Valve Index: Day One

Today was the day that I finally removed my Oculus Rift VR headset, uninstalled the Oculus software from my home computer, and installed my shiny new Valve Index! Yet another step on the road to my complete emancipation from Facebook Inc.

Setup was a breeze, as I already had SteamVR installed on my computer. However, it is definitely going to take me some time to get used to the new headset and the new hand controllers. I feel as awkward as a teenager again! For now, I am sticking with a seated or standing experience, but I hope to set up room-scale VR once I have rearranged things in my apartment, and thrown out a few things. I cranked up my refresh rate from 90 up to 120 Hz, and marveled as I wandered around my new “home” space (buh-bye, Oculus Home!).

I still have to run through all of the tutorials, but my first port of call was Sansar, where I marveled anew at how beautiful everything looked. I didn’t need to reinstall the Sansar client at all; it worked as flawlessly with the Valve Index as it did with my Oculus Rift (although it doesn’t support individual finger tracking). The sound is amazing!

Today is day one of new adventures in virtual reality! I am quite looking forward to all the worlds I will visit in my Valve Index.

VRChat Launches VRChat Plus, a New Subscription-Based Service

In a Medium post last month, VRChat announced:

VRChat is grateful to have an extremely supportive community, ready and willing to join us as we develop the leading social VR platform in the world.

Often, we’ve been asked: “Hey, how can I help you? How can I support VRChat?”, where the answer has been “Enjoy VRChat with your friends, and tell others about it!”

Today, we want to introduce a new way for you to support us—VRChat Plus.

As always, the core experience of playing VRChat remains free. The VRChat+ subscription is a way for you to show your support to VRChat, and get some cool bonuses as our way of saying thanks.

VRChat Plus is our first step towards our long-term goals for monetization. We want to allow people who create content — be it worlds, avatars, performances, games, hangouts, experiences, whatever — to be able to support themselves. VRChat is a place where creativity is unbounded. If people who like your work want to support you, we want to help them help you. We’re still working on all this, but we’ll keep you in the know as we move forward.

Well, on December 3rd, 2020, VRChat Plus was launched. Here’s a one-minute YouTube video, providing a summary of the benefits of VRChat Plus:

This move reminds me of nothing so much as Sansar’s similar attempt to get people to subscribe to their social VR platform (I just double-checked, and yes, even since Linden Lab sold Sansar to Wookey, the subscription page is still up).

I, of coursse, would be highly interested to know from Wookey just many people have actually ponied up for a subscription, but of course, they aren’t going to tell me that. I doubt it is a very high figure, although the expedited customer support options and Marvelous Designer* subscription discounts might tempt some users to open their wallets.

If you sign up for VRChat Plus now, during their Early Supporter phase, you will get a bonus:

To sign up for VRChat Plus, you can log into VRChat on Steam, open your main menu, and click the “VRC+” button at the top, and select either the monthly (US$9.99 per month) or annual (US$99.99 per year) purchase options. VRChat states:

For the moment, VRChat Plus is only available on Steam. We’re working towards supporting more platforms soon.

I wonder how much of a cut Facebook is expecting from VRChat when and if they launch VRChat Plus on the Oculus Store. (Steam usually extracts a 30% cut, as I learned when Sansar launched on Steam. So, if you purchase Sansar dollars in the version of the Sansar client you download from Steam, Steam takes a cut, but if you choose to download Sansar from their website instead, Steam does not take a percentage.)

Now for me, stuck up here in the frozen Canadian prairie hinterlands, US$99.99 works out to 127.79 Canadian dollars, which is quite a lot to ask for the limited benefits you currently receive. I’ll be interested to see what future benefits VRChat decides to offer to sweeten the deal somewhat.

However, I happily pay Linden Lab US$99.99 a year for each of three separate Premium accounts on Second Life, which gives me, among other benefits, more group slots, priority teleport access to overcrowded events, and a lovely Linden Home. In fact, a year ago, I actually upgraded one avatar from Basic to Premium just to snag one of the new Victorian Linden Homes! So, as you can see, if you offer the right mix of perks, you can sway people into a paid subscription model for your social VR platform or virtual world.


*Marvelous Designer is the software package used to create avatar clothing in Sansar. I have written about my adventures in Sansar avatar clothing design here.

1029Chris: A Duck for All Worlds

1029Chris is among that group which I half-jokingly, half-lovingly refer to as “my people“: passionate proponents of social VR platforms and virtual worlds, the sort of people who believe in the power and potential of virtual worlds, much the same as I do. Many of them belong to the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where we gather to discuss, debate, and argue over various metaverse projects, and share pictures and videos of our adventures.

One of those people, 1029Chris (she/her), is a Canadian avatar creator. I have written about 1029Chris’ work in passing when I blogged about VRChat’s Virtual Market 4:

1029Chris’ bird sanctuary: feed the wonderfully animated ducks!

…I was invited to experience a special world built by someone I know well from the RyanSchultz.com Discord, 1029Chris, who had spent two weeks creating an amazing bird sanctuary with animated ducks, who milled about, and responded eagerly when I selected food items from a nearby picnic table to feed them! It was wonderfully done, and I hope to return soon for another visit.

Chris’s world is called the Udon Bird Sanctuary, if you are searching for it in VRChat. A visit is highly recommended, especially if you are feeling stressed out!

Chris signature duck avatar in VRChat
Another shot of Chris in VRChat

But 1029Chris is active in so many more virtual worlds than VRChat! She has decided to bring her signature duck and opossum avatars into as many virtual worlds and online games as she can. Here are some pictures which Chris kindly shared with me:

Chris’s duck and opossum avatars in Second Life
Chris in Sansar
Chris in Tower Unite
A couple of shots of Chris (in the world she created) on the old High Fidelity social VR platform
Chris in Barotrauma
Chris’ possum avatar in Garry’s Mod
Chris and her boyfriend in Garry’s Mod
Chris in Half Life 1
Chris in Minecraft

But Chris doesn’t just do still pictures! She also does machinima (that is, videos which are recorded in virtual worlds and games):

Chris in Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Chris in Super Mario 64 (I absolutely love the part where she takes off her glasses and mops her brow!)
Chris in Half Life 2
Chris in Jet Set Radio Future
Chris in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Chris in Yakuza 0

1029Chris is only one of many people I know who delight in bringing their avatars from one virtual world to another. All of them possess skills I wish I had!

Editorial: Are Social VR Platforms Dependent Upon High-End PCVR Doomed?

Today’s Melatopia Festival in Sansar: Less than 45 Avatars Total?

This afternoon, I paid a visit to Sansar to attend the virtual version of the Melatopia South Asian festival. I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and listen to some great music. Sansar is still (to my mind) the most beautiful virtual world, with a vibrant marketplace (44,582 items and counting) providing endless avatar customization options (there was even a mini velociraptor avatar running around amidst the crowd at the concert stage!).

But all the while, I had this nagging little voice in the back of my head, asking: Where is everybody?

To the best of my knowledge (and Wookey may correct me if I am mistaken), the Melatopia event never went above a single instance, and there were never more than 45 avatars total present at the festival (and most of the time that I was there, the figure from the Codex was in the low-to-middle thirties). (UPDATE: There was briefly one time in the afternoon where the festival hit a high if 51 avatars, spawning a second instance.)

Even granted that most people would be watching the show via Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, I find that to be a shockingly, abysmally low attendance figure, especially compared to the multitudes that would have attended the real-life version of this festival, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.

Frankly, this blogger has long ago given up trying to chastise Wookey for their puzzling lack of promotion of events on the Sansar platform. There’s only so many times I can write the same editorial: YOU NEED TO PAY FOR PROMOTION. YOU CANNOT EXPECT PEOPLE TO COME TO SANSAR IF YOU DO NOT PROMOTE THE PLATFORM. But my pleas (and those of many other observers) seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Whatever Wookey is doing to promote Sansar, it’s clearly not enough.

But it does raise a bigger question that I have only addressed in passing in earlier editorials discussing and dissecting the demise of the old High Fidelity and the near-death experience and resurrection of Sansar. And that question is: was it a mistake to build social VR platforms that would only run on tethered, high-end virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Valve Index? The collective term I and many other people use when talking about these VR headsets, all of which require a high-end Windows gaming computer with a powerful graphics card to run, is PCVR.

Let’s face facts: both now and for the foreseeable future, the clear VR headset of choice by consumers will be the wireless, standalone Oculus Quest, especially now that Facebook has released the newer, cheaper Oculus Quest 2. And Facebook will stop selling its Oculus Rift S tethered, PCVR headset (the successor to the original Oculus Rift) this coming spring. Business Insider reported:

“We’re going to focus on standalone VR headsets moving forward,” the company said in a blog post on Wednesday. “We’ll no longer pursue PC-only hardware, with sales of Rift S ending in 2021.”

The Rift line of headsets required a powerful gaming PC to power virtual reality experiences. The headset connected to the PC with a set of wires, but the latest Oculus Quest headsets are able to replicate this experience with a single detachable USB cable in addition to operating without a dedicated PC.

As such, Facebook isn’t outright killing its PC-driven virtual reality efforts. It will continue supporting higher-end, PC-powered virtual reality on the Quest line of headsets. 

“We’ve seen significant growth in PC VR via Oculus Link,” the blog post said, “and the Rift Platform will continue to grow while offering high-end PC VR experiences like ‘Lone Echo II’ and ‘Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond’ well into the future.”

Two years ago, TechCrunch reported on the disagreements within Facebook over the company’s decision to focus on standalone as opposed to high-end, tethered headsets, saying that Brendan Iribe, the co-founder and former CEO of Oculus, was “leaving Facebook  following some internal shake-ups in the company’s virtual reality arm last week that saw the cancellation of the company’s next generation ‘Rift 2’ PC-powered virtual reality headset, which he had been leading development of”.

If Facebook is leaving the high-end PCVR market, what does that mean for the future of social VR platforms which either do not run on the Quest, like Sansar, or do not run at their full technical capacity, like VRChat? (I wrote about my earlier experiences running VRChat on my Oculus Quest here. Although I’m sure the situation has improved somewhat since then, the fact remains that you still need PCVR to really experience everything that VRChat has to offer.) Are those platforms that run best (or only) on PCVR doomed?

No. So relax. (Yeah, all right, I admit that was a click-bait blogpost title. Sue me.)

While the market for high-end PCVR might mature more slowly than that of wireless VR headsets (and definitely more slowly than most overconfident observers had originally predicted), eventually it will come. Devices may come and go in popularity, but the overall trend is clear: ever more data being pushed to your headset, creating ever more detailed environments. Eventually, that screen door effect that can sometimes make it difficult to read text in a VR headset will vanish. Visual fidelity will only improve from here on in. Consumers and businesses will demand it, and they will buy it. It’s inevitable.

While we do not yet know what future headsets various tech companies have on their drawing boards, we can be assured that other companies will definitely step into the PCVR market while Facebook is stepping out, and up the VR/AR/XR game (many eyes are watching to see what Apple will do, for example). As I like to say, a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that many people who get their first taste of VR from an Oculus Quest will no doubt graduate to more powerful, tethered devices. (Even Facebook may decide to change their minds at some point in the future, particularly if they should see any potential competitors do well.)

I myself have already placed my order for a Valve Index kit to replace my trusty, four-year-old Oculus Rift, as part of my personal boycott of Facebook/Oculus products and services (more info here). I have heard through the grapevine that they are selling well since Facebook’s decision to force Oculus device users to get Facebook accounts, which is not sitting well with many early VR adopters at all.

And I very much look forward to visiting future virtual festivals in Sansar in my shiny new Valve Index!