Come to the VRCon Film Festival in VRChat Today, December 17th, 2022!

This evening in VRChat, the VRCon 2022 Film Festival will be celebrating 30 VRChat films made by filmmakers from across the world! The event takes place today, Saturday, Dec 17th, 2022, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, with an after-party.

You can check out the details on all of the films on the VRCon website. Here’s the trailer for the VRCon Film Festival:

If you wish to attend this evening’s film festival, please fill out this Google form. The organizers have made it easy to attend, even if you are a newbie! If you’re new to VRChat, you can follow this helping getting-started guide from the VRCon website (there’s also this detailed Google document, titled VRCon 2022 Film Festival Instructions). They’ve also posted a three-minute How To Guide video to YouTube:

See you there!

Editorial: A Kerfuffle Over Decentraland Usage Statistics

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

—quote popularized by Mark Twain, origin unknown

On October 7th, 2022, the CoinDesk crypto news website published an article by Cameron Thompson, titled It’s Lonely in the Metaverse: Decentraland’s 38 Daily Active Users in a $1.3B Ecosystem:

screen capture of the CoinDesk article

This article led to some animated discussions over on the cryptosnark subreddit on Reddit (memorably named r/Buttcoin). I would encourage you to take a look at the full discussion thread yourself, which features an interesting side discussion of Second Life, but I will pick out a few choice quotes to share here (please keep in mind that this is a community of cryptoskeptics, not necessarily fans of NFT metaverse platforms!):

[More like] Desertedland.

I’m a land owner on DCL, was super bullish on it when I bought in last year (and before Facebook renamed to Meta and there was the metaverse craze). However, I just can’t see how it can scale. The game is laggy as f*** every single time you load it, got even worse during the craze period. How the heck can a virtual ‘world’ scale when majority of the users can’t even ‘walk around’ the ‘world’ properly?

Now it’s just a ghost town.

It’s pushed as a pet project by certain vested interests who have sunk lots into this, so they need their money’s worth (cough GRAYSCALE cough). Grayscale went full stupid on this, they even created a Trust offering for MANA similar to Grayscale BTC trust where people could hold MANA in traditional IRA accounts

My son’s Minecraft server has more active players.

Tried to use it once. Bounced after it presented me with a $250 gas fee for trying to use a virtual vending machine. That was about an entire ETH at the time. Sold what little MANA [Decentraland’s cryptocurrency] I had, a couple hundred bucks at the time… which would’ve been worth about 20 thousand at its height. I’d even started designing assets for it. Was gonna buy some land and make a go of it, but Ethereum being a terrible inefficient network killed my momentum. Can’t help but be a little bitter about it.

Tried using Decentraland on both a 2020 Microsoft Surface and an older laptop that could run World of Warcraft, [and I] couldn’t even walk around because the system demands were so high. If they are selling their ecosystem to gamers then they are going to require A LOT more development to make it actually fun (i.e. more to do than just poker and microtransactions). If they are selling to the everyday consumer then they are going to need to cut down the hardware requirements to entry for anyone without a $1000+ computer. It has potential, but still a long way to go before it sees the everyday popularity that other digital platforms enjoy.

Just to clarify, the article says an “active” user has to make an actual transaction or another smart contract interaction. So there are probably a lot more users who just log in [and] play the game without being counted.

With respect to that last comment, the CoinDesk article indeed does state:

An active user, according to DappRadar, is defined as a unique wallet address’ interaction with the platform’s smart contract. For example, logging onto The Sandbox or Decentraland to make a purchase with SAND or MANA, each platform’s respective native utility token, is counted as an “active use.”

This means that DappRadar’s compilation of daily active users doesn’t account for people who log in and mosey around a metaverse platform or drop in briefly for an event, such as a virtual fashion week. It also likely means that these spaces are not where people are making transactions, such as buying non-fungible tokens (NFT)…

The largest number of daily users ever on Decentraland was 675, according to DappRadar.

So, for example, if I visit Decentraland, wander around the virtual world, but not interact with a smart contract (e.g. buy something like arrows for a hunting game), I am not counted as a user that day. This is a good example of how statistics taken from blockchain transactions do not give the full picture of what’s going on in an NFT metaverse! So this is rather sloppy reporting, which hurts Decentraland.

Decentraland was very quick to push back on what they consider to be an inaccurate way to count usage of its platform:

Here’s part of their Twitter thread:

Lately, there has been a lot of misinformation on the number of active users of Decentraland. Some websites are tracking only specific smart contract transactions but reporting them as daily active users DAU, which is inaccurate.

Let’s have a look at some of September’s data:

56,697 MAU [monthly active users. i.e. the total number of unique visitors in one month]
1,074 Users interacting with smart contracts
1,732 minted Emotes
6,315 sold Wearables
300 Creators received royalties
161 created Community Events
148 DAO Proposals

For better data: DAO grantee DCL Metrics tracks Decentraland’s Daily Visitors looking at the catalyst server visits and provides a similar data point as DAU. https://dcl-metrics.com

The DCL Metrics website allows you to pull up charts showing statistics over the past 90 days: Unique visitors per day (the blue chart on the left) and parcels visited per day (the purple chart on the right). Over the past three months, DAU (daily active users, i.e. the total number of unique visitors to Decentraland in one day) ranges from 5,871 to 11,965 users, with a slight but noticeable downward trend. On the other hand, there is a slight upward trend in the number of parcels visited each day (perhaps as new venues are constructed?).

Also, according to another, older thread from the Decentraland subreddit, there are webpages you can check to see the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). However, please remember that these are snapshots, minute-by-minute figures, as opposed to the total count of daily active users. (At the time I checked them today, on a Canadian Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, there were approximately 530 users in all of Decentraland.)

So, watching this whole kerfuffle unfold online, here are some of my thoughts.

First: accurate metaverse usage statistics are sometimes hard to come by. They can be even harder to come by, if the metaverse company building a particular platform decides not to release them (for example, if they are so low that it would prove embarrassing to the company, which is likely working hard to encourage new users to its platform, and don’t want to share any news that makes them look bad).

Case in point, Linden Lab used to provide detailed user statistics for Second Life, then stopped, aside from the rare announcement of their MAU (monthly active user) figures. The company largely left the gathering and reporting of statistics to crafty folks who were able to scrape data from various sources. If you’re looking for some up-to-date SL statistics (as of Sept. 30th, 2022), Daniel Voyager reports:

  • daily Second Life user concurrency figures (i.e. the number of avatars online at any one time) range from 27,000 to 51,000. with a peak of 55,737 on Feb. 5th, 2022
  • the official Second Life website regularly gets over 10 million visits a month
  • 27, 453 grid regions (more commonly known as “sims” in SL; please note that, unlike Decentraland, there is no artificial scarcity in virtual land in Second Life, since Linden Lab regularly creates and leases out new land to meet demand)

While we cannot directly compare DCL’s unique daily visitor count with SL’s user concurrency figures, we can compare the latter to the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). While certainly better than the 38 figure touted in the CoinDesk article, the 530 user concurrency figure for Decentraland pales in comparison to the 27.000-to-51,000 user concurrency figures for Second Life.

Also, compare these figures with the user concurrency figures put out by Steam for VRChat, with an all-time peak user concurrency of 42,564 (and on Jan. 4th, 2022, Wagner James Au reported that VRchat hit an all-time high of 89,300 concurrent users during New Year’s Eve 2021 celebrations, citing statistics scraped by a VRChat user named Adeon). So, as you can see, even with more accurate stats, Decentraland is still not anywhere nearly as popular as Second Life or VRChat (while it certainly is more popular than, say, Sansar).

Now, let’s focus in on one of the statistics Decentraland shared in its rebuttal series of tweets. 6,315 avatar wearables sold in one month seems to me to be a relatively small number, especially when you compare it to the sales juggernaut that is Second Life (both in-world store sales and SL Marketplace online sales, the latter of which would be the most direct comparison to Decentraland’s Marketplace).

I don’t have exact stats on SL sales (again, they can be hard come by), but a January 13th, 2022 Linden Lab press release stated that “Second Life has had one of its strongest years ever, with a growing user base and booming economy including an annual GDP of $650 million USD with 345 million transactions of virtual goods, real estate, and services.” Second Life’s non-crypto economy appears to be doing well!

Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2), and I suspect that this rule would also seem to apply to social VR and flatscreen virtual worlds: the more users you meet on a metaverse platform, the more popular it becomes.

Hopefully, this becomes a virtuous circle, where more users lead to more events, more engagement, and people telling their friends, family, and colleagues about “this cool place I’ve found,” and getting them to join. But it can also lead to a vicious circle, where people eventually stop visiting a platform because every time they log in, there’s next to nobody there, almost zero events happening, and little or nothing engaging to do.

Given the resounding crash of the NFT marketplace overall, and the resulting growing antipathy towards crypto and NFTs after a series of well-publicized failures and scams, even those legitimate NFT metaverses which have actually launched a working platform (Decentraland among them) are facing unprecedented pressures. Both crypto prices and sales volumes for all these projects have crashed, leaving those who bought at the top of the market wondering when they will be able to recoup their investments.

Another thought: the 1.3 billion dollar ecosystem mentioned in the title of the CoinDesk article is a bit misleading, too; this valuation is, as far as I am aware, based on what people actually paid for their virtual lands, avatar accessories, etc. Of course, in the current crypto winter, these assets are probably worth a lot less today. However, since the investors won’t realize a loss until they sell, they can cling to the inflated value of their NFTs (or, as the cryptobros like to say, “hodl”, short for “hold on for dear life”).

Molly White, the creator of the sarcastically-named website Web3 is going just great, has written an excellent article on cryptocurrency “market caps” and notional value, which I recommend you read to get a better picture of what’s going on in this space. It’s all too easy to blindly accept what promoters are telling you is the “value” of cryptocurrency and NFTs. Molly outlines some of the shenanigans used to artificially inflate these “values”, such as wash trading. (And check out her website!)

O.K., let’s just wrap this editorial up with an executive summary: Decentraland is not as bad off as the CoinDesk article might suggest in this misleading article, but compared to other metaverse platforms like VRChat and Second Life, it’s lagging behind in usage, despite its billion-dollar valuation.

UPDATE Oct. 12th, 2022: From Futurism: $1.2 Billion Metaverse Horrified by Report It Only Had 38 Active Users. Here’s a choice quote from that article:

Of course, even 8,000 users on a given day is dismal for something that’s supposed to be the future of online communities. And if blockchain is the underlying economic mechanism of the endeavor, it’s outright embarrassing if only a few dozen transactions are happening per day.

In short, it’s a perfect example of the kind of massive disparity between market value and actual users that has been plaguing the Web3 world for years, and could also be indicative of a serious slowdown in appetite for virtual real estate and other blockchain-related assets, including cryptocurrencies and NFTs

Decentraland’s Twitter account also attempted to do some damage control, writing that the platform saw “1,074 users interacting with smart contracts” in all of September.

All told, though, none of these numbers really amount to much, given the amount of money being poured into metaverse platforms like Decentraland.

And that doesn’t bode well for the future of the metaverse.

Birds of a Feather Presentation at SIGGRAPH 2022: The Dancers of VRChat Talk About Their Dance Communities

CGVR, a member of the RyanSchultz.com Discord server (now over 700 members strong, hailing from any and every metaverse platform!) shared the following two-hour video presentation with me, and I wanted to share it with my readers:

This was a “Birds of a Feather” presentation held during the SIGGRAPH 2022 conference held August 8th to 11th in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. According to the session description:


This Birds of a Feather is for attendees interested in the dance scene, communities and clubs in VRChat — including but not limited to “Calibrate”, “Club Poseidon”, “Club Zodiac”, “VRDancing”, “VR Dance Academy”, “VRPD”. We will talk about experiences with virtual reality dancers, what to make sure of when dancing in VR, how is it different from the real world, what are the pros and cons, and perhaps also a dance performance. The session is hosted and funded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 101017779 (CAROUSEL+).

Organizers:

  • Noshaba Cheema – Max Planck Institut, DFKI
  • Archantos – VRPD
  • Chatmans – VRDancing
  • Pieter van der Linden – VIVITNet
  • Carmen MacWilliams – Grassroots Arts and Research
  • Kenny Mitchell – Edinburgh Napier University, Roblox

And the dance communities involved in order of appearance in this video:


Thanks to CGVR for the heads up!

Editorial: The Measures of Metaverse Success—And the Value of Community

I struggle with serious insomnia, which seems to be getting worse the longer the pandemic drags on (and no, the pandemic is NOT over). After another sleepless night, I gave up this morning, called in sick, and I am now sitting in from of The Beast, doing what I often do when I am chasing the Sandman in vain: hanging out in Second Life. (Hey, some people play solitaire. Others read or crochet. You do you, boo, and I’ll do me.)

I often like to visit popular clubs to listen to the music stream (sometimes I just park my avatar, turn up the sound, and use it as a radio while I work on something else). I often use a handy free HUD called What Is She Wearing? to inspect what an impeccably-dressed nearby avatar is wearing; in fact, many of my impulse purchases for both my male and female avatars were often something which I first spotted on somebody else on the other side of the virtual room!

Club 511, a very popular adult jazz club in Second Life

Some people are chatting (either in local chat or privately among themselves), others are dancing, still others are just doing a stand-and-model, showing off their avatar style. (Club 511 has a strict no-non-human avatars rule, so no furries, sadly! The Second Life furry community tends to hang out in their own clubs and bars.)

Which brings me in an meandering, roundabout way to the topic of this editorial: community. Clubs in Second Life come and go, and popular hotspots like Club 511 rise and fall in popularity with alarming regularity, but the thing that they all have in common is community. None of these places work without the avatars!

Metaverse platforms bring together people who meet, share common interests (such as jazz), chat, and form friendships, even romantic relationships. Countless couples in real life first met in a virtual world like Second Life (check out Draxtor Despres’ video series Love Made in Second Life if you want a few examples; also please watch Joe Hunting’s excellent feature-length VRChat documentary, We Met in Virtual Reality, currently streaming on HBO Max, or on Crave TV here in Canada).

One of the reasons for VRChat’s success to date is that you can pretty much guarantee that, when you log in, you will find places where you can meet and talk with other avatars. Over time and through word of mouth, you hear about virtual clubs and regularly-scheduled events, you start to schedule them into your calendar, et voilà—you’ve become part of a community, and made new friends or acquaintances. (I vividly remember how much fun the Endgame talk shows were, while they lasted! Again, such popular events tend to come and go over time.)

Yesterday evening, I finally downloaded and set up the Sansar client software on my new personal computer, and signed in, wearing my Valve Index VR headset. My default landing point was, as it happens, the science-fiction-themed Social Hub, newly reset-up that very evening by stalwart community member (now Sansar employee) Medhue.

The Sansar Social Hub is back!

I stood in the slanted rays of virtual sunlight leaving long shadows on the red floor of the central plaza, among the park benches, and chatted with friends I had made several years before, and even met a few new people. It was as if I never left! I have been admittedly rather absent from Sansar these past couple of years, as the platform changed corporate hands and struggled at times, but it is showing renewed life under the leadership of its new CEO, Chance Richie.

The point that I am trying to make is this: even in a social VR platform that might only still have a low number of concurrent users, like Sansar, there remains a hard-core, committed user base who have established friendships and working relationships. They might not be strong in numbers, but they are strong in a sense of community, and community is the reason that people keep coming back. I have seen this happen time and time again, in any variety of flatscreen virtual worlds and social VR platforms over the years. As long as the metaverse platform hangs around long enough (and Sansar just celebrated the 5th anniversary of its open public beta), a community will form—and if they’re lucky, in popular worlds like Second Life and VRChat, many varied and vibrant subcommunities, too!

And I have noticed that the relationships we make in virtual worlds and social virtual reality tend to carry over, not only in real life, but onto other metaverse platforms, too. For example, I have made a point of buying avatar fashion or virtual home and garden decor in Second Life from content creators whom I first got to know personally during the Sansar alpha test period. And many of the people who decided to leave less-successful or failed worlds have also tended to bring their friends and business partners to build and enrich many other metaverse platforms over the years! The seeds first planted in Active Worlds (now 27 years old!) and Second Life (which just turned 19) have borne fruit in many newer metaverse platforms!

So how about, instead of using the standard corporate yardstick of success, and focusing on the purely mercantile aspects of the metaverse, we talk about the communities that they foster, and the valuable relationships that we make because of these worlds?

Let me give you a recent example. The tech industry newsletter called The Information recently published an article titled The Metaverse Real Estate Boom Turns into a Bust. Now, you and I cannot read the full text of that article unless you shell out US$399 a year to subscribe to The Information†, but what they did freely share with us poors the first few sentences of their report, plus a couple of rather interesting graphs:

The metaverse is in the midst of a real estate meltdown. Sales volumes and average prices for virtual land have plunged this year, part of a broader slide in crypto and non-fungible token prices.

Soaring interest in virtual property spawned an industry that mirrors traditional commercial real estate—buyers develop land by adding virtual storefronts, and then sell or rent it to companies looking to set up shop as a marketing strategy or to sell things like clothing for online avatars. Investors who bought at the peak are now sitting on land that has tumbled in value. Meanwhile the real-world economic downturn could weigh on brands’ appetite for spending on building out their metaverse presence.

I notice that, in a note underneath the charts, it says, in fine print: “Includes data from The Sandbox, Decentraland, Voxels (formerly known as Cryptovoxels), NFT Worlds, Somnium Space, and Superworld“. I was actually quite bemused at the inclusion of Superworld, as it is among those buy-a-virtual-piece-of-Earth NFT schemes which provoked a rather cranky editorial from this metaverse blogger! (At least Decentraland, Voxels, and Somnium Space have already launched an actual product, while The Sandbox, the scene of some frantic bidding for NFT-based real estate during the bull market, has the bad timing to be stuck in alpha testing during this ongoing crypto winter. And NFT Worlds just had the rug pulled out from under them by Microsoft and Minecraft.)

I have already written yet another of my infamously cranky editorial blogposts about how myopic it is to only look at the 27-year history of the metaverse from a purely blockchain perspective, but I have another pet peeve: the assumption that the success of a metaverse platform can only be measured by metrics like commodity prices and trading volume, and by how much they attract “brands”. It makes me want to tear my hair out!

Yes, obviously, these platforms need to have some level of economic success in order to stick around and for community to have a chance to take hold; that’s a given. But to ignore and/or mock a platform like Second Life or VRChat for not attracting or keeping big-name corporations or “brands” is missing the point. Metaverse success can also be measured by the strength and endurance of the communities and relationships they foster, things which you cannot assign a dollar value to.

So get out there, explore the various metaverse platforms out there, and see what appeals to you. Don’t let the current gloom and doom surrounding the blockchain-based metaverse platforms put you off the entire metaverse marketplace; there’s a lot more out there than the recent crop of NFT-based platforms. There’s so much going on out there!

So go and find your bliss, and find your community. You might just surprise yourself, and make a few friends along the way. Or just hear some good jazz 😉

OK, now that I have vented, this blogger is going to try and get some much-needed sleep…


†By the way, if you do happen to have a subscription to The Information, I’d dearly love to read that article! 😉