A Few (Second) Thoughts About the Sudden Popularity of VRChat

VRChat Panorama Picture
VRChat’s central fireplace (this panoramic photo was taken using VRChat’s in-world camera tool on Feb. 14, 2017)

As Wagner James Au has posted in his long-running virtual worlds blog New World Notes, VRChat is getting a huge spike in users due to livestreamers of the social VR platform on YouTube and Twitch:

What happened with VRChat over the holidays? Some dramatic blockchain-related announce[ment], like High Fidelity recently did? Or maybe some official Star Wars-related event, as Sansar did?

Nah, nothing as high-minded or brand-friendly as that. It was more like avatar cosplay and troll-ish jackassery, heavily embraced by live streamers on Twitch and YouTube…

I first posted about this back on Dec. 26th. Since then, I’ve watched a few more VRChat livestreams and I have some more thoughts on this I wanted to add.

First, VRChat is getting publicity, all right (this particular NSFW YouTube video has racked up 269,042 views since it was posted on Jan. 1st), but I’m not so sure that it’s the kind of publicity that the company may want. The word I’m looking for here is “notoriety”. I cringe as I see crude, sexually-related comments and content in such close proximity to children’s characters like Winnie-The-Pooh and Piglet, and child-like-looking anime avatars.

Second, there is massive IP infringement going on with VRChat’s avatars. I’m quite sure that the lawyers over at Disney are taking notice (and if they’re not, they should be).

Third, VRChat seems to be overrun with children and teenagers who are borrowing Mommy and Daddy’s VR headset. The place is pandemonium, a zoo, a freakshow.

Also, I think that VRChat is probably starting to buckle under the sudden popularity onslaught. I tried to get into VRChat for their New Year’s Eve festivities and found myself in a nausea-inducing, stuttering, shaky VR experience where one of my hand controllers refused to work, even after multiple attempts (and it wasn’t my PC; it ran flawlessly in Sansar immediately after I gave up on VRChat, so it wasn’t the fault of my computer equipment). In fact, on one login attempt, my left hand was actually mapped to my right hand! I have no idea how that happened.

So, the lesson here is: be careful what you wish for. VRChat executives probably wanted to become the most popular social VR world, and for now, they might have that prize. But as they are going to learn, there are prices to pay for that sudden success. Linden Lab learned their lesson well when they had several scandals in the past, during their media heyday, that shone a somewhat unflattering light on the company flagship product, Second Life. They banned the “banks” and the casino gambling, implemented a strict ageplay ban, and set up more stringent restrictions on the ability to access adult content. But they had to scramble a bit to play catch-up, in the full and unrelenting glare of the media spotlight. As far as I am aware, none of the SL policies I linked to above was in place beforehand; they were all implemented after something happened.

And I suspect that much the same thing is going to happen with VRChat. I predict that there’s going to be one or more scandals that force the company to put proper policy and procedures in place. And they’re going to have to scramble.

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8 thoughts on “A Few (Second) Thoughts About the Sudden Popularity of VRChat”

  1. I think we have to be careful not to allow platform bias color our opinion. Whatever your opinion of VRChat as a platform, what they are doing for virtual worlds and VR in general is amazing. This may be one of the fabled killer apps for VR.

    I think they are currently doing so well, because their only focus is to make it cool. Then they will clean it up afterwords. Not sure if this will be a winning strategy, but hey it worked for Facebook.

    Like

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