Exclusive Video: A Guided Tour of Virtual Universe with Jeroen Van den Bosch

Virtual Universe 28 Apr 2018
A scene from Virtual Universe, with AI-controlled bluebirds

I have recently blogged twice about the new social VR space/virtual world/MMO hybrid called Virtual Universe, first as an introduction and then looking at the creator toolset.

On Saturday afternoon I was fortunate enough to be given a half-hour guided tour of Virtual Universe (VU), conducted by Jeroen Van den Bosch, VU’s Chief Creative Officer and co-founder. Darin the cameraman accompanied us and videotaped our tour so I can share it with you exclusively! (Yes, I have explicit permission to share this video.)

I was amazed by what I saw and experienced in VU, even in its alpha state, and I think you will be too, when you watch this video! I definitely want to be among the first people to try this new platform out when they launch the beta sometime this summer.

The people building VU are the same ones who created the popular Grand Canyon VR Experience. The overall graphics quality of VU is, in my opinion, second only to Sansar (and that’s still high praise). The virtual water is among the best and most realistic I have ever seen in any virtual world. The AI-controlled animals—rabbits, birds, lizards, even individual INSECTS!—is astoundingly lifelike. You can use tools similar to those in the VR experience Nature Treks VR to arrange rocks and plant trees. The transitions when you teleport from one experience to another reminded me of the sci-fi movie The Matrix. I could go on and on, but I think I will just post the 30-minute video and let you judge for yourself (you can click on the icon in the bottom right-hand corner to make the video larger):

You’ll notice that the current iteration of VU is intended for room-scale VR. There is currently no way to play this game by sitting in a chair—you need to be able to physically turn your body in the direction where you want to go! As someone who habitually uses VR in a seated position in a rather cramped space, this took some getting used to, but you quickly become accustomed to it. You can walk (at a slow pace), or you can pull up a personal hovercraft that takes you places faster.

In their whitepaper, VU is described as “part game, part social network, and part social creation platform, blending elements of Minecraft, Second Life and Simcity with innovative artificial-intelligence technologies that drive engagement”, and that is an excellent description of what it tries to be. It’s an intriguing mix of virtual world and MMO/MMORPG where you can collect wood, chop it up, and start a fire, feed worms to the bluebirds, or just explore your surroundings and interact with other users.

It still has lots of rough spots, which is normal for alpha software, but Virtual Universe is a social VR platform/MMO well worth keeping an eye on. I came away feeling excited about the possibilities and looking forward to taking part in their future beta release.

Indeed, the future is going to be very interesting!

Advertisements

600 Blogposts!

I just realized that I have made 600 blogposts to RyanSchultz.com (formerly known as the Sansar Newsblog).

600-pages

Six hundred blogposts in 271 days (since July 31st, 2017 when I launched the Sansar Newsblog) works out to a little over two blogposts a day!

You might be interested to know what my Top Ten most popular blogposts so far have been. They are:

  1. Pick of the Day: Aech’s Garage, the Ready Player One Movie Experience in Sansar (January 8th, 2018)
  2. VRChat Pick of the Day: Club Transcendia (March 11th, 2018)
  3. UPDATED: More Details on the Upcoming Ability to Change Your User Name in Second Life (March 22nd, 2018)
  4. Virtual Reality Vs. Real Reality (January 2nd, 2018)
  5. Why Women Don’t Like Social VR: Interview with Jessica Outlaw (February 17th, 2018)
  6. A Few (Second) Thoughts About the Sudden Popularity of VRChat (January 4th, 2018)
  7. Second Life Versus Sansar: Why Linden Lab Can’t Win, No Matter What They Do (March 9th, 2018)
  8. Which Virtual World Boasts the Highest Avatar Capacity? (March 13th, 2018)
  9. Linden Lab Announces a Mainland Price Decrease in Second Life (March 14th, 2018)
  10. The Idea of the Universal Avatar (November 28th, 2017)

See you at 700!

Atlas Hopping, Episode 35

(Note: I actually wrote a whole blogpost and then WordPress ate it, and I lost everything! This is an abbreviated version of that first lost post.)

Instead of our regular atlas hopping, we all gathered in the basement of 114 Harvest to watch the TV set, where Drax was teaching Strawberry how to build a Sansar experience. It was both a hilarious and an educational episode!

Watching Berry and Drax Build 28 Apr 2018

We wrapped it up by visiting the newly-constructed Berry’s Toy Box, and playing a game of hide and seek in it! I haven’t laughed so hard in ages! Then we visited the Treehouse Overlook, by Shack Dougall, a truly wonderful experience picked at random from the Sansar Atlas.

Here’s Strawberry’s livestream of the event:

And here’s Drax’s:

Sansar Store Spotlight: Hair by Cora

As Sansar’s first, and so far only (with the exception of a single blogpost by Strawberry Singh) fashion blogger, I scan the Sansar Store daily for new things to show you.

One of the things that has surprised me is that there are still so few people making hair for Sansar avatars. Among those creators is Cora, and I would like to show you a few of her beautifully textured hair designs, all of which can be endlessly recoloured using the hair tab in Lookbook.

First up is her newest release, the Kim braided updo bun hair for S$150 (click on each picture to see in a larger size):

Cora also sells the beautiful brown eyes I am wearing for FREE. (They attach on the ear slot, so you can wear them with glasses which use the eye slot.)

Here’s another of her hair designs I love, the Andrea long wavy hairstyle:

Cora Hair 3 28 Apr 2018.png

Finally, we have the Kelsey messy bob hairstyle (which also comes in a men’s version):

Cora Hair 4 28 Apr 2018.png

There are several more hairstyles available on Cora’s store in the Sansar Store, so be sure to check them out!

UPDATED: Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR Spaces/Virtual Worlds

justice-2071539_1920.jpg
Image by AJEL from Pixabay

My recent interview with Ghoster got me thinking about the issue of intellectual property (IP) and copyright regarding avatars in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. VRChat is already infamous for having a multitude of avatars ripped from innumerable video games, TV shows, and movies. High Fidelity has decided to take a page from VRChat’s playbook (and, I assume, try and attract some of that VRChat crowd) by allowing people to set up a few domains where you can select from a wide variety of popular characters, owned by Disney and other companies, as your avatar:

Avatardz in High Fidelity 28 Apr 2018.png

Now, the creator of this particular domain skates around the legality of this by offering these avatars for free; no money is being made from this. A prominent disclaimer sign posted in the Avatardz domain states:

Avatardz in High Fidelity 2 28 Apr 2018.png

So, this user doesn’t advocate “piracy from independent and small artists.” What bothers me about this statement is the unstated implication that piracy from Disney or another large corporation is somehow O.K. (maybe because they can afford to swallow the losses more easily?). Also, they seem to justify this blatant IP appropriation as a sort of fan art, a “fan-operated source for pop culture avatars as a tribute to our pop culture legends”.

(Note: High Fidelity is a distributed open-source platform, allowing users to host named domains on their own servers or on the cloud. This means we should not automatically assume that the Avatardz domain is officially sanctioned or supported by High Fidelity.)

I came away from my interview with Ghoster of VRC Traders a little troubled by the copyright and IP issues involved in selling custom avatars to VRChat users that are wholly or partially based on characters owned by somebody else. I did a little research and came across this recent article on IP issues in virtual worlds, from the website Intellectual Property Watch (a non-profit independent news service), which states:

In the virtual world, people appear through their avatars. If they design the avatars themselves, they could be subject to copyright and trademark lawsuits, Lemley and Volokh said. Fictional characters’ images together with their unusual character traits are protected by copyright, so users who copy enough of the visuals, character traits or both to be copyrighted expression and not simply an idea might be infringing. If the use is non-commercial and the copyright owner isn’t distributing licensed avatars, the use might be fair use, but selling such avatars without rights owner approval would likely not be fair use, they said. It could also amount to a trademark infringement.

Rights holders might choose not to go after individual users or small avatar sellers, but to sue the AR or VR operator for contributory infringement, the paper said. The operator might be immune under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but only until someone sends it a notice-and-takedown request that isn’t quickly acted upon, it said. Established case law sets out the limits of intermediary liability under the DMCA; there’s less clarity about intermediary liability for trademark infringement on the internet but the law is developing, it said.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a process often used (and, in a few cases, abused) by vendors in Second Life and other virtual worlds who claim that someone has stolen their intellectual property. The process is laborious, tedious, and probably could be improved. Many large corporations don’t seem to think that it’s worth their time and money to go after people who are stealing their IP in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. For example, Warner Brothers probably doesn’t care much that dozens of people are selling Superman-themed items on the SL Marketplace, even though they fought (and won) a protracted legal battle to cement their copyright to Superman. They probably are reserving their lawyer firepower for the bigger and more egregious cases of copyright infringement.

I have said before that VRChat may get into serious trouble if people continue to flout the copyright laws so shamelessly, particularly if they are starting to making healthy profits at it, as seems to be the case with the community that has sprung up around VRC Traders. We could be in for some interesting legal cases in the years ahead.

UPDATE 3:34 p.m.: Obligatory link back to the VRChat Events website (because I promised them I would do it if I cross-posted over on their Discord server, and I forgot!): www.vrchatevents.com

Also, Second Life and Sansar blogger Inara Pey made such a great comment on this blogpost that I wanted to add it in full here. She said:

IP infringement and the “it’s OK to flout IP of big companies ‘cos they can afford it” is a source of heated debate in SL. In 2012, I reported on the CBS / Star Trek situation. There’s also been the Universal / Battlestar Galactica situation.

Both of these focused more on props, models, and costumes from said series than avatars, but the attitude towards their IP was the same. It was further coupled with the view that “well, we’re fans and so they should be grateful to us for our support”. However, both attitudes not only falsely justify infringement, they also overlook the importantly equal matter of licensing.

In short, major studios – Marvel, Disney, CBS, Universal, et al, generate millions in revenue by issuing merchandise licenses to manufacturers and commercial concerns. As such – and no matter how large or small the unlicensed market or how small the turn-over / profit made by those actively engaged in selling unlicensed goods – the license owner has a legal obligation to project the licenses they have sold, as well the right to protect their IP.

This was as much behind the Universal / CBS situations vis BSG and Trek as anything else – a point many of those railing at both companies at the time, and citing (in Trek’s case) non-binding “arrangements” which may have been offered by prior rights holders, seemingly failed to grasp.

The idea that offering something “for free” is equally a slippery path. As you point out, it’s only a short step from offering “for free” to then offering items for sale. This has been demonstrated (again) in SL with both the Star Trek and BSG situations.

In both cases, Universal and CBS backed away from legal action on the understanding that virtual goods relating to their IP investment in both shows would not be made with the intent to sell for profit. As a perusal of the SL Marketplace will demonstrate, neither agreement has been adhered to by virtual content creators. Ergo, there is still a potential ticking bomb on this subject in SL, should the legal departments of either studio swivel back towards virtual environments and virtual “goods” … which the slow rise of VR might actually encourage.

Also, there seems to be a broader view that because specific understandings were reached by some (again, I’ll use the CBS / Universal agreements, as those are the two I have direct knowledge of) are somehow a “blanket OK” from all IP holders to allow copies of their IP to be offered for free – which may not actually be the case. Again, that’s actually down to the individual studios to decide; just because X has gone that route, doesn’t mean Y will – or is obliged to even consider it.

Just as a point of reference, my own (slightly long-in-the-tooth) articles on this subject can be found at:

https://modemworld.me/2012/11/02/of-copyright-ip-and-product-licensing/ (Star Trek)

https://modemworld.me/2010/11/29/bsg-universal-dmca/ (Universal / BSG)

https://modemworld.me/2011/02/08/bsg-limited-roleplay/ Universal / BSG)

FreeWee Ling also had a great comment when I cross-posted this blogpost to Drax’s 114 Harvest community on Facebook:

People have been screaming about IP issues in SL since the beginning. Several years ago there was a series of open talks in SL featuring attorneys with expertise in IP who examined the LL TOS. Not much was resolved other than a statement from LL that their “intention” was not to steel user content, but that they needed certain rights in order to allow people to use the Marketplace and just to generally present the content on the platform. A lot of artists were not satisfied and you’ll find many of them still working in OpenSim grids where they have more control.

Disney and others are vehement about controlling how and where and by whom their IP is presented. There was a Disney themed fan sim in SL some years ago that, if memory serves, got notice to remove their content of face legal consequences. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation closed down a sim full of great Wright model homes in SL, even after the owners contacted them and at least got tacit permission to do it. (I.e., I think they had been told the foundation wouldn’t endorse it, but also wouldn’t stop it.)

Ultimately, I’m pretty sure any copy of virtual content without permission is theft. Whether there is money involved or not.

UPDATED: Earning Money Creating Custom Avatars in VRChat: An Interview with Ghoster

VRChat.png

Although VRChat does not (yet) have an in-game economy, there are many people who are already earning hundreds, even thousands, of dollars by designing and creating custom user avatars for the platform.

Here’s a recent episode of the Endgame talk show, where the topic of discussion was how people are making money by creating and selling 3D avatar models for VRChat. I find it interesting that many of the various other ideas for earning money within VRChat that were being thrown about are very similar to what people do for money in older, established virtual worlds like Second Life (e.g. tour guide, performer, etc.)

There is another very recent interview with Ghoster, the operator of the VRC Traders group (one of the most popular venues for avatar buyers and sellers), on the popular Gunters Universe show in VRChat. I can’t embed that video here, but you can watch it on Twitch at this URL: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/250896991

After watching these videos, I interviewed Ghoster, and asked him some questions about VRC Traders. Here is a transcript of that interview.


Can you tell me when and how you got started in the business of creating avatars in VRChat?

I believe it started back in September, I was looking to have a model of a DND character I was playing as, made for me so I could wear it during the DND session. That’s when I realized it’s really hard to find a VRChat user who is good at modeling and rigging and not already busy. So after thinking it over, I contacted a coder for a custom bot and possible website host. And that’s how VRC Traders got started.

What kind of technical/computer background do you have? How did you get attracted to social VR and virtual worlds?

I work as a CNC setup/operator and that requires me to know a bit of basic coding. I’ve also been an avid gamer for many years and have been working on worlds and Avatars for about a year. As for social VR, well, gaming is fun but I have always been interested in what other peoples ideas and thoughts are like, and when I saw all these clashing, yet causally talking, personalities in one space, I was blown away.

What experience have you had in previous virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life) before you started with VRChat? Are you active in other social VR spaces/virtual worlds?

So a good friend of mine, who goes by the name of JTravelin, showed me VRChat shortly after its Steam release. But before that, I was in AltspaceVR (maybe eve Rec Room). I’m still active in Altspace as a cameraman for a few shows still to this day. When I was heavily active in Altspace the one thing I liked about it was performance and how a simple color was all that identified you and you would meet people that are disabled, and you would know, self-conscious, and more importantly from different regions. This led to a kind of unspoken understanding or be respectful and have a good time in VR especially for those with the Rift or Vive since the upfront cost was big.

When did you decide to set up VRC Traders and the Discord server? What kind of work have you had to do to organize and promote VRC Traders? 

I belive it was early September that I had plans to set it up and by the end of that same month I went public. Rather recently though, I have been on two talk shows along with word of mouth promotions, spreading VRC Traders (VRCT) around as a viable option to make money in virtual spaces. Before that, though, it was a word of mouth in VRChat to spread it and as VRChat grew, so did VRCT. Being a Discord server on the main VRChat Discord helped a lot in these times, along with some of the dev team referring people to the server. There are plans to advertise in VRChat more, but I can’t tell you about those.

What different types of work/expertise do you offer to consumers (e.g. animators)?

Well as avatars are the main focus, everything avatars. And I mean literally anything you can think of or need done, the commissioners of the server are able to make it happen. In addition to anything and everything avatar related, there are sections for 2D artists, world creation and fixing, shader technicians (people who create custom shaders) and, soon to come, audio engineers (people who work on various elements of sound mixing, making and setting up).

How does a new VRChat user actually request a commission?

To many people’s dismay, the server has a 10 minute explore period, where new users are supposed to take a look around and see how the server is organized. VRCT has a guide channel near the top where people can find out a standardized way to post commissions so others can easily read and understand the commission. While we don’t enforce any said rules on what to post, we do prefer a new user to place as much info as they can, so interested commissioners can contact them directly to get the work done.

How do you deal with the intellectual property issues that arise when a user wants an avatar that belongs to a company (e.g. Disney)? Are there any avatar commissions that VRC Traders declines as a matter of policy?

Well, that’s a hard question to answer, since I don’t think VRChat has determined its view on the matter. All I can say is, the only commissions we don’t allow are NSFW models, and for obvious reasons. I recommend that people make commissions for original character models or large edits to existing models, but like I said, it a very hard question to answer since it’s the internet. (These are my opinions and may not be representative of the VRC Traders server or VRChat in the future.)

Where do you see this industry going in the future? Where do you see VRC Traders in a year from now?

As far as the industry of 3D avatars and world creation goes, I see this type of business becoming a viable marketplace and job for many users. In the talkshow Endgame, I said that 10-15 years ago, game asset creators took years of practice with highly expensive tools on computers about as advanced as the computers of today, and it was a highly restrictive field because of that. But with better PC components that are faster and more powerful, alongside cheaper or even free modeling software, 3D modeling has gone from a highly skilled restricted class of people to now a more accessible [job] but still very difficult. Not only that, but as more games, especially sandbox style games, come into the community, you want to have something you can call yours and no one else’s. [This] will only grow as more and more people turn to the internet and gaming to relax and have fun. For VRC Traders, I would love to see direct integration with the VRChat service, where you can go in-game on to the server and request something. Not only that, I hope in that time to make VRC Traders not only a service server, but a great sub community within VRChat with various events and tournaments happening or being sponsored by the server.


If you are interested in VRC Traders, you can join their Discord server.

UPDATE April 28th: Obligatory link back to the VRChat Events website (because I promised them I would do it if I cross-posted over on their Discord server, and I forgot!): www.vrchatevents.com

Mozilla Launches a New Social VR Space Called Hubs

Mozilla Hubs 26 Apr 2018.png

Mozilla (the company behind the popular Firefox web browser) has announced a new social VR space today called Hubs. According to an article by VentureBeat:

You begin by visiting the Hubs portal through any browser, then you choose a name for your virtual room, a robotic avatar, and a name for yourself, and you can enter the virtual world. To interact with friends, you can then copy/paste the URL and share a dedicated link with them.

…Hubs adheres to web standards, works with any device, supports all the usual headsets/goggles (including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Daydream, and Cardboard), and [is] also open to those with no specialist VR hardware on desktops and mobile phones — an inclusive gesture to ensure everyone can participate, not just those with dedicated VR hardware.

This means that in Firefox or Chrome, for example, you can view and interact with friends using your touchscreen, mouse, and keyboard.

Hubs is based on WebVR, which is an open specification which makes it possible to experience VR in your browser. Mozilla is one of the leading developers of WebVR.

I have tried to use Hubs on two computers with Oculus Rift and Touch VR hardware. On the first computer, it wouldn’t recognize my Rift at all. I could only get into Hubs in desktop mode. But it worked just fine on the second computer. So Mozilla still has a few bugs to iron out!

The fact that anybody with any kind of VR gear, as well as desktop and mobile users, can participate in Mozilla Hubs means that this is a potential game-changer, since a much larger audience can participate. It’s another interesting social VR platform to keep an eye on…