UPDATED: A Comparison Chart of Twelve Popular Social VR Platforms

bigfive

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

The “Big Five” social VR platforms

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

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

Not far behind were a few more newer competitors

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

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

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

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

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

Social VR Platform Comparison Chart 22 Oct 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Happy VR to all 😉

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

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

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

Menithal in Clothing.jpeg

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

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

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Which Social VR Spaces Will Benefit From the Oculus Go?

Oculus Go 2 May 2018.png
Image from https://www.oculus.com/go/

Mashable reviewer Raymond Wong has given the new Oculus Go headset a rave review:

Oculus Go is the VR headset we’ve all been waiting for: fully self-contained. It’s super clichéd to say a product is the “iPhone of [product category],” but the Oculus Go really is.

It’s the only VR headset that provides a good VR experience without the complexities of configuring a smartphone or PC. It’s not the most cutting-edge VR headset— that’ll always be reserved for PC VR headsets — but it’s the most frictionless way to dive into the virtual world. Oculus Go is the first VR headset you can casually pick up and use without needing to set time aside for setup.

Standalone VR headsets are the future. They’re the “sweet spot” as Zuckerberg also said at Oculus Connect. Oculus Go is an important stepping stone towards more powerful standalone VR headsets, like Facebook’s own Santa Cruz VR headset, that’ll inch us closer towards a Holodeck.

The Oculus Go is the VR headset that’ll help mainstream VR. It may still be another few more years, but this is the one that changes everything.

The Oculus Go features over 1,000 VR games, social apps, and 360° experiences at launch, including the social VR spaces vTime and AltspaceVR. (Surprisingly, Facebook Spaces is not among them.) It makes sense that social VR apps that lock you into one place (like vTime) or which have very basic avatars (like AltspaceVR) would be usable in Oculus Go. If Oculus Go becomes very popular, as it might, these social VR platforms may indeed have an advantage over those which require a full-blown VR headset and a higher-end computer, such as Sansar or High Fidelity.

One social VR platform on the Oculus Go that most impressed Raymond was Oculus Rooms:

My favorite VR experience for the Go is Oculus Rooms 2.0. First launched on Rift and Gear VR, the updated Rooms is like virtual hangout for you and your friends to chill in.

There are three main sections of Rooms: A “Media Area” with a giant screen where you can watch videos and view media content, a “Games Table” where you can play various games like matching cards and Reversi (more games like Boggle, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are coming from Hasbro later), and “Your Room” where you can decorate your space by customizing things like your furniture textures, the photos on your walls, and the scene out the virtual window.

 The Rooms experience isn’t photo-realistic by any means, but it’s the best showcase of social VR. Here, inside of this virtual room, you can invite your friends from anywhere in the world to come and watch a video with you. Or watch a video, while playing mini games. Or just hang out and have a conversation.

I thought it would be stupid at first, but it’s one of the most natural things I’ve ever done in VR. And even though it’s nowhere near as full-featured as Facebook Spaces for the Oculus Rift, it’s still pretty damn fun to chill in even if you’re not doing anything but kicking back and watching a video.

Rooms is the first thing I showed people when I handed them Oculus Go, and it never failed to blow them away. Even friends who were extremely skeptical of VR or had written it off as a fad were impressed. Rooms is to Oculus Go the way Wii Sports was to the Wii — it’ll hook you instantly.

Polygon, in its article on Oculus Go, also notes the appeal of Oculus Rooms:

The headset’s Oculus Rooms feature allows me to create my own social space for my family and friends in virtual reality. I can sit and chat with them, via pretty little avatars. We can share home movies and photos by linking our phones to the headset. We can watch movies together. We can play basic parlor games. It feels like a natural and useful implementation of virtual reality, and it’s powered by a $200 stand-alone headset. This is an actual place where I want to spend time.

And the Polygon writer, Colin Campbell, adds this interesting note about why Oculus Rooms is not available for the Oculus Rift headset:

One irritating aspect of Oculus Go’s launch is that core social function Oculus Rooms won’t be available for Rift. We asked a spokesperson why Rift owners are being left out, and received the following statement.

“Rift users can use Facebook Spaces to make their VR experience a more social one. Facebook Spaces is designed to take full advantage of PC VR platforms to power social experiences, while Oculus Rooms is designed to help people connect with friends and family on lower-compute mobile VR devices. It’s great to have different kinds of social experiences on different platforms because it’s still early days for VR, and it helps us learn while giving people a variety of ways to interact.”

As a Rift owner who doesn’t use Facebook, I find this disappointing. But if Go is a commercial success, maybe the company will find a way to allow Rooms and Facebook Spaces to live together across its portfolio of devices.


One of the problems in getting many existing social VR software clients to run on the Oculus Go is that their programs need to be made to run in as little storage as possible. (For example, the Sansar client uses tens of gigabytes of memory storage for caching experiences you visit, so they will load more quickly the next time you come back.)  There’s only 32GB (or 64GB if you buy the upgraded version) of total program storage on the Oculus Go:

Oculus was generous enough to give me pre-release access to the Oculus Store, so I went kind of crazy downloading and installing as many different apps as my 32GB headset could hold.

Most VR apps are around 500-700MB, and 3D games usually clocked in at no more than 5GB. Just something to keep in mind if you’re deciding between the 32GB and 64GB Oculus Go. If you’re planning on playing a lot of 3D games, I recommend going with the higher storage model because there’s no adding more later.

The bigger problem is that high-quality social VR requires a very high rate of data transfer (that cord tethering your Oculus Rift to your PC is there for a reason!). It’s highly doubtful that you would be able to achieve that same high data transfer rate on the Oculus Go. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive rely on higher-end gaming machines with powerful integrated graphics cards to be able to deliver the necessary 90 frames per second performance so you don’t get sick in VR.

That being said, and ignorant as I am of the other technical challenges that face those who want to port existing social VR platforms to the Oculus Go, I’d love to hear what others have to say. What do you think are the major obstacles in bringing programs like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace or VRChat to the Oculus Go and similar all-in-one VR headsets?

UPDATED: Which Virtual World Boasts the Highest Avatar Capacity Per Region?

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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!

UPDATE July 10th: On July 6th, 2018, High Fidelity conducted a stress test which had over 200 avatars in a single domain! They will be conducting these stress tests on the first Friday of every month for the next six months.

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UPDATE Aug. 7th: High Fidelity’s latest monthly stress test of their platform saw over 250 avatars in one domain!

UPDATE Oct. 7th: High Fidelity has set another avatar region capacity record: 426 avatars in one region!

Social VR: What’s Wrong with Facebook Spaces and vTime

So, what do I consider to be true social VR?

If you do a Google search for the phrase “social VR”, you get websites for the following four products within the very first page of search results:

I have blogged about AltspaceVR and VRChat before on this blog (click on the links to see my blogposts), but I haven’t really talked about Facebook Spaces and vTime before. It’s time to address that, and I’ll explain what I consider to be “true” social VR.

Facebook Spaces 23 Feb 2018

Frankly, I am still rather mystified as to why Facebook released Facebook Spaces. I can only assume that they felt some pressure to release something to market.

What the product currently offers is not terribly impressive. Your avatar is basically locked in place at a round table in a parklike setting, where you can invite other Facebook Spaces users to join you at the table to chat, share photos and videos, draw in midair, go ice-fishing, etc. But there’s not really a lot to do. Now, you could argue that there’s not a lot to do in Sansar, High Fidelity, and Sinespace either, but at least you can move around in a three-dimensional space! You can easily break off into side conversations, for instance. You can explore.

I also have a problem with the cartoony avatars in Facebook Spaces. This was actually a deliberate design decision:

Facebook’s head of social VR, Rachel Franklin, told Business Insider that the decision was down to a phenomenon called the “uncanny valley”.

This is where a robot or avatar looks very like a real human, but not quite. And the effect is so unsettling that it makes you feel ill, or even scared.

“If we go too realistic at this stage, there’s the risk of uncanny valley,” she said. “When it’s almost realistic and just off enough that, instead of paying attention to you and having an experience where I’m talking to you, I’m thinking how [your avatar] doesn’t look like you, and how it’s not quite your mouth.”

Uhh, sorry, Rachel, but I think it’s more distracting that your avatar looks like a bad cartoon. And I’ve never yet met anyone who has felt ill or scared just by how an avatar looks. I’m not buying it. You just decided to go with something quick and dirty to rush a product out the door. Facebook Spaces avatars remind me of the ones in AltspaceVR.

Facebook/Oculus has the potential to become the 900-lb. gorilla or social VR/virtual worlds, leveraging off their already-two-billion-plus installed user base in products like Facebook and Instagram. But with all the money that Facebook has, and with Oculus VR hardware a key part of their company, Facebook Spaces is the best that they could do? Really?!?? Facebook must have something else up their sleeve. I refuse to believe that Facebook Spaces is the only social VR product they have planned.

But the biggest problem I have with Facebook Spaces is that most people using it don’t have anyone else to connect with! For example, I am (with one exception) the only person in my entire social circle who owns a VR headset. So what’s the point of using it at all? You do have the option to video call friends without VR headsets via Facebook Messenger from within Facebook Spaces. But really, who is actually going to do that over using Messenger on your phone? I’m going to go put on my VR headset to call someone on Messenger? I don’t think so.

Like Facebook Spaces, vTime is a social VR app which also locks your avatar in place. You can’t move around at all, you are glued to your seat. However, it does have an advantage over Facebook Spaces in that you can at least select an environment in which you and up to three other avatars can chat, everything from a romantic tropical beach to a rainy Chinatown rooftop.

vTime 23 Feb 2018.png

If you are using vTime, both you and the people you want to chat with have to have the vTime software installed, and you need to have a VR headset (they just announced support for the Windows Mixed Reality headsets). And there’s still not very many people who have the hardware to do this, yet. So they have the same problem as Facebook Spaces. Who do you talk with? Usually, it’s strangers who happen to be logged into vTime at the same time you are.

Now, you might say that all social VR spaces have this problem. But what Sansar, High Fidelity, and VRChat offer is an opportunity to let both VR and desktop (non-VR) users connect, in three-dimensional virtual worlds that you can actually move around in. And that’s what I consider true social VR. What’s the point of using a VR headset and being in an immersive, three-dimensional environment at all, if you’re just going to be locked into one place? 

UPDATE Feb. 24th: Vicky Roberts left a comment and said:

Hi Ryan, vTime is currently available for Gear VR, Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, Google Cardboard, Google Daydream, and for Android and iOS phones in a 2D Magic Window mode – so you don’t need a VR headset at all.