VRChat Institutes a New Safety and Trust System to Combat Griefers

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In response to high levels of trolling, griefing, and harassment, the VRChat platform is instituting an incredibly detailed Safety and Trust System:

The VRChat Trust and Safety system is a new extension of the currently-implemented VRChat Trust system. It is designed to keep users safe from nuisance users using things like screen-space shaders, loud sounds or microphones, visually noisy or malicious particle effects, and other methods that someone may use to detract from your experience in VRChat.

This system is designed to give control back to the user, allowing users to determine where, when, and how they see various avatar features that may be distracting or malicious if used improperly.

The Trust and Safety system is designed so that, even when left on default settings, the system will ensure that someone can’t attack you with malicious avatar features. Malicious users won’t have these features shown, so you can have a good experience in the metaverse.

Basically, every VRChat user is automatically assigned to one of six levels, based on their past behaviour (e.g. exploring, making friends, creating content):

  • Veteran User
  • Trusted User
  • Known User
  • User
  • New User
  • Visitor (the default rank for brand-new users)

Visitors will not be able to upload content to VRChat until they are promoted to the New User rank. In addition:

Additionally, there exists a special rank called “Nuisance”. These users have caused problems for others, and will have an indicator above their nameplate when your quick menu is open. Most of the time, these users’ avatars will be completely blocked. In a future release, users who are sliding toward the “Nuisance” rank will be notified.

Finally, there exists a “VRChat Team” rank, which is only usable by VRChat Team members. When a VRChat Team member has their “DEV” tag on, you’ll see this rank in the quick menu when you select them. If you have doubts that a user with a “DEV” tag is actually on the VRChat Team, just open your Quick Menu, select them, and check out their Trust Rank. If it doesn’t say “VRChat Team” under the avatar thumbnail, then that user is not a member of the VRChat Team, and is likely trying to confuse users. Feel free to take a screenshot and report them to the Moderation team!

For each level of user, you can set what aspects of their avatar will be visible/audible to you in an extremely detailed Safety System:

Safety” is a new menu tab that allows you to configure how users of each rank are treated in regards to how they display for you in VRChat. This affects many aspects of a user’s presence in VRChat:

  • Voice — Mutes or unmutes a user’s microphone (voice chat)
  • Avatar — Hides or shows a user’s avatar as well as all avatar features. When an avatar is hidden, it shows a “muted” avatar
  • Avatar Audio — Enables or disables sound effects from a user’s avatar (not their microphone)
  • Animations — Enables or disables custom animations on a user’s avatar
  • Shaders — When disabled, all shaders on a user’s avatar are reverted to Standard
  • Particles and Lights — Enables or disables particle systems on a user’s avatar, as well as any light sources. This will also block Line and Trail Renderer components.
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The New VRChat Safety System

There is much, much more information on the new Safety and Trust System in their blogpost. The team behind VRChat have obviously put a lot of time and energy into designing this system, and I can say that this is now the most comprehensive suite of tools to combat griefing, trolling, and harassment that I have seen in any social VR space or virtual world, and a model for other platforms to emulate.

After a huge surge in usage in the early part of this year (mainly due to the promotion of the platform by various well-known livestreamers), the number of simultaneous users in VRChat has stayed relatively steady at around 6,000:

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This makes VRChat the most popular of the newer social VR platforms. The new Safety and Trust system will go a long way towards improving users’ experiences in VRChat.

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UPDATED: Linden Lab and Other Social VR Companies Sued Over Virtual Reality Patent

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Image by witwiccan on Pixabay

I was skimming through my Flipboard newsfeed on virtual reality over my morning coffee when I came across the following news item:

Second Life, VRChat, Others Sued Over Virtual Reality Patent

  • Virtual reality company says defendants infringed interactive theater patent
  • Company has sued 21 companies over patent

The makers of Second Life, VRChat, and other virtual reality games are facing claims that they infringed an interactive virtual theater patent.

Plaintiff Virtual Immersion Technologies Aug. 30 brought patent suits against seven companies, including Linden Research Inc., Sine Wave Entertainment Ltd., VRChat Inc., and Raytheon Co., Bloomberg Law data show.

The companies are infringing U.S. Patent 6,409,599, which allows people to interact in a real-time, virtual environment with live performers, according to Virtual Immersion’s nearly identical complaints filed…

A quick Google search on Virtual Immersion Technologies pulls up numerous lawsuits filed by the company against corporations such as Ford, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. A 2017 lawsuit by the company against AltspaceVR led to the following spirited discussion over on the Vive subReddit:

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According to the Google dictionary, a “patent troll” is:

a company that obtains the rights to one or more patents in order to profit by means of licensing or litigation, rather than by producing its own goods or services.

At the time, Reuters reported:

A Texas-based company filed separate lawsuits on Wednesday against Boeing, Lockheed Martin and e-sports platform Sliver.tv, accusing them of infringing a patent on virtual reality technology.

The complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware by Virtual Immersion Technologies of Georgetown, Texas are nearly identical to six others it filed in Texas last year against several other companies and one that it filed Tuesday in Delaware against Redwood City, California-based virtual reality startup AltspaceVR.

It would appear that Virtual Immersion Technologies is once again issuing patent infringement lawsuits against various players in the VR industry, including the companies behind Sansar, Sinespace, and VRChat. Unfortunately, fighting such lawsuits is a common part of the business landscape in America. Comedian John Oliver did a brilliant video on the problem:

UPDATE Sept. 28th: the EFF has weighed in on this patent.

Money in the Newer Virtual Worlds

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Image by TheDigitalWay on Pixabay

The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Your love gives me such a thrill
But your love won’t pay my bills
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Money, the Flying Lizards


In-world currency systems are an integral part of many social VR/virtual world platforms. Second Life can be seen as the perfect example of a virtual world whose popularity exploded once people realized that they could make money on the platform, inspired by a 2006 Businessweek cover story on Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung:

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This blogpost is an attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of how the newer virtual world platforms have implemented in-world currencies and set up systems for commerce.

Sansar

Linden Lab has, of course, 15 years of experience working with Second Life‘s economy and in-game currency, and they have applied that expertise in the setup and operation of the economy for their new virtual world, Sansar. You can buy Sansar dollars in two ways, directly in bundles or via the Sansar Dollar Exchange (SandeX), a currency exchange. There are more details on the SandeX in this document:

 The SandeX is the official virtual exchange of Sansar, run by Linden Lab, where you can:

  • Buy Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit buy offers at a requested exchange rate.
  • Sell Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit sell offers at a requested exchange rate.

All SandeX transactions are subject to transaction fees.

Market buy and sell

Market buys and market sells are the quickest ways to purchase or sell Sansar dollars on the SandeX. The SandeX automatically matches your order with the best exchange rate. The quoted exchange rate includes transaction fees associated with buying and selling on the exchange.

Limit buy and sell

Limit buys and sells allow you to specify the amount of Sansar dollars and the exchange rate you are willing to accept. The SandeX automatically matches up buy and sell offers as they come in. If you are buying, you must have sufficient funds in your US$ wallet to pay for the buy order.

Creators can sell their creations on the Sansar Store, and can also receive statistics on how well their items are selling. There is as yet no in-world commerce like they have in Second Life.

Sinespace

Sinespace has two in-world currencies, called silver and gold. According to their wiki:

Gold

Gold credits can only be purchased for real money by spending users and can be converted back to real money by Sine Wave virtual goods partners.

Gold credits trade at 100 / 1 fixed ratio with USD$

Silver

Silver credits are free promotional credits given to users as rewards for participating in the community.

Silver credits cannot be converted to real money but can be used by creators to promote their content to new platform users who have not yet purchased gold.

Sinespace has a Marketplace built into its client software, and a few vendors like BlakOpal have also set up in-world stores.

High Fidelity

High Fidelity has attracted a lot of recent media attention due to the fact that they have decided to set up a blockchain-based in-world currency, called High Fidelity Coins (HFC):

  • Blockchain Technology: Our new currency, High Fidelity Coins (HFC), will be a public blockchain with a consensus group of multiple parties. A blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions. We are using blockchain technology to track and record transactions made using HFC. All information on a blockchain exists as a shared database, which means the records are public and verifiable. It is not centralized. We are also using the blockchain to store information about digital asset ownership in High Fidelity. This enables us to protect intellectual property by embedding certification in items in the blockchain. HFC will eventually be convertible to local currencies or other cryptocurrencies at popular exchanges.
  • Cryptographically-secured Wallet: Users will be able to participate in transactions using their Wallet, which will be an app on their tablet in High Fidelity. Your Wallet is secured using a security picture and a passphrase which includes ECDSA public-private keys pairs. These key pairs are used to sign each transaction.
  • Proof of Provenance (PoP) certificate: This certificate is generated for every transaction between a user’s Wallet and the Markeplace. This certificate’s ID is stored on the blockchain. The certificate contains static properties that can help in identifying the item and the owner. These properties cannot be altered, except by transfer of the PoP Certificate. Currently, we only support objects that contain a file type .JSON. Support for avatars and other file types will be coming soon.

Currently, the only way to get some HFC (a free one-time grant) is to go to the Bank of High Fidelity domain at their open times and meet with the banker. Here’s some more information of HFC from the High Fidelity website:

We are currently giving out the currency for anyone interested in participating in the closed beta for High Fidelity Commerce. If you want to get your inital HFC grant, you first need to set up your Wallet.

These coins are to be used as currency for any commerce transactions in the Marketplace. Since we are using blockchain technology, all transactions with HFCs will be publically recorded and stored.

Your Wallet will be secured using ECDSA public-private key pairs, security picture and passphrase. Learn more about your Wallet here.

HFC is not intended for speculators to hold and should be used in transactions in High Fidelity. HFC is intended to be a stable currency and used to support a healthy and vibrant virtual economy for digital goods and assets.\

High Fidelity has an online Marketplace where vendors can sell their products (users can also access the Marketplace listings using their tablets in-world). Avatar Island is the first domain set up in HiFi where you can try on and purchase items for your avatar in-world.

VRChat

VRChat currently does not have any sort of commerce or in-game currency, although there is a thriving real-world business for people designing and rigging custom avatars for VRChat users. It will be interesting to see what happens when/if the company decides to implement an in-world economy on the most popular of the social VR platforms.

AltspaceVR

As I recently reported, AltspaceVR seems to be gearing up for commerce, but at the moment, there is no commerce or in-game currency system in place.

OpenSim

Different OpenSim grids have different solutions to the problem of an in-world currency. Every grid has in-world stores which offer merchandise for sale. Some grids issue their own currencies; others use the Gloebit system, which has the advantage of being one standard currency which is transferable and usable across a large number of participating OpenSim grids. The Kitely Marketplace is a popular shopping mall for the many OpenSim virtual worlds:

Kitely Market can deliver items to all Kitely avatars, as well as to avatars on all other OpenSim grids that support the Hypergrid. Our marketplace also delivers items to avatars on several non-Hypergrid grids that have been set up to receive deliveries from our system.

Kitely Market has been used to deliver items to thousands of OpenSim users on more than 100 different OpenSim grids.

Virtual Universe, Decentraland and the Other Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds

Virtual Universe, Decentraland, Mark Space, Staramba Spaces, VIBEHub, Ceek, and Terra Virtua (among many other products in this increasingly crowded marketplace) are issuing their own blockchain-based cryptocurrencies or tokens for future use on their platforms. all of which are still in development. The product closest to a launch date appears to be Virtual Universe, which plans to start a closed beta sometime in the fourth quarter of 2018.

I’ve already strongly warned potential investors to do every. single. scrap. of their homework before investing a penny in any of these blockchain/cryptocurrency ventures (link). Caveat Emptor!

Other Social VR/Virtual World Platforms

I can’t think of any other metaverse products which have in-world currencies at the moment, besides the adult virtual worlds like Oasis and Utherverse/The Red Light Center (these links are safe for work). If I’ve missed one, please let me know in the comments, thank you!

A VRChat Avatar with Full-Body Tracking Dances to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why VRChat is still pulling in the crowds: a simply mesmerizing YouTube video of an expertly-rigged custom avatar operated by a user wearing an HTC Vive VR headset, hand controllers, and three Vive Trackers securely attached to his feet and body:

This video was posted to the VRChat subReddit. When asked about his setup, the user said:

Usual HTC Vive setup + 3 trackers and strap belts for them. I used to have a wireless adapter, but the cables kept breaking (lose contacts from jumping around, 30 bucks for each cable set…), so I just ditched it and got used to dancing with cables around me LOL!

And when asked how to managed to secure the trackers to his feet, he replied:

I have them strapped really tight a bit above my ankles. My feet are too thin for tracker straps and stepping on the straps gets uncomfortable after a while.

I honestly cannot wait until the day that other virtual worlds like Sansar support Vive Trackers (or a similar technology) to allow for full avatar body movement. Can you imagine what fun we’ll have?

UPDATED: What Are the Most Popular Destinations in the Metaverse?

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Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

When you’re feeling like you want some company in a virtual world, where do you go? Sometimes people choose to go to popular places, where they can be fairly certain to meet other avatars who are also in-world at the same time. What are the metaverse equivalents of the Cheers bar, where you can just drop in anytime?


Second Life

For example, sometimes when I’m bored I go visit the London City sims, which are always busy. Clubs such as Muddy’s, Big Daddy’s, Fogbound Blues, and Frank’s Place are always a popular choice when you want to be around other avatars in a social setting.

Second Life does have a Popular Places listing, but the truth is, most of the places listed are actually pretty deserted. Clubs, in particular, seem to come and go with surprising frequency. Sometimes you have to go by word of mouth to hear about popular spots.

Here’s an interesting canned search that pulls up a list of Second Life sims, sorted in descending order by “traffic”. However, you should know that Second Life is notorious for having sims that may look busy, but are actually populated by armies of bots hidden away somewhere in a platform in the sky, in an effort to game SL’s traffic measurement system, and therefore appear higher in the Search function under Places. So be skeptical when looking at traffic statistics; they often don’t tell the whole story.

But what about the newer virtual worlds and social VR spaces? Where are their Cheers?

Sansar

Every so often Gindipple posts his statistics of the most popular Sansar experiences. Two that seem to be perennially popular are 114 Harvest (the starting place for the weekly Atlas Hopping event and the home of several notable Sansarians) and Alfy’s Arena Live Music Stage. Another popular place is Zen Garden. But really, you can just check the Sansar Events listing or the Sansar Atlas under the All tab, which automatically sorts Sansar experiences in reverse order by the number of avatars present (just check the green number in the upper left corner of the picture of each experience):

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High Fidelity

Finding popular places in High Fidelity (aside from scheduled meetups and events) can be a bit of a head-scratcher. The social VR platform does have an upcoming events page in pinboardagenda, or calendar month views. Unfortunately, there’s no events listing within their client (on their tablet), so you’ll have to rely on the website to get your information before you go in-world. If you search under Places in the tablet user interface, it will tell you how many other avatars are in other domains, though.

Sinespace

The most popular place in Sinespace (aside from special events such as speakers at the Delphi Talks) is invariably the Welcome Centre, where there is usually a small crowd of avatars sitting around and chatting.

VRChat

VRChat hosts many popular events such as the ENDGAME and Gunter’s Universe talk shows. The best way to find out when these are happening is to check out the handy VRChat Events calendar or join the VRChat Events Discord server. Again, sometimes the best thing to do when you’re simply looking for some company, is to open the Places menu and just pick a spot at random where there are a lot of other avatars gathered. You’re pretty much guaranteed to run into somebody to chat with.


What are your favourite places to go in the metaverse when you want to meet other avatars? Have you found a spot you like to go visit? Please leave a comment with your suggested places and strategies, thanks!

UPDATE Aug. 9th:

OpenSim

Alan Tupper of the Opensim Virtual community on Google+ has given me a great tip on finding popular destinations on OpenSim, by clicking this link to the OpenSimWorld directory, which gives a list of sims sorted in descending order by number of avatars present! This is very useful, thank you, Alan!

Why Have the Newer Virtual Worlds Attracted So Few Bloggers?

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Second Life has attracted hundreds of bloggers who cover the virtual world platform in great detail. There are so many, in fact, that they even started their own professional network, the Blogger & Vlogger Network.

One of the things that surprises me is how few bloggers are covering the newer virtual world/social VR platforms, including the “Big Four”, as I call them:

I’m not talking about the official blogs which the companies maintain; I’m talking about individuals who blog about virtual worlds because they’re interested in one or more platforms.

I am, still, one of the very few bloggers who is covering Sansar, Sinespace, High Fidelity, and VRChat on a regular basis. A small number of Second Life blogs, such as Wagner James Au’s New World Notes and Strawberry Singh’s popular blog, have broadened their coverage to include these newer platforms as well. Inara Pey and Nalates Urriah have also covered Sansar in their blogs. But other than that, I can’t think of many other bloggers out there who cover the newer virtual worlds. Why is that?

One of the reasons may be that the newer virtual world/social VR platforms need time to build up a customer base, which includes bloggers. I don’t think that there were very many bloggers covering Second Life when it first launched in 2003, either. (Wagner James Au’s New World Notes blog actually predates SL; his first entry is dated May 22nd, 2001, and his first entry about Second Life is dated April 22nd, 2003.) It has taken fifteen years for the Second Life blogosphere to grow to its current extent, and it will likely take many years for a similar number of blogs to spring up around the newer virtual worlds.

A large percentage of Second Life blogs are fashion blogs (one person has estimated the number at 87%). People tend to spend a great deal of their time and money on avatar customization in Second Life, and many bloggers follow that, reporting on new items and fashion events.

But the fashion market in Sansar is still small, only dating back to Dec. 18th, 2017, and as a result, there are few bloggers reporting on it. (Among the first is Ivonna’s vrBLOG.) The avatar fashion market in Sinespace is likewise very small. And High Fidelity and VRChat cannot really be said to have a fashion market at all, because you create and rig a whole avatar from scratch, including what it is wearing, instead of dressing up a human avatar like you can in Sansar and Sinespace. So that’s probably another reason why there are not very many bloggers yet. As avatar customization options in the newer virtual worlds expand, more bloggers will begin to cover the fashion aspect.

Another idea: perhaps people are choosing to use other means of covering their favourite virtual worlds. For example, there are few (if any) blogs about VRChat, but there are dozens of YouTube channels about VRChat. There’s a lot of Twitch streaming as well. Could it be that attention has shifted from blogs to livestreaming and other ways of communicating?

So, what do you think it will take to get more bloggers to cover the newer virtual worlds? Please let me know in the comments, thanks!

VRChat Is Still the Most Popular of the Newer Virtual Worlds

Steam has published a list of the games on its platform which have the highest number of simultaneous users, and VRChat has made the list for having over 15,000 simultaneous players:

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Of course, VRChat reached an all-time peak of 20,000 users in January 2018, before falling back down to around 6,000 users lately. It’s still the most popular of the newer VR-compatible virtual world platforms, though, followed by Rec Room (Steam statistics).