The social VR community was shocked and devastated to learn that AltspaceVR is shutting its doors. While it’s in the nature of emerging technology applications to come and go, many with few tears shed by fewer remaining users, this platform seems to have been taken from us in the prime of its life leaving many wondering where to go next.
The Sun Goin’ Down on AltspaceVR
On January 20, a blog post titled “AltspaceVR to Sunset the Platform on March 10, 2023” appeared at the top of the company’s homepage. An email was also sent to users.
“When AltspaceVR first launched, our vision was to create a place where people from around the world could connect and socialize in real time,” the team wrote. “It was a bold vision, and with the help of our passionate community, the platform became a place where users made lifelong memories, formed cherished friendships, found love — and even married in IRL (in real life).”
Much of the post waxes nostalgic about the platform, which launched in 2015 and was purchased by Microsoft in 2017. The post also encouraged “the many creators and developers who are part of the AltspaceVR community to host final events and download their content.”
“The decision has not been an easy one as this is a platform many have come to love, providing a place for people to explore their identities, express themselves, and find community,” wrote the team. “It has been a privilege to help unlock passions among users.”
Why, Microsoft? Why?
The team writes that they are closing AltspaceVR to “shift our focus to support immersive experiences powered by Microsoft Mesh.” Microsoft Mesh is the company’s mixed reality platform that was announced from within AltspaceVR during Microsoft Ignite 2021. The event, featuring Alex Kipman and James Cameron, looked at the platform as a tool for humanity.
“A dream you dream alone is just a dream. A dream we dream together is called reality,” Kipman said at the time, quoting John Lennon. “We tend to think of reality and dreams as separate. But, are they?”
Since then, Microsoft has focused on Mesh as more of an enterprise tool than a collaborative dream maker. At Microsoft Ignite 2022, CEO Satya Nadella announced that Mesh would be integrating with Microsoft Teams. Nadella also presented integrations between Microsoft Teams (presumably including Mesh) with Meta’s Horizon Workrooms at Meta Connect 2022.
“We knew early on that we wanted this to be a great place to get work done and with Microsoft, we can make that happen,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the event.
What About Us?
Shutting down AltspaceVR to focus on an enterprise platform is a strange play seeing as virtually none of the people using it were using it for enterprise. The always-full events schedule included comedy shows, community events, support groups and spiritual meetings, and musical performances. Where will they go?
Some of the events that you may know and love from AltspaceVR are already happening across multiple immersive platforms. For example, the live VR comedy show Failed to Render began in AltspaceVR but also has a home in Horizon Worlds and VRChat. Similarly, the Polys Awards takes place in AltspaceVR but also takes place in Mozilla Hubs, ENGAGE, and others.
But, what about those experiences that are only on AltspaceVR? Like BRCvr’s Burning Man experiences? An email from the organization said that they have plans for future events in another platform, but are respectfully waiting for the book to close forever on this chapter.
“Leaving AltspaceVR is difficult for all of us who have loved building this incredible community,” BRCvr co-founder Athena Demos said in the email. “Before we announce where we plan to continue our virtual Burning Man experiences, we want to honor the incredible friendships and creative partnerships we have forged on AltspaceVR.”
Kavya Pearlman, the CEO of XR Safety Initiative – which has been hosting events, such as Metaverse Safety Week, on the platform for years – said in a tweet that she was in talks with the group’s technical partner about moving to other platforms. Nothing official has been announced.
So sorry for the team & everyone impacted.
— Kavya Pearlman (@KavyaPearlman) January 20, 2023
The King Is Dead. Long Live the King.
AltspaceVR had no enemies but it had many competitors. When the eulogy of a blog post went live on Twitter, representatives from a number of immersive platforms spoke at the wake.
We have some sad news, Altspacers. #AltspaceVR is shutting down on March 10th.
Though we hate saying goodbye, we also feel such pride and gratitude for all the magic that happened here. ✨
— AltspaceVR (@AltspaceVR) January 20, 2023
There was no gloating at the grave, but tweets from Somnium Space, Spatial, and Mona invited displaced worldbuilders to take their events and spaces along. While this may be an option for events and assets, it’s not a meaningful option for users.
As mentioned in the blog post, users can download their data from the platform. However, there isn’t much that can be done with it. Photographs taken within the platform can be cherished but avatars can’t be transferred. It’s possible to download profile data from users that you met on the platform, but that’s not likely to help you connect with them on other platforms.
And, what are those platforms likely to be? Where will we meet next? A couple of solutions have already been named.
Where Will We Go?
VRChat is a proven and robust platform, but isn’t necessarily friendly towards new users, particularly when it comes to avatar creation. It has more tools and options than AltspaceVR but that can make it feel unwieldy. Somnium Space is in a similar category.
Spatial is a strong contender. The lightweight and easy-to-use platform runs in-browser, which is another strong bonus. Integration with Ready Player Me also means that creating an avatar is easy and bringing one with you if you already have one is even easier. Mona is in a similar category.
Mozilla Hubs has been putting in a lot of work, but they charge for that. With the new $20/month subscription price, many casual users won’t be signing on anymore.
ENGAGE is a solid free option, though it does require an app download. The same goes for Horizon – particularly if Meta makes good on its promise to make the platform available on hardware other than Meta headsets.
VIVE has also been building out its immersive offerings, but these also tend to be clunkier than many users will want. Virbela has also shown itself a capable, robust, and user-friendly platform, though a free app download is required.
The End of an Era
This was the first immersive world I ever entered. The fact that you don’t need a headset to enter the free and easy-to-use platform made it an unparalleled introduction to VR.
From before and after I got my first headsets, I have many memories from this platform, including the first time that I really felt like I had made eye contact with someone across the country. After years in the industry, there were still times when I would put on a headset just to shoot hoops outside of my VR house. AltspaceVR will be missed.