How to Design Social VR Spaces: A Framework by Zachary Deocadiz

Zachary Deocadiz is a designer for the VR video app Within, who has written a couple of blogposts about social VR for the Medium-hosted blog Virtual Reality Pop. In them, he attempts to develop a framework for how to evaluate and design new social applications in virtual reality.

Unfortunately, for some reason I cannot see any of the illustrations Zach attaches to these blogposts. (UPDATE: It turned out that this was a problem due to the Privacy Badger plug-in I have installed on my Chrome web browser. When I disabled Privacy Badger, I could see the images.) However, the person who originally shared this information with me on the Discord server, Michael Zhang, also shared a couple of screen captures he took from the blog (thank you, Michael!).

In part one, Zach discusses the impact of existing VR social spaces on user behaviour, using as his examples the following six platforms:

  • AltspaceVR
  • Facebook Spaces
  • Mozilla Hubs
  • OrbusVR (one of the first MMORPGs in VR, which I haven’t blogged about yet)
  • VRChat
  • Where Thoughts Go (a VR app where people record their memories anonymously, which I haven’t covered yet)

In part two, Zach discusses various spectrums of a framework based on recurring design decisions made in current social VR apps:

He summarizes the eight spectrums of his framework as follows:

1. Guided to Self-Taught. Will you teach users how to use the controls? How in-depth will your onboarding be? How do you teach the user about appropriate behavior in these spaces?

2. Public to Private. Will there be large public spaces for users who are strangers to gather? Will users be constrained to only hosting private events with people they already know?

3. Prescribed to User-Generated. To what extent can users impact the way they look? To what extent can users change the way the environment looks? To what extent can users create custom interactions with other people or the space?

4, Anonymous to Identified. Do you allow users to go by a pseudonym or username, or do you require them to use their legal (or Facebook) name? Do you have a system to find out their legal information if something comes to light at a later point?

5. Reactive to Preemptive. Do users feel safe within the social space? What are the ways you can make them feel safer, both before and after an incident occurs?

6. Simple to Complex Interactions. How many different ways can users communicate? How can they interact with each other?

7. Persistent to Temporary. Are there social things for users to do even if no one else is online at the same time? Does the environment remember the last state it was in, or does it reset to its original state once all users leave?

8. Shareable to Real-Time. How easy is it to create artifacts to document the space and the people within the space? How do people tell others about what they’ve been doing? Can they share the experience over a wide range of media?

He talks about each spectrum in some detail, including links to related reading. And he goes so far as to “map” out 6 social VR apps using his framework:

Zach Deocadiz’s work is among the earliest attempts to categorize and classify aspects of social virtual reality, along with the research work of Dr. Katherine Isbister, Dr. Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, and Anya Kolesnichenko at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This is an important contribution to social VR research, and Zach’s work will help inform future academic investigation in this rapidly evolving field.

Thanks to Michael Zhang for the tip, and for sharing his pictures!

The Institute for the Future Issues a Report Identifying Leading-Edge Behaviours in Social VR

From time to time on this blog, I have covered academic research involving virtual reality in general (here and here) and social VR in particular (here), and it is wonderful to see a new field of research take shape around social virtual reality. One of those researchers is called, aptly enough, the Institute for the Future:

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) is a Palo Alto, California–based not-for-profit think tank. It was established, in 1968, as a spin-off from the RAND Corporation to help organizations plan for the long-term future, a subject known as futures studies. They describe themselves as:

For over 50 years, businesses, governments, and social impact organizations have depended upon IFTF global forecasts, custom research, and foresight training to navigate complex change and develop world-ready strategies. IFTF methodologies and toolsets yield coherent views of transformative possibilities across all sectors that together support a more sustainable future.

IFTF has just released a report on social VR titled Leading-Edge Behaviors from the New World of Social VR:

They describe their study as follows:

On a handful of platforms around the world, a small group of pioneers are hanging out in 3D environments in 3D bodies. They are willing to endure technical challenges, limited content, and lack of standard practices and etiquette to be the first to inhabit and explore new shared virtual worlds. IFTF spent eight months exploring their environments, communities, and practices. Their experiments provide early signals that point to a future where we each have a personal digital body, and content can be experienced in full 3D space. This will have profound implications for how we socialize, learn, work, engage with content, and take care of ourselves.

This study contains 10 Leading-Edge Behaviors: emerging and innovative user practices likely to play out more broadly over the next few years. Leading-edge Behaviors inspire and inform new products, experience and service ideas, and reveal emerging opportunities and implications. Leading-Edge Behaviors are created through a blend of expert interviews, observational and ethnographic research, and horizon scanning with people pushing the edges of new applications, devices, and platforms.

In fact, I was interviewed a couple of years ago by Lyn Jeffery, a cultural anthropologist who works for IFTF, about my own experiences in social VR (which I believe predates the research in this new report).

I was very surprised and pleased to see my own definition of social VR appearing in this report! (Hey ma, I’m famous!)

Here are the 10 leading-edge behaviours in social VR identified in this report:

This is report which pulls together insights and information from a wide variety of sources in an attempt to identify future trends, and it is well worth your time to read through it in detail. If you are interested in this report, you can find it here (the link is a Adobe Acrobat PDF format slide deck). The report includes links to many other resources, making it a good starting point for your own investigations.

I’d like to thank Lyn Jeffery and the entire team at IFTF for releasing this report to the public for free. It’s a truly valuable contribution to the nascent field of research into various aspects of social VR.