Exploring Different Cultures in Social VR and Virtual Worlds

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 300 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! More details here.


Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Long-running virtual worlds such as Second Life attract users from all around the world. (The Second Life website itself is available in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Russian.)

Every so often, I like to load up Second Life, do a keyword search for a country or language name (e.g. Turkey, Turkiye, Turkish), and head off on an adventure! Often I find a nightclub where people are chatting away in a language I do not speak, where I can spend an enjoyable hour listening to the popular music of a completely different culture.

The fact that most communication in Second Life uses text chat is actually an advantage here. Automatic translator software (such as this popular item on the SL Marketplace, which works with Google Translate) can be used to bridge the language gap between users chatting in Second Life who don’t speak the same language.

But what about other social VR/virtual worlds? I decided to do some metaverse exploring this evening, just to see what’s out there.

VRChat

VRChat, with its thousands of users from all around the world, is a natural place to begin my explorations. There are many Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, German, and Thai worlds to visit. (These links are from a Japanese directory called The World of VRChat, a website directory for VRChat worlds. The website is in Japanese, but if you turn on Google auto-translate, it works well, and can be used as a handy guide.)

Of course, you can also perform a keyword search on the Worlds menu (e.g. Japan, Japanese) to pull up VRChat worlds. For example, there are dozens and dozens of Japanese-themed worlds to visit and explore!

Sansar

The best way to explore is to use the Sansar Atlas website, where you can do a keyword search for a language or country name (e.g. Germany, Deutschland, German, Deutsch). Unfortunately, the chances of you running into other people this way in Sansar are pretty slim.

High Fidelity

Of course, High Fidelity was home to the well-known Mexico domain, which was one of HiFi’s domains that were shut down when the company pivoted to business use. And the search function in the tablet UI only pulls up matches on domain name, which somewhat hinders the ability to explore (you pretty much need to know the domain name to find anything). It would be very useful if High Fidelity were to add searchable domain descriptions to the social VR platform, but I’m sure the company is occupied with other, much more pressing, matters at the moment.

Mexico (a former High Fidelity domain, which no longer exists)

Other Worlds

As far as I can tell, there is not yet a lot of multicultural content in places like AltspaceVR, Rec Room, or in Sinespace. But it’s still early days. Eventually, as most virtual worlds mature, they will attract more users from foreign countries, who will naturally import their own cultures.

Do you have any tips on cultural experiences in virtual worlds, a spot you would like to share with us? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or even better, join us on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server and share your tips there! We’d love to have you.

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Facebook Buys the Small Company Behind Million-Selling VR Game Beat Saber

Well, this is unexpected. Today TechCrunch announced that mighty Facebook has bought the tiny Czech company Beat Games, makers of Beat Saber, which is probably the most successful VR game to date with well over a million units sold.

TechCrunch reporter Lucas Matney wrote:

Beat Games was one of the more successful VR game studios out there — they had announced earlier this year that they had sold more than 1 million copies of the game — but part of the reason they were prosperous was because they were so lean. When I profiled the studio last year, they had just 8 employees and had opted out of raising any VC funding.

Meanwhile, as VR’s most popular game, Facebook had a bit riding on their continued success. Facebook highlighted the studio’s success specifically at its its VR developer conference and had included a limited version of the studio’s game for free on its Oculus Quest headsets. Buying the studio means allowing them to expand ambitions without being concerned about profitability.

Beat Games had begun expansion by partnering with musicians to release their songs as levels in the game, partnering with artists like Imagine Dragons and Panic at the Disco to bring paid level packs to Beat Saber. One can imagine that Facebook will have a much easier time making conversations happen with top artists.

One thing that die-hard fans of the game will likely not enjoy is how this acquisition will impact user mods. The studio had introduced tools for users to create their own songs with uploaded audio files and unsurprisingly there’s a good deal of content that’s probably not supposed to be on there. With a small game studio that stuff was more likely to slide, but Facebook has the resources to crack down on it so I’m guessing they’ll have to.

So, you can expect a swift end to the practice of creating and distributing custom songs for Beat Saber, since most of them do not have the copyright holder’s permission to do so. However, Facebook certainly has enough money to ink deals with various record labels to legally put their tunes on Beat Saber.

It will be interesting to see what other smaller VR game developers Facebook decides to snap up. And here’s an intriguing thought: could we someday see a Beat Saber portal built directly into Facebook’s planned social VR platform Horizon?

Oops! I Made a Big Mistake…

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Today, I accidentally published a blogpost that is not supposed to see the light of day until next week. I quickly unpublished it, but of course, all the email subscribers to my blog got sent a copy of the text of that particular blogpost, which I can’t take back.

DAMN!

I would please, PLEASE ask (for those of you who got that email message earlier today) that you not tell anybody about my news, which is going to be public knowledge next week. Thank you and I’m sorry.

A New, In-Depth Article About Second Life Appears in EGM

Mark Hill has written an article about Second Life for Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) magazine which is probably the most comprehensive and in-depth look at the virtual world since Leslie Jamison’s lamentably-titled profile in The Atlantic.

The article, titled The Second Life That Wasn’t, takes an interesting approach to its subject: Mark hunted down and spoke with the authors of five guides to Second Life which were published by Wiley between 2006 and 2009, with the official cooperation of Linden Lab:

  • Second Life: The Official Guide (published in 2006);
  • The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life: Making Money in the Metaverse (2007);
  • Creating Your World: The Official Guide to Advanced Content Creation for Second Life (2007);
  • Scripting Your World: The Official Guide to Second Life Scripting (2008); and
  • The Second Life Grid: The Official Guide to Communication, Collaboration, and Community Engagement (2009).

The article covers the corporate boom and subsequent corporate bust of Second Life in some detail. One of the authors of the Wiley series of books, tech journalist Daniel Terdiman, is quoted as saying:

SL was one of the most-exciting topics in technology. Every big name you can think of was opening up in SL, and while there were obviously major problems (usability being the most threatening), it looked like it could grow to be a major platform with millions of users, tons of brands, and a flourishing economy. That notoriety was why I was able to get a book contract very quickly. Of course, with every hype cycle comes a crash, and in SL’s case the crash came so quickly that by the time the book came out we were already well past hype and into the skepticism cycle. Brands were pulling out, and we had trouble selling the book.

Mark writes:

… while it’s easy to flip through these books and conclude that the world has long since moved on, but Second Life didn’t die so much as it quietly powered through the insane expectations that were created for it. In 2019 the Second Life community forums saw a spirited discussion on “Tipping Guidelines for Gentlemen Clubs” (in another throwback, one employee of a Second Life club comments, “Most of the women I work with, myself included are professional phone sex operators”). In the game’s subReddit just shy of 6,000 users share screenshots, discuss their favorite in-world creations, offer shopping deals with slick videos, and troubleshoot technical problems. Complaints that Second Life is dead and requests for tips on getting into SL can be found on the same page.

As of 2017 there were a reported 600,000 active accounts, with contemporary concurrent users hovering around a maximum of 45,000. Even accounting for some bot activity, that’s better than a legacy MMO of comparable age like EverQuest. No SL user will again grace the front page of Business Week because of all the money they’ve been making, but no one is predicting an imminent plug-pulling either.

And (of course!) there’s an interview with Wagner James Au of the long-running SL blog New World Notes, who seems to be the standard go-to person whenever the mainstream news media wants to talk to a so-called “expert” on Second Life:

Just what are Residents still doing? James Au provided some highlights. “The majority treat Second Life like a kind of Sims-type dollhouse for their avatar, tricking it out with the latest user-made fashion/skins/accessories/housewares. Second Life users who create and sell content make as much money from Second Life as [Linden Lab] does. Probably the second biggest niche are roleplay communities, who’ve created roleplay regions inspired by Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Fallout, etc. Then third is likely a sub-niche of extreme adult roleplay, some of which has led to a huge lawsuit. There’s also a small but very active community which reflects Second Life’s glory years, when it was embraced as a platform for creating art and imparting 3D-based education, and for using it as a tool for real life therapy. For instance, there’s a community for using SL to address Parkinson symptoms.”

It’s a good article, and I would encourage you to head over to the EGM website and read it yourself.

One final thought: it is interesting that Second Life continues to be a moderate success despite not having any real-world corporate partnerships (the only recent example I can think of is Sanrio, with their Hello Kitty world). Perhaps there is a lesson here for Linden Lab with their new social VR platform, Sansar, where the company has been trying mightily to woo corporate suitors by (among other things) banning adult content.

A quote from another of the authors Mark Hill interviewed, Kimberly Rufer-Bach, underlines the harsh truth that it was not the corporate presences that upheld SL, but individual Second Life residents who simply desired a world where they could be anybody (or anything) they wanted to be:

When the first real-world organizations came into SL, they were mostly educational institutions quietly doing small research projects. But then came the marketing projects, which generated and lived on hype. It was not realistic to figure a copy of a real-world store was going to make big bucks selling virtual shoes or shirts. There weren’t yet enough avatars in SL to make enough money. Plus, they were competing against established brands in shops run by SL [Residents].

Similarly, I don’t think anyone figured that the SL userbase would visit a company’s virtual shop and then run out to buy real-world items. Leveraging the hype was all about getting press for your organization by being one of the first to enter into this cutting-edge virtual world. For a while it was a sure thing; hire some SL developer to establish your organization’s presence, and you would reap lots of profitable press coverage. Because of this, SL unfortunately experienced a flood of carpetbaggers promising clients unrealistic things that couldn’t really be done with the platform, while underpaying Resident content creators, sometimes disappearing without paying at all.

Linden Lab would be wise to keep Second Life’s past history in mind when making future plans for Sansar. A virtual world full of corporate sponsors shilling products might be the very last thing people want when shopping around for a metaverse. (Facebook Horizon may learn this lesson the hard way, too.)


Thank you for telling me about this article, Neobela!