First, I have decided to suspend the “indefinite hiatus” business, effective immediately. I’ve noticed that I have been writing up and posting at least one blogpost a day lately, which is a sign that I’m feeling less depressed.
One thing that I have learned during my “indefinite hiatus” is that pretty much NOTHING can stop me from blogging about Second Life! So you can expect my coverage to continue, even as I continue to write more about other social VR platforms and virtual worlds.
Remember that I have replaced almost all of my blogging about Second Life freebies and bargains with notices posted to the new in-world RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group! More information on this brand new SL group here. (Just do a keyword search for “ryanschultz”—all one word—under Groups and you’ll find my new group easily. It costs only L$50 to join, which means that I can now call myself a professional freebie fashionista! 😉 )
Moving forward, I will be focusing on two categories of worlds on my blog:
Those that pay me for sponsored advertising (e.g. Sinespace) will get highest priority; in such cases I will always include a standard disclaimer at the bottom of the blogpost that it is sponsored, and by whom (my advertising rates are here); and
I will also be writing more often about those platforms that intrigue and excite me. For example, I have just spent a week learning how to create content in NeosVR, and I can’t wait to show you everything I have learned!
So, fasten your seatbelts—we are off on another adventure!
Overall, the fact that I can have an expressive, fully animated avatar inside a metaverse is blowing my mind.
Not too long ago, I was invited by Carlos Austin and Jason Moore to pay a long-overdue visit to NeosVR, where we met up with XRiEL (a.k.a. Ari Tarr), went over to Jason’s workshop, tried on some cool avatars, and rode some fun vehicles!
Here’s the full one-and-a-quarter hour video which Carlos kindly posted to YouTube:
Enjoy! As you can tell we had a lot of fun. Carlos was the cameraman capturing the shenanigans, and we were later joined by iBrews (a.k.a. Alex Coulombe). This video also makes a great introduction to NeosVR if you have never visited before! Of particular interest is Ari showing just how easy it is to rig an avatar within NeosVR:
Thanks to Jason, Ari, Carlos, and Alex for a wonderful afternoon! I had to bow out a little early (at the 50-minute mark in this video) to avoid becoming VR sick, but the antics continued after I departed!
At the 53-minute mark, XRiEL/Ari demonstrates what he can do with his avatar, wearing a Vive Eye Pro VR headset with eye tracking, the Vive Facial Tracker, plus Valve Index hand and finger trackers, and also three Vive pucks attached to his hip and both his feet. Yes, his eyes and mouth are mirroring his facial motion in real time!
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:
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.
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 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.
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 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 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)
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!
The HTC Vive lip tracker dev-kit I integrated into NeosVR really adds a whole new level of expressivity to social VR. Never before [have] I had other people in VR telling me they like to see me smile when there’s something funny, or to go to sleep when I’m yawning!
This is so cool! Of course, most people in VR headsets use hand controllers of some sort to animate thier avatar’s arms and hands. Valve Index hand controllers can even animate individual fingers (although not all platforms can take advantage of this feature).
Many people have also been experimenting for years with using the HTC Vive “pucks” (on platforms such as VRChat, the old High Fidelity, and Sansar), to animate their avatar’s full bodies, attaching them to shoulders, waists, hips, knees, and feet. But adding mouth, lips (even tongue!) movements pushes the envelope even further, and these non-verbal expressions can add so much to conversations in social VR!
It should be noted here that the quest to animate your avatar’s face has been going on for quite some time now, with a variety of different solutions. For example, Sinespace sells a product called an Avatar Facial Driver, which works using your webcam to capture your facial expressions and play them on your avatar’s face (this is for a non-VR, desktop user, though). I blogged about this back in May of 2018.
Congratulations to Tomáš and the entire team at NeosVR for pushing the boundaries in avatar expression!