Marketing Tips to Help Make Virtual Reality Go Mass Market

VR mass market tips

I just posted some communication/marketing strategy thoughts on theMIX agency blog for virtual reality companies seeking to go mass market -- not just Oculus Rift, as many more companies are in the running. Top tips:

  • Create a Communication Plan Around VR Sex—Before It Becomes a PR Crisis
  • Plan for Strong Outreach to Senior Citizens & Disabled People
  • Openly Address Criticisms of VR’s Limitations

Read the rest here.

3D Printing Still Seems Many, Many Years from Mass Market

3D printing fail

I love this hands-on Slate review of an entry-level 3D printer, because it's written not by a 3D printing enthusiast (which is usually the case), but a moderately tech-savvy consumer. Because here's what he found out:

[T]he moment I attempted to print my first object, I realized that this device isn’t really designed for the average, moderately tech-savvy consumer. It’s made for people who possess either A) infinite patience, B) a preternatural attention to detail, or, preferably, C) a post-graduate degree in mechanical engineering.

Failing that, you end up with plastic gobblygook like that pictured here. So from a basic consumer standpoint, it seems like we're many years from 3D printing being a WYSIWYG process, which still leaves open the question of why most people would need a 3D printer for most needs in their lives most of the time.

UPDATE, 12:30PM: Some important background from an earlier Slate article:

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Yahoo! Launching Virtual World With Cloud Party Tech?

Aristide Depres Cloud Party

Yahoo! just acqui-hired the developers of Cloud Party, the web-based virtual world NWN has blogged about a lot, given its backing by Second Life co-founder Cory Ondrejka, and its general coolness as an immersive, easy-to-use, user-generated world with its own econony. Marisa Mayer and her crew at Yahoo! apparently agrees with this assement, because not only did they buy the company and hire the staff, but when I asked Cloud Party CEO Sam Thompson for a comment, a Yahoo! spokesperson replied for him, sending along this boilerplate reply:

Yahoo has acquired Cloud Party, a company that has created a virtual 3D experience, directly in users’ browser. With Cloud Party, users can build and create a world, customize an avatar, and share easily on the web without any downloads or plug-ins. The Cloud Party team is extremely committed to user experience and to the creativity that their product released in people. We’re excited to merge their unique perspective and experience with a team that is just as passionate about gaming.

Reading between the lines, I think this means it's very likely Yahoo! is getting into the user-generated virtual world business. Here's what I mean:

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Marc Andreessen Thinks Bitcoin is Gaining Adoption Even Without User Growth - We Once Said That of Second Life Too

Marc Andreessen Bitcoin Second Life

I just got into an interesting Twitter conversation with Marc Andreessen, who wrote a New York Times essay on why Bitcoin is so important to the future of the Internet, because I disagreed on one point he made there:

Critics of Bitcoin point to limited usage by ordinary consumers and merchants, but that same criticism was leveled against PCs and the Internet at the same stage. Every day, more and more consumers and merchants are buying, using and selling Bitcoin, all around the world. The overall numbers are still small, but they are growing quickly.

But this is provably wrong, as I pointed out to Andreessen on Twitter: This chart of Bitcoin transactions is not only not growing, it's currently smaller than it was last year. Andreessen's reply to my point (captured above):

"I have broader definition of adoption, including new merchants, new developers, new entrepreneurs, etc."

And he is right that Bitcoin is starting to gain more and more of those things. But as I replied (and explained in detail here), this argument was also made by many Second Life boosters during SL's hype wave, when critics began pointing out SL's low user numbers. Because while Second Life usage was relatively small in contrast to the "It's the next generation of the Internet" rhetoric driving the hype, Second Life at that time also had new merchants, new developers, new entrepreneurs, etc.

Here's just a few headlines from that period (roughly 2006-2009):

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Valve Building Virtual Economy Connected to New VR Tech

Valve virtual world Oculus Rift

During a recent conversation on Reddit (background here), Valve founder and CEO Gabe Newell dropped this tantalizing hint of the company's future plans:

Right now we're into rethinking games as a connected economy of virtual goods and services, and virtual reality. [Michael] Abrash has been doing demos all day at Steam Dev Days of the work he has been doing, and it seems well received.

This is possibly academic hairsplitting, but "connected economy of virtual goods" is another way to describe a virtual world, especially when it's linked up with VR. The specific tech Abrash that Newell is referring to is a virtual reality demo using a new Valve-created headset which, as one developer described it, "[F]elt like being in a lucid dream state and very much like a holodeck". So like I said before, 2014 is the year of VR.

Deus Ex Designer Warren Spector on Google Glass: "Meh"

Warren Spector Google Glass Deus Ex

Respected game designer Warren Spector recently got a chance to have a hands-on (and heads-on) review of Google Glass, so I was very interested in what he had to say. As every game geek knows, Spector was lead creator of the highly influential year 2000 classic Deus Ex, in which you play a computer-augmented operative in the near future, who must constantly use a head-mounted user interface to navigate and find out more about the world around you. So I was curious to know how Warren Spector would react, now that a head-mounted user interface for navigating and finding out more about the world around you is finally here.

And here was Warren Spector immediate reaction: "Meh."

Warren's full review, posted on his Facebook wall awhile ago, excerpted with permission:

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Let's Sculpt Virtual 3D Objects With Our Hands & Fingers

If you have the Leap Motion 3D controller and a software for it called Freeform you can do this:

You can use Leap Motion in Second Life, so put two and two fingers together, and imagine what might come next. Hat tip: Jason Kottke.

Why Cory Ondrejka (Probably) Told the NSA of Second Life: To Prepare It for Mainstream Acceptance as the 3D Web

Cory Ondrejka

Among the many revelations around the news that the NSA had a surveillance program in Second Life, this item in particular has caused a lot of concern, and (in my view), unnecessary alarm:

In 2007, as the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies were beginning to explore virtual games, N.S.A. officials met with the chief technology officer for the manufacturer of Second Life, the San Francisco-based Linden Lab. The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance. He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement. It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”

This fairly innocuous topic description has somehow been interpreted to mean Cory (full disclosure: I consider him a friend) was encouraging the NSA to spy on Second Life users in a nefarious way, which is somehow connected to his past as a Navy officer. I haven't talked with Cory at length for a year or two, but I do remember the broader context of Linden Lab's strategy at the time -- I was still working as a contractor with the company in 2006 when that strategy was already being executed. So I think there's a much likelier explanation: Cory was at the NSA to help prepare Second Life for mainstream acceptance, and preempt government regulation or censorship that would hurts its growth.

Here's what I mean, though it's actually also suggested by a paragraph in the same original New York Times article that broke the story, which people generally miss:

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Why Bitcoin Euphoria Reminds Me of Second Life Hype

Bitcoin and Second Life hype

"Bitcoin Euphoria Is Eerily Like Second Life Hype (and I Should Know)" is my new Internet Evolution essay pointing out the similarities between rising mainstream media euphoria over Bitcoin and the 2006-07 buzz over Second Life when it was being featured on the cover of BusinessWeek and beyond. (And as I suggest at the end, Second Life does have powerful, fun, and worthwhile applications, which is why I still write about it -- my comparison of SL with Bitcoin is to the "OMG it's the next generation of the Interwebs!!1!" rhetorical overreach from that period.) In the post, I point to enthusiasm over SL/Bitcoin despite little evidence of substantial user growth, and excitement over SL/Bitcoin's potential applications despite little actual usage. But to be sure, there's many other comparisons, among them:

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Twitter's Huge IPO Validates Pseudonym-Friendly Strategy

Twitter pseudonyms

Twitter's epicly successful IPO is the only thing people in tech are talking about today, and I'd like to talk about it too. My take: It validates Twitter's pseudonym-friendly strategy, which CEO Dick Costolo outlined a couple years ago:

In a recent open house at the company, CEO Dick Costolo talked about how the service doesn’t really care what your real name is — all it wants to do is connect you to the information that you care about. And if that information happens to come from a “real” person, then so be it; but if it comes from a pseudonym, then that’s fine too.

This is in stark contrast to Facebook, which defined its core value proposition as a social network for real world names, which as I've argued before, fails to understand the importance of Internet-based pseudonyms:

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