I first encountered the work of Canadian artist Bryn Oh in a whimsical yet menacing 2012 installation called Anna’s Many Murders, commemorated in this machinima created by the artist herself:
Since then, Bryn Oh has created dozens of evocative and compelling art installations in Second Life, skillfully using the virtual world as her canvas to tell many stories at the intersection of technology and art. Linden Lab has chosen to highlight her Rabbicorn installation trilogy in the most recent episode of their Second Life Destinations video series (created by Draxtor Despres):
If you have never experienced Bryn Oh’s art before, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to her sim, Immersiva, and explore her work! Part one of the Rabbicorn trilogy is Daughter of Gears, followed by The Rabbicorn Story, and the third and final part is called Standby.
So, I have been visiting VRChat using my new Oculus Quest standalone VR headset off and on since its launch two weeks ago, and to sum up my experience in one word, it has been… underwhelming. VRChat was the first app I tested on my first day using the Quest, and I wrote:
VRChat on the Oculus Quest works the same way as it does on the Oculus Rift, and in no time I was up and running. I selected a portal to an avatar shop and picked out an anime avatar girl. I also visited Al’s Avatar Corridors, a popular and well-known avatar shop in VRChat, but I was disappointed to find that most of the selections would not work in an Quest environment.
When you encounter someone whose avatar is too complex to render for the Quest, their avatar is replaced with a grey robot which has “PC”: stamped on its chest. I predict that many Quest users of VRChat will soon realize that they are missing a LOT of what made VRChat so attractive in the first place, as they visit place after place where most of the other avatars are grey robots. Will that impact how popular VRChat is with Quest users? Perhaps. Only time will tell.
Well, two weeks in, I can report that there is a noticeable jump in the number of Quest-ready avatars at Al’s Avatar Corridors, which is very nice to see. I selected Winnie the Pooh as my avatar and set out to explore this evening.
And I was frankly disappointed in what I found. I would visit world after world packed with grey PC robots (which is what non-optimized avatars look like to Quest users), and when I made an effort to find Quest-friendly spaces like the Quest Café and the Bamboo Tample, I found them deserted or near-deserted (maybe I’ve just been unlucky?). I also noticed severely degraded performance in that any world I visited that had more than a handful of avatars in it (and quite often, the sound was very choppy). In one instance, I actually got VR sick and had to take off my headset, and that almost never happens to me anymore!
And I’m not the only one who has noticed that VRChat on the Quest is not that great an end-user experience. On the VRChat subReddit, a user named SevereMatrex posted:
Despite the title, being able to play VRChat on a mobile headset is very impressive. I didn’t think it would even be available. But, that’s not to say it’s enjoyable (at the moment). Here’s everything that makes the game currently unplayable on the Quest.
Crashes are very frequent. I crash to the Oculus home at least once every hour with no warning. I could be sitting in the default home and I would crash.
I get sent back to the default VRChat home at random. Not sure if it’s my internet connection (other online games run perfectly fine), but I often would just get sent back to my home at random while in worlds, or while joining worlds, which brings me to my next point.
Out of the (notably very few) worlds that are available at the minute, the optimization on some of them is horrible. Even the world such as The Box with just a couple people in it (all with the default PC avatar), I notice a huge drop in frame rate. And then there are worlds like Japan Shrine, which is a fairly popular and good-looking world, but not on Quest! I know this is because of the world creator, but many worlds are like this. Sky boxes are insanely pixelated and textures popping in and out make it feel like there’s no point of playing in VR, at least on the Quest. I know it’s a mobile device with only so many resources, but I still feel like it things could look better (at least eliminate the popping textures…)
90% of people are the default PC avatar. I know this will change in time as more people start converting their avatar to mobile friendly, but as it is right now, I genuinely feel out of place. It’s honestly lonely. It really makes it hard to make friends when everyone is a damn robot. You don’t even know how tall or short they are, so you have no idea if you’re looking at their face or if they’re some embarrassing avatar that you have no idea they are using.
Now, I am not an expert on IK, but what I do know is this: I had anticipated that VRChat on the Quest would be a lot more fun, and (at least, so far) it hasn’t been. I’m starting to wonder if trying to shoehorn the VRChat experience into the Quest was a tactical mistake, and that the game, as it is right now, is still too unoptimized to run properly on a standalone headset. It will be interesting to see how VRChat responds to these and other complaints from users, and how they will improve the service for Quest users over the next few months. It’s clear that at least some users aren’t happy, but it is still very, very early days.
The problem is that at least one of the marketing companies Sinespace contracted with started offering what are called pay-to-play inducements, where new users are paid in IMVU credits or Roblox currency (Robux) if they download the app, create an account on Sinespace and use the program for a minimum length of time (e.g. 30 minutes).
This has apparently led to a unwelcome surplus of trolls, griefers, and online harassment in Sinespace:
According to Sine Wave, what is happening in-world is the result of a single marketing agency who they have already complained to about the practice. However, we’re still seeing these users coming in, often referred to by shady sites like this one, this one, and this one too (and those are just the sites users are posting links to in chat).
By virtue of being offered payment in another game’s currency, they are confirming from the onset that they have no interest outside of getting currency to spend on another platform. Do they really expect users coming in for IMVU or Roblux currency to abandon everything they’ve built? The promise of Sinespace may be great, but the world is far from finished.
It isn’t just a matter of setting themselves up for failure. It’s much worse. On top of bringing in a bunch of people who are very unlikely to join the community and even less likely to become economic participants, it creates the Sinespace griefing problem.
Now, other virtual worlds have made similar mistakes. For example, Linden Lab set up a Twitch bounty program which paid livestreamers to visit Sansar, which was abused by several people who trolled the platform (I’m not certain if that program was suspended or not).
What is clear is that companies in the social VR/virtual world marketplace need to think carefully about the unintended consequences of offering financial inducements to entice new users on to their platforms. This is an embarrassing episode for Sinespace, one from which I hope they recover quickly. Sometimes you just have to learn a lesson the hard way.
Throughout the last five years, I’ve personally appreciated the efforts Linden Lab have put into trying to meet the demand for lower land tier and to make virtual land holdings in Second Life more attractive. I also understand the need to offset such reductions with increases elsewhere to ensure LL as a company mains a good revenue flow. As such, while the fee changes announced on May 29th have caused me something of an “ouch!” reaction, I can understand the motivation behind them, and will learn to live with them.
However, what I feel is ill-conceived are the proposed Basic account changes.
Although I can understand there may well be technical reasons for doing this (load balancing to enable the increases to the same capabilities that are to be offered to Premium subscribers, perhaps?), the fact remains this these reductions come across as best as being punitive and at worse entirely mean-spirited towards Basic account holders. As my friend and fellow SL user Will Burns has noted: “One increases the value of a Premium account by actually increasing the value added proposition, not forcing the issue by reducing the value added of the free account.“
I would therefore urge you to re-consider this move, and allow Basic members either retain their current 42 group limit, or as a compromise (and while I appreciate this is easier said than done), seek to allow current Basic member retain the current 42 groups cap whilst restricting those joining after June 24th to a maximum of 35 groups.
I am not the first Second Life user, Premium or otherwise) to voice concerns over this move. Please do take the time to consider what is being said the changes to Basic accounts via Twitter, in the SL forums and other social platforms, and how they could stand to significantly alienate a good portion of a user base that, while they may not pay subscription fees, nevertheless pay an important role in both the economic and social fabric of Second Life, and who – like all of us engaged in the platform – want to see it continue to thrive and grow and remain a part of our lives.
And I agree 100% with what Inara has said. Let me illustrate what an absolute pain in the ass the planned reductions in groups from 42 to 35 will mean for me. Let’s say I have a Basic (i.e. non-Premium) avatar account that is already at the 42-group limit. And let’s say that Scandalize (a store with many group gifts and a group join fee) decides to have another weekend where you can join their store group for free.
Right now, all I have to do is leave one group (hopefully, one with no group join fee) and join the Scandalize group. But, after June 24th, I will have to leave eight groups (almost 20% of them) before I can join the Scandalize group. In fact, I might even have to leave groups where I already paid a join fee, and that fee is not refunded. Many people already do this intricate dance of leaving and rejoining groups in order to stay informed about events and hunts and take advantage of group gifts. Making this sort of difficult decision even more difficult is going to negatively impact millions of SL customers with Basic avatar accounts. (And please don’t bother nitpicking apart the “millions” part of that last statement. Arguing over how many active user accounts Second Life really has is not the point of this editorial.)
We’re not lowering [group] limits [for non-Premium users] out of spite, groups really are quite a strain on our back end for a variety of painful historical reasons, including overloading group functionality instead of having other tools. This subject alone is worth a novel liberally sprinkled with tears. So anyway, we don’t hate basic users, and in fact we work hard to retain our free-to-play offering as one of the most generous across many industries.
Basic (non-Premium) account holders are feeling somewhat shafted by the reduction of groups from 42 to 35. It doesn’t matter what LL’s technical explanation is; what matters is how it LOOKS, and it looks like LL is being petty and cheap.
This might seem like a trivial issue to many, but it’s not. Groups are a key means of communication within Second Life. Stores use them to keep in touch with their customers, events such as hunts use them to share hints and make announcements, and they are heavily used in roleplay sims to assign player roles, among many other uses.
So, I am adding my voice to Inara’s and many other SL users who have spoken out against these planned reductions in service to Basic account holders, who make up the vast majority of SL users.
On May 29th, we made an announcement about future changes to Premium and Basic account features including plans to increase Group Memberships and offline IM limits for Premium account holders while reducing them for Basic accounts.
We’ve since heard strong and convincing feedback from many in our community about the impact of changing Group Membership limits for Basic accounts. For example, many Residents have shared how they rely heavily on Groups to stay informed about new product releases as Merchants use this feature to regularly communicate news and updates to their customers, and how much Groups are used for keeping communities active.
We hear your concerns and, as a result, Group Membership limits for Basic Residents will NOT be reduced as part of our Premium Membership changes rolling out on June 24th.
Thank you, Ebbe Altberg and the team at Linden Lab!