UPDATED! Editorial: Which Social VR Platform Will Be the First to Allow Adult Content?

The Escort Oasis in Second Life

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 it ignored, it might be a truly tempting prospect. And it would probably up-end the marketplace.

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 nekkid people 😉

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!

A commenter to this blogpost mentioned that High Fidelity actually allows adult content, and I posted a question on the official High Fidelity forums.

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 follow-up question I asked: Are there already adult-rated/adult-content domains in High Fidelity? One person responded:

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 back in October of 2017:

[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. Obviously you can opt out of using or being included in those search services. So these ratings will be used there.

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.

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Intolerance and Social Media

Today I had to ban the first troll from the official RyanSchultz.com Discord server, for posting racist and homophobic statements and then denying she had said anything wrong (i.e. gaslighting). I am getting truly fed up with the amount of hate and prejudice I am beginning to see on most social media, and I will not hesitate to pull out the banhammer if I see it erupt on my Discord. This person was banned and all her posts deleted.

My rules for the RyanSchultz.com Discord include the following statement which I essentially lifted verbatim from Linden Lab:

Intolerance: This server encourages social interactions between users across multiple countries. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation is prohibited. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame users or groups are similarly prohibited. Hate speech of any kind is prohibited.

I have frankly had enough of the toxic stew that many social media platforms have become. I have left Facebook, and Google+ will soon shut down. I have, for own sanity, blocked Donald Trump on Twitter, and I am spending a lot less time there (although I do still cross-post my blogposts there, and I will continue to do so). I feel like taking a good, long vacation from all social media, except my blog and my Discord. I may just do that.

I think we all need to stop and think hard about this monster we have all had a part in creating and sustaining, and what kind of negative impact it is having on society. Some people feel they now have a platform to spread misinformation, lies, and hatred with impunity, and we must all do our part to stand up, call them on their bullshit, and put a stop to it.

Editorial: Linden Lab, Sansar, and Steam

UPDATE 7:35 p.m.: I screwed up. Since I wrote this editorial, I have discovered that Linden Lab has, in fact, been responding to at least a couple of the negative reviews on Steam since January 1st, 2019. (Also, I learned that thumbs-down reviewers can disable comments and follow-up on their reviews.) So I am just going to say, thank you and bravo, LL! I was wrong, I will admit it, and I stand corrected. But what I said below about LL needing to promote Sansar via advertising still stands. And Linden Lab needs to keep on top of the negative reviews on Steam! Some of them raise valid points that need to be addressed.

I have really, really not enjoyed writing this particular editorial, and I’m not looking forward to being painted (again) as a Sansar basher by a certain percentage of my blog readers. Just to make it perfectly clear, and deflect that criticism before it starts again:

I want to stress that this is only one person’s opinion, not an official Sansar spokesperson’s point of view. I still remain a strong Sansar supporter, but I would be neglecting my duties as an independent social VR/virtual worlds blogger if I simply posted nothing but “good news” about Sansar, as some people want me to do.

There are indeed many truly wonderful things about Sansar, and I want Sansar to be a success! And please keep in mind that Sansar is still a BETA platform, and in constant development. There has been much good progress over the past two years. But I still feel—STRONGLY—that Linden Lab should have waited six months to a year before releasing Sansar on Steam. And I stand by my statement, and I feel I have supported it with my arguments. 

However…

It’s time to address a few issues relating to Linden Lab’s launch of Sansar on Steam. This move was supposed to invigorate the platform, and bring in lots of new users, right? And I quote:

Why is Linden Lab pushing to release Sansar on Steam before the end of this year, rather than wait another six months to a year to further polish the platform and add new features?

We want to get more people in, to help refine the product and make it better. We want to start building a community on Steam.

Re: dealing with any negative feedback on Steam, Eliot will pass that along to the appropriate people to deal with and respond to.

Well, here’s the latest statistics on Steam usage of Sansar:

Sansar Stats 8 Jan 2019

We haven’t seen anything like that initial crush of curious users seen in the first few days. And I’m not the only blogger to notice this, either.

And that’s not the only bad news. I don’t know if you’ve looked at the Sansar page on Steam lately, but there are now 34 negative (thumbs down) reviews to 46 positive (thumbs up) reviews, which is the highest ratio of negative-to-positive reviews to date:

Sansar Steam Reviews 8 Jan 2019.png

The review which was voted “most helpful” by Steam users is by 1029chris:

I’m reviewing this from the perspective of a VR user.

It certainly has potential. The engine is absolutely gorgeous, and runs decently. Some of the worlds blew me away with how nice they looked. But I cannot enjoy them.

Sansar has horrible controls in VR. It is very uncomfortable to use. The feeling of embodiment that I can get in other social VR platforms does not happen here. Your virtual hands noticably lag behind your real ones, they have some sort of weird smoothing. Doing any fast body movement in VR detaches your head, and you can watch your decapitated avatar walk up you. They seem to have designed it with more concern regarding how your avatar looks to other people, rather than how it feels to use. It really takes away from the experience. Immersive VR demands the least latency possible, and they’ve deliberately added a lot of latency so that other people see you move more smoothly. It’s very uncomfortable.

Sansars avatar system is also super restrictive. They don’t let you move any bones on their skeleton, and they do EVERYTHING through bones. I can’t rig my hands since they’re too big, and I can’t rig my head since my avatar has a beak. Sansars face animations are all done through bones, but I can’t rig my beak to human face bones. They need to allow more freedom with their avatars. They say that it’s so restrictive because they want marketplace clothes to fit to avatars, but they don’t allow you to put clothes on custom avatars anyways. All of the avatars that I use on other platforms are cartoony with bigger heads, so none of them can have face animations on Sansar. No face animations means it’s less immersive to talk to me. This strictness stifles creativity for everyone, demanding you to conform to their proportions.

Sansar has a lot of potential, and I wish it the best, but I cannot recommend it in its current state.

The next-most-helpful review states:

Are you a fan of Second Life? Do you like the idea of Virtual Reality becoming a literal virtual world? Do you want to Shop, Explore, Build, And Socialize? Then this game will be a massive let down!

Pros: Explore small empty worlds filled with disappointment! Watch your framerate tank lower than Fallout VR! See a massive amount of effort spent on photogrammetry and the passion of SL’s best artists put to waste~

Cons: If you feel socially awkward around groups of people larger than 1 you might run into issues on a couple of the maps. There seems to be an issue with higher graphics settings not buying you the 2080ti you need to run them. I’m trying to get a hold of LL for that.

Non sarcastic review: It was touted as SL 2.0 during its creation and it’s nothing more than a sponsorship friendly ghost town. aka what all of google/facebook’s companies are becoming in 2018. If you wanted to make your own avatar or build something amazing you will be let down by the restrictions and lack of in world tools. This is an oversimplification of SL’s worst attributes wrapped in a bow and **** out onto Steam in a last ditch effort to get people to look at ads.

Edit: I’d like to warn you all the top positive reviews are from people selling things in app. 😛

However, what’s even worse than scathing, sarcastic reviews like this is Linden Lab’s (almost total lack of) response to them. I understand why you can’t properly respond to vitriolic garbage like what the last reviewer wrote. Another reviewer even went so far as to unfavourably compare Sansar to IMVU (really? really?!??).

But at least in the first few weeks, Linden Lab tried to respond to some of the criticism directed at Sansar, like Lacie’s response to 1029chris:

Sansar Steam 3 8 Jan 2019.png

And this example from early December:

Sansar on Steam 8 Jan 2019.png

And then, Linden Lab stopped responding as the negative reviews increased. As far as I can tell, there have been no responses since mid-December. Why?

Linden Lab really needs to get their PR game in gear here, and get someone to respond to at least some of the most recent negative reviews, to show that they are listening. It might still be a losing battle, but at least they would be fighting back.

And where in blazes is the “significant ad spend” promised at one of the Product Meetings last November, when the launch on Steam was first announced? And I quote:

What steps are you going to take to promote Sansar once it launches on Steam?

Eliot: expect some significant ad spend, expect some original assets. Linden Lab wants to build a community on Steam.

If Linden Lab wants to build a community on Steam, the time to start tending to that community and building positive word of mouth is NOW.

LL seems to be missing in action, while Sansar is drowning in an increasing number of thumbs-down reviews. Do something! Don’t just leave it all up to your users! Start promoting Sansar! Start responding to at least some of these negative reviews on Steam!!!

As I said before, it gives me no pleasure at all to write this. I love Sansar, and I want to see it succeed. But Linden Lab absolutely needs to step up to the plate here.

Editorial: My Social VR/Virtual World Predictions for 2019

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? Come join 170 avid users of various metaverse platforms, and discuss social VR and virtual world predictions for 2019! More details here


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Time to peer into that crystal ball and make some predictions!

First: Second Life is going to continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity. It will continue to be a reliable cash cow for Linden Lab as they put a portion of that profit into building Sansar. And I also predict that the ability to change your first and last names in SL will prove very popular—and also very lucrative for Linden Lab! Remember, they’ve got seven years of pent-up demand for this feature. (I have a couple of avatars myself that I’d like to rename.)

Second: An unexpected but potentially ground-breaking development in OpenSim was the announcement of the release of a virtual reality OpenSim viewer to the open source community at the 2018 OpenSim Community Conference. There’s still lots of technical work left to do, but if they can successfully pull this off, it could mean a new era for OpenSim.

Third: I confidently predict that one or more blockchain-based virtual worlds are going to fold. Not Decentraland; there’s too much money tied up in that one to fail. But several cryptocurrency-based virtual worlds are starting to look like trainwrecks of epic proportions (and I’m looking at you, Staramaba Spaces/Materia.One). Somebody still needs to explain to me why people will want to pay to hang out with 3D-scanned replicas of Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan. The business model makes absolutely no sense to me. Another one that I think is going to struggle in 2019 is Mark Space.

Fourth: I also predict that one or more adult/sex-oriented virtual worlds are going to fail (yes, I’m looking at you, Oasis). I’ve already gone into the reasons why even the best of them are going to find it hard to compete against the entrenched front-runner, Second Life.

Fifth: High Fidelity and Sansar will continue their friendly rivalry as both social VR platforms hold splashy events in the new year. (I’m really sorry I missed the recent preview of Queen Nefertari’s tomb in HiFi, but it looks as though there will be many other such opportunities in 2019.) And High Fidelity will continue to boast of new records in avatar capacity at well-attended events (it certainly helps that they’ve got those venture-capital dollars to spend, to offer monetary enticements for users to pile on for stress testing).

Sixth: the Oculus Quest VR headset will ignite the long-awaited boom in virtual reality that the analysts have been predicting for years. There; I’ve said it! And those social VR platforms which support Oculus Quest users will benefit.

Seventh: Linden Lab’s launch of Sansar on Steam will likely have only a modest impact on overall usage of the platform. I’m truly sorry to have to write this prediction, because I love Sansar, but we’ve got statistics we can check, and they are not looking terribly encouraging at the moment. And where is the “significant ad spend” that was promised at one of the in-world product meetups back in November? Now that they’ve pulled the trigger and launched on Steam, it’s time to promote the hell out of Sansar, using every means at Linden Lab’s disposal. Paying bounties to Twitch livestreamers is not enough.

And Facebook? If they thought 2018 was a bad year, I predict that we’re going to see even more scandals uncovered in 2019 by news organizations such as the New York Times. And more people (like me) will decide that they’ve had enough of being sold to other corporations and data-mined to within an inch of their lives, and jump ship. The public relations people at Facebook are going to face a lot of sleepless nights…

And, still on the same topic, we might yet see the launch of a new social VR platform backed by Facebook, after they decide to ditch the lamentable Facebook Spaces once and for all. Maybe it will be based on Oculus Rooms; maybe it will be something completely different. But despite my negative feelings about the social networking side of Facebook, they still have the hardware (Oculus), the money, and the reach to be a game-changer in social VR. (Just not with Facebook Spaces. At this point, they should just kill the project and start over. Any improvements will be like putting lipstick on a pig.)

Finally, I predict that the RyanSchultz.com blog will head off into new and rather unexpected directions (that is, if the past 12 months’ activity is any indication!). I never expected to cover blockchain-based virtual worlds, or Second Life freebies; they just kind of happened.  Expect more of the same in 2019, as various new topics catch my interest.