VRChat Implements Avatar Performance Blocking to Provide a Better Experience for Oculus Quest Users: Recent Changes Have Led to Some Complaints

VRChat’s Move to Cross-Platform Content Has Led to Some Discontent

VRChat is making more changes to its social VR platform to better accommodate users of the wireless Oculus Quest VR headset, and some VRChat users are less than happy with the overall direction of VRChat, complaining that wired VR headset users are suffering at the expense of wireless users.

In an official blogpost dated June 11th, VRChat announced a new minimum displayed performance rank was added to the platform, mainly to improve performance for Quest users of the platform:

You can choose to block avatars based on their Avatar Performance Rank. This option is available in the “Performance Options” menu, accessible as a button in the top-right of the Safety tab in the main menu.

When you choose a Performance Rank in this menu, all avatars that are below that rank will be blocked by default and replaced with a placeholder avatar. You can choose between “Medium”, “Poor”, or “Very Poor”.

On VRChat for PC, the Minimum Displayed Performance Rank is set to “Very Poor” by default. This means that no avatars are hidden by default on PC. You can choose between “Medium”, “Poor”, or “Very Poor” options.

On VRChat for the Oculus Quest, the Minimum Displayed Performance Rank is set to “Medium” by default. You can choose to change this to “Poor” to permit showing avatars of that rank, but you may encounter performance issues. In addition, you cannot select the “Very Poor” level on VRChat for Quest. In other words, avatars that are ranked as “Very Poor” will never display on VRChat for the Oculus Quest. 

(This is essentially a version of the Avatar Rendering Complexity system which was implemented a couple of years ago in Second Life, where you could “turn off” other people’s avatars which placed a heavier burden on the graphics card of your computer.)

Over on the VRChat subReddit, some users are not happy about all the recent changes:

I am no developer nor a programmer but i can feel if, things get better or worst, and VRChat is 100% getting worse and worse every update and i hate to see it going that way. I have spent 1300+ hour in this game and i loved every minute of it except the crashers. With the resent update I felt like VIVE and Oculus users were pulled down to the sake of Oculus quest users, no hate on them I dont blame them they just want to experience the fun that we had, the only problem that bothers me is the drawing with a pen, it [is] so bad. Hope VRChat team can figure out the best solution for us.

Another user writes:

After reading through some threads, in particular FloppiiiVR’s thread: Thanks Devs to fuck all of us Animators over, I decided to make a thread to clarify a few things and share some thoughts about VRChat’s current state… I’m usually not the type to speak up in public, but I feel like a few things need to be said. The latest patch has brought a lot of mixed feelings in the community and it’s been reflected throughout VRChat, the subReddit and many Discord channels dedicated to the game. Obviously the direction and changes that the devs are going to with the game are unhealthy for the game, whether you agree or disagree with said changes doesn’t change the fact that it’s leading to a lot of drama within the community.

I feel like a lot of this also has to do with the Oculus Quest as it’s far less capable then PC VR. Trying to mix a mobile platform with a PC platform is possible, but it shouldn’t cripple the higher end of the spectrum as it should still be the majority and your main target audiance.

And I have to say, based on the time that I have spent so far in VRChat in my Oculus Quest, that it now feels as if that VRChat has been split into two separate platforms, with very little overlap between them. Perhaps this situation will improve over time as more people create worlds and avatars that can be seen by both groups of users, but it is clear that the most recent changes made to VRChat have not been universally appreciated by its much larger wired VR headset userbase. I predict that VRChat is going to face some signifcant challenges trying to keep both wired and wireless headset users happy.

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Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Social VR Sustainability

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

I have been enjoying my self-imposed vacation from the blog. It’s given me an opportunity to step back, enjoy the all-too-brief Canadian summer, and reflect a little bit. I’m going to start easing back into blogging over the next week. There’s certainly no shortage of things to write about!

Yesterday, Gindipple shared his most recent compilation of Sansar user concurrency statistics, and while they do show a slight increase in the average number of users over time, it’s clear that users have not exactly rushed to embrace Sansar in the way that Linden Lab has been hoping:

Inara Pey has done her usual excellent job of summarizing last week’s Sansar Product Meeting, and she shares the following item from the discussion:

It’s now almost two years since Sansar opened its doors to the public, and general user concurrency is still only in or around the mid-20s level. This has raised questions of Sansar’s sustainability, and whether the Lab have set any goals for the platform that need to be achieved in order for it to be continued, etc.

Landon McDowell, the Lab’s Chief Product Officer, and the person most directly in charge of Sansar’s development, responded thus to one of these questions:

I am not going to put any date on the board. I think we’re taking this day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, release-by-release, and we want to see what is happening and what is resonating and what isn’t … I believe steadfastly in the future of virtual worlds, that what we’re doing here is really important … Are we happy with the result? I’m not happy with the result; I would want a million people in here today, and we’re obviously not there.

But in terms of sustainability, I think we know what our limits are, and we are proceeding accordingly. If we have 50 people in here in a year then yeah, I’m going to be really massively disappointed. I think everybody here is working hard to make this an absolutely monumental success … I feel that everyone that’s here is here because they’re digging something about what we’re doing, and I want that to spread like wildfire quite frankly. So we definitely have hopes and ambitions.

But again, I’m not going to put a dot on the board of, “this date and this time, this number of users”. I think we want many more users in, and we want them relatively quickly, and we go from there.

While it is good news that Linden Lab appears to have no internal make-or-break date for Sansar, the fact remains that the company is putting time and money into a platform that, so far, is not attracting a lot of use.

The elephant in the room of social VR, not just for Linden Lab but for all companies in this marketplace, is sustainability. Many companies are pouring resources into various social VR platforms, in hopes that they will be able to relight the same spark that ignited over a decade ago with Second Life. Most projects have not had a great deal of success yet. The few social VR platforms which have attracted some attention to date (VRChat and Rec Room) face a daunting transition to an in-world economy, plus a slew of technical problems trying to shoehorn their experiences into wireless VR headsets like the new Oculus Quest in order to reach the broadest possible potential audience. Add to that rumours that Facebook is reportedly working on a major social VR initiative for all its Oculus VR hardware users, which will likely upend the current marketplace. The road ahead is rocky indeed.

Given the significant compromises that have had to be made to VRChat in order to get it to run at all on the Quest, and the rather disappointing results, it seems Linden Lab’s decision to not support an Oculus Quest version of Sansar is a wise one. Inara reports:

Oculus Quest support:  As has been previously indicated, this is not currently on the cards. The Quest processor and general capabilities are seen as being unable to handle to quality of content LL want to provide without massive amounts of auto-decimation, which can be problematic. However, as the capabilities of emerging VR systems continues to improve and Sansar improves in terms of performance limits, the hope is that the two will converge at some point in the future.

And that convergence may come sooner than you think. It is interesting to note that at least one eager early adopter has reported that he is able to use the PC streaming app ALVR to play Sansar on the Oculus Quest. (“PC streaming” refers to the use of sideloaded Quest apps to enable your desktop computer to stream VR games directly to your Quest. You’ll have to sideload the app onto your Quest, and then install a coordinating PC program before you can start playing. These programs, such as ALVR and VRidge, are new, highly experimental, and currently require a certain level of geek skills to set up and use. But they will no doubt become easier to use over time.)

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

However, as Landon McDowell says, I’m still a fervent believer in the future of virtual worlds. I still believe it’s a question of when and where, not if, social VR takes off and virtual worlds have a renaissance. High Fidelity’s recent pivot towards business users is just one example of a social VR company adjusting its sails to meet evolving conditions. Expect more such shifts as the market grows and changes.

Stay tuned! As I often say, things are getting interesting!

UPDATED! Not Taking “No” for an Answer: The Developers Behind The Expanse Have an Unexpected Hit on Their Hands with SideQuest

This story is a perfect example of not taking “no” for an answer, and how what could have been a setback was instead turned into a golden opportunity for one company!

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

I first wrote about The Expanse social VR platform back in April. The company behind The Expanse, a fledgling virtual world, had wanted to launch their product on the Oculus Quest, but they were among the many software developers told “No” by Facebook, which appears to have taken a much more stringent approach to curating content on their new standalone headset. UploadVR reports:

“Originally it was intended to provide a way for us to get our game The Expanse to users of the Oculus Quest headset as our submission pitch was declined by Oculus – something we understood as many more well established apps were also being declined. It then struck me that maybe some of those other developers could also benefit from a super easy sideloading process with things like drag and drop and several apps inbuilt,” Harris wrote to me in a message on his Discord group. “SideQuest is a sideloading tool at heart and actually works with any android device but it has evolved into an unofficial source for apps that you wouldn’t otherwise get on Quest. I would love to see it fill the niche of a testbed for pre-release/alpha/beta testing or for deploying demos for users to try out. I have no plans to monetize SideQuest like a traditional app store as I don’t want to affect the Oculus bottom line and I would love to work with Oculus to become an alternative route for apps and games that have been declined or otherwise or just want to test cutting edge features. I think there has been a lot of discussion around games being declined and I would love if SideQuest could provide a more positive spin for Oculus and Facebook in those scenarios. I guess i see it as a stepping stone to a application for the full oculus store down the line.”

Sideloading is the process of adding apps to your Oculus Quest that are not currently in the Oculus Store. And, as it turns out, there happen to be a lot of software developers (and end users) out there who wanted to be able to sideload their applications. And that’s when the SideQuest project really took off in popularity, and gained a life of its own! (There are other ways to sideload apps on the Quest, but SideQuest makes it simple to do. In fact, in the short few weeks that the Quest has been out, there have already been several iterations to the software to make it even easier to use.)

One very popular feature of the SideQuest software is the ability to add custom songs to the collection of music by which you can play the rhythm VR game Beat Saber. The SideQuest app links directly to the BeastSaber community website, and adding new tracks is as simple as setting up a developer account for your Quest, connecting your Quest to your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, and clicking a few buttons! Here’s the page with all the details. And here’s a step-by-step YouTube tutorial by the Virtual Reality Oasis:

Congratulations to the team at The Expanse! The SideQuest software is free, but if you want to support their work, here is a link to their Patreon, or you can send a donation via PayPal. If you want more details on The Expanse and SideQuest as they evolve, you can join their Discord channel.

And this whole episode reminds me yet again of the lesson that Friendster never learnedthe people who create the software platforms (in this case, Facebook) think they have control, but it’s really the end users who shape the service and build the community that they want to see. Past a certain point, there’s very little that Facebook can do to stop this, short of completely shutting developers out, which they won’t do. And if they’re smart, Facebook will welcome this, and work with it.

UPDATE 6:43 p.m.: This last paragraph has brought a swift rebuttal from a commenter on the Oculus Quest subReddit, who says:

FFS, no. Facebook is 100% in control. They allow SideQuest. Go ask PSVR Beat Saber players how they “shaped the service” to get custom songs on the PS4. Hint: they didn’t. Sony has that shit locked down like Fort Knox. Oculus could easily require sideloaded apps to be signed with a development license to run. It’s only by their good graces that sideloading and modding is as easy as it is, so don’t pretend for a minute that you’re sticking it to the man. Be grateful there’s some cool folk at Oculus who want us to be able to do this.

VRChat in the Oculus Quest Has Been Somewhat Buggy and Rather Underwhelming So Far

So, I have been visiting VRChat using my new Oculus Quest standalone VR headset off and on since its launch two weeks ago, and to sum up my experience in one word, it has been… underwhelming. VRChat was the first app I tested on my first day using the Quest, and I wrote:

VRChat on the Oculus Quest works the same way as it does on the Oculus Rift, and in no time I was up and running. I selected a portal to an avatar shop and picked out an anime avatar girl. I also visited Al’s Avatar Corridors, a popular and well-known avatar shop in VRChat, but I was disappointed to find that most of the selections would not work in an Quest environment.

When you encounter someone whose avatar is too complex to render for the Quest, their avatar is replaced with a grey robot which has “PC”: stamped on its chest. I predict that many Quest users of VRChat will soon realize that they are missing a LOT of what made VRChat so attractive in the first place, as they visit place after place where most of the other avatars are grey robots. Will that impact how popular VRChat is with Quest users? Perhaps. Only time will tell. 

Well, two weeks in, I can report that there is a noticeable jump in the number of Quest-ready avatars at Al’s Avatar Corridors, which is very nice to see. I selected Winnie the Pooh as my avatar and set out to explore this evening.

And I was frankly disappointed in what I found. I would visit world after world packed with grey PC robots (which is what non-optimized avatars look like to Quest users), and when I made an effort to find Quest-friendly spaces like the Quest Café and the Bamboo Tample, I found them deserted or near-deserted (maybe I’ve just been unlucky?). I also noticed severely degraded performance in that any world I visited that had more than a handful of avatars in it (and quite often, the sound was very choppy). In one instance, I actually got VR sick and had to take off my headset, and that almost never happens to me anymore!

And I’m not the only one who has noticed that VRChat on the Quest is not that great an end-user experience. On the VRChat subReddit, a user named SevereMatrex posted:

Despite the title, being able to play VRChat on a mobile headset is very impressive. I didn’t think it would even be available. But, that’s not to say it’s enjoyable (at the moment). Here’s everything that makes the game currently unplayable on the Quest.

Crashes are very frequent. I crash to the Oculus home at least once every hour with no warning. I could be sitting in the default home and I would crash.

I get sent back to the default VRChat home at random. Not sure if it’s my internet connection (other online games run perfectly fine), but I often would just get sent back to my home at random while in worlds, or while joining worlds, which brings me to my next point.

Out of the (notably very few) worlds that are available at the minute, the optimization on some of them is horrible. Even the world such as The Box with just a couple people in it (all with the default PC avatar), I notice a huge drop in frame rate. And then there are worlds like Japan Shrine, which is a fairly popular and good-looking world, but not on Quest! I know this is because of the world creator, but many worlds are like this. Sky boxes are insanely pixelated and textures popping in and out make it feel like there’s no point of playing in VR, at least on the Quest. I know it’s a mobile device with only so many resources, but I still feel like it things could look better (at least eliminate the popping textures…)

90% of people are the default PC avatar. I know this will change in time as more people start converting their avatar to mobile friendly, but as it is right now, I genuinely feel out of place. It’s honestly lonely. It really makes it hard to make friends when everyone is a damn robot. You don’t even know how tall or short they are, so you have no idea if you’re looking at their face or if they’re some embarrassing avatar that you have no idea they are using.

SevereMatrex’s post has sparked numerous comments, so I would urge you to head over to Reddit and read the whole thing for yourself. There’s quite a bit of debate over recent changes VRChat has made which might (or might not) be contributing to technical problems, notably a switch from locally-calculated IK (inverse kinematics) to network-calculated IK.

Now, I am not an expert on IK, but what I do know is this: I had anticipated that VRChat on the Quest would be a lot more fun, and (at least, so far) it hasn’t been. I’m starting to wonder if trying to shoehorn the VRChat experience into the Quest was a tactical mistake, and that the game, as it is right now, is still too unoptimized to run properly on a standalone headset. It will be interesting to see how VRChat responds to these and other complaints from users, and how they will improve the service for Quest users over the next few months. It’s clear that at least some users aren’t happy, but it is still very, very early days.

But I’m also interested to hear what you have to say. What’s your take on playing VRChat in the Oculus Quest? Are you happy with it? What problems have you encountered? Feel free to leave a comment, or join the conversation over on the official RyanSchultz.com Discord server!