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.


UPDATED! Decentraland and Somnium Space: A Tale of Two Auctions

Today is officially the last day of the week-long land auctions for the blockchain-based virtual world Somnium Space. You can check out the status of the auctions using their up-to-date land auction map (which might take a minute or two to load on slower computers).

Red parcels were those which were claimed before the auction as an incentive for investors in their previous crowdfunding initiatives (approximately 500 parcels in total). There are 4,500 parcels up for grabs this week to the highest bidder. Yellow parcels are those which have bids in the auction. Green parcels are those which have not been bid on.

Here’s what the map looks like (in two sections, top half and bottom half), as of today around 2:00 p.m. Central Standard Time:

As you can see, there’s a veritable sea of green parcels on the Somnium Space map, and not a lot of yellow ones. Compare this to the bidding frenzy that occurred in both of Decentraland’s previous land auctions, in which almost every single parcel of land was sold.

The team over at Somnium Space must be feeling a little surprised by the (relative) lack of response from bidders, and I must admit that I am feeling somewhat surprised myself.

The cost of the Somnium Space land parcels currently up for auction varies from 0.3 ETH to 3 ETH (US$54 to US$540), compared to the cheapest parcel of LAND available on the Decentraland LAND Marketplace at 12,900 MANA (US$412). If course, some LAND is much, much more expensive than that!

And let’s compare feature sets between the two products: what you can do in Somnium Space compared to Decentraland. You can actually build using the in-world building tools in Somnium Space, which offer you much more functionality than the somewhat limited Decentraland Builder, which is not really an in-world building tool at all, but rather an external website. (Someone has already built an experimental in-world building tool in DCL, but it is rather primitive.)

You also have better, more realistic graphics in Somnium Space than in Decentraland. Let’s compare two scenes, one of Somnium Space, and one of Decentraland:

Somnium Space

You can see more pictures of the new Somnium Space 2.0 here. Decentraland is hobbled by the significant content constraints placed on its builders, and cannot currently hope to match SS’s scenes.

So, why aren’t people (yet) flocking to Somnium Space as they did to Decentraland? Why aren’t people choosing to spend their money on cheaper virtual land that offers much greater creative possibilities?

One of the issues may be timing. Decentraland started off with an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) at the height of the cryptocurrency mania, which generated a lot of money (millions of dollars) and a lot of interest because it raised so much money. Somnium Space started off with less of a bang, as a non-blockchain project which had blockchain added afterwards. At the time of Somnium Space’s land auction, the bloom has definitely come off the rose for blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which might explain the relatively sedate pace of bidding compared to the frenzy over Decentraland in their two previous LAND auctions.

Another reason might be that Somnium Space is still a relatively new and untested platform (particularly the new, contiguous version 2.0 landscape), and potential investors might be cautious, wanting to wait and see what the early pioneers are going to do with the land they bought. As someone said on the RyanSchultz.com Discord channel in talking about thos week’s Somnium Space auction:

Unless the worlds become bustling with life and events and creators and MONEY, nobody will ever want to buy more land (only if they are still sick with blockchain hype). Buying an abstract piece of “land” in some obscure world that might or might not become popular is a gamble, and the only winning party here is the House, aka the creator.

Decentraland may not compare that favourably to Somnium Space in terms of technical features, but it does hum with money—the millions of dollars that MANA and LAND speculators invested ensure that DCL gets the white-hot spotlight of more attention, including mainstream news media coverage from places such as CBC Radio and the BBC. Once a project gets that level of coverage, it almost takes on a life of its own. And Somnium Space will likely need to get that kind of attention, that kind of coverage, in order to succeed. (I mean, I’m covering it, but I’m just a niche blog with 600-6,000 viewers a day! That’s peanuts.)

And, as we have seen with failed blockchain-based virtual world projects such as Virtual Universe, simply having better features alone does not guarantee success. Virtual Universe supported VR, had simply stunning realism in their world, and some truly innovative in-world creation tools, but the company was simply unable to entice the public to invest in their project’s cryptocurrency, and they folded.

It will be interesting to watch as both Somnium Space and Decentraland evolve and adapt to circumstances in future. I wish both companies every success in their endeavours, and good luck! They will both need it. (Remember, Facebook is planning to launch a social VR platform and a cryptocurrency next year. Don’t think for a moment that they haven’t considered combining the two in some fashion.)

UPDATE 7:34 p.m.: I wanted to add a time-lapse video of Somnium Space’s in-world building tools in action, since not a lot of people have had an opportunity to try them out yet:

I find this to be pretty impressive!

Updated! A First Visit to Somnium Space 2.0: Some Pictures

I got a tip that the updated client for Somnium Space 2.0 (the newest version of the social VR platform) was now available for download from their website, so I decided to pay a visit today. (Somnium Space is also available via Steam, but I don’t know if you can get the newest client from there yet. I assume that you can. UPDATE Oct 6th: I have now confirmed from Artur Sychov that you cannot get the newest client from Steam yet. It should be available within the next month on Steam.)

There’s a separate launcher program, from which you select either a PC (flat-screen) client, or the VR client. Unfortunately, I could not get the PC client to work for me (or perhaps I accidentally skipped a tutorial), but I was able to successfully use the VR client with my Oculus Quest headset.

Like Decentraland and Cryptovoxels (two competing blockchain-based virtual world platforms), Somnium Space is laid out as one large contiguous landscape. Decentraland deliberately constrains how far you can see into your surroundings, but in Somnium Space, you can actually see the distant mountains on the misty horizon! There’s a truly vast sense of space. It just feels bigger. And yes, I can confirm that you can walk (or teleport) all the way to those distant mountains and back!

I faced a similar problem that I did when I first visited Somnium Space and reported on it back in May 2018: it was difficult for me to get good pictures to share with you on my blog!

I had difficulty getting some good screen shots, because there didn’t seem to be a snapshot feature in the VR client software… So I had to hold up my VR headset in one hand, and grab a screenshot with SnagIt with the other from what I could see in my VR headset reflected on my monitor! 

There’s a lovely, landscaped park-like area not far from the spawn point with lightposts and park benches, complete with the sound of chirping birds to add atmosphere:

Off to one side is a lakeside café, next to large floating island attached to what appears to be a zip line or tether of some kind! The in-world water is quite well-done and looks realistic. The soundscape work is effective too; you can hear the waves lapping against the shore as you stand on the café pier, looking out at the scenery.

It’s only natural to want to compare Somnium Space with two other blockchain-based virtual world projects, Decentraland and Cyptovoxels. As you can see from these pictures, Somnium Space is easily the most realistic-looking blockchain-based virtual world to launch to date. The flat, voxel-based landscape of Cryptovoxels and the lowpoly, almost Minecraftesque aethestic of Decentraland cannot begin to compete against this! Given that Decentraland does not support virtual reality, and is unlikely to do so anytime in the near future, I am also wondering how many investors who spent small fortunes on Decentraland’s LAND parcels must be feeling at present.

My visit was on the eve of the one-week land auction taking place in Somnium Space from Oct. 6th to 13th, 2019. In an earlier blogpost I had written:

Somnium Space is holding an Initial Land Offering (ILO) starting October 6th and running until October 13th, where 4,500 parcels of virtual land will be auctioned off in partnership with OpenSea. (Bidders will have to have a Ethereum cryptocurrency wallet like MetaMask.)

Lands available for purchase have a clearly visible green neon border, making it easy to see what parcels are for sale as you explore the new, expanded landscape. Here’s a map of the parcels that are up for grabs to the highest bidder (the red ones were already claimed in a previous crowdfunding event):

I came away from my visit feeling quite impressed at the progress that has been made in Somnium Space. And I am quite looking forward to seeing how the platform develops over time, as landowners begin constructing buildings and putting their personal stamp on the place.

If you are interested in this social VR platform, you can follow Somnium Space on DiscordTwitterTelegram or Instagram. Somnium Space is available via Steam and downloadable from their website (the client software is free).

Brad Laurie Interviews Artur Sychov about the Blockchain-Based Social VR Platform Somnium Space

Australian YouTuber Brad Laurie (a.k.a BlockchainBrad) has just published another in-depth interview with Somnium Space CEO and virtual world entrepreneur Artur Sychov, who has decided to embrace blockchain technology for his social VR platform. Brad’s YouTube channel focuses on various blockchain projects, and the 80-minute conversation is obviously mostly about blockchain, but it’s still quite understandable by crypto newbies like me!

The interview is quite wide-ranging, and Brad asks Artur about comparisons between Somnium Space and Second Life (still the most popular and economically successful virtual world) and Decentraland (another blockchain-based virtual world which is still in closed beta). Artur says that Linden Lab’s founding CEO, Philip Rosedale, has helped advise him on Somnium Space.

Also, unlike Decentraland, Somnium Space will be the second VR-capable blockchain-based virtual world to launch (after Cryptovoxels). Decentraland does not support virtual reality, and is unlikely to do so anytime in the near future. And the graphics in Somnium Space will definitely be a step up from the voxel-based graphics of Cryptovoxels! I am quite looking forward to seeing what Somnium Space 2.0 looks like when it launches in October or November of this year.

Brad asks Artur about Somnium Space’s “Live Forever” feature, of which I have been skeptical in the past on this blog. Artur explains that Somnium Space will offer to record everything you do and say in VR on your parcel of virtual land, and then apply AI to it. Artur says that if you die, you can then have this second version of you that your children and grandchildren can visit. He states that AI is progressing so quickly that within 10 to 15 years, it will be difficult to determine what is really you and what is AI. Upon questioning from Brad, he admits that nobody else has tried to do this before. (And I am still skeptical that this will work. The amount of data storage to save everything your avatar says and does over days, weeks, months and years will be quite substantial, and will likely become overwhelming to work with.)

Somnium Space is holding an Initial Land Offering (ILO) starting October 6th and running until October 13th, where 4,500 parcels of virtual land will be auctioned off in partnership with OpenSea. (Bidders will have to have a Ethereum cryptocurrency wallet like MetaMask.)

In every other social VR platform and virtual world to date, you are not allowed to transfer your avatar and purchases to other people as part of the platform’s terms of service (although Second Life does allow you to leave your avatar and its inventory to another person via your will). Artur talks about how the use of blockchain in Somnium Space will allow users who are banned from Somnium Space to resell everything they own to other people who can use it, at whatever prices the market will bear. This is quite a novel idea for a virtual world!

Brad also asks about the cryptocurrency to be used in Somnium Space, and Artur replies that they are working on finalizing the details on it. He states that they will comply with any current and future governmental rules and regulations on cryptocurrencies, trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Artur says that Somnium Space currently has a dozen software developers at work on the platform, with extensive in-house expertise on virtual reality and blockchain. And Somnium Space will soon release a version of the client for Oculus Quest wireless VR headset users.

You can follow Somnium Space on DiscordTwitterTelegram or Instagram. Artur Sychov also hosts an Open Mic event every Saturday at 22:00 CEST (Central European Standard Time) in the Somnium Space amphitheater, for users to learn more about latest development news and to have their questions answered by the CEO himself.

Somnium Space is available via Steam and downloadable from their website (the client software is free).