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 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!
UPDATE Nov. 26th: A Reddit commenter on my comparison chart of the 12 most popular social VR platforms said:
Would Oculus Venues count? It’s not persistent since it’s only available when an event is scheduled but it is a social platform in that sense.
And it made me realize something I had not thought about before: while most definitions of virtual worlds include that they are persistent (revisitable), many social VR platforms such as Facebook Spaces and vTime are not persistent. In the case of Facebook Spaces and vTime, the virtual spaces are recreated every time you visit, and you cannot save them. And Oculus Venues is an example of social VR built around one-time-only events.