Editorial: My Social VR/Virtual World Predictions for 2021

Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

Every year, for the past couple of years, I have traditionally drawn up and published a list of predictions on where I see social VR and virtual worlds going over the next twelve months. As someone who keeps an eagle eye on the comings and goings of the various companies that are building the ever-evolving metaverse, I’m pretty well placed to be able to make some educated guesses.

However, you should be aware that my track record as a prognosticator is truly lamentable; more often than not, I have been proven dead wrong. For example, I rather sarcastically predicted that Cryptovoxels would fail, hard, and it has done nothing but flourish (something which I am happy to see and report on here on the RyanSchultz.com blog). So, what do I know?

Therefore, please take the following three predictions with a grain of salt.

Second Life will continue to be successful and profitable—but it will face increasing competition from newer platforms such as VRChat, and it will no longer be the most popular virtual world

My first prediction is a no-brainer. In my predictions for 2019, I wrote that Second Life would “continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity”, and that still holds true. Linden Lab sold the money-losing Sansar social VR platform to Wookey, and the remaining, profitable company was successfully acquired by the Waterfield investment group.

As of yet, there have been no major changes announced by the new owners; it would appear that Waterfield is content with the way that Linden Lab is running the virtual world of Second Life and the Tilia payment processing business (which has also been picked up by a few non-SL clients). However, Linden Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, might decide that this year is now a good time for him to step down (although I would personally hate to see him go, as he has been one of the better CEOs in Linden Lab’s sometimes rocky history).

However, I will agree with a prediction made by Wagner James Au of the long-running blog New World Notes, who in his list of predictions stated:

Both VRChat and Rec Room will finally surpass Second Life in peak concurrency numbers.

In fact, we have already seen days and times when the total number of users in both VRChat and Rec Room surpasses that of Second Life. I predict that 2021 will finally be the year that a newer platform will pass the venerable Second Life to become the most popular metaverse.

I am busy exploring VRChat most evenings, wearing my Valve Index VR headset and using my Knuckles controllers, and greatly enjoying the enhanced audiovisual experience it gives me. (I get a big kick of out being able to wiggle my avatar’s fingers!) VRChat now gives me serious vibes of what Second Life was like in its heyday, circa 2006 and 2007: a place which you might not always like, but a place you could not afford to ignore! A place where you are never quite sure what is going to happen.

And it would appear that other popular social VR platforms, such as Rec Room, are also reaping the benefits of the network effect: the more people who join a platform, the better the value it provides. This same network effect helped drive Facebook into becoming the dominant force in social media, and it turned Fortnite into a cultural juggernaut, so it is not something to be lightly dismissed.

The coronavirus pandemic will continue to provide opportunities for social VR and virtual world companies, particularly for remote workteams, conferences, and education

The testing, approval, manufacture, and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be slower than originally anticipated, and virus mutations may blunt the effectiveness of some vaccines, and require some to be reformulated in response. All of this means that we are not going to be returning to “normal” anytime very soon.

This situation provides a window of opportunity for metaverse-building companies to sell their products and services to corporations, conferences, and educational institutions. I expect that we will see more announcements this year of conferences taking place with a social VR/virtual world component, for example.

While games and recreation will still form the largest part of the virtual reality consumer market, we can also expect to see more practical applications of VR in areas such as pain reduction, physical rehabilitation, and mental heath support.

And we can expect that more and more corporations will be looking at downsizing expensive downtown real estate and shifting permanently to remote workteams, which will fuel the what I like to call the “YARTVRA” (Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App) market.

Facebook is going to have a very bad year, despite the commercial success of the Oculus Quest 2

The Quest 2 is not a toy. It’s a virus disguised as a toy.

—Cix Liv, The Voices of VR Podcast with Kent Bye (source)

Speaking of Facebook, I predict that the corporate behemoth is going to have a rocky year. On December 3rd, 2020, Bloomberg News published an article on their website, titled Facebook Accused of Squeezing Rival Startups in Virtual Reality (original article, archived link), which paints a rather damning picture of Facebook’s ruthless corporate tactics in dealing with (and stealing business ideas from) much smaller companies.

Frankly, Facebook faces major hurdles in public relations and public perception, a problem that is only growing worse as the company becomes more powerful and more profitable, and seeks to enter and dominate new markets. Many people (myself included among them) simply don’t trust Facebook anymore, and aren’t willing to have their personal data shared among the many companies under the Facebook umbrella, strip-mined for profit, and sold to the highest bidder.

To give one example, recent changes to WhatsApp privacy policies, forcing users to share information with Facebook, have led to many people abandoning the messaging platform. Add to this the recently-announced U.S. federal government investigation into Facebook’s possible illegal monopolization of the social networking market, and the fuss kicked up in the virtual reality community by Facebook requiring Oculus VR device users to sign up for Facebook accounts, and it seems pretty clear that Mark Zuckerberg will be called upon to testify before even more government panels this year. (And you might not know this, but the next time that Mark or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg set foot on Canadian soil, they can be compelled to appear before a Canadian parliamentary committee with jurisdiction over tech issues, as a direct result of refusing to show up for hearings in 2019, which were attended by representatives of countries all over the world.)

So, these are my three predictions for 2021 (and I reserve the right to add more as they come to me). What do you think will happen this year? Feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join the free-wheeling discussion on the RyanSchultz.com Discord channel, and share your predictions with the 460-plus members there! We’d love to have you become a part of our cross-worlds community!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: An Updated Review of Version 3 of the Free/Dollarbie Viva Female Mesh Body

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group yet? I will be posting EVEN MORE news and tips on finding fabulous freebies and bargains in Second Life than I post here on the blog! More information on this brand new SL group here.

Last year, I wrote about a free, Bakes on Mesh compatible, Bento female mesh head and body called Viva (here and here). There’s been a bit of chatter about this body lately, including a video review (see below), so I thought I would update my review of version 3 of the Viva mesh body.

There are two ways that you can get version 3 of the Viva female mesh body. You can purchase it for only L$1 on the SL Marketplace (which gives you a completely unpacked version in your inventory). Do not be dissuaded by the rather poor imaging used in the Marketplace listing…you can do a lot with this body! Alternatively, you can teleport to the Elegance & Style store in-world (exact SLURL), click the vendor panel for the Full version/version 3, select Deliver from the blue pop-up menu in your SL viewer, and get the body for free (although you will have to unpack several boxes).

Now, unlike other mesh bodies (such as the free Minou body I reviewed the day before yesterday, which you basically just wear and go, with zero options), there is a rather large learning curve associated with this body, and a somewhat overwhelming HUD with a great many options! In fact, I will say that this is one of the most complicated HUDs I have seen for any product! So my recommendation is that you find a quiet spot in Second Life, unpack everything (there are nine boxes/subfolders!), and read through all the documentation. There is a Read Me First notecard, which states:

I’ll keep this short. Let me pass on two important things . . .

1 . . . First, you’ll find a wonderful and easy-to-use “Quick Guide to Viva.” It’s on-line and has lots of illustrations. Look for this prim in the Viva Main Folder: “**Rez Me & Click Me for Viva Support.” Rez it and click it. It will take you right to the support page. (If you can’t rez where you are, you can also wear it and click it.)

If you do not use the above “rez-and-click” prim, here is the URL of on-line help that you can copy to your browser: http://vivasystem.altervista.org/Support3.htm

2 . . . The following information is covered by the above link, but if you don’t go there, here are some brief instructions:

(a) If you look in Viva’s Main Folder in your inventory, you’ll see a series of “*Sub Folders…” These are packages that haven’t been unpacked yet.

(b) To unpack, WEAR each of the *Sub Folder packages, and they will automatically unpack.

(c) You’ll end up with a series of Viva SubFolders in your inventory. They all start with “Viva:” which keeps them all together. Now, TAKE EACH and DRAG THEM into Viva’s main folder.

(d) Afterwards, if desired, you can delete all of the *Sub Folders…” You won’t lose anything. You’ll still have a copy of them in the original package.

As I said, it might be worth the L$1 to get a fully unpacked version from the SL Marketplace, with all the subfolders already in place in your inventory (remember that they will be located in the Received Items section).

To keep things simple to start, you can wear a fully-assembled version of the Viva mesh body from the main folder. Attach the Master HUD, click on the Bakes on Mesh tab, and enable Bakes on Mesh for this body as shown below:

Here’s what the default body looks like, paired with the recent free group gift of the Chelsea head by LOGO, with the Hope skin in dew by 7 Deadly S[k]ins (a gift from their Advent calendar), and using the shape included with the Chelsea head as my starting point.

What the Viva body looks like after enabling Bakes on Mesh

(Although the HUD says that the Bento hands would be automatically Bakes-on-Mesh enabled when I clicked ON next to Enable BoM for Body in the HUD, I found I had to double-click the green hand icon below the button, to get Bakes on Mesh to apply to the hands properly. Just a small bug.)

Now, I will be honest: I have a problem with the hands on the Viva body. Last year, I was able to get such beautiful-looking, graceful hands when I first tested it on an alt (see the proof here), but then I did something wrong, and no matter what I do, and no matter which avatar I try it on, I always get this as a result, and I nothing I do seems to fix it! I find the hands are rather misshapen, with these horrible, stubby-looking thumbs! If somebody can tell me what I am doing wrong, I would dearly love to know.

When I wear a Bento animation override for the hands, I also find the the middle sections of the fingers are rather strangely elongated, and the result is a bit unnatural looking to me. It looks like my avatar has arthritis! Then again, I usually set my hand size in the body sliders to somewhere between 25 and 40 for most mesh bodies, so you might want to keep it set at a low 13, which is what the default, included body shape has. Even so, I think that the hands are definitely a weak point on this mesh body.

The feet are quite nice, though, and there are certainly lots of options in the HUD to tint your fingernails and toenails! The feet come in three heights: flat, mid-height, and high, and I have found that shoes designed for Belleza feet seemed to fit best overall (again, you might have to adjust the foot size in the body sliders to get the best results).

One option which I have never seen before in a mesh body HUD is the ability to set an image as a pattern or texture on your fingernails and toenails. Note that I had to remove the pattern shown here, using the button on the HUD, before I could select a nail polish colour for the high-heeled version of the mesh feet. Another small bug.

Here is what my avatar looks like, with the LOGO Chelsea head, wearing the red dress included in the Viva package (which you can retint or retexture as you wish):

One of the definite strengths of this body is the wide variety of clothing layer options, which are built into the HUD and available under the Layers tab: tattoos, bra and panties, pantyhose, a sweater and blue jeans, even socks! All clothing layers are infinitely tintable using the HUD.

Now, there is also an optional Bento, Bakes on Mesh-compatible head included in the Viva package, located in the Modular System folder. Unfortunately, there is no included starter shape for this head, which made it very difficult to obtain the best possible look. I found that this head did not respond very well to the various sliders, and in particular, I had problems around the mouth and chin area with the various Bakes on Mesh skins I tried on it. Here is my best result, which I am still not quite happy with (I couldn’t remove the slight chin cleft, no matter what I did):

The included Bento, Bakes on Mesh Viva head (wearing the Hope skin in the dew skin tone from 7 Deadly S[k]ins, a recent Advent calendar gift)

For the price (free or L$1, depending on how you got it), this is a perfectly serviceable head, but you will probably find a more beautiful head elsewhere, that perhaps responds a bit better to the head and body sliders. I would suggest pairing the Viva mesh body with your choice of a brand-name Bento mesh head (including, of course, the recent gift heads from Catwa, Akeruka, LOGO, LeLutka…last year certainly had no shortage of free group gifts of female Bento mesh heads!).

Also, the Makeup Choices tab on the Viva HUD is currently empty, with a promise to include makeup options in a later version. But of course, you can use any existing Bakes on Mesh makeup with this head, so you shouldn’t have any problems there!

If you want to wear mesh clothing with this body (other than the included red dress, which is designed to fit this body perfectly), there is an extensive array of alpha sections on the HUD, although I wish there were some finer selections in certain areas, like the upper arms. You should be able to get most clothing designed for other, more popular brands of mesh bodies to fit fairly well on the Viva body.

So, in summary, the Viva mesh body is a good Bento, Bakes on Mesh female body with lots of options, a few quirks, and a few bugs, for a great price—free (if you get it in world) or L$1 (if you buy it on the SL Marketplace). It’s a great bargain! Here’s my final look, once again pairing the Viva body with the LOGO Chelsea head, and adding a few accessories to liven up that plain red dress:

The YouTube vlogger Novata Second Life recently posted a one-hour video about the Viva body, which you might find of interest, if for no other reason than to see how she and her friends have styled this body (this video switches back and forth between Spanish and English). Novata also remarks on how complicated the HUD is!

The Viva mesh body already appears on my ever-expanding list of free and inexpensive mesh heads and bodies for female avatars, but I will update it with a link to this review of version 3, which goes into a bit more detail.

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: I Review the Free, Maitreya-Compatible Minou Female Mesh Body by Little Devil

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group yet? I will be posting EVEN MORE news and tips on finding fabulous freebies and bargains in Second Life than I post here on the blog! More information on this brand new SL group here.

Over the past year, I have received tips from various people about a free female mesh body called Minou, by a store called Little Devil, which was advertised as compatible with apparel and footwear designed for the nearly-ubiquitous Maitreya Lara mesh body.

There are two ways that you can pick up this female mesh body for free. The first way is to come early enough in the day to slap the Midnight Madness board located to the right of the entrance to the Little Devil store on the Villa Delacroix sim (here’s the exact SLURL; please note that Villa Delacroix is an adult-rated sim which hosts a BDSM club, although the area around the store seems pretty safe). The Midnight Madness board locks at 30, so get there early!

The second way is to invite a few friends and/or alts to try your luck at the Lucky Fortunes game, located immediately to the right of the Midnight Mania board outside the Little Devil store. If you and a second avatar are judged to be 100% compatible, both of you win a free Minou mesh body!

It was using this second method that I finally won a Minou mesh body! Here is what she looks like right out of the box, with the included shape and skin, with a system (non-mesh) head, and not changing any of the default head or body sliders:

Looking good! As advertised, clothing and footwear designed for Maitreya Lara bodies seem to fit this body fairly well. The black minidress I used in this picture is called Celin, from Seniha, which I bought using their free store credit offer not too long ago, and the Wales pumps were a group gift from the Essenz shoe store. The Lio hair was a free hunt prize from Analog Dog, and so my total cost for this particular avatar look is ZERO LINDEN DOLLARS (because I joined the Essenz group when they had a free group join period in the past).

The body comes in components, with the hands and feet as separate attachments. The detail on the hands is quite lovely, but these hands are not Bento, and you cannot change the colour or shape of the fingernails:

The detail on the feet is also quite good, but there is a slight ankle seam where the feet attach to the body. Also, the feet only come in one foot height, to fit Maitreya-Lara-compatible high-heeled shoes. You will not be able to wear flats on this body!

The package also includes the following complete outfit, a thoughtful added touch. (There’s also some free mesh hair included, but I did not use it for this picture.)

Below, I paired the Minou body with the recent free group gift of the LeLutka Lilly head, using one of the full-head skin tattoos in the Lilly package that matched the skin tone of the Minou body the closest, and hiding the resulting neck seam with a simple black choker (a past free group gift from West End):

This is actually an attractive mesh body for a price that can’t be beat: free! (In fact, this particular avatar look also cost me zero Linden dollars. That’s right, zip. Zilch. Nada.)

However, there are a few caveats. First, this body only comes in one skin tone as shown, and it does not support skin appliers or Bakes on Mesh skins. Second, there is no included HUD with alpha sections to erase any body parts which might poke through clothing, which means that you will have to be extremely careful what you choose to wear on the Minou body.

For example, these skintight Maitreya-Lara-compatible leggings from ViSion (a gift at the recent Winter Shop and Hop event) are unwearable, because there is no way to alpha out your legs underneath them:

You’ll probably have better luck with skimpy minidresses and other skin-baring outfits, however. The skin detail on the Minou body is excellent for a free body (although I haven’t included a picture of them here, I think that the breasts on this body are also very well done). I can see this body proving quite popular among the working girls of Second Life, the escorts and strippers toiling away for tips in the adult sims, who perhaps cannot afford a full-blown Maitreya Lara mesh body!

So, if you are absolutely, completely flat broke, but you still want a good-looking mesh avatar body that can wear some (but not all) Maitreya apparel and footwear, you might want to consider this as an option. I will add the Minou mesh body by Little Devil to my ever-expanding list of free and inexpensive mesh heads and bodies for female avatars.

Happy freebie shopping!

Exploring Sleep Worlds in VRChat

The beautiful Islands of Dreams sleep world in VRChat

In order to relax in the evenings, I have been exploring some of the tens of thousands of worlds in VRChat in my new Valve Index VR headset, and this week I have been visiting a special category of worlds known as sleep worlds.

These worlds, as their name suggests, are intended to evoke an atmosphere conducive to sleep or meditation. Often, they are a bedroom or even an entire apartment, either in an urban, rural, or fantasy setting, where you can adjust the environmental effects (rain, thunder and lightning, fog, fireflies, etc.), the lighting, and the furnishings to achieve the perfect setting for your contemplative or naptime needs.

A bed in the Rest and Sleep world in VRChat

Often, there is a music player, allowing you to play from a selection of soothing, ambient music to add to the overall atmosphere. Some rooms also have a video player and a mirror. Many times, the creators even share a link to their Patreon profile, so you can show your appreciation by sending a little money to them for their creation!

If you don’t wish to be disturbed in your sleep world, you can create a new instance of the world from the Worlds menu, then set it to Invite Only (which means that only you can invite other avatars to join you in a private instance of the world, if you wish).

Doing a keyword search under the Worlds menu for “sleep” usually gives me any number of wonderful user-created worlds to visit, and the VRChat Maps Discord server actually has a #sleep-maps channel where users post worlds suitable for sleepy times. Here are a few suggestions of worlds from that channel:

  • Phunky’s Chill & Sleep
  • Hermitage
  • Sleepy Fireflies
  • Oknuj’s Hangout n Sleep
  • Another Home
  • The Sleep Room
  • Relaxation Particles 2
  • Rest & Sleep
  • After Life Night
  • Alone & Sleep_zZ
  • Hotel Beautiful Night

One popular sleep world that I quite like is a wood-paneled bedroom with a enclosed balcony called, quite simply, The Room of the Rain. I always turn the graphics quality all the way up to High, so I can watch the rain running down the floor-to-ceiling windows! On the extensive list of world settings, there’s a special Index filter setting that makes the scene look even more realistic in my Valve Index headset.

I find the sound of the rain quite soothing, and I can adjust the volume of the rain, adding sounds for wind and thunder as I prefer to create the perfect oasis. In fact, I love this room so much that I have set The Room of the Rain as my home world in VRChat, so it is the first one I see when I start VRChat up.

The Room of the Rain

Now, I have heard reports of people who have actually fallen asleep in their VR headsets, both in VRChat and in other social VR platforms (it seems to be quite commonplace among Japanese VR headset owners). Personally, I would find it quite uncomfortable to sleep in my Valve Index, but if it works for you, hey, more power to you!

Do you have a favourite sleep world in VRChat? Please feel free to leave a comment with the name of the world on this blogpost. Thanks!