UPDATED: A Comparison Chart of Twelve Popular Social VR Platforms

UPDATE Nov. 25th: I have updated the comparison chart! You can see it here.

bigfive

From my recent blog reader poll results, I got the following results on who has created user accounts on which social VR spaces:

The “Big Five” social VR platforms

After Second Life and OpenSim, the next biggest section of the reader responses were these five newer social VR platforms:

  • Sansar (149 readers, 8.87%)
  • High Fidelity (145 readers, 8.63%)
  • VRChat (101 readers, 6.01%)
  • Sinespace (83 readers, 4.94%)
  • AltspaceVR (68 readers, 4.05%)

Not far behind were a few more newer competitors

  • Rec Room (54 readers, 3.22%)
  • Somnium Space (53 readers, 3.16%)
  • Bigscreen (35 readers, 2.09%)
  • Facebook Spaces (29 readers, 1.73%)
  • Oculus Rooms (26 readers, 1.55%)
  • vTime (20 readers, 1.19%)
  • TheWaveVR (16 readers, 0.95%)

So, I decided to draw up a detailed comparison chart of just these 12 social VR platforms. Note that in this chart, I excluded platforms that did not have VR support (e.g. Second Life, OpenSim-based virtual worlds).

I also did not dwell on technical details, such as the underlying game engine, user creation tools, etc. Instead, I focused on the three things of most interest to consumers:

  • How you can access the platform;
  • What options do you have for your avatar;
  • And whether you can go shopping!

This print on this chart is a little small to show up on the constrained width of this blogpost, so I saved it as a picture to Flickr. Just click on the chart below (or the link above) to see it in Flickr in full size. You can also use the Flickr magnifying glass to get an even closer look!

Social VR Platform Comparison Chart 22 Oct 2018

You can also download this chart from Flickr in any size up to its original size (1656 x 914 pixels).

If you feel I’ve made any mistakes, or left anything out, please leave me a comment below, thanks! I do hope that people who are trying to figure out which social VR spaces to explore will find this comparison chart useful.

UPDATE Oct. 23rd: Someone on the Virtual Reality subReddit has helpfully pointed out this thread on the official Sansar website’s Feature Requests section, where it would appear that Sansar does now work with Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Sansar user Vassay wrote in July 2018:

After Windows 10 April update, WMR headsets work with Sansar in full scale – meaning all the benefits, including moving your avatar. Tested and confirmed on several systems already.

One thing to be weary is that Sansar works with WMR headsets through SteamVR libraries, so some updates to SteamVR can sometimes break things. But from what I’ve seen, things are mostly stable and work correctly.

Happy VR to all 😉

Also, there is an interesting comment on the discussion thread about this chart over on the High Fidelity user forums:

Clothing in High Fidelity is doable, but is limited at this time to whichever avatar is was made for, since global clothing options isn’t really a thing.

So can you have clothing in High Fidelity? Yes, and not just attachments either. Apparently Ryan forgot that Menithal’s robes are completely separate, that items made in Marvelous [Designer] do work here, or that I had a greeter uniform before all greeters got one…

Menithal in Clothing.jpeg

To which I would reply: Yes, technically you can make clothing for your custom avatar in HiFi (if you have the skills), but there is still no default, dressable avatar for which you can buy clothing from the marketplace, like you already can in both Sinespace and Sansar. Note that I am making a specific distinction between actual avatar clothing that conforms to your body and the simpler avatar attachments (such as hats and wings) currently offered at the in-world stores in High Fidelity.

Second Update: It turns out that Windows Mixed Reality headsets will work with any SteamVR-compatible virtual world. High Fidelity users report they can use their Windows MR headsets to navigate very well in HiFi.

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What Adam Frisby Has Learned From Working on OpenSim

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Adam Frisby

Adam Frisby, a co-founder of OpenSim and the Chief Product Officer of Sine Wave Entertainment (the creators of the virtual world Sinespace), has written a very insightful article for the Hypergrid Business website.

Titled What I learned about virtual worlds by helping found OpenSim, Adam talks at length about some of the lessons he learned from building virtual worlds over the past 12 years, particularly his experience with OpenSim:

For a while, there were some big names adopting the project in droves. Nearly every major tech company had some involvement — or at least one employee contributing — to OpenSim at some point. IBM had an entire team of OpenSim developers and was running internal conferences using the project. During my involvement, the OpenSim software was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. In the years since, it’s found its way into many surprising places, from NASA to university courses.

It’s gratifying to see OpenSim still soldiering on 12 years later, in great part through the efforts of the educators who’ve embraced it, and through worlds like OSGrid, which maintains a small but dedicated user community, along with a host of other enterprises, projects and grids using the software.

And while OpenSim didn’t become the breakout success we hoped it would, I learned a lot from it, about building virtual world platforms — and what they need.

He stresses the importance of not reinventing the wheel:

Virtual worlds shouldn’t reinvent the wheel

This is true of Second Life and OpenSim, and numerous other virtual worlds and MMOs — attempting to build key features and functionality by creating them from scratch, when better options already exist.

At the time, the list of free or cheap 3D engines could be counted on one hand — Torque, Ogre3D, Irrlicht, etc. But today, we have dozens of fantastic high-end options, including Unity, Unreal, Lumberyard, CryEngine, and Unigine. If you were willing to shell out real cash, Unreal, CryEngine, id Tech and others have been available throughout.

Building your own graphics engine from scratch, however, is a dumb idea. It’s an insanely complex bit of software. Throw in a few thousand graphics cards and chips, various drivers, and you’ve got the recipe for a monumental headache on compatibility and support, let alone trying to stay up to date with the latest and greatest in 3D features. Trying to build your own is just going to result in you wasting a ton of talent reinventing the wheel.

Sinespace is built on top of the Unity engine, which allows it to leverage the usage of such cool, Unity-based tools such as Archimatix. Contrast this with Linden Lab’s Sansar, where Linden Lab has decided to develop their own engine. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches (for example, Sinespace has to scramble to fix bugs introduced by regular Unity updates, something that Linden Lab doesn’t need to worry about as much, since they control everything in-house).

Adam also talks about the importance of addressing non-Windows and mobile users:

Virtual worlds must be accessible — immediately

Even among gamers, the percentage of people willing to downland and install a client, then endure a time-consuming, multi-step login process, is vanishingly small. For the same reason, web and mobile access matter too. We know from our own efforts that if you want someone to download or install something, half of the people who sign up, won’t.

Today’s consumers don’t use desktops either – the web today is mobile, and I find myself using my phone more and more, switching only to my desktop to get work done. You need to be where the users are – and that, in my opinion, means friction- free and device-agnostic experiences.

I note that Sinespace is now available not only on the desktop (with versions for Windows, MacOS, and LINUX), but also for users in VR headsets (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality). They’re also currently testing viewers for both iPhone/iPad and Android devices. Sinespace even has a viewer that runs completely within a web browser (I’ve tested it and it works fairly well). And they are working on a client for OpenVR viewers for both Windows and Mac, too! I would have to say that, at this point, Sinespace is ahead of the competition in terms of mobile device and multiple platform support. They’ve got all the bases covered!

Offering lots of options for people to access your virtual world (particularly those which don’t involve downloading a client) gives you an advantage in an increasingly crowded market of metaverse products. And if you don’t believe that mobile-accessible virtual worlds are important, you really do need to check out both IMVU and Avakin Life. Both are very popular with children and teenagers, most of whom are on smartphones—and these children and teenagers are future adult consumers! Companies need to be paying attention to this segment of the market.

This is a very good article about virtual worlds from an industry veteran who is doing some innovative things in virtual worlds. I’d encourage you to go over to Hypergrid Business and read it in full!

New Book on Second Life: Living and Dying in a Virtual World

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Last October, Dr. Margaret Gibson of Griffith University posted to the official Second Life forums:

Hi everyone, my name is Dr Margaret Gibson and I am writing a book with Clarissa Carden titled Living and Dying in a Virtual World: Digital Kinships, Commemoration and Nostalgia, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. See link:  https://sociologicalexplorations.com/second-life-living-and-dying-in-a-virtual-world/  We are writing a chapter on sentimental objects in SL and we would love to hear any of your stories. These could be things in your inventory that matter to you because someone died or they remind you of an important part of your SL or RL.   If you are interested in participating in the book more fully and being interviewed via chat in SL we would love to hear from you. As you can see from book title we are interested in death, grief, family relationships in SL, nostalgia…

Any responses will be anonymous and if you do not wish for your response on this forum to be included in the book please say so. Thanks!

Well, the results of that research have now been published by Palgrave MacMillan. Titled Living and Dying in a Virtual World: Digital Kinships, Nostalgia, and Mourning in Second Life, the book is described as follows:

This book takes readers into stories of love, loss, grief and mourning and reveals the emotional attachments and digital kinships of the virtual 3D social world of Second Life. At fourteen years old, Second Life can no longer be perceived as the young, cutting-edge environment it once was, and yet it endures as a place of belonging, fun, role-play and social experimentation.  In this volume, the authors argue that far from facing an impending death, Second Life has undergone a transition to maturity and holds a new type of significance. As people increasingly explore and co-create a sense of self and ways of belonging through avatars and computer screens, the question of where and how people live and die becomes increasingly more important to understand. This book shows how a virtual world can change lives and create forms of memory, nostalgia and mourning for both real and avatar based lives.

The book is rather expensive (Amazon.ca lists it at CDN$93.54), so see if you can get it through your library (I was able to access the electronic version via my university library’s SpringerLink ebook service). Thank God for libraries!

I am looking forward to reading this, and I may write a book review afterwards. Here’s a brief excerpt from the introduction:

Now that it is 14 years old, SL attracts less news attention. Where a reporter is assigned to cover a story relating to SL, their copy carries a faint air of astonishment, as though the author believes that this world ought, surely, to have disappeared by now. The fact that it persists goes against the grain of consumer media logic of upgrading, replacing, and letting go of the old for the new. It also speaks to an implicit recognition that the demographics of SL are not “young people” even though the image culture of avatars valorises the appearance of youth.

Despite this disconnection with media logics, SL has in no sense disappeared. Instead, it has been transformed. We argue in this book that SL is now a mature virtual world. It is a world in which residents have lived and lost. It is a world which has seen significant social changes. This is a typeof virtual world that has never existed—and which could not exist—at any previous moment in history. This is a book about the maturity that has come with age. Inevitably, as an extension of that, it addresses the memory, loss, and grief that have marked the lives of SL residents. It is also a book about the care and compassion residents show towards one another and about the strength of the attachments that are formed online.

Also, an older blogpost on a topic related to this: Why I want to leave my Second Life avatars to other people when I die.

UPDATED: Virtual Universe Has Launched Their Game Portal

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am choosing to participate in the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program. Why? Two reasons:

  1. After my recent guided tour of VU, I feel very strongly that this is going to be a successful and popular virtual world/MMO hybrid platform, and I want to be a part of it when VU launches their beta this summer. This is the very first blockchain-based virtual world that I actually feel excited about!
  2. As a Canadian citizen, I reside in one of the three countries where I am currently legally forbidden from purchasing VU tokens (the other two are the United States and China). This means that the only way I can legitimately earn VU tokens to use in this social VR space before the beta launch is via the VU ICO Partner Program.

I want you to know this up front: this blogpost is a promotion for VU, in exchange for VU tokens.  You can follow on this webpage to see how many VU tokens I have earned by completing tasks in this Partner Program if you wish (right now, I am at number two on the VU Token Leaderboard). There’s nothing stopping you from participating in this Partner Program yourself, and earning some VU tokens!

IMPORTANT: VU Tokens are not a real currency. They are ERC-20 based blockchain tokens intended to permit players of Virtual Universe exclusive access to digital assets within a VR game known as Virtual Universe (VU). They are a form of in-game virtual currency.  Virtual value attributed to the VU Token will be as a result of in-game efforts by players, and no future value is represented or guaranteed.


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Virtual Universe Logo

This summer I have (rather impatiently) been waiting for the beta launch of the Virtual Universe social VR/MMO platform. The company’s original plans were for a private beta launch in July 2018, and a public beta launch in January 2019, and as far as I know, they are still on schedule.

In their whitepaper, VU is described as “part game, part social network, and part social creation platform, blending elements of Minecraft, Second Life and Simcity with innovative artificial-intelligence technologies that drive engagement”, and that is an excellent description of what it tries to be. It’s an intriguing mix of virtual world and MMO/MMORPG where you can collect wood, chop it up, and start a fire, feed worms to the AI-controlled bluebirds, or just explore your surroundings and interact with other users. As I understand from their recent Letter to the Community, explorers will be able to gather resources in the countryside in order to sell them:

Outside the city is our highly immersive LivingVR world, created from the ground up to feel as immersive as possible. Teeming with virtual life, beautiful sceneries and waiting to be explored by you. Let’s say you are exploring further than you have before and suddenly you discover a cave behind a waterfall. Inside it, you find rich copper deposits. You know copper is a desired resource in the city since its an ingredient in many crafting recipes for a wide variety of building blocks. You mine the copper and haul it back to the city. Once there you list your copper on the auction house and collect the cryptocurrency once someone wins the bid on it.

And it is not just resource gathering that can be done in VU, there will be plenty of quests available for you and your friends to experience exciting adventures with plenty of loot to be had!

We do know that there will be one main city in Virtual Universe, called Uruk (named after the ancient Sumerian city considered to be the first city in the history of civilization).

Today (July 6th, 2018), Virtual Universe officially launched their game portal:

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According to this brand-new website, you will be able to do the following in VU:

  • Own Property: Buy, sell, and invest in property. Purchase a unique property and customize it.
  • Start a Business: Generate BTC, ETH and VU through in-game product and service sales.
  • Find Hidden Treasure: Explore the planet and find hidden treasure. Recover lost artifacts in ancient ruins.
  • Adventure: Explore the Virtual Universe with your friends. Hang glide, sail, dive, and explore a vast world
  • Shape the Future: Shape the entire universe with decisions you make. Make your mark in VU.

Here’s the backstory:

THE STORY

You’re awake! Good. We have some catching up to do.

Earth as you know it is gone. Global warming and endless warfare left the planet in ruins. But humanity survived! Sort of… spaceships could make the journey to new planets, but human bodies couldn’t. They can’t survive any exposure to space radiation. The solution? House human consciousness in identity crystals, or IDCs for short, After all, isn’t consciousness that what makes a human, human?

So welcome to Uruk, the first city on the planet Raetis. For the past two years, your robot counterparts have been building Uruk. The ship you arrived on now serves as the city’s power source, which sits at the city center. We call this The Core. You’re joined by the thousands of other humans who continue to live through consciousness alone. It’s all right to not feel like yourself. Your chip has been activated inside an avatar, the way all humans now exist. So what’s next for you on this new planet? That’s for you to decide.

Explore Uruk with your friends. Sell your goods and services for real cryptocurrency. Even try on a new avatar for size – your IDC is compatible with any avatar here in Uruk. You aren’t confined in the borders of Uruk, either. The city relies on rare resources for power, which need to be uncovered and mined. You can help out, or simply explore the rest of your new home planet. But remember, most of Raetis is still a mystery. We can’t be sure what creatures or dangers lie amidst the planet’s rocky and cavernous landscape. The farther you venture from Uruk, the riskier your adventure becomes, so be careful!

It’s your life, do what you’d like. Welcome to your world.

VU planet 4 JUly 2018.png

VU city 4 July 2018.png

VU towers 4 July 2018.png

You can already claim an apartment from the website (there are 1,000 apartments available in what they are calling Genesis Towers):

VU claim apartment 4 Jul;y 2018.png

Here’s a sneak peek of the avatars from the Gameplay page on the website, which are a definite improvement over the simple placeholder avatars we used in my initial half-hour guided tour or Virtual Universe back in April:

VU avatars 4 July 2018.png

There are six different types of avatars, which at first glance appear to be similar to the character classes in most MMOs/MMORPGs like World of Warcraft:

  • Starter
  • Explorer
  • Creator
  • Merchant
  • Prospector
  • Warrior

And here’s some more details on the gameplay:

Play, explore and discover

Uruk is a gigantic city with endless opportunities. Participate in exciting adventures in the entertainment district, socialize with your friends in the finest clubs of the city and enjoy big community events!

Earn crypto rewards

Yup that’s right, you can earn cryptocurrency for playing our game. Help the community doing daily quests and get rewarded for your time and effort in VU tokens.

Harvest and sell resources

While you are exploring the vast landscape of planet Raetis, you will encounter a wide variety of resources. Gather these resources, bring them back to the city and sell them on the marketplace for cryptocurrency. But be careful, Raetis is full of hostile creatures so make sure you are prepared for battle before you venture into the unknown wilderness!

Shape the world around you

Collect enough VU tokens and you will be able to purchase your own plot of land on Raetis. Once you own your own corner of the world, you can shape it just the way you like it. Plant trees, place rocks, even design and construct your own home!

Customize yourself

Player will have a wide variety of avatars to choose from, all of them are highly modular so you can customize your character to make it unique!

Run a virtual business and earn crypto

If running around the world looking for rare resources is not your cup of tea then there is another major way for you to earn cryptos while playing VU: start your own virtual business! Purchase a commercial plot, construct one of the available player run ventures and start generating cryptocurrencies.

The website says, under the Beta tab:

VU beta 4 July 2018.png

I did have a question. It says the VU closed beta is “only accessible to pioneers”, and when you click through, “This section is only accessible to pioneers. You can become a pioneer by purchasing VU tokens.” So, how will Chinese, Americans, and Canadians (like me) be able to participate in the VU closed beta if we are legally forbidden from buying VU tokens?

I asked this question on the official Virtual Universe Discord server, and Jeroen Van den Bosch, VU’s Chief Creative Officer and co-founder, told me:

We are working on a way that token holders (not just buyers) can upgrade to pioneer (so that would include people participating in the bounty program). But that functionality is not ready yet.

VU is going to have to find ways to include people from countries where we cannot buy the VU token. Otherwise, they will be excluding a large number of potential players.

The more details that the team at Virtual Universe reveal, the more intrigued about this project I become! I’m looking forward to setting foot on the planet Raetis!

UPDATE July 8th: Virtual Universe has announced an airdrop of VU tokens, and their Telegram server has been inundated with floods of new users! Over half of the 1,000 free apartments in Genesis Towers have already been claimed, and the rest are expected to sell out within the next 12 hours, so if you’re interested, you’d better hurry!

SECOND UPDATE July 9th: The apartments in Genesis Towers have sold out!

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