Up until now, one of the major differences between the two VR-capable virtual worlds of Sansar and High Fidelity was that the former allowed the sale of objects, while the latter had only a “free” online store. Well, that has now changed with the beta release of shopping in High Fidelity.
There has been a lot of media attention to this development, as High Fidelity has decided to implement a form of blockchain to prove valid ownership and combat content theft.
Commerce in High Fidelity is currently limited to avatar accessories (not stand-alone objects) and it is currently restricted to just one domain, Avatar Island, where there are four separate stores for you to go shopping.
One thing I noticed immediately is that HiFi has put a lot of care and work into the design of Avatar Island. It looks really good and visually appealing, with helpful signs and maps to help the new user get oriented. Here’s a picture I took in-world of a Japanese-themed store called Usagi:
Another nice thing is that there are actual mirrors in the stores so you can get a good look at yourself! We need mirrors in Sansar. (Actually, I first encountered working mirrors several years ago in a little-known virtual world called Twinity.)
Here’s a snapshot of my HiFi avatar (a standard-issue photo-realistic model from the “free” store), wearing a wizard hat and looking at himself in the mirror. I must admit that the ability to adjust what you are wearing just by tugging on it is a very nice feature to have. (I still can’t figure out how to resize avatar attachments if they’re too big, though.)
You can walk out of the store wearing something you haven’t paid for yet, but if you teleport away from Avatar Island, the unpaid-for item automatically detaches itself from your avatar.
HiFi’s currency is called High Fidelity Coin (HFC for short), and anyone can request a free grant of 10,000 HFC as part of the beta test, simply by emailing email@example.com and giving HiFi your username and associated email address. I understand this takes about three days to process, so I am still impatiently waiting for some currency so I can finally buy things! (You cannot yet buy HFC using your credit card, as you can with Sansar dollars.)
Another interesting thing about this new endeavour is that it is an in-world shopping model, unlike Sansar’s Web-based Sansar Store. There are even little green “recycle” bins in the stores, where you can deposit items you decided you don’t want to buy after all. The High Fidelity shopping experience goes so far as to include check-out stands in each store, where you “scan” items that you wish to purchase, just like you can do at the self-check-out kiosks at many real-world stores and supermarkets!
I did notice that you have to type in your passphrase on the user tablet which pops up when you use the check-out stands, which is still a real pain in the ass when you are in a VR headset. I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole tablet metaphor in High Fidelity. Sometimes I find it useful, other times I just find it irritating. At least you can reposition it so it doesn’t block your view.
Here’s a YouTube promotional video of the whole in-world shopping experience:
Frankly, I wish we had the option to do in-world shopping in Sansar much as we do in Second Life, but I certainly understand why Linden Lab started off with web-based shopping only (it’s easier to implement). Having well-stocked in-world stores where the creator can arrange the wares to his or her taste has a certain charm and convenience, and I think it adds a lot to the overall shopping experience. In fact, there are already a few Sansar experiences which are essentially in-world showcases for a particular creator’s products, like Alfy’s oYo Showroom. We can expect to see more of these types of experiences as Sansar grows.
Shopping is a popular pastime in most virtual worlds, and people often put a lot of time and care into how their avatars look, and how they decorate their personal spaces. It will be interesting to watch how the retail landscape evolves in both Sansar and High Fidelity.