High Fidelity Pick of the Day: The Spot

The Spot is a new meeting hub in the virtual world of High Fidelity, complete with a futuristic café!

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The Spot has a cheerful, welcoming feel to it. The domain also offers teleporters to various other popular domains within High Fidelity:

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Building a Portal Between the Real World and Social VR Spaces: SVVR’s MULTIVERSE Initiative

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A portal between High Fidelity and a real-world event (picture from the Road to VR website)

Kent Bye, in a news report on the Road to VR website, writes about the fifth anniversary of the immensely influential organization known as the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) meetup:

Today is the five-year anniversary for Silicon Valley Virtual Reality meetup, and founder Karl Krantz is announcing a couple of new initiatives as SVVR reorganizes itself as a public-benefit corporation. They’re going to be formally announcing their MULTIVERSE initiative that is going to be bringing Reality Portals to VR events, which will allow people virtually attend VR events put on by SVVR and others through social VR experiences like High Fidelity. They’ve created a screen that can be placed at VR events that provides a low-latency window into a VR world (and vice versa), allowing for serendipitous interactions between co-located events and the virtual attendees.

Among the first participants in this initiative will be High Fidelity, according to this press release:

Celebrating five years connecting the global VR community, SVVR is proud to announce MULTIVERSE — an open design initiative powering real-time, live event communications between real locations and virtual worlds.

Reality Portal is the first project to be launched as part of the MULTIVERSE initiative. It offers ‘natural interaction telepresence’ between people in the real world and people in remote locations, represented as avatars. Serving as a two-way window, Reality Portal enables real-time communications between real world and remote attendees and speakers at live events worldwide.

“Geography, platform fragmentation and exclusivity creates communities in isolation,” says Karl Krantz, SVVR partner and founder. “We’re offering the community an open bridge for overcoming location, closed ecosystems and toxic echo chambers. MULTIVERSE is our vision for fostering an open, sustainable and healthy future for global communications.”

Launching in late 2018, the open-source MULTIVERSE Development Kit will provide creators with everything they need to connect real locations and virtual worlds through pop-up Reality Portals and merged world spaces of their own. High Fidelity, Unity and WebVR/XR SDK support is in active development. MULTIVERSE technologies are currently utilized during live, SVVR-powered events.

“The distance between the real world and virtual reality is getting smaller every day,” said Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of High Fidelity. “Closing that distance and making it easy for people to interact in-person and with their avatar representations interchangeably, no matter the VR platform, their equipment or location unlocks the true potential of virtual reality. Projects like MULTIVERSE, Reality Portal and the VRBA are all exciting steps along that path.”

In addition, SVVR is joining the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance, cofounded by open source VR platform High Fidelity. As a member of the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance, SVVR will work closely with the community and VRBA members to connect open metaverse platforms and services to people around the globe. Current VRBA members include High Fidelity, JanusVR and Somnium Space.

I wrote about the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance a while ago on this blog.

It would be fun to be able to virtually attend real-world events via this sort of portal.

Trolling, Griefing, and Harassment in Virtual Worlds: What the Newer Social VR Platforms Are Doing to Combat It

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How do you deal with a troll? (image by Anaterate on Pixabay)

There was a particularly irritating troll at Alfy’s Voices of Sansar competition this past Saturday. Trying to find and mute her (currently the only tool available to us in Sansar) was an exercise in frustration, hovering my cursor over each avatar in the crowd watching the show until I found her. Gindipple has released some software that might help us the next time we get hit by a troll at an event:

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We’ve been pretty lucky in Sansar so far; we haven’t seen anything like the levels of trolling and harassment that occur in the more popular social VR spaces like VRChat and AltspaceVR. (VRChat, in particular, is infamous for its griefing.) But we Sansarians all know the onslaught of trolls is coming, and every social VR platform is going to have to come up with its own technical solutions to the problem of trolls.

So, how are the other social VR platforms dealing with this issue?

 

Sinespace

Sinespace has pretty limited options as well. You can basically report and ignore other avatars around you:

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VRChat

VRChat is taking the most controversial step of banning new users from uploading avatars or worlds until certain (unspecified) conditions are met, and taking away such privileges from older users who misbehave:

Hello, VRChat! We’ve been working on some new “Trust” systems to help make VRChat a friendlier place. These systems will be used to help gate various features until users have proven themselves to be a friendly member of the community. One of the first parts of the Trust system is called “Content Gating”. This system is designed to reduce abusive or annoying behavior involving avatars or other content.

Here’s generally how it works. When a user first creates a new VRChat account, they will be unable to upload custom content like worlds or avatars. After spending some time in the app and having positive interactions with other users, they will eventually receive in-app and email notifications that their account has access to world and avatar creation capability. This time may vary from user to user depending on various factors.

If the new user chooses to spend time in VRChat behaving badly or maliciously against other users, they may lose the capability to upload content. They will receive a notification in-app and via email that they have lost access to content uploading. If they spend more time in the app and follow the Community Guidelines, then they will eventually regain access to these systems. Again, this time may vary depending on various factors.

The CEO of at least one other competing metaverse corporation has said that he doubts this step will actually work as intended. In addition to these new sanctions, VRChat also has the ability to mute (so you can’t hear) and block (so you can’t see) other avatars in its pop-up user interface, and a “safe mode”, which is a sort of “nuclear option” where you can mute and block all avatars which are not on your friends list.

VRChat is also temp-banning people who troll, but sometimes other people get accidentally caught in the cross-fire. I seem to remember that there is also a feature where you can ask avatars who share your world to vote “yes” or “no” on ejecting a misbehaving user from that instance.

So all in all, VRChat has developed the most evolved and developed tools for dealing with trolling. But then again, they’ve been forced to.

 

AltspaceVR

Back in 2016, AltspaceVR introduced a “space bubble” to keep other avatars from invading your personal space. I do know that you can also mute other avatars who are annoying you. You don’t have an option to block offensive avatars in AltspaceVR, but then again, you don’t really have any choice in your avatar, they’re so very limited!

I would load and run AltspaceVR to check all these features out, but the latest version of the client software (where you get to choose your new “home” location) has completely locked up my high-end PC THREE. TIMES. tonight and I am not going to risk trying it again! AltspaceVR seems to be experiencing some major growing pains. Seriously not impressed.

 

High Fidelity

High Fidelity has a Bubble icon on its tablet user interface that works similarly to the AltspaceVR space bubble:

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You can also mute nearby avatars, or set them to “ignore” so they can’t messsage you in-world. Pretty much the same features as the other social VR spaces have. All the tools in all the newer social VR spaces are pretty limited.

 

General Issues in Dealing with Trolling and Griefing

So, let’s move from specific technical solutions to a more general discussion on how to handle griefing in general. What’s the best way to go about dealing with griefing, trolling, and harassment in online communities?

Dr. Mark Dombeck, in an article on the website MentalHealth.net, neatly outlines some of the issues in community and game design that affect trolling:

In my experience, manipulating perpetrator anonymity is an important factor in controlling griefer’s/troll’s antisocial behavior. The more easily identifiable and able to be held accountable for their actions community members are, the fewer instances of bad behavior you tend to see.

Allied with the idea of altering perpetrator anonymity is the idea of altering expectation of punishment. Accountability enables easier punishment. There are several ways that punishment can take place however. Punishment can be very informal, where community members heap scorn on other members who violate the social contract or simply ignore them (by using filters within the community to literally make their presence invisible). This sort of informal punishment is what makes accountability effective all by itself. Accountability can also enable more formal varieties of punishment such as entry bans. In my experience bans are the most useful way to discourage the really hardcore antisocial behavior that happens on communities. Punishment can never hope to eradicate all griefer/troll behavior however, because the really hardcore griefers will thrive on punishment, seeing attempts by the management to eject them as high praise for their work.

Here are a few other elements of the community or game that can be manipulated and which might have an impact on reducing griefing/trolling behavior.

Setting up Initiation Barriers probably would affect griefing behavior. The easier it is to get into a community, the more likely that community is to become a target for griefers. In part this has to do with helping people to identify with and value the community and not take it for granted. When you have to do a lot of work to get into a community you are more likely to care for that community and not want to harm it. The problem here is that the same barriers that might keep out griefers also keep out legitimate members. It is difficult to set a barrier high enough to keep out one group without also keeping out the other group.

I’d expect that the more opportunity there is to act out griefer behaviors with a group of other griefers, the more often the behavior would happen. People tend to take less responsibility for individual actions when they are acting as part of a group or mob. This social psychological principle goes by several names including the bystander effect, and diffusion of responsibility. The solution here would be to limit people’s ability to socialize, but as that utterly defeats the purpose of the community it isn’t really much of a solution.

I would expect that manipulating the frame of the community or game can increase or decrease the chance that griefer behavior will occur. The frame of a game or community has to do with its identity – how members think of what they are doing when engaged in the game or community. If an interaction is thought of as a game and therefore not something that is real or important it is easier to self-justify doing mayhem. If an interaction is thought of as a more serious behavior such as part of a support group interaction, the urge to do mayhem is maybe less strong (for some at least). The Wired article talks about this issue somewhat indirectly, noting that Second Life members don’t think of what they do in Second Life as being part of a game but rather view it as a more serious community. The “non-game” frame of Second Life participants makes such participants more likely to view griefing behavior taking place within Second Life in non-game ways, such as considering it to be actual theft or terrorism.

Second Life has often been an arena for trolling because it’s very easy to create a free, throwaway account to be offensive. If one gets banned, the griefer can go ahead and create another free account. All the newer social VR spaces have this problem, since they don’t want to discourage people from signing up and (hopefully) staying and generating income for the company.

There are no easy answers here. The best we can do is try various solutions and see if they prove effective or not. In these early days of the metaverse, we’re all still learning the best ways to design our communities to chain the trolls.

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UPDATED: Seven Things That High Fidelity Does Better Than Sansar

It’s only natural to want to compare two of the newer, VR-capable social virtual worlds: High Fidelity (founded in 2013 by Philip Rosedale), and Sansar by Linden Lab (the company founded in 1999, also by Philip Rosedale, before he left to start HiFi; the current CEO is Ebbe Altberg). With similar roots, the two virtual worlds have a lot in common, but there are still some significant differences between them. Earlier this year, I recently posted an infographic comparing the two platforms (which I probably need to update).

Now, my preferred virtual world happens to be Sansar, but there are some areas where High Fidelity still has an edge over Sansar, at least right now:

Making friends: You can “shake hands” with another avatar and they are automatically added to your friends list in HiFi. Very natural and very cool.

Paying an avatar: You can pay or “tip” an avatar directly from the tablet UI in High Fidelity, something you can’t do in Sansar.

Spectator Cam: This is a very useful and fun tool. The Spectator Camera is a camera you can use, along with recording software such as Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), to record or livestream what you and your friends do in High Fidelity. They even had a film festival in HiFi consisting entirely of videos recorded using this device! I went to the premiere, it was great fun!

Blockchain: High Fidelity stores currency, object information, and identity on the blockchain. It’s a new, relatively untested technology which some feel is problematic, but Philip Rosedale has embraced it boldly. Sansar has decided to go in a different direction with a commerce system very similar to its flagship product, Second Life.

In-World Building Tools: High Fidelity does offer you the option of building items in-world, in a way very similar to the “prim building” in Second Life. It’s still a crude tool, but it works. There’s no such ability in Sansar, nor is one planned as far as I know. Most content creators in HiFi and Sansar do decide to use external tools such as Blender or Maya (or even Windows Paint 3D!) to create content, then import it.

Have I missed any other advantages to High Fidelity over Sansar? Please let me know in the comments, thanks!

UPDATE 7:32 p.m. Alezia Kurdis on the HiFi user forums reminded me of one thing that High Fidelity has that Sansar doesn’t—your avatar can fly! Thanks, Alezia!

UPDATE May 15th: Expert HiFi avatar creator Menithal comments on another feature that High Fidelity has that Sansar currently lacks—custom-rigged avatars! (Sansar has decided to go in another direction with avatar customization with its integration with Marvelous Designer, but you cannot design, create, rig and script customized avatars like you can in High Fidelity and VRChat):

You also have a lot more control over custom avatars;

  • On the fly Scripting and scripts that can run only on your client
  • CUSTOM avatars, not just customizable ones with attachments
  • In-world freedom to do things

Let me give some examples:

You can manipulate object behavior on the fly, instead of relying on things to occur: Like in this silly video where i just experimented with Attaching a camera to the end of a stick, then making it physical. I also bound my track pad to change my emotion state on the fly while in the HMD.

Avatars can also be, honestly a lot more expressive, in HiFi compared to Sansar, due to the ability to have completely custom shapes instead of attachments, which also are completely doable (my coat is an attachment I can change on the fly)

There also is quite alot of flexibility of creation of addons: like the clap script, allowing you to clap while in HMD. Scripting it self extends the possibilities to be quite large:

Or even cast a spell using gestures and vocal control, if you have the scripting know-how. This also demonstrates me switching out my attachments via a script.

Or if you have an avatar with many bones, you can create an avatar specific customizer

This ofcourse has gone even further and allowed the use of flow bones in High Fidelity, where bones are simulated as well by others touching them.

Then there is

  • Running
  • Flying

And everything can be done while in HMD, without having to jump on and off it. A lot of the features are way deeper than the surface.

Thanks, Menithal! Although I must note that you can indeed run in Sansar…but flying would be nice to have *sigh*

An Interview with High Fidelity Content Creator XaosPrincess

Andreas Troeger has interviewed High Fidelity content creator XaosPrincess in a well-produced 20-minute video. She uses Gravity Sketch and Tilt Brush to create unique avatar clothing and accessories in HiFi:

The YouTube gives a nice overview of the High Fidelity in-world shopping experience.

Here’s a link to her Blockchain line of wearables on the High Fidelity Marketplace.

Coming Soon: Drax’s Our Digital Selves Documentary (Plus Another Plea to Release the Outfits!)

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Did you know that Draxtor Despres (Bernhard Drax in real life) has been hard at work on a documentary about how people with a disability use virtual worlds like Second Life, High Fidelity, and Sansar? The title of the documentary, which will be released free to YouTube on May 18th, is Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me. Drax describes the film as follows:

Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me tells the story of 13 global citizens and their avatars as they transcend their various disabilities by making a home in the VR metaverse.

Filmmaker Bernhard Drax travels all over the world, from California to rural South England, to explore why a diverse group of people ranging from 24 to 92 years of age find solace, inspiration and deep friendship that in a user-created digital wonderland that only exists inside their computers.

Drax sends his intrepid documentarian avatar Draxtor Despres into the virtual universe of Second Life as well as next generation VR platforms like High Fidelity and Sansar and – among many other adventures – he finds out why a 40-something Chicago native feels best represented by a colorful gecko complete with superhero cape or why Cody LaScala – confined to a wheelchair his entire life – feels his avatar should look exactly like him. The film follows researchers Tom Boellstorff and Donna Davis as they lead discussion groups and facilitate deep connection between real human beings in virtuality through artistic expression.

We follow along as they travel to Silicon Valley to find out how leading technologists design the future of online communication with disability in mind.

As Boellstorff and Davis finish up their 3-year study, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation entitled Virtual Worlds, Disability and New Cultures of the Embodied Self, the film presents a compressed compendium and visual guide to a seemingly unlimited array of possibilities for borderless human interaction.

Unique in its narrative approach, Our Digital Selves weaves together physical and virtual cinematography as the protagonists backstories are re-enacted via Machinima technique – real time animation – in the virtual world and next generation VR platforms.

The film will be available for free on YouTube come May 18th and has been submitted to film festivals around the world for the 2019 season.

Here’s a preview of the documentary Drax put out on YouTube about six months ago:

And here’s a great screen capture from the video (of which I saw an advance screener) of Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg sitting in front of some Sansar Studios concept art for avatar outfits.

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And once again, I make my regular plea, ever since I first saw glimpses of this concept art from Sansar Studios: Release the Outfits! 😉 Don’t hold back on us, Ebbe… even with a healthy fashion market full of user-created content, a few more outfit choices from Linden Lab would be much appreciated by this Sansar fashion blogger!

UPDATED: Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR Spaces/Virtual Worlds

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Image by AJEL from Pixabay

My recent interview with Ghoster got me thinking about the issue of intellectual property (IP) and copyright regarding avatars in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. VRChat is already infamous for having a multitude of avatars ripped from innumerable video games, TV shows, and movies. High Fidelity has decided to take a page from VRChat’s playbook (and, I assume, try and attract some of that VRChat crowd) by setting up a few domains where you can select from a wide variety of popular characters, owned by Disney and other companies, as your avatar:

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Now, they skate around the legality of this by offering these avatars for free; no money is being made from this. A prominent disclaimer sign posted in the Avatardz domain states:

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So, HiFi doesn’t advocate “piracy from independent and small artists.” What bothers me about this statement is the unstated implication that piracy from Disney or another large corporation is somehow O.K. (maybe because they can afford to swallow the losses more easily?). Also, they seem to justify this blatant IP appropriation as a sort of fan art, a “fan-operated source for pop culture avatars as a tribute to our pop culture legends”.

I came away from my interview with Ghoster of VRC Traders a little troubled by the copyright and IP issues involved in selling custom avatars to VRChat users that are wholly or partially based on characters owned by somebody else. I did a little research and came across this recent article on IP issues in virtual worlds, from the website Intellectual Property Watch (a non-profit independent news service), which states:

In the virtual world, people appear through their avatars. If they design the avatars themselves, they could be subject to copyright and trademark lawsuits, Lemley and Volokh said. Fictional characters’ images together with their unusual character traits are protected by copyright, so users who copy enough of the visuals, character traits or both to be copyrighted expression and not simply an idea might be infringing. If the use is non-commercial and the copyright owner isn’t distributing licensed avatars, the use might be fair use, but selling such avatars without rights owner approval would likely not be fair use, they said. It could also amount to a trademark infringement.

Rights holders might choose not to go after individual users or small avatar sellers, but to sue the AR or VR operator for contributory infringement, the paper said. The operator might be immune under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but only until someone sends it a notice-and-takedown request that isn’t quickly acted upon, it said. Established case law sets out the limits of intermediary liability under the DMCA; there’s less clarity about intermediary liability for trademark infringement on the internet but the law is developing, it said.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a process often used (and, in a few cases, abused) by vendors in Second Life and other virtual worlds who claim that someone has stolen their intellectual property. The process is laborious, tedious, and probably could be improved. Many large corporations don’t seem to think that it’s worth their time and money to go after people who are stealing their IP in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. For example, Warner Brothers probably doesn’t care much that dozens of people are selling Superman-themed items on the SL Marketplace, even though they fought (and won) a protracted legal battle to cement their copyright to Superman. They probably are reserving their lawyer firepower for the bigger and more egregious cases of copyright infringement.

I have said before that VRChat may get into serious trouble if people continue to flout the copyright laws so shamelessly, particularly if they are starting to making healthy profits at it, as seems to be the case with the community that has sprung up around VRC Traders. We could be in for some interesting legal cases in the years ahead.

UPDATE 3:34 p.m.: Obligatory link back to the VRChat Events website (because I promised them I would do it if I cross-posted over on their Discord server, and I forgot!): www.vrchatevents.com

Also, Second Life and Sansar blogger Inara Pey made such a great comment on this blogpost that I wanted to add it in full here. She said:

IP infringement and the “it’s OK to flout IP of big companies ‘cos they can afford it” is a source of heated debate in SL. In 2012, I reported on the CBS / Star Trek situation. There’s also been the Universal / Battlestar Galactica situation.

Both of these focused more on props, models, and costumes from said series than avatars, but the attitude towards their IP was the same. It was further coupled with the view that “well, we’re fans and so they should be grateful to us for our support”. However, both attitudes not only falsely justify infringement, they also overlook the importantly equal matter of licensing.

In short, major studios – Marvel, Disney, CBS, Universal, et al, generate millions in revenue by issuing merchandise licenses to manufacturers and commercial concerns. As such – and no matter how large or small the unlicensed market or how small the turn-over / profit made by those actively engaged in selling unlicensed goods – the license owner has a legal obligation to project the licenses they have sold, as well the right to protect their IP.

This was as much behind the Universal / CBS situations vis BSG and Trek as anything else – a point many of those railing at both companies at the time, and citing (in Trek’s case) non-binding “arrangements” which may have been offered by prior rights holders, seemingly failed to grasp.

The idea that offering something “for free” is equally a slippery path. As you point out, it’s only a short step from offering “for free” to then offering items for sale. This has been demonstrated (again) in SL with both the Star Trek and BSG situations.

In both cases, Universal and CBS backed away from legal action on the understanding that virtual goods relating to their IP investment in both shows would not be made with the intent to sell for profit. As a perusal of the SL Marketplace will demonstrate, neither agreement has been adhered to by virtual content creators. Ergo, there is still a potential ticking bomb on this subject in SL, should the legal departments of either studio swivel back towards virtual environments and virtual “goods” … which the slow rise of VR might actually encourage.

Also, there seems to be a broader view that because specific understandings were reached by some (again, I’ll use the CBS / Universal agreements, as those are the two I have direct knowledge of) are somehow a “blanket OK” from all IP holders to allow copies of their IP to be offered for free – which may not actually be the case. Again, that’s actually down to the individual studios to decide; just because X has gone that route, doesn’t mean Y will – or is obliged to even consider it.

Just as a point of reference, my own (slightly long-in-the-tooth) articles on this subject can be found at:

https://modemworld.me/2012/11/02/of-copyright-ip-and-product-licensing/ (Star Trek)

https://modemworld.me/2010/11/29/bsg-universal-dmca/ (Universal / BSG)

https://modemworld.me/2011/02/08/bsg-limited-roleplay/ Universal / BSG)

FreeWee Ling also had a great comment when I cross-posted this blogpost to Drax’s 114 Harvest community on Facebook:

People have been screaming about IP issues in SL since the beginning. Several years ago there was a series of open talks in SL featuring attorneys with expertise in IP who examined the LL TOS. Not much was resolved other than a statement from LL that their “intention” was not to steel user content, but that they needed certain rights in order to allow people to use the Marketplace and just to generally present the content on the platform. A lot of artists were not satisfied and you’ll find many of them still working in OpenSim grids where they have more control.

Disney and others are vehement about controlling how and where and by whom their IP is presented. There was a Disney themed fan sim in SL some years ago that, if memory serves, got notice to remove their content of face legal consequences. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation closed down a sim full of great Wright model homes in SL, even after the owners contacted them and at least got tacit permission to do it. (I.e., I think they had been told the foundation wouldn’t endorse it, but also wouldn’t stop it.)

Ultimately, I’m pretty sure any copy of virtual content without permission is theft. Whether there is money involved or not.