Update: Altspace was saved and acquired by Microsoft.
Original: Yesterday was the final official day of AltspaceVR. After hosting a big farewell celebration in which hundreds of people logged on to pay their respects, exchange information with friends, and bask in the final moments of time in the virtual world, the servers are slowly phasing out. Eric Romo, CEO and Co-Founder of Altspace has reportedly opted to keep them running a little bit longer and it’s unclear when/if they’re officially dead, but regardless it’s officially in the sun-setting period as a shell of its former self.
AltspaceVR, at least for now, is no more, even if it is still live in a lessened state.
During the final night I logged on one last time and spent time interacting with, listening to, and observing people as they said their goodbyes to friends and talked to former employees about what the future holds. You can watch the highlights in the video embedded above.
In the video a former AltspaceVR employee named Travis (presumably Audio Lead/Sound Designer Travis Fodor) is seen discussing what the application’s closure means for the future of social VR.
“I’m at home in my underwear filing for unemployment,” says Fodor. “I’m not kidding, I don’t know what we’re doing. We fired up a couple of our servers but we are definitely in low-power mode right now. It’s pretty awesome we’ve been able to have a couple hundred people in these events with literally nobody working it at all.”
But even as sad as everyone is, he urges people to stay positive. “The internet was founded on a bunch of failed startups, so Altspace may be going away, or this instance of what is Altspace…but you’ll be seeing us all again soon in pieces I’m sure,” says Fodor. “No worries in the long run. You guys have a really important job to do, I hope you guys go onto these other platforms and continue to build communities. Unless you build communities then investors won’t pay for those companies to keep going. Example A is us. So make sure you keep building communities, keep spreading the word, keep getting your friends to buy headsets, or else this is not going to work and I really do mean that…The last thing you want to do is stop coming and meeting with each other.”
For me personally, AltspaceVR was important. It was one of the first applications I wrote about in the VR scene when I played Dungeons & Dragons in VR and I’ve always had a special fondness for shared virtual spaces like MMOs and social meetup places such as these. I met my wife in an AOL chatroom when we were teenagers over a decade ago and we recently talked about what it would have felt like if AIM had its plug pulled while we were actively talking on a daily basis while using it. Other options became popular eventually like Yahoo Instant Messenger and Skype, but in the moments following a closure, not having a comfortable daily place to visit feels devastating.
Similar to Star Wars: Galaxies, City of Heroes, Asheron’s Call, and countless other large-scale MMOs that are no longer active, when a virtual world like this shuts down it’s different than when an offline world stops getting updates. These spaces aren’t just there as games or as experiences you try and move on from. These are real spaces and worlds that people occupy, exist in, share, and live inside of together. When they go down, entire worlds are erased. You can revisit a classic N64 or PlayStation game, but you can never revisit a virtual world that shuts down.
When you meet someone in Altspace it’s different than meeting them on Twitter, or Reddit, or a forum. You’re hearing their real voice, watching their real mannerisms with head and hand movements. You can feel someone’s shyness, or excitement, or sadness when they talk to you. Watching people share memories and reflect on their time together in Altspace on the final day was heart breaking.
In the video above, Altspace put together a collection of memories from users. “I have actually made friends in Altspace that I’m closer to than I am with friends in real life,” states one user. “Altspace got me into virtual reality itself and opened my mind to a whole new level of communication and community,” says another.
One user you can audibly hear struggle to get the words out. “I…I just…I get choked up thinking I’m not going to be able to just jump in and talk to my friends. [Altspace] was me going out with my friends every night.”
During the final night I even witnessed impromptu chants and protests. For the most part, people seem to be in agreement that migrating the community to VRChat is the way to go.
Even if a new, better, more feature-rich replacement space pops up or evolves over time, AltspaceVR’s importance won’t be forgotten. We all have a tendency to assign significant emotional attachment to places that we associate with strong memories. When I think about my first kiss, I remember exactly where we were and what my (now) wife was wearing. When I think about the first time I played a video game (Super Mario Bros. 3) I vividly remember the room I was in even though I was only two or three years old.
When I think about the first time I hung out with other people in VR, I’ll remember AltspaceVR, as will countless other people.
Featured Image Credit: Brian Rose