VRChat Launches VRChat Plus, a New Subscription-Based Service

In a Medium post last month, VRChat announced:

VRChat is grateful to have an extremely supportive community, ready and willing to join us as we develop the leading social VR platform in the world.

Often, we’ve been asked: “Hey, how can I help you? How can I support VRChat?”, where the answer has been “Enjoy VRChat with your friends, and tell others about it!”

Today, we want to introduce a new way for you to support us—VRChat Plus.

As always, the core experience of playing VRChat remains free. The VRChat+ subscription is a way for you to show your support to VRChat, and get some cool bonuses as our way of saying thanks.

VRChat Plus is our first step towards our long-term goals for monetization. We want to allow people who create content — be it worlds, avatars, performances, games, hangouts, experiences, whatever — to be able to support themselves. VRChat is a place where creativity is unbounded. If people who like your work want to support you, we want to help them help you. We’re still working on all this, but we’ll keep you in the know as we move forward.

Well, on December 3rd, 2020, VRChat Plus was launched. Here’s a one-minute YouTube video, providing a summary of the benefits of VRChat Plus:

This move reminds me of nothing so much as Sansar’s similar attempt to get people to subscribe to their social VR platform (I just double-checked, and yes, even since Linden Lab sold Sansar to Wookey, the subscription page is still up).

I, of coursse, would be highly interested to know from Wookey just many people have actually ponied up for a subscription, but of course, they aren’t going to tell me that. I doubt it is a very high figure, although the expedited customer support options and Marvelous Designer* subscription discounts might tempt some users to open their wallets.

If you sign up for VRChat Plus now, during their Early Supporter phase, you will get a bonus:

To sign up for VRChat Plus, you can log into VRChat on Steam, open your main menu, and click the “VRC+” button at the top, and select either the monthly (US$9.99 per month) or annual (US$99.99 per year) purchase options. VRChat states:

For the moment, VRChat Plus is only available on Steam. We’re working towards supporting more platforms soon.

I wonder how much of a cut Facebook is expecting from VRChat when and if they launch VRChat Plus on the Oculus Store. (Steam usually extracts a 30% cut, as I learned when Sansar launched on Steam. So, if you purchase Sansar dollars in the version of the Sansar client you download from Steam, Steam takes a cut, but if you choose to download Sansar from their website instead, Steam does not take a percentage.)

Now for me, stuck up here in the frozen Canadian prairie hinterlands, US$99.99 works out to 127.79 Canadian dollars, which is quite a lot to ask for the limited benefits you currently receive. I’ll be interested to see what future benefits VRChat decides to offer to sweeten the deal somewhat.

However, I happily pay Linden Lab US$99.99 a year for each of three separate Premium accounts on Second Life, which gives me, among other benefits, more group slots, priority teleport access to overcrowded events, and a lovely Linden Home. In fact, a year ago, I actually upgraded one avatar from Basic to Premium just to snag one of the new Victorian Linden Homes! So, as you can see, if you offer the right mix of perks, you can sway people into a paid subscription model for your social VR platform or virtual world.

*Marvelous Designer is the software package used to create avatar clothing in Sansar. I have written about my adventures in Sansar avatar clothing design here.

Jel: A Brief Introduction

Jel (which bills itself “the un-Zoom”) reminds me of cross between Mozilla Hubs, Minecraft, and Remotely; it’s a created-on-the-fly social VR space/virtual world like Hubs, in a landscape vaguely reminiscent of Minecraft, and much like Remotely, it attempts to put a fun spin on remote collaboration between members of a workteam (in other words, the marketplace currently dominated by products such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex).

The Jel website is disconcertingly spartan when you first visit it; all you are asked to do is enter the name of the workspace you want to create (you don’t even have to set up a user account or password!).

Once you get into Jel, you are presented with a windowed look into a blocky, Minecraftesque landscape, which appears to be procedurally generated on the fly:

Pressing the Shift kay and spacebar simultaneously widens your view somewhat, to take advantage of all the real estate on your computer monitor (as far as I can tell, this is not an app which supports virtual reality):

The idea, like so many other YARTRVA (Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App) on the marketplace, is that you can invite your workmates to join you virtually from wherever they happen to be located around the world. Press the / key to pull up the Create menu, which allows you to create a floating page of text, upload an image, video, PDF, or 3D gITF model, or link to an image, video, PDF, or model on the internet.

The Jel website appears to set a cookie so that, the next time you sign in, you are automatically returned to your originally created workspace(s). You can invite your teammates to join you by sending them the URL of your space. You can chat with each other using your microphones (just like Hubs), and you can work on projects together.

The creator, Greg Fodor, writes on his blog:

Jel is now live. Come try it, or read on to learn more.

Earlier this year, I left my team at Mozilla to start something new. Five months later, I’m excited to share the news that Jel is now live for people to come try out. You can create a Space, or join the Jel community Space to check it out. As with all new web-based software, this is just an early version. This first version of Jel will hopefully be enough to kickstart connections with early adopters to refine Jel into something they love. If you want to join the conversation, join the Jel Discord.

Greg makes a few observations, based on his previous work experience at places like AltspaceVR and Mozilla Hubs:

First, while Social VR apps are ostensibly focused on creating social presence with VR headsets, the vast majority of users have great success with traditional laptops, phones, and tablets. It seems to me that avatar chat, not VR, is the core thing that people benefit from. VR is a compelling, but non-essential, way to create this form of social presence. 3D avatar chat tools are nothing new, but the Social VR space that grew in the wake of the Oculus acquisition paved the way for a wider exploration, and also led many to believe that billions of people would soon be meeting up as avatars.

Another odd thing is that the people I saw actually using these apps, the power users, had totally different preferences than the people proposing workplace or other “mainstream” use-cases for them. This latter group almost never became power users themselves, no matter how many features we built that they asked for.

…if you look at the avatar chat apps that people are actually hooked on, they are filled with whimsical or cute avatars, diverse, fantastical scenes, and, in some apps like Hubs or Anyland, a rich canvas of ways to share and mix media with one another with little structure or rules. They’re nothing like a boring conference room with floating human heads in seats and slides up on a projector screen, yet that’s the experience it seems like so many of these virtual meeting tools are trying to deliver.

This was the design philosophy behind Jel: that remote workteam apps should be more like video games like Minecraft, instead of Zoom:

[T]he most controversial claim I’ll make in this whole post that seems true is that once you start using avatar chat to regularly meet with people who “get it”, you’ll ditch videoconferencing, because it sucks in comparison. Being on camera sucks, talking to a little grid of blurry faces sucks, and not seeing other people’s body language but having them act like you do sucks. And it’s all completely unnecessary if you just meet in a video game instead.

In the post-COVID world, an intuition that videoconferencing does indeed suck for remote work has taken hold, despite the logic telling us that it should work just fine. I won’t get into the details here, but research supports this intuition. However, few teams take that intuition and act on it. If they did, they’d discover that meeting in a game like Minecraft or Hubs can be much, much better, as long as the team isn’t primed to reject it as a silly idea, as many do.

Two avatars chatting in Jel (source)

Greg goes on to say:

Jel is designed to be the first always-on, persistent tool for avatar chat, like Slack and Discord, but for 3D virtual spaces.

– You can keep Jel running in the background all day without it becoming a battery or CPU drain.
– Switching between 3D worlds is fast: one click, with no loading screens.
– When you switch worlds, you’ll find everything just how you left it. Objects, environments, and your last position are all persisted.
– Jel tries to always run smoothly, regardless of your device.

Jel can live in a browser tab or be installed as a standalone app. When you switch to something else, it runs quietly in the background, consuming less resources than a typical text chat app. It sets the graphics quality to a level that ensures that no matter if you have a high end GPU or basic laptop graphics, it feels smooth and responsive.

Obviously, Jel is still in the very earliest stages of development, but if you’re intrigued by the concept, you can read through Greg’s entire blogpost (it’s quite lengthy), visit the Jel website, and join their Discord server. You can also ping and chat with Greg Fodor on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where he is a member (his handle is @gfodor).

While Jel is still a far cry from a true social VR app, it does qualify as a virtual world, so I will be adding Jel to my popular, ever-expanding (and soon to be reorganized…I promise!) Comprehensive List of Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds.

Lil Nas X to Perform Three Virtual Concerts in Roblox on November 14th and 15th, 2020

Following in the footsteps of other game worlds which have hosted virtual concerts (e.g. the Marshmello event in Fortnite on Feb.2nd, 2019), the online game platform Roblox is presenting three performances by Lil Nas X.

Old fart that I am (I’m now almost 57 years old), I actually had to Google “Lil Nas X” to figure out who this person is. Apparently, I have been living in a cave; he is a gay, black rapper who currently holds the record for having the longest-running number-one song on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart since it debuted in 1958. (Ryan sighs, takes another swig of Geritol, and shakes his cane, yelling at those damn kids to get off his lawn.)

The official Roblox blog says:

Get ready because Lil Nas X is going virtual for our first concert experience built and performed exclusively on Roblox on November 13-14! Featuring the debut performance of his new single, this event will also see the Grammy-winning artist bring some of his favorite songs to life like never before.

Tune in for the preshow this Friday at 4 PM PST to watch behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the Roblox concert, along with a special Q&A session. You’ll also get the chance to unlock an exclusive Lil Nas X emote by completing an in-game scavenger hunt!

The preshow will then be followed up with three global concert performances starting Saturday at 1 PM PST. Check out the showtimes below:

Concert Showtimes

– Saturday, November 14th at 1:00 p.m. PST
– Saturday, November 14th at 10:00 p.m. PST
– Sunday, November 15th at 9:00 a.m. PST

The concert venue is now open HERE! Jump in early to pick up limited-edition, Lil Nas X-inspired items for your avatar, including a free Old Town Cowboy Hat! More items will become available leading up to the main event, but get them quick because they won’t be around forever.

This immersive concert experience is the first of its kind on Roblox, featuring Lil Nas X rendered digitally with motion-capture performance. This unique celebration represents our next step in digital music experiences and opens the door for all kinds of incredible experiences. So, set your calendars for November 13-14, and keep an eye on our official TwitterFacebook, and Instagram pages for even more updates about the event as well as the exclusive items that will be available.

I have written about Roblox before on this blog (notably, about the 1867 Luxembourg project, which moved from Second Life to Sansar to Roblox). It’s also on my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

I would usually say at this point, “see you there”…but you won’t, because I’m an old fart 😉

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Belle Epoque 5th Anniversary Hunt and Sale

Belle Epoque makes well-designed clothing for female avatars, focusing on classic, retro, and some historical/fantasy styles. She used to create clothing only for Maitreya Lara mesh bodies, but I see that she has now expanded to create clothing for the Legacy female mesh bodies by Meshbody as well. All Belle Epoque clothing is beautifully detailed, and includes an autohide. (For those who don’t know, autohide is when an article of clothing automatically hides the mesh body parts underneath it, so they fit better, and you don’t have to use the HUD that came with the mesh body to do it yourself. It’s a thoughtful feature I wish more designers included with the clothing they sell!)

Here’s an example of the classy, elegant style for which Belle Epoque is famous: the Beatrice blouse, tucked floral sweater, and matching belted skirt combination, which is all in one piece. Today only (Tuesday, November 10th, 2020), you can pick up the Beatrice outfit for L$25 each (or the complete fatpack of all six colours for L$150):

You can pick up this classic Beatrice outfit for only L$25 for each colour today (the version Vanity is wearing in this picture was a limited-edition group gift, no longer available)

To celebrate the 5th anniversary of her brand, Belle Epoque is holding a 50% off sale on everything in the store (except gachas), plus a free hunt with 32 prizes (10 from Belle Epoque, and another 22 from a variety of guest content creators).

You do not need to join any group to participate in the hunt; just look around the store for white frosted cakes with a pink rose on top, and click to claim your prize!

What you are looking for…

Vanity Fair here models five hunt prizes which I quite liked. ARTE is offering a set of lovely, clear, light blue, green, and violet eyes (Catwa and Omega appliers, mesh eyes with a HUD, and system/Bakes on Mesh eyes):

On a Lark’s generous gift is the Naima jewelry set which consists of a necklace and matching earrings, with a HUD with three choices for the metals, and 16 colours for each of the three stones, giving you thousands of possible ways to wear them to match any outfit.

Here Vanity is wearing the gift from Faida, the Carolina pastel pink-and-blue plaid dress, with the Meredith heels from ChicChica (which come in both brown and black versions):

Finally, we have this delightful casual blue dress with a design of dandelion seeds blowing in the wind, one of the ten hunt prizes from Belle Epoque! (The shoes are the same Meredith gift from ChicChica, this time in the black version.)

The sim on which the Belle Epoque store sits can only handle twenty avatars at a time, so you’ll have to be patient to get in. The hunt runs until November 30th, 2020, so you should have plenty of time to teleport in and snap up these and many other fabulous freebies! The 50% sale ends on November 15th, 2020. Here’s your taxi.