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Walmart shuts down its VR shopping subsidiary Insperience

The startup shuttered less than two years after its acquisition.

Walmart Insperience Dragons Gif

As one of its first projects for Walmart, Insperience cooperated with Dreamworks on a "How to Train Your Dragon" VR experience.

GIF: Walmart

Walmart has shut down Insperience, the Los Angeles-based VR startup formerly known as Spatialand. The retail giant acquired Spatialand in early 2018, and operated it as a subsidiary out of its Store No. 8 incubator. A Walmart spokesperson confirmed the closure, but did not comment on any layoffs.

"After nearly three years of successfully testing, learning and building, we've decided it's not the right time to continue to invest in Insperience, our v-commerce startup inside Store No8," a Walmart spokesperson said via email. "What we have learned about virtual reality, [its] applications in retail, and the current opportunity for VR-enabled commerce has been invaluable. We will continue to explore opportunities within mixed reality, among other areas, while keeping the Walmart customer at the center of our explorations."

Spatialand was hired by Walmart in 2017 to produce a VR showcase for Store No. 8's Innovate conference. In February 2018, the retail giant acquired Spatialand to explore VR shopping solutions. In early 2020, the startup rebranded as Insperience, promising to forge "deep relationships between brands and consumers through immersive, personalized shopping experiences," according to its now-defunct website.

While the pandemic has resulted in a growing interest in new ways to shop online, Insperience at least initially focused more on in-store use of VR. In 2019, the company teamed up with Dreamworks to bring a VR experience based on the film "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" to select Walmart locations, complete with Positron motion chairs.

Walmart was just one of many companies to bet on location-based VR as a way to give consumers who don't yet own VR devices access to immersive experiences. However, the prospect of sharing VR headsets with strangers has been a lot less appealing to consumers since the beginning of the pandemic, with VR centers and arcades shutting down for months across the globe.

U.S.-based VR startups have been hit especially hard by the crisis. Sandbox VR filed for bankruptcy this summer, and location-based VR pioneer The Void recently had its assets acquired by a lender.

Power

Yes, GameStop is a content moderation issue for Reddit

The same tools that can be used to build mass movements can be used by bad actors to manipulate the masses later on. Consider Reddit warned.

WallStreetBets' behavior may not be illegal. But that doesn't mean it's not a problem for Reddit.

Image: Omar Marques/Getty Images

The Redditors who are driving up the cost of GameStop stock just to pwn the hedge funds that bet on its demise may not be breaking the law. But this show of force by the subreddit r/WallStreetBets still represents a new and uncharted front in the evolution of content moderation on social media platforms.

In a statement to Protocol, a Reddit spokesperson said the company's site-wide policies "prohibit posting illegal content or soliciting or facilitating illegal transactions. We will review and cooperate with valid law enforcement investigations or actions as needed."

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
People

After loan default and asset transfer, The Void's future looks uncertain

The location-based VR pioneer lost Disney as a key partner earlier this year.

Multiple industry insiders told Protocol that The Void had been trying to secure more funding throughout the year. It appears that those efforts failed.

Photo: Veronique Dupont/Getty Images

Things are looking grim for The Void, once hailed as the future of virtual reality. The company recently defaulted on a key loan, forcing it to permanently transfer its assets, including patents and trademarks, to its creditor, according to documents reviewed by Protocol. Its financial troubles also led to Disney terminating a longstanding partnership, which means that The Void won't be able to use some of its most popular VR experiences based on Disney IP anymore.

Jim Bennett, the new owner of the company's assets, confirmed the transaction in a statement provided to Protocol, and said he planned either to sell the assets, or resume operations after the pandemic subsides.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Power

Investors didn’t like Ubisoft and Activision’s earnings

Both stocks plunged on the companies' forecasts.

The outlook is good for console manufacturers, but not so much on the software side.

Image: Protocol

Big Tech companies weren't the only ones reporting earnings this week; some of the biggest players in the gaming industry were, too. And there was a sharp divide: While the outlook's good for console manufacturers, things are less peachy on the software side.

Sony and Microsoft both reported earlier in the week, and both companies' gaming divisions had pretty good quarters. While PS4 sales dropped, unsurprisingly, software and subscription revenue soared. And an optimistic outlook for the PS5 — Sony's hoping to sell 7.6 million by the end of March — and the subscription and software sales that should entail, led Sony to raise its full-year operating income forecast by 13%.

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Shakeel Hashim

Shakeel Hashim ( @shakeelhashim) is a growth manager at Protocol, based in London. He was previously an analyst at Finimize covering business and economics, and a digital journalist at News UK. His writing has appeared in The Economist and its book, Uncommon Knowledge.

Protocol | China

More women are joining China's tech elite, but 'Wolf Culture' isn't going away

It turns out getting rid of misogyny in Chinese tech isn't just a numbers game.

Chinese tech companies that claim to value female empowerment may act differently behind closed doors.

Photo: Qilai Shen/Getty Images

A woman we'll call Fan had heard about the men of Alibaba before she joined its high-profile affiliate about three years ago. Some of them were "greasy," she said, to use a Chinese term often describing middle-aged men with poor boundaries. Fan tells Protocol that lewd conversations were omnipresent at team meetings and private events, and even women would feel compelled to crack off-color jokes in front of the men. Some male supervisors treated younger female colleagues like personal assistants.

Within six months, despite the cachet the lucrative job carried, Fan wanted to quit.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a Reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

Power

Trump gets a TikTok deal, but ByteDance keeps a lot of the power

President Trump has approved a plan for Oracle to process TikTok's U.S. data and take a minority stake in the company. But the announcement was short on details about ByteDance.

The deal, which is still awaiting official government approval, follows weeks of negotiations about TikTok's fate in the U.S.

Photo: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

TikTok, Oracle and Walmart announced Saturday that they've reached a deal that will enable TikTok to continue operating in the U.S. and thwart a ban on new TikTok downloads in the U.S. that was set to take effect Sunday night. President Trump signaled his approval for the deal on Saturday, though it is still pending official approval by the U.S. and Chinese governments. Under the agreement, Oracle and Walmart will take minority stakes in TikTok, with Oracle processing TikTok's U.S. data.

"We are 100% confident in our ability to deliver a highly secure environment to TikTok and ensure data privacy to TikTok's American users and users throughout the world," Oracle CEO Safra Catz said in a statement announcing the deal. "This greatly improved security and guaranteed privacy will enable the continued rapid growth of the TikTok user community to benefit all stakeholders."

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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