The Perks of Virtual World/Social VR Premium Memberships: Are They Worth It? What Do You Get?

Second Life (which I still consider to be the perfect model of the mature, fully-evolved virtual world that the companies creating the newer social VR platforms would be wise to study) has two levels of membership: Basic (free), and Premium. How Premium membership in Second Life works: for US$99 a year (or $32.97 quarterly, or $11.99 monthly), you get a set of benefits and perks over free, Basic user accounts:

Second Life Premium Membership (source)

VRChat is another platform that decided to offer a comparably-priced paid premium membership level last December, called VRChat Plus (which I first wrote about here). Now, upon first reading of the perks such a membership would offer me (see below), I was less than impressed (probably because I have been spoiled by all the goodies Second Life Premium memberships offer me in comparison).

Among the (relatively) small number of features for VRChat Plus users is the ability to set a user icon to display in a circle next to your user name:

But in conversation with Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye last night via Zoom, he raised a point that I had hitherto failed to consider, Given my well-documented, one-man, scorched-earth campaign against Facebook and Oculus for, among other things, forcing Oculus headset users to get Facebook accounts and their toxic advertising-based business model which scrapes and strip-mines users’ personal data, why would I not support an alternative way for VRChat to earn a profit?

I stopped to think of what VRChat would be like with Facebook-like advertising, and I positively shuddered in revulsion. So this evening, I pulled out my credit card and ponied up for a VRChat Plus membership (US$99.99), so I now have the familiar “red Ryan” logo displayed next to my username in world (which has sort of become an icon for my brand, as I use it everywhere else, too). If it helps other users in VRChat recognize who I am, then I think it’s worthwhile.

My familiar “red Ryan” user icon

So, I have decided to do a quick survey of the major social VR and virtual world platforms, and find out whether or not they offer a paid premium service, and if so, what you get for your money.

Second Life

My alt Moesha Heartsong, sitting on the porch of her lovely Victorian Linden Home on the continent of Bellisseria (one of the many nice perks you get with your Second Life Premium membership)

Second Life Premium membership (currently priced at US$99 a year) offers you the following benefits:

  • A weekly L$300 stipend (basically enough to buy a nice outfit or pair of shoes for your avatar every week)
  • A L$1,000 sign-up bonus for first-time Premium users (can only be used once)
  • Priority entry when regions/sims are full of avatars (in other words, if a Basic user and a Premium user both try to get into a packed sim at the same time, the Premium user gets priority; this comes in handy at crowded shopping events, and I have made use of this perk often!)
  • A 1024m² virtual land allotment for use towards a nice starter Linden Home or a parcel on the Second Life mainland; this is another benefit I do take advantage of!
  • Expanded live-chat customer support (which I have used on occasion!)
  • Premium virtual gifts (frankly, kinda useless to me)
  • Exclusive access to Premium areas and experiences (such as building sandboxes)
  • Increased cap on missed IMs (which I never use)
  • Increased group membership limits (I make use of my groups ALL THE TIME! A freebie fashionista can NEVER have too many free group slots for store groups, freebie groups, etc. Basic accounts have 42 group slots, but Premium has 70;)
  • Voice morphing (never used it, myself; most SL users never use voice, anyways)
  • UPDATE 11:36 p.m.: Animesh (animated mesh) creator Medhue tells me that SL Premium members can attach two animesh items (e.g. pets such as Medhue’s delightful animesh cihuahua), while Basic members can only attach one.

Basically, I have three Premium accounts, with two lovely Linden Homes between them (which I think is the major benefit of a Premium membership). More group space and priority access to overcrowded sims are also perks I tend to use a lot.

Sansar

Sansar offers three levels of premium subscriptions (unchanged from when Linden lab owned the platform), which give you:

  • A 45-day free trial of the Marvelous Designer software (used to create avatar clothing in Sansar)
  • Purchase discounts on Marvelous Designer for when you do decide to buy it
  • An increase in the number of Sansar worlds you can create (frankly, I’m not sure most people bother beyond the free Basic account, which lets you create up to 25 worlds)
  • Expedited user support options

Sinespace

The Unity-based Sinespace virtual world/social VR platform, created by Sine Wave Entertainment, offers a truly overwhelming number of Premium levels to choose from:

Premium users can create larger regions/worlds, have a larger number of regions active at one time, and get priority support and user-created content processing and approval, among other benefits.

AltspaceVR

Surprisingly, Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR doesn’t seem to offer any premium accounts (that may change in the future, though).

VRChat

VRChat Plus offers you the following perks (with more promised soon):

  • A nameplate icon: With VRChat+, you can personalize your nameplate with an icon you create! Snap a pic in VRChat or upload your own image on our website.
  • You can send a picture with an invitation to a friend to join you at your location
  • Free slots for up to 100 favourite avatars (as opposed to 25 for basic users)
  • “A limited edition VRCat Badge to display on your profile” (Really? Really?!??)
  • A higher trust ranking in VRChat’s Safety and Trust System

As I said up top, this list is a bit sparse, especially compared to what Second Life offers (and yes, you can be an anime girl in SL, just as easily as you can in VRChat!), but of course, there’s zero VR support in Second Life.

Rec Room

Rec Room offers something called Rec Room Plus at US$7.99 a month, which includes the following benefits:

  • You get 6000 tokens (r6000) monthly, delivered in installments of r1500 per week
  • One four-star gift box per week
  • A 10% discount in Rec Room stores that accept tokens
  • Exclusive access to the RR+ section of the item store
  • 100 saved outfit slots
  • The ability to sell premium inventions/keys for tokens

NeosVR

NeosVR uses Patreon levels to hand out perks to various levels of paying users (more info). For example, at my current “Blade Runner” level ($6 per month), I get:

  • Access to private channels on the official Discord Server
  • Patreon supporter badge in Neos
  • Early access to Linux builds
  • Early Access to Patreon only content (exclusive experiences, work in progress experiences before they’re public)
  • A Neos Mini account with 25 GB of storage
  • Your name in the stars! (your name will appear in the sky in the Neos hub)
  • 30 Neos Credits (NCR) monthly, accumulates

(Note that there is an even less expensive level, the “Agent Smith” level, at just $1 a month. Please check out the NeosVR Patreon page for more details.)

ENGAGE

The ENGAGE educational/corporate/conference social VR platform offers a free, “lite” version, and a premium, “plus” version for €4.99 a month, which gives you space to save your presentations, among other benefits. (They also offer enterprise and educational rates on request.)

Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space)

Of course, the various blockchain-based virtual worlds sell everything using whatever cryptocurrencies they support (for example, a custom, non-randomly-generated avatar username in Decentraland will set you back 100 MANA, Decentraland’s in-world cryptocurrency (which is about US$36 at current exchange rates). It’s just a completely different model than the “freemium” ones offered above.


Thanks to Kent Bye for giving me the idea for this blogpost!

UPDATED! Taking a Second Look at SuperWorld

Image taken from the SuperWorld website

I first took a look at SuperWorld (and another virtual world by the same co-founder, Max Woon, called Stan World), back in October of 2019, and I wrote up a blogpost about the projects. At the time, I thought SuperWorld was an intriguging, even audacious concept, but not something that I would personally choose to take part in. I added SuperWorld to my ever-growing list of metaverse platforms, and promptly forgot about it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Will Burns (whom I have blogged about before here and here) ping me via Twitter, suggesting:

If it’s in your wheelhouse, Ryan, check out SuperWorld Inc. and its CEO, Hrish Lotlikar.

It turns out that Will Burns, along with a couple of other names I was familiar with, such as computer scientist Stephen Wolfram and blogger Robert Scoble, are on the advisory board for SuperWorld. So, I decided to revisit SuperWorld, just to see what has been going on since my last look-see in 2019.

Here’s a slick, one-minute introduction video for SuperWorld, narrated by its CEO Hrish Lotlikar, explaining the basic concept behind the project—you use cryptocurrency to buy and sell virtual real estate parcels, 100 metres by 100 metres in size, which correspond to actual, real-world locations on Earth:

You wanna own a piece of Central Park or the Taj Mahal? It’s yours, baby!

According to the project’s white paper:

In SuperWorld, users search for, share, and create persistent AR content and place it anywhere in the world. From photos and videos to 3D objects and animation, digital natives and first-timers alike are building creative new social communities as they explore the world in a one-of-a-kind interactive experience.

And I also found an hour-long interview with Hrish on YouTube, so I sat down and watched it early this morning, with a large mug of strong black coffee (I also perused their Investor’s Guide, which you can download from the SuperWorld website). The chat about SuperWorld starts at the 23 minute mark on the following video:

So, what do I think?

Well, Hrish seems very personable, and a natural connection-building type, qualities which make for a good startup founder and CEO. He and his co-founder, Max Woon, were inspired by the phenomenal success of Pokémon Go, and decided to build SuperWorld, to serve as a platform where the next Pokémon Go-like game could be hosted. He definitely has the vision! He even mentions Second Life when talking about SuperWorld! He’s a good interview subject, and I would encourage you to watch the whole video (or at least, the part where he talks about SuperWorld).

However…

In October 2019, I wrote:

The big problem will all of these projects is that they are being set up well before any kind of wearable augmented reality headgear becomes popular among consumers…

I do think that attempting to build a global augmented-reality overlay when we don’t have any kind of affordable, consumer-grade AR headset technology is a bit of a folly. There’s absolutely no guarantee that SuperWorld’s way of slicing up the real world is going to be accepted or adhered to by any other company.

And I am going to stand by these earlier observations. I mean, what’s to stop Facebook or Apple from creating their own augmented-reality system, overlaid over the real world, as part of any future AR headset they release, and making that the standard? Your whole business goes up in smoke.

The white paper talks about monetization opportunities involving advertising on these virtual parcels of real estate (think neon signs on the Taj Mahal), but I ask: do you honestly expect that people are going to download an app, and click on a map, just to watch an advertisement? Don’t we get bombarded with enough advertising as it is, without seeking out more?

The paper also talks about gaming, which is a possibility, but you really do need to add a lot more programming to the system to support something like that, something that I don’t really see in any of the promotional material for SuperWorld (aside from a brief glimpse of someone attempting to throw a basketball through a hoop).

If you buy one of these parcels, you’re going to be waiting quite a while to recoup your investment, and generate some income (and many crypto investors seem to have those as goals). And you can do a lot, lot more with the virtual land you can buy or lease from countless other social VR platforms and virtual worlds, which are more feature-filled than SuperWorld, and which allow you to visit it with other avatars simultaneously, to share the experience.

SuperWorld already has apps for both Apple and Android mobile devices for you to “visit” and “look at” your virtual land and whatever you choose to build on it (essentially, superimposed 3D objects, images and text on still photographs). However, I honestly do not consider cellphone-based AR to be true augmented reality. I also don’t consider it social augmented reality, or a “social community”, using the term used in their investor’s guide/white paper, which I quoted earlier.

I have spent time in a great many social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and those are places which you can actually explore with other people, as a shared experience. This is not a shared experience; it’s merely an app where you navigate through an overlay on a map, a solitary activity on your cellphone, like browsing through two-dimensional social media like Facebook or Twitter. There’s really very little to encourage community and connectedness.

SuperWorld’s attempt to carve out the real estate before there’s any sort of mutually-agreed-upon consensus on how to do that, or even any popular consumer augmented reality headsets for sale, still seems to me to be a highly speculative and risky endeavour. I am of the opinion that this is a concept which has been implemented way, waaay too early, in an attempt to cash in on the current VR/AR/MR/XR hype and tempt speculators to open their crypto wallets and part with some of their hard-earned currency.

(Sorry, Will. I know you probably would have liked me to review SuperWorld and love the project. I would probably still classify myself as a cryptoskeptic, which tends to colour my judgement. For example, I am mystified and bewildered by the success of collectibles such as CryptoKitties.)

As always, I include my standard warning about any and all blockchain and cryptocurrency projects: do every single scrap of your homework before you invest a penny in any project, no matter how enticing it sounds on paper (or in pixels). Personally, I wish the SuperWorld team the best, but I will continue to watch this project develop from the sidelines. Much like a very similar South Korean project called Mossland, I just don’t buy the concept underlying SuperWorld.

If you are interested in learning more about SuperWorld, check out their website and their YouTube videos, join their Discord server or Telegram discussion group, or follow them on various social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, even TikTok!

UPDATE 1:44 p.m.: I just discovered a second, more recent, one-hour interview with SuperWorld CEO Hrish Lotlikar, which I also plan to watch later today:

*sigh*

I realize that I have written yet another one of my critical (even cranky) blogposts this morning. I do apologize to Will, to Hrish, and to the team at SuperWorld. Perhaps Will is right; this sort of thing might not be in my wheelhouse, and I should stick with what I consider to be true metaverse platforms, including the blockchain-based virtual worlds Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space, each of which I have written about at length on this blog.

Decentraland Scam Warning

Many people who have accounts on the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland (DCL) have received the following direct message from Discord this afternoon. It claims to be an official bot called Decentraland Announcement, informing users that there is a brand new version of the DCL client which can be downloaded. THIS IS A SCAM! DO NOT VISIT THE ASSOCIATED WEBSITE, OR INSTALL ANY SOFTWARE. Decentraland remains a web browser-based app; there is no separate client for you to download.

Here is what the scam notice looks like, so you will recognize it:

This is a prime example of how scammers use social engineering tricks to try to separate you from the cryptocurrency in your wallet. Be warned and stay safe! It took me about half a minute of reading to realize that this was a scam (the website URL, which I have blurred out in the image above, was a major red flag to me).

I leave you with the final, authoritative word on the matter from DCL employee Sam Hamilton, a.k.a. toonpunk, who posted to the official Decentraland Discord server:

Decentraland News is a scam, they have been banned but if you have a message from them do not click any links.

Here is a website from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission with tips on how to spot and avoid cryptocurrency scams, which unfortunately are proliferating.

UPDATED WITH AN APOLOGY— Futurist Conference Taking Place November 11-12 in Decentraland

Please note: I have updated this blogpost with an apology (see the second update at the end).


Writing about Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, and Decentraland on this blog over the past couple of years, I have found that the blockchain and cryptocurrency marketplace tends to be a bit of an echo chamber, a reality-distortion bubble, where the crypto enthusiasts are all excitedly talking to each other, but not really speaking to the average, non-crypto people outside the hype bubble that they need to reach in order to grow the space, and mature the market.

(And yes, just for the record, I still feel that blockchain is a solution that is looking for a problem to solve. I remain a cryptoskeptic, and I refuse to invest a penny in any cryptocurrency. I just blog about and am interested in blockchain-based virtual worlds from a virtual worlds standpoint.)

A good example of this is the Futurist Conference, which apparently is currently taking place today and Thursday “in” the blockchain-based virtual world, Decentraland. (You’ll see why I put “in” in quotes in a moment.)

The Futurist Conference is described as follows in the Decentraland Events Calendar (here’s a link to the actual event listing itself):

Futurist Virtual Conference November 11-12, 2020 | Toronto, Canada Canada’s Largest Blockchain & Emerging Technologies Conference

Untraceable’s third annual Futurist Conference is the largest blockchain and emerging technologies event in Canada. It will bring together thousands of people online to discuss emerging industries that are going to disrupt our future.​This year the conference will be held from the comfort of your home. We will be bringing you an immersive experience to gamify the virtual event leading up to and including the conference days. Listen and interact with the world’s leading experts that are changing the technology landscape.

So I decided to pop into Decentraland, and pay a visit to the Crypto Valley Conference Center, where the Futurist Conference takes place today and tomorrow:

Only to find the conference centre essentially deserted, with only a handful of avatars present, and a YouTube livestream of Futurist Conference sessions playing on a large screen:

One of the conference sessions playing on a large screen in the essentially empty Crypto Valley Conference Center in Decentraland: Why bother?

And my first thought is? Why bother?

Listen and interact with the world’s leading experts that are changing the technology landscape.” Listen, perhaps, but interact? No.

This whole thing reminds me of nothing so much as the PornHub Games event which “took place” in the adult virtual platform Oasis, which turned out to be nothing but watching the six episodes of the PornHub Games on a screen within Oasis (this link is safe for work):

Basically, you’re sitting in a movie theatre, watching the individual weekly episodes of the “Pornhub Games” on a screen. It’s boring as hell, and why you would need or want to be in Oasis just to watch a video is beyond me. Why impose an extra layer of unnecessary technology to do something that can easily be done on the desktop?

And so I ask the same pertinent question: Why impose an extra layer of unnecessary technology to do something that can easily be done on the desktop? As far as I can see, Decentraland is not adding anything extra to the Futurist Conference, other than bragging rights that they are “associated” with the event, in much the same way as the PornHub Games were “associated” with Oasis.

Why bother advertising a blockchain conference as taking place in Decentraland when it’s not really happening in Decentraland? What’s the advantage of holding this in a virtual world when you can watch the whole thing on YouTube, and the primary means of interaction appears to be a web-based app that is not associated with Decentraland at all (other than it mentions DCL and tells you where to teleport to get to the Crypto Valley Convention Center)?

I mean, I am pretty sure that many of the speakers participating in the YouTube livestream didn’t even know or care about Decentraland; DCL was just piggybacking on the conference, for bragging rights. (Okay, so there was also some sort of crypto game taking place in DCL before the conference event itself.)

After half an hour, bored, and surrounded by only four or five other avatars in the Crypto Valley Convention Center who were watching the same livestream broadcast, I signed out of Decentraland and just watched the damn thing on YouTube, without the slightly delayed, slightly degraded audio and video quality due to the livestream being passed through Decentraland, without having to set up a DCL account and create an avatar, and without having to set up a cryptocurrency wallet. If you are going to make people jump through all these extra hoops, just to watch a YouTube video, where is the added value that the virtual world is supposed to provide?

If you are interested in the Futurist Conference, which runs all day today and tomorrow, here is their website and their web app (which requires you to set up an account separate from your Decentraland account, if you already have one).

UPDATE 10:12 p.m.: Artur Sychov, the founder of rival blockchain-based platform Somnium Space and a speaker at the conference, confirmed that the Futurist Conference was NOT actually taking place in Decentraland, other than the livestream at the Crypto Valley Convention Center. Artur tells me that a livestream of the conference is also happening in Somnium Space (which, of course, would be easy enough to do, since it’s a public YouTube livestream; all you would need is a proper video display panel). I couldn’t find any mention of it in their events calendar, though. And, once again, I ask myself: why impose an extra layer of unnecessary technology when all you have to do is open YouTube on your desktop or mobile device? Where’s the added value to this?

UPDATE: Nov. 12th, 2020: Well, I did get some feedback on this blogpost from the community on the official DCL Discord server, and a possible explanation as to why I found the Conference Center so empty.

Matty of DCLBlogger told me:

You got kicked to a different realm that had 3 people because the main one was full with 100. I was approached by Tracy from Futurist and we’ve been organizing it to be in DCL, it’s not exclusive but it definitely was not piggy backing. Right now, yes, mostly the appeal is the crypto crowed but as this space moves out I’m sure there will be better onboarding to the non crypto crowed. Getting there.

So, yes, Decentraland supports instancing to handle larger crowds of avatars, and yes, Decentraland worked with the Futurist Conference.

So I am going to apologize: first, to the staff and users of Decentraland for being so negative, and second to Artur Sychov (for quoting/paraphrasing what he told me on this blog without his prior consent, as I had previously promised him).

I fucked up and wrote a blogpost when I was feeling cranky yesterday, I admit it, and I’m sorry.