#937: Facebook’s Desire to Own the Metaverse Conflicts with Cultivating a Developer Ecosystem: BigScreenVR’s Grievances

BigScreenVR is in direct competition with some of the same services that Facebook wants to fully control, and their CEO Darshan Shankar has had to resort to posting an thread on Twitter expressing his frustrations in trying to negotiate with Facebook. BigScreenVR has been selling tickets to movies in their virtual theaters. The content owners were requesting anywhere from 60-80% of the ticket price, but then on top of that Facebook is requiring a 30% transaction fee for any commerce that uses their in-app purchases. Shankar has to sell tickets at a loss in order to even do business on Facebook’s platform and Facebook has been unwilling to negotiate. BigScreenVR is one of the biggest and most active applications with over a millions users, but it is also in direct competition with services that Facebook would prefer to do themselves.

I invited Shankar onto the podcast in order to elaborate on his experiences and frustrations with dealing with Facebook developer relations and executives on this issue. He feels that BigScreenVR is providing a lot of value to the wider community, and that it’s not fair that Facebook’s own services will not have to pay these same transaction fees. Shankar suggests that media consumption is one of the industries that Facebook is artificially preventing from occurring on their platform because Facebook has their own intentions to release competing software and services.

He talks about some of the vague threats and suggestions he’s received to come work at Facebook or otherwise they’re going to “crush” them. He shares his frustrations in watching other developers get their features and functionality copied and cloned. He’s had a hard time getting support and responses on these issues through official channels, and that he also knows a lot of other developers in the realms of e-commerce, productivity, media consumption, and social VR who have faced some similar challenges. He claims that there are many other industries that have stalled because Facebook refuses accept them onto their app store, often with rejections without any further explaination.

He says that there’s a conflict between Facebook’s desire to completely own and control specific aspects of the VR ecosystem while at the same time trying to cultivate a viable developer ecosystem. In his specific case, these goals have competing interests. He felt like the situation had reached such an impasse that he decided to go public on August 18th with his Twitter thread in order to air his grievances with the situation.

Shankar is someone who is truly passionate about the medium of VR, and he feels like the medium itself is unduly being held back due to the future unmanifested intentions, products, and services that Facebook intends to develop and maintain complete control over.

I’ve been hearing frustrations from VR developers about their interactions about Facebook for a long time, but it’s been rare that anyone wanted to speak on the record about it. The online backlash to Facebook’s announcements about mandating Facebook-accounts to use new hardware and phasing out Oculus accounts by 2023 creating a larger context for some VR developers to start to share some of their deeper grievances with Facebook. I’m grateful that Shankar was willing to come speak on the record and elaborate about some of his own experiences, but also reflecting a number of other VR developers who up to this point have not felt comfortable speaking publicly about these issues.


Here’s the Twitter thread that Shankar posted this past week where he detailed how he’s being treated by Facebook.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So one of the hardest stories to tell within the VR community has been the frustrations that VR developers have had in their dealings with Facebook, mostly because many of them just have not been willing to really go on the record to be able to talk in any specifics or details. Well, that changed this past week in the wake of Facebook's announcement that they're going to be consolidating all the identities into Facebook identities and phasing out the Oculus identities. It created a lot of resistance because that's not necessarily a feature that a lot of people really wanted. I'm sure there's going to be some great features for what that may enable. But at the same time, Palmer Luckey had promised back in the day that this was never going to happen. And now there's a shift that now this is happening. So it created a lot of this backlash from a lot of the people from the gaming community that didn't necessarily want to be tying all their different VR activities into their Facebook profile. And it's in that general context of resistance and discord that you have a lot of different developers that started to come forward and start to air some of the grievances that they've had with Facebook for the first time. And the CEO of Big Screen VR, Darshan Shankar, wrote a pretty staggering Twitter thread that detailed the specifics of his frustrations that he has with Facebook. So big screen is a social VR platform that is really aimed at exploring different aspects on your own desktop computer. You can share your computer screen with other people. You can watch films together, but you can also buy tickets to be able to go and watch films. And so in that case, there's about 60 to 80% of that. ticket sale that goes directly to the content owner, and then 30% of that that goes directly to Facebook, meaning that for every sale that Darshan is doing on the Oculus platform, he's actually losing money. And he was just kind of detailing that and saying that Facebook was unwilling to do any type of negotiation. And he's starting to share anecdotes saying that, you know, when he first announced the beta version in 2015-16, Facebook came to them and they quote, they told me to join them because they were going to build the same thing and crush us. I have many stories like this I can share, a long list of VR devs who have been trampled by Facebook. He's breaking the silence and being able to start to talk about his own experiences. This is actually a big shift, a cultural shift. I, of course, wanted to reach out to Darshan and to get a little bit more context as to what his experiences are and what's going on. In some sense, it seems as though Darshan is creating something that is in direct competition for what Facebook themselves want to be doing. Given that context, what type of things has he been facing and what has he been able to deal with? and why is Facebook acting in the way that they are in some of these very specific situations. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Darshan happened on Thursday, August 20th, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:57.728] Darshan Shankar: Hi, I'm Darshan, the founder and CEO of Big Screen VR. We're a virtual reality company that's been around since 2014 now, so been in the game for a while.

[00:03:08.228] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I know that big screen has gone through a number of different evolutions where I think it really started with people just sharing their screen and playing games. And I remember doing an interview with Hayden right before it launched and really expressing how someone's identity could be whatever they have on their desktop or their computer. So really using this idea of your computer as an expression of your identity and sharing screens and kind of hanging out with friends. And it seems to at some point have morphed over into also doing films. I'm just like, maybe you could just get a state of the union of what is happening with big screen now.

[00:03:40.546] Darshan Shankar: Sure, probably the best way to explain big screen today is to go back to 2014 in the first place. And what got me into VR and why I'm doing this whole crazy thing. Before VR, I spent the past 10 years of my career just in technology, building products. And in 2012, when I started playing with VR for the first time as an enthusiast, I was running my first company. We were doing developer tools and networking technology, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. So I was exploring video conferencing, I was exploring all sorts of different problem spaces that I wanted to tackle next. Collaborative programming tools, developer tools, video conferencing, etc. But none of those industries quite grabbed my attention in the sense that everything I could do there was an incremental improvement on anything that was already out there. But VR caught my eye as something that I was deeply passionate about it. It felt very much like the next computing platform, the next big thing, the thing that would not just be an incremental improvement, but a significant change of everything that we do on our computers today. And my approach in VR, I was kind of getting sucked into it. With the DK1, very much just an enthusiast. With the DK2, I was like, I kind of want to make soccer for this now. And once I got my DK2, I couldn't work on anything outside of VR. That was kind of the tipping point for me. So I actually stopped all the other things I was working on at the time and decided to focus full-time on VR, specifically on the angle of how will VR and AR change the way we use our computers today and the screens in our daily lives. And I was also interested in the intersection of screens and social. How do we use the screens that we use today with other people that we care about? Social VR and screens were the two really interesting topics for me to explore, and I've been exploring that now for six years. When I first started thinking about this in 2014, the first thing, as you mentioned, we started with was just desktops, which allowed you to bring your entire Windows desktop into VR. Then we added a social layer on top of that, and then we started to see what do people want to do with this. I launched the app, I think, in April, March or April of 2016. So about four years ago, it was publicly available. And right off the bat, it became pretty clear with the launch of the Consumer Rift and the HTC Vive that VR in 2016 was best used for games and movies. Fast forward about six to 12 months after that, we started to realize VR was good for 3D movies and started to look at the film industry and digital distribution. And it started to become clear that there was paths into all the different screens in our lives today, including movie theaters, and hence the name big screen. So there's kind of this long story arc of just exploring all the screens in our lives and how they might be experienced. What's the ideal way and what are the fantastical worlds that we can create? around screens and social. So today in 2020, we now have partnered with several of the major movie studios in the world. We have some of the biggest blockbusters in 2D and 3D available for purchase in big screen, but we also still have desktop screen sharing. We have live streams, we have YouTube, we have Twitch, we have TV channels like ABC and various channels like that. So we've started to tackle all sorts of different screens and are trying to create a social experience around

[00:07:00.650] Kent Bye: I know that when I talked to you a couple of years ago, you were just about to launch into a lot of these movies. And the thing about big screen, I think that was always really striking to me was the peer-to-peer encryption and the ability for people to be able to kind of have these private rooms with each other. But there was just a lot of use. It was one of those apps where people were going in and playing 2D games and not even using the VR aspects, but being just fully immersed and maybe playing games with their friends. And so it really hit a niche where it was just a very useful app for a lot of people in early days of VR. And what can you say in terms of the usage? I mean, can you even track how many people are using it? Because there is this peer-to-peer element, but I know it's always sensitive to talk about that, but what can you say in terms of how successful of an app it is?

[00:07:45.008] Darshan Shankar: Sure, so I'll again go back to 2014. In 2014, it was just me, a single developer in my bedroom, just trying to build something really cool. And I'd never done anything in VR before. I'd never done anything 3D. I'd never built video games before. In 2015, it was, again, just me for about a year and a half, just me by myself. By 2016, so number of users, one. In 2016, brought on another friend of mine, we started working on things together, launched a little beta version with just some friends. They started using it just a little bit, got some really reassuring feedback. And in March, launched the app on Steam. And instantly, overnight, I think we probably had at least a couple thousand users on the first day. By the end of the first month, probably something like 10,000 users. And you have to remember, this is the very launch of VR. So overnight, BigScreen went from being something nobody had heard of and used to being one of the most popular VR apps out there in the world. By the end of 2016, there was probably about 100,000 people that had used BigScreen by that point on a VR headset. There's no way to use BigScreen without a VR headset. by twenty eighteen and that was when we hit our million user milestone now we're probably approaching like that i have to or whatever we don't track that stuff anymore. In terms of actual active usage every year we approximately double sometimes a bit more than double in terms of active regular weeklies or monthly active usage. So we don't actually track what people do on their computers. We don't track what's on your screen or what applications are running or none of that stuff. But what we do track is just at the top level, how many people are coming in? You know, are they doing it privately? How many people are in the room? And at the very high level, what we've found is that we went from like 10,000 to 20,000 to 100,000 to a million. I mean, the number's just been going up and up and up. And people split usage in our app. 60% is probably just people on their own. 50% is just people on their own doing whatever they want to do. The remaining 50% is pretty evenly split between private rooms and public rooms. So people that want to hang out with others and people that want to hang out with just them and their friends.

[00:09:55.405] Kent Bye: So yeah, I think we've kind of established that you've got this kind of storied small developer team being able to hit the right technology, the right use case, cultivating a community at the right time, just a lot of success. And then part of the big reason why we're talking right now is that there was a, an announcement that Facebook made on October 18th. And then that same day, there was a number of different, I guess, resistance, uh, like a cultural context of people who were sharing their frustrations about their experiences with Facebook. And there was a thread that you had linked to at the end, and you had also just described your own experiences with Facebook. So maybe you just set the context and set the scene for this whole tweet thread that you made. And then something about what was happening this week made you sort of come out and share a little bit more context of some of your direct experiences with Facebook. So I'll sort of hand it over to you if you want to give a little bit more context as to what was behind it.

[00:10:50.221] Darshan Shankar: So let's start from the very top. I am deeply, deeply passionate about VR. I've been in this for a long time, and I can't see myself working on anything else for the rest of my life. I ran the math. I spent nearly 22% of my time on this planet working in VR, working on an Oculus headset, really, and other major partners like Sony and Microsoft and HTC and others. But we're talking about Oculus and Facebook today. I've spent pretty much all of my adult life working on this. So this is all coming from a place of love and passion, but also then frustration. After all these years, let's go back a little bit to 2016. That was when I decided I wanted to build a company here and not just be a solo developer. So we raised venture capital. We raised $3 million from two of the top venture capital firms in the world. A year later, thanks to our growth, we raised another $11 million. So, so far, we've raised about $14 million from Andreessen Horowitz, who actually backed Oculus, one of their VCs back in the day, and True Ventures, another Bay Area top-tier VC. Now, we're only 10 people. We're not like a 200 person, very large team or anything like that. We're just 10 people working on this. In 2016, when I first announced that I was working on big screen, one of the first people to reach out was Facebook. Multiple people throughout 2016 from the Facebook team reached out. I'm talking like top-level executives developer relations and many people who I who I now even consider my friends who either have left Facebook or maybe even are still working there and Right away. The conversation was don't raise any money like like don't go do any of that stuff Like just come join us come join Facebook. We're working exactly the stuff like we're aligned on the same vision Just just come join it and do it here. You know, we've already built prototypes just like this. We already have it And you'll eventually see a lot of that come out in things like Facebook Spaces or Oculus Home and various different prototypes and attempts. Basically them saying, look, we're going to do this. You should join us. And in many ways, you know, first comes up politely. First it's, here's a job offer. Just come here. And many people have their own ways of saying this, including developer relations, basically saying, look, we'll help you, but We're working on this stuff too. You should probably just join us and it usually comes off in this way of like I'm Just as your friend. I just want to say like if they ever give you an offer, you should take it you know, it might be with good intentions, but basically this attitude of Join or die and it'll be phrased in very different ways But this is something that happens in the technology industry in many ways. It's not just vr facebook's done this with Snapchat, with probably TikTok, with Instagram, with all of these companies. It's join or get cloned. So in 2016, I think is probably when they launched Facebook Spaces, maybe a bit after that. Starting in 2016, though, they never really quite got users. They just never clicked. The products never really got traction. And that's kind of been the case for several years with many of their attempts in social VR, many of their applications just never quite get something right. for various reasons, but it just never quite clicked. But that threat was still always there every year, anytime we'd approach about certain things, including very recently even. But this time, when we go and ask them for something, and we'll get to that in a little bit, the tips turn. And when it's in their favor, it's more of like, oh, no, no, we're not meeting with you. Don't worry about that. We're years behind you when we do have a request. So that's kind of where we started, which is just right from the very beginning. It's kind of like a, you should probably just join us. It took actually about eight months of begging Oculus to even let us on the Oculus store in the first place, which is actually pretty funny. When we launched, we had to launch on steam. We couldn't launch on the Oculus store because no one there even wanted to talk to us. And I imagine they were just very busy, but it should be pretty clear that they should have been talking to us considering there were really only about a couple apps that were available for VR headsets. And we were one of the most used apps, period. And we just weren't a priority. We were just ignored, ignored, ignored. And eventually I do remember writing this email of being like, what's going on here? Like, we're one of the most popular apps and you won't let us on the store. And this is the Oculus Store for the Rift platform in 2016. That has never changed, and I'm not the only developer that will tell you this. Every developer I know, especially ones that are not in gaming specifically, have an incredibly difficult time just even getting on the store, even if they've already proven out their success. Even if they have traction, if they've got a bunch of fans, a bunch of users, even if they've shipped, it's still incredibly hard to just get through and get your app onto the store. I wonder how much of, where would the VR industry be today if people were just able to creatively build something and just put it out there and see what happens with it. Steam, I remember folks from Valve reached out the day that I posted Big Screen for the first time on Reddit. And they said, hey, this is really cool. Would you like to launch it on the Steam store? And I'm like, this is awesome. This has been a life dream of mine to make something. I mean, I remember playing Half-Life and Half-Life 2 and downloading Steam. And so much of my childhood history starts with downloading Steam. So to be able to put something on the Steam store was a dream come true. Steam took absolutely no time. And Facebook was just months of grueling, constant, hey, why aren't we on here? You fast forward years later, and where are we today? And what's the context of what's happening right now? So, from my personal end, let's talk about what is Big Screen selling today. Right now, today, Big Screen as a product is completely free. We've started to sell movie tickets, basically movie rentals. And in the movie distribution industry, the vast majority of the money goes to the content creator, in this case, the movie studio. We're just a distribution platform. We don't own the movies ourselves. Our job is to make the content owner's money, content creator's money. So, of course, they get 70%, give or take, sometimes a bit more, of the film. The remaining percentage is how we want to operate our business. So that's where the operations of the business, whether it's salaries of the company, streaming costs, you know, everything should be kind of taken care of in that 30%. The problem we have here is the Oculus Store. So the Oculus Store actually requires 30% of every transaction, which means that when we use the Oculus Store for in-app purchasing, Oculus gets 30%, the studios might get 60, 70, 80%, which means we're already in the hole. And that doesn't even count the streaming costs. The cost of bandwidth and servers is another large percentage. And then we have the cost of actually operating the company, which in this early stage of VR without any financing and help from Oculus is extremely expensive. So there's just no way to really make this happen when Oculus from the very beginning says, this is the right. So for years, we've been trying to talk to them about this. And every time they're kind of like dragging a fee, they're not open to it. And most of the time they don't, they don't even understand the issue. Many times they've just been like, well, why don't you just start a subscription service or something? Not even realizing that subscription services like Netflix cost billions of dollars to start and operate. And it's pretty much impossible at this point, unless you are already the Netflix or Hulu type company. It's just not possible for anyone to really start a streaming service like that right now. And they just will not talk, will not negotiate. And when you talk to other developers, you find out that they're doing the same thing. You find out that they are very rigid on that 30% cut of everything or straight up saying, maybe you shouldn't do this. People at Oculus have straight up said, why don't you do something in games instead? Or maybe you should find a better business model. I mean, sometimes it comes maybe from a place of good intention. But the way it comes off at the end of the day, as someone representing Facebook is, don't do this, you should do something else. I know there are some very nice people at Oculus as well, who have tried to help and be like, I understand you, I empathize. And I keep following up. And eventually, they're like, I can't do anything like it's from the top down. And I've done a lot of back channel work that this is from the top down. This is a stance that they will not talk about, period. So when you talk to other developers, you find out that they're doing this across several industries, commerce, shopping, any sort of store, any sort of media or digital content like that, that falls into an area where it's not just something like a sword or like a virtual good, like a avatar accessory, something that there's no cost at all, right? If you were to go into a game and buy an app purchase that upgrades your armor, it's just a partnership. there's no actual cost to it. But when it comes to things like commerce, or content creation that was done by someone else that has real costs associated with it, or in our case, media, this model doesn't work at all. And Facebook just isn't willing to even talk about it. Now, one could say, well, then why did you get into this business? Like, go do something else. These are the rules of the game. But the rules of the game are now preventing entire industries from even occurring in VR. And why is someone saying that these industries are not allowed on store? Like just no, period. We're not talking about adult content or restricted or kind of regulated industries. We're talking about movies. We're talking about shopping or kind of just very normal things that are very popular in other mediums. To just talk about the popularity for a quick second, look at the top 10 apps in the VR ecosystem today. Three of them happen to be Netflix, YouTube, and big screen. Media consumption. So you have to wonder, why are there so many restrictions here? Why are we prevented from doing this? And then you look more also then at what Facebook is doing. They've had several attempts at media in VR. Oculus TV, Oculus Venues, I think Oculus Rooms had some video sharing functionality. Oculus Video had literally the ability to buy and rent movies. So they're directly competing in many ways with what we do, but you can imagine Oculus doesn't have to pay Oculus 30%. So Oculus effectively has a monopoly over media distribution in VR. And nobody else can financially even get in the game. So I'm surprised we even are allowed to be on the Quest store because they have such restrictions in place. And I think that's because we've had a lot of users over the past four years. So other people I know, and one of the reasons why I'm bringing this up now publicly is because there are so many people I know who are struggling and trying to just get on the store, but they can't because Oculus won't even let them in in the first place. If I try to start big screen today, I don't think I'd be able to do it. I don't think we would even be allowed to get on the store. That's how bad it is today. I know developers who have raised millions of dollars, who have users on PC VR systems, who have kickstarters and traction and subreddits and discords of users who are passionate about what they're making, and they won't be allowed on the Quest store. There are these massive gates that just block you. It just makes me wonder, why? So you start to go back and actually read What did Mark Zuckerberg say in the early days within the company and publicly about why are they getting to VR and AR in the first place? What's their vision here? And it's a great vision in some sense of, you know, this is the next computing platform. We should accelerate the vision of VR and AR. There's so much promise here. I believe all that. But you go down to the second sentence and you start to realize that so much of Facebook's motivation. Now, this is my personal belief. So much of Facebook's motivation here, I think is they want to own the next computing platform. And they're pretty clear about this. In fact, they might actually have used these exact same sentences, even publicly on their own, on their calls that they do with journalists or their annual conference, even in financial statements during their quarterly reports. They want to own the next computing platform. That's not exactly the most utopian vision, nor is it the most utopian motivation. That's where I start to get concerned. I guess Facebook's openly said, we want to own social, we want to own media in the future, in the next computer platform. So when Facebook straight up says, and the CEO says, we want to own media consumption, socialization, maybe even collaboration and productivity, we want to own that. So you start to wonder if that's the top down order, I can kind of understand why they put up barriers to anyone that might start there and start to succeed there. You start to form this picture of kind of this monopolistic, let's kill a competition before they can even get anything. You start to realize they have data on every single thing that's being done in big screen, because it's being done on an Oculus headset. They know what's working. They can clone it anytime they want. They can pour all the resources and energy they want into it. And I might sound crazy, but when you look at everything that they have done before outside of VR, they've done exactly this. They bought a VPN company. There's been a controversy around this. There's been, I think, fines and issues around this, but most people don't even know. They bought a VPN company, a major one, just so they could get data on what children and people around the world were doing. What were the most popular applications? How were they being used? All that data was then used to figure out who to buy and what to build and what to clone. And that data was invaluable in Facebook's success today, to getting Facebook to the point where they are today. So it doesn't surprise me that they're trying to figure out what's working in VR from the very beginning. What's working? How do we figure that stuff out? How do we do that? and to set up all these barriers to prevent others from maybe getting to success or really figuring things out. It's a pretty dystopian state of where VR is today, and I don't think we've even scratched the surface of the problems that are going on.

[00:25:22.416] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I just really appreciated that you had broken your silence and kind of described this in your tweet thread, because my experience is that the developers have this code of silence of kind of going along with not wanting to rock the boat too much, because there's this fear that you would be ostracized or blacklisted. whenever I see something like that, I know it's some sign of desperation to a certain extent of like, kind of running into enough dead ends that there's no other recourse than other to just say, this is what's happening. Because if everything was working great, you wouldn't need to do that. And what was really striking to me of hearing you tell the story is that, you know, you've clearly just been able to figure something out that Facebook themselves haven't been able to figure out. Even these threats that could be seen as, in hindsight, as idle threats, but at the time, I thought they probably really believed that they were going to be able to do exactly what you were able to do, that they were going to just be able to crush you. But yet, as you go through all the different lists of different things they've tried with social VR, for whatever reason, they've all kind of fallen on their faces. But yet you've been able to persist and still be able to provide some combination of all these things that has been able to be successful. And I think it's also striking that within the last couple of weeks, August 13th, we've had Tim Sweeney and Epic do this kind of performative changing something in the app store, getting banned, and then bringing about these lawsuits, these antitrust lawsuits with both Apple and Google, trying to invoke the Sherman Act of 1890, saying that there's these monopolistic practices within these app stores. So, Apple having complete control over what is and is not on the app store. And I think it's early enough in that lawsuit, we'll see if the billionaire market cap is going against the $2 trillion market cap of Apple to see if that is any sort of antitrust argument. Is there going to be a legal argument that's going to break up this app store model? Because we've had the open internet, we've had open PCs, and then all of a sudden with the mobile, the platforms of both Apple and Google have taken this whole app store approach. And When I talked to Chris Pruitt, he was like, you know, our rules are we're basically modeling everything off of this App Store model of Apple. We want to basically do that. So if there's anything that does payment processing, say through like a cryptocurrency or something that is transaction happening off of that, that's going to be a violation of their policies and it's not going to be able to be on the platform at all. So you have this like establishment that they're setting up the same app store model. They're just going to replicate that and create this tax indefinitely that they want to be able to have everybody for eternity have to pay this 30%. But the thing that I think is different in your case specifically is that what you're working on is in a direct competition for things that they want to be doing and should be doing. And all their attempts of that have been just not working or failing. My first question around all that is like, what have you been doing that's been working? And what have they been doing that they don't understand? I mean, obviously, you don't want to like tell them a roadmap for them to do that. But I'm just like, what is like, why have they been so terrible at social VR, especially in this is all coming up in the context of, they're going to essentially force people to use their Facebook identities and social graph and, and phase out the Oculus identities, which I think the reaction with the community has been This is something that very little people actually want. And maybe, you know, at the end of the day, 10 years from now, we'll be like, okay, that was totally the right decision. But as of right now, it just gives me the impression that they're going to be turning everything into like this big giant surveillance capitalism machine of just trying to surveil us all the time. And I'm not necessarily convinced that that's going to be the thing that's actually going to make their social strategy work. But If you were to just look at what Oculus has done and what you've done, how have they gone so wrong? And how is it that they've, is it they just don't have trust? Is it they're not actually communicating with the community? What is it that they're not doing?

[00:29:19.663] Darshan Shankar: I'm not sure. I have a lot of respect for some of the people at Oculus. Some of the best engineers and designers, I think, in the VR industry have done some great work at Oculus. To be very clear, like, the quality of some of their work has been top notch. Why hasn't some of their software efforts worked? I really don't know. But a lot of this comes from actually a place of respect for a lot of what Oculus did. Like, the Quest is an incredible device. The fact that that even is possible is a huge feat of engineering. So, wasn't working right on the social side, on their software side, I'm not sure. I have thoughts, but at the end of the day, our roadmap is public. Like, we have a great community. We talk to people in our community every single day. I can list every single bug and issue that's going on right now that is a priority to fix, and we have a roadmap, and everything's all in my head of what we need to go do next to satisfy what people really want. Maybe it's from a place of passion. My motivation with all this is very different. I just want to be involved in creating something really, really cool. I don't want to own the whole world. I think if you go back years ago, I've written this many, many times. I think anybody that's guided with the desire to own the metaverse will fail because they're missing the point. So when your motivation starts from that, I think you end up just being dragged down a path that is doomed for failure because it's not what the world needs or wants. And if you throw enough money at it, yeah, maybe it will end up that way. That's the dystopian future that maybe we're staring down. But that's not what people want because everybody wants to make something different. Everybody wants their own places with their own communities, their own ideas, their own inventiveness, and a single metaverse to rule them all with a single set of identity and rules and community. That's not what people want. And I think you're starting off from the foot of maybe building something that people don't want. with that motivation. That would be maybe my guess, just a different set of motivation from the very, very beginning.

[00:31:33.170] Kent Bye: Well, I think it's worth maybe elaborating a little bit the fact that there is some degree of peer-to-peer encryption that happens with big screen. I think in terms of architecting for privacy, there seems to be what you've built, my impression at least, is that you're not necessarily even knowing who's talking to whom, or maybe you are, maybe there's a social graph layer, but that seems to me pretty significant to be able to actually connect to people without being surveilled. And the fact that you've been able to kind of pull off this decentralized peer-to-peer architecture To me, that seems to be okay. Well, that seems to be a key thing that's going to be a differentiating factor to be way different than Facebook ever tries to do. So the fact that you've been able to, in some ways, find a way to make things private and architect for privacy, it seems to be a thing that actually works.

[00:32:18.918] Darshan Shankar: I mean, I think some of that probably just comes from culture as well, culture, the company and what I believe in. But I think the other part is also just trying to understand Facebook's model and just how their business works. they're able to afford to spend billions of dollars on VR and AR today. And I'm excited about that portion in the sense that someone is pouring in billions of dollars of R&D to create magical devices like the Quest. The downside is that their model relies on people spending as much time as possible in VR with eyeballs staring at pixels that Facebook is controlling and rendering. I don't think it's even a question that at some point Facebook is going to have enough users in a VR headset that they control, that they will then have lots of data on biometrics, engagement, mood, everything to then better target you, to give you ads. That's what they've done with every product that they've ever made. That's their bread and butter. That's what they're great at. It's going to happen. It's not a question of if or when, that's how the model works. That's also why they're able to subsidize the quest by so much because they have so much money from ad dollars to be able to then afford to get into VR and AR. VR and AR will one day pay off because they'll be able to, again, continue their ad based business. So who's going to build a business that isn't ad based? Who's going to build something that just offers people a lot of good value and doesn't need to make money by knowing everything that you're doing, by listening to everything, by like picking up on words. Maybe something to keep in mind, something that maybe hasn't been discussed much before. VR devices are the first time that a microphone is always on and right next to your mouth anytime that you're using the device. Now, the microphone might not be on per se in the sense that maybe there's some hardware controls that unless you press a button or something, maybe the microphone's not on. But as a developer, I can say that if we have the permissions from the hardware to use the microphone, at any point in time during application usage, we can read from the microphone. We can listen to what's going on. Now, the OS can presumably do that at any point in time. At any point in time, you can And I know these actually turns into certain features like voice, you know, controlling your Oculus device, using voice to pull up a menu or search within the app store and things like that. But that also means that this is the first device that at all times when you're using it, they can hear and know everything that you, you might be intending the conversations you're having and all of that. So I'm sure at some point this will be used for their ad business. There's no question about it. And where does that lead us? That sounds like a, perhaps not so great world where everything that we see might be product placement and probably not banner ads. I'm sure they'll find a way to do it tastefully. They're brilliant designers there. They'll do it tastefully, I guess, but that's the world we're heading towards.

[00:35:22.333] Kent Bye: Well, with this announcement that happened on Tuesday, there was quite a lot of resistance and I think frustration that was being expressed and, you know, a number of different threads of people coming forth and airing different grievances that they've had with Facebook. And so maybe you could walk us through a little bit of how you went through that experience and maybe I imagine there were some pent up things that you would want to say for a long time. And that's a little bit of the straw that broke the camel's back that you came out and publicly announced all this stuff that you had been going through. So maybe just kind of walk us through the seeds of wanting to say everything you said on Tuesday. And what was the catalyst for you to make that decision to go public in that way?

[00:35:59.991] Darshan Shankar: I think for me, Facebook's made a lot of promises, and Oculus and Facebook have made a lot of promises. And one of the promises was exactly the opposite of this, which is you won't need a Facebook account in order to use the device. And you can start to see the erosion of promises and old values. All the Oculus founders have left Facebook at this point. So any hope of someone there to champion for the cause, to fight to make VR really good, all gone. Carmack's gone. Palmer, Nate, and Brendan, and everyone's gone. It's now fully Facebook run. If I remember right, much of the people who built and ran ads are actually running the org. Not to say anything about that as much as just promises were made and now they're actually going the exact opposite direction. So that was a bit of a trigger point, I think, which then reminded me of just the struggle The struggle of constantly pointing out, here's something we need help with. As a developer of one of the most popular apps on your platform, which is one of the few things that people actually use on a regular basis. We have needs, we have concerns, we have problems. Can we get some help? And we don't. We just don't. I mean, Oculus always reaches out to us when they need something from us, when they need us to support an API or something like that. They usually reach out to us like a week before a headset. Ending up in the hands of customers and be like, okay fine here. You can finally have a headset But you know, it's full of bugs and we have all these issues to deal with and kudos to a lot of their engineering staff We've been really friendly and nice to help us figure out a bunch of issues along the way, but it's been a nightmare to just deal with on a Lot of engineering work. I mean, it's incredibly difficult to even make VR work but on top of that this layer of It's not even bureaucracy, this layer of resistance to not give us the help that we need after asking for years and years and years, and instead starting to realize that Facebook's going to dominate. And the quest is incredible and nobody's close. Nobody is close to beating the Oculus Quest. It is the best VR device out there, period. It's at the best price point. It has a great content library. Oculus is buying up most of the, or rather, Facebook is buying up most of the game studios that make the best content. So eventually, the only people making really great content are gonna be owned by Facebook. Like, you know, for example, Beat Games, Beat Saber's parent company is owned by Facebook now. So the best games, the best content, it's gonna be on the best VR headset, which Facebook fully owns. And I can start to imagine where that goes. There's no way anyone at this point can really compete with Facebook when the device is subsidized and they have a massive war chest, which you might think is great for VR, but not when it's building a metaverse that they're going to fully own and control. And when they actively get in the way and start to restrict developers, I'm not talking about just myself or our team. There's plenty of developers where they're actively doing things. for their own benefit at the cost of that developer's livelihood. And I can go on and on and on about this because I've talked to the developers that are struggling and none of us want to talk publicly. I struggle to sleep these days after tweeting out that stuff because I wonder what's going to happen next. I wonder what retaliatory move because I'm sure in terms You're going to think of it as us against all these people who keep attacking us. Why do they keep attacking Facebook? We're such a great company. Look at all the great stuff we're doing in VR. They're probably going to take it personally. They're probably going to band up together and be like, F that guy. We're going to make sure they don't succeed. So I worry where this is going to go, but everybody that I've talked to that's a VR developer worries about this right now. So many people who have actually poured months of their lives to build a game only to find out that Oculus says, nope, not good enough. We don't want this. Usually they don't even say that. They just said, sorry, you're rejected. We can't tell you why. Try again later. It's very, it's very hard. No one wants to talk. No one wants to talk publicly, but there are so many stories of Oculus outright copying, cloning, blocking features, but they'll do it themselves anyway.

[00:40:29.469] Kent Bye: As an oral historian of this space, I've recorded somewhere between 1,400 to 1,500 interviews. I've gone to all six of the Oculus Connects so far and watched the disconnect that I've seen, at least, between the public rhetoric that happens on the stage versus the developer frustrations that I hear And up to this point, it's been very frustrating because like you said, there's no one that has been wanting to either go on the record, violate any sort of NDAs that they may have signed or just, you know, more than anything, risk rocking the boat and ruining their own chances of working and collaborating with one of the biggest VR platforms that are out there. And so there's a bit of this monopolistic behavior that I see. I mean, obviously there's other competitors and Facebook has invested money. And in some ways there's monopolies by doing things, uh, Well, we can go back to the history of VR and see what happens. I'm sure there's a lot of the actual history of VR, what's happened with Valve and the appropriation of different technologies. I mean, I'm sure there's still aspects of the full history of VR that we haven't fully heard. as a caveat, but what I've seen is that there's been a lot of developers over the years have been extremely frustrated, but yet they can't go on the record and I just sort of hear it and I try to communicate that to some degree, but yet at the same time, for all these different reasons, it's been a difficult story to even tell because no one wants to tell it. And so that's why when I saw your tweets, I was like, oh, well, finally, this is starting to come out. And in this conversation I had with Anton that I just published today, Anton Hand of Rust Limited, he's been very vocal against his complaints and frustrations and just taking a very strong opposition of a pretty hard line of not developing on any Facebook hardware, not supporting officially any other software platform, although he implements SteamVR APIs that implement it. And so people who have the hardware is able to use it, but he's not going out of his way to buy the hardware and to support it explicitly. And one of the things he told me was that there's a level of psychological, emotional abuse that has been happening since the very beginning. And that he said is one of the biggest open secrets in the VR community, that Facebook dev relations has been terrible from the very beginning. And there's been a number of different iterations, I think, have gone over time. And And I've heard different things in terms of, like I hear from Denny Unger, who is very happy with his dev relations, but he's also a game. He's not like the non-gaming, non-entertainment, perhaps getting at the core root of the potential economic bottom line of the future of Oculus themselves. And one of the things that Anton said is that, you know, maybe Facebook will end up becoming like Nintendo and they'll just do all the first party development in house. And they'll basically use the entire enthusiast VR community as a stepping stone. And then they'll just sort of step all over them and not think twice about taking VR to the next level by screwing over everybody that got them to this point in the first place. And as I listened to your story, that's kind of what it sounds like is happening. is that Facebook is, for whatever reason, not really collaborating with all of the developers. They're actively and aggressively either threatening folks or suggesting that they stop working on things and that they're certainly not being responsive or listening to the needs that you have as a developer. One of the most popular platforms that are out there, but at the same time, because it's potentially in direct conflict with their own business interests, you're just getting the runaround and Essentially, as far as I can tell with your tweet thread, you're at a loss everything you sell because of all this lack of negotiation to make the medium succeed. And they would probably rather see you go out of business and for them to be able to own that market. than to budge on that 30%. And I don't know, it just, it seems sad that if that is what's happening, that Facebook is just willing to see this entire enthusiast developer community and to just take all the indie developers that have made VR what it is at this point, to just do everything they can to destroy them. I mean, it sounds so extreme, but that sounds a little bit of what's happening.

[00:44:38.027] Darshan Shankar: It's pretty depressing. I don't even know where to begin. I'll start by saying my issue is mainly culture and the way Facebook treats developers. There's a long negative history of how Facebook treats developers. But in this specific case, just how to build a developer ecosystem that's healthy and how to manage that when competing against that same developer ecosystem And how to manage that when the motivation and vision from the very first place is to own the ecosystem. Cause there's a lot of great people who work on the developer relations team at Oculus. And this isn't meant to be a personal attack on any one of them. There's been some super, super helpful people that have helped us tackle some gnarly problems. And my fear with all of this is that it'll get taken personally. And it's not any one person that said something or this or that. It's just a long history of years of people. It's not really helping quite right in the way that it needs to be. You could imagine if Facebook truly cared about the ecosystem, they wouldn't have done to Altspace what they did to Altspace.

[00:45:55.861] Kent Bye: Greg Fodor had said that just a couple days ago that all space was in financial straits and the Facebook team went to them saying, we're going to buy you out. And then kind of led them to think that they were going to get bought out. And then they sort of stepped back and said, no, we're not going to buy you out. We look forward to hiring you, which was a pretty ruthless. claim to make that at the 11th hour when you're running out of money that Facebook will go to them and kind of lead them to the point of almost Encouraging them to fail because again alt space could be potentially building things that they wanted to build themselves And so at least that was a story that Greg Fodor just talked about a couple of days ago See, this is the thing when you want to own an entire universe we want to own everything your motivation is so different if you cared like some people in the VR ecosystem have in the past

[00:46:44.528] Darshan Shankar: When you first hear that a company is going through dire straits, a company that's important to the VR ecosystem, a company that makes a product where people have memories and lives and just fond communities, your first reaction isn't going to be quite so evil. One of the most ruthless things one could do in business when knowing that someone is in trouble is to wait until the trouble gets truly to a breaking point and then to let them die and then to pick up the scraps that are left behind. I mean, that's genuinely the smart, ruthless thing to do. But that isn't the right thing to do. If someone truly cares about the VR ecosystem, you build and support and find ways to make that grow and continue. Not to crush it or allow it to die, and instead just scoop up the people and point them right at the thing that you're working on yourself. And that's pretty ruthless. And that's just one example. There's so many. There's so many. Look at virtual desktop. I just talked to Guy earlier today. Now, with many of these folks, we share competitive overlap between big screen and alt space, or big screen and virtual desktop, or this or that. But competition is healthy. It's good. It's fun. That's how we build cool things together. We have very limited time on this planet. Let's go do something cool with it. Let's talk about what each other's doing. Let's go make great stuff. Let's compete. It's fun. It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. It doesn't have to be a winner-take-all and fight to the death. It doesn't have to be quite so ruthless. And take Virtual Desktop, for example. He's been working on this as long as I have or even longer. I think I was trying his stuff out on the DK2 back in 2015. And with Virtual Desktop, I remember they cloned a lot of his features. And that's expected in the sense of With healthy competition, there's oftentimes where people independently come to the same conclusion. There's oftentimes where people realize that someone else has come to a really smart conclusion and also then agrees with that and does that too. In many ways, that's healthy just for the continuous improvement and iteration of development. What's not cool is Oculus creating their own version, making it appear front and center as soon as you put your headset on and calling that Virtual desktop. So the button that you click in order to get to that is literally called virtual desktop Which is the biggest FU? Possible to someone who's been in the industry from the very beginning who is so passionate works on this every day Who has a really passionate and powerful and popular user base? That's just a big FU and he's been through very similar things all space very similar things and Geek as well and he can speak for himself, but I think he's said this many times publicly too, which is they also have, you know Offered these kinds of you should join us. Just come do it here with you know, we're gonna do this, too But just to be cloned and then to be called literally the name of the app itself I don't want to get into like law and like is that legal or this or that that's just not that's just not cool And it's just stories like that over and over and over again

[00:50:00.693] Kent Bye: Well, as you go through this story of what the state is, it feels like it's in some sort of impasse and really unsustainable that if your only income was from Oculus, for sure, you wouldn't be able to still maintain that indefinitely to take a loss for everything that's sold. What do you do when you're in this state of not even being able to break even with being able to work with these big Hollywood studios? You know, imagine that, you know, to be able to deliver these 3D videos and do it in a way that is a better experience than Facebook's been able to do themselves. I imagine that they're not too happy about that, but yet at the same time, you know, if you look at the letter of the law, there's the terms of service, You have to follow the same 30% tax that everybody is taking. They've invested these billions of dollars to create this. And so you can make an argument and we'll see what happens with Tim Sweeney and his argument using the Sherman Act of 1890 argument against Apple to see if that has any weight in courts. So we'll wait to see. But in the meantime, what do you do when you're in this state of impasse of potentially being bled out by if we continues down this path of more and more people going on to the Facebook platform, then being completely sustained by non Oculus hardware may not be a viable future for you. So like, what do you do with that?

[00:51:17.055] Darshan Shankar: So fortunately, big screen is broad and diverse in use cases and usage. Movies are one pillar of what we do. As I mentioned earlier, people use us to play games, they work together in big screen, they just hang out in big screen, they watch live streams. Rocket launches have brought thousands, literally thousands of people into big screen to watch rocket launches live concurrently together. Thousands of people watching like when SpaceX launched humans and things like that to the International Space Station. Movies are one piece of what we do. And I'm confident that we will have multiple different business lines in all the different use cases at some point in the future. I got into this in the first place because I'm really interested and passionate about collaboration and virtual offices, creating kind of a VR office with memory palaces and content from our work lives that we can pull up and put onto walls and to spatialize all the information. I can't wait to get into all those really interesting problems. Movies are just one piece. So I'm overall actually very, I haven't been any more confident than I am today in the business of big screen. On that standpoint, I'm actually quite happy. Our user growth is great. Sales are great and people are happy. We keep shipping updates and we just have so much in the pipeline for the next few months in terms of roadmap in the next few weeks. I can't wait. I'm actually really confident and excited for the future from our side. But that positivity doesn't overrule the fact that when we talk about movies specifically, we are directly competing with something that Oculus is doing today in a financial manner that is in their own benefit. And they get to see all the data and they get to clone it and they get to do everything. And when we do these movie partnerships and we, when we go and do all this work, we put an enormous amount of capital to make all of that happen. We're not asking for that capital to be recouped or for Oculus to pay for everything or anything like that. We're just asking for a fair and equitable treatment in a manner that is consistent with their own competing products. And Oculus gets major benefit from us doing these kinds of activities because it's really good PR and marketing. It's great to see an Oculus headset in one of our trailers where we show people like going into a virtual movie theater to watch a hot summer blockbuster. and that benefits oculus themselves because we're going to be selling quests we're telling people buy a quest so that you can watch this awesome movie with your family who's around the country and especially during covid and quarantine you can't see them you can't even go to a movie theater what a great alternative go buy these headsets you can do this in big screen this benefits the vr industry this benefits users and this of course benefits oculus so this isn't one-sided it's not just like oculus gives us this hardware we should be grateful we should just I love the industry so much. I just wish things were a little better. I just wish there were a lot more developers allowed to make cool things. I wish that we wouldn't drag in archaic concepts from 10, 15 years ago, which at this point have really, as the epic lawsuit against Apple points out, really don't make sense anymore. And now Epic, they're going to be fine. No matter what, even if they lose the lawsuit, they'll probably make even more money thanks to all the free marketing that they have received. I'm sure they've done some calculation and it's working out in their favor, no matter how this goes. And from what I can tell, I think Tim is also very, Tim Sweeney is also just very ethically and morally minded when he's pursuing this. So it's not just about the money. I think he's really taking it from a good standpoint, but they're going to be fine. No matter what, they've got plenty of cash. They're going to be fine. I worry about VR because it's so young, it's so early. It is very easy to squash everything. And this comes from a place of passion and desire for Oculus to be better and for VR to be better. Because Oculus is, I'll put it this way, when Oculus makes the best headset in the world as of 2020, period, they also open themselves up to criticism for how they're going to operate in the industry. As the biggest, they also now deserve the criticism and the demands of what we think would make a better, healthier ecosystem. That's just fair. Everything I've said today so far, it's just public information. I wouldn't break NDAs or anything like that. Everyone knows the Oculus and Apple purchase fees and all of that. That's all publicly known. That's just the industry standard. Chris Pruitt and plenty of others have certainly said that. Our treatment by oculus is not particularly surprising considering they've done that to alt space and plenty of others as well And pretty much any vr developer that's made anything good has been approached with the exact same Come join us Through various different people at facebook and it's usually not like a it's not like a legal threat or anything like that It's usually just a friendly like hey, you should come join us. We're doing some of this stuff, too I just want the industry to be better. I just want a more utopian vision. And I think it's possible. And I want to talk about that because there's some, there's some bad stuff going on. And rather not us see end up like the dystopian future that we're all dreading.

[00:56:37.277] Kent Bye: Hmm. What do you personally think about this move towards consolidating all the users into Facebook mandated accounts? Is that, do you find that a lot of your users are not really excited about that? Are they, you know, do you feel like that's going to enable new things for you? Is that, I imagine that when they do that, they're going to be able to track things a lot more closely. So I guess you have the option to be able to implement that or not. And I would imagine that if you do really focus it on privacy, you may not want to implement that, but what's been the reaction or what's your take on this whole new shift?

[00:57:10.002] Darshan Shankar: I'm not sure, to be honest. I think we are one layer removed from that, in the sense that by the time a user gets into a third-party application like Bigscreen, they would have already had to go through all that pain. And they wouldn't be able to use the VR device, according to this latest statement from Facebook, if they didn't have an account that they logged in with. So upfront, they're forced to do it. And we're going to only see everyone that's already made it through that. We're never going to see the users that decided not to buy a headset because of that. So I'm not sure. I don't know. All I can guess is that some percentage of users will choose a different headset because of that.

[00:57:47.909] Kent Bye: But you have no plans of implementing the Facebook social API.

[00:57:52.071] Darshan Shankar: I'm not sure yet what things they might offer in the future with Facebook API. or social APIs and things like that. Publicly, you can see on their website, you do have features like taking a photo in VR, like a selfie photo or whatever, and having it posted or live streamed or things of that nature, live streaming to your Facebook account. There are plenty of Facebook social graph features that I think they've been working towards over the years. I'm sure there'll probably be more features like that. Chatting, inviting, things like that would be my guess. I don't really know, frankly, what their plans are when it comes to Facebook APIs. Would we use them? Well, we'd probably figure a way out to, if it's for the benefit of the user, in the sense that if they already do have a Facebook account, if they actively want to use it, would we give them the option to do something that they want to willingly do? Sure. But fortunately, we're a cross-platform company. We work across every major VR headset that's out there, which allows us... Sorry, except Sony PlayStation. I do hope we can get to Sony PlayStation sometime in the near future. That will come eventually. It's incredibly difficult. But no, we will give people the option to do whatever they want with their headset of choice, with their login and platform of choice. That's their decision, not ours. So we will integrate with every platform to take advantage of features and functionality to give users of that platform the best experience possible.

[00:59:17.394] Kent Bye: A big takeaway that I'm getting from this conversation is that the deeper intention that you have is going to drive what is going to end up happening. If your intention is to own the platform, if people can sense that that's what you want, then there may be a lack of enthusiasm with the users and Maybe they'll be able to sort of do that with those intentions and be able to make it work. But for whatever reasons, maybe there's been a mismatch between that intention and the outcome. And that for you, you've been motivated to be able to just create something cool, to create something of value, to really be listening to users. and that you've been able to really do that cooperation and collaboration. I think one of the big takeaways I got from Anton was that there's this vibe that he's experienced and I've personally experienced from Facebook sometimes, which is that a decision has been made and here it is, it's immutable. There's nothing you can do about it because we've already decided this is the way that things are going to be. And there's no interaction, there's no dialogue, there's no conversation. announcements are made, nobody's made for interview a lot of times to be able to do a sort of a dialectic question and answer. There's sort of a lack of dialectic in a dialogue and cooperation and collaboration, I'd say, just as a fundamental cultural DNA. That's been a theme that I've seen in that part of your success, I think, has been driven by that close interaction with community and that this kind of approach of just launching things that are fully baked without ever cultivating things from the grassroots to see what's organically emerging. That seems to me what I've seen of all these major corporations, whether it's Google or Facebook or anybody that tries to kind of do this big launch, they kind of treat it like they're launching a website or building an architectural building, not really designing a game or an experience that really requires that back and forth and cooperation and communication.

[01:01:07.311] Darshan Shankar: Yeah, I think that's definitely been the common story. I mean, when we were nobodies and we weren't really known in the VR industry, that was certainly the case. No one to talk to, hard to get a hold of, et cetera, just a lot of begging. I can list dozens of people who have built stuff, have built really cool VR stuff. They'll just get like this random rejection from Oculus, if at all, and that's the end of that. No explanation, nothing. So imagine passion, blood, sweat, and tears, money being poured into making things and just nothing Seemingly facebook knows exactly what people want in vr and and they know they know what's working and you don't fit that mold Please go away Which is funny because I don't think anyone's figured out quite yet what exactly works in vr Not even facebook. I don't think anyone has we're still figuring this out We're just building the industry from the ground up. How can people feel like they know everything? I just want to see people create a lot more cool stuff and to just share it and I'm hopeful that maybe Facebook will allow a lot more stuff in the future. But it's the treatment of developers and the copying and the cloning in malicious ways that does bother me. It's the setting up of barriers for their own monopolistic benefit so that they can achieve their vision of owning the metaverse. That bothers me. Take, for example, I think this was about a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago. Valve wanted to do a Steam link streaming on the iPhone. They wanted people to be able to play Steam games from their Steam library on their phones. Game streaming. Apple shut them down. Apple kicked the app off. Because it would allow people to play games that were not purchased through the Apple app store. And of course, Apple always, you know, would end up using the like, this is about privacy. This is about security. We don't know what's coming onto the device. We want to protect the consumer. But what that also means is Apple's not getting a cut of any of that. It's also a very big financial move because that's now an app store that is available on the device. And there can be no app store aside from the Apple app store on these devices, period. That is a stance that they have held from day zero. And it is now a massive portion of their revenue annually. So there's no reason to let that crumble. And that's a huge blow to Valve. I bring that up because we're seeing that happen still today, years later, with many cloud gaming companies just not being able to make it happen on Apple devices, where you're giving access to a store of games from a different platform, off platform, just not allowing it on there for really no reasonable reason whatsoever. The same thing is happening in VR and people don't even realize it. It's happening on such a tiny scale, but because of that approach of let's do already worked for Apple, let's take that strategy because that's going to make VR and Oculus be a $2 trillion company within Facebook, that kind of approach. also means that nobody can build any sort of other app store. No one can build the Amazon on VR. No one can build a browser that gives you access to all sorts of other paid content. No one can build another store. It also means that no one can stream wirelessly SteamVR games to the Quest. That's what Virtual Desktop did. He implemented a feature that allowed him to stream SteamVR games wirelessly to the Quest. And Oculus's stance on this was, oh, no, no, we don't want to make people sick or uncomfortable. You should discuss this with us. We do not allow this feature. It will make people sick. You look at the popularity numbers, though. Virtual Desktop is incredibly popular. And so are some other open source free tools that allow you to wirelessly stream your headset. If it's so popular, people love using it. And you look at the reviews and ratings, it's awesome. People love it. If it's something people love doing so much, why is it And you have to wonder, because it gives people access to a library of content that they didn't even purchase through the Oculus Store, it opens up the floodgates of a different store, giving access to content that wasn't licensed and allowed. It prevents the 30% cut. It's a threat to the entire model. So of course, it's blocked. So it's unfortunate to see because, you know, Facebook's working, of course, on similar features themselves. Carmack has publicly tweeted this many times. It is an open secret that eventually you'll be able to stream wirelessly VR games from your Windows PC to your Quest. At some point in the future, it will happen. Everyone knows this so many companies have built tools for this it's going to happen so it's unfortunate that it'll happen in a manner tightly controlled by oculus and not in a matter that any other dev can ever even explore. There's so many instances of behavior like this. Facebook doesn't want to give access to the cameras to do any sort of AR pass-through overlays to do some cool VR, AR hybrid mixed reality experiences and things like that, of course, because of privacy and whatnot. They don't want developers copying from that and starting to see what's happening in your room. There's actually all sorts of technologies that would prevent the developer from knowing what's in your room, but at least allowing the user to see it. Protected textures and oculus overlays that there are true technologies that would enable something like that But developers like big screen virtual desktop and others don't have access to these technologies, but facebook does Allowing them to not only see everything that's in your room But also create experiences that are just not possible by anybody else to create collaborative workspaces to create things that developers cannot do and of course facebook will then Like they did last year and they probably will this year and their VR conference will post these experiences and prototypes Of mixed reality work gain and productivity and things like that, but developers can't build that So again, it brings me back to the story of from the very beginning It's about owning everything and doing things that they can do but blocking others from even being able to or even being allowed in the store allowing any other stores, it's This is the biggest vlog garden that's ever been built And it's being built on the best vr headset out there by some of the smartest people out there with the biggest war chest That's pretty scary Where do you find hope or what do you think that as people listening what can people do? Boy, that's a tough one well there probably is hope in that people are talking now and If another platform were to come up that did things a bit better, people would probably flock to that. Because developers are really creative. We just love making stuff. We love satisfying users. We're users ourselves. We just want to make really great things. And if there's a frictionless path, for people to make really cool stuff and share it with others and have a great time, it's going to happen. And creating a walled garden and pretending like the best content in the world is within that garden and nobody else is allowed in there and they will make all the money and milk that. Well, if people build the best content somewhere else, that entire strategy fails. That's a big risk for Facebook. They can try to buy everything in the world, but a lot of people aren't for sale. I also have hope because At least in the past, there never has really been a single player that owned everything. There's always been competition. There's always been somebody else that comes around. There generally is an ecosystem. But maybe things are different today. Maybe we now live in a world that is controlled by just a couple of companies that have more cash than countries, that have more users than countries. So maybe we do live in a more dystopian world today than we did maybe in the 70s or 80s. I'm not sure. But at least if you look at the past, if you look at the history of technology over the past thousands of years through all different types of technology, there's always been someone else that comes out with a different approach, a different set of values and principles. And I also think that a lot of VR technology will eventually get commoditized. Every year, the things that we are able to accomplish today become easier and easier over time. Things that were in R&D just four years ago or five years ago are now the quest in the hands of consumers. So eventually, something like the Quest and similar products will become achievable for many others to do, to build on their own in a low-cost way. So I'm hopeful that in the future, there'll be a healthy ecosystem of lots of different options of hardware choices and vendors that you can buy from, and lots of different software platforms to choose from, lots of different app stores, and most importantly, lots of different types of creative content for you to choose from. So I'm hopeful. I think over the next 10 years, we'll see a lot of change. I think the question is incredible. I can't wait to see what new hardware we might see in the next few years.

[01:10:11.016] Kent Bye: Great. And for you, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?

[01:10:19.579] Darshan Shankar: Virtual reality allows us to do things with just software and bytes that we can only dream of. It brings us closer together by allowing us to see and have conversations with people who are on the other side of the planet. It allows us to go to places and have interactive experiences that they're just not possible in the real world. Today, you can go to a place like Disney World and experience this theatrical venue with rides and roller coasters and this and that. And I can't imagine what kind of theme parks of the future that are entirely digital and fully immersive, full of people and interesting experiences would be like. I think there's just so much promise for entertainment and social entertainment in VR. in a manner that we can't really achieve within our own homes. It's just not practical. But even on productivity, I think there are things that we can do to unlock human creativity and productivity and collaboration that are just not possible in the real world. Monitors are two-dimensional devices. We've stuck our entire lives into digital recreations on a flat screen. But humans are spatial creatures. We think spatially. We think in 3D. So much of our brains are wired to navigate a 3d world. So I can only imagine the productive work and creativity we'll have in the next few decades, when we really explore what it means to be productive in VR as well. So really, I think the ultimate potential of VR and AR is to just completely change how we live and work and, and play.

[01:11:55.691] Kent Bye: Sarah, is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[01:12:01.465] Darshan Shankar: I think that about covers it all. I'm deeply passionate about all this. I've loved the entire journey. I can't wait to see what happens next. And, and I think that's really where I want to leave things off, which is that this comes from a place of passion. This comes from a frustrated place where I want to see a better world. I'm hopeful for a better world. I just want to see a little bit of change.

[01:12:22.787] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah, well, hopefully people will be able to listen to this conversation and perhaps the right people within Oculus and they'll maybe change their entire strategy and not try to own the metaverse. One can hope. But I think if anything, we just have to continue the conversation. And I'm just really appreciate you stepping up and being able to go on the record a little bit more in depth from what you already had said, because I just think it's important that we break the silence and have more people that come forward and talk about their experiences. And if anything, I just would want to have like a bit of a feedback mechanism of something that if there's been a lack of accountability in some ways of not really discussing it, it just creates this environment where things kind of continue without a larger shift that's happening. especially if consumers know and I don't know, I just hope that there's a larger pressure for the culture of Facebook to get to the point where they're not so adversarial and actually empowering the developers to be able to, to have all this cool stuff that people are doing and to really champion it and put it out there. But yeah, just thanks again for being willing to come on tonight and to tell your story and to share more about your experiences. So thank you.

[01:13:28.966] Darshan Shankar: Thank you.

[01:13:30.187] Kent Bye: So that was Darshan Shankar. He's the founder and CEO of Big Screen VR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this conversation is that first of all, well, the big quote and takeaway is that anybody that's guided with the desire to own the metaverse will fail because they're missing the point. That's not what the world needs or wants and I think that desire and that paradox honestly of trying to at the same time Cultivate a developer ecosystem while the underlying motivation is to completely dominate own and control different aspects of the ecosystem Those things are actually opposite goals and sometimes they're able to do both of those and when I think of when it comes to gaming they're able to legitimately kind of keep those two things separate but when it comes to like core technologies that if you are working on specific applications that Facebook themselves wants to do and to own and control, then what seems to be the pattern, at least from what Darshan is saying, is that they'll be non-responsive, they'll just not really help or engage, and letter of the law that any transaction that happens is 30%, then there's no budging on that whatsoever. Now, this is a stance that Apple has also theoretically taken on their app store, where no one can have any exceptions to that 30% rule. However, except for Amazon, who was able to cut a deal and to be able to do their own sales, we're at a lower percentage than that base 30%. There's the argument saying, OK, everyone's going to have to, like, follow the same rules. But at the same time, Darshan saying, look, we're like actively out there. We're promoting VR. We're having people go out and buy the quest. We're providing services of people to be able to see movies with their families and friends. And, you know, this is going to actually help the overall VR ecosystem. But the problem is is that Facebook wants to do that. Apparently, that's according to their behaviors seem to indicate that they would rather bleed out and to completely destroy big screen so they can do that themselves. And that's a situation of frustration that I think that led to Darshan speaking out and saying, hey, this is what's happening right now. Facebook essentially wants to adopt that App Store model that has been pioneered by Apple, adopted by Google, and to essentially control everything that is happening. There's also other dimensions of surveillance capitalism that is on top of that App Store model that I think is also thrown into the mix and, at this point, is really unsure as to where that is going to go. But if we just look at what Darshan is talking about, he's essentially creating a service that is basically exactly what Facebook wants to do. They want to be able to sell shows and tickets and to be able to do that and to cultivate audiences. They've tried that. Facebook has had different ways in which they've done that. For whatever reason, it hasn't succeeded as much. I suspect part of the reason is that there's a certain aspect of Darshan's implementation that has peer-to-peer encryption. People can go in there and they can share whatever they want with each other. They have people that are able to have some level of trust that they can communicate with each other without being surveilled or tracked or watched. It doesn't seem like Darshan's necessarily all that interested in even tracking how many users are using it, and certainly not what they're specifically doing on their experiences. But yet, in the same way, I think Facebook wants to do the opposite, which is to watch and track everything that you do, and to gather all this data, and to feed it into this giant surveillance capitalism machine. There's this sense of the same type of social interactions. Darshan has actually built a system that is architected for privacy, and people love it, and they're using it. Facebook wants to do the same thing, but yet their business model is not allowing this to happen. And Darshan said that if he was trying to launch this today, he would literally not be able to launch this. It was only because he had early days and able to get such an amazing amount of users actually using it. It makes me wonder how many other applications are out there that have been really torn down because Facebook in their mind thinks that this is something that they're going to do. But yet, for whatever reason, they've not been able to really pull off the experiential design to be able to create an experience that's compelling for people. or to actually pull off what Darshan's done. You can imagine that if Darshan's out there building up a user base of millions of people, and they're actually actively using it and buying tickets, of course, Facebook, they want to do that themselves, and they're actively trying to crush a system for them to be able to own it completely. Media consumption is something that is one of the biggest potential revenue streams, and they don't want to have anybody that's basically doing it better than themselves. That's at least the impression that I get from talking to Darshan, is that there's a certain number of industry verticals, whether that's shopping, commerce, media consumption, collaboration and work collaboration, social VR experiences. These are the things that Darshan says in terms of his interactions to talk to other developers, that there's this kind of adversarial dimension where Facebook is not only trying to cultivate the underlying ecosystem for that to happen on their platform, but they're also creating their own software programs that are going to be in direct competition for these experiences. So there's this other layer, which is that Facebook has the power to be able to surveil everything that's happening in these applications. And there's a bit of monitoring everything that's happening, and then to potentially go off and just clone some of the different features. That's seemingly what has happened to Guy Gooden when it comes to virtual desktop, and to even use that same name. Now, there's trademark law, and you have to have a very specific name. And I think something like virtual desktop may not even be a trademarkable name. So Facebook may be just going by the letter of law in terms of, we can do that because the law says it. But I think what Darshan is saying is like, there's a little bit other aspect of like, this is a community you're trying to cultivate. And if you're just going to like ruthlessly take the name and clone all the aspects of the features, then what kind of trust are you going to cultivate with the developer community? Darshan says that the Oculus Quest is, by far, the best, most affordable VR experience that's out there for people. Of course, you could do the PC VR, but if you were going to take into account all the costs that it takes to get up and running into VR, it's thousands of dollars to get a PC VR to get to the top of the line. But to get a good enough VR experience, there's no doubt that the Oculus Quest is the best experience out there, the most affordable, and everything else. I'm super excited for my own use for how I use it." However, he's saying that that's being subsidized with an underlying motivation and intention to completely own and dominate different aspects of the market. He says that their model is based upon people spending as much time as possible in VR with their eyeballs staring at pixels that Facebook is controlling and rendering. Darshan's hope and vision is that eventually, at some point, this is just going to be alternative open platforms where the level of innovation cannot be artificially stopped by this type of conflict of interest, of wanting to simultaneously cultivate but compete and own different aspects of the ecosystem. I think that's the situation, the paradox. Until there's a really open, viable competitor, there's this legitimate way Facebook has been able to invest billions of dollars to create the level of technology that is far and beyond anything else that's out there. They deserve to find someone ways to be able to make that viable. Whether that's through software sales, if anything, that 30% is a good model for me, at least. At least that gets away from the other pernicious aspects of artificially subsidizing this whole technology based upon the presupposition that everything we do in the future is going to be tracked and surveilled and our emotions and biometric data. That's kind of like this dystopic path of VR that I certainly do not want things to go down. It's just this kind of mindset of having this kind of zero-sum game winner-take-all kind of mindset and for Darshan's perspective He's like look competitions great. You can't do everything you can't satisfy everybody and it's just good to have a lot of different options out there because there's gonna be people who want different things and so you can't just have one solution and have a good healthy ecosystem and market and in some ways it feels as though Facebook is artificially Destroying all the potential competition of things that they haven't quite built yet because it's on their roadmap to do that eventually at some time in the future And that there's been this culture of silence to be able to just kind of go along with everything, but I think that in this last week there seems to be a bit of a turning point for people at least being willing to speak up and start to talk about it. I guess a final thought is that, you know, this realm that we're talking about here is the deeper intentions for why Facebook is doing what they're doing. At the end of the day, they need to make money. They're a business, and they need to find a way to support this investment that they've been doing in VR. They've made a lot of investment in VR, and they need to find ways to make a return on that investment. That's their ride as a business as they go forward and do this. When you contrast that with the motivations and intentions for some of the developer community, they're not necessarily always motivated by trying to own and control everything in the world. They want to just make something cool. And I think that that could be a big reason for why a lot of the VR experiences that Facebook have made have not really taken off because the intention is that they're trying to like surveil and track you and they're not necessarily focusing first on creating something that's amazing. And then from there trying to figure out how to support it. I mean, they're business. They have to figure out first how they're going to support it before they even build anything. Maybe that's the thing where VR is really taking off is because people have focused on what they actually want to experience before they know how to really necessarily sustain it and make it completely viable. But for right now, there seems to be a lot of frustrations that people have had with dealing with Facebook. This is one example. Darshan said there's dozens of other types of examples where people are too afraid to speak up. It could be more people want to come forward and share more aspects of this story. Like I said, it's been a hard story to tell just because up to this point people haven't been willing to put some of their own economic livelihood and some deeper things at stake to be able to actually come forward and to be able to talk about this. So I just wanted, again, to thank Darshan for coming forward and just speaking more on the record about all this and sharing some of the context and details. Trying to extrapolate someone's intention is always difficult, but I think that over time you can look at the different types of cloning behavior, the different types of issues that some of these developers and certain industry verticals are facing, and then starting to see what those patterns are and extrapolate. We'll never really fully know what's happening until we get Facebook's side of this story here and for them to be able to explain what's happening and their intentions and their motivations, then we'll have a little bit more certainty. I think at this point, there's just these anecdotes and stories that are hearsay and unverified. I believe that this is what's happening, but I'm hesitant to come to any final conclusions that this is what's happening. within the VR industry. But there does seem to be a certain pattern of behavior over time that is this tension between wanting to own versus cultivating different aspects of the industry and the ecosystem. That, to me, seems pretty clear that there's a tension and a conflict there that is driving some of this deeper behavior. And if there's more people that want to come forward and tell different aspects of the story, then please do feel free to reach out. I'm at KentPi on Twitter or Kent.KentPi.com. And yeah, I'd just love to be able to talk about more different aspects of what's happening here. I get a lot of information from what's happening in the ecosystem by listening to what's happening from developers. And so you're one of my primary sources of information to help contextualize everything that's happening here. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast and please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patrion. This is a list to support a podcast. And so all these different interviews are because I'm getting support from the community, from listeners like yourself, in order to continue to bring you this type of coverage. So if you enjoy this and like to see more than please do consider becoming a member of the patron. Just $5 a month is a great amount to give and just helps me continue to do this. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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