continue to play more of a regular role.
As someone that hates most hotel gyms, I wouldn't mind doing a few workouts in the privacy of my hotel room!
Meta laid off over 11,000 workers this morning, including many engineers working on seemingly mission critical Quest products. At least they did it more humanely than Twitter? LINK.
Meta's Q3 earnings call was a primer for the layoffs, when a "defiant" Zuckerberg defended its 50% profit slide by asserting its long-term vision. LINK.
CNBC commentator Jim Cramer made a rare emotional apology on his Mad Money show after Meta's stock slid, saying "I trusted this management team. That was ill-advised. The hubris here is extraordinary, and I apologize." LINK.
Activist investors want Meta to spend more along the lines of less than $5B on their AR/VR efforts, not $100B+. I'm not sure the recent layoffs will be enough to keep spending within their likings. LINK.
More Meta Quest Pro reviews are in, and they continue to point out how the headset is a tradeoff. The headset is certainly an upgrade, but is it worth the tradeoff for experiences we can get via other devices? VR fitness advocates continue to think so! LINK, FITNESS.
Oculus Founder Palmer Lucky deftly called Zuckerberg "the number one virtual reality fan in the world" and said of its Horizon Worlds "It's not good, it's not fun." He also modded a VR headset to theoretically kill its user with an explosive device, a reminder that he very much lives in a Defense world, now. LINK, EXPLOSIVE.
Turns out Microsoft has only managed to sell ~300K units of its HoloLens devices, and internal teams could never really figure out how it was better than a smartphone. A fascinating must-read from WSJ. LINK.
Is it possible to fail because of TOO much innovation? It happened with Windows 8, and is a reminder of how deeply entangled corporations become with their new products. LINK.
This just in: Snap CEO Evan Spiegel does not want to live inside a computer of Zuckerberg's making! LINK.
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