What Does the Early Success of VRChat Teach Us About Social VR?

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There’s an interesting new article on the IBM iX blog. Titled Why is VRChat so popular, and what’s it mean for the future of virtual reality?, the writer, Cole Stryker, looks at some of the things that VR developers can learn from the recent success of VRChat. He says:

VRChat is the closest metaverse we currently have to the OASIS described in Ready Player One. It’s intuitive, customizable, and allows for the kinds of crazy mashups of characters and environments from different fictional universes that let fantasies run wild. Compared to the alternatives, VRChat is simply way more fun.

The downside of this freedom plagues every virtual space: griefing, or it has come to be known, trolling. VRChat is rather anarchic, and it is still working on developing good tools for users to block those who just want to annoy or harass. According to Wagner James Au, author of The Making of Second Life and the social VR news site New Word Notes, Linden Lab (the developer of Second Life) is still, all these years later, dealing with trolls. But he explains that this openness has been a blessing and a curse.

It’s one reason why Second Life has maintained a pretty large active user base of long-term users, while it’s also failed to gain and keep many new ones… On the plus side, VRChat definitely has much of the same free-form anarchy that made Second Life so exciting 10-12 years ago—the feeling that you’d log in and were sure to encounter some crazy burst of mad user-generated creativity. Even much of SL’s early griefing was entertaining and inventive (if you weren’t a target).

One of the things that Cole notes is fundamental to VRChat’s sudden popularity is the fact that it is also accessible to non-VR (desktop) users. He also states that immersion is a key factor in uptake:

The avatars that populate VRChat allow for immersive elements such as eye tracking and lip syncing. This isn’t new technology, but players accustomed to virtual environments like Second Life or World of Warcraft are often surprised when they interact with characters who can blink and dance and move their lips with a range of motion. This makes for surprisingly lifelike, often humorous interactions.

It’s a good article, and I urge you to go over to their website and read it in full. It should also be required reading for staff at Linden Lab and High Fidelity and all the other companies that are now trying to break into the potentially lucrative social VR market.

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