Amidst Layoffs Taking Place at Companies Around the World, Microsoft Will Shut Down VR Social Media Platform AltspaceVR and Disband Its Development Team

2023-02-07 Emerging Technologies TrendForce

Microsoft are among the major technology companies that are now undergoing a major round of layoffs. Having released around 11,000 employees, Microsoft has downsized staffing across its numerous business operations, including gaming units Xbox and Bethesda. This round of layoffs has also seen the disbanding of the development teams behind Altspace VR and the Mix Reality Tool Kit. The VR social media platform Altspace VR is scheduled to shut down on March 10th this year.

Is Microsoft Exiting the Market for Technologies Related to AR/VR and Metaverse?

Microsoft acquired AltspaceVR in 2017, and the Windows Mix Reality headset was released in the same year. The plan was to have the newly acquired social media platform generate the demand for the headset, thereby spurring other hardware brands to continue investing in similar products.

However, fast forward to the current year of 2023, the Windows Mix Reality headset possesses almost no market share as AltspaceVR fails to hold a notable number of active users for this device. TrendForce believes Microsoft has no choice but to stop maintaining the social media platform that is not bringing in any significant economic benefits.

However, TrendForce has to point out that “platform system” is still the core of Microsoft’s strategy for the development of AR/VR technologies. Going forward, Microsoft intends to have applications related to VR social media integrated into the Microsoft Mesh, which is its new VR/AR communication and collaboration platform that can work on multiple types of devices.

Microsoft can also encourage third-party developers to build VR social media platforms that are compatible with its technologies. Bottom line is this: there is no need for Microsoft to operate its own VR social media platform. All in all, AltspaceVR is a component that Microsoft has taken out because it no longer fits into its strategy. Terminating the platform does not mean that the company has decided to sit on the sideline in the formation of the Metaverse market, as speculated by some outsiders.

The Metaverse Is Only a Medium, and Maintaining User Engagement on a VR Social Media Platform Depends on the Capability to Offer a Variety of Functions

The shutdown of AltspaceVR reveals the current challenges in the development of Metaverse communities. In the case of social media services, simply adding AR/VR technologies or some elements related to the Metaverse will not lead to long-term engagement by users. To get users to stay, these platforms need to rely on their own special interfaces, functions, and features.

Take the relatively successful VR social media platforms such as Roblox, Rec Room and VRChat as examples. They first enable users to self-generate content and express their creativity in various ways, and then they provide the avenue for social interactions and trading of virtual goods. Hence, TrendForce believes fulfilling the creative aspiration is the key to keeping users. Offering some AR/VR technologies and gimmicks associated with the Metaverse is just not enough.

On the other hand, functions that allow creativity tend not to be the reason why the majority of users join a particular social media platform in the first place. Also, a platform that has to work with an AR/VR device will be relatively difficult to access and operate, and this further limits the size of its user base. Taking the aforementioned factors in account, it is clear as to why AltspaceVR failed to gain traction. Positioning itself only as a social media platform, it did not really stand out in the competition even with AR/VR functions.

TrendForce’s takeaway from the closure of Altspace is that rather than building a social media service from scratch, Microsoft’s interests would be best served by acquiring an existing social media app or platform that already has a huge following. With the support from the Microsoft Mesh, such app or platform would be able to strengthen Microsoft’s service offerings for Metaverse communities in the future.

(Image credit: Microsoft LinkedIn)