VRChat Lays Out Their Developer Roadmap for the Next Year

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I am returning to my self-imposed break from blogging.


Yesterday, VRChat held a two-hour developer-oriented livestream on Twitch, in which they laid out their roadmap for the next twelve months: what’s ahead?

Kent Bye did his usual excellent summarizing of the livestream in a series of tweets on Twitter, but I also wanted to write up a bit about what was said, and what it means. The Twitch livestream (which really gets rolling at about the 9:00-minute mark) covers quite a lot a territory, so please consider this just a summary! At times there was a lot of technical jargon thrown around, particularly with respect to server issues, so be forewarned before watching the livestream!

Ron, VRChat’s chief creative officer, and Tupper, the community manager for VRChat, were the hosts who shared the next year’s roadmap with us, with a plea to keep in mind that things can change, as often happens in software development projects! Other VRChat staff joined to talk about projects they were working on.

They report that VRChat Plus (i.e. premium accounts) has so far been amazing, with lots of support. VRChat Plus on Oculus is coming soon, and VRChat Plus gifting is coming as soon as possible.

There was a discussion of the server growing pains encountered as the number of concurrent users has risen over time. Here’s a picture of the VRChat server team, in VRChat!

Tupper then talked about some of the persistent bugs that the team is attempting to fix: audio bugs, problems in the Social menu, avatar load hitching, etc. (starting around the 27-minute mark in the livestream). He created something called the Bug List Bodyslam (seen in the bottom left hand corner of the following image), a graphical representation which helped determine which bugs were highest priority:

Did you know there was a bug called the “head-pat alignment”? 😉 (VRChat users often greet each other by patting each others’ heads.)

The Art team (Rocktopus and Technobabel) talked about the new user interface (UI). Aspects of the new UI have already been released (i.e. some of the features in VRChat Plus), and will be rolled out gradually over time, instead of one big UI overhaul. There will be a new Quick Menu, which will look like this (video at the 38:00 mark):

A sneak peek at the new Quick Menu

The next section was about improvements to avatar dynamics. bones, etc. Kiro, a client-end engineer for VRChat, joined Tupper for this part of the presentation. Among the new features are avatar-to-avatar interaction: avatars actually being able to touch themselves and each other, sparking visual or audio effects! Please watch the video at 55:30 mark in the Twitch livestream to see this feature in action.


There was much, much more which I have not touched upon in this blogpost, so I would recommend you read Kent Bye’s series of tweets for a better summary, or set aside a couple of hours and watch the Twitch livestream itself. I really do wish that other social VR platforms on the marketplace would do something like VRChat’s annual developer livestream. Some do (e.g. Sinespace), and others don’t (several companies which I will not name).

It’s wonderful to see a company like VRChat respond to its community and lay out its future plans in this way!

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! VRChat Launches Wolf3D’s Ready Player Me Avatar Creation System: Create a Humanoid Avatar from A Selfie in Just Minutes!

Launching officially today, Wednesday, February 24th, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time, Wolf3D‘s Ready Player Me avatar maker now supports importing avatars into the popular VRChat platform!

VRChat integration was always among the most requested features from the users of Ready Player Me. The avatar creator allows for generating a 3D avatar based on a single selfie. Users can select from 200 customization options, including outfits, hairstyles, and tattoos. Wolf3D set as a goal to bring the same set of personalization and customization options to their VRChat avatar creator.

Starting today, the VRChat community can create personal 3D avatars based on a selfie and use them in VRChat on both PC and Oculus Quest versions of the game. Ready Player Me avatars are compatible with AV3, allowing players to use the platform’s new expressions system.

For many, creating an avatar in VRChat is both a daunting and very important task. We’re excited to work with Wolf3D to help make avatar creation easier and more accessible for everyone in the VRChat universe!

—Graham Gaylor, Co-Founder & CEO of VRChat

Like full-body Ready Player Me avatars, all users need to do is upload a selfie. The company’s machine learning algorithm (based on 20,000 high-resolution facial scans) will generate a 3D model based on the photo. It’s possible to skip this step and go directly to the avatar maker if the user doesn’t want to share their photo.

Here’s a brief video on how to create an avatar using Ready Player Me:

To get started, simply head over to https://readyplayer.me/vrchat. Have fun! For more details, please see the official press release from Wolf3D.

UPDATE March 1st, 2021: Timmu Tõke, the CEO of WOlf3D, reported in an email:

In the first 24 hours, the VRChat community has created over 20,000 Ready Player Me avatars, peaking at 30 avatars per second and almost melting our servers (for real). We were featured on Road to VRUploadVRVRFocus, and many more.

Congratulations to Timmu and his team on their successful launch!

UPDATED! One Thing That VRChat Really Needs: Better Directories of Publicly-Accessible Worlds

Since I have upgraded my Oculus Rift to a Valve Index, I have been spending more and more time in VRChat lately. VRChat in 2021 reminds me of nothing so much as Second Life circa 2007, when I first joined: the wonderful sense of exploration and adventure, never quite knowing where you were going to land up and who you would encounter!

However, there is still one problem that I encounter in VRChat, and that is the topic for today’s blogpost: the need to set up a better in-world directory of worlds to explore. I have written about this topic before, but the need has now become acute. Finding cool worlds in VRChat has become something of a crapshoot, a time-consuming, trial-and-error process.

How many VRChat worlds are there? VRChat is surprisingly tight-lipped about world statistics. The VRChat website still says “Over 25,000 Community Created Worlds and Growing”, but this December 2018 promotional video says “Over 50,000 User-Created Worlds”:

So I asked around within my network of contacts for some updated statistics, and learned that there are now over 55,000 publicly-accessible VRChat worlds (not to mention countless private, invite-only worlds). My source tells me:

55,000 public worlds. 10 times more that are private, probably…

[I] asked someone in the prefab community who [is] very much tied with VRChat developers. A FPS said that very confidently. I can try to ask them where there is an actual figure count.

They told me: “Try to access on vrcw.net, you can see total public world as number. 55,458 public world has been updated so far. (include one already deleted.)” But thats still an unofficial number.

Another quote: “I think the unofficial number is something like 55k but remember how many of them have been abandoned on older SDK updates to the point they might not even be useable anymore. I wonder how far back you can go before it starts not working correctly. Source is https://en.vrcw.net/world at 20 worlds a page, 2779 pages, for a total of 55580. Although that site does list deleted worlds as well, also if they uploaded duplicates”

This is actually a very clever way to estimate the number of public VRChat worlds! However, the fact that we are relying on a third-party directory for this information simply underlines the problem that VRChat users face: it’s still too difficult to look for a particular kind or category of world.

Right now, the only way to find a world is to do a keyword search under Worlds in the pop-up menu, which matches on words in the world’s name, plus any tags which the creator adds to the description. What VRChat needs to do is set up something along the lines of the Second Life Destination Guide, a curated directory of worlds by category and purpose:

The Second Life Destination Guide (see the list of categories on the left-hand side?) VRChat desperately needs something like this.

Now, VRChat is not the only social VR platform with this problem; it is common to all social VR worlds, and different platforms tackle this problem with varying degrees of success. Right now, everything relies too much on word of mouth, which can be hard if you’re not in the loop!

Now that 2021 is the year where the monthly active users (MAU) stats for Rec Room and VRChat begin to consistently surpass that of venerable Second Life, perhaps it’s time that these and other social VR companies invest in creating curated directories (and no, don’t just rely on volunteers, hire and pay staff to do the work). Think of it as a necessary investment. It could be the start of a virtuous circle, where better directories lead to more traffic to excellent or unique worlds, leading in turn to more and better directories!

Something to think about. Also something to think about: how about some destination guides or curated directories of private VRChat worlds? 😉

UPDATE 12:30 p.m.: Well, this is interesting…according to the official press release about the launch of Wolf3D’s Ready Player Me avatar creation system in VRChat:

There are over 300,000 worlds created by the VRChat community. 

So, which is it, VRChat? 25,000? 50,000? or 300,000 worlds? And does that 300,000 figure include both public and private worlds? Inquiring minds want to know… 😉