A Wider Screen: A Mini-Documentary About VRChat

I was looking for something to watch this evening, so I did a search for “social VR” in YouTube and stumbled across A Wider Screen, a charming, quirky mini-documentary (just 13 minutes long) by Joe Hunting (a.k.a. Little Poe in VRChat). Joe describes his documentary as follows:

A Wider Screen is a short documentary film (approx. 15 minutes) about how virtual reality (VR) is affecting people’s social lives for the better. 70% of the film is shot within VRChat, a VR social platform that allows users to create their own worlds and avatars.

Among the people we meet in Joe’s documentary is Noah Robinson, whom I have profiled on this blog before.

Here is A Wider Screen on YouTube (or, if you prefer, you can watch it on Vimeo here):

The two Shiba Inu dog avatars on the video thumbnail are Floppy and Pluto, two men who are exploring what it means to have a relationship in VRChat.

Little Poe was also a guest on the long-running talk VRChat talk show Endgame (which I have also written about before):

High Fidelity’s Federated User Group Launches a New User Forum

Federated HiFi Users group logo

The Federated HiFi Users group, which was founded after High Fidelity’s abrupt pivot away from the consumer market towards building a virtual reality platform for remote business teams (details here and here), has started up a brand new user forum:

It looks and feels a lot like the existing user forum on the official High Fidelity website. The Federated HiFi Users group has also been running their own Discord server, separate from the “unofficial” High Fidelity server.

In the welcome message for the new forum, Caitlyn Meeks explains:

Hey there, welcome to our FHU forums. Maki and I have set this forum up at our own expense as a free resource for members of the Federated High Fidelity User group. There is no central official group heading the federation, we are an unofficial circle of folks with a common interest in the promotion and well-being of High-Fidelity based open source VR.

Or, as Maki told me on the Federated HiFi Users Dicord server:

It’s not affiliated with HiFi at all, just the little of what’s left of us.

High Fidelity’s community base is almost certainly shrinking as people abandon the platform, yet at the same time what community remains appears to be splintering into factions. There’s a definite sense of “us versus them” between High Fidelity and its users lately. This is tragic.

The current sad state of affairs is best illustrated by something that happened to me last Friday. Early that afternoon, I had been in contact with a magazine writer who was planning to write a story about virtual reality, and who asked me (via my blog) about people she could interview in an upcoming trip to San Francisco. I suggested she pay a visit to both Linden Lab and High Fidelity, and interview Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and High Fidelity CEO Philip Rosedale.

I posted a request to the official Sansar Discord, and within ten minutes, a Linden Lab employee was in touch with me and gave me the name of a contact within the company that I could pass on to the writer.

And High Fidelity? After posting requests for assistance on both Discord servers and the official High Fidelity user forums, and waiting all afternoon for someone from the company to get back to me, I finally posted in exasperation:

Is there NOBODY from High Fidelity monitoring these forums?!?? I got a response back from Linden Lab within half an hour, with the name of a contact person. I’ve been waiting all afternoon and nobody from HiFi has given me the name of a contact person that this writer could set up a meeting with.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!?? This is potential marketing for your platform.

Eventually, one person (someone not associated with the company) suggested I message Jazmin Cano, High Fidelity’s User Engagement Manager, on Twitter, which I finally did late Friday evening. Jazmin was able to provide me with information that I could pass on to the writer.

High Fidelity’s community manager, Emily, did finally get back to me on Monday morning—a whole weekend later. It seems pretty clear that HiFi staff are not monitoring the Discord servers or the official community forums on a regular basis. And I don’t blame Emily or any one person for this current state of affairs. This is a sad case where the company has pretty much completely abandoned its original user base, the raving fans who were the platform’s best advertisement.

Handled properly, these people could have been High Fidelity’s ambassadors to the business community they now want to woo so desperately. Instead, HiFi’s users are now openly revolting against the company, setting up their own means of communication because they don’t trust that High Fidelity has their best interests at heart, or perhaps they worry that the company will yank what few services remain to them. Their trust in the company has been shattered. This is a textbook example of how to alienate your customers, something that should be studied at business schools. And it was all completely avoidable.

Seriously, what the hell is going on over at High Fidelity?!?? All I ever see lately are nice tweets extolling the joys and virtues of remote working on Twitter. Hardly something compelling enough to tempt businesses to jump on board.

I would dearly love to know which businesses have already bought into their repurposed VR platform to so far, especially in a market crowded with over a dozen competing products. And I don’t see a lot of companies out there investing in remote workers, do you? This might be a thing in hyper-expensive San Francisco, but I’m not really seeing it happen in any sort of mainstream way. It might just be that this is still too tiny a market segment to pin the company’s fortunes on.

I guess we’ll see what happens.

Bullying in Sansar: Why I Deleted My Last Blogpost

Yes, your eyes have not deceived you. I wrote a blogpost last night, and then deleted it this morning, after the person who was the target of a truly disgusting, sustained campaign of bullying, both on the Sansar Discord and in Sansar, asked me not to be quoted. As I result, I have deleted that blogpost this morning.

Let me tell you something about myself.

If you attack me, I will get angry, even lose my temper (exhibit A, exhibit B).

But if you attack someone I consider a friend, I WILL RAIN DOWN HOLY HELL UPON YOU. And that’s exactly how I felt when I wrote that blogpost last night. I was furious.

Bullying and harassment are COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOURS in any social VR platform or virtual world. I now know details of both sides of the drama (the bully and several people he has harassed, on his own and using alt accounts), and I was quite prepared to leave up an account (with anonymized transcripts) to show exactly what happened, and why I helped start a flamewar on the Sansar Discord last night.

Yes, I attacked the bully, mere hours after I wrote a lengthy, eloquent blogpost about interjecting “manners, civility, and etiquette” into the Sansar community. I am a vigilante and a hypocrite, and I am a part of the very problem I called out in that blogpost.

I’m sorry.