My Predictions for Social VR, Virtual Worlds and the Metaverse for 2022

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 600 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.


I was going to write up another entry in my ongoing Pandemic Diary series today, but then I read Wagner James Au’s predictions for 2022, and I suddenly realized I had neglected to write up my own blogpost, with my predictions for the next twelve months! So let me polish my crystal ball and see what comes up… 😉

Among Wagner’s predictions is this one, which I agree with 100%—make that 1,000%!

There will be a major scandal or controversy around one of the blockchain/NFT-oriented Metaverse platforms.

With NFTs beset by scams and NFT/blockchain-oriented metaverse platforms seeing low user numbers but extremely high investment and speculation, this is only a matter of time.  

It’s only January 12th, 2022, but I have already written about a number of questionable NFT projects which at best are crazy schemes, and at worst are outright scams! MetaWorld springs to mind as the perfect example of the latter (ALLEGEDLY, I hasten to add, although IN MY OPINION, I don’t believe there is any actual MetaWorld platform, aside from a prototype which was created years ago by someone who has since left the company to work for Somnium Space).

By the way, I have been reliably informed that, after an absence caused by the publication of this damning recent piece of investigative journalism by Engadget, Dedric Reid is once again active on Clubhouse, shilling MetaWorld in his own rooms and in other rooms about the metaverse on the still-popular social audio platform. He’s also relisted his (ALLEGEDLY, IN MY OPINION) worthless virtual land NFTs on OpenSea, after NiftyKit took the original listings on his website down when the original artist he stole the images from to illustrate his NFTs lodged a copyright complaint.

Despite all the negative press from the Engadget exposé and my series of blogposts about MetaWorld, Dedric continues undeterred. Someone joked to me via Discord DMs that Dedric Reid is the Elizabeth Holmes of the metaverse, and I laughed out loud because it’s such an apt, concise description! Harsh, savage, but accurate.

But on to other topics; I am tired of talking about Dedric Reid and MetaWorld (and frankly, whoever falls for his ALLEGED scam at this point is simply not doing their proper due diligence, IN MY OPINION). There’s a lot of actual progress being made by many legitimate metaverse companies building social VR/AR platforms and virtual worlds!

First, Facebook—sorry, Meta! I predict that Meta is going to have a very bumpy year ahead. The company was roundly criticized by the virtual reality community when they announced that. starting in October 2020, all Oculus VR hardware users had to set up accounts on the toxic Facebook social network. While Mark Zuckerberg, in his now-infamous Connect 2021 keynote, said that the company was looking at removing this requirement, I’ll believe it when I actually see it happen. Words are hollow, Mark; what matters are actions.

I predict that Facebook (sorry, Meta) is going to have a rough year

Meta is facing such a never-ending litany of complaints, scandals, and even legal actions that this is, once again, a very easy prediction to make for 2022.

Next prediction: there’s going to be a lot of activity this year in the fuzzy overlap area between games and virtual worlds, what I like to call the “metaverse-adjacent” space. Both games (e.g. Fortnite, Minecraft) and game platforms (e.g. Roblox, Core) will continue to add new features in an effort to become more like social VR/AR apps and virtual worlds. And, given their immense popularity, especially among children, tweens, and teens, many people will get their first taste of the metaverse via these games and game platforms, in much the same way as an entire generation got their start in the metaverse via Second Life.

Speaking of Second Life, in my predictions for 2021, I wrote the following:

And, indeed, 2021 was the first year in which VRChat began to consistently surpass Second Life in user concurrency figures (Rec Room did too, I believe). VRChat has been breaking new user concurrency records, leading up to and including New Year’s Eve 2021, as Johnny Rodriguez tweeted:

Last night, 88,700 people put on a VR headset and decided to join the VRChat New Years event to countdown [to] the new year. For reference, this is Husker’s Memorial Stadium [at the University of Nebraska], which fits around 86,000 people when completely full. VR is here to stay.

Turning back to Second Life, the coronavirus pandemic caused a temporary surge in usage (and the current Omicron wave might well prompt people to dust off their avatars and give it another try, too). I still estimate that SL has somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 active users per month (that is, people who sign in at least once in the past thirty days). I really wish that Linden Lab would regularly release statistics like this, but if they are declining (slowly or quickly), I can also understand why the company would be reluctant to do so.

It doesn’t help matters that Second Life’s userbase skews significantly older than most other social VR platforms, virtual worlds, and metaverse-adjacent apps like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox. SL users are (literally) dying off! However, Second Life still remains popular enough (and a reliable cash cow) to keep merrily coasting along for many years. And with the deep pockets and good connections of the Waterfield investment group (of which Second Life is now a part), the future looks bright.

I wish I could say the same about Sansar, which from my (admittedly limited) perspective, seems to be circling the drain. I wrote the following post in the official Second Life community forums late last year:

I was part of Sansar since I was invited into the closed beta in 2016/2017, and I was there for the whole crazy ride. Sansar is now on life support (the company that bought it from Linden Lab, called Wookey, furloughed all of its staff recently, and I believe that they could shut down at any moment without warning). Being there from beginning to end, I still marvel at how Linden Lab thought they could build a new virtual world/social VR platform and just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself in this competitive marketplace for metaverse platforms. “Build it and they will come” might have worked for SL in 2003 but it sure ain’t gonna work nowadays. You have to PROMOTE yourself to get noticed.

Also, Linden Lab could have done a lot of things to try and entice SL users to a) visit Sansar and b) make them want to stay, build worlds, create content, and form a new community. Instead, what happened is that Second Life folks (rightly or wrongly) saw Sansar as something which distracted LL from its work on SL, and as a result most SL folks hated Sansar and refused to have anything to do with it, hastening its downfall in my opinion. It also didn’t help that Linden Lab made a bet that many people would be owning high-end VR headsets tethered to high-end PCs with good graphics cards, and instead the Oculus Quest wireless headset took off.

I still shake my head and wonder “what if?”. Say a prayer for Sansar, it needs it. 

Right now, Sansar’s best hope for survival in 2022 is for another company who wants to enter the metaverse marketplace to buy the platform from Wookey, much the same as Microsoft stepped in at the eleventh hour to snap up AltspaceVR.

Another prediction: we are going to see an increase in the number of companies providing services to metaverse platforms. Wagner James Au mentions the Linden Lab subsidiary Tilia, which provides financial services, in his blogpost which I linked to up top; I predict that they will land a few more clients this year. Another example of a company doing well in this niche is Ready Player Me, the avatar system currently in use in VRChat and over 1,000 other apps and games on VR, mobile, desktop, and web. Expect this nascent business-to-business sector to explode this year!

Well, that’s it for me, for now. I might update this blogpost with other predictions for 2022 as they come to me.

And I ask you, my faithful readers: what predictions are you making for the next twelve months? Feel free to leave a comment, or use the feedback form on my blog if you’d prefer to contact me directly. You’re also welcome to join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, a cross-worlds community where over 600 people, with experience in various metaverse platforms, welcome you! Just click the button on the left-side panel of my blog as shown (image right). If you are connecting via a smartphone or tablet instead of your computer desktop, just click the three-bars menu button in the upper-right hand corner, then scroll down until you see the Discord widget displayed.

Matthew Ball and the Metaverse Road Map: A Fireside Chat in Breakroom on October 21st, 2021

In case you haven’t noticed, the metaverse is suddenly having a moment.

Ever since Facebook announced that they were repivoting to become a “metaverse” company, things have gotten a little bit crazy around here. As Tony Parisi writes:

In the wake of Facebook’s new positioning as a Metaverse company, execs at a multitude of tech and media outfits have put it front and center of their strategy, or are at least saying they have a Metaverse strategy. Leading the pack are game engine companies like my employer Unity and graphics chip powerhouses such as NVIDIA. These companies are laying the groundwork by delivering miraculous real-time 3D tech on a regular basis, and they are built on solid business models delivering significant commercial value. They will indeed be foundational for the Metaverse. But these days you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an ad agency or tech startup that has the word Metaverse in a strategy deck, too. Sensing a Next Big Thing, people don’t want to have to play catch-up like they did with the Internet or mobile. Mind you, the term Metaverse isn’t new, nor is the vision, despite various attempts at rewriting history. But now that His Eminence has given voice to it, the Metaverse exists by fiat. So let it be written; so let it be done. And everyone is pouring in.

At a time when the word “metaverse” is being flung around everywhere by everybody (including by quite a few johnny-come-latelies who really have no idea what they are talking about), it’s important to listen to people who who were around before this sudden hype cycle. Among those people is venture capitalist Matthew Ball, whose well-known article The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite, provides some thoughtful insight and perspective on the topic.

Matthew Ball (picture source)

And it just so happens that the next speaker scheduled in the Fireside Chats series is none other than Matthew Ball himself! According to the official announcement:

Sine Wave Entertainment is honored to welcome Metaverse visionary Matthew Ball for a virtual fireside chat within Breakroom, our metaverse platform for real-life events. Author of the influential “Metaverse Primer“, lead creator of the Ball Metaverse Index, his insights and investments have shaped the business world’s understanding of what he calls a “successor state to the mobile internet”.

Join us for a wide-ranging conversation with Matthew, co-hosted by two leading journalists of the Metaverse era [Gene Park of the Washington Post and Wagner James Au of New World Notes].

Topics to be discussed include:

• What are the key Metaverse trends to watch for in the next 5-10 years?
• Will it wind up being dominated by the Internet giants?
• Is there more to the Metaverse beyond entertainment?
• Where do blockchain and VR fit into the technology’s future?• How will the Metaverse remake culture and business?

You can register for the event here, through EventBrite (it’s free). It takes place on Thursday, October 21se, 2021 at 8:00 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time/GMT or noon Pacific Standard Time/PST. When you register, you will receive an email message with a special link you have to click on to load the web-based Breakroom app in your web browser.

It promises to be a fascinating discussion, and one you won’t want to miss!


This blogpost is sponsored by Sinespace, and was written in my role as an embedded reporter for this virtual world (more details here). 

A Quick Guide to the VRChat Communities on Discord, Twitch, YouTube, and Other Social Media (Plus a Couple of Directories of VRChat Maps/Worlds!)

After writing up my recent blogpost about the Second Life blogging and vlogging community, I decided to investigate what social media exists around another popular social VR platform/virtual world, VRChat, which I have been writing about for four years now on this blog.

Blogs

To my surprise, there’s very little in the way of blogging about VRChat; my Google searches consistently pulled up only two blogs which discuss VRChat regularly, my own blog, and Wagner James Au’s venerable blog New World Notes, which has branched out from its original coverage of Second Life to write about other virtual worlds (here’s a link to all of my VRChat posts, and a link to all of Wagner’s).

Discords

As for Discords, there are any number of popular Discord communities:

There are also the following Discord servers, which have a VRChat section or channel:

Directories of VRChat Worlds

As I have written about before, it can be difficult to find good directories of VRChat maps (i.e. worlds) to explore (other than the Worlds listing in the VRChat client itself).

There is a Japanese-language website called The World of VRChat, a website directory for VRChat worlds (if you turn on Google auto-translate in your Chrome web browser, it works well enough). I don’t know how up-to-date it is kept, however, and I have been unable to find any other website directories like this one.

The World of VRChat Website

Also, VRChat user CatRazor has created a very useful Discord server called VRChat Maps, where users can post their favourite maps to various channels. Check it out!

The VRChat Maps Discord server

If you know of any other VRChat map/world directories which exist outside the VRChat client, please drop a comment, thank you!


Of course, it was the Twitch and YouTube livestreamers who first brought attention to VRChat, so it only makes sense that the overwhelming majority of the social media out there about VRChat is on Twitch and YouTube.

Twitch

There’s a very active VRChat community on Twitch, with dozens of livestreamers. Your best bet is to go exploring, and see whose content appeals to you!

Just a small sample of the VRChat streamers on Twitch

YouTube

There are hundreds of people who regularly post videos about VRChat to YouTube. Feedspot maintains what it claims is an up-to-date list of the most popular VRChat YouTubers, but I have discovered that many of the people on this list haven’t posted VRChat videos to YouTube in many months, if not years (for example, Nagzz21 is listed, but he stopped posting videos about VRChat a year ago, citing the U.S. FTC’s COPPA legislation).

There are so many VRChat videos on YouTube that it is possible to create subcategories! For example, there are many YouTubers who focus on slice of life or “man in the street” interviews:

Here’s a couple of examples of YouTube videos from iListen and iamLucid, to give you an idea of the content you can expect in these interview videos:

Other VRChat videos tend to be edited or unedited recordings of shenanigans happening on the social VR platform. Your mileage may vary; some of funnier or others, but overall it comes down to your personal sense of humour. Here’s the results of a keyword search for “VRChat” on YouTube; dive in! If you’re looking for the most popular VRChat videos, start here (but be warned; some of these are not for the faint of heart!).


Do you know of any resources which should be listed here? If you know of a Discord server, a YouTube channel, or a Twitch channel, or some other social media that should be included in this blogpost? Then please feel free to leave a comment, thanks!

UPDATED! Adam Frisby and Philip Rosedale in Conversation: Some Notes from Today’s Campfire Talk in Breakroom

If you think Second Life was hard to get into, wait until you buy your first NFT and try to show it to a friend.

—Philip Rosedale.
Philip Rosedale’s and Adam Frisby’s avatars in Breakroom at the Campfire Talk:
Adam admits he has become very attached to his bunny rabbit avatar 😉

Today, Philip Rosedale, the founding CEO of Linden Lab (the makers of Second Life) and the current CEO of High Fidelity, had a chat with Sine Wave Entertainment’s Adam Frisby in Breakroom (the corporate cousin of the Sinewave platform), who was also heavily involved with the development of OpenSim.

In fact, I learned before the event started from Adam Frisby that Breakroom had implemented the High Fidelity spatialized audio system, just before the event! A crowd of about 50 avatars gathered in a custom virtual world created by Adam himself, which reminded me strongly of the great Canadian north!

Here are a few quick notes on just a few of the topics from that conversation today (I hope to be able to add a video of the complete event later):

  • Rohan Freeman of Sine Wave Entertainment gave an introduction, mentioning that their business had started in Second Life
  • Wagner James Au of the blog New World Notes had a few audio difficulties, but eventually was able to speak, thanking everyone for coming, and mentioned a few features of the web-based Breakroom app (including emojis and hand-raising)
  • What is a metaverse? Adam said it is a powerful blank canvas, allowing people to create and express themselves. Philip said that the older he gets, and the more he contemplates virtual worlds, the less sure he becomes about what the “metaverse” is. He defines it as “the digital space between us”, a creative space that consists on our shared agreement on the space between us (based on consensus). That space is the metaverse.
  • The nature of virtual worlds includes the idea of the person/individual/avatar, a concept that is missing from the internet, which mainly exists to connect information
  • Most surprising or humbling thing about user creativity? Philip said the infinite creativity of people building upon each others’ work over and over again, and how far Second Life has come in its history, which is inspiring to him. Adam said the game-building that has taken place in Sinespace, how people continually subvert the rules of the platform and make amazing things like first-person shooters
  • What aspects of SL user creativity should newer platforms learn from? Philip is proud of SL, particularly the economy and the ability to creative derivative works/derivative rights, which he says still really hasn’t been replicated elsewhere. Adam said the financial and legal work required to enable that economy and operation, allowing people to create and sell their goods, calling it a “self actualization economy”.
  • Adam: you can succeed in building a virtual world without an economy (cites VRChat), but if you want to get people to invest, you want to attract professionals who expect to be able to earn money, let them run free, which makes them more popular (e.g. Roblox)
  • Is the metaverse limited to younger people? Philip said no, but the youngest generation which has the most time and energy, determine whatever happens next. Second Life started off with a younger userbase, which has aged over time. (Many people tell Philip that they got their start in SL.) Adam talked about the pivot to Breakroom during the pandemic, which has had huge adoption in areas such as banking conferences and events (something that he would not have previously predicted). Adam got his start in Active Worlds, when he had lots of energy! Different people want different things: socialization, creativity, etc.
  • How important is the adoption of VR headsets? Adam said that it is still too easy to “break the spell” when in virtual reality, and thinks that VR might reach 30% of households at some point. VR per se will not make or break a metaverse. Philip said he learned that it’s still to early: the VR headset is still not going to be a replacement for something like the smartphone anytime soon (e.g. the awkward workarounds for typing in a headset). “We’re absolutely not there yet.” Divisive with respect of the people willing to wear an “electronic blindfold” (creates an imbalance in the social fabric). Despite this, he is still enthusiastic about VR, despite his pragmatism based on his experience with the old High Fidelity social VR platform.
  • Cryptocurrency and NFTs: Philip said that there are still many challenges to face, saying that cryptocurrencies tend to concentrate wealth even more rapidly than regular currencies. Neither do NFTs. “If you think Second Life was hard to get into, wait until you buy your first NFT and try to show it to a friend.” Adam is NOT a fan of crypto, citing losing your passwords and losing access to your wallet as a serious problem (and customer service cannot help you!). These sorts of things are complete antithesis of something consumer-friendly, plus the environmental destruction caused by mining cryptocurrency. Philip thinks SL’s governance helped open up the conversation on how best to manage economies.

The event ended with questions from the audience. All in all, it was a wonderful event, with a great many people in attendance who are active in the metaverse!

UPDATE June 30th, 2021: As promised, here is the unedited, 80 minute-long YouTube video of the event:


This blogpost is sponsored by Sinespace, and was written in my role as an embedded reporter for this virtual world (more details here).