A number of social VR platforms and virtual worlds are responding to the continuing global public health crisis that is the coronavirus pandemic, offering their platforms as a way for people to safely gather while they are under quarantine, or practicing social distancing.
For example, Somnium Space has announced that they will host a daily meetup in-world at 3:00 pm PST/6:00 p.m. EST/23:00 CET:
This very handy guide gives step-by-step instructions for those new to VRChat, and even gives a few suggestions of worlds to explore. (Remember, you do not need a VR headset to enjoy VRChat.)
And (of course), there are many other social VR platforms and virtual worlds that you can also use to gather with other people and make new friends online. Sansar is still up and running, and of course Second Life is still as popular as ever!
We are seeing an increase in new registrations and returning residents during this outbreak. Please be kind and welcoming to those who may just need a friendly conversation to escape from this crazy world for a moment or more. If you have a friend or colleague who is looking for a safe place to socialize online during these tough times, we encourage you to help them discover how Second Life can enable them to feel less isolated by connecting them to your favorite communities or experiences.
My personal experience has been that spending time with others in a virtual world, or on a social VR platform, feels just the same to your brain as if you were having a conversation with a real-life friend in a real-life location. So please remember to turn to the metaverse if your social distancing strategy is leaving you feeling a little lonely and isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.
Early this morning, I was finally able to stroll around version 2.0 of the blockchain-based social VR platform, Somnium Space. The company has dropped a new, 1-1/2 minute trailer to promote the official launch of version 2.0:
I’m going to break down my first impressions into several sections.
Downloading Version 2.0
You can download the client from Steam or directly from their website. The installation process involves downloading and installing a small launcher program, which then downloads the full client, which is about 3.5GB in size.
As I reported yesterday, I encountered some problems downloading the full client from the Somnium Space servers. The server went down several times yesterday and last night, and had to be reset. Also, I was getting a download speed of only 1 MB per second on average:
I ran Speedtest to check my bandwidth while downloading the client, and as you can see, I had plenty of bandwidth to spare, so the problem lay with their servers, and not with my computer:
Several times the launcher program hung, and had to be restarted. I’m not sure if the problems were because so many people were trying to download the client on the first day, but it was rather annoying. I landed up spending from about noon yesterday until 3:00 a.m. this morning, off and on, trying to download version 2.0 of the client! Let’s hope that these were just opening day technical glitches.
Two Clients: VR and PC
Once completely downloaded, you use the launcher to start the program, which automatically checks for any software updates before taking you to the main screen. There are actually two clients: one VR (3D) and one flatscreen (PC/2D), and they are used for different purposes.
The flatscreen client is used to select your avatar and to build on land you have purchased (like Second Life, there is an extensive array of in-world building tools; see the video at the end of this blogpost).
The VR client is the main Somnium Space client, which you use to navigate the social VR platform. Somnium Space works with any PCVR headset (i.e. a VR headset that requires a higher-end computer with a good graphics card), including Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It also works with Oculus Quest and Oculus Link.
Please note that there will not be a desktop (non-VR) client for Somnium Space until next week at the earliest. The company decided to focus on VR users first. If you don’t have PCVR, then you are out of luck at present.
The Version 2.0 Avatars
One of the biggest changes in version 2.0 of Somnium Space are the avatars, which are now complete, full-body avatars instead of the head-and-shoulders ones in version 2.0.
The starting set of default avatars is stylized and functional, but they are rather blocky-looking, and they are certainly not going to win any beauty contests.
You actually select your avatar using the flatscreen (2D) version of the client, instead of the VR (3D) version:
At present, you cannot change any aspect of these avatars, such as the hairstyle or colour, or the clothing. Artur Sychov, the CEO of Somnium Space, tells me that they are planning to release UnitySDK next week so that people can build their own custom avatars, so I am looking forward to seeing what people create!
A Wonderful Sense of Space
Somnium Space is among the first social VR platforms where you really do get a sense of the vast scale of the landscape. The platform is designed to be one contiguous landmass, instead of individual worlds. I have been told that there will be charge for teleporting (or perhaps, teleporting after watching an advertisement), to encourage users to walk around. And yes, you can hike all the way into the misty mountains you can see in the horizon!
The in-world camera tool on the user interface tablet isn’t functional yet, but I was able to take a few screenshots using SnagIt while in my Oculus Rift this morning. There is a pleasant central town that boasts a lighthouse, a seaside café, a shopping mall, a bowling alley, and a planetarium, among other attractions.
Dotted here and there on the gently undulating landscape outside this town are the first buildings, including some interesting and innovative constructions. The whole world has a sense of a festival being set up.
While the central town and the landscape remain in 3D, the user-built buildings load in stages as you approach them, in a sensible effort to lessen the load on the client.
Final Thoughts and Impressions
Artur Sychov and his team at Somnium Space are to be commended for pushing the envelope as to what is possible in a blockchain-based social VR platform.
While Decentraland and Cryptovoxels are currently more popular in terms of transaction volume on OpenSea, the former doesn’t support virtual reality at all, and the latter is restricted to voxel-based building. I suspect that once people begin to compare all three platforms feature-for-feature, they will begin to see the benefits of the more realistic-looking, more attractive in-world experience offered by Somnium Space, and they will choose to invest.
Opening-day glitches aside, this is an extremely promising start, and I look forward to seeing how Somnium Space develops over time!
Somnium Space officially launched version 2.0 of its social VR platform.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting either event to happen first thing in the morning in my time zone, so I was caught flatfooted and unprepared. (Bad, BAD blogger!)
And so far, my day has been an exercise in frustration:
When I log into Decentraland, it doesn’t remember my custom avatar name (which I paid 100 MANA for), and my avatar appearance, generating a random newbie name and appearance instead.
I am having problems downloading the latest update of the client software for Somnium Space 2.0 (apparently, their server is down).
Both platforms are swarming with new users (there’s a treasure chest hunt going on at Decentraland), and their support teams are (understandably) swamped with requests for assistance. So I am just going to have to be patient.
Expect blogposts about both platforms once I sort out all my technical problems! As a social VR and virtual worlds blogger, I should have been on top of this, and I wasn’t. I’m so sorry!
I have been observing the goings-on of what I consider to be the top three blockchain-based virtual worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space) for quite some time now. I find it endlessly fascinating.
You might not be aware that all three worlds have assets for sale via OpenSea, which is the world’s largest marketplace for digital goods, including collectibles, gaming items, digital art, and other digital assets that are backed by a blockchain like Ethereum (ETH for short). According to their FAQ, there are over four million items on the OpenSea market, but according to one of my sources, it’s closer to 10 million now.
When discussing these worlds, you will hear the term Non-Fungible Token (NFT) thrown around a lot. An NFT is a unique, distinguishable, indivisible blockchain-based asset which has some sort of monetary value, usually denoted in a cryptocurrency like ETH.
The classic example of an NFT is Cryptokitties, a passionate phenomenon which utterly baffles me. (Then again, I have never understood why breedables became a thing in Second Life, which is the closest non-crypto analogy I can give for NFTs.) The information contained within a non-fungible token is unique to that token, like the colour and design of the stripes on a Cryptokitty, or the location coordinates for a parcel of LAND in Decentraland. This means that one non-fungible token can never be simply swapped, or exchanged, for any other token. Each is unique.
All three of Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space have both virtual land and virtual items as non-fungible tokens. And you might be as surprised as I was today when, out of idle curiosity, I investigated and discovered just how much money is trading hands per week in these virtual worlds!
Here is a screen capture of the trading volume of the past seven days for both Cryptovoxels and Decentraland, two virtual worlds which have consistently appeared in the OpenSea top 5 list by trading volume:
US$54,000 trading hands in a week is nothing to sniff at (although I suspect significantly more money is still being exchanged in Second Life on a weekly basis). I can now begin to understand how Cryptovoxels’ lead developer, Ben Nolan, can work full-time and be supported financially by his platform! There’s some money to be had here.
In fact, the distributed nature of blockchain ledger-keeping allows anyone to see at a glance how well (or poorly) sales are doing on any blockchain-based platform. Unlike Second Life sales volumes, which are considered confidential, proprietary corporate information by Linden Lab (aside from the occasional statistic tossed out on anniversaries), you can’t hide the information; it is available to anybody who wants to look at it!
(You might be interested to know that the 7-day trading volume in the third blockchain-based platform I mentioned up top, Somnium Space, is about 7.9 ETH, which works out to US$1,134. I am willing to predict that investment in Somnium Space will increase during 2020 to a level comparable with Cryptovoxels and Decentraland. They simply have too much potential to be overlooked, given their planned feature set.)
So do not be tempted to dismiss the blockchain-based social VR platforms and virtual worlds so lightly. People are already avidly buying and selling virtual land, and virtual items such as avatar wearables!
Am I tempted to participate in these markets? Absolutely not. Blockchain/crypto still seems like voodoo medicine to me. My major achievement last month was to successfully transfer a minuscule amount of ETH from one crypto wallet to another, to cover the transaction fee (or “gas”) in order to set up a custom username on Cryptovoxels! (Yes, like Decentraland, you gotta pay. But not as much.)
But it is fascinating to watch all this from the sidelines, nonetheless.
There is also a bar chart in this section of the report that shows you the top non-fungible tokens by trading volume over the past six months:
The market for non-fungible tokens is still quite small, and somewhat harder to measure than the cryptocurrency market given the lack of spot prices for assets. For the purpose of this analysis, we focus on secondary trading volume (i.e., peer to peer sales of non-fungible tokens) as an indicator of market size. Using this metric, we estimate the current secondary market to be roughly $2 – $3 million USD in volume per month. In the last six months, the following projects led the charge:
In this “top ten”, the red arrows point out the trading volume for:
Decentraland (roughly US$1.5 million in trading volume)