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Version 8: First-Person Paradox
Byte's Pico 4 headset, VR sports perspective paradox, cybersickness stats, and indie 3D content creators
Dance, Pico, Dance
Consumers would benefit from healthy competition to Meta's Quest VR device, but there currently isn't much. Valve is focused on its Steam Deck and gaming ecosystem over its Index, and other headset contenders like HP, HTC, and Lenovo don't have the deep pockets to invest more in what is still niche hardware.
Pico (now owned by TikTok's ByteDance) might be the best contender, but as The Information wrote last week, they only shipped 510k headset units last year. Their upcoming VR headset, The Pico 4, is lighter and has a better battery life, but its best feature against Meta is its international market availability, including China and Europe.
There's also the possibility of integration with TikTok's exploding social network and cultural relevance, but other than merely watching short-form videos in a headset, it's unclear how the Pico would fit in. Netflix and Instagram did that similarly starting with the Oculus Go, and watching traditional media in a headset isn’t yet worth all effort (your TV never runs out of battery, for example).
ByteDance is also working on a Horizon Worlds clone called Pico Worlds, but does that deserve a clone, yet? I'd rather have a more confined toolset of Tik Tok's film and content creation features, but in VR. That way, I could use a sound or duet a video with an avatar and post it to TikTok quickly, instead of roaming around virtual worlds making small talk with strangers (my literal nightmare).
Are sports and virtual reality polar opposites, like Bloomberg's video last week "A Metaverse of Sports" suggested? The best part of the video is Ben Grossmann, CEO of studio agency MAGNOPUS, who argues that because sports is such a big money sector, it should be seen as a go-to-market strategy for all new media technologies. Once a media solution works in sports, he suggested working backwards towards other content verticals.
Grossmann is right, sports is a money maker. And who is positioning themselves more closely to sports lately? Apple. They now own the VR live sports pipeline startup NextVR, and are collecting content rights across MLB and NFL (including The Super Bowl). I guarantee their upcoming headset will have a sports offering, and that should make Meta worried.
As I wrote about last week, the "metaverse" is not cool, yet (even YouTuber Cody Ko backed this statement up). But sports are always cool! When I was building the tech behind sports startup Strivr (before they pivoted to enterprise training), we benefited from the wide appeal of football, which drove an early and free PR cycle for our company. NFL quarterbacks were some of our earliest users, with the likes of Tony Romo and Carson Palmer. The same content that was training those QB's ported easily over to marketing experiences for fans.
Sport Techie interviewed me about this, and I said VR could "create for each fan the sense that they are intimate with these players that they support and this team that they support." But after many years of launching and measuring marketing activations, a paradox still lingers for me.
Do sports fans really want to become those players? Or merely watch them? I call this a "first-person paradox" and it challenges the idea that Meta's concept of a "more embodied internet" will make for compelling content. Replicating IRL sports might not even be the best path to using the medium at all.
I like that StatusPRO's recent QB experience for the Meta Quest is a more distilled version of a football game, where players can run specific plays. But after all of my work via Strivr, I think it's a novelty that will quickly wear off. Quarterbacking is hard work (it's more pattern recognition than physical ability), and once fans discover that, they'll return to becoming spectators.
What fans really want is a social community, shared over a regular cadence of live programming. It's also problematic than many sports require quick movements over far distances, introducing another paradox we need to talk about: cybersickness.
Cybersickness, or motion sickness, is what happens when there is a discrepancy between body and brain. If your eyes are perceiving movement where there is none, it can result it nausea and dizziness. It's a well-studied phenomenon, and even though VR developers have created novel workarounds, it remains a major barrier to mainstream consumer adoption. Many enthusiasts will claim that users just need to get their "VR legs" in order to play more movement-heavy content like Gorilla Tag, but that's not an effective recommendation for most.
The Daily Beast agreed with this sentiment last week in an article that questioned whether VR will ever overcome its cybersickness problem. My favorite quote was from a motion sickness researcher whose wife refuses to use a headset (as does mine). He said of her struggles, "And so getting over that hump, for her—she’s got better things to do. I think a lot of people are that way.”
There are two issues here: hardware and locomotion. Hardware is improving. Future headsets will no doubt have higher frame rates, reduced latency, and focal adjustments that more closely mimic how our eyes adjust focus for depth. There's a few other clever workarounds using things like bone-conductive vibrations that research shows can help. But locomotion is harder to solve.
Many video games require traversing large distances and open worlds, but traditional navigation schemes like joysticks don't translate well into VR. Early developers created design crutches like "teleportation" but those feel like temporary solutions that don't scale to non-gamers.
I'm not sure we're going to ditch these control schemes at this point, so I do worry we're going to leave behind a huge audience of potential users because VR is too hard to use for anyone outside of gaming. It would be nice to avoid what happened with the Nintendo Virtual Boy, which couldn't really overcome its hazardous health warnings. It hurt my own eyes when I owned one back in 1995 (my first VR headset!).
Is the barrier to creating 3D content for the metaverse still too high? Rolling Stone thinks so, and discussed it in regards to the recently added category of “Best Metaverse Performance” for the MTV Video Music Awards. The learning curve of digital asset creation is too much for independent artists they argue, requiring everything from engineers to 3D modelers to technical tool artists.
Sony also thinks that independent creators and game developers are still in a holding pattern until more mainstream adoption happens. NME quoted a senior staff that said, "There are big games like Horizon: Call of the Mountain and Resident Evil Village and yes, they’re amazing, but it’s the indies, in my mind, that really take the risk because they want to make games on VR. Indies have been waiting for this next VR boom.”
The content ecosystem for AR/VR could definitely benefit from more indies of all types, but I agree with Rolling Stone in that the barriers are still too high. When a brand like Balenciaga wanted to bring their products into Fortnite, they were leased a fleet of 3D engine experts to make it happen. How can indies gain access to that kind of workflow, too?
Quote of the Week
"It’s like Neal is coming down out of the mountains like Gandalf, to restore the metaverse to an open, decentralized, and creative order." - Former Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz, on Neal Stephenson's metaverse startup Lamina 1 (WIRED)
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