The Value of Community in Social VR and Virtual Worlds: Why Fostering Community Is Such a Critical Task for the Newer Virtual Worlds and Social VR Platforms

Chatting around the campfire at the weekly Morning Buzzz event in Sinespace

Today, I did something that I have never done before: I attended the regular Wednesday Morning Buzzz event, which is hosted by Mimi Marie and held in the Greenela world in Sinespace. I was told that I should attend at least one of these meetings (which normally I don’t go to, because they usually fall during my workday in my local time zone up here in Winnipeg), because it was one of the best ways to get the pulse of what was going on in Sinespace, and glean ideas for future blogposts.

(Working in self-isolation from home during the coronavirus pandemic gives me a bit more flexibility to be able to attend those events which I normally would have to miss, which is a rather unexpected perk of the pandemic! But it also means that I find myself responding to work emails and editing collections spreadsheets on Sunday mornings, so obviously, this cuts both ways.)

Anyways, back to the topic of this editorial. As my friend had suggested, it was well worth my time to attend this morning’s events (in addition to Morning Buzzz, the Technical Office Hours was held this morning, another in-world event that I had never attended in person before today).

Technical Office Hours in Sinespace

I had quite wonderful, wide-ranging, and very informative conversations with a number of different people, whom I had not gotten to know nearly as well as I should have by now (especially since I am the embedded reporter for Sinespace!). In fact, my whole experience today in Sinespace was highly instructive, and it got me to thinking.

And I was reminded, yet again, of a universal truth: that the success and longevity of any social VR platform or virtual world lies in its ability to foster, build, sustain and enhance community. The connections made between avatars, and the communities that form around those bonds, are what bring people back, time and again, to particular virtual worlds. In fact, I would suggest that community-building is absolutely critical to the long-term success of social VR and virtual worlds.

One of the reasons that Second Life’s user community has been so resistant to even contemplate a move to another virtual world, is that in all the years that they have spent in SL, many people have made a sizable investment, not so much in the number of items in their inventory (although that is certainly a consideration), but in the number and quality of their in-world relationships.

Think of all the vibrant Second Life role-play communities that have proved to be perennially popular, for example. Think of popular in-world gathering places in SL like Frank’s Jazz Club, Muddy’s Music Café, and FogBound Blues, for example. These are places where people meet each other, friendships are formed, and community is forged. And people tend to tell each other about these places and these communities, always bringing more people into the fold.

Sometimes, I think that the various companies that are busily building various incarnations of the metaverse focus too much on the technical features, at the expense of something more important to any platform’s success: the ability for people to form common communities of interest, and create virtual spaces that meet their community needs, goals, and dreams. This is why such community-building features as text and voice chat, user profiles, and user groups and notices, are so vitally important. (Remember the unholy fuss that erupted when Linden Lab wanted to cut the number of groups that Basic account members could subscribe to? They quickly backtracked from that particular corporate decision.)

What I do find interesting is that, even on platforms that have sometimes struggled to get higher concurrent user figures (e.g. Sansar, High Fidelity), there are still small but stubbornly committed groups of people who continue to plan events and promote them. Witness the tireless work of the volunteer COMETS team in Sansar, who are behind many of the events in the Sansar Events calendar.

Community is critically important. Never forget that!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
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