Version 2: We're Not There, Yet
Apple Will-They-Won't-They, SIGGRAPH '22, CAA's New CMO, and Meta's Drive Through its Future
Welcome back to Threshold! Your weekly guide to understanding "metaverse" ambitions from Big Tech and the path to commercial viability of AR/VR hardware for mainstream consumers.
Here's what happened last week, online:
Apple's Chicken Game
Rumors continued to swirl about Apple launching their Mixed Reality headset by this January with a price tag of $2-3k. I tend to tire of the Will-They-Won't-They news around Apple hardware, but I do think a higher price tag is necessary to shift public perception of AR/VR as a more serious computation tool.
Perceived value matters in consumer hardware. An Amazon Echo Dot that costs $40 means that I'm going to expect that device to reciprocate $40 of value back to me. If it doesn't demonstrate a ton of utility, I won't be disappointed! Even though I love my Nintendo Switch, I don't treat it like a computer, I treat it like a casual game console. It's the same with my Quest, which now costs about the same as my Xbox Series X.
Meta has proven it can sell and grow a game console, but can it do the same with its more serious Cambria device now that Apple is nearing the end of its game of headset chicken?
SIGGRAPH happened last week in Vancouver, which I always love for its academic insights into graphical technology development. My favorite highlight was VFX studio ILM's work with NVIDIA's "DeepSearch,” which uses AI and VR to quickly edit and search for sky assets, also known as a "skyboxes." Skyboxes wrap a virtual scene in a vibe, and they’re a powerful early tool in prototyping.
The bigger picture here is that asset search needs to become smarter for both creators using digital content creation (DCC) tools and consumers browsing those assets to purchase. Ever tried scrolling through the Roblox or Minecraft marketplaces? It’s insanely awful.
Also, as an ILM fan, I would totally pay to tag along with them to "virtually scout an environment as if we were on location.” That’s the type of bonus content Disney and Lucasfilm need to be thinking about for their VR consumer strategy!
The .JPG of 3D
NVIDIA announced at SIGGRAPH more love for the Universal Scene Description (.USD) 3D file format, which it's supporting for its Omniverse platform. This sets up a further battle for a 3D model standard and will irk glTF 2.0 supporters, including Meta. They have supported glTF as far back as 2018 for 3D posts (which I worked on tangentially when I was internally there).
Rev Lebaredian, VP at NVIDIA says, “We’ve been hard at work advancing Universal Scene Description, extending it and making it viable as the core pillar and foundation of the metaverse, so that it will be analogous to the metaverse just like HTML is to the web.”
3D pipelines are notoriously difficult and nuanced, and I don't think we'll have a proliferation of 3D creators or content until we can create easier and universal standards. Digital photography flourished under the .JPG, and optimizing the asset pipeline will also be crucial for anyone creating 3D content across platforms in the future.
Tour Guides for Talent
Everyone's favorite crypto celebrity Paris Hilton announced she was bringing her virtual “Paris Hilton World” to the virtual world "The Sandbox" next, after 544K fans visited its Roblox iteration. As more and more celebrities bring their personal brands into virtual worlds, talent agents will need to provide guidance to them on monetization and contractual strategy. Which is why I can't think of a better tour guide than Joanna Popper, who CAA announced as their first “Chief Metaverse Officer” last week.
I was a huge fan of Popper's stint at HP, where you could often find her (or her team) deep in the comments on reddit, helping users with their HP headsets and expediting customer service requests. The HP Reverb G2 is my PCVR headset of choice to develop with, and I found those grassroots efforts a refreshing change from Facebook's void of effective customer service (hacked accounts, for example).
Popper also oversaw location-based entertainment (LBE) that amplified HP's sustainability and educational missions. This included LBE experiences like HP Mars Home Planet, We Live in an Ocean of Air, and Drop in the Ocean. These arthouse experiences are going to set the stage for CAA’s metaverse work moving forward, and they’re lucky to have Popper leading their efforts!
We're Not There, Yet
Episode 2 of Meta's video campaign "Are We There Yet?" dropped last week, and it’s a ride from the cheeky charm of Keke Palmer. I'm all for educational approaches to inform consumers about what to expect from the future, but the series feels too lofty.
Telling consumers the metaverse is "the next phase of the internet" but not explaining why, and how it will be better for them than what we have currently, feels belittling. While the videos are visually fun, Meta needs to execute on a more grounded campaign that sells the practical advantages of its metaverse. Still, "Are We There Yet?" is a step in the right direction over their previous too-serious spot "The Impact Will Be Real."
A Showdown of Hands
In the world of content, Myst shipped a novel update for VR that lets you play with only hand tracking. It's a huge step forward for making input less complicated, which I think the medium needs to appeal to users outside of hardcore gamers willing to learn to use touch controllers. Even though some claim Myst is the worst computer game of all time, it’s pure nostalgia for me, and I can’t wait to play it in a headset with only my hands.
Rec Room announced an original title (Room?) "Showdown," a family-friendly gunslinger that looks super fun! This hints at the content dilemma for a platform like Rec Room. It has a healthy ecosystem of user-generated content (UGC), but the quality of those rooms varies. Some of its most polished and popular Rooms (Golden Trophy) are Originals from Rec Room itself. Expect more Originals from the company until creators and brands can increase the quality of their content on the platform to keep users coming back.
Quote of the Week
“The worst part is that people are buying real estate in these places...That’s just the dumbest shit ever. Did I say it was dumb? That’s not strong enough. Super meta immaculately dumb.”
-Mark Cuban, on investing in "metaverse" land (NY Post)
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