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Friday, June 2, 2023

‘Tech Job Apocalypse’ throws VR entertainment on a curveball | Review

Recent tech layoffs have disrupted VR, AR, and MR growth as the post-pandemic entertainment landscape presents huge opportunities.

'Tech Job Apocalypse' throws VR entertainment on a curveballImage: Adobe Stock.

Just a few months into the new year, the impact of structural changes is reverberating through the tech industry landscape. All of the leading social media, technology and entertainment companies are undergoing major restructuring with a new focus on how best to apply this technology across business, entertainment and enterprise.

Much of the infrastructure that was said to be focused on supporting the burgeoning virtual reality location-based entertainment scene undertaken by Windows Mixed Reality has been shut down following mass layoffs of around 10,000 Microsoft employees.

The reality is still playing out, but the layoff of the entire development team that runs Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Toolkit has also caused entire VR and AR investments, including WinMR, to be severely impacted or shut down.

The rest of Microsoft’s interest in MR has now shifted to Mesh, which they developed for Microsoft, a holographic virtual collaboration platform — think virtual Zoom.

Back in 2018, Microsoft wanted to push several VR headset developers and operators to leverage their WinMR platform standard and encourage the creation of a walled garden to ensure control over the emerging LBE VR scene, defined by LBE Market Value The ambitious forecast of $12 billion is pushed to 2023.

grand aspirations fade

The grand aspirations quickly faded as operations focused more on consumer applications for VR, then when these failed to achieve mainstream adoption, the move to AR, then MR and the tools they created in the new immersive connection .

Now, after these record layoffs, the actual department that controls the WinMR environment toolkit has shut down.

The remaining team members are now relocated through the “Mesh for Microsoft Teams” program to work fully on commercial workspace applications of these tools. The program is working with Meta to develop its Quest Pro for commercial deployment on its MR headset.

At the same time, it was revealed that AltspaceVR, a veteran VR social platform acquired by Microsoft in 2017, is about to shut down.

Where is the support?

This poses a problem for LBE VR operators who still rely on the WinMR platform and support for VR and AR headsets. Are these applications now considered vulnerable if not supported or updated?

Clearly, those operators that have been hit the hardest in the VR arcade scene are those that still rely on WinMR VR headsets and platform support. Nonetheless, many operators have migrated from older WinMR systems deployed by HP, Samsung, Pico, Lenovo, and Canon, and are now updating to the latest hardware, such as the HTC platform, for workday deployments in the harsh environments of VR arcades and free roaming .

In most cases, those still using WinMR systems have full control over the firmware or are running a custom management platform. It’s this kind of concern — if companies can back their ambitious ambitions in the enterprise space, including location-based entertainment — that raised concerns back in 2018. In any case, Microsoft’s departure will have some impact on the VR field from the market side.

The record layoffs at Microsoft are expected to have other repercussions within the company, which has shifted its focus to artificial intelligence, investing about $10 billion in OpenAI.

studios are feeling the impact

Several consumer game studios have been hit hard, which could lead to cancellations of games in development, and the Xbox console line has been hit, sources said.

Meanwhile, the next few months will prove to be difficult for the consumer VR community, as well as those commercial enterprises such as design, education and simulation that have come to rely on the WinMR or MRTK frameworks.

These restructurings and redevelopments come against a backdrop of major upheavals in the technology and social media industries. In what some are trying to call the “tech job apocalypse,” major businesses in the industry have undergone mass layoffs starting in 2023 to prepare for changing global financial conditions and address the resulting huge loss.

Streaming movie and entertainment maker Amazon announced earlier this year that it was cutting 18,000 jobs. The cuts are said to mainly affect e-commerce and business resources.

Alphabet, the parent company of search engine and Internet giant Google, also announced in January that it would cut about 12,000 jobs. Meta, which represents the social media and technology sector, announced about 11,000 job cuts. Others include Snap (1,290), HP (6,000), Twitter (3,700), Cisco (4,100) and Spotify (600).

Reminiscent of a major shakeup in tech hiring in 1997, this period also saw companies that previously embraced both VR and AR look to restructure. Such as Metaverse ambitions with Meta, Google’s previous “Google Cardboard” and “Project Iris” investments, HP’s now defunct VR division.

Many of these businesses have invested heavily in video streaming services and have paid dearly for subscription cancellations, with even Netflix laying off 400 jobs last year.

Meanwhile, leaks suggest that Apple, with its entertainment apps and streaming interests behind it, has put its AR plans on hold. The company is still tied to a possible release of an MR headset called “Apple Reality” later this year, but is now moving away from a concurrent AR glasses system, feeling the market isn’t ready.

What about the metaverse?

Another aspect of cross-tech layoffs is the impact on aspirations for the acclaimed Metaverse concept.

As the Web 3 successor to the internet and virtual business hub, the concept has been embraced by many companies that are now being forced to make impactful layoffs across their operations.

Microsoft’s layoffs include shutting down its nascent Metaverse, AltspaceVR.

Compared to VRchat (estimated 2.3 million active users) and RecRoom (estimated 3.5 million active users), AltspaceVR’s estimated daily active users dropped to 300,000, but still surpassed the troubled Meta Horizon World’s estimate of 20 million active users.

What about social networks?

Still, virtual social networks continue to grow in influence, no matter how far removed from some companies’ grand ambitions.

“Gorilla Tag,” a social game that includes fun activities within a social space, has generated approximately $26 million in revenue. Free-to-play games on platforms like Quest primarily generate revenue through the sale of virtual items through in-app purchases. This is backed by more than 2.3 million monthly active users, largely driven by TikTok social media word of mouth.

Its success was one of the few Meta highlights, as it attempted to define its interpretation of the Metaverse concept.

Other virtual social hubs also generate revenue from virtual item and land sales, such as Decentraland, which has a market valuation of about $1.2 billion in 2021.

These interconnected spaces also include still-active users of SecondLife (estimated at 64 million active users, considered the original Metaverse), as well as consumer gaming spaces Roblox (estimated at 160 million active users) and Minecraft (estimated at 140 million active users).

However, there is a danger in confusing free social experiences with in-game payment models that rely on virtual land acquisition or avatar customization.

The liquidity of these virtual spaces and the revenue generated by in-game stores have been significantly impacted by the recent turmoil in the blockchain finance space.

The implosion of the NFT market and the collapse of cryptocurrency exchanges has had a major impact on commerce in these social environments — and is expected to diminish over time.

As with streaming TV, virtual reality, and the virtual social world, the post-pandemic consumption landscape is changing dramatically.

(Editor’s Note: This blog excerpt is from recent coverage of The Stinger Report by Spider Entertainment and its director, Kevin Williams, the leading interactive out-of-home entertainment news service covering the immersive frontier and beyond.)

In addition to his advisory roles with others entering the market, he is the founder and publisher of Stinger Report, a “must read” e-magazine for anyone working or investing in the entertainment, attractions and entertainment industry. A prolific writer, he provides regular news columns for major industry publications. He has also toured around the globe as a keynote speaker, moderator, and panelist at numerous industry conferences and events. Author of Frontiers of Outdoor Immersive Entertainment: Pushing the Boundaries of Interaction in Leisure Facilities, the only book on the market on the subject, second edition scheduled for 2023.

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