AltspaceVR has made a few close calls over the years, but the company that built virtual social spaces long before the “metaverse” was a household word snag this time around.
After declaring that it will be Shop closed in 2017And Microsoft stepped in and the company came under the wing of the tech giant. Now, Microsoft is launching the virtual reality platform AltspaceVR, a network of immersive social spaces that invited people to hang out with friends or colleagues as a 3D avatar.
AltspaceVR won’t be out until March 10th, Microsoft says it will direct more resources toward its mixed reality platform Microsoft Mesh.
“We look forward to what’s to come, including our launch of Microsoft Mesh, a new platform for communication and collaboration, starting to empower workplaces around the world,” the announcement read.
“In the near term, we are focusing our VR efforts on workplace experiences, learning from our first customers and partners alongside, and ensuring we deliver a foundation that enables security, trust, and compliance.”
Outside of gaming, 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 “expand” its virtual reality plans to consumers once they are in place in the workplace.
AltspaceVR may never have built a massive user base—a difficult task in VR, given the bespoke hardware—but the company has been Too early for social applications of virtual reality.
By 2015, AltspaceVR Create a powerful virtual reality social platform Where users can wander through wood-panelled rooms with serene views, watch Taylor Swift’s 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 foundation for virtual events.
At the time, most of the resources and attention in VR was directed toward high-end gaming applications — not virtual hangout spaces. Meta launched Horizon Worlds, an AltspaceVR-like experience with inoffensively neutral interiors and lifelike avatars after a full six years.
It’s not clear if Microsoft plans to bring the product into other VR efforts or abandon the project altogether. Given the timing, AltspaceVR’s fate is likely tied to Microsoft’s dramatic company-wide merger, in detail this week. TechCrunch reached out to the company for additional information on what’s happening to the AltspaceVR team and technology in light of the news.
Amid deep layoffs in the tech industry, Microsoft announced it would cut 5 percent of its workforce, affecting 10,000 employees. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella cited the economic uncertainty and downturn in the tech booms of the early pandemic as the rationale behind the deep cuts.
“We will continue to invest in strategic areas of our future, which means that we allocate our capital and talents to areas of secular growth and the long-term competitiveness of the company, while forgoing investment in other areas,” Nadella said.
It’s not clear if Microsoft is rolling out some of its metaverse plans or if AltspaceVR is just a victim of the company’s sweeping cutbacks. It’s only been a year and change that Facebook has boldly rebranded itself “Meta,” sending the industry into a buzz cycle around a more inclusive, possibly VR-powered vision of social networking.
A year later, metaverse discourse has already been rapidly cycled through its backlash phase, leaving the future of avatar-driven virtual social spaces hazy. The metaverse probably never needed special hardware at all — non-VR online worlds continue to thrive in 2023 — but it’s worth remembering a company that was doing a good job exploring these possibilities years before the lumbering tech giants showed up.