UPDATED: Earning Money Creating Custom Avatars in VRChat: An Interview with Ghoster


Although VRChat does not (yet) have an in-game economy, there are many people who are already earning hundreds, even thousands, of dollars by designing and creating custom user avatars for the platform.

Here’s a recent episode of the Endgame talk show, where the topic of discussion was how people are making money by creating and selling 3D avatar models for VRChat. I find it interesting that many of the various other ideas for earning money within VRChat that were being thrown about are very similar to what people do for money in older, established virtual worlds like Second Life (e.g. tour guide, performer, etc.)

There is another very recent interview with Ghoster, the operator of the VRC Traders group (one of the most popular venues for avatar buyers and sellers), on the popular Gunters Universe show in VRChat. I can’t embed that video here, but you can watch it on Twitch at this URL: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/250896991

After watching these videos, I interviewed Ghoster, and asked him some questions about VRC Traders. Here is a transcript of that interview.

Can you tell me when and how you got started in the business of creating avatars in VRChat?

I believe it started back in September, I was looking to have a model of a DND character I was playing as, made for me so I could wear it during the DND session. That’s when I realized it’s really hard to find a VRChat user who is good at modeling and rigging and not already busy. So after thinking it over, I contacted a coder for a custom bot and possible website host. And that’s how VRC Traders got started.

What kind of technical/computer background do you have? How did you get attracted to social VR and virtual worlds?

I work as a CNC setup/operator and that requires me to know a bit of basic coding. I’ve also been an avid gamer for many years and have been working on worlds and Avatars for about a year. As for social VR, well, gaming is fun but I have always been interested in what other peoples ideas and thoughts are like, and when I saw all these clashing, yet causally talking, personalities in one space, I was blown away.

What experience have you had in previous virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life) before you started with VRChat? Are you active in other social VR spaces/virtual worlds?

So a good friend of mine, who goes by the name of JTravelin, showed me VRChat shortly after its Steam release. But before that, I was in AltspaceVR (maybe eve Rec Room). I’m still active in Altspace as a cameraman for a few shows still to this day. When I was heavily active in Altspace the one thing I liked about it was performance and how a simple color was all that identified you and you would meet people that are disabled, and you would know, self-conscious, and more importantly from different regions. This led to a kind of unspoken understanding or be respectful and have a good time in VR especially for those with the Rift or Vive since the upfront cost was big.

When did you decide to set up VRC Traders and the Discord server? What kind of work have you had to do to organize and promote VRC Traders? 

I belive it was early September that I had plans to set it up and by the end of that same month I went public. Rather recently though, I have been on two talk shows along with word of mouth promotions, spreading VRC Traders (VRCT) around as a viable option to make money in virtual spaces. Before that, though, it was a word of mouth in VRChat to spread it and as VRChat grew, so did VRCT. Being a Discord server on the main VRChat Discord helped a lot in these times, along with some of the dev team referring people to the server. There are plans to advertise in VRChat more, but I can’t tell you about those.

What different types of work/expertise do you offer to consumers (e.g. animators)?

Well as avatars are the main focus, everything avatars. And I mean literally anything you can think of or need done, the commissioners of the server are able to make it happen. In addition to anything and everything avatar related, there are sections for 2D artists, world creation and fixing, shader technicians (people who create custom shaders) and, soon to come, audio engineers (people who work on various elements of sound mixing, making and setting up).

How does a new VRChat user actually request a commission?

To many people’s dismay, the server has a 10 minute explore period, where new users are supposed to take a look around and see how the server is organized. VRCT has a guide channel near the top where people can find out a standardized way to post commissions so others can easily read and understand the commission. While we don’t enforce any said rules on what to post, we do prefer a new user to place as much info as they can, so interested commissioners can contact them directly to get the work done.

How do you deal with the intellectual property issues that arise when a user wants an avatar that belongs to a company (e.g. Disney)? Are there any avatar commissions that VRC Traders declines as a matter of policy?

Well, that’s a hard question to answer, since I don’t think VRChat has determined its view on the matter. All I can say is, the only commissions we don’t allow are NSFW models, and for obvious reasons. I recommend that people make commissions for original character models or large edits to existing models, but like I said, it a very hard question to answer since it’s the internet. (These are my opinions and may not be representative of the VRC Traders server or VRChat in the future.)

Where do you see this industry going in the future? Where do you see VRC Traders in a year from now?

As far as the industry of 3D avatars and world creation goes, I see this type of business becoming a viable marketplace and job for many users. In the talkshow Endgame, I said that 10-15 years ago, game asset creators took years of practice with highly expensive tools on computers about as advanced as the computers of today, and it was a highly restrictive field because of that. But with better PC components that are faster and more powerful, alongside cheaper or even free modeling software, 3D modeling has gone from a highly skilled restricted class of people to now a more accessible [job] but still very difficult. Not only that, but as more games, especially sandbox style games, come into the community, you want to have something you can call yours and no one else’s. [This] will only grow as more and more people turn to the internet and gaming to relax and have fun. For VRC Traders, I would love to see direct integration with the VRChat service, where you can go in-game on to the server and request something. Not only that, I hope in that time to make VRC Traders not only a service server, but a great sub community within VRChat with various events and tournaments happening or being sponsored by the server.

If you are interested in VRC Traders, you can join their Discord server.

UPDATE April 28th: Obligatory link back to the VRChat Events website (because I promised them I would do it if I cross-posted over on their Discord server, and I forgot!): www.vrchatevents.com


UPDATED: Virtual Reality Pioneer Jaron Lanier Speaking Today at the Delphi Talks in Sinespace

This might be late notice to some of you, but Sinespace is hosting an interview with VR pioneer Jaron Lanier today, Tuesday, April 3rd, at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time. You do need to register in order to gain access to this event; you can do that on this page.

Jaron Lanier.png

As I previously mentioned, the Delphi Talks are a regularly scheduled series of guest speakers on a variety of topics, held in a specially constructed stadium within the virtual world of Sinespace. Jaron will join The Delphi Talks from his Californian base, to talk about his new book, his philosophy of virtual reality, and perhaps share some insights from his work at Microsoft Research.

UPDATE 7:05 p.m.: While waiting for the show to start, I took a few pictures of the Delphi Talks arena where the talk was to take place, using Sinespace’s built-in Snapshot tool:

Screenshot 2018-4-03-18-05-08Screenshot 2018-4-03-18-09-45

There were 55 avatars present, an impressive turnout! The Sinespace avatars look noticeably better now with the most recent update of the client software (I still prefer the Sansar avatars, though). While we were waiting, Sirishkumar Manji played the Indian drums for us (he’s seated in the centre of the red circular rug), which was quite entertaining. I want to know how he got his hand movements to sync up so well with the actual drumbeats! It was almost like watching a live performance.

Finally, after a 35-minute delay, an apology was issued: the announcer regretted to inform us that Jaron Lanier’s graphics card had failed and he was unable to join us. Therefore the interview will be rescheduled to a later date. Too bad!

Kent Bye on the Drax Files Radio Hour

Well, Kent Bye, the man behind the popular Voices of VR podcast, sure gets around! Only two days after his appearance on the Endgame talk show in VRChat, he was Draxtor Despres’ guest for the Drax Files Radio Hour, filmed in Drax’s private radio studio in Sansar:

After the show, Kent Bye told me that he was also going to be doing a Fireside Chat today with Philip Rosedale over at Zaru in High Fidelity! Busy man.

Why Women Don’t Like Social VR: Interview with Jessica Outlaw

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Enrico Speranza in my RyanSchultz.com Facebook group alerted me to a very interesting podcast put out by ResearchVR, who describe themselves as follows:

We are three Cognitive Scientists discussing Virtual Reality and Cognitive Research, Industry News, and Design Implications! We actively research different aspects of the field, and are involved in various companies related to the topic of VR. With this podcast, we hope to use our commentary to bridge the gap between news and established science. We break down complex topics, discuss the current trends and their economical impacts, and broadcast our views on VR.

The podcast episode in question was an in-depth, 1 hour 15 minute interview with Jessica Outlaw:

Behavioral Scientist Jessica Outlaw is an outspoken Social Scientist in the field of VR User Experience Design. She recently published an Inductive Qualitative study with Beth Duckles, PhD about the experiences of “Millennial, tech-savvy women” in Social VR applications (Altspace, High Fidelity, Facebook Spaces, etc).

In this episode, we talk embodied cognition, implicit biases, gender differences in social behavior and navigation in an unfamiliar environment, as well as the questions the paper raises up about inclusivity and approachability in design.

This is a long, wide-ranging interview touching on a lot of topics. Of particular note is what Jessica has to say about her research on women’s experiences in social VR applications. She wanted to know what tech-savvy younger women, new to social VR, had to say about their experiences.

Most of them found the social dynamics to be very disconcerting. The women had no idea what the social norms and expectations were in the social VR experiences they visited over a thirty-minute period (Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Facebook Spaces). Many women felt unsafe; some women felt that their personal spaces were invaded by other avatars. Talking to another person in social VR wasn’t seen as an attractive alternative to other forms of communication.

One of the four recommendations Jessica makes in her research report is that privacy must be the default in social VR applications, for women to feel safe. Another recommendation was to make social VR enticing and fun to do, and let the community form around their interests, as this leads to better behaviour overall.

Near the end of the podcast, Jessica and the ResearchVR co-hosts discuss a recent news story where a woman was harassed in a VR application called QuiVR.

I was also interested to hear that Jessica also did some work on a project for High Fidelity last year, around the question of what makes people feel welcome in an online community, and what’s appealing to people.

Here’s a link to the ResearchVR podcast. And here’s a link to a card series on Medium that outlines Jessica’s research findings, with quotes from the women interviewed. You can also request that Jessica’s full research report be emailed to you at her website.

Jessica also talked about her follow-up study, a user survey where she got over 600 responses. I’ll be very interested to read what she learns from her ongoing social VR research.

Drax Interviews Dr. Jeremy Bailenson on the Impact of Virtual Reality on Society

Jeremy Bailenson 16 Feb 2018
Jeremy Bailenson’s Avatar Being Interviewed in Drax’s Basement

Today, Draxtor Despres interviewed Dr. Jeremy Bailenson, who is a professor of communication at Stanford University and founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab. He has written a newly-published book titled Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do, which is an in-depth look at virtual reality and how it can be harnessed to improve our everyday lives. Jeremy said that this interview was the longest time he had ever spent so far in a social VR app!

Drax Interviews Jeremy 16 Feb 2018.png
Drax Interviews Jeremy

Among many other things, Drax and Jeremy discussed:

  • Treatment of victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (e.g. 9/11 survivors) using virtual reality.
  • How immersive social VR makes people behave towards each other in a more social manner (use of gestures, etc.). Research seems to indicate that VR tends to change behaviours in a positive way.
  • When training a procedural skill, VR tends to outperform simply watching a video. But researchers to date are not seeing gains in STEM education in a VR headset versus non-VR-based learning.

All in all, it was a great interview! Ebbe Altberg, the CEO of Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life and Sansar), joined the interview at the very end.

Here’s the YouTube video of the interview:

Sansar Creator Interview: Maxwell Graf

Maxwell Graf Neptune's Revenge 2 Sansar Screenshot 5 August 2017This is a picture of Sansar creator Maxwell Graf, on the deck of his storm-tossed ship in the experience Neptune’s Revenge. Max, who is well known in Second Life for his brand Rustica, has had a rather unique perspective on Sansar: he was among the very first people invited into the closed beta by Linden Lab!

Max was kind enough to consent to an interview via chat (which I have edited somewhat for clarity and space reasons).

Could you give a bit of an introduction to yourself and how you got involved in creating content for virtual worlds? In other words, how did you get started?

I got started in VR from 2 directions, and kind of ended up with the 2 paths crossing when I found SL. I was working with a company doing 3D rapid prototyping for the product design concepts I was doing for them, so [I was] researching 3D and real life intersections. I was also playing a lot of solid hours worth of Guild Wars, but kept being more interested in the design than not dying. I kept thinking I wanted to design the environments and content.

Again, finding SL was a real blessing because it was exactly the answer to both of those needs. In very short order, I was starting my own content company designing the products I wanted to design, mostly fantasy-based ideas. I made a huge castle on the mainland in SL in 2006. That was Rustica castle, and it was also the city of LagnMoor within the outer wall. Those two names have appeared, again, in Sansar. Rustica is my brand in SL. (Ryan’s note: SL Marketplace link, in-world store)

What other virtual worlds have you created content for? Yesterday you mentioned both Blue Mars and Cloud Party. I remember you from both.

Yes, I spent about a year in each of those places before they shuttered (RIP AltspaceVR, by the way). I have also been over in SineSpace for about a year. I tried High Fidelity, but quickly left after my personal information “may have accidentally been compromised,” but that was only one reason among several. I did dabble a little with some of the other virtual properties out there, like there.com, some of the open source grids, and even Habbo Hotel back in the day.

May I ask what the other reasons for leaving High Fidelity were? You don’t have to go into detail if you don’t want to. I’m just curious.

Mostly issues with the open access aspects and open source nature of it. Generally, I am a proponent of open source, but content has to come from somewhere and sometimes it comes from places it shouldn’t and is used the wrong way. I saw a lot of IP and copyright issues that concerned the hell out of me, basically. Not sure if that’s an issue any longer, but it was enough for me.

OK got it. Next question. When and how did you get involved with the Sansar closed beta program? How did you hear about it and when did you start?

I heard about it through SL when they announced it a few years ago, and have been following along closely. To be open [and] candid about it, I wrote personal letters and made phone calls for about literally 17 months or so, usually waiting for about a month or two between attempts, to get invited or onboard. I was the annoying SL designer who would not stop knocking on the door. I signed up in September of last year, so [it’s been] almost a whole year. When I got in, it was build 1 and we are at 10 or 11 I think.

When you first started in September 2016, what was Sansar like? What sorts of challenges did you face at the very beginning?

It was a dark and scary place. “….and the earth was without form, and void and darkness did encompass the ends of the earth.”

When I got in, there were people who had accounts before I got here, I could see some comments on the forum, but when I started spending time in here there were really only two other people I ever saw in here doing anything for a while, Loz Hyde and Paul LaPointe, both of whom I knew well from SL. Like animals in a strange land, we herded together for a couple months and there was literally no one else in the world. It was very cool, but also like, why are there not lots of people here making things?

So you were surprised that in the beginning there were so few of you in the closed beta.

It surprised me then the same way it is surprising a lot of people now I think, which is to say that it was a lot earlier in development than I thought. I did not expect it to be alpha, really at all. I was thinking more like it would be where we will be in a year. I think it was great though because it gave me a chance, once I started to think about what was here, to really sort of do a lot of things that even [Linden] Lab had not had the time or people to do yet. To find all the sides of the box, so to speak. To push the limits and break as many things as we could. Like, really basic things like “I wonder how big a texture can be?” or “How far can this land go.” A lot of what I consider the real meat and potatoes of beta testing. Find the holes, find the flaws.

So it was very much a process of test, change one thing, and re-test, and change another thing, and re-test…..

I used my mountain range and trees as a sort of standard method; I use the same resources now that I use in all the worlds I tested, because it was not only a touchstone of familiarity, I knew the assets already and worked with them, but it gave me a measuring stick for Sansar to compare to how those assets worked in other places. I could see how things were here in a very distinct and easy to grasp way.

Can you talk in more detail about your Rustica build and how that tested the limits of Sansar at that time? I remember you saying that it took a LONG time to upload that landscape as one big mesh.

Well, the size of it being 4,096 metres square (which is a massive chunk of land, 16 of the 256-metre Second Life regions per side), but just one big mesh terrain with one big set of materials on it. They [Linden Lab] had not really done that, and for good reason, but I wanted to see what would grind things to a halt. What happens if I plant 1,000 trees? 10,000?

Yes, it took like 3.5 hours [to upload the Rustica landscape]. Optimized, that same content now takes under 10 minutes. A lot of things happened. For one, we found better ways of doing things. Optimizing, etc. I mean, once you get to a certain size, it just slows down. It was not about crashing the system so much as just making it take forever because of something like the variation in terrain height, messing with the physics. We would work directly with the devs to try and define why that was problematic and find a better way to do it.

From a performance aspect, they have really made a very solid foundation for what they can now add on top of it. Even under extreme duress, the existing application and system architecture runs really solid – it’s a very robust piece of software they have created to begin with. This first week of open beta is a good example of that: the system still has not had a crash. With the exception of a few bugs, the opening went off without a hiccup, which is a testament to how solid the engine is.

So when did you publish your very first experience, do you have a date you remember?

I published something the first day I think, because the first thing you want to do is not be alone there and have (in this case, Loz and Paul) other people come over so we could talk about it. “Hey, come look this this damn thing, maybe we can figure out why it does not work.” We spent a lot of time diagnosing each other’s sickness. I mean, we would try to get Jason or someone from the lab if we could, but any snippet of how to make something work was shared religiously. That was part of what’s great about closed betas, you bond and help each other out, its like you’ve beenthroughh it together.

I think the biggest thing that has impressed me was just overall how robust the product has been. They really made a super solid foundation for this platform.

Hopefully, part of what this has been about for me is knowing that I will be able, someday, to look back on this time fondly, as I sit in my rocking chair at the Shady Renders’ Rest Simulator for Old Avatars and yell at the noobs to get off the landing pad.

LOL! That might come sooner than you like!

I think there is a different method for things here, it’s not necessarily more complex, just different. People will have to learn how to get things right here, but it will be easier for them as time goes [on]. It really is more like [how] the rest of the world outside SL builds things, and that will be a transition for everyone, but harder for some than others. It’s just a process.

SL is such a part of my life, for over ten years now, but I always regretted not being able to be in it from the beginning. I was and am very happy to be able to take part in the beginning of Sansar. It has been a real privilege. When they announced the contest, I was able to come up with the idea to take several of my scenes and – with a modicum of changes – connect them together to form a storyline. Starting with Lagnmoor, to Neptunes’ Revenge, to Rune, to AntFarm, to Respite – you go on a journey from one to the next. Each uses some new features in it, like video water, fire, 360-degree video sky, etc. I want people to know that there are clues at each one, to find the teleport to the next, starting from Lagnmoor. (Ryan’s note: I very highly recommend that you visit all five of Max’s Sansar experiences listed here!  Try to find the route that leads from one to the next, it’s great fun!)

I just love your Neptune’s Revenge experience. I made it one of my Picks of the Day. How did you do it?

The actually dynamic aspect of the scripting [is] to make the sphere move. It’s not just a video playing inside a sphere, it is also scripted so the sphere moves along a path, so the ship feels like it’s moving when it’s perfectly still.

So you were actually able to get the video sphere you are projecting on to move?

Yes, that’s the rocking motion. Up/down/forward/back along a path. But it works the same to your mind as if you were moving on the ship. I’m really just waiting for some fixes for the video, like the overall quality of playback and and the dead pause between loops.

Well, Max, this has been a great conversation. I don’t think I have any other questions. You’ve given me some GREAT quotes to use! Is there anything that you want to add to what we’ve already talked about?

Just to stress again to everyone…SL is fine and Sansar is still really in alpha. All the things we want that have not been released are on the road map and will be part of it, but if you focus on what is here so far, you can see it’s a really solid start to what will hopefully be an awesome platform. I think it has a long road ahead of it, but if this is how they have started, then I can’t see it really failing. It certainly is not going to poof into vapour like Blue Mars and Cloud Party did. What it does end up becoming is not anything I can guess. I want to make games!