The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) Conference Takes Place in Second Life March 26th-28th, 2020

The long-running annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference runs from today until March 28th, 2020 in Second Life.

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Editorial: How Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds and Social VR Platforms Can Reduce Isolation During a Potential SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic

O.K. it’s time to inject a little levity (thanks, Neobela!):

It’s so funny because it’s true. Second Life users make friends and build communities not based on physical proximity, but on mental and emotional connections between their avatars. That very basic fact, common to all virtual worlds and social VR platforms, may be a life-saver to those people who, either by choice or by circumstance, are forced to self-isolate in their homes because of quarantines and the imposition of social distancing policies by their governments.

And it’s not just Second Life. It’s any virtual world, and the concept applies to the newer social VR platforms like Sansar, too.

I am one of those depressed people who often walks away from a real-world interaction with a friend or acquaintance with an uplift in my mood. And I know that I often can replicate that response, when I interact with other people in a virtual world, too. My brain literally does not know the difference between a real-world interaction and a virtual-world one, and it responds the same way.

Of course, this works both ways: someone in my real life or or in virtual one can just as easily bring me down and depress me further. But the fact remains that social VR platforms and virtual worlds are built on the foundation of human communication. It literally doesn’t matter if those humans are living right next door or at the other end of the globe in our modern era of information technology. We can find our own community, people who share our thoughts, goals, and dreams, and literally build new worlds!

So, while the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 outbreak continues, don’t forget to sign into your favourite social VR/virtual world platform(s) from time to time, to reconnect with your communities.

Editorial: My Social VR/Virtual World Predictions for 2020

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Now that I am (finally!) finished my annual holiday tradition of utterly ransacking all the Advent calendars and December shopping events I can find in Second Life—the better to clothe my small army of alts with fashionable freebies!—it is time to turn my attention to predictions for the coming year.

Let’s start with a look back at my predictions for 2019, shall we? I said then:

  • That Second Life would “continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity”, and that “the ability to change your first and last names in SL will prove very popular—and also very lucrative for Linden Lab”. Well, I am going to stick to that prediction. Implementing avatar name changes in SL turned out to be a thornier problem than Linden Lab anticipated, hence the delay, but they now have eight years of pent-up demand for this feature, and I anticipate that it will still prove popular—and profitable—for Linden Lab. I myself upgraded one of my alts to Premium to be able to change her legacy name of Bumbly Rumpler. (I know. I know. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time!) I also snagged her a lovely new riverside Victorian Linden Home in the process.

  • That OpenSim would move on implementing virtual reality support, but (as far as I can tell), that work has stalled or been abandoned. To be honest, I have barely set foot at all in OpenSim this past year, so I regret that I am not in any position to make predictions for 2020!

  • That “one or more blockchain-based virtual worlds are going to fold”—a prediction which has come true, at least for MATERIA.ONE, which has not officially folded, but is currently on an indefinite hiatus. The landscape is littered with various blockchain-based projects that are either dead, moribund, or stuck in pre-development hell: Aether City, Ceek, The Deep, MARK.SPACE, MegaCryptoPolis, The Sandbox, Stan World, SuperWorld, Terra Virtua, and VIBEHub. And yet, somehow, new crypto projects keep appearing, hoping to become the next Bitcoin.

    However, three blockchain-based virtual world projects appear to be doing well—Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space—and I expect that they will all continue to do well in 2020. I note that both Decentraland and Cryptovoxels have tended to rank in the Top 5 in sales volume on the OpenSea marketplace (this screencap is from a tweet made Dec. 27th):

I’m already working on a predictions blogpost for the various social VR platforms and virtual worlds in 2020. Among my predictions is the following: if Linden Lab cannot find a way to increase the overall number of users in Sansar within the next 12 months, even with a pivot to (and an exclusive focus on) live events, then the company will do one of three things:

– convert the existing Sansar code to open source and let the community take it over (which I think is the least likely option);

– sell Sansar to another company and keep Second Life running (or perhaps sell off Linden Lab and all its assets entirely to another company); or

– shut down the Sansar project completely (which I think is the most likely option).

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the honeymoon period for Sansar is OVER.

I am increasingly worried (even heartsick) over the future of Sansar.

  • That “the Oculus Quest VR headset will ignite the long-awaited boom in virtual reality”. I think that we can agree that the Oculus Quest has been a runaway success. Facebook is apparently selling the units as fast as they can make them, and they are now backordered until late February 2020. (The Valve Index is also selling well, and also similarly backordered.) I do predict that this will bring many more people into those social VR platforms which can natively run on the standalone Quest headset, such as VRChat, Rec Room, and AltspaceVR.

  • That “Linden Lab’s launch of Sansar on Steam will likely have only a modest impact on overall usage of the platform”. I deeply regret that this prediction has come true in spades. I said at the time that Linden Lab ditching its SandeX and launching Sansar on Steam would be a terrible mistake, and I take no pleasure in being proven correct. Sansar has been pummeled by negative reviews by Steam gamers, adding to the general sense of malaise about the platform in the past year, especially since approximately 30 staff working on the project were laid off by Linden Lab a couple of months ago, in an attempt to trim their continued financial losses. This was a move which was probably imposed on CEO Ebbe Altberg by the Linden Lab board of directors, who are probably very worried that if Sansar tanks, it will take down Second Life with it.
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

O.K., now that we’ve looked at how well my predictions for 2019 have fared, now it’s time to peer in my crystal ball and make some new predictions for 2020.

First, all current social VR platforms and virtual worlds will struggle with a key problem: effective promotion. Getting the word out to the public about the various platforms is proving to be more and more difficult in an age of social media overload and short attention spans.

We can expect to see more partnerships between various platforms and influencers (such as Sansar’s continued partnership with the VR vloggers Cas and Chary, and my own recent sponsorship and advertising deal with Sinespace). By the way, my partnership with Sinespace is not exclusive, we can still see other people 😉 and I am still actively looking for other advertisers and sponsorships for my blog and the Metaverse Newscast show (hint hint).

Second, every single eye will be on Facebook as they launch their new social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, early in the new year. It’s disgusting to me how even the smallest Facebook announcement gets oceans of fawning mainstream press coverage, and you can certainly expect Horizon to suck up all the oxygen in the press room when it gets closer to launch date. If Facebook Horizon, backed by the almost limitless resources and reach of its ambitious parent company, fails to take hold in 2020, then that will be the clearest indication yet that the nascent social VR industry is in trouble (and that I might be out of a job!).

Third, as I have said above, I am extremely worried about Sansar. The Sansar website has recently had a complete redesign to focus almost exclusively on live events:

It would appear that Linden Lab is going all-in on Sansar as a platform for live events, to the detriment of other features such as avatar customization (I don’t expect anything new this coming year). However, competition in the live events market in 2020 is likely to be intense, with the following products also planning to focus on hosting such events:

  • Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR (which has also recently announced a pivot to live events);
  • VRChat (which is already home to popular talk shows such as ENDGAME, and many other regular live events);
  • Wave (which has already pulled off some spectacular musical events such as the recent Lindsey Stirling concert);
  • Upstarts such as Ceek and Redpill VR (which are in various stages of pre-development and may or may not launch in 2020);
  • Not to mention that Facebook will also want to muscle in on this extremely lucrative territory (with Oculus Venues, and probably Facebook Horizon, too)—and Facebook will not hesitate to ruthlessly use every tool and tactic at their disposal to achieve market dominance (including “hiding” posts about competing platforms in their Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp social network users’ newsfeeds). Facebook also has deep pockets to ink deals with major talent, locking them into exclusive deals to appear on their platforms.

Expect many skirmishes on the live events battlefield in 2020, and also expect some causalities to occur.

Fourth, Second Life will continue to coast along as it always does, still boasting approximately 600,000 regular monthly users in recently released statistics by Firestorm, and still making millions of dollars in profits, both for its content creators and for Linden Lab. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and I see no sign of it stopping anytime soon. I predict that SL will still be around five years, perhaps even ten years, from now, and that people will still be logging in, and still merrily ransacking Advent calendars 😉 …and I will continue to blog about steals, deals, and freebies in Second Life!

Fifth, we can expect to see the upcoming Educators in VR International Summit as an example of an increasingly important use of social VR platforms in 2020: conferences. This is a natural fit, and one that saves precious resources (such as airline fuel) in an increasingly environmentally-conscious world. We can expect to see more conferences and meetings hosted in VR as an alternative to real-world meetings (although, as High Fidelity found out, the remote workteams support marketplace isn’t quite there yet, since the vast majority of companies still expect their employees to show up to their offices rather than work remotely from home). I think it’s going to take another generation for that shift to take effect in any widespread fashion.

Sixth: those social VR platforms which currently lack an in-world economy, currency, and a marketplace for user-created content, will be moving towards implementing those features. VRChat already has a booming off-world economy in the creation and sale of custom avatars. We already know that both VRChat and Rec Room are making plans in this area, based on job postings on their websites, but we can also expect other platforms to take this step, taking their cues from the continuing success of the mature, fully-evolved in-world economy of Second Life.

Platforms where people can make money tend to attract droves of new users, appealing to their greed and the universal desire to strike it rich (Decentraland as a more recent example; although its continued success is not 100% guaranteed, investors have sunk a lot of money into it, and it will be interesting to see how this ultimate expression of virtual, cut-throat capitalism will evolve and grow over the next year).

Finally, at some point Apple (and other companies, including Facebook) will launch the first consumer-oriented augmented reality headsets. The over-hyped Magic Leap One has turned out to be rather underwhelming (and underselling) so far, but who knows? Perhaps future AR products may ignite consumer interest, and have an as-yet-unknown impact on the current crop of social VR platforms.

Perhaps the big bet we all placed on virtual reality has been misplaced? We won’t know the answer to that hypothetical question until at least another decade has passed. Of course, some social VR platforms may decide to extend support to whatever AR/MR/XR hardware becomes available in the future, too. Anything can happen.

So these are my social VR/virtual world predictions for 2020. Please check back in a year, and we’ll see just how accurate I was!

Image by Jim Semonik from Pixabay

UPDATED! What If We Held Annual Awards for Excellence in Social VR and Virtual Worlds?

Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony…What would you call an award
for excellence in social VR and virtual worlds?

I’ve been letting an idea percolate in my head, and now that we are getting closer to awards season in real life, perhaps it’s time to bring it out for closer inspection and debate: what if we held an annual awards ceremony for excellence in social VR and virtual worlds?

We could call them the Schultzies. 😉 OK, maybe not… but let’s toss the idea around for a bit and see what we all can come up with.

We need:

  • A name for the awards;
  • Categories for the awards;
  • A time (and a place!) for an awards ceremony;
  • An award of some type (a picture and/or in-world mesh object);
  • A host (I am willing to step in if Billy Crystal is unavailable).

What else would we need? The most important thing that we need, right now, is categories. Here are some examples to get us started:

  • Best Social VR Platform of 2019;
  • Best (Non-VR) Virtual World of 2019;
  • Best Blockchain-Based Virtual World of 2019;
  • Best Content Creator/Brand of 2019;
  • Best In-World Store/Marketplace Product of 2019;
  • Most Innovative Use of a Social VR/Virtual World in 2019;
  • Best Marketing/PR Move by a Social VR/Virtual World in 2019;
  • Outstanding Contribution to Social VR/Virtual Worlds in 2019 (an award we would give to an individual person);
  • What other categories can you come up with?

We could also (if we wish) incorporate some aspect of the Razzies, by including awards for some of the more ignominious achievements of the year:

  • Biggest Platform Fail of 2019;
  • Biggest Advertising/PR Mistake Made by a Company in 2019;
  • What other categories can you think of?

I could whip up a poll for nominations for each category, and select the top 4 or 5 suggestions in each category as our finalists.

Whaddayathink? Could we make this work? I think this might be a lot of fun.

First things first: what are we gonna call the awards? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or better yet, join us on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the world’s first cross-world discussion forum, where we can toss around some ideas. We’d love to have you!

P.S. I am willing to organize, but if I do then I don’t think it’s fair for me to actually vote on the awards in that case, so I will remove myself from that. The voting would be open to the users of the various social VR platforms and virtual worlds for a set period of time (say, two weeks).

P.P.S. Perhaps we should scrap the Razzies portion of the awards before we get started; it would just seem like kicking certain companies when they’re already down. It just doesn’t seem sporting to me.

UPDATE 5:39 p.m.: Adam Frisby of Sinespace had a good suggestion: that I investigate the various in-world awards shows of the past (the Cy Awards in ActiveWorlds, the Avi Choice Awards in Second Life, etc.).

So that’s exactly what I am going to do over the next few days (in between ransacking various Second Life Advent calendars, of course!). So if you don’t see any posts over the next few days, you’ll know I have gone down the rabbit hole…