Trolling, Griefing, and Harassment in Virtual Worlds: What the Newer Social VR Platforms Are Doing to Combat It

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How do you deal with a troll? (image by Anaterate on Pixabay)

There was a particularly irritating troll at Alfy’s Voices of Sansar competition this past Saturday. Trying to find and mute her (currently the only tool available to us in Sansar) was an exercise in frustration, hovering my cursor over each avatar in the crowd watching the show until I found her. Gindipple has released some software that might help us the next time we get hit by a troll at an event:

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We’ve been pretty lucky in Sansar so far; we haven’t seen anything like the levels of trolling and harassment that occur in the more popular social VR spaces like VRChat and AltspaceVR. (VRChat, in particular, is infamous for its griefing.) But we Sansarians all know the onslaught of trolls is coming, and every social VR platform is going to have to come up with its own technical solutions to the problem of trolls.

So, how are the other social VR platforms dealing with this issue?

 

Sinespace

Sinespace has pretty limited options as well. You can basically report and ignore other avatars around you:

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VRChat

VRChat is taking the most controversial step of banning new users from uploading avatars or worlds until certain (unspecified) conditions are met, and taking away such privileges from older users who misbehave:

Hello, VRChat! We’ve been working on some new “Trust” systems to help make VRChat a friendlier place. These systems will be used to help gate various features until users have proven themselves to be a friendly member of the community. One of the first parts of the Trust system is called “Content Gating”. This system is designed to reduce abusive or annoying behavior involving avatars or other content.

Here’s generally how it works. When a user first creates a new VRChat account, they will be unable to upload custom content like worlds or avatars. After spending some time in the app and having positive interactions with other users, they will eventually receive in-app and email notifications that their account has access to world and avatar creation capability. This time may vary from user to user depending on various factors.

If the new user chooses to spend time in VRChat behaving badly or maliciously against other users, they may lose the capability to upload content. They will receive a notification in-app and via email that they have lost access to content uploading. If they spend more time in the app and follow the Community Guidelines, then they will eventually regain access to these systems. Again, this time may vary depending on various factors.

The CEO of at least one other competing metaverse corporation has said that he doubts this step will actually work as intended. In addition to these new sanctions, VRChat also has the ability to mute (so you can’t hear) and block (so you can’t see) other avatars in its pop-up user interface, and a “safe mode”, which is a sort of “nuclear option” where you can mute and block all avatars which are not on your friends list.

VRChat is also temp-banning people who troll, but sometimes other people get accidentally caught in the cross-fire. I seem to remember that there is also a feature where you can ask avatars who share your world to vote “yes” or “no” on ejecting a misbehaving user from that instance.

So all in all, VRChat has developed the most evolved and developed tools for dealing with trolling. But then again, they’ve been forced to.

 

AltspaceVR

Back in 2016, AltspaceVR introduced a “space bubble” to keep other avatars from invading your personal space. I do know that you can also mute other avatars who are annoying you. You don’t have an option to block offensive avatars in AltspaceVR, but then again, you don’t really have any choice in your avatar, they’re so very limited!

I would load and run AltspaceVR to check all these features out, but the latest version of the client software (where you get to choose your new “home” location) has completely locked up my high-end PC THREE. TIMES. tonight and I am not going to risk trying it again! AltspaceVR seems to be experiencing some major growing pains. Seriously not impressed.

 

High Fidelity

High Fidelity has a Bubble icon on its tablet user interface that works similarly to the AltspaceVR space bubble:

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You can also mute nearby avatars, or set them to “ignore” so they can’t messsage you in-world. Pretty much the same features as the other social VR spaces have. All the tools in all the newer social VR spaces are pretty limited.

 

General Issues in Dealing with Trolling and Griefing

So, let’s move from specific technical solutions to a more general discussion on how to handle griefing in general. What’s the best way to go about dealing with griefing, trolling, and harassment in online communities?

Dr. Mark Dombeck, in an article on the website MentalHealth.net, neatly outlines some of the issues in community and game design that affect trolling:

In my experience, manipulating perpetrator anonymity is an important factor in controlling griefer’s/troll’s antisocial behavior. The more easily identifiable and able to be held accountable for their actions community members are, the fewer instances of bad behavior you tend to see.

Allied with the idea of altering perpetrator anonymity is the idea of altering expectation of punishment. Accountability enables easier punishment. There are several ways that punishment can take place however. Punishment can be very informal, where community members heap scorn on other members who violate the social contract or simply ignore them (by using filters within the community to literally make their presence invisible). This sort of informal punishment is what makes accountability effective all by itself. Accountability can also enable more formal varieties of punishment such as entry bans. In my experience bans are the most useful way to discourage the really hardcore antisocial behavior that happens on communities. Punishment can never hope to eradicate all griefer/troll behavior however, because the really hardcore griefers will thrive on punishment, seeing attempts by the management to eject them as high praise for their work.

Here are a few other elements of the community or game that can be manipulated and which might have an impact on reducing griefing/trolling behavior.

Setting up Initiation Barriers probably would affect griefing behavior. The easier it is to get into a community, the more likely that community is to become a target for griefers. In part this has to do with helping people to identify with and value the community and not take it for granted. When you have to do a lot of work to get into a community you are more likely to care for that community and not want to harm it. The problem here is that the same barriers that might keep out griefers also keep out legitimate members. It is difficult to set a barrier high enough to keep out one group without also keeping out the other group.

I’d expect that the more opportunity there is to act out griefer behaviors with a group of other griefers, the more often the behavior would happen. People tend to take less responsibility for individual actions when they are acting as part of a group or mob. This social psychological principle goes by several names including the bystander effect, and diffusion of responsibility. The solution here would be to limit people’s ability to socialize, but as that utterly defeats the purpose of the community it isn’t really much of a solution.

I would expect that manipulating the frame of the community or game can increase or decrease the chance that griefer behavior will occur. The frame of a game or community has to do with its identity – how members think of what they are doing when engaged in the game or community. If an interaction is thought of as a game and therefore not something that is real or important it is easier to self-justify doing mayhem. If an interaction is thought of as a more serious behavior such as part of a support group interaction, the urge to do mayhem is maybe less strong (for some at least). The Wired article talks about this issue somewhat indirectly, noting that Second Life members don’t think of what they do in Second Life as being part of a game but rather view it as a more serious community. The “non-game” frame of Second Life participants makes such participants more likely to view griefing behavior taking place within Second Life in non-game ways, such as considering it to be actual theft or terrorism.

Second Life has often been an arena for trolling because it’s very easy to create a free, throwaway account to be offensive. If one gets banned, the griefer can go ahead and create another free account. All the newer social VR spaces have this problem, since they don’t want to discourage people from signing up and (hopefully) staying and generating income for the company.

There are no easy answers here. The best we can do is try various solutions and see if they prove effective or not. In these early days of the metaverse, we’re all still learning the best ways to design our communities to chain the trolls.

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UPDATED: Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR Spaces/Virtual Worlds

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Image by AJEL from Pixabay

My recent interview with Ghoster got me thinking about the issue of intellectual property (IP) and copyright regarding avatars in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. VRChat is already infamous for having a multitude of avatars ripped from innumerable video games, TV shows, and movies. High Fidelity has decided to take a page from VRChat’s playbook (and, I assume, try and attract some of that VRChat crowd) by setting up a few domains where you can select from a wide variety of popular characters, owned by Disney and other companies, as your avatar:

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Now, they skate around the legality of this by offering these avatars for free; no money is being made from this. A prominent disclaimer sign posted in the Avatardz domain states:

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So, HiFi doesn’t advocate “piracy from independent and small artists.” What bothers me about this statement is the unstated implication that piracy from Disney or another large corporation is somehow O.K. (maybe because they can afford to swallow the losses more easily?). Also, they seem to justify this blatant IP appropriation as a sort of fan art, a “fan-operated source for pop culture avatars as a tribute to our pop culture legends”.

I came away from my interview with Ghoster of VRC Traders a little troubled by the copyright and IP issues involved in selling custom avatars to VRChat users that are wholly or partially based on characters owned by somebody else. I did a little research and came across this recent article on IP issues in virtual worlds, from the website Intellectual Property Watch (a non-profit independent news service), which states:

In the virtual world, people appear through their avatars. If they design the avatars themselves, they could be subject to copyright and trademark lawsuits, Lemley and Volokh said. Fictional characters’ images together with their unusual character traits are protected by copyright, so users who copy enough of the visuals, character traits or both to be copyrighted expression and not simply an idea might be infringing. If the use is non-commercial and the copyright owner isn’t distributing licensed avatars, the use might be fair use, but selling such avatars without rights owner approval would likely not be fair use, they said. It could also amount to a trademark infringement.

Rights holders might choose not to go after individual users or small avatar sellers, but to sue the AR or VR operator for contributory infringement, the paper said. The operator might be immune under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but only until someone sends it a notice-and-takedown request that isn’t quickly acted upon, it said. Established case law sets out the limits of intermediary liability under the DMCA; there’s less clarity about intermediary liability for trademark infringement on the internet but the law is developing, it said.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a process often used (and, in a few cases, abused) by vendors in Second Life and other virtual worlds who claim that someone has stolen their intellectual property. The process is laborious, tedious, and probably could be improved. Many large corporations don’t seem to think that it’s worth their time and money to go after people who are stealing their IP in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. For example, Warner Brothers probably doesn’t care much that dozens of people are selling Superman-themed items on the SL Marketplace, even though they fought (and won) a protracted legal battle to cement their copyright to Superman. They probably are reserving their lawyer firepower for the bigger and more egregious cases of copyright infringement.

I have said before that VRChat may get into serious trouble if people continue to flout the copyright laws so shamelessly, particularly if they are starting to making healthy profits at it, as seems to be the case with the community that has sprung up around VRC Traders. We could be in for some interesting legal cases in the years ahead.

UPDATE 3:34 p.m.: Obligatory link back to the VRChat Events website (because I promised them I would do it if I cross-posted over on their Discord server, and I forgot!): www.vrchatevents.com

Also, Second Life and Sansar blogger Inara Pey made such a great comment on this blogpost that I wanted to add it in full here. She said:

IP infringement and the “it’s OK to flout IP of big companies ‘cos they can afford it” is a source of heated debate in SL. In 2012, I reported on the CBS / Star Trek situation. There’s also been the Universal / Battlestar Galactica situation.

Both of these focused more on props, models, and costumes from said series than avatars, but the attitude towards their IP was the same. It was further coupled with the view that “well, we’re fans and so they should be grateful to us for our support”. However, both attitudes not only falsely justify infringement, they also overlook the importantly equal matter of licensing.

In short, major studios – Marvel, Disney, CBS, Universal, et al, generate millions in revenue by issuing merchandise licenses to manufacturers and commercial concerns. As such – and no matter how large or small the unlicensed market or how small the turn-over / profit made by those actively engaged in selling unlicensed goods – the license owner has a legal obligation to project the licenses they have sold, as well the right to protect their IP.

This was as much behind the Universal / CBS situations vis BSG and Trek as anything else – a point many of those railing at both companies at the time, and citing (in Trek’s case) non-binding “arrangements” which may have been offered by prior rights holders, seemingly failed to grasp.

The idea that offering something “for free” is equally a slippery path. As you point out, it’s only a short step from offering “for free” to then offering items for sale. This has been demonstrated (again) in SL with both the Star Trek and BSG situations.

In both cases, Universal and CBS backed away from legal action on the understanding that virtual goods relating to their IP investment in both shows would not be made with the intent to sell for profit. As a perusal of the SL Marketplace will demonstrate, neither agreement has been adhered to by virtual content creators. Ergo, there is still a potential ticking bomb on this subject in SL, should the legal departments of either studio swivel back towards virtual environments and virtual “goods” … which the slow rise of VR might actually encourage.

Also, there seems to be a broader view that because specific understandings were reached by some (again, I’ll use the CBS / Universal agreements, as those are the two I have direct knowledge of) are somehow a “blanket OK” from all IP holders to allow copies of their IP to be offered for free – which may not actually be the case. Again, that’s actually down to the individual studios to decide; just because X has gone that route, doesn’t mean Y will – or is obliged to even consider it.

Just as a point of reference, my own (slightly long-in-the-tooth) articles on this subject can be found at:

https://modemworld.me/2012/11/02/of-copyright-ip-and-product-licensing/ (Star Trek)

https://modemworld.me/2010/11/29/bsg-universal-dmca/ (Universal / BSG)

https://modemworld.me/2011/02/08/bsg-limited-roleplay/ Universal / BSG)

FreeWee Ling also had a great comment when I cross-posted this blogpost to Drax’s 114 Harvest community on Facebook:

People have been screaming about IP issues in SL since the beginning. Several years ago there was a series of open talks in SL featuring attorneys with expertise in IP who examined the LL TOS. Not much was resolved other than a statement from LL that their “intention” was not to steel user content, but that they needed certain rights in order to allow people to use the Marketplace and just to generally present the content on the platform. A lot of artists were not satisfied and you’ll find many of them still working in OpenSim grids where they have more control.

Disney and others are vehement about controlling how and where and by whom their IP is presented. There was a Disney themed fan sim in SL some years ago that, if memory serves, got notice to remove their content of face legal consequences. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation closed down a sim full of great Wright model homes in SL, even after the owners contacted them and at least got tacit permission to do it. (I.e., I think they had been told the foundation wouldn’t endorse it, but also wouldn’t stop it.)

Ultimately, I’m pretty sure any copy of virtual content without permission is theft. Whether there is money involved or not.

UPDATED: Earning Money Creating Custom Avatars in VRChat: An Interview with Ghoster

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Although VRChat does not (yet) have an in-game economy, there are many people who are already earning hundreds, even thousands, of dollars by designing and creating custom user avatars for the platform.

Here’s a recent episode of the Endgame talk show, where the topic of discussion was how people are making money by creating and selling 3D avatar models for VRChat. I find it interesting that many of the various other ideas for earning money within VRChat that were being thrown about are very similar to what people do for money in older, established virtual worlds like Second Life (e.g. tour guide, performer, etc.)

There is another very recent interview with Ghoster, the operator of the VRC Traders group (one of the most popular venues for avatar buyers and sellers), on the popular Gunters Universe show in VRChat. I can’t embed that video here, but you can watch it on Twitch at this URL: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/250896991

After watching these videos, I interviewed Ghoster, and asked him some questions about VRC Traders. Here is a transcript of that interview.


Can you tell me when and how you got started in the business of creating avatars in VRChat?

I believe it started back in September, I was looking to have a model of a DND character I was playing as, made for me so I could wear it during the DND session. That’s when I realized it’s really hard to find a VRChat user who is good at modeling and rigging and not already busy. So after thinking it over, I contacted a coder for a custom bot and possible website host. And that’s how VRC Traders got started.

What kind of technical/computer background do you have? How did you get attracted to social VR and virtual worlds?

I work as a CNC setup/operator and that requires me to know a bit of basic coding. I’ve also been an avid gamer for many years and have been working on worlds and Avatars for about a year. As for social VR, well, gaming is fun but I have always been interested in what other peoples ideas and thoughts are like, and when I saw all these clashing, yet causally talking, personalities in one space, I was blown away.

What experience have you had in previous virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life) before you started with VRChat? Are you active in other social VR spaces/virtual worlds?

So a good friend of mine, who goes by the name of JTravelin, showed me VRChat shortly after its Steam release. But before that, I was in AltspaceVR (maybe eve Rec Room). I’m still active in Altspace as a cameraman for a few shows still to this day. When I was heavily active in Altspace the one thing I liked about it was performance and how a simple color was all that identified you and you would meet people that are disabled, and you would know, self-conscious, and more importantly from different regions. This led to a kind of unspoken understanding or be respectful and have a good time in VR especially for those with the Rift or Vive since the upfront cost was big.

When did you decide to set up VRC Traders and the Discord server? What kind of work have you had to do to organize and promote VRC Traders? 

I belive it was early September that I had plans to set it up and by the end of that same month I went public. Rather recently though, I have been on two talk shows along with word of mouth promotions, spreading VRC Traders (VRCT) around as a viable option to make money in virtual spaces. Before that, though, it was a word of mouth in VRChat to spread it and as VRChat grew, so did VRCT. Being a Discord server on the main VRChat Discord helped a lot in these times, along with some of the dev team referring people to the server. There are plans to advertise in VRChat more, but I can’t tell you about those.

What different types of work/expertise do you offer to consumers (e.g. animators)?

Well as avatars are the main focus, everything avatars. And I mean literally anything you can think of or need done, the commissioners of the server are able to make it happen. In addition to anything and everything avatar related, there are sections for 2D artists, world creation and fixing, shader technicians (people who create custom shaders) and, soon to come, audio engineers (people who work on various elements of sound mixing, making and setting up).

How does a new VRChat user actually request a commission?

To many people’s dismay, the server has a 10 minute explore period, where new users are supposed to take a look around and see how the server is organized. VRCT has a guide channel near the top where people can find out a standardized way to post commissions so others can easily read and understand the commission. While we don’t enforce any said rules on what to post, we do prefer a new user to place as much info as they can, so interested commissioners can contact them directly to get the work done.

How do you deal with the intellectual property issues that arise when a user wants an avatar that belongs to a company (e.g. Disney)? Are there any avatar commissions that VRC Traders declines as a matter of policy?

Well, that’s a hard question to answer, since I don’t think VRChat has determined its view on the matter. All I can say is, the only commissions we don’t allow are NSFW models, and for obvious reasons. I recommend that people make commissions for original character models or large edits to existing models, but like I said, it a very hard question to answer since it’s the internet. (These are my opinions and may not be representative of the VRC Traders server or VRChat in the future.)

Where do you see this industry going in the future? Where do you see VRC Traders in a year from now?

As far as the industry of 3D avatars and world creation goes, I see this type of business becoming a viable marketplace and job for many users. In the talkshow Endgame, I said that 10-15 years ago, game asset creators took years of practice with highly expensive tools on computers about as advanced as the computers of today, and it was a highly restrictive field because of that. But with better PC components that are faster and more powerful, alongside cheaper or even free modeling software, 3D modeling has gone from a highly skilled restricted class of people to now a more accessible [job] but still very difficult. Not only that, but as more games, especially sandbox style games, come into the community, you want to have something you can call yours and no one else’s. [This] will only grow as more and more people turn to the internet and gaming to relax and have fun. For VRC Traders, I would love to see direct integration with the VRChat service, where you can go in-game on to the server and request something. Not only that, I hope in that time to make VRC Traders not only a service server, but a great sub community within VRChat with various events and tournaments happening or being sponsored by the server.


If you are interested in VRC Traders, you can join their Discord server.

UPDATE April 28th: Obligatory link back to the VRChat Events website (because I promised them I would do it if I cross-posted over on their Discord server, and I forgot!): www.vrchatevents.com

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:

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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!

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:

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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!