Microsoft is ending 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.
After announcing it would close in 2017, Microsoft stepped in and the company went under the tech giant’s wing. Now Microsoft is ending AltspaceVR’s virtual reality platform, a network of immersive social spaces that invited people to hang out with friends or colleagues as 3D avatars.
AltspaceVR will be no more starting March 10, and Microsoft says it will direct more resources to its Microsoft Mesh mixed reality platform.
“We look forward to what’s to come, including our launch of Microsoft Mesh, a new connection and collaboration platform, beginning to enable workplaces around the world,” the announcement reads.
“In the near term, we are focusing our VR efforts on workplace experiences, learning from and alongside our early customers and partners, and ensuring we provide a foundation that enables safety, trust and compliance. .
Outside of games, Microsoft has built many of its products with an enterprise-first mindset, and VR and mixed reality are no different. The company notes that it plans to “extend” its virtual reality plans to consumers once they are established for the workplace.
AltspaceVR may never have built a formidable user base – a difficult task in VR, given the bespoke hardware required – but the company was early in social VR applications.
By 2015, AltspaceVR had created a robust social virtual reality platform where users could wander through wood-paneled rooms with serene views, watch Taylor Swift music videos together, or surf the web through a virtual browser. Spatial audio made the experience more immersive, replicating how humans perceive sound in real environments and laying the foundation for virtual events.
At the time, most VR resources and attention were directed towards cutting-edge gaming applications, not virtual meeting spaces. Meta launched Horizon Worlds, an AltspaceVR-like experience with its own harmless neutral interiors and not-too-realistic avatars six years later.
It’s unclear whether Microsoft plans to integrate the product with its other VR efforts or abandon the project. Given the timing, AltspaceVR’s fate is likely tied to Microsoft’s dramatic company-wide consolidation detailed this week. TechCrunch has reached out to the company for additional information on what’s happening to AltspaceVR’s team and technology in light of the news.
Amid layoffs in the deep tech industry, Microsoft announced it would cut 5% of its workforce, which would affect 10,000 employees. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed to economic uncertainty and the return of the tech boom from the start of the pandemic as justification for the substantial cuts.
“We will continue to invest in areas that are strategic for our future, which means we are allocating both our capital and talent to areas of secular growth and long-term competitiveness for the business, while divesting other areas,” Nadella said.
It’s unclear if Microsoft is laying out some of its metaverse plans or if AltspaceVR is just a victim of sweeping company-wide cuts. Just a year ago and there’s a change, Facebook boldly rebranded itself as “Meta,” plunging the industry into a hype cycle around a more immersive, perhaps virtual reality-powered, vision. for social networks.
A year later, metaverse discourse has already moved through the backlash phase quickly, leaving the future of avatar-driven virtual social spaces unclear. It’s possible the Metaverse never needed any special hardware – non-VR online worlds continue to thrive in 2023 – but it’s worth remembering a company that was well into exploring those possibilities for years before the rise of the tech giants.
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