Editorial: Will Social VR Companies Have to Turn to Influencers to Promote Their Products?

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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!

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Making Money Off the Metaverse

Did you know that you can help support my blog (as well as the Metaverse Newscast show), and get great rewards in return? Here’s how.


Recently I was approached by an entrepreneur who wanted me to work with him to expand and monetize my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds. I told him I would think about it and get back to him in a couple of weeks. I also was told by social VR researcher and consultant Jessica Outlaw that she used and appreciated my comparison chart of the 12 most popular social VR platforms (which I do need to update soon). This has made me realize that I am one of the few people out there who are actively compiling this sort of information about social virtual reality, and that people are finding it useful.

My comparison chart of social VR platforms (full-size version available here)

I think what I will do (rather than throw my lot in with the entrepreneur and try to make money off my labour) is try to work something up for publication in a research journal instead. Working for a university, I tend to have more of an academic than an entrepreneurial bent anyways. Then I could add it to my résumé for the next time I apply for a promotion at work (assuming I do so before I decide to retire).

Which beings me to today’s topic: people making money off the metaverse. I’m actually already making a little money in two ways:

  1. serving advertising from WordPress’ WordAds and Google’s AdSense on my blog (which brings in anywhere from $5 to $35 per month);
  2. my Patreon page (currently bringing in $13 a month from 7 supporters—thank you!).

This money earned goes toward my blog hosting costs with WordPress (I have their Business plan at $33 a month, billed annually). Every little bit helps!

Other people are generating income by creating content for the metaverse: mesh buildings, trees, and furniture, avatar clothing and attachments, animations, etc. In fact, some Second Life content creators actually are able to make a decent living wage from their work (but they are definitely in the minority; most creators earn only a secondary income from SL, and some do it just for the creative outlet).

I’ve heard that some people are making good money creating and selling custom avatars for VRChat, but I’m not certain that anyone is making a full-time living at it.

A few people like Bernhard Drax (a.k.a Draxtor Despres) have been able to parlay their video-making work into a lucrative side hustle, working for companies such as Linden Lab to help promote their products. Strawberry Singh, who is well-known for her pictures and videos of Second Life, even landed up getting hired by Linden Lab! And who’s to say that what happened to Drax and Berry can’t happen to you, too?

While I seriously doubt that anybody is making a living wage off the various social VR platforms so far (except for the people working for companies creating the platforms, like High Fidelity and Linden Lab), we can expect that at some point in the future, individual entrepreneurs will generate a good income from social VR. The big questions are where and when it will happen, not if. Many people are waiting on the sidelines, honing their skills and biding their time, to see which social VR platforms will take off in popularity. There’s no sense dumping a lot of time and money into a platform if nobody’s using it.

What do you think of all this? Do you think that we are still years away from people earning a living off the metaverse? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section, or better yet, join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds Discord where people discuss and debate the issues surrounding social VR and virtual worlds. We’d love to have you with us!

More and More People Are Visiting Sansar, and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Ryan in Drax’s basement, telling the story of how he got banned (and then unbanned) from Second Life. I really like this picture that Drax took and posted to Twitter.

True confession time: I still feel like an idiot for throwing such a diva hissy fit when I was served with a 3-day ban from Second Life just before the Tilia Town Hall. It was not my proudest moment and I am deeply ashamed of myself, and I would once again like to apologize to the staff at Linden Lab. (You can read all about it here.)

But it also happens to be a good story, and who can resist telling a good story? I was telling people about it in Drax’s basement before we went Atlas Hopping on Saturday morning when Drax took this picture. You can actually watch the whole conversation here (starting at the 1:20 mark):

I haven’t been to Atlas Hopping in several months. In fact, I have been so busy covering other social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and playing with my new Oculus Quest, that I haven’t spent a lot of time in Sansar like I used to! In fact, I had been away so long that I had even forgotten how to use some of the control buttons in Sansar’s VR mode! That’s what happens when you try to cover too many virtual worlds in your blog.

I can’t believe that we are almost at 100 episodes of Atlas Hopping! (Yesterday’s was episode 98.) I want to congratulate Draxtor Despres (the hardest-working man in the metaverse!) for being the driving force to get this regular event started and to keep this going. I met many new people yesterday and I had so much fun!

And I have noticed something significant: more and more newcomers are checking out Sansar. Later that same day, I encountered a group of newbies sitting in a circle on the ground in Nya Alchemi’s medieval roleplay experience The Faire, having an intense philosophical discussion about avatars versus the people operating them, how avatars present themselves, and sexual harassment in virtual worlds (I’m the one wearing the angel wings in the photo below):

For over an hour I chatted with people from around the world (including Iraq and Syria), and again, I had a wonderful time! They were all people I had never seen in Sansar before.

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate on the official Sansar Discord server about the user concurrency statistics collected by Galen and Gindipple and how accurate they are. And the Sansar community manager, Galileo, told us that while he can’t share the internal figures from Linden Lab with us, he said they are definitely higher than Gindipple’s and Galen’s stats. And my observations in-world would agree with Galileo.

The Monstercat launch event was a massive success for Sansar. I don’t know how many people attended in total (I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, because that was the exact same day I was having my diva hissy fit), but I do not doubt that it was an significant milestone for Sansar, and it brought a lot of new people in.

And I have popped into the Sansar Social Hub regularly over the weekend, and it is always busy, even at 3:00 a.m.! Groups of avatars are chatting about technology, virtual worlds and many other topics.

More and more people are coming into Sansar and discovering it for themselves, and I couldn’t be happier. I think the future looks promising. And I want to congratulate Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab for making this happen. It’s been a fascinating journey for me to blog about Sansar from its opening day through to today, and I very much look forward to blogging about it in the future.

(And, according to my calculations, I have had one diva hissy fit per year, so I should be good now for another twelve months or so. I’ve been assured by Galileo and Lacie Linden that they have prepared puppy and penguin GIFs for immediate application the next time it happens!)

via GIPHY

Every blogger has his or her biases. My bias is that I have an abiding love of Linden Lab and their products, both Second Life and Sansar. It’s the reason I get so upset sometimes, because I care passionately about the company and its products. I’ll admit it, I am a raving fan. And Sansar was the whole reason I started this blog in the first place!

Things are most definitely looking promising for Sansar.

Why I’m Taking a Break from This Blog

In retrospect, I realize that I have been more than a little cranky this week (here, here and here). So I will be taking the rest of this week off from blogging. I need to find some happier things to do which don’t trigger me. I’ll be back sometime next week.

So, I’mma just leave these here, courtesy of the Bitchslap Meme Generator:

UPDATE July 12th: My main avatar, Vanity Fair, has just been banned from Second Life and the SL Community Forums for three days, for (and I quote) “abusive behaviour”. So apparently, Linden Lab just bitchslapped me back.

I had a friend (fuck, all right, one of my alts) post my status update to one of the Tilia forum threads which I had originally posted to, and it was promptly removed (along with any responses to it). Fine. Let Linden Lab censor me. Let them ban me. At this point, I am beyond enraged.

I still stand by everything I wrote in my original blogpost. Linden Lab did absolutely the wrong thing by deleting users’ legitimate questions about Tilia, and I am still really pissed off at them for doing it. Banning me is just throwing gasoline on the fire. At this point, I am incredibly disappointed and disenchanted with Linden Lab.

I am taking an extended break from this blog. I do this because it’s fun, but it’s not fun for me anymore. I’ve had it, and I need a longer break.

SECOND UPDATE July 12th: Well, obviously, somebody spoke to somebody, because I have been rather swiftly (and unexpectedly) unbanned from Second Life and the SL community forums. I am now sitting at the Tilia Town Hall, and I am really liking what the Lindens are telling me. And I finally have an answer to my question about what the Tilia account inactivity fee will likely be (answer: probably less than 3 dollars). And all you have to do to avoid that fee is simply log in to your account on the Second Life website at least once a year. Good. Finally, we are getting some clearer answers.

BUT… I am still rather angry at Linden Lab. And I’m just tired of blogging. I’m feeling burned out. I am still taking a break, maybe a longer one this time. My hardworking producer Andrew William is still working on editing upcoming episodes of the Metaverse Newscast, many of which are set in Sansar, and those I will blog about when we release a new episode to YouTube (we’re still aiming for one per month). But don’t expect much other output from me for the next month or two.

I suffer from a chronic form of clinical depression, and my depression is mostly a learned response to bottled-up anger which accumulates over months and years. After many years working on myself in therapy, I can now accurately identify when I am feeling angry instead of suppressing it, but I still need to learn how to deal with it more effectively, and especially to STAY OFFLINE when I am upset. I owe Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab an apology for my diva hissy fit. It wasn’t pretty and I am ashamed of myself.

Frankly, I am feeling rather disenchanted with both High Fidelity and Linden Lab at the moment (which is ironic, since all the episodes of the Metaverse Newscast to date have focused on one or the other platform). It’s a clear sign that I need to step back for a bit, and that Andrew and I need to broaden the scope of the Metaverse Newscast to include other popular social VR platforms, such as VRChat. We also want to cover smaller projects such as NeosVR, and niche platforms such as Engage.

I’m still feeling cranky, and I’ve been completely overreacting to things all week, and it’s a clear sign that something is wrong is wrong with me. I just need to take a break, this time a real, long break from blogging. Take some time away from social VR and virtual worlds. I hope you all understand. But even if you don’t, I am still taking that break. I’m sorry, but I need to do this to recharge.