What is the Best Definition of Social VR?

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Image by PDPics on Pixabay

I think it’s rather funny that I’ve been writing a blog about social VR for almost a year now, and I haven’t bothered to define what I mean by “social VR” yet! So this blogpost is my effort to provide a good, comprehensive definition of social virtual reality.

I have hunted around on the internet for a good definition of social VR, and I haven’t found one yet that I’ve been happy with. The PC Magazine Encyclopedia defines it as:

social VR

(social Virtual Reality) Getting together in a simulated world using a virtual reality (VR) system and social VR app. Participants appear as avatars in environments that can be lifelike or fantasy worlds.

What I don’t like about this one is that it ignores platforms that are also accessible to non-VR users as well. There are quite a few of those!

I also don’t like that the definition is so broad that it could include VR games.

How about this as a working definition of social VR?

Social VR (social virtual reality) is a 3-dimensional computer-generated space which must support visitors in VR headsets (and may also support non-VR users). The user is represented by an avatar. The purpose of the platform must be open-ended, and it must support communication between users sharing the same space. In almost all social VR platforms, the user is free to move around the space, and the content of the platform is completely or partially user-generated.

I think that is broad enough to cover most of the platforms that call themselves “social VR”. It excludes those virtual worlds which do not support users in VR headsets, such as Second Life. It also excludes VR games such as Beat Saber and Superhot, since they are not open-ended experiences where you can do whatever you want.

There are very few social VR spaces which do not allow you to move around (the only two I can think of are Facebook Spaces and vTime). Also, there are very few social VR apps which do not allow you to create and share content (vTime is again an example).

So what do you think of my definition? Feel free to let me know in the comments, thanks!

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The Most Popular Sansar Experiences in the Past Six Months

Gindipple shared with the people on the official Sansar Discord channel some statistics he been collecting automatically through his software program over the past 6 months:

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He says that “Visitors” are not actual visitors, but a count of visitors every 2.5 minutes. so think of the figures in the Visitors column of this chart as a sort of traffic count.

HoverDerby logo 8 Apr 2018

The Top Ten most popular Sansar experiences are:

  1. HoverDerby by Galen, Jasmine and Drax
  2. The Beach by C3rb3rus
  3. 114 Harvest by Ria and Drax
  4. Ready Player One: Aech’s Garage by Sansar Studios
  5. Arena Live Music Stage by Alfy
  6. The Beach (At Night) by C3rb3rus
  7. The Combat Zone by Gindipple
  8. Bowling Alley by Gindipple
  9. Ready Player One: Aech’s Basement by Sansar Studios
  10. 2077 by C3rb3rus

What’s interesting is that, of these Top Ten, three of them are experiences which host live music (both the Beaches do, I believe, and also the Arena Live Music Stage). Another three experiences in the Top Ten are games (HoverDerby, The Combat Zone and the Bowling Alley). Another two are experiences created by Sansar Studios, based on the popular movie Ready Player One. Three of the Top Ten experiences were created by C3rb3rus, two were created by Gindipple, and another two have Draxtor Despres involved.

 

Why Virtual Universe and the VU Token Are Interesting to Me

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am choosing to participate in the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program. Why? Two reasons:

  1. After my recent guided tour of VU, I feel very strongly that this is going to be a successful and popular virtual world/MMO hybrid platform, and I want to be a part of it when VU launches their beta this summer. This is the very first blockchain-based virtual world that I actually feel excited about!
  2. As a Canadian citizen, I reside in one of the three countries where I am currently legally forbidden from purchasing VU tokens (the other two are the United States and China). This means that the only way I can legitimately earn VU tokens to use in this social VR space before the beta launch is via the VU ICO Partner Program.

I want you to know this up front: this blogpost is a promotion for VU, in exchange for VU tokens.  You can follow on this webpage to see how many VU tokens I have earned by completing tasks in this Partner Program if you wish (right now, I am at number two on the VU Token Leaderboard). There’s nothing stopping you from participating in this Partner Program yourself, and earning some VU tokens!

IMPORTANT: VU Tokens are not a real currency. They are ERC-20 based blockchain tokens intended to permit players of Virtual Universe exclusive access to digital assets within a VR game known as Virtual Universe (VU). They are a form of in-game virtual currency.  Virtual value attributed to the VU Token will be as a result of in-game efforts by players, and no future value is represented or guaranteed.


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Since February I have been investigating blockchain-based virtual worlds. I wanted to talk a little bit about one of the blockchain-based virtual reality projects that I found particularly interesting.

I’ve looked at a lot of blockchain-based VR projects over the past 6 months, and many of them are still pretty much vapourware (e.g. Decentraland, which you won’t even be able to visit until the end of this year at the earliest). But I was able to get a half-hour guided tour of Virtual Universe, led by Jeroen Van den Bosch, VU’s Chief Creative Officer and co-founder. If you’re interested you can watch the whole video here:

https://ryanschultz.com/2018/04/28/exclusive-video-a-guided-tour-of-virtual-universe-with-jeroen-van-den-bosch/

After my tour, and seeing what you will be able to do in Virtual Universe, I started following the project more closely.

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 AI-controlled bluebirds, or just explore your surroundings and interact with other users. As I understand from their recent Letter to the Community, explorers will be able to gather resources in the countryside in order to sell them:

Outside the city is our highly immersive LivingVR world, created from the ground up to feel as immersive as possible. Teeming with virtual life, beautiful sceneries and waiting to be explored by you. Let’s say you are exploring further than you have before and suddenly you discover a cave behind a waterfall. Inside it, you find rich copper deposits. You know copper is a desired resource in the city since its an ingredient in many crafting recipes for a wide variety of building blocks. You mine the copper and haul it back to the city. Once there you list your copper on the auction house and collect the cryptocurrency once someone wins the bid on it.

And it is not just resource gathering that can be done in VU, there will be plenty of quests available for you and your friends to experience exciting adventures with plenty of loot to be had!

Last week, Virtual Universe unveiled their brand-new game portal website, where you can register for an account, and read up on the game’s backstory.  The website is at https://vutoken.io/ and you can also register for an airdrop of their VU token. VU also offered free apartments for the first 1,000 people who registered, and they were all snapped up within 48 hours! There are still some penthouse apartments available, for those people who choose to purchase VU tokens. (People from Canada, the U.S., and China are legally forbidden from buying VU tokens due to current cyrptocurrency regulations in those countries.)

Here’s the backstory to the game:

You’re awake! Good. We have some catching up to do.

Earth as you know it is gone. Global warming and endless warfare left the planet in ruins. But humanity survived! Sort of… spaceships could make the journey to new planets, but human bodies couldn’t. They can’t survive any exposure to space radiation. The solution? House human consciousness in identity crystals, or IDCs for short, After all, isn’t consciousness that what makes a human, human?

So welcome to Uruk, the first city on the planet Raetis. For the past two years, your robot counterparts have been building Uruk. The ship you arrived on now serves as the city’s power source, which sits at the city center. We call this The Core. You’re joined by the thousands of other humans who continue to live through consciousness alone. It’s alright to not feel like yourself. Your chip has been activated inside an avatar, the way all humans now exist. So what’s next for you on this new planet? That’s for you to decide.

Explore Uruk with your friends. Sell your goods and services for real cryptocurrency. Even try on a new avatar for size – your IDC is compatible with any avatar here in Uruk. You aren’t confined in the borders of Uruk, either. The city relies on rare resources for power, which need to be uncovered and mined. You can help out, or simply explore the rest of your new home planet. But remember, most of Raetis is still a mystery. We can’t be sure what creatures or dangers lie amidst the planet’s rocky and cavernous landscape. The farther you venture from Uruk, the riskier your adventure becomes, so be careful!

It’s your life, do what you’d like. Welcome to your world.

Well, I hope this is enough info to interest you in the platform. I’m really looking forward to their beta launch sometime later this summer!

Guru Gedara: A Brief Introduction

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Well, this is a strange one! Guru Gedara is a social VR education platform, by a Sri Lankan company called Osmium. But I can find little information about the product, either or the company’s website or elsewhere. All I could pull up was this YouTube video:

And a brief description of the program from their Steam page:

Guru Gedara is a leading platform for interacting with the teachers and students. Meet friends and attend classes in a virtual environment. Teachers can use this application and students can use the application available on Google Play to experience the virtual environment. Join today and explore more about the virtual experience you can gather in a classroom.

Here’s a link to the Android app on Google Play, which I assume allows students to access content made using Guru Gedara.

VirBELA: A Brief Introduction

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VirBELA bills itself “the social virtual platform for business and education.” (There seem to be a lot of these popping up lately! Maybe I’ve just gotten better at finding them.) Here’s a couple of short videos describing the project and its aims:

Their website gives a bit of background about the company:

VirBELA was founded by Dr. Alex Howland and Dr. Ron Rembisz, who submitted their idea for VirBELA to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Ideas to Innovation Challenge, in 2010. The challenge sought the most innovative ideas to improve management education. Alex and Ron were winners in the competition and went on to secure a large grant from GMAC to implement their idea in collaboration with the Rady School of Management and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD (University of California-San Diego). Since then, VirBELA has built a world class multi-disciplinary team, and has joined forces with strategic partners and clients.

More than a decade after Second Life’s release and Avaya Live Engage shutting down, our vision required a fresh, modern approach. We built Virbela on top of the powerful Unity Game Engine which allows us to take advantage of their on-going development. We build activities into our virtual world platform to support learning objectives and then utilize data driven techniques to assess participants. See below for a list of some of the collaboration features our software offers.

Communication

  • Voice Over IP
  • Text Chat
  • Private Text Chat
  • Private Voice Over IP
  • Avatar Gestures

Basic Collaboration

  • Collaborative Web Browsing
  • Google Slides Presentations
  • Google Docs
  • Whiteboards
  • Virtual Laser Pointer

Advanced Collaboration

  • Team Building Activities
  • Business Simulations
  • Record/Replay System
  • Participant Data Visualizations

Client software for VirBELA is available for both Windows and Mac. There are complete instructions available on how to install and set up the software. This is one of the few virtual world platforms that has links to a university, as opposed to a private company. For that reason alone, it’s worth keeping an eye on as it develops over time.

MeetinVR: A Brief Introduction

MeetinVR is another social VR app targeting the business market, created by a Danish company. There’s not a lot of information on their website, but they have released the following promotional video on YouTube:

The software is not currently available, but they are taking applications for their Early Access Program, so be sure to sign up if you are interested in being a beta tester!

Hyperfair VR: A Brief Introduction

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Hyperfair VR bills itself as “Social VR for the Enterprise”, and it is squarely targeted at businesses who wish to create a social VR presence. The website offers a free browser-based demo, and also says you can contact them for a demo with VR headsets. Everything I saw here was virtual world environments you would visit on your desktop. Their virtual world platform reminds me a lot of OpenSim and early, pre-mesh Second Life. Here is what my avatar looks like:

Hyperfair 2 10 July 2018Hyperfair 10 July 2018

There’s a four-year-old video on the website which gives an overview of Hyperfair.

Another YouTube video extols the value of setting up a Hyperfair VR Site for businesses:

And finally here’s a more recent video showing their new Android app:

Looking through the Hyperfair VR website and wandering through their demo world gives me a weird sense of déjà vu. Second Life went through a period (around 2006-2007) where many real-life companies, like American Apparel and Playboy, trooped in and set up shop. Almost all of those corporations left after a year or two, not seeing any real value for their investment of time and money in SL:

Mentions of Second Life first crept into the UK media mainstream in early 2006.

A year later, newspapers fell over themselves to cover it, devoting many column inches in their business, technology and lifestyle sections to profiles and trend pieces. By the end of 2007 Second Life had secured more than 600 mentions in UK newspapers and magazines, according to the media database Lexis Nexis.

IBM bought property in 2006, American Apparel opened a shop the same summer, Reuters installed avatar journalist Adam Pasick – also known as Adam Reuters – to report on virtual happenings, and countries established virtual embassies.

The number of people joining the site jumped from 450,000 to four million in 2007.

But just as quickly as it had flared, media interest ebbed away. References plummeted by 40% in 2008 and dropped further this year. And businesses diverted their resources back to real life.

American Apparel closed its shop just one year after opening. Reuters pulled its correspondent in October 2008. When asked about his virtual experience, Pasick says: “It isn’t a subject we like to revisit.”

Not much, says Wired UK editor-at-large Ben Hammersley, and that was the problem.

“You could go and open these stores and no-one would turn up,” he says.

“They would have 20 to 30 people there when it opened, and after that no-one would bother going in there again. It just wasn’t worth the spend.”

And I don’t see anything especially different from Second Life in the Hyperfair VR platform, so I would suspect they are going to have exactly the same problem attracting—and keeping—corporate clients. The problem is further compounded by the fact that Second Life was and is a relatively well-known and popular virtual world, whereas Hyperfair VR is a little-known (and presumably little-used) platform.

Given all this, I think that Hyperfair is going to be fighting an uphill battle to attract  corporate attention and customers.