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Recently, I have become fascinated by a particular kind of celebrity: the YouTube influencer. Yesterday, I watched a video by the successful YouTuber and real estate agent Graham Stephan, who is currently pulling in US$100,000 per month from his YouTube channel alone:
These are people who have been able to attract significant numbers of subscribers to their YouTube video content, and earn hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars a year with advertising and endorsement deals. For example, the 28-year-old Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (a.k.a PewDiePie) earned US$15.5 million last year, according to Forbes.
Now, you might remember that PewDiePie was one of the YouTubers who devoted coverage to the social VR platform VRChat in late 2017 and early 2018, which led to a surge in the number of concurrent users (here is a chart from Steam showing the number of concurrent users of VRChat over time, with an arrow pointing to that surge):
Now, I’m pretty sure that PewDiePie did not sign an endorsement deal with VRChat; he probably just stumbled across it and thought it was entertaining enough to share with his audience of 98.6 million viewers. VRChat was probably just as surprised as everybody else by this sudden spike in users. I remember how they struggled to keep their servers running smoothly to deal with this unexpected onslaught over the Christmas holidays in 2017, and they were eventually forced to implement a detailed safety and trust system to cope with the resulting tidal wave of harassment and griefing on the platform. (Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it!)
But obviously, PewDiePie and his fellow livestreamers on Twitch and YouTube were a powerful, free promotional tool for VRChat. (The Ugandan Knuckles meme helped a lot, too, by becoming a self-perpetuating cycle that helped popularize VRChat.) While the platform peaked at 28,500 simultaneous users, it has since settled down to around 6,000 concurrent users in recent months, which still makes it the most popular social VR platform so far.
It’s no secret that most social VR platforms are struggling to attract users. According to a statement made by Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg to Forbes about the Monstercat 8th anniversary concert event in Sansar:
Monstercat: Call of the Wild Experience is a VR space where the music label will host artist meet and greets, giveaways, and more. Altberg didn’t give me exact numbers but over a thousand people watched the show in VR via Sansar.
“Tens of thousands of people watched the concert across Twitch, Mixer, and Huya, and over a thousand people around the world attended the event in Sansar – across 6 continents, 65 countries, and 675 cities. Fans feel more connected and immersed in the music they love, while artists, in turn, effectively reach more people and places in a single day than they’d reach on a real-life tour. “
Now, while I am slightly suspicious at that “675 cities” figure (I always knew you could determine country by IP address, but I wasn’t aware you could pinpoint IP addresses down to the city level), the fact remains that 1,000 users in one day is seen as a major success for Sansar. But compare this with the estimated 600,000 regular users for Second Life. And compare this with the estimated 7,500 users of the adult virtual world 3DX Chat, which, as one commenter noted (here and here):
… 3DXChat. It started as just a sex sim. Then they added building. Then users started building and visiting each others places, instead of paying for sex like they were supposed to.
It’s more successful than High Fidelity, Sansar, and Sinespace put together. About 7,500 paying users.
So, although 1,000 users in one day for one event in Sansar is a significant achievement, it still doesn’t take the platform to the next level, where Linden Lab can really start making money off it.
Which leads to my question: will Linden Lab and other social VR companies eventually have to pay YouTubers and other influencers to promote their platforms to a wider audience and attract more attention? The experience of VRChat was an instructive lesson on the advertising power of influencers like PewDiePie.
Linden Lab has already taken some tentative steps in this direction already, with links to Twitch livestreamers like UmiNoKaiju (which, as far as I know, went nowhere). It would appear that companies would get more of a bang for their buck if they entered into partnerships with people with much bigger followings on Twitch and YouTube. And frankly, that is not cheap. Viral Nation, one of the top influencer marketing agencies, which represents hundreds of successful influencers using Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Snapchat, is only interested in customers who have a advertising budget in the range of $10,000 to $10,000,000.
Linden Lab and other social VR companies may decide that slower, organic growth is best. However, the pressure to attract a lot of users more quickly using high-profile influencers must be sorely tempting. Will Linden Lab, High Fidelity, Sinespace, and other social VR platforms eventually bite the bullet and sign deals with popular influencers? Only time will tell.
UPDATE Aug. 16th: I have been told that it is, indeed, possible to identify cities by IP address, which I did not know before!
I’ve been doing some thinking lately. Now hear me out on this.
Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, has gone on record that there will never be adult content in Sansar. Not because he’s opposed to it (after all, Second Life makes a not insignificant portion of its profit from the dozens of adult-rated sims on the grid, catering to just about every sexual kink imaginable). In fact, Second Life is so successful at this aspect of the business that it makes it almost impossible for any other adult virtual world to get a financial foothold (link is safe for work).
Ebbe is opposed to adult content from the point of view that he wants Sansar to be a success, a roaring success like Second Life was in its time, and that often means partnerships with other companies. Companies who are understandably very squeamish about associating their brand names with sex and adult content. The United States of America, for all the glorification of violence portrayed in its cultural exports like videogames and movies, is still remarkably puritanical (and frankly, somewhat hypocritical) when it comes to sex.
None of what I call the “Big Five” social VR platforms (or even the top 12, for that matter) allow adult content. Note that here I am talking specifically about general-purpose/multipurpose platforms, not the purely sex-oriented ones like 3DX Chat (all links in this paragraph are safe for work).
But what would happen if one of them decides to break from the pack and allow sexual content? Assuming, of course, that there would be some kind of permissions system in place to lock it down and restrict access to only those adults who want to see and participate in it (like what Second Life already has, but perhaps even more restrictive).
That social VR platform would probably get a huge boost in business, along with a burst of media attention (not all of it positive). And it might just get enough attention to actually become a major player, becoming in effect the next Second Life, with user concurrency figures to match.
It’s a risky gamble, and if it is not handled correctly, it will tarnish the name of whatever social VR platform makes the attempt (much the same as Second Life now has a certain disreputable reputation in some quarters, even though it is certainly possible to use and enjoy SL without ever stepping foot in an adult sim).
But for some company, sick and tired of being the underdog virtual world after pouring untold time and money into building a platform, only to have
Then again, perhaps somebody will just go and create a purely adult-oriented social VR platform. We’ve already seen a first attempt to support VR with the adult virtual world Oasis (link is safe for work), but when I tried it, it didn’t work very well at all. Furthermore, it looks like the company is having trouble attracting users (they recently switched from their initial US$20-per-month subscription plan to US$20 for a “lifetime membership”, which indicates a certain level of desperation setting in). After writing my profile on the platform (see link above), I uninstalled Oasis from my computer and I have no plans to return.
The adult virtual world 3DX Chat also says they support the Oculus Rift VR headset on their website, and I did try it out once, but it’s also pretty buggy. After writing my profile (link is safe for work), I uninstalled the client software, and I have absolutely zero inclination to want to revisit 3DX Chat. As I have said before on this blog:
…I want to make it clear that I am not going to get into the habit of covering adult/sex-based virtual worlds. There are literally dozens of them out there, and frankly, I find them boring as hell.
Will I cover sex/adult-oriented social VR platforms in future on this blog? If it doesn’t cost me anything to test it out, once, then I might do it again. I mean, I’m a 55-year-old out-of-the-closet gay man; it’s not like I need a note from my Mommy to see
So, what do you think? Which social VR company do you think will take the plunge into adult content? Or do you think a new, adults-only company will capture the market instead? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where nearly 200 members are ready and willing to discuss and debate these and many other issues around social VR and virtual worlds!
UPDATE Feb. 19th: SURPRISE! As it turns out, one of the top social VR platforms already allows adult content, and I wasn’t even aware of it!
According to the High Fidelity Terms of Service:
These Terms of Service for High Fidelity Domains are applicable only when you access or use High Fidelity Domains (content hosted by High Fidelity). HIGH FIDELITY IS NOT RESPONSIBLE OR LIABLE FOR ANY ASPECT OF THE HIGH FIDELITY PLATFORM THAT IS NOT HOSTED, DISTRIBUTED, PROVIDED OR MAINTAINED BY HIGH FIDELITY.
So it would appear that you can have adult content on your own domain, as long as you don’t bring any adult content into HiFi’s own hosted domains. Furthermore, you can set an adults-only (age 18+) rating in the description section of the domain when you are setting it up:
Which leads to the
There are users who have adult content in their domains, but these are usually made private (unlisted) so that unaware users do not wander in… which is probably why most people haven’t seen them 🙂
I am pretty sure that most people are not aware that you can already have adult content in High Fidelity. I know that I’ve never heard of it before this! And High Fidelity probably doesn’t want to advertise that fact too loudly or too broadly, lest they get overrun with people setting up adult domains. Or maybe they do actually want that market! How interesting…
SECOND UPDATE Feb. 19th: HiFi user and unofficial High Fidelity Discord moderator Menithal has kindly given me a link to where Philip Rosedale talked about this
[High Fidelity] is an open source system where you run the servers. You can do whatever you want on your server. You are responsible for any local laws you might break, etc. We are just like an Apache web server.
Because we provide search services for placenames or domains on the web and in places like the go-to button on the tablet, we will use self-described ratings and other data we can collect to provide filters for those searches.
you can opt out of using or being included in those search services. So these ratings will be used there. Obviously
Menithal suggests reading through the full discussion thread I linked to above, not just the part where Philip weighs in, in order to get the full context of the discussion.
(Yes, yes, I know, I know, I said I was taking a break. You know how bad I am at keeping these sorts of promises by now, right?)
Before we get started, I want to make it clear that I am not going to get into the habit of covering adult/sex-based virtual worlds. There are literally dozens of them out there, and frankly, I find them boring as hell.
So, why am I writing about 3DX Chat? Well, as you will learn, I discovered that they have a free-to-access test version available for a limited time, so I decided to check it out. (I first heard about it from a Second Life blogger.)
Frankly, the very few adult virtual world platforms which I have mentioned before on this blog (namely, Utherverse/Red Light Center, LivCloser, and Oasis) have not impressed me very much. The biggest problem is that many of these newer adult/sex-based virtual worlds simply cannot compete with everything that the entrenched frontrunner Second Life, with a 15-year head start, has to offer:
- SL now has extremely attractive, realistic-looking mesh avatars (male, female, and any mythical creature you could ever dream up), with a near-endless array of avatar customization options (hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, etc.). You can outfit your avatar to fit into any style or scene! No other virtual world can compete.
- In-world stores and the SL Marketplace sell tens of thousands of different animations (dance, cuddle, sex, etc.); again, there’s something to suit every taste. Again, no other virtual world can compete with the endless selection.
- Finally, Second Life offers hundreds of adult locations, many staffed with dozens of avatars who are ready, willing, and able to roleplay sexual scenes (via chat, voice, even webcam!). Again, no other sex-based virtual world comes even close.
Now I want to assure you (despite SL’s reputation in some quarters) that you can easily enjoy and appreciate Second Life without setting foot once in any of these adult areas. You can easily set up your client software to avoid showing adult-rated places to you under Places search, for example. But they are there, if you are curious. And some of these places are quite popular. Frankly, sex is one of the reasons that Second Life is still as popular as it is, for a certain minority of visitors.
I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to explore yet another sex-based social VR space/virtual world, called 3DX Chat. (I’m not going to bother providing a link; you can Google it to find it yourself.)
Normally, you have to purchase a monthly subscription to visit and use 3DX Chat, starting at US$19.99 a month:
But, for a limited time, I discovered that they are offering free access to a new test client and server, so I decided that I would investigate. So I put on my reporter’s cap and went to check out this new world (well, not so new; 3DX Chat is apparently already 5 years old).
The good news is that, at least compared to LivCloser, Oasis, and Utherverse/RLC, the avatars do actually look pretty good. Here’s what I able to pull together for a more modest look for my test female avatar:
It’s a very different pricing model than Second Life; your monthly subscription fee seems to include all possible options for body shapes and sizes, hair, makeup, clothing, jewelry, shoes, etc. You can also tint your hair and clothing to any colour you desire. But all these options are still limited to about a dozen hairstyles, a dozen dresses, a dozen styles of footwear, etc., so most of the 3DX Chat avatars land up looking a lot like each other anyways. (Not to mention that most in-game women seem to prefer that starving, anorexic look. Get those poor women some sandwiches, pronto!)
You can also choose from several kinds of locales where you can meet, chat with, dance with, and have sex with other avatars, like this luxury yacht. At the highest settings, the environments are very attractively rendered, and you can control the time of day or night on all of them, everything from midday to sunset to midnight:
The experimental high-quality water setting is actually quite realistic-looking, among the best water I’ve seen in any virtual world:
But let’s not kid ourselves. Any socializing that does take place here is essentially foreplay. 3DX Chat is ALL about the sex. It’s not unusual to walk around couples and trios engaged in the act, wherever you go: on a sofa in a club, on a beach, in a prison cell, up against a wall or a stripper pole, etc. After a while, your eyes glaze over at all the non-stop sex.
(By the way, if someone is pestering you, you can simply click on them, and select Ignore from the menu that pops up. And poof! they disappear! It should be so easy to get rid of creepers in the real world!)
There is also an option to use 3DX Chat with an Oculus Rift VR headset, but I found navigation to be rather buggy and clunky. It’s not ready for prime time yet, in my opinion. However, you can move around well enough in desktop mode.
So, what do I think about 3DX Chat after my reporter’s excursion? 3DX Chat certainly offers better-looking avatars than Oasis, which is critical for a successful adult virtual world, but you still have far fewer options available than what Second Life offers you. For example, you only can choose about a dozen dances for your avatar on the dancefloor in 3DX Chat, as opposed to tens of thousands of dances available to you in SL.
I will close with a quote from reporter Susannah Breslin, from my blogpost on another product, CamasutraVR:
Susannah Breslin has written an article for The Atlantic about the current state of the porn industry in the San Fernando Valley, which also mentions CamasturaVR and the Uncanny Valley:
Whether or not people get turned on by VR pornography, the technology is changing the places where adult content has traditionally been created. Porn Valley is being displaced by porn’s uncanny valley—an X-rated version of the theory holding that a robotic or simulated entity that appears to be human, but not quite fully human, revolts us. Losing a connection to the material world—the skin and sweat of reality—may also lose what makes porn alluring.
She concludes the article by stating:
“Everyone wants to feel something,” Adam Sutra told me of his experiments in virtual pornography. He’s right about that. Porn isn’t about sex at all, I’ve learned. It’s about wanting to feel something. And until technology figures out how to make me feel the way that I do when I’m on a porn set, I’ll leave virtual-reality sex to the start-up boys.