The XR Week Peek (2023.01.23): Microsoft shuts down Altspace and MRTK, and more!


Welcome to another roundup of AR/VR news of the week! I’m still writing from China, and this week I spent the Chinese New Year here… it was an interesting experience, and if you lost my funny story about it, you can still have a look at it in my dedicated post.
 
 Wishing you all a very positive and special year of the rabbit, I leave you with the most important news of the week in AR and VR!

Top news of the week

(Image by Microsoft)

Microsoft lays off 10,000 employees and shuts down its mixed reality projects

This is seriously a bad period for the tech industry in general, and of course also for mixed reality. Because of the bad economic conditions, the less digital post-pandemic world, and all the other problems we at this point know too well, Microsoft had to perform massive layoffs. 10,000 employees will lose their job before March: this is a human tragedy on its own.
 
 This decision is having very noticeable consequences in our ecosystem, too. As a direct effect of the layoffs, two XR projects not deemed as strategic have been just shut down.
 
 The first one is Altspace VR, one of the first social VR spaces of this new Virtual Reality era. The news is not much surprising, considering that Altspace had not been updated since ages, and started looking like abandonware. But is still very sad: Altspace was the home of some of the more passionate VR communities, which were still holding many events there. All of us have memories of Altspace, also because it was one of the first applications paving the way to social VR: I remember Altspace being one of the first applications reviewed on my blog. Altspace is sunsetting on March, 10th. Microsoft says that it will be substituting it with Microsoft Mesh, but Mesh actually it’s a framework, not an application, so this makes no sense. Plus Microsoft stated that Mesh will be initially used to build enterprise applications, and then maybe one day again consumer ones. So, at the end of the day, Altspace won’t be substituted by anything.
 
 The second killed project is MRTK. MRTK was the SDK to build applications for HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. It was a very powerful SDK, and it would have become even more powerful and modular with the v3 that would have to be officially released in a few weeks. MRTK was the foundational SDK to build for HoloLens, so if Microsoft is abandoning it, it is also abandoning HoloLens. The real bummer is that MRTK was a very popular plugin because it was completely cross-platform and was considered reliable because Microsoft was backing it. Now all the applications that are employing it are at risk of becoming obsolete in the next months. The good thing is that MRTK is completely open source, so, theoretically, it could be carried on by the community. We’ll see in the next weeks if this is going to happen or not. For sure, not having Microsoft backing it will slow down a lot of its development.
 
 There have also been other layoffs in general in Microsoft’s mixed reality division. Reading about this, I had the general impression that Microsoft is basically retreating from all its XR efforts, with the exception of Mesh. From now on, it will probably just rely on the partnerships with other XR players like Meta. This is bad news for our ecosystem.

More info (Microsoft to perform massive layoffs)
More info (AltspaceVR to shut down in March)
More info (Microsoft shuts down MRTK team)
More info (A developer announcing the layoff of the whole MRTK team)

Other relevant news

(Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Sony announces the lineup of launch games for PSVR2

Sony Interactive Entertainment has just announced the lineup of the launch games for the Playstation VR 2 system. The lineup includes some popular VR titles like Demeo, Pistol Whip, and Synth Riders, mixed with some exclusive titles like Resident Evil Village and Horizon Call of the Mountain. In total, I counted something like 32 games, which is ok to start with, but then Sony should be fast in collecting more content to not make the PSVR2 players get bored fast for the lack of playable games.
 
 There are already a bunch of additional games that should come through March, like Before Your Eyes, a VR game where blinking your eyes makes things happen. And others planned for later, like Beat Saber. But still, the fact that all the PSVR 1 content won’t be available for the new headset gives Sony a good challenge on the content side.
 
 Regarding the content, it will also be interesting to see how sales will go in the long run: PSVR 1 most sold games have always been the same for years (Beat Saber, Job Simulator, etc…) and it will be interesting to see if the same trend will hold for PSVR 2, or if PSVR 2 will have a more mature audience that will be less interested in casual games and more on the latest AAA exclusive title.
 
 There’s a final bad news for the community regarding PSVR 2. According to one modder, it is almost impossible that the headset will work with SteamVR, at least in its first years of life. PSVR 1 was a much simpler device, and it still took years for the community to reverse-engineer its communication protocol. With PSVR 2, which most probably will feature encryption, the road will be much harder. Long story short, this means that no one should buy PSVR 2 and expect to use it with his own PC.

More info (PSVR 2 launch lineup)
More info (Before Your Eyes game)
More info (Most downloaded games for PSVR 1)
More info (PSVR 2 won’t work with SteamVR — Road To VR)
More info (PSVR 2 won’t work with SteamVR — Upload VR)

Apple shelves plan for AR glasses, but plans a cheaper MR headset

You thought you could go on for a week without listening to the nth rumor about Apple, but sorry, no, you can not.
 
 Mark Gurman in his latest update confirmed that Apple will announce its Reality Pro headset in Spring, give more details about its development practices during WWDC, and then release the device during the autumn. But this is something that we already knew.
 
 The new report regards other devices in the work at Apple. The first seems to be a cheaper version of the Reality Pro, dubbed Reality One, which should be in the price range of an iPhone (so around $1000) instead of the insane $3000 price for the Reality Pro. The headset should feature an A-series chipset (instead of the M one), have lower resolution displays, fewer external tracking cameras, and cheaper materials. The aim is at a more consumer-oriented market, hoping to reach at least 10M sold units. The release year should be 2024, but it could be also later if there will be delays. Brad Lynch confirmed that his sources mentioned this kind of headset, too.
 
 For what concerns AR glasses, Apple will keep working on them, but the release won’t happen anytime soon. It seems that for now, Apple has shelved all the plans to release AR glasses because simply the technology to build them isn’t there. It will keep exploring the technologies, but won’t try to build a product for now. So basically a headset that no one said that would exist, won’t exist for real. This is an impressive rumor.

More info (New rumor on the Apple mixed reality headsets — Road To VR)
More info (New rumor on the Apple mixed reality headsets — Upload VR)
More info (Brad Lynch confirming the rumors)
More info (Extra article: How Apple avoided performing massive layoffs)

Gorilla Tag claimed to have had $26M in revenues

Gorilla Tag is proving to be the VR game of the moment. Speaking to VentureBeat, developer Another Axiom has reported that the game earned $26 million from in-app purchases. The number of users of the game is also impressive: it has a peak monthly active user count of 2.3 million now, and on Christmas, over 760,000 users played with it. And all of this by just arriving recently on the Quest Store: the game has been on App Lab for most of the time.
 
 This success story makes me happy because it is the success of an indie team with a simple, fun, and crazy game. At the same time, it proves that you never know what will be the next big hit: Meta has invested millions in exclusive games, and then the most popular games on Quest are an application where to slash cubes and a rough tag game featuring gorillas. This is fun.
 
 On the other side, we shouldn’t fall for the error of considering this success story as the norm for us VR developers. This is the exception, instead. This game made millions on App Lab, but the vast majority of apps on App Lab falls into obscurity, and developers have difficulty sustaining themselves. Let’s not forget it.

More info (The success story of Gorilla Tag — Road To VR)
More info (The success story of Gorilla Tag — Upload VR)

News worth a mention

(Image by TIME)

The World Economic Forum enters the metaverse

In Davos, some of the most powerful people in the world met for the World Economic Forum. There, the WEF institution introduced the Global Collaboration Village, which is a virtual space where these leaders can keep meeting without having to meet physically for the rest of the year. I’m not a big fan of this kind of political lobbying thing, but the fact that this powerful institution has started adopting “the metaverse” can have positive consequences for our ecosystem. If these politicians understand its true potential, they can invest resources and promote laws to make it happen. This could act as a positive force. Could also be a negative one, if these people want to control it, though. I guess we’ll see, but I’m pretty sure this step will have long-term consequences.

More info (The WEF enters the metaverse)
More info (The TIME cover featuring the world leaders in VR)

A check on 2022 in VR and predictions for 2023

Ben Lang has written a very interesting editorial on Road To VR, highlighting the current stagnant status of VR, and why 2023 is going anyway to be a positive year for the technology in general.

More info

VividQ and Dispelix create new innovative display for AR

VividQ and Dispelix have announced the creation of a new kind of display for AR, which according to them, is a breakthrough innovation. The display features the capability of letting you focus the AR content at different depths so that to solve the vergence-accommodation conflict. Thanks to it, you can focus on the real object and the AR virtual object that has been put on it at the same time, making AR more realistic.

More info

Estee Lauder’s new try-on app is a great example of accessibility

As an advocate for accessibility in XR, I can only praise the latest AR application by Estee Lauder, one of the leading make-up brands in the world. The application is meant to help people with visual impairments: it analyzes the face of the user via the front camera of the phone, then an AI system detects which problems there are with the makeup (e.g. a corner of the lips missing the lipstick, or the two eyes with uneven eyelashes), and a speech synthesizer tells the user what to improve. This is a great use of technology to make a part of the life of people better.

More info

Unity fires around 300 employees

While the news about Microsoft layoffs made headlines everywhere, it was more silent the second round of layoffs at Unity. In this session, around 300 people lost their job. And I know personally some of them that were working on XR/metaverse projects, so our ecosystem is being impacted by these layoffs, too. I wish good luck to my friends and I hope they will find a new job soon.

More info

Some news on content

Windlands 2 is heading to the official Quest Store on February 2nd. Its price will be $24.99

Upload has reviewed Primal Hunt, praising the fun of this action game where you have to hunt the mighty dinosaurs

The VR-remake of the classic game Colossal Cave has been released for Quest and will come to PSVR 2 in 2023

Upload VR has positively reviewed PathCraft, a puzzle game for VR that reminds a bit the old game Lemmings

Prisms VR is a platform to teach maths to students at home in a fun and innovative way

Coastermania is a game coming later this year that will focus on making the player build his own rollercoasters

Upcoming multiplayer 1-on-1 VR fighter Divine Duel is running a beta on Meta Quest headsets this week from January 27 to 30.

More info (Windlands 2)
More info (Primal Hunt)
More info (Colossal Cave)
More info (Pathcraft)
More info (Prisms VR)
More info (CoasterMania)
More info (Divine Duel)

Other news

Ben Lang has gone hands-on with the Pimax Crystal at CES

Learn more

Meta has acquired Gary Sharp Innovations to improve its manufacturing of pancake lenses

Learn more

A recent study highlights how VR meetings are not more effective than traditional video meetings, yet

Learn more

Quest hand tracking gets updated to v2.1, which improves a lot its reliability

Learn more (Tracking update)
Learn more (Relevance of this update)

Quest runtime gets v49 update, which brings with it other improvements to the parental control system

Learn more

News from partners (and friends)

Participate in the SlashData Survey

Copy-paste:

AR/VR creators, this survey is for you. Which tools and platforms are you using to build mind-bending creations? Take the survey to help the global community learn more about the skills and technologies necessary to succeed in 2023.

The survey takes about 15 minutes and covers VR, AR, and mixed reality sectors. It’s available in English, Chinese (Simplified), Spanish, Vietnamese, and Russian. Just pick a language you’re most comfortable with.

In return for your effort, you will enter prize draws for a chance to win a Meta Quest 2, Gift cards and Crypto to use towards your AR/VR project, swag, and more. If you have a few extra minutes, promote the survey for a chance to win up to $1,000 USD in cash.

The survey welcomes creators of all profiles: no-code, developers, students, hobbyists, and professionals. Take the survey before it closes, on February 3rd.

Learn more

Some XR fun

It’s an interesting daily deal…
Funny link

Go home, ChatGPT, you are drunk.
Funny link

Furry is de wei
Funny link

“Be right back”, but in virtual reality
Funny link

Donate for good

Like last week, also this week in this final paragraph I won’t ask you to donate for my blog, but to the poor people that are facing the consequences of the war. Please donate to the Red Cross to handle the current humanitarian situation in Ukraine. I will leave you the link to do that below.
 
 Let me take a moment before to thank anyway all my Patreon donors for the support they give to me:

Alex Gonzalez VR

DeoVR

GenVR

Eduardo Siman

Jonn Fredericks

Jean-Marc Duyckaerts

Reynaldo T Zabala

Richard Penny

Terry xR. Schussler

Ilias Kapouranis

Paolo Leoncini

Immersive.international

Nikk Mitchell and the great FXG team

Jake Rubin

Alexis Huille

Raghu Bathina

Chris Koomen

Cognitive3D

Yacine Achiakh

Jennifer Granger

Jason Moore

Steve Biggs

Julio Cesar Bolivar

Jan Schroeder

Kai Curtis

Francesco Strada

Sikaar Keita

Ramin Assadollahi

Juan Sotelo

Andrew Sheldon

Chris Madsen

Horacio Torrendell

Andrew Deutsch

Fabien Benetou

Tatiana Kartashova

Marco “BeyondTheCastle” Arena

Eloi Gerard

Adam Boyd

Jeremy Dalton

Joel Ward

Alex P

Lynn Eades

Donald P

Casie Lane

Catherine Henry

Qcreator

Ristband (Anne McKinnon & Roman Rappak)

Stephen Robnett

Sb

Enrico Poli

Vooiage Technologies

Caroline

Liam James O’Malley

Hillary Charnas

Wil Stevens

Brian Peiris

Francesco Salizzoni

Dimo Pepelyashev

Alan Smithson

Steve R

Brentwahn

Pieter Siekerman

Simplex

Matias Nassi

And now here you are the link to donate:

Support The Red Cross in Ukraine

(Header image by Microsoft)

The post The XR Week Peek (2023.01.23): Microsoft shuts down Altspace and MRTK, and more! appeared first on The Ghost Howls.

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