Comparing Events Listings in the Various Virtual Worlds

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Picture by webandi on Pixabay

How do you find out what’s going on in the various social VR spaces/virtual worlds? Often the best way is to consult their upcoming events listings. In this blogpost I am going to link to all the various event schedules that I have been able to locate for each of the major metaverse platfrorms.

 

First, let’s start off with Second Life. The Events listing in the Second Life client (under Search in the Firestorm client) can be a bit overwhelming due to the sheer magnitude of events listed (there’s also a lot of store advertising spam mixed in). You can use the handy drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the Search window (under the General, Moderate, and Adult checkboxes) to limit your searching to, say, live music events. There’s also an events page on the Second Life website, which doesn’t appear to have as many events listed as you can find using the client. There’s also a Featured Events listing in the Destination Guide, which can direct you the major events happening around the grid.

 

Sansar has an upcoming events calendar within the client software, displayed prominently on the right-hand side of the screen when you first log in. There’s also a Rolodex icon labelled Events in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, which you can click at any time to see the events listings:

Sansar Create Event 3 21 Mar 2018

Sansar also has a dedicated Featured Events page on their website, as well as an Upcoming Events section on the Sansar Atlas page.

 

High Fidelity has an upcoming events page in pinboard, agenda, or calendar month views. Unfortunately, there’s no events listing within their client, on their tablet user interface, so you’ll have to rely on the website to get your information before you go in-world.

(Update: I just discovered that there is an in-world display board of upcoming events in High Fidelity’s Start domain, which you can search for on your tablet UI under the “Go To” icon:

High Fidelity Start 15 Apr 2018.jpg

 

Sinespace has an Events section on their official blog, but it’s not updated very often. You’re better off loading the Sinespace client software and getting information from the Upcoming Events section on the left-hand side of the log in screen:

Sinespace Login Screen 14 APr 2018

There’s also an upcoming events board located near the spawn point at the Sinespace Welcome Centre:

What's On In Sinespace 14 Apr 2018

 

VRChat actually has a VRChat Events website with links to their Discord server and to an online calendar of events. This is a separate Discord server from the very busy main VRChat Discord server, with different channels for each of the regularly scheduled events happening in VRChat, including the popular Endgame talk show. There’s simply no better way to stay abreast of everything that’s happening in VRChat! There’s also an official events calendar on the VRChat website. (Surprisingly, there is no upcoming events listing within the VRChat client, a glaring omission.)

 

AltspaceVR has a Featured Events listing on their website, as well as a listing of upcoming events in their client software.

 

I think that about covers it! Now you know where to get up-to-date information on what’s happening in the various virtual worlds. See you in-world!

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My Predictions For The Next Two Years

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’ve been hanging around virtual worlds of one kind or another for over a decade now. I’ve seen them come and go. Some were spectacular failures that provided lessons for other companies. Others just kind of meander along, not attracting very many users or ever becoming very big (like the multitude of OpenSim-based grids).

What usually happens in today’s hyper-competitive computer applications marketplace, is that one or two players in a particular market segment get big (e.g. Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, and yes, in its own way, Second Life), and then continue to grow like a juggernaut, based on the network effect, while the smaller players in the marketplace fight each other over the leftovers. The ones who get big are usually, but not always, the early entrants into the field (Second Life is a prime example of that, although there were notable virtual worlds which were founded before it, like ActiveWorlds).

But social VR and virtual worlds are not a zero-sum game. Many consumers are frequent visitors to a number of different metaverse platforms, and many creators build and sell products in various virtual worlds. Right now, success in one VR-capable virtual world (e.g. VRChat) generates interest in other social VR spaces. As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

It’s still not clear where all this is going, but I’m willing to polish my crystal ball and make a few predictions of what will happen over the next two year period, from now until April 2020.

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:

  • Alphabet/Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook/Oculus*
  • Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:

  • High Fidelity
  • Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
  • Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
  • VRChat

(We’ve already seen this happen with Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR.) We could also see a company buy out a virtual world, just to grab the programming talent, and then shut the world down completely (as Yahoo! did with the promising Cloud Party).

Now, there’s no guarantee that any of the Big Four companies WANT to be bought out by the Big Five. Perhaps instead of a buyout, a strategic partnership deal will be inked. But I bet you anything that it’s tempting for the bigger companies to buy their way into the evolving metaverse marketplace, rather than design something from scratch.

I also predict that a LOT of the new virtual world/social VR startups we see popping up are going to fail over the next two years. There’s a lot of virtual-reality-related (and especially blockchain-related) hype taking place, and some people are investing in startups that are risky. Some smaller companies have jumped into grand virtual world-building projects without realizing the sheer magnitude of the work involved in creating a fully-featured, viable metaverse. I’m afraid that some investors are going to get burned.

I also predict that Sinespace and VRChat are going to pull ahead in terms of features, simply because they decided to build on top of the popular Unity game engine, and they can use all the cool Unity development tools that are popping up. By comparison, feature development on Sansar will be slower as they continue work in-house on their own engine.

And finally, I expect that Second Life’s 15th anniversary celebrations will entice some former users to dust off their old accounts and revisit the platform to see what’s new. It may well herald a renaissance for SL! At the very least, it will help stave off a slow decline in SL’s user concurrency figures.

*Sorry, but as I have said before, Facebook Spaces is not a palatable social VR/virtual world product. It can’t even come close to competing against what High Fidelity, Second Life, Sinespace and VRChat are currently doing. But I bet you anything that Facebook has other plans up their sleeve. They can still try to leverage off their 2-billion-plus Facebook network (not to mention 800 million Instagram users) to become a potential major disruptor in the evolving metaverse marketplace. I’m not counting them out yet!

Use of VRChat and Sansar in China

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Shanghai, China. Photo by Li Yang on Unsplash

Wuhao, a Chinese user on the official Sansar Discord channel, has shared some information about the current state of VR gaming and social VR in China. He said:

I have feedback from Chinese market. At present several thousands of young Chinese are playing VRChat because of the advertising effect from bilibili, a video sharing website popular with young Chinese. VRChat Chinese community have became the largest virtual world community over Second Life Chinese community based on a view to active QQ Groups (Chinese Discord). The movie Ready Player One is also very popular with young Chinese. But Chinese still have common unstable network problem causing slow loading or uploading in Sansar, and even can’t download the client.

He posted an image of a problem that many Chinese seem to face when trying to use Sansar:

Sansar Installer Failed 12 Apr 2018.png

He also said, in answer to a question as to whether or not VRChat is easier to access:

VRChat should be easier to access in China because it’s a game in Steam.

(I wonder when Linden Lab will release Sansar on Steam?) He added:

VR players are still not mainstream gamers. But more and more Chinese VR [gamers] are buying HTC Vive which has better support than Oculus Rift in China. For me, I only use Steam VR and [the] Oculus Store.

In response to my question about how he is able to run and use Sansar in China, he said:

I use [a] VPN. So I don’t have problem to enjoy Sansar. But many of my Chinese friends and even some Creators in SL who want to develop Sansar really have a common network problem for Sansar.

When asked if he has any information on how common Windows Mixed Reality headsets are in China, he commented:

Not sure. Based on my life in China, I haven’t seen a real AR/Mixed Reality headset product yet and also haven’t experienced one. But it’s no problem to experience VR here even in a small city.

Thank you for sharing your perspective with us, Wuhao!

VRChat Pick of the Day: The Basement

Today’s VRChat Pick of the Day is called The Basement, created by atari. (You can find it by searching under the Worlds tab for “basement”.) It is very similar to the recently published Sansar experience Aech’s Basement, in that they are both Eighties-era suburban basements inspired by the novel/movie Ready Player One, so it gives me an opportunity to directly compare and contrast the two experiences. (If you’re interested, here’s my blogpost on Aech’s Basement.)

For example, I can post a link to Aech’s Basement via their Sansar Atlas listing (like I have in the paragraph above), while VRChat doesn’t have a similar feature (at least, as far as I am aware). Point to Sansar.

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The overall lighting in a Sansar experience, especially with the Global Illumination feature turned on,  is much better than in a VRChat instance. The lighting in The Basement is overly harsh, and it makes all the objects look flat and a little unrealistic. Point for Sansar.

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There happen to be mirrors in both experiences. Aech’s Basement in Sansar is a “fake” mirror, made using what I believe to be a stereographic image, but The Basement in VRChat is an actual working mirror. Point for VRChat. This is a very nice feature to have!

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Waving at my avatar in the mirror of The Basement

Also, you can actually sit down in the chairs in The Basement. You still can’t sit down in Sansar! Point for VRChat.

You can pick up and look at certain objects in both experiences, like game cartridges. Tie.

As for interactivity, both experiences feature interactive elements. In Aech’s Basement, you can trigger an audio account by Aech about many of the 1980s items you see in the basement. In The Basement, you can pick up and put the Atari cartridge into the console for a neat effect, and you can then teleport to special room where you can pick up a neat avatar, that looks like a cartoon version of Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movie series! Tie again.

So overall, the two experiences come out about the same. Aesthetically, I do find Aech’s Basement more visually appealing, though.

Note: I am using the built-in snapshot feature in SteamVR to take these in-world shots of VRChat. This apparently works for all SteamVR apps. I have no idea why they are all tilted like this! I thought I held my head up straight when I took the pictures, but I guess I didn’t (or perhaps I need to compensate for the tilt). Sorry!

VRChat Pick of the Day: GM3’s Art Galleries

Art galleries and virtual worlds are a natural fit. (Second Life has been home to hundreds of art galleries over its fourteen-year history.) I wanted to highlight some pioneering work which has been done in this area in the new social VR space, VRChat. (Yes, you can use it for more than just being a general jackass! There’s culture, too.)

VRChat user GM3 (a.k.a. Godfrey Meyer III) has created and curated four separate collections of paintings, photography, digital artworks, animated installations, and virtual sculptures. To find his galleries, simply search for “gallery” in the pop-up user interface in VRChat. You will find:

  • VR Art Gallery: ASCEND Art Show
  • Art Gallery: LEVITATE
  • “Three” Art Gallery Show
  • Art Gallery: FOUNDATIONS Art

Here’s a three-minute video overview of his ASCEND gallery, created last June:

And one of FOUNDATIONS:

And one of LEVITATE:

He is currently at work putting together art for the fifth show in VRChat. He has recently published an open art call for NEON ECHELON, created in Google Tilt Brush:

Here are some pictures I took at each of the four galleries created and curated by Godfrey (and yes, there’s even virtual wine and cheese!):

GM3 7GM3 1GM3 2GM3 3GM3 4GM3 5GM3 6

I highly recommend you visit each of Godfrey’s galleries. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in some thought-provoking art! I posted about my visit to GM3’s ASCEND art gallery opening last June to Google+.

You can follow Godfrey on FacebookTwitch, or join his Discord server.

What Friendster (Yes, Friendster) Teaches Us About Social VR and Virtual Worlds

God, there are days when I miss Friendster. Anybody remember Friendster?

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Friendster was founded by Canadian computer programmer Jonathan Abrams in 2002, before the wider adoption of MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004) and other social networking sites. It was my first introduction to social media. Hell, it was most people’s introduction to social media. This was a brand new world! The hype about social networks then was similar to the hype over virtual reality now.

FriendsterJonathan Abrams originally meant for Friendster to be a dating site, but the people using it had other ideas. People began to game the system by connecting to each other to form ever-larger social networks. Friendster would give you statistics on the number of your connections, out to three degrees of separation (that is, friends of friends of friends). And people began to compete with each other to see who could amass the largest social network. We called ourselves “Friendster whores”.

Actually, danah boyd, then of the School of Information Management & Systems at the University of California, Berkeley, was (as far as I am aware) the first person to define the term “Friendster whore”. She was, at the time, researching Friendster and other online social networks, trying to understand how people present their digital identity, negotiate social contexts and articulate their relationships. (I actually did submit some stats of my huge, eventually-3-million-plus Friendster network to her.) Her definition, which I adopted, was taken from her blog Connected Selves, September 1, 2003: “Friendster whores — people who simply collect as many people as possible”

On top of that, people begin creating fake Friendster accounts called Fakesters (“Hi, I’m Jupiter, a huge swirling ball of gas!”). The Fakesters became a way for Friendster pranksters to connect with each other, and expand their merry mayhem even further.

Of course, the people running Friendster were not too terribly keen on people creating fake accounts, and they would delete them as fast as they could. (These agents were termed the “Friendstapo”.) That only made some people redouble their efforts to create fake accounts, and some of them were truly hilarious and inspired.

My favourite Fakester was someone who channeled the late-night-infomercial fake-Jamaican tarot-card-reading shaman Miss Cleo, who declared a run for President…

Dat’s right babies! Da will a’da spirits be dat
I should lead dis wonderful nation trew da comin
times! Due ta m’overwhelmin popularity and trust
wit’in da Friendster community, Miss Cleo be
runnin fer president! So call me now ta cast yer
vote!

Friendster turned into a very different beast from what Jonathan Abrams had intended. Now, who would have predicted that?

My main point is this: the people who create the software platforms think they have control, but it’s really the end users who shape the service and build the community that they want to see. Past a certain point, it’s completely out of the founders’ hands. Linden Lab understands this and, for the most part, they get out of the way of the insanely creative people who have built Second Life into what it is today. Nobody could have predicted all the fantastic directions that SL went into. And I can see the same thing happening already in Sansar, High Fidelity, and other virtual worlds.

Surprisingly, it’s the often-anarchic world of VRChat which is currently following the rigidly-controlled Friendster corporate playbook that’s doomed to failure. For example, from their Community Guidelines page, there’s this gem:

Petitions & Protests

All questions and concerns should be emailed to moderation@vrchat.com. Any effort to organize a petition or protest on official VRChat channels is forbidden. These include but are not limited to VRChat, the VRChat subreddit, and the VRChat Community Discord.

Hmmm…let’s see how long this little edict lasts, shall we?

I do remember reading somewhere that Philip Rosedale, the founder of Linden Lab and the creator of Second Life, was truly surprised when people took his platform and basically recreated the real world (big mansions, fancy cars, etc.), as opposed to creating things that were impossible to have in real space and time. Of course, that came about too, over time. But it turned out many people simply wanted to live out their fantasies of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I just came across this ad from the March 2018 issue of the SL magazine, Attention:

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Which goes to prove my point. You can’t predict what’s going to happen. People may take social VR spaces and virtual worlds into as-yet-undreamed-of and unanticipated areas. Nobody can predict what the metaverse is going to look like.

Except for Miss Cleo 😉

Which Virtual World Boasts the Highest Avatar Capacity?

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Photo of Pamplona’s annual Running of the Bulls by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

Avatar capacity limits are the bane of all virtual worlds. They impact how many avatars can attend and participate in events, such as concerts and conferences. Everybody has experienced the frustration of trying to get into an overcrowded region, and how laggy an experience can be when it is packed to capacity.

Second Life sim limits are pretty straightforward:

  • Full regions:  100 avatars maximum
  • Homesteads: 20 avatars
  • Open spaces: 10 avatars

Of course, event planners in Second Life use such tricks as creating “in the round” stages at the intersection of four adjoining sims in order to increase potential crowd capacity.

Last year, Second Life rolled out a perk to Premium users which allows them to enter already-full sims which are at the posted limits, within reason (for example, up to 10 Premium avatars can theoretically get into a packed Full region sim). I have used this feature myself when trying to get into popular events like the annual Skin Fair!

So, I wondered, what are the avatar capacity limits of the newer virtual worlds? How many avatars can you pack onto a Sansar experience, a High Fidelity domain, or a Sinespace region? Are there limits in place for AltspaceVR and VRChat? So I went out to ask some questions of the various companies.

I posted my question on the official Sansar Discord channel, the official Sinespace Skype group, the High Fidelity user forums, and the official VRChat Discord server. (AltspaceVR has an unofficial Discord server I also posted to. I’m actually rather surprised that they don’t have any sort of official user forum.)

Galen tells me the limit for Sansar is 30+ avatars, but that they can always fit a few extra Lindens in. That would fit well with my own personal experience, where we’ve had almost 35 avatars in some experiences for Atlas Hopping.

Most VRChat worlds are limited to 30 avatars in a single instance. I’ve been told on the official VRChat Discord server that “the hard cap is twice the number they put”. A member of the VRChat Events Discord server named Gallium says:

I’ve been in instances with 40+ users. As for limits, theoretical max, not sure. I’m sure VRChat has a max possible users per instance but I don’t know what that is. When you make a world and upload it you set the max users, last I heard this is a soft cap. Say 32. Once it hits that nobody can join from the Worlds menu, but they can join friends who are in there via the social tab. Eventually the hard cap, which is double the soft cap, will hit and then I think it diverts people to the next instance.

In AltspaceVR, they have boasted about getting a crowd of more than 1,200 people at a Reggie Watts show, but this involved broadcasting across multiple instances. It’s not clear how many avatars you can pack into a single AltspaceVR area, but given the relative simplicity of the avatars, I would expect it to be a fairly high number. I’ve been told by someone on the unofficial AltspaceVR Discord server that the limit at the central Campfire is 40, which corresponds to my own experience. But someone else added the caveat, “except that those limits can be pushed by joining through friends or getting invited”.

The limits of Facebook Spaces and vTime are hard-coded: a maximum of four avatars can be in one space together. But then they’re meant more for intimate chat than hosting events.

But the clear winners here seem to be High Fidelity and Sinespace. High Fidelity blogged about getting 90 avatars together in one domain way back in February 2017. And XaosPrincess, a user on their forums, states, “In last year’s stress tests, up to 160 avatars (all in HMD) were hosted in Zaru”. That’s pretty impressive.

But Sinespace seems to have topped even 160. Digvijay from the Sinespace Skype group told me, “Theoretically about 200 [in Sinespace]; but 100 should be a safe number without any lag, etc.”. Adam Frisby himself says:

Officially 100; tests indicate we can do 200 safely. We have regions like Struktura with 700+ avatars using our NPC system that perform well. We’re thinking of doing another load test done to try [and] hit 200.

Over 700?!?? I’m not sure how Sinespace NPCs differ from real avatars in terms of server load, so I’ll accept the 200 figure. So Sinespace seems to be the current winner in this particular “Space Race”, with High Fidelity not too far behind! It will be interesting to watch how the various social VR spaces and virtual worlds will handle increased avatar capacity, especially as they may experience the kind of surge in popularity that VRChat recently experienced.

UPDATE 8:54 a.m.: Naticus from VRChat tells me in a comment, “The current soft cap max at VRChat is 40 and the hard cap is twice that at 80.” Thanks Naticus!