Microsoft is killing social VR pioneer AltspaceVR • TechCrunch

AltspaceVR has had a few close calls over the years, but the company that built virtual social spaces long before “metaverse” was a household word is shutting down for good this time around.

After announcing that it would be close shop in 2017Microsoft stepped in and the company came under the wing of the tech giant. Now, Microsoft is removing the virtual reality platform from AltspaceVR, a network of immersive social spaces that invited people to hang out with friends or colleagues as 3D avatars.

AltspaceVR will cease to exist as of March 10, and Microsoft says it will put more resources into its mixed reality platform. microsoft mesh.

“We look forward to what’s to come, including our launch of Microsoft Mesh, a new platform for connection and collaboration, starting with enabling workplaces around the world,” the announcement read.

“In the near term, we are focusing our VR efforts on workplace experiences, learning from and alongside our early customers and partners, and making sure we provide a foundation that enables safety, trust, and compliance.”

Outside of gaming, Microsoft has built many of its products with an enterprise mindset, and VR and Mixed Reality are no different. The company says it plans to “roll out” its VR plans to consumers once they’re established for the workplace.

AltspaceVR may never have built a formidable user base – a tall order in VR, given the bespoke hardware required – but the company was very early to social applications of virtual reality.

By 2015, AltspaceVR had created a robust social virtual reality platform where users could move through wood-paneled rooms with serene views, watch Taylor Swift music videos together, or browse the web via a virtual browser. Spatial audio made the experience more immersive, replicating the way humans perceive sound in real-life environments and laying the groundwork for virtual events.

At the time, most of the resources and attention in VR were directed towards cutting-edge gaming applications, not virtual meeting spaces. Meta released Horizon Worlds, an AltspaceVR-like experience with its own inoffensive, neutral interiors and not-too-realistic avatars six years later.

It’s unclear if Microsoft plans to include the product in its other VR efforts or drop the project entirely. Given the timing, the fate of AltspaceVR is probably related to Microsoft’s spectacular consolidation across the company, detailed this week. TechCrunch has reached out to the company for additional information on what is happening with AltspaceVR equipment and technology in light of the news.

Amid deep layoffs in the tech industry, Microsoft announced it will cut 5 percent of its workforce, impacting 10,000 employees. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed to economic uncertainty and the downturn from the pandemic’s early tech boom times as the reason behind the substantial cuts.

“We will continue to invest in strategic areas for our future, which means we are allocating our capital and talent to areas of secular growth and long-term competitiveness for the company, while divesting from other areas,” Nadella said.

It’s unclear if Microsoft is unveiling some of its metaverse plans or if AltspaceVR is just a victim of company-wide cutbacks. Just a year and one change ago, Facebook boldly renamed itself “Meta,” plunging the industry into a cycle of hype around a more immersive, possibly VR-powered vision for social media.

A year later, the metaverse discourse has already quickly gone through the backlash phase, leaving the future of avatar-powered virtual social spaces unclear. The metaverse may never have needed special hardware at all (non-VR online worlds continue to thrive in 2023), but it’s worth remembering a company that was exploring such possibilities years before the VR giants came along. the technology.

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