Tag Archives: Virtual Reality

Decentraland and the Fusion of Trends

I had to get in the car for a short drive last night, so I flipped on the radio to listen to along the way.  It was set to our local PBS station, KQED, and since it was between 9 and 10pm, the BBC News Service feed was playing.

I wasn’t really listening to what was being said until I was out of the driveway and headed down the street.  Then some very familiar words started flowing through my brain in charming English accents with precise BBC pronunciation.  It was something about a virtual world and selling virtual plots of land and maybe businesses setting up shop and people visiting friends and having a virtual cup of tea and all the nonsense that was being passed around about virtual worlds more than a decade back.

My first thought was that they were playing an old track, some sort of “Remember when this was a thing?” segment featuring Second Life and how people were buying into that.  I mean Reuters and CNN had “offices” there and people who got rich on speculation were making it to the covers of magazines.

But the whole thing sounded more recent.  They were talking about the funding by selling plots in the Genesis content section of this world.  We’ve certainly seen virtual real estate sold before.  Then there was mention of the in game currency, called MANA, which you had to buy in order to get any of the plots.  But we’ve been down that path before.

And then the surprising-yet-unsurprising twist hit, MANA was a cryptocurrency and used blockchain technology and I said aloud, “Nailed it!”

But it isn’t just the currency that uses blockchain, it is the whole world and all your virtual land deeds and whatever.  I was back in the driveway before I was the story was through… honestly, I was only driving out to get a PokeStop because it was day seven of my streak and I wanted the big payout… so I sat in the driveway until they finally said the name of the place.  Just to hit on the block chain theme in a big way it is called Decentraland.

Buzz words sell things

So I went back in the house and started looking the whole thing up.

It doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry yet, which I am sad to say is my current method of assessing notability.  If you aren’t there yet how can you make any claim to fame?  But it does have its own web site and blog with an introduction to things and a FAQ.

Naturally, because it is 2018 and this is how things are, even though the developers are selling plots of land via their cryptocurrency, you cannot log in and visit your purchase yet, so add crowdfunding to the list of trends it is riding on.

Not that there isn’t a lot going on with Decentraland.  Browsing through their site and reading articles about non-fungible tokens and what not indicates that much thought is going into the technology being used.  However, technology isn’t a product and I didn’t see a thing that made me think that they had anything beyond the most basic ideas as to what people would eventually do with the place.

That is likely my native skepticism kicking in I am sure.  As I said, I’ve heard a lot of their pitch before, and the fact that blockchain technology is part of the equation doesn’t sell me.  But we shall see.  I mostly wanted to write this to mark the point in time so I would come back and visit it again in a year and in five years and so on to see what develops.

Are you interested in some blockchain secured virtual real estate?

VR Development Dead and Layoffs at CCP

One of those “note the time and date” posts, Massively OP reported earlier today that CCP was backing away from development of Virtual Reality games, closing their Atlanta office and selling off the studio in Newcastle responsible for now VR-optional Oculus Rift launch title EVE: Valkyrie.  This will mean a job loss for as many as 100 CCP employees world wide, including 30 in Iceland.

EVE: Valkyrie in stasis

CCP says that they will continue to support their VR products but will no longer be investing time into new development for EVE: Valkyrie, EVE Gunjack, or the recently launched Sparc.  That sounds nice, but once you cut the development team restarting on a VR project won’t be easy.

Hello VR captain’s quarters?

In addition to a renewed focus on EVE Online… because what else is making them any money… CCP will continue with development of the shooter known as Project Nova as well as the EVE Universe themed mobile game Project Aurora, which was demoed at EVE Vegas earlier this month.

CCP Falcon had the following to say on Reddit:

With regards to EVE, it’s kind of bittersweet that this puts us in a more solid position going forward, as a lot more focus is back on EVE Online, its services and all the technology and support around it.

The EVE Online development team was not impacted at all by these changes, and remains the same size, working toward the same goals and features that have already been announced.

While that may be so, one of the losses with the Atlanta office is CCP Manifest who was the PR and social media lead who paid a lot of attention to the EVE Online community.  Likewise CCP Logibro who minded the fansites and worked with the CSM appears to be on the list.   They will be missed.

We shall see what this means in the longer term.  EVE Online remains the only money making video game for the company.

Other coverage:

Friday Bullet Points – Names and Prices and Gambling

It is Friday and, while I have posts that I could put up today, I wanted to cover a few small items that popped up this week, if only to write them down for discussion later.  As usual, just marking the dates with a bullet point post.

King of the Kill Dethroned

In a surprise move… to me at least… Daybreak announced that their battle royale game H1Z1: King of the Kill, already under pressure from hot new contenders like PlayerUnknown’s Battleground and Fortnite, decided that one of the things it needed to do was simplify the games name.

So they cut one side of the colon.  The side with what I sort of considered the actual name.

The game is now simply called H1Z1.

H1Z1 – October 2017 logo

Back where we started in 2015 when there was only one game with two modes and a single name.   Only the other mode is now Just Survive.

H1Z1 2015 Logo

Daybreak gives a several dubious sounding reasons for the change, ending on what was likely the real answer”

…having the word ‘Kill’ in the name of the game can be limiting with some global audiences…

I have to admit that I cannot, off the cuff, come up with a widely successful game with “Kill” in its name.  Maybe they’re right.

Of course, none of that changes the fact that the two titles mentioned above are eat H1Z1’s lunch, that the game is still in Early Access after saying it would be released last year, and the planned console port is still just a wink and a promise.

Oculus Price Cut

Facebook announced a price cut for the Oculus Rift.  The unit, which started off at $599 back in the day, will now be $399 and include the Touch controllers as well, at one time additional cost items.

That is a better price, though I am still in the boat of having to upgrade my PC first to be able to support their VR implementation.  I am at the very minimum spec for the Oculus Rift, and we now how well minimum specs work out.  And there still isn’t a must-have game or app out there to push me forward.

Facebook also announced the Oculus Go, priced at $199, but then didn’t say much about what the hell it actually was.  According to the Game Informer post linked above, the Go unit is stand alone and comes with one controller and a lot of promises.  So I am not sure what that even means.  Can I watch movies on it?

Empires of Kunark Still Half Price

Back to Daybreak, where the Norrath titles are in the middle of their annual expansion run up.  I’ll probably compare and contrast the pre-order offers at a later date.

But as part of that both EverQuest and EverQuest II put last year’s expansion up for sale at half off the original price for a limited time.

Empires of Kunark – Half Price through Tuesday

If you wanted to get all of the goodies that came with the more expensive packages… well… they are less expensive now, though you don’t get any price credit for having bought the base package it seems.

Half Price Pricing, Buy or Upgrade

As usual, being a subscriber gets you an additional ten percent discount.

Lockboxes and Gambling

This has been going around due to a petition to the UK government to declare lockboxes a form of gambling.  This seems silly to me as lockboxes do not meet the required win/lose scenario of gambling.  You always get a prize.  That it is not the prize you wanted is irrelevant and you don’t get to claim that virtual good have no value if you only mean the ones you don’t like.

Anyway, fellow bloggers have weighed in on this:

The above doesn’t mean I like lockboxes, and I certainly don’t spend my money on them.  I think they are a predatory device that plays to the same weaknesses that gambling does.  They just aren’t gambling any more than Pokemon cards or the gumball machine at the grocery store.  Chance alone does not make something gambling.

Meanwhile devs offer responses as to why they use lockboxes.  Spoiler: They have families to feed, so are apparently absolved of any moral issues.

Meanwhile, Activision has patented a system to punish you for not paying to win, which can include buying lockboxes, so welcome to reality.  Good luck playing for sympathy with that on your side.

Warzone and EVE Valkyrie sans VR

The free Warzone expansion to EVE: Valkyrie adapts the high-immersion experience of virtual reality to computer and TV screens. Valkyrie pilots can now fly and fight together with or without a VR headset.

EVE: Valkyrie site

Today is the day that CCP launches their Warzone expansion for EVE Valkyrie.  Owners of CCP’s VR title get some new content for free, expanding the options of a game that has been criticized for being limited in depth.

The point of the Warzone Extraction event in EVE Online has ostensible been to draw attention to this new addition to EVE Valkyrie, though I am not sure it has done much in that regard.

Launching Today

And while I am sure that more content good news for people who already have the game, the big news here is the expansion of the target audience beyond those who have ponied up a few hundred dollars for a VR headset.  This is why CCP wants to make EVE players aware of this update.

Warzone, now without the VR requirement

I suppose it is easy enough to explain why CCP went this route; removing the VR requirement increases their potential audience manifold, starting with a few hundred thousand current and former EVE Online players they can market to directly… if they can figure that out.

I am not sure what the system requirements are yet.  The entry over at Steam still matches the Oculus Rift system requirements, of which my rig is just shy.  I have the processor indicated but need a video card upgrade.  I suspect that the requirements for running without VR should be less, but I do not know for sure. [Update: INN has the non-VR requirements and they are reduced.]

But is there also a message about the current state of VR in this move to support a non-VR option?  I see lots of rosy predictions for the future growth of VR and if you Google you can find numbers that show that over 100 million VR headsets had shipped by the end of 2016.  But if you dig in you find out that almost all of those were Google Cardboard and it seems much less impressive.  And there is no “killer app” yet to move the more expensive headsets more quickly.

Anyway, EVE Valkyrie is now VR optional.

I will be interested to hear how it plays without VR.  I should still have a special item waiting for me in the game courtesy of the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition I got back in 2013.

Templar Fighter could be mine… is that even a thing in the game?

Of course, I’m not sure how to collect it.  It is attached to the somewhat maligned CCP Mystery Code from the collector’s edition.  I am sure the card is somewhere in my office at home, but I couldn’t tell you where.  Until I find it I suppose I can watch the launch trailer.

 

CCP Launches Sparc Today

Sparc is a virtual sport, or vSport – a unique physical sport only possible in virtual reality, in which players compete in full-body VR gameplay and connect in an online community.

-What is Sparc, from the Sparc FAQ

CCP launched their latest title today, a VR game called Sparc.

Sparc – Virtual Sports

The press release from CCP says that it is available for the PlayStation 4 with PlayStation VR from the PlayStation Store for $29.99.  There is also a launch trailer.

There is a mention of a version for PC in the FAQ, but no firm date as yet.

The game itself has been compared to Wii Sports, the extremely popular game that was bundled with the Wii in many countries.  Wii Sports was an excellent demonstration of the potential of the Wii motion controllers, a potential that the controllers never really achieved.  Wii Sports was a selling point for the Wii.

That is a pretty high bar for Sparc, which is not bundled with anything and requires potential players to have invested in the PlayStation VR hardware.  Add in the fact that you cannot play locally against another player, having to connect to opponents over the internet, thus any match requires two PlayStation 4s and two PlayStation VR sets.

Still, a simple, fun, and not-too-expensive VR sports game might do well within the VR niche, even if it isn’t the killer app that Wii Sports was for the Wii.

The game has been controversial with a few EVE Online players since it was announced back in February of this year.

There is, of course, the usual outrage at EVE Online funding other games.  For all of the recurring “EVE is dying!” sentiment, it still pays the bills for CCP.  However, any business funds new projects from the profits of current projects.  That is just the way things work.  EVE Online itself was funded, in part, by profits from the board game Hættuspil.  What goes around comes around.  The problem is that, being an MMORPG, EVE Online never feels “done,” so taking money from a game that clearly still needs work (and will forever need work) does not sit well.

And then there is the fact that Sparc, unlike Valkyrie, Gunjack, or the late DUST 514, does not glorify the universe of New Eden.  A VR spaceship game might at least bring some attention to our internet spaceship game.  A cartoony virtual sports game doesn’t even do that.

My own view is a bit mixed.  I’ve worked on projects that basically paid all the bills in the past, and have been irked by resources being siphoned off to build new things.  And as an EVE Online player I always want CCP to pay more attention to the game.  But I also know that in business not expanding is often equated with dying, and the days of growth for EVE Online seem to be in the past.  The game has too much baggage and is far too niche to expect to reach new heights now.

So the best hope for EVE Online going forward is a healthy and prosperous CCP, and we get that by CCP doing well with other products, or so it seems to me.  We shall see.

Anyway, I have neither a PlayStation 4 nor any VR hardware, so Sparc clearly isn’t for me.  But if it does do well I suspect we will hear about it from CCP.

Quote of the Day – Competing Against the Outside World

Meanwhile, VR devs are going, “But what about sticking blinders on people’s faces and making them stay at home?”

-Syp, on Twitter

In sudden surge, the augmented reality game Pokemon GO does seem to have gotten more press over the last few days than virtual reality has gotten over the last few months.  It has gone from the gaming press (I think half the stories at Polygon this week have been about the game) to the general press to showing up on the local news.  When your local news anchor is saying “Pokemon GO” a couple times an evening, it is a sign.  And then there was word of a movie based on the game as well.

PokemonGO_500px

This has been very much a perfect storm event, with a launch that managed to combine summer, when kids are off from school, have free time, and an inclination to go outside and do something, a free app for the smart phone so many people already own, and the immense popularity of Pokemon.

Meanwhile, the biggest VR news I have seen this week is that the Occulus Rift pre-orders from the beginning of the year have all finally shipped, but that the Touch motion controllers still do not have a firm date as yet.  Go team.

Of course, a phone app and VR aren’t really comparable, but it is a reminder that there hasn’t really been a killer app for VR yet that would get the average person interested in buying an expensive headset and a high end PC or console to go with it.  Right now it is still a niche product for enthusiasts.

EVE Valkyrie and EVE Gunjack go Live with Occulus Rift Today

The Occulus Rift virtual reality headset officially goes live today… I wonder how many pre-orders have been shipped at this point… and with it a couple of titles from CCP, the makers of EVE Online. (This week’s new releases list is naturally a bit heavy with Rift related titles.)

The first is EVE: Valkyrie, the title that CCP has been talking about for a while now and which is bundled with the Occulus Rift for pre-orders.

EVE Valkyrie

EVE Valkyrie

I was able to play EVE: Valkyrie at EVE Vegas last year and it does seem like a pretty fun title… though I might be biased by the fact that I found it neat just to be able to fly around some of the ships from EVE Online.  The price to play, however, puts it outside of my reach for now.

The other title, EVE: Gunjack, described as an “arcade shooter,” was announced back in August, and initially released last November, for the Samsung Gear VR headset, but has been ported over to work with Occulus Rift.

SCV good to go, sir!

EVE: Gunjack

I am not sure how much work went into the transition between platforms, but the Samsung Gear VR was created “in collaboration” with the Occulus team, so one could reasonably assume that the effort wasn’t huge.

So CCP has two more games on the market today, both set in the EVE Online universe.

Meanwhile, in a somewhat related item, the most recent Blog Banter has bloggers taking on the topic of what other EVE Online games they would like to see.  I haven’t gotten around to thinking about a post for that yet.