Editorial: Why It’s Time to Change How I Cover Social VR and Virtual Worlds On This Blog

My blogposts about Second Life are far more popular than those about Sansar

I am only a couple of blogposts away from my next milestone on this blog: 1,500 blogposts. And it’s probably as good a time as any to calculate some quick statistics on what topics have proven to be the most popular in the two and a half years I have been blogging about (as I state in my blog’s tagline) “news and views on social VR, virtual worlds and the metaverse”.

My coverage of the various social VR platforms and virtual worlds has been quite uneven, with most of my blogging focused on three metaverse platforms to date:

  • Sansar (the reason I started this blog in the first place)
  • High Fidelity
  • Second Life (with a focus on freebies)

Of my Top 100 most viewed blogposts since I started this blog on July 31, 2017, you might be interested to learn:

  • 36 were about Second Life
  • 10 were about virtual reality in general
  • 9 were about Sansar
  • 7 were about VRChat
  • 5 were about High Fidelity
  • 4 were about Decentraland

What I find interesting is that there is absolutely no correlation between how often I cover a social VR/virtual world on my blog, and how popular those blogposts are. For example, I write about VRChat much less often than I do about Sansar, yet the VRChat posts are more popular overall. I have written less frequently about Decentraland than High Fidelity over the years, yet more people tend to visit my blogposts about Decentraland.

All this has led me to do some thinking about making changes to what I write about on this blog. In particular, I want to put more effort into covering those platforms which:

  • show consistently higher levels of usage according to publicly published statistics such as Steam, or
  • show higher levels of reader interest based on my own WordPress statistics, or
  • show reader interest based on how often they are discussed on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server.

What this means is, going forward, I will be starting to pull back on my formerly heavy coverage of both High Fidelity and Sansar. Both the concurrent usage statistics from places like Steam, and my WordPress stats, tell me that people don’t seem to be as interested in those platforms, so why am I continually writing about them? I do not kid myself that I am going to be able to convince people into visiting platforms like Sansar and High Fidelity via my blog, and frankly, it’s not my job to do their promotion for them. I should be writing more about the state of the metaverse as it currently exists, and spend less time trying to encourage people onto less popular platforms. Therefore, I think it’s time to reign in my coverage of Sansar and High Fidelity.

(As a side note, one of the first changes I see in Sansar, since last week’s announcement of a new focus on live events, is that the number of Product Meetups has been cut in half, to biweekly from weekly. Of course, if you don’t expect to have as many new features coming out in future client updates, it makes perfect sense to have fewer Product Meetups, where those features tend to be discussed. Daily Community Meetups have also been cut to Mondays and Wednesdays.)


Also, I will start paying more attention to those platforms which meet at least one of the three criteria I have mentioned earlier:

  • Second Life (which is clearly still the most popular part of my blog)
  • VRChat
  • Rec Room
  • AltspaceVR
  • Decentraland

My coverage of Second Life will now expand a little bit from the initial focus on Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies, in that I will be commenting more on a variety of topics relating to SL, particularly more announcements of changes to the platform by Linden Lab, and more editorials.

I will also start to write more often about other platforms which I have visited too infrequently, in an effort to even out my coverage of social VR/virtual worlds and provide a better overall picture of the evolving metaverse to my readers:

  • Sinespace
  • Somnium Space
  • Cryptovoxels
  • NeosVR
  • Mozilla Hubs

And, whether or not I am invited to participate in the closed beta early next year, I will of course be writing extensively about Facebook Horizon!

I realize that this decision might be a disappointment to both Linden Lab and High Fidelity (or, perhaps, a relief, given how I have criticized both Sansar and HiFi in the past). But I think it’s time to adjust my blog to the current market realities, much the same as the companies themselves have seen fit to make significant changes this year.

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Editorial: Why Second Life Is the Perfect Model of a Mature, Fully Evolved Virtual World for Newer Social VR Platforms to Emulate

You might have noticed that recently, even with all the different social VR platforms and virtual worlds I could choose from, I am still visiting—and blogging about—Second Life a lot lately.

There’s a good reason for that. I still love Second Life, and I still find lots to bring me back, time and again. For all the bells and whistles of the newer social VR platforms, I find myself coming back to SL for more.

Some people speculate that the evolving metaverse is going to look a lot like popular games like Fortnite. But I think that successful social VR/AR/XR platforms of the future are going to resemble Second Life.

In fact, I am going to make the argument that Second Life, at sixteen years old, is the perfect model of a mature, fully-evolved virtual world. Whether through design, luck, or accident (and really, it’s a combination of all three), founding CEO Philip Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab created something that hundreds of thousands of users still use regularly, despite Second Life routinely being ignored or derided by the mainstream media.

In fact, just a couple of days ago, Philip tweeted:

He said:

Looking right now at the live Steam concurrency stats, if Second Life were listed there it would be in the top 10 games, between Rocket League and TF2. And we’ve been at that concurrency level for more than 10 years.

Much credit lies both with Philip Rosedale for his original, pioneering vision of what a virtual world could be (and some very smart early decisions, such as allowing people to create and sell their own content to other users). Much credit must also go to the current CEO of Linden Lab, Ebbe Altberg, who has capably and competently led his team through many changes in recent years, building on Philip’s foundation. (There were a few CEOs in between, too, but we don’t talk about those. 😉 )

We can take a look at where Second Life is now, today, for a glimpse at the future of social VR/AR/XR platforms and virtual worlds.

What lessons can we take from SL? I can list four off the top of my head.

First, having a well functioning in-world economy is CRITICAL. Once people realized that they could actually make money in Second Life by creating and selling content to other users, SL took off like a rocket. And you can bet that the newer platforms like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace, Decentraland, and Somnium Space have all been busily taking notes based on that early success. Even VRChat, which lacks an in-world economy, effectively proves this point, by having a booming off-world economy centered around the making and selling of custom avatars. The lesson here is simple: either build a marketplace and an economy into your virtual world, or your users will build one around it anyway, in spite of you!

We can expect that newer social VR/AR/XR platforms will develop highly detailed working economies and marketplaces for user-generated content (including comprehensive item permissions systems), whether or not they embrace blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Second Life proved that this is a key, vital ingredient to virtual world success.

Second, it’s ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE. One of the reasons that Second Life has had such extraordinary longevity and success is that people have made an investment in the communities that they belong to. Whatever you are—a Gorean, medieval, steampunk, or science fiction roleplayer; a furry, a tiny, a Na’vi or a Bloodlines vampire—you have likely already found your tribe in Second Life! And that community is what brings people back, time and time again.

Also, Second Life has proven that people will spend a significant amount of time and money on customizing their avatars to their liking. There’s a whole industry built up around avatar customization, as even a brief glance at the SL Marketplace, with its hundreds of thousands of items for sale, will attest.

One of the reasons that OpenSim-based virtual worlds have struggled so much (with so many grids closing unexpectedly, like the rather sad InWorldz saga) is that they attract so few people compared to Second Life. You don’t make too many return visits to a grid when you can’t find anybody else to interact with. And this is where the network effect comes in: the more people who use a platform, the more people it draws in, and the more valuable that network becomes. Often (but not always), these successful growing networks were earlier entrants into a particular marketplace, like Second Life was.

And obviously, Facebook hopes that they can leverage their massive existing social network to give their upcoming social VR platform Horizon an advantage over competitors. If Facebook can get even a tiny percentage of their Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users to move to Facebook Horizon and use it regularly, they will be more successful than any other social VR platform to date (even VRChat). Facebook has the resources to dominate markets and crush competitors, and they will not hesitate to use every tool and tactic at their disposal. However, as I have said before, innovative social VR platforms will still be able to survive, if they can offer something that Facebook Horizon cannot.

Third: The early adopters of the various social VR/virtual worlds are the best ambassadors and promoters of the platforms. Engaged, raving fans are a virtual world’s best and most effective advertisement! Savvy metaverse companies court these early adopters with varying levels of success.

And you alienate those raving fans at your peril! High Fidelity is unfortunately learning this lesson the hard way. The current level of ill-will surrounding the project, spread by former users who are highly critical of the various mistakes and failings of the company, is an additional hurdle that the company will have to surmount in order to succeed.

Fourth, don’t be too quick to judge or dismiss a platform based on early impressions! I love to share the following video with people who just assumed that Second Life started off as an instant success. It dates from 2001, two years before SL opened to the public, and before it was even called Second Life (back then, it was called Linden World):

It took Philip Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab years and years and YEARS of hard work to get to the point where it finally took off (around 2006-2007).

And likewise, don’t be too quick to dismiss newer platforms that still might be a bit rough around the edges. (And yes, I am as guilty of this as the next person.) Some platforms might not look like much right now, but they will likely also take several years of concerted effort (by the companies behind them and their early users), before they reach a point where they become successful, profitable products.

I have noticed in covering the social VR/virtual world marketplace on my blog that here is such intense pressure on metaverse-building companies to become “the next Second Life”. Platforms are often judged harshly if they do not immediately get high concurrent users figures right out of the starting gate. That is completely unrealistic. The smarter companies are playing the long game here: building a quality social VR/virtual world slowly and methodically over time, and slowly but steadily attracting an audience. That’s what happened with Second Life!

A perfect example of this strategy at work is NeosVR, which is doing some insanely creative things, like this most recent example: an actual working portal gun! I mean, just how freaking cool is that?

NeosVR is still not on a lot of people’s radar yet, but they are attracting more and more users who are very impressed by what they can achieve on this platform. In many cases, these are features that other social VR platforms are not even close to matching! That’s why I believe that NeosVR will have a bright future. As Ralph Waldo Emerson apparently said, build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

So these are just a few thoughts. Examine Second Life carefully, and you too will gain valuable clues into what the mature, fully-evolved social VR/AR/XR platforms of the future will look like. You can count on it!

Picture by Yorkie

Cas and Chary Cover Five Social VR Platforms (Including Sansar)

Most of the people making YouTube videos about virtual reality hardware and software are men, so it is refreshing to find a new (well, new to me, anyways) channel about VR run by two women, called Cas and Chary VR.

Last week, Cas published a 10-minute YouTube video tour of five less popular social VR platforms, explaining:

So we all know VRChat, Rec Room, [and] AltspaceVR. This video isn’t about these games. It’s about 5 others that you might have missed.

The five platforms covered in this video include:

Videos like this are useful because they give viewers a look at platforms that they might not have had an opportunity to visit themselves. I was surprised to find that Sansar was a sponsor for this video. Cas says:

DISCLAIMER: This video was sponsored by Sansar. Per our guidelines, no review direction was received from them. Our opinions are our own.

I think it’s smart that Linden Lab is reaching out to YouTube influencers like Cas and Chary with sponsorship opportunities. As I have written before, social VR companies will likely have to turn to influencers more often in future to promote their products more effectively.

The MetaMovie Project is Moving from High Fidelity to NeosVR

You might remember that in episode 7 of the Metaverse Newscast we interviewed Jason Moore about his MetaMovie project, creating immersive, interactive entertainment experiences in virtual reality. The project had a successful Kickstarter campaign, reaching its goal of US$10,000.

Jason has announced that, after he has completed work on his current production, The Heist, he will be moving the MetaMovie project from High Fidelity to the indie social VR platform NeosVR:

Hi Ryan, my plan is to keep The Heist on High Fidelity and run it several more times this summer and by September put it down for good. I’ll keep the domain up and running and might consider some one-time performances, but yeah, for my next MetaMovie, Alien Rescue, I’m 95% sure I’m going to NeosVR. I like their powerful engine and the vibe is more artist and creator focused than VRChat, and while I like Sansar, I am most intrigued by the possibilities in NeosVR. Just need to have one more in-depth conversation with the guys over there to make sure I have accounted for all the tech issues. I’m super excited about Alien Rescue and can’t wait to put YOU through it! It’s going to be special.

…after speaking more with Mr. MegaTronic at NeosVR (I think he’s on the team, handling marketing stuff), I learned they are implementing a plan to offer hosted domains for members at Patreon and Pro levels, which is great and seals it for me: Alien Rescue will be on NeosVR. He also explained their vision for the future (feature parity with other platforms, and then even more). I think NeosVR is a social VR platform to watch. I describe it as the Vimeo to VRChat’s YouTube: more aimed at content creators BUT also cool and inviting and welcoming to the user base… They are designing a powerful engine and creating a warm and friendly environment. According to Chris McBride, only NeosVR can give him the tools to make the types of avatars I require for Alien Rescue (my goal is to help Chris create some of the most original and interesting avatars in the metaverse!).

Poster for Alien Rescue, the Next MetaMovie Project

This is a win-win situation for both parties: NeosVR can nimbly meet any special requests for features needed by MetaMovie, and MetaMovie will no doubt bring in more users to NeosVR and showcase the platform. Congratulations to both Jason Moore and his MetaMovie players and to Tomáš Mariančík and his team at NeosVR! I’m quite looking forward to seeing their next production in their new home.

UPDATE 8:57 a.m.: Jason further explains the reasoning behind his decision to change platforms:

NeosVR is an exciting new platform that has a lot to offer. The engine itself is incredibly powerful and we feel it offers us the most options for building complex, beautiful virtual worlds. Their approach to avatar design is also really progressive. On Alien Rescue we are really pushing the envelope of avatar design – wild, weird and wooly alien creatures – and my avatar designer, Chris McBride, has said he feels that only NeosVR has the toolset to accomplish what we are trying to do. Alien Rescue will be three to four times as complex as The Heist, and we need a close relationship with the platform’s development team if we are going to pull this off. The entire team at NeosVR is highly skilled, incredibly friendly, and they get things done. Finally, the vibe in NeosVR is just right: they are focused on giving content creators the tools they need to do amazing stuff, but non-builders are just as welcomed and the atmosphere, as I think you’ve noticed yourself, is fun, playful, and welcoming. I have learned so much from running the first two MetaMovies in High Fidelity, and for the last 3 years or so have benefitted greatly from their platform and community. I will keep my New New York domain up and running and public in High Fidelity, and I am certainly not abandoning that platform. I really hope that the new direction they are going in – which isn’t really a good fit for my project – will allow them to find some financial footing so they can continue their great work, and if and when they return to a more social VR direction, I will absolutely run another MetaMovie there. But for where this project is going, I need a social VR platform with great tools, a responsive dev team, and a growing user base of friendly and cool people. That’s NeosVR in a nutshell and I am thrilled to be taking the project there.