CNN Business Takes a Look at Social VR with Visits to AltspaceVR and High Fidelity

CNN Business teamed up with BEME News to produce a nine-minute segment on avatars in virtual reality, visiting both AltspaceVR and High Fidelity:

How realistic virtual reality experiences impact your mind

Widespread adoption of virtual reality may depend on bringing people together in familiar ways like going to a party, seeing a band, or networking at a conference without leaving your couch. How real do VR connections feel?

Here’s the complete video segment on YouTube:

I like how this segment includes the part where the reporter steps into the Doob scanner to create a photorealistic avatar of herself. I would love to be able to do that, but alas, I live too far away from any of the locations that currently offer this service.

And then, I love the part where Philip Rosedale leads the reporter to a mirror within High Fidelity so she can see what she looks like…absolutely wonderful! (By the way, does Philip do anything else lately besides public relations for social VR in general and HiFi in particular? He’s popping up everywhere lately! Does the man sleep?!??)

And I still chuckle whenever I see tarted-up AltspaceVR avatars (such as Katie Kelly’s avatar in this video), which look way better than the limited default options offered to the regular customers! AltspaceVR avatars are still totally unappealing compared to what other social VR platforms can offer such as Sansar and High Fidelity. When is Altspace going to get off their butts and fix that? They’ve got all that Microsoft money to work with, for Pete’s sake! Do something!!

Anyway, my carping at AltspaceVR’s dreadfully cartoony avatars aside, it’s a great video. The reporter’s sense of awe and wonder were genuine, and quite infectious! This video segment will introduce social VR and its possibilities to a whole new audience. Well done, CNN and BEME!

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UPDATED: High Fidelity Sets Another Avatar Region Capacity Record: 426 Avatars!

Yesterday, High Fidelity had another one of their monthly stress tests of the platform. (They moved it to a Saturday to encourage more people to show up.)

They were able to bring together 426 avatars in a single domain (The Spot). They also had a Best Avatar Contest, and here is a picture of the contest entries:

HiFi Custom Avatar Contest 7 Oct 2018

Here’s a snapshot from High Fidelity, showing CEO Philip Rosedale addressing the crowd:

HiFi Load Test 7 Oct 2018.PNG

Frankly, I am having a bad weekend. The urologist has put me on a heavy-duty course of industrial-strength antibiotics post-surgery, and it is wreaking havoc with my body.

But I’m glad I did pop in just to experience the madness. I’m still really impressed at how well the High Fidelity platform can stand up to the stress of over 400 avatars in a single domain! Congratulations to Philip and his team.

UPDATE Oct. 9th: Here’s a one-and-a-half-hour video of the event, which gives a good sense of what an event with over 400 avatars present looks and feels like! If you don’t watch the whole thing, be sure to skip ahead to the 42:20 minute mark, where you can see the Ganesha blue elephant god avatar, which was my personal favourite of all the contest entries and the grand prize winner! The Ganesha avatar took two weeks of work in Maya and Substance Painter to create, and it features extremely well-done rigging, including flapping elephant ears and trunk movement!

Editorial: Putting Items On the High Fidelity Marketplace—Why Is It So Complicated?

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Why is it so complicated to get an item into the High Fidelity Marketplace? (Image by geralt on Pixabay)

Compared to the thousands of items already for sale on the Sansar Store (14,875 at last count), the High Fidelity Marketplace still looks rather empty in comparison (by my count, less than 600 items). High Fidelity is trying its hardest to encourage content creators to upload more items to its Marketplace. In fact, HiFi is issuing an HFC (in-world currency) bonus for any items uploaded to the Marketplace before Oct. 1st, 2018:

For every item you submit to the Marketplace before October 1, 2018, that is approved for sale, you will receive a bonus of 2,000 High Fidelity Coin (HFC).

In an effort to get some discussion rolling, Philip Rosedale recently posted his musings on the subject to the HiFi discussion forums:

With HFC now being exchangeable for USD at the bank, we’re thinking about how best to help get the marketplace started and lots of people putting up new things for sale. How best should we go about doing that? Any ideas?

Pay HFC for commissioned items, like we’d often been doing on the worklist?

Buy one copy of everything everyone puts up?

Get HF employees to put up some amazing stuff that can then be freely modified?

??

I must confess, that I really don’t see the point of having High Fidelity buy one copy of everything that everybody puts up for sale on the Marketplace. What purpose does that serve? High Fidelity should be encouraging its users to buy items from each other, rather than buying up items themselves!!

It would appear that there are still some impediments and bottlenecks in the whole process of putting an item up for sale in the High Fidelity Marketplace. Some users have complained that the whole procedure is quite awkward.

Even worse, it would appear that every single item has to be reviewed by High Fidelity before it can be approved for sale. One would-be seller received the following response to his uploaded item:

“Unfortunately we do not feel this submission is up to quality standards on the Marketplace and have decided not to approve it at this time. We encourage you to continue improving on this submission and greatly appreciate the work you have put in.”

If High Fidelity is actually going to screen each and every item for quality, they’re going to create a huge bottleneck that will negatively impact the Marketplace. This is one of the fatal mistakes that Blue Mars made. Tell me this: how many staff is High Fidelity going to throw at this quality assurance task? What are the standards to be used for assessing the “quality” of items? Will there be an appeal process for rejected items? This opens up a huge can of worms.

Another person in that same discussion thread stated:

I’ll just bring up my concerns I’ve had for awhile in addition to people from Second Life who I’ve worked with, who have held back due to the security concerns.

I get the knowledge of some people will always be high and as a result will mean their knowledge on how to work around securities will be a never ending battle, but now that the push for wearables has been made, no one bothered to think of the consequences, and as a result, I’ve had a few of my own items copied without full concern. Were they certified, marketplace items? No, but the fact that the same even applies to them degrades my trust and the contacts I’ve met on the topic of putting things into the marketplace.

Now there’s this:

How can anyone put something up when most issues regarding the marketplace, regarding the security for it, and the issues with even the PoP have not been addressed?

Heck, I’ll go even as far as to address the other elephant in the room: as Richardus has pointed out, the approval process is slow, and now suddenly there’s a desire to push people to fix or upload new items, and at that, with a price tag. A consequence I hope someone has predicted are ones who did submit something for approval early only to not have it approved until after the date. If that happens, and word spreads, the trust in the system will only worsen.

These are all excellent points that need to be addressed by High Fidelity, and quickly.

As mentioned above, Proof of Provenance (PoP) is yet another area of concern with the Marketplace. There was a great deal of controversy when this was first proposed, but the document referring to it has since been taken down from HiFi’s website. It’s really not clear to me what the status of this initiative is. Is High Fidelity is still planning to conduct PoP verification services for items listed on its Marketplace? If they are, then what fee will they charge for this service? Everybody seems to have questions, and nobody seems to have any answers.

The online instructions for uploading your content to the High Fidelity Marketplace are split up into several sections, each of which is fairly technical in nature. Take a look for yourself:

Here’s a sample screenshot of a section from the Add Your Item page, complete with instructions on how to edit your .JSON files (yes, you need to know how to edit code!):

Add Your Item 21 Sept 2018.png

I can certainly understand why some people feel that the whole process is daunting, confusing, and cumbersome.

The overall impression I get here is that there are still significant obstacles standing in the way of content creators who want to place their items up for sale in the High Fidelity Marketplace and earn money from them. Why on earth aren’t Philip Rosedale and his team taking a page from Linden Lab, where they have already set up not one, but two highly successful online stores: the Second Life Marketplace, and the Sansar Store?

Can VR Make Us More Human? A Chat with Peter Rubin and Philip Rosedale

Can VR Make Us More Human High Fidelity 19 Sept 2018.jpg

This evening, I attended a talk in High Fidelity between Philip Rosedale (the CEO of High Fidelity and the founder of Second Life) and Peter Rubin, a Senior Editor at WIRED who has recently written a book about VR titled Future Presence: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy, and the Limits of Ordinary Life

The premise of the talk (from the event description) was:

Many argue that mobile smartphones and social media have made us less connected to our fellow human beings. VR has the potential to course-correct the isolating nature of much of today’s technology and the opportunity to make us more connected and even more human.

Here’s a livestream of the hour-long talk, which I thoroughly enjoyed (and I even got an opportunity to ask a question at the end!). If you missed the event, I would encourage you to watch this wide-ranging and fascinating discussion about virtual reality and the various social VR platforms, held within High Fidelity.

High Fidelity Sets a New Avatar Capacity Record: 356 Avatars in a Single Domain!

High Fidelity logo

I have to say this: I am really quite impressed with the level of innovation recently coming out of Philip Rosedale’s metaverse company High Fidelity. (It might be the result of all that new venture capital money they are spending!) Yesterday they had their third in a series of monthly stress tests of the virtual world platform, and they officially beat their old record by quite a margin: 356 avatars in a single HiFi domain!

They started off with a half-hour trivia game, where you had to stand on one of four coloured squares (A, B< C, or D) corresponding to what you thought was the correct answer to a posted trivia question. Each wrong answer teleported the losers automatically off the playing field (to watch from a raised platform on the sidelines) until there was only one winner left standing! There were a few glitches to the system, but overall it worked fairly well, and it was a fun way to start off the event!

The following picture of me standing in front of the main stage at The Spot with the official avatar counter in the background was taken by Andrew, who is the very hard-working producer and video editor of my upcoming pre-taped show, Metaverse Newscast. (High Fidelity hired him to be the official photographer at yesterday’s event!)

HiFI Stress Test 7 Sept 2018.jpg

We already have two taped segments of the first episode of Metaverse Newscast, and we hope to add a third segment and release the program to viewers sometime this fall. We’ll be interviewing the personalities behind social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse on various platforms, including High Fidelity in the future!

High Fidelity Announces the Ability to Convert High Fidelity Coin (HFC) into U.S. Dollars

I’m taking a break from blogging…yeah, riiight…” O.K., after this one final blogpost, I am taking a break until September 1st! I mean it this time!!! 😉


sharon-mccutcheon-665638-unsplash

It may come as a surprise to some people that you couldn’t do this already, but High Fidelity has just announced that they will now offer users the ability to convert High Fidelity Coin (HFC, High Fidelity’s in-world currency) into U.S. dollars. Up until now, people who sold items on the High Fidelity Marketplace had to keep their earnings within the system, which was a big drawback to content creators who wanted to earn real-world currency.

Philip Rosedale writes on the High Fidelity blog:

This opens the possibility for people to earn real money creating and selling virtual goods and services within High Fidelity. We see this as a vital step in the emergence of a thriving High Fidelity economy: the flywheel of innovation and creativity in any marketplace starts when creators have positive incentives to contribute to the growing body of content for sale. In time, we hope creators will be able to support themselves by selling items in the Marketplace, charging for the experiences they create, and offering useful in-world services to other creators and performers.

We believe the High Fidelity marketplace will develop into a rich and varied ecosystem supporting a broad range of digital experiences. For instance, a user might buy an outfit for their avatar then spend an hour on a guided tour of Korea, before meeting up with friends in a nightclub. Along the way, the clothes designer, tour docent, club owner, lighting technician, and DJ will all be rewarded for their effort, and be able to turn their HFC into U.S. dollars.

Starting this week, we’re taking our first steps to create that ecosystem. Now’s the time to get started creating in High Fidelity.

To prime the pump, High Fidelity is going to be offering incentives for creators:

We’re also excited to launch our High Fidelity Development Fund today, where members of our community can take on projects to extend the High Fidelity platform. There are dozens of features we’re planning to add, and we’re looking to developers in our community to sign up to create them. Of course, we’re planning to pay them for their hard work — in HFC, which they can convert to legal tender.

Here’s how we see this working: we’ve already set up a public group on Telegram which developers can use to contact us about these projects. We plan to regularly post new opportunities to the channel for people to select and bid for. The aim here is to reward our most dedicated members, to accelerate feature rollout, and to inject more activity into the economy, which in turn will benefit everyone.

In this first wave of the Fund, we’re committing 1,000,000 HFC [US$10,000] to fund developers. Use the Telegram channel to bid on initiatives, propose new projects, and suggest new features for the platform. Sign up here to learn more.

Compared to the over 14,000 items already available for sale in the Sansar Store, there are not nearly as many items for sale in the High Fidelity Marketplace, so taking these steps makes sense to grow the High Fidelity platform.

In order to convert your HFC to USD, you will need to provide High Fidelity with your real-world name, address and email as part of the process. You will also need a PayPal account. The actual conversion process does sound rather cumbersome:

Trades will initially be handled manually by our staff using the following process:

  • High Fidelity will publish a calendar through which users can book trading appointments.
  • After High Fidelity staff accept and confirm the time slot they will whitelist the user to visit the Trading Room domain to make their trade. The user will be whitelisted based on their provided High Fidelity account name.
  • High Fidelity staff will take receipt of HFC from the trading user. Payments will be made using PayPal and paid to the email account specified via the appointment booking form. Time to payment receipt will be based on PayPal rules and guidelines. Payments will be made from finance@highfidelity.com.

There is a minimum transfer of 5,000 HFC per transaction. This service is still in beta: and we reserve the right to stop and start or change daily limits or refuse transactions at any time.

Note that you cannot yet buy HFC with real-world currency, although Philip promises that will come soon.

In addition, the company has announced a few new ways to get 3D objects into High Fidelity:

We expect the content put up for sale in the High Fidelity Marketplace to come from a variety of sources. The Marketplace provides a way for users to sell their content with the confidence that their intellectual property will be protected.

Creators who have assets already developed, or who prefer to use go-to applications like SketchUp or Google Poly, can now import them into High Fidelity. We’re officially launching support for these applications and others alongside our trading services now that the entire workflow from creation to monetization is in place.

Check out the High Fidelity documentation on how to add content to the Marketplace.

You can upload FBX and OBJ files to the Marketplace for sale.

Money in the Newer Virtual Worlds

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Image by TheDigitalWay on Pixabay

The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Your love gives me such a thrill
But your love won’t pay my bills
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Money, the Flying Lizards


In-world currency systems are an integral part of many social VR/virtual world platforms. Second Life can be seen as the perfect example of a virtual world whose popularity exploded once people realized that they could make money on the platform, inspired by a 2006 Businessweek cover story on Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung:

Anshe Chung.jpg

This blogpost is an attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of how the newer virtual world platforms have implemented in-world currencies and set up systems for commerce.

Sansar

Linden Lab has, of course, 15 years of experience working with Second Life‘s economy and in-game currency, and they have applied that expertise in the setup and operation of the economy for their new virtual world, Sansar. You can buy Sansar dollars in two ways, directly in bundles or via the Sansar Dollar Exchange (SandeX), a currency exchange. There are more details on the SandeX in this document:

 The SandeX is the official virtual exchange of Sansar, run by Linden Lab, where you can:

  • Buy Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit buy offers at a requested exchange rate.
  • Sell Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit sell offers at a requested exchange rate.

All SandeX transactions are subject to transaction fees.

Market buy and sell

Market buys and market sells are the quickest ways to purchase or sell Sansar dollars on the SandeX. The SandeX automatically matches your order with the best exchange rate. The quoted exchange rate includes transaction fees associated with buying and selling on the exchange.

Limit buy and sell

Limit buys and sells allow you to specify the amount of Sansar dollars and the exchange rate you are willing to accept. The SandeX automatically matches up buy and sell offers as they come in. If you are buying, you must have sufficient funds in your US$ wallet to pay for the buy order.

Creators can sell their creations on the Sansar Store, and can also receive statistics on how well their items are selling. There is as yet no in-world commerce like they have in Second Life.

Sinespace

Sinespace has two in-world currencies, called silver and gold. According to their wiki:

Gold

Gold credits can only be purchased for real money by spending users and can be converted back to real money by Sine Wave virtual goods partners.

Gold credits trade at 100 / 1 fixed ratio with USD$

Silver

Silver credits are free promotional credits given to users as rewards for participating in the community.

Silver credits cannot be converted to real money but can be used by creators to promote their content to new platform users who have not yet purchased gold.

Sinespace has a Marketplace built into its client software, and a few vendors like BlakOpal have also set up in-world stores.

High Fidelity

High Fidelity has attracted a lot of recent media attention due to the fact that they have decided to set up a blockchain-based in-world currency, called High Fidelity Coins (HFC):

  • Blockchain Technology: Our new currency, High Fidelity Coins (HFC), will be a public blockchain with a consensus group of multiple parties. A blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions. We are using blockchain technology to track and record transactions made using HFC. All information on a blockchain exists as a shared database, which means the records are public and verifiable. It is not centralized. We are also using the blockchain to store information about digital asset ownership in High Fidelity. This enables us to protect intellectual property by embedding certification in items in the blockchain. HFC will eventually be convertible to local currencies or other cryptocurrencies at popular exchanges.
  • Cryptographically-secured Wallet: Users will be able to participate in transactions using their Wallet, which will be an app on their tablet in High Fidelity. Your Wallet is secured using a security picture and a passphrase which includes ECDSA public-private keys pairs. These key pairs are used to sign each transaction.
  • Proof of Provenance (PoP) certificate: This certificate is generated for every transaction between a user’s Wallet and the Markeplace. This certificate’s ID is stored on the blockchain. The certificate contains static properties that can help in identifying the item and the owner. These properties cannot be altered, except by transfer of the PoP Certificate. Currently, we only support objects that contain a file type .JSON. Support for avatars and other file types will be coming soon.

Currently, the only way to get some HFC (a free one-time grant) is to go to the Bank of High Fidelity domain at their open times and meet with the banker. Here’s some more information of HFC from the High Fidelity website:

We are currently giving out the currency for anyone interested in participating in the closed beta for High Fidelity Commerce. If you want to get your inital HFC grant, you first need to set up your Wallet.

These coins are to be used as currency for any commerce transactions in the Marketplace. Since we are using blockchain technology, all transactions with HFCs will be publically recorded and stored.

Your Wallet will be secured using ECDSA public-private key pairs, security picture and passphrase. Learn more about your Wallet here.

HFC is not intended for speculators to hold and should be used in transactions in High Fidelity. HFC is intended to be a stable currency and used to support a healthy and vibrant virtual economy for digital goods and assets.\

High Fidelity has an online Marketplace where vendors can sell their products (users can also access the Marketplace listings using their tablets in-world). Avatar Island is the first domain set up in HiFi where you can try on and purchase items for your avatar in-world.

VRChat

VRChat currently does not have any sort of commerce or in-game currency, although there is a thriving real-world business for people designing and rigging custom avatars for VRChat users. It will be interesting to see what happens when/if the company decides to implement an in-world economy on the most popular of the social VR platforms.

AltspaceVR

As I recently reported, AltspaceVR seems to be gearing up for commerce, but at the moment, there is no commerce or in-game currency system in place.

OpenSim

Different OpenSim grids have different solutions to the problem of an in-world currency. Every grid has in-world stores which offer merchandise for sale. Some grids issue their own currencies; others use the Gloebit system, which has the advantage of being one standard currency which is transferable and usable across a large number of participating OpenSim grids. The Kitely Marketplace is a popular shopping mall for the many OpenSim virtual worlds:

Kitely Market can deliver items to all Kitely avatars, as well as to avatars on all other OpenSim grids that support the Hypergrid. Our marketplace also delivers items to avatars on several non-Hypergrid grids that have been set up to receive deliveries from our system.

Kitely Market has been used to deliver items to thousands of OpenSim users on more than 100 different OpenSim grids.

Virtual Universe, Decentraland and the Other Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds

Virtual Universe, Decentraland, Mark Space, Staramba Spaces, VIBEHub, Ceek, and Terra Virtua (among many other products in this increasingly crowded marketplace) are issuing their own blockchain-based cryptocurrencies or tokens for future use on their platforms. all of which are still in development. The product closest to a launch date appears to be Virtual Universe, which plans to start a closed beta sometime in the fourth quarter of 2018.

I’ve already strongly warned potential investors to do every. single. scrap. of their homework before investing a penny in any of these blockchain/cryptocurrency ventures (link). Caveat Emptor!

Other Social VR/Virtual World Platforms

I can’t think of any other metaverse products which have in-world currencies at the moment, besides the adult virtual worlds like Oasis and Utherverse/The Red Light Center (these links are safe for work). If I’ve missed one, please let me know in the comments, thank you!