Editorial: It’s Time to Reorganize My Comprehensive List of Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

Classifying Social VR/AR and Virtual Worlds:
“One of these things is not like the others…”

My comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds is starting to get rather unwieldy, with almost 130 separate entries! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would grow to this size, after only two and half years of blogging!

So I am going to have to spend some time pondering how best to break down this list by category. In effect, what I am trying to do is establish some sort of taxonomy of social VR/virtual worlds, hardly a task for the faint of heart! So, it’s probably going to take quite a bit of time to do this, and I will probably do it in stages.

The first and easiest breakdown would be to form three groups as follows:

  1. virtual worlds which do not support virtual reality and augmented reality (e.g. Second Life);
  2. social VR and other virtual reality platforms (e.g. Sansar);
  3. social AR and other augmented reality platforms (e.g. Avatar Chat for the Magic Leap One headset).

According to a recent report from The Information which was widely re-reported by many mainstream tech media news publications, Apple’s plans for an augmented reality headset (something similar to the Oculus Quest) have been pushed back to 2022, and they don’t expect to release a real pair of AR glasses until 2023. It’s going to take significantly longer for new and improved augmented reality goodies to reach consumers, but we can expect that trickle to turn into a flood of products by the middle of the next decade. How that will impact existing VR products and platforms is unknown. Nobody can say for sure how VR and AR will co-exist as consumer products.

Virtual reality is much better established, but still facing a bit of an uphill struggle to attract more end-user consumers. As I have said before:

So, it would appear that those social VR platforms that do have in-world economies can’t attract large numbers of users, and the ones that don’t have in-world economies might be popular, but obviously can’t keep running indefinitely without a means of generating profit. It seems like a Catch 22, a rather hopeless situation at this present point in time.

Add to this the fact that the 900-lb. gorilla in the room, Facebook, is planning to launch their own social VR platform in 2020, and you’ve got a situation that must be keeping the CEOs of these various companies up at night, pacing the floor, wondering how, when and where it all went wrong.

The bitter truth is this: most of those 130 products on my list are NOT going to survive, thrive, and grow into profitable companies. A lot of companies rushed into the marketplace and built these platforms with stars in their eyes, but building a platform is only the first hurdle in the race. You also have to know how to promote your product, which means you have to have a clear understanding of what market need it is meant to address—something which some companies have thus far neglected to address. The adage “build it and they will come”, as major metaverse companies such as High Fidelity and Linden Lab have come to realize to their chagrin, is simply not going to work on its own. Even mighty Facebook has stumbled in previous social VR attempts, such as the godawful dud of Facebook Spaces.

I look at failures to launch, such as MATERIA.ONE (formerly Staramba Spaces), which had such a ludicrous concept to begin with: virtual worlds linked to celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan. I for one was hardly surprised when they suspended project development. I have even heard that some of the people who invested in their cryptocurrency now want to file a lawsuit. This example is typical of many of the blockchain/cryptocurrency-based virtual world projects that I have seen so far, where greedy investors leaped in before doing their homework, expecting instant profits. Caveat emptor!

Those companies that choose to focus on a niche audience (e.g. ENGAGE in education), and those companies which have small, nimble development teams (e.g. NeosVR), are going to fare better than the big boys in this interim period. Every company is going to have a Plan B to get them through the leaner-than-expected next few years.

And, in the meantime, I will reorganize my list to make it more useful for my readers. Any suggestions would be appreciated, thanks!

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I Have Been Awarded an Honorary Title from the Virtual Existence Society

I am a very lucky man.

I have had two passions in my life: libraries and social VR/virtual worlds. And I have been able to embrace and express both of my passions, both as an academic librarian (my paying job) and as a social VR/virtual worlds explorer and blogger (my hobby).

Librarians at my university are members of the faculty union, and like professors, we have an opportunity and an obligation to do “research, scholarly activities, and creative work”, as our collective agreement states. My work on this blog, and on the Metaverse Newscast show, actually forms a part of that “research, scholarly activities, and creative work”. (Yes, it is even written down on my list of goals this year!)

And I have started to develop a reputation as an expert on the ever-growing and evolving world of social virtual reality, which is informed by my hobby and my passion. In fact, I just learned this afternoon that I am going to receive the first formal recognition of that role, an honorary title from the Virtual Existence Society, to be given at a special awards ceremony on December 1st, 2019!

The mandate of the Virtual Existence Society is as follows:

We are a group of like-minded individuals who find value in the practice of virtual embodiment and the philosophy of virtual existentialism, and want to preserve, and promote those things.

The purpose of this society is to preserve and promote our shared belief and values by the means of passively strengthening our members’ faith in them through philosophical formulation and understanding of those values, and actively participating in activities aimed to preserve and promote said belief and values.

The society also conducts activities aimed to preserve and promote virtual world platforms to which it resides in (e.g. Second Life).

Luca, a Second Life vlogger whom I have blogged about before, sent me the following formal invitation:

And I am in some very esteemed company! The other Amica Honor recipients for 2019 are:

Erik Mondrian 
XaosPrincess 
Draxtor Despres 
Daniel Voyager 
Wagner James Au
Marianne McCann
Inara Pey
Loki Eliot
Cristiano Midnight
Naria Panthar
Novata
Syaoran Aluveaux
Saffia Widdershins
Cinder Roxley

Virtual World Economies: Developers for Anarchy Arcade, Cryptovoxels, Exokit, and JanusVR Have a Panel Discussion

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while now, and someone reminded me today on Twitter (in response to my recent blogpost about the state of current social VR) that there was a nearly two-hour-long YouTube video of a panel discussion held in September in VRChat, where four smaller social VR developers talked about various aspects of virtual world economies.

According to the video description page:

We’ve gathered an incredible cast of lead developers building VR platforms to discuss virtual economies. How can creative people make a living inside these worlds? What ingredients are missing to catalyze a thriving user-generated content economy? What’s the landscape look like? How can startups compete with big tech?

The four panel speakers are:

James Baicoianu: Working on Elation Engine since 2011 building web based virtual worlds and JanusWeb for past few years as a framework for anyone to easily create social VR experiences. Bai has 20+ years of web dev experience, is a webgl / threejs contributor, and a part time internet archivist.

Ben Nolan: Built scenevr which lead to aframe, worked at Decentraland for awhile building their first web client. Currently developing Cryptovoxels full-time, a browser based virtual world owned by users via the Ethereum blockchain.

Avaer: Created a minecraft clone on the web about 6 years ago, ran into browsers at the time. Took C++ background and built own web browser named Exokit just doing WebVR / WebXR. Now focused on bringing people together and incentivized to work on proper Metaverse with Exokit Web.

SM Sith Lord: Lead developer of Anarchy Arcade, a 3D desktop with VR support. Has been using 3D desktops for 10 years and streams to Twitch regularly to show it off on twitch.tv/anarchyarcade.

I must confess that haven’t watched all of the video myself yet, but I wanted to share it with you, in case you were interested in some of the smaller companies’ perspectives on virtual world economies (and before I forget to post about it yet again). Enjoy!

Editorial: Why Second Life Is the Perfect Model of a Mature, Fully Evolved Virtual World for Newer Social VR Platforms to Emulate

You might have noticed that recently, even with all the different social VR platforms and virtual worlds I could choose from, I am still visiting—and blogging about—Second Life a lot lately.

There’s a good reason for that. I still love Second Life, and I still find lots to bring me back, time and again. For all the bells and whistles of the newer social VR platforms, I find myself coming back to SL for more.

Some people speculate that the evolving metaverse is going to look a lot like popular games like Fortnite. But I think that successful social VR/AR/XR platforms of the future are going to resemble Second Life.

In fact, I am going to make the argument that Second Life, at sixteen years old, is the perfect model of a mature, fully-evolved virtual world. Whether through design, luck, or accident (and really, it’s a combination of all three), founding CEO Philip Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab created something that hundreds of thousands of users still use regularly, despite Second Life routinely being ignored or derided by the mainstream media.

In fact, just a couple of days ago, Philip tweeted:

He said:

Looking right now at the live Steam concurrency stats, if Second Life were listed there it would be in the top 10 games, between Rocket League and TF2. And we’ve been at that concurrency level for more than 10 years.

Much credit lies both with Philip Rosedale for his original, pioneering vision of what a virtual world could be (and some very smart early decisions, such as allowing people to create and sell their own content to other users). Much credit must also go to the current CEO of Linden Lab, Ebbe Altberg, who has capably and competently led his team through many changes in recent years, building on Philip’s foundation. (There were a few CEOs in between, too, but we don’t talk about those. 😉 )

We can take a look at where Second Life is now, today, for a glimpse at the future of social VR/AR/XR platforms and virtual worlds.

What lessons can we take from SL? I can list four off the top of my head.

First, having a well functioning in-world economy is CRITICAL. Once people realized that they could actually make money in Second Life by creating and selling content to other users, SL took off like a rocket. And you can bet that the newer platforms like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace, Decentraland, and Somnium Space have all been busily taking notes based on that early success. Even VRChat, which lacks an in-world economy, effectively proves this point, by having a booming off-world economy centered around the making and selling of custom avatars. The lesson here is simple: either build a marketplace and an economy into your virtual world, or your users will build one around it anyway, in spite of you!

We can expect that newer social VR/AR/XR platforms will develop highly detailed working economies and marketplaces for user-generated content (including comprehensive item permissions systems), whether or not they embrace blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Second Life proved that this is a key, vital ingredient to virtual world success.

Second, it’s ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE. One of the reasons that Second Life has had such extraordinary longevity and success is that people have made an investment in the communities that they belong to. Whatever you are—a Gorean, medieval, steampunk, or science fiction roleplayer; a furry, a tiny, a Na’vi or a Bloodlines vampire—you have likely already found your tribe in Second Life! And that community is what brings people back, time and time again.

Also, Second Life has proven that people will spend a significant amount of time and money on customizing their avatars to their liking. There’s a whole industry built up around avatar customization, as even a brief glance at the SL Marketplace, with its hundreds of thousands of items for sale, will attest.

One of the reasons that OpenSim-based virtual worlds have struggled so much (with so many grids closing unexpectedly, like the rather sad InWorldz saga) is that they attract so few people compared to Second Life. You don’t make too many return visits to a grid when you can’t find anybody else to interact with. And this is where the network effect comes in: the more people who use a platform, the more people it draws in, and the more valuable that network becomes. Often (but not always), these successful growing networks were earlier entrants into a particular marketplace, like Second Life was.

And obviously, Facebook hopes that they can leverage their massive existing social network to give their upcoming social VR platform Horizon an advantage over competitors. If Facebook can get even a tiny percentage of their Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users to move to Facebook Horizon and use it regularly, they will be more successful than any other social VR platform to date (even VRChat). Facebook has the resources to dominate markets and crush competitors, and they will not hesitate to use every tool and tactic at their disposal. However, as I have said before, innovative social VR platforms will still be able to survive, if they can offer something that Facebook Horizon cannot.

Third: The early adopters of the various social VR/virtual worlds are the best ambassadors and promoters of the platforms. Engaged, raving fans are a virtual world’s best and most effective advertisement! Savvy metaverse companies court these early adopters with varying levels of success.

And you alienate those raving fans at your peril! High Fidelity is unfortunately learning this lesson the hard way. The current level of ill-will surrounding the project, spread by former users who are highly critical of the various mistakes and failings of the company, is an additional hurdle that the company will have to surmount in order to succeed.

Fourth, don’t be too quick to judge or dismiss a platform based on early impressions! I love to share the following video with people who just assumed that Second Life started off as an instant success. It dates from 2001, two years before SL opened to the public, and before it was even called Second Life (back then, it was called Linden World):

It took Philip Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab years and years and YEARS of hard work to get to the point where it finally took off (around 2006-2007).

And likewise, don’t be too quick to dismiss newer platforms that still might be a bit rough around the edges. (And yes, I am as guilty of this as the next person.) Some platforms might not look like much right now, but they will likely also take several years of concerted effort (by the companies behind them and their early users), before they reach a point where they become successful, profitable products.

I have noticed in covering the social VR/virtual world marketplace on my blog that here is such intense pressure on metaverse-building companies to become “the next Second Life”. Platforms are often judged harshly if they do not immediately get high concurrent users figures right out of the starting gate. That is completely unrealistic. The smarter companies are playing the long game here: building a quality social VR/virtual world slowly and methodically over time, and slowly but steadily attracting an audience. That’s what happened with Second Life!

A perfect example of this strategy at work is NeosVR, which is doing some insanely creative things, like this most recent example: an actual working portal gun! I mean, just how freaking cool is that?

NeosVR is still not on a lot of people’s radar yet, but they are attracting more and more users who are very impressed by what they can achieve on this platform. In many cases, these are features that other social VR platforms are not even close to matching! That’s why I believe that NeosVR will have a bright future. As Ralph Waldo Emerson apparently said, build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

So these are just a few thoughts. Examine Second Life carefully, and you too will gain valuable clues into what the mature, fully-evolved social VR/AR/XR platforms of the future will look like. You can count on it!

Picture by Yorkie