My Talk to the Students in VR Group About Social VR in AltspaceVR

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus, but I wanted to share this video of a presentation I gave this week on social VR with my blog readers. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.

I gave a one-hour presentation about social VR to the Students in VR group on the social VR platform AltspaceVR on Wednesday, March 17th, 2021:

I was asked if I could fill in after the original presenter cancelled at the last minute, and I was happy to help them out! There is a Q&A session both before and after this 25-minute presentation. Thanks and a shout out to Carlos Austin, who led the three-person camera team recording this event, and edited the final video you see here.

Here’s a link to all the blogposts I have written about AltspaceVR.

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! The Launch of Microsoft Mesh at the Microsoft Ignite Event: Lots of Sizzle, But Little Evidence of Steak

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 500 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and the companies building it. More details here.


On Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021, I put on my shiny new Valve Index VR headset and went to the Microsoft Ignite event, which I attended in a virtual auditorium on the social VR platform AltspaceVR (which, of course, is owned by Microsoft).

There was the usual enthusiastic corporate keynote by Microsoft Satya Nadella, with special guests such as film director James Cameron. Almost everybody was sporting a Microsoft HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset.

Here are a few pictures I took at the event:

The purpose of the event was to promote something called Microsoft Mesh. What is Microsoft Mesh? Good question. Engadget writer D. Hardawar attempts a concise explanation:

…Microsoft Mesh, the company’s ambitious new attempt at unifying holographic virtual collaboration across multiple devices, be they VR headsets, AR (like HoloLens), laptops or smartphones. Powered by Microsoft’s Azure cloud, Mesh isn’t just an app, it’s a platform that other developers can use to bring remote collaboration to their own software. If remote work is here to stay — and by most accounts, it is — Microsoft wants to be the company taking us beyond Zoom video chats, and towards holographic experiences that everyone can join.

“Not only are we going to be able to share holograms, but we’ll be able to do so in a way that gives us agency and presence,” Sullivan said during our virtual meeting. “We can create these experiences, where even though we’re physically separated, it feels like we’re in the same room, sharing in an experience and collaborating on a project.”

Here’s the requisite slick two-minute promotional video (played to the audience in AltspaceVR during the Microsoft Ignite event) which tries to impart what Microsoft Mesh is all about:

The Ignite event finale was a showstopper, promoting a still-in-development joint venture with Canada’s Cirque du Soleil called Hanai World, which featured not one, but FOUR people captured in volumetric video gathered around a magical campfire, 360-degree video of dancers and jugglers and other Cirque du Soleil performers, and AltspaceVR spectators (like me!) who were able to wander around and experience the space in 3D:

Afterward, there was a mix-and-mingle event which was attended by hundreds of AltspaceVR avatars (no bots, from what I could tell). It was the first time in almost a full year of pandemic lockdown that I truly felt that I was part of a crowd, and it reminded me of the big, splashy events that the old High Fidelity social VR platform used to hold, before they shut down. (*sigh* I still miss the old High Fidelity.)

The Microsoft Ignite mix-and-mingle afterparty in AltspaceVR (which was my first taste of being among a crowd of people in almost a whole year!)

Overall, it was a slick, very polished presentation, and I came away from it with a favourable impression. Other observers were less impressed with the show. Lucas Rizzotto sternly took Microsoft to task when he tweeted:

Microsoft Mesh’s announcement trailer is a highly misleading CG [Computer Generated] concept video that isn’t representative of what launched whatsoever. I love the HoloLens, but we really need to stop with these CG trailers. It’s setting false expectations & confusing EVERYONE.

Lucas continued:

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with “vision CG trailers”. Those can help audiences envision the future & they have a place in a marketer’s toolbelt. But this trailer was tied to an actual software release & that crosses a line. It’s advertising something that doesn’t exist.

I tried the app and was surprised to find something no different than Magic Leap’s Avatar Chat or Facebook Spaces. And honestly, that would have been fine to announce. They could have even done the CG bit later as a “Mesh in 5 years” segment. But they chose to mislead. Why?

Fabien Benetou linked to Lucas’s thread of tweets, saying:

I still didn’t have time check it BUT when I saw the hype and seeing some behind the scene professionally staffed green screen setup I did warn collaborators to NOT get excited before I can see what it actually is, not what it claims to be. Mind the marketing gap!

In my case, that initial “WOW!” first impression has not aged very well as I thought back about what I had seen. There was certainly lots of sizzle, but little evidence of actual steak: currently-available, deliverable VR/AR/XR/MR consumer product.

UPDATED March 6th, 2021: Charlie Fink alerted me to this technical overview of Microsoft Mesh, which you might find of interest (thanks, Charlie!).

Social VR Research Alert: You Can Participate in a Clemson University Research Survey of LGBTQ+ Users of Social VR Platforms

Back in October of 2019, I wrote a blogpost about a research study being conducted by Clemson University on the use of social VR. Well, Clemson University’s Gaming and Mediated Experince (CU GAME) Lab, led by Dr. Guo Freeman in their School of Computing, is conducting a survey of LBGTQ+ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer, etc.) users of social VR platforms—including conducting interviews in AltspaceVR, Rec Room and VRChat, if you wish!

If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and you are interested in being interviewed for 60 to 90 minutes about your experiences in social VR, particularly with respect to self-presentation and social support, then you are invited to fill out this online form (more information about the research study can be found here). The form states:

We are a group of academic researchers at Clemson University who are conducting a research project about social VR. We are interested in interviewing individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, and understanding their experiences.

No personally identifiable data will be asked or collected, but we’ll ask general demographics questions (age, location, race, etc). You do not have to answer any questions that you do not feel comfortable answering.

If you have experienced any social VR platforms / applications / environments (AltspaceVR, Rec Room, VRChat, etc.) and are willing to be interviewed, please fill out the form … and we will contact you for more details about this research project.

Here is the link for a document with more information about the study.

Feel free to email us at dacena@clemson.edu if you have any questions.

Interviews are to be scheduled during the month February, and can be done via telephone call, Discord (text or voice chat), Zoom (voice or video chat), or even on the social VR platforms AltspaceVR, Rec Room, or VRChat!

If you are interested, here is a the website (including a list of current research publications) by the Clemson University GAME Lab.

Are you a member of the LGBTQ community and use one or more social VR platforms? Clemson University wants to interview you! (Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)