My Predictions for Social VR, Virtual Worlds and the Metaverse for 2022

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I was going to write up another entry in my ongoing Pandemic Diary series today, but then I read Wagner James Au’s predictions for 2022, and I suddenly realized I had neglected to write up my own blogpost, with my predictions for the next twelve months! So let me polish my crystal ball and see what comes up… 😉

Among Wagner’s predictions is this one, which I agree with 100%—make that 1,000%!

There will be a major scandal or controversy around one of the blockchain/NFT-oriented Metaverse platforms.

With NFTs beset by scams and NFT/blockchain-oriented metaverse platforms seeing low user numbers but extremely high investment and speculation, this is only a matter of time.  

It’s only January 12th, 2022, but I have already written about a number of questionable NFT projects which at best are crazy schemes, and at worst are outright scams! MetaWorld springs to mind as the perfect example of the latter (ALLEGEDLY, I hasten to add, although IN MY OPINION, I don’t believe there is any actual MetaWorld platform, aside from a prototype which was created years ago by someone who has since left the company to work for Somnium Space).

By the way, I have been reliably informed that, after an absence caused by the publication of this damning recent piece of investigative journalism by Engadget, Dedric Reid is once again active on Clubhouse, shilling MetaWorld in his own rooms and in other rooms about the metaverse on the still-popular social audio platform. He’s also relisted his (ALLEGEDLY, IN MY OPINION) worthless virtual land NFTs on OpenSea, after NiftyKit took the original listings on his website down when the original artist he stole the images from to illustrate his NFTs lodged a copyright complaint.

Despite all the negative press from the Engadget exposé and my series of blogposts about MetaWorld, Dedric continues undeterred. Someone joked to me via Discord DMs that Dedric Reid is the Elizabeth Holmes of the metaverse, and I laughed out loud because it’s such an apt, concise description! Harsh, savage, but accurate.

But on to other topics; I am tired of talking about Dedric Reid and MetaWorld (and frankly, whoever falls for his ALLEGED scam at this point is simply not doing their proper due diligence, IN MY OPINION). There’s a lot of actual progress being made by many legitimate metaverse companies building social VR/AR platforms and virtual worlds!

First, Facebook—sorry, Meta! I predict that Meta is going to have a very bumpy year ahead. The company was roundly criticized by the virtual reality community when they announced that. starting in October 2020, all Oculus VR hardware users had to set up accounts on the toxic Facebook social network. While Mark Zuckerberg, in his now-infamous Connect 2021 keynote, said that the company was looking at removing this requirement, I’ll believe it when I actually see it happen. Words are hollow, Mark; what matters are actions.

I predict that Facebook (sorry, Meta) is going to have a rough year

Meta is facing such a never-ending litany of complaints, scandals, and even legal actions that this is, once again, a very easy prediction to make for 2022.

Next prediction: there’s going to be a lot of activity this year in the fuzzy overlap area between games and virtual worlds, what I like to call the “metaverse-adjacent” space. Both games (e.g. Fortnite, Minecraft) and game platforms (e.g. Roblox, Core) will continue to add new features in an effort to become more like social VR/AR apps and virtual worlds. And, given their immense popularity, especially among children, tweens, and teens, many people will get their first taste of the metaverse via these games and game platforms, in much the same way as an entire generation got their start in the metaverse via Second Life.

Speaking of Second Life, in my predictions for 2021, I wrote the following:

And, indeed, 2021 was the first year in which VRChat began to consistently surpass Second Life in user concurrency figures (Rec Room did too, I believe). VRChat has been breaking new user concurrency records, leading up to and including New Year’s Eve 2021, as Johnny Rodriguez tweeted:

Last night, 88,700 people put on a VR headset and decided to join the VRChat New Years event to countdown [to] the new year. For reference, this is Husker’s Memorial Stadium [at the University of Nebraska], which fits around 86,000 people when completely full. VR is here to stay.

Turning back to Second Life, the coronavirus pandemic caused a temporary surge in usage (and the current Omicron wave might well prompt people to dust off their avatars and give it another try, too). I still estimate that SL has somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 active users per month (that is, people who sign in at least once in the past thirty days). I really wish that Linden Lab would regularly release statistics like this, but if they are declining (slowly or quickly), I can also understand why the company would be reluctant to do so.

It doesn’t help matters that Second Life’s userbase skews significantly older than most other social VR platforms, virtual worlds, and metaverse-adjacent apps like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox. SL users are (literally) dying off! However, Second Life still remains popular enough (and a reliable cash cow) to keep merrily coasting along for many years. And with the deep pockets and good connections of the Waterfield investment group (of which Second Life is now a part), the future looks bright.

I wish I could say the same about Sansar, which from my (admittedly limited) perspective, seems to be circling the drain. I wrote the following post in the official Second Life community forums late last year:

I was part of Sansar since I was invited into the closed beta in 2016/2017, and I was there for the whole crazy ride. Sansar is now on life support (the company that bought it from Linden Lab, called Wookey, furloughed all of its staff recently, and I believe that they could shut down at any moment without warning). Being there from beginning to end, I still marvel at how Linden Lab thought they could build a new virtual world/social VR platform and just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself in this competitive marketplace for metaverse platforms. “Build it and they will come” might have worked for SL in 2003 but it sure ain’t gonna work nowadays. You have to PROMOTE yourself to get noticed.

Also, Linden Lab could have done a lot of things to try and entice SL users to a) visit Sansar and b) make them want to stay, build worlds, create content, and form a new community. Instead, what happened is that Second Life folks (rightly or wrongly) saw Sansar as something which distracted LL from its work on SL, and as a result most SL folks hated Sansar and refused to have anything to do with it, hastening its downfall in my opinion. It also didn’t help that Linden Lab made a bet that many people would be owning high-end VR headsets tethered to high-end PCs with good graphics cards, and instead the Oculus Quest wireless headset took off.

I still shake my head and wonder “what if?”. Say a prayer for Sansar, it needs it. 

Right now, Sansar’s best hope for survival in 2022 is for another company who wants to enter the metaverse marketplace to buy the platform from Wookey, much the same as Microsoft stepped in at the eleventh hour to snap up AltspaceVR.

Another prediction: we are going to see an increase in the number of companies providing services to metaverse platforms. Wagner James Au mentions the Linden Lab subsidiary Tilia, which provides financial services, in his blogpost which I linked to up top; I predict that they will land a few more clients this year. Another example of a company doing well in this niche is Ready Player Me, the avatar system currently in use in VRChat and over 1,000 other apps and games on VR, mobile, desktop, and web. Expect this nascent business-to-business sector to explode this year!

Well, that’s it for me, for now. I might update this blogpost with other predictions for 2022 as they come to me.

And I ask you, my faithful readers: what predictions are you making for the next twelve months? Feel free to leave a comment, or use the feedback form on my blog if you’d prefer to contact me directly. You’re also welcome to join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, a cross-worlds community where over 600 people, with experience in various metaverse platforms, welcome you! Just click the button on the left-side panel of my blog as shown (image right). If you are connecting via a smartphone or tablet instead of your computer desktop, just click the three-bars menu button in the upper-right hand corner, then scroll down until you see the Discord widget displayed.

Lars Doucet: Some Required Reading for ANY Metaverse Company Hoping to Make It Big, and a Voice of Reason in the Current Metaverse Hype Cycle

If you really want your platform to become the seed for “The Metaverse”, then you need to give it away.

—Lars Doucet
If you want to make a mint off the metaverse (and especially if you dream of being the next Roblox), you’d better be listening to what Lars Doucet has to say! (image source: Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash)
Lars Doucet
(image source)

Lars Doucet is an independent game developer and consultant for various multi-million dollar game projects (through his company, Level Up Labs), as well as a games industry analyst, commentator, and blogger at Fortress of Doors.

On July 1st, 2021, Lars wrote a Fortress of Doors blogpost titled So You Want to Compete with Roblox, which is primarily directed at those companies who desire to become the next billion-dollar-valued metaverse platform (Roblox, as many of you already know, obtained a market valuation of UA$41.9 billion when the company went public this past March). However, much of Lars’ wisdom also applies to any social VR platform or virtual world that wants to break into the big leagues, especially if they are competing against an entrenched front-runner in a particular market segment, so I decided to write up this blogpost as an introduction to Lars’ ideas for my regular readers (if you’re not interested in my thoughts, just click over to read Lars Doucet’s blogpost in full; I have links to other content of his at the tail end of this post).

Lars starts off by dashing any dreams of would-be Roblox competitors, saying that they are too late to try and overtake something which has been building for years:

I used to get so many pitches from startups eager to knock PC gaming powerhouse Steam off its block, that in 2018 I wrote one big standard response called So You Want to Compete with Steam, with a follow-up a year later. The dust has now settled and the result is clear: all of the new contenders failed but Epic, and even they have a long upward climb ahead of them.

Flash forward to today, and my inbox is stuffed with pitches from start-ups wanting to compete with Roblox, that plucky Lego-ish multiplayer game-creation platform currently valued at 41 billion dollars.

So I guess we’re gonna do this again. Here’s how you can build a successful business that competes directly with Roblox: DON’T.

I say this out of love: the vast majority of you are going to fail. I admire you and your hard work and dedication; I’m pessimistic simply because your task is incredibly hard.

First of all, you are late to this party. Roblox first launched in 2006a full fifteen years ago – that’s five years before Minecraft, if you can believe it. They have a massive head start and are playing by an entirely different set of rules. Your only chance is to flip the entire problem on its head.

Lars outlines three components which absolutely must be in any product that tries to make a dent in the ever-evolving metaverse, they are:

  • High quality multiplayer support for user creations out of the box
  • High performance servers with excellent reliability
  • Powerful, user friendly, and joyful creation tools

Note a couple of the words he uses very carefully. “Multiplayer” support for user creations out of the box means the ability to support collaborative creation of user content (an example of this are the user creation toolset in NeosVR, although I would argue that they are not particularly “user friendly”, as they are powerful, but also have a rather steep learning curve). Many social VR platforms still lack collaborative building tools, or any sort of in-world building tools, forcing content creators and world builders to use external tools like Blender and then import 3D models.

Note also Lars’ reference to “joyful” creation tools—in other words, make it FUN to create something. From what I understand, one of Horizon Worlds’ strengths is its content creation tools, which are apparently easy and fun to use. Do this part especially well, and you will empower your userbase to create wonderful worlds, which attracts new users, who then also become content creators—it becomes a virtuous circle.

Then, Lars tackles each of the selling points of products who say they are going to be the next Roblox, “but with…”, harshly but accurately poking holes in the arguments. I’m not going to quote this section in my blopost; it’s better if you go over there and read it in full yourself.

He then talks about how Roblox spends a lot of money on hosting and network infrastructure, and how cloud provider costs (e.g. AWS) can eat up a significant chunk of cash as your platform grows. He then discusses what he sees as the three big problems you’ll face as a metaverse platform creator:

First Problem: Chicken-or-the-Egg Deadlocks

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? (Photo by Grace O’Driscoll on Unsplash)

Lars states:

One of the key themes of So You Want to Compete With Steam was a nasty paradox best articulated in Joel Spolsky’s Strategy Letter II: Chicken and Egg problems, which also applies to would-be Roblox competitors:

• You need players
• Players won’t show up without content, so you need creators
• Creators won’t show up until you have players

Joel points out that you can’t expect this deadlock to solve itself – instead you need to just go out there and deliver a truckload of chickens or a truckload of eggs. Typically this means spending a lot of money. Anyone able to rely on organic growth alone started ages ago and that door is now closed to you.

Note particularly that last sentence, which I am going to repeat in bold for those of you who still don’t get it: ANYBODY ABLE TO RELY ON ORGANIC GROWTH ALONE STARTED AGES AGO AND THAT DOOR IS NOW CLOSED TO YOU. I have repeated versions of this statement on my blog until I was blue in the face, and few of the newer social VR platforms have been paying any attention.

Linden Lab’s fatal mistake with Sansar (one of many) is that they 100% expected that they would be able to build a high-end social VR platform with a in-world currency and an integrated marketplace for user-generated content, just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself! What worked for Second Life in 2003 most assuredly did NOT work for Sansar in 2017. A last-minute, hail-Mary pass. pivoting from social VR to a live events platform, essentially failed, and Linden Lab landed up selling Sansar to Wookey. At present, Wookey has suspended all development and furloughed all its staff. Millions and millions of dollars† were sunk into a platform which is currently on life-support, hanging on by a thread, and could be unplugged at any moment. Say a prayer for Sansar; it could use one.

Lars Doucet advises:

Seed your platform with awesome material by paying your own employees to build beautiful creations. Hire contractors and independent content creators and then pay your staff to train them in your tools. Pay these people to make tutorials and guides and videos and post them all over the internet and don’t stop. Set up an affiliate system with creator and influencer rewards. And that’s just the obvious stuff – you need to be thinking about new and innovative solutions to this problem 24/7. Pay any and every price to get high quality content onto your platform.

Second Problem: Platform Dynamics

Here Lars differentiates between different kinds of platforms, from open to closed:

On one end you have open platforms like the World Wide Web where each of the five aspects is owned by no one but the commons.

Towards the middle you have different kinds of closed platforms like Windows and Steam where certain components of the stack are proprietary, but others are unowned; the owner either refrains from (or is simply unable) to capture most of the value that creators produce on the platform.

On the far end are digital company towns, proprietary platform stacks privately owned from top to bottom. In the physical world company towns are communities where a single corporation is not only the sole or principal employer, but also owns all the housing and stores – the company is your boss, your landlord, and even your grocer. Total ownership grants the company power over not only every aspect of their workers’ lives, but also their families and the entire local economy. Digital company towns likewise squeeze as much value out of creators as possible.

And he makes the point that Roblox is a company town, controlling the creation tools (Roblox Studio), the playback engine (the Roblox app), the discovery methods (the Roblox discovery portal), and the marketplace (items can only be bought and sold using Robux through the Roblox Marketplace, with all financial information managed by Roblox). While it might look tempting to set up wannabe Roblox competitors using the same model, Lars makes it very clear in his article that this is a tactical error:

Look, I know some of you as customers actually like company towns from giant companies like Apple precisely because they’re locked down and you trust the platform holder. Good for you, sincerely! You are more than welcome to continue liking them as a customer. But this article isn’t addressed to you; it’s addressed to startups who think they can deploy this kind of vertically integrated stack without already starting from a position of strength.

Simply put, if you’re trying to build a Roblox competitor in 2021 under the company town model, you’re delusional. You should not build a company town for two very good reasons:

1. Company towns are bad, and you shouldn’t do bad things*
2. It’s way, way, way too late to succeed with this strategy

So, if you can’t rigidly control everything in order to compete against the entrenched front-runner(s), what can you do? Lars suggests giving something away:

Give people a reason to build on your platform. Make them owners, not tenants.

What should you give away? Well, that depends on your specific situation, but I recommend “as much as you possibly can.” Recall the five components of a platform:

• Creation tools
• Playback engine
• Discovery methods
• Marketplace / transaction engine
• Relationship with the customer

Again, I’m going to refer you to Lars’ blogpost for more details.

Third Problem: Ownership and Trust

Building trust with content creators is key (Photo by Jannis Lucas on Unsplash)

Platforms tend to follow a certain kind of life cycle, and there’s no better primer than Dan Cook’s Game of Platform Power. In it he outlines how platforms transition through “Growth” and “Engage” phases where they are friendly and generous to the creators who produce value on their ecosystems, before maturing into the “Extract” phase where they leverage their size and power to lock-in users and capture as much creator-produced value for themselves as possible.

A classic example of this is Second Life, which is now merrily coasting along, collecting fees for the sale of in-world land and currency, still going strong at the ripe old age of 18 with a locked-in, relatively small but highly passionate userbase who resist leaving their friends and communities behind to join other virtual worlds. For example, it’s hardly a surprise that Linden Lab, now owned by the deep-pocketed Waterfield Network investment group, has recently raised its fees for buying Linden dollars. Second Life is a cash cow, and they are rightfully milking it!

And Lars makes what I think is a somewhat counterintuitive, very nervy, and potentially game-changing suggestion on how to build that trust with content creators: make it easy for them to pack up and leave!

No matter how generous your platform is today, content creators aren’t dumb, they know how this works, and they’re being exploited right now by company towns like Roblox. Words are cheap. What they want is assurance. Trustless assurance. And no, I’m not talking about blockchain.

You really want to shake things up? Give content creators a loaded gun pointed at your platform’s head.

Another word for this is “exit rights.” If you want creators to come over in the first place, give them the power to leave anytime they want.

Mind. BLOWN. I can see how Lars Doucet is a highly-paid and in-demand consultant, just for these few paragraphs of advice alone! However, I would also add that we need to see some metaverse interoperability and standards before we can really put this into action. However, Lars makes a rather compelling case for doing at first what sounds like corporate suicide, using companies such as Substack as an example of how and why such an approach works.

Lars wraps up by dispelling some common myths about what is the “metaverse” (for example, that the metaverse cannot and should not be owned by any one person or company). And he wraps up by saying that anybody who wants to become the next Roblox is embarking on a wild, crazy, risky venture—but that “simply the riskiest thing to do is to play it safe.”

As I said in my blogpost title, this is some harsh advice that many commercial social VR platforms probably don’t want to hear, but should definitely read through at least once.

You can read more of Lars’ wisdom and advice on his blog, called Fortress of Doors (here’s his recommended reading list), and by following him on Twitter.


*As an aside, Lars wraps up his Fortress of Doors blogpost with the following highly-accurate-but-snarky observation:

That’s not to say someone fundamentally can’t craft a “Dark Metaverse” under the company town model. It’s just that their name is Facebook, it will be a dystopian hellhole, and you don’t have a chance of competing on those terms.

🙌 PREACH, LARS! 🙌

†More specifically, 75 million dollars (US) over four years, according to this Sansar Wookey Investor Fact Sheet, which is attached to the publicly-accessible LinkedIn profile of Wookey CEO Mark Gustavson:

Part of the Sansar Wookey Investor Fact Sheet

This is the first time I have shared this figure on my blog. Mark and his V.P. are currently the only two Wookey employees left on the payroll; as I have said above, all the rest of the Wookey staff have been furloughed.

The Brittle Epoch: Canadian Artist Bryn Oh Unveils a New Immersive, Interactive Art Installation in Second Life

Brittle Epoch

Bryn Oh is a Canadian artist and sculptor whom I often have written about before on the RyanSchultz.com blog (here is a link to all my blogposts which mention her). She has long been active in the virtual world of Second Life, and has also created art installations on other metaverse platforms such as Sansar and the former High Fidelity.

On November 1st, 2021, Bryn unveiled her latest immersive, interactive art installation, a continuation of her previous work, called Brittle Epoch. Second Life blogger Inara Pey writes:

Opening on November 1st at her arts region Immersiva, is Bryn Oh’s latest work, entitled The Brittle Epochan installation that has been several months in development.

Most of the work is set in a mysterious frozen landscape, with a howling winter wind blowing the snow around, under an oversize full moon. The art installation makes good use of hidden teleporters to whisk you from scene to scene, and you are encouraged to click on everything in order to learn more about what happened! A HUD that is automatically attached to your viewer when you enter helps guide you through the experience (be sure to read all the signs at the entrance!).

Here’s a two-minute promotional video for The Brittle Epoch, released today by Linden Lab (the makers of Second Life):

You can pay a visit to the experience here. Inara Pey also notes:

As noted, Bryn’s installations all take place within the same over-arching universe, and thus share degrees of connectedness. As such, for those possibly unfamiliar with her work, or who wish to re-acquaint themselves with her themes and idea, I recommend the following resources:

Thanks to Inara for compiling this list of links! You can read her full review of The Brittle Epoch here.

Two Videos Which Show the Variety and Beauty of Sansar’s Many Worlds

I admit it: I still have a soft spot in my heart for the early social VR platform Sansar.

I joined Sansar which was then in closed beta test, in January 2017, and I began this blog in order to write exclusively about Sansar (in fact, the original name for the RyanSchultz.com blog was the Sansar Newsblog). Over time, I slowly expanded to write about other platforms, but Sansar was my introduction to social VR.

In my opinion, Sansar (built by Linden Lab, opened to the public on July 31st, 2017, and later sold to Wookey in 2020) still boasts some of the most breathtakingly beautiful worlds in the metaverse (thanks in large part to their advanced lighting model). I wanted to reshare two of my favourite videos to give those of you, who might never have set a virtual foot in Sansar, a taste of those worlds.

First is a video by Wurfi, compiled in 2019, showcasing numerous worlds in Sansar. Watching this brings back so many happy memories!

And second is the following YouTube video by Daisy Winthorpe, made in 2020, which also shows off numerous Sansar worlds:

I do hope that these two videos will inspire you to download the Sansar client, and go do some exploring! Many if not most of these worlds are still up and running. Here’s a step-by-step guide for newbies I wrote up in 2019 (although I cannot guarantee that parts of it are not a bit out-of-date).