Someone posted the following YouTube video to the official Sansar Discord channel today. It’s a mixed-reality video recorded on a green-screen set constructed by Drift0r, a VR enthusiast and avid gamer, within his own home (which should tell you quite a bit about what level a fan he is of virtual reality).
But he certainly does not pull any punches when it comes down to dissecting exactly what’s wrong with the current state of virtual reality in general, and VR gaming in particular:
Now, this is not some VR dilettante; this is what I would consider a hardcore VR gamer who has made a sizeable investment in both the computer hardware and software, not only to play VR games but to record videos of himself doing so. He’s also a popular YouTube personality with over 1.3 million subscribers. And he says in the description of this particular video:
Virtual Reality has been struggling to catch on and go mainstream for almost four years now. I personally am a huge fan of VR and own the Rift, Vive, & PSVR; but I have to face the fact that VR gaming is dying. This video goes over the current major issues with VR gaming and offers some suggestions on how to fix them. I show off Beat Saber, Sprint Vector, Doom VFR, Sairento, Gorn, Creed, Raw Data, and several other games in mixed reality too.
For someone like this to be saying that VR is dying, and to suggest that full mainstream acceptance of VR may lie 20 to 30 years in the future, instead of the 5 to 10 years most VR market forecasters are predicting, should give a lot of companies working in VR serious pause (including those firms building social VR platforms). This guy is the consummate insider, somebody who should be leading the cheering section, telling us that things are notokay with the current state of VR gaming, at least.
The dirty secret of VR gaming overall, let alone social VR, is that very few people still own a VR headset. The vast majority of people playing VR-capable games and visiting VR-capable virtual worlds are not using a VR headset; they are in desktop mode. And it’s not just social VR that is struggling to attract paying customers, it’s the entire VR industry that is facing the reality that most people aren’t adopting the technology. As Drift0r explains, the hard, cold truth of VR gaming is that the games are selling in numbers that are pitiful by desktop game standards.
So, what does this mean for Sansar, High Fidelity, and the other social VR companies? It means that they should be wary of over-focusing on virtual reality to the exclusion of desktop users. Linden Lab smartly made the move to integrate text chat in Sansar for both desktop and VR users, something that Philip Rosedale has been notably loathe to do in High Fidelity (although I understand that text chat is included in the HiFi client, but disabled by default).
Virtual reality may not be dying, as this YouTuber asserts, but it isn’t looking overly healthy, either. I’ve already blogged about a couple of social VR projects that have fallen on hard times waiting for virtual reality to become more popular (Anyland and, more recently, Virtual Universe). The advent of the attractively-priced, standalone Oculus Quest headset might ignite the VR marketplace, but the forecasters have been wrong before.
So, what do you think? Feel free to leave a comment here with your thoughts and opinions. Or, even better, join us on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server! Over 150 people who are passionate about social VR and virtual worlds are talking about this and other topics every day. And you’re invited to join our discussions!
Yorkie, a YouTube personality with over 10,000 subscribers, has made a 23-minute video which serves as an excellent introduction to Sansar. The video ends with a montage of various experiences he has visited, and overall it’s really well done!
(Insert here my standard rant about not having custom avatar skins yet…c’mon, Linden Lab! When I see something as beautiful as this, I want it now!)
Linden Lab is going to need more livestreamers such as Yorkie to cover Sansar in order to get the word out about the social VR platform, so this is wonderful to see! Yorkie’s enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s clear that he loves virtual worlds—and avatar customization—just as much as I do!
Social media stars are the new superstar celebrities of our age. Their antics attract massive audiences, and companies sometimes use them to shill for their products and services (for a fee, of course, and often a hefty one).
The Atlantic magazine has just published an article that takes a critical look at how some YouTube livestreamers are using their celebrity to profit off their viewers’ vulnerability and depression, by collecting a per-person “finder’s fee” to refer them to a site called BetterHelp.com. (This service has also been advertising heavily on Reddit, among several other places on the internet.)
Some of YouTube’s biggest stars have found themselves embroiled in controversy over videos that critics say allow them to profit off fans struggling with depression.
Over the past year, mental health and burnout have become big topics in the YouTube community. Stars like Philip DeFranco and Shane Dawson have posted heartfelt videos about their struggles with depression, encouraging fans to get help with their own issues. At the end of each video, they promote an online counseling service called BetterHelp, and include a referral link that earns them money every time a fan clicks the link and signs up.
…For a starting fee of $35 a week, BetterHelp will match you with an online counselor who you can then speak to via text, phone, or video, theoretically making it easy for tech-savvy and time-strapped teens to get mental-health care. But some people who downloaded the app after being prompted to by their favorite YouTubers have claimed that it has far from helped them.
Eighty-six users have filed complaints about the app with the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit aimed at holding businesses accountable for bad practices. In a Reddit thread, several users describe being charged excessive fees (likely due to the fact that they didn’t realize the plan they had purchased charged the full annual fee up front), and claim the counselors on the app were unresponsive, unhelpful, or refused them treatment.
As Polygon points out, BetterHelp’s terms of service state that the company can’t guarantee a qualified professional. “We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you,” the terms of service read. “The Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional.”
It’s a growing firestorm of controversy, and some YouTubers who have promoted BetterHelp.com are beginning to feel the backlash:
YouTubers, sensitive to the growing backlash from their fans, have nearly all put their partnership with BetterHelp on hold after others on YouTube began calling them out. In one of her videos, the YouTuber Deschroma, who had never endorsed the app previously, said she “couldn’t in good conscience” recommend the app to others. The YouTube channel Memeology 101 produced a nine-part series on the scandal, calling it “one of the biggest cons pulled by YouTubers in 2018.” PewDiePie, one of the biggest YouTubers on the platform, has denounced the app and the YouTubers promoting it, saying in his own video, “BetterHelp turns out to be … even worse than what I thought.”
On Monday, the YouTuber Boogie2988 posted a 12-minute mea culpa video, apologizing to his 4.5 million subscribers. “Here’s where I really screwed up: I didn’t read the terms of service for myself. I trusted the other YouTubers that were advertising it. And maybe that’s not something I should do moving forward,” he said. He also announced that he’d be donating all the profits he had made through the partnership to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
But YouTubers rely on trust and authenticity to grow their audience, and even an implication that they might be trying to sell a subpar product or service can damage the relationship they have with their fans. “I really wish big youtubers would stop pushing BetterHelp, its a scam and the fact they’re (youtubers) making money off of exploiting mental illness makes me sick,” one fan tweeted. “fyi the therapy service ‘betterhelp’ that youtubers like shane & h3h3 are advertising is a scam & they’re paying these youtubers loads & they’re capitalising ur depression,” another said.
“Why do youtubers shove shit in our face like #betterhelp #freeiphones and stuff without trying it first or doing research?” a fan said today. “I’ve lost respect for some due to this better help crap. We’re not dollar signs. We are supporters.”
Here’s the PewDiePie video mentioned above (it’s quite good):
As a mental health consumer myself, who has struggled with a chronic form of clinical depression for many years, I can understand the appeal of an online chat service that offers to connect you to a trained and caring professional. But BetterHelp.com goes out their way to warn users in its Our Client Terms & Conditions that:
The Counselors and Counselor Services…
The Counselors are neither our employees nor agents nor representatives. Furthermore, we assume no responsibility for any act, omission or doing of any Counselor.
We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to the willingness or ability of a Counselor to give advice.
We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to whether you will find the Counselor Services relevant, useful, correct, relevant, satisfactory or suitable to your needs.
We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you…
Use of the Platform
You agree, confirm and acknowledge that although the Counselor may provide the Counselor Services through the Platform, we cannot assess whether the use of the Counselor, the Counselor Services or the Platform is right and suitable for your needs. THE PLATFORM DOES NOT INCLUDE THE PROVISION OF MEDICAL CARE, MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL SERVICES BY US. As operators of the Platform, our role is strictly limited to facilitating the communication between you and the Counselor and to enable the provision of the Counselor Services. It is up to you to consider and decide whether these services are appropriate for you or not.
You agree, confirm and acknowledge that you are aware of the fact that the Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional. You should never rely on or make health or well-being decisions which are primarily based on information provided as part of the Counselor Services. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that you will consider seeking advice by having an in-person appointment with a licensed and qualified professional. Never disregard, avoid, or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare counselor, by face-to-face appointment, because of information or advice you received through the Platform.
THE PLATFORM IS NOT INTENDED FOR DIAGNOSIS, INCLUDING INFORMATION REGARDING WHICH DRUGS OR TREATMENT THAT MAY BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOU, AND YOU SHOULD DISREGARD ANY SUCH ADVICE IF DELIVERED THROUGH THE PLAFORM.
You are advised to exercise a high level of care and caution in the use of the Platform and the Counselor services.
IF YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE OR IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING TO TAKE ACTIONS THAT MAY CAUSE HARM TO YOU OR TO OTHERS OR IF YOU FEEL THAT OR ANY OTHER PERSON MAY BE IN ANY DANGER OR IF YOU HAVE ANY MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU MUST IMMEDIATELY CALL THE EMERGENCY SERVICE NUMBER (911 IN THE US) AND NOTIFY THE RELEVANT AUTHORITIES. YOU ACKNOWLEDGE, CONFIRM AND AGREE THAT THE PLATFORM IS NOT DESIGNED FOR USE IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES AND THAT YOU MUST NOT USE THE PLATFORM IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES.
Which is the most cover-your-ass, weaselly-legalese statement I’ve seen in quite some time. Essentially, BetterHelp.com is not taking responsibility for anything that happens to you from using their service.
So, BetterHelp.com “do[es] not control the quality of the Counselor Services and…do[es] not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service”, eh? That one statement is enough to put me off that service completely. They don’t even bother to vet the counsellors they connect you with? That’s just complete bullshit.
And the second lesson here? That lesson is to very carefully read the Terms of Service of any online counselling service you are considering spending any of your hard-earned money on. In my opinion, you’d be much better off getting a referral to a real-life, qualified specialist through your family doctor, local clinic, or your community services department.
If you are currently experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis:
When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers:
“Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”
A similar service is called The Haven, another Discord channel for people who need someone to talk to. Both Kind Voice and The Haven are free, volunteer-run services.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. NEVER. Give. Up!
UPDATE Oct. 16th: I have included a professional lawyer’s opinion on BetterHelp.com. This video is by Lior Leser, who specializes in technology, internet and software law:
Here’s Lior in a longer, hour-and-a-half interview with another YouTuber, talking about all this in much more detail:
No, we’re not. First, there was the issue of the disclaimer in the Terms and Conditions about our limited liability in ensuring counselor’s licensure. Yes, it’s standard legalese, and a similar disclaimer can be found — almost word for word — in the Terms and Conditions of many similar platforms. But it’s also possible to see how this can make someone feel uncomfortable. Besides, with our rigorous vetting process, it’s simply unnecessary. Therefore, we decided to update the Terms and Conditions, and on October 4 we removed this disclaimer altogether.
According to a recent online article by Polygon, a website that covers the gaming industry, The social VR world VRChat has attracted a lot of attention recently because of YouTubers and Twitch streamers:
Considering that VRChat is only available on Vive and Oculus Rift, the player base is still limited. The reason VRChat has skyrocketed in popularity is because of YouTubers and Twitch streamers who have brought attention to the game. One YouTuber in particular, Nagzz21, uploads near daily videos with his time in VRChat. These include weird dating scenarios, oblong takes on popular gaming avatars, drama happening between players and groups in VRChat, and exploring all the different realms.
His videos have become so popular that VRChat Inc. has subscribed to him and promoted a view of his videos.
Unlike Sansar, which has focused so far on human avatars, VRChat (like High Fidelity) allows users to create non-human avatars (which requires some level of technical skill). The Polygon article notes:
Watch any VRChat video and there’s one thing that sticks out: It’s chockfull of characters that you already know. There are strange versions of Spongebob Squarepants, Pickle Rick from Rick and Morty, an assortment of Pokémon and too many anime characters to name.
This is one of VRChat’s biggest draws. Using a combination of character models, VRChat Inc.’s software development kit and Unity, players can create their own (unauthorized) avatars based on other popular figures from games, television, anime and movies.
…Multiple characters from popular culture, including Hank Hill from King of the Hill and Pikachu from Pokémon, can be seen interacting with one another. Players are able to pet Pikachu and Pokémon trainers can be seen in the distance. Much of the game’s appeal comes from players recklessly mixing and matching characters from various franchises and assuming their persona, virtually. Think cosplaying but without the expensive costume and in the comfort of your own home.
Obviously, this feature is a massive draw for some people. I’ve even had one Facebook commenter state that she will be making avatars for VRChat exactly because of that freedom to create whatever kind of avatar she wants, rather than create for Sansar. Of course, there is rampant IP theft happening in VRChat; the lawyers are going to have a field day if somebody tries to sell a Pikachu or Mickey Mouse avatar! Right now, it’s the wild west in VRChat, and everything is being given away for free.
Anyway, I thank what Sansar really needs is a few Twitch or YouTube livestreamers with a sufficiently large audience. For example, the phenomenally popular YouTube personality PewDiePie has posted a video of his VRChat adventures that has pulled in 2,828,337 views so far!
Of course, PewDiePie has over 58 million subscribers and makes millions of dollars from his YouTube channel! If I were to start YouTube livestreaming in Sansar, I would not have nearly the same pull! So the key here is not to get just anybody to start livestreaming Sansar. The key is to get a livestreamer with a large audience to start playing in Sansar.
Of course, Drax and Strawberry’s Atlas Hopping remains relatively popular, and both Strawberry Singh and Draxtor Despres livestream each episode to YouTube. And just this month, Sam and Boden Linden launched another planned monthly show where they visit and comment on Sansar experiences. It’s a promising start.
So, what do you think it would take to get someone like PewDiePie to visit Sansar and livestream it? Anybody have any favours they could pull in??