If you like an interesting amount of competition, uncertain outcomes, and a bit of spice (challenges), you'll probably love this year in VR. There are several exciting developments happening at once, with a finale towards late fall that will impact users and platform managers alike.
Ready for our predictions this year? The Metaculture's got a pretty good record with making trajectories in VR now, but we may not get everything right (honestly? you'd be a god if you could do that). Take some of our words with a grain of salt, and think about what you feel is coming up this year to prepare for.
If you've been waiting for a music round-up, this entry also serves to cap our main line of documenting the earlier scene's development.
A Return To Earlier Times
Social VR is pretty wild, right? How about the fact there are now ten non-blockchain platforms that are either blossoming or holding their own?
This year will proving grounds for all of them, no matter what stage they're at. It will also feel similar to the rest of the current internet: highly decentralized, with a bunch of experimental ideas floating around and fond memories forming with the crowds that gravitate to them. It's starting to feel like the early internet again, and your favorite platform is going to be the new Neopets or Gaia Online.
For younger worlds such as Banter, the challenge will be in its initial growth. Earning a crowd as a small space might come down to holding public events and having enough cool features to draw people in.
For older platforms, it's go time for bigger numbers. More than one platform will borrow design and feature ideas from the other. Despite the non-direct competition between this level of world development, crowds will feel different...
...right up to the moment all platforms gain the ability to upload custom worlds with non-primitive mesh, and all of them flesh out their monetization plans.
At that point, worldbuilders will become extremely valuable. They're the architects of VR (in comparison, programmers and coders are like the engineers), and that means their work will be even more important to the success of a platform. More creators might also turn to multi-platform world publishing, especially if they're selling custom home designs for users to pick up on websites like Jinxxy or Booth.
The more common features a platform contains, the more it will be directly competing with the other nine. Staying away from that direct competition means having a feature that makes your product stand out. It's up to each platform to discover what that something is.
A New Era For Music And Art
The Metaculture has been documenting VR's early rave scene for a long time. Our previous music round-up discussed the possibility of "the scene" no longer actually being a scene. This was met with a pretty strong response, but we now think there's more evidence to show the music community is now more of a decentralized world:
- About there being a weird fluctuation of events, despite general user numbers growing: there are also different types of events now, not just raves--and they are everywhere. Jazz concerts and drinking parties have grown in VRChat, for example. You can find various performances aplenty in Cluster. Horizon has its own brew of bars, pubs, and clubs. While there are a few musicians who travel back and forth between platforms, this is going to grow in the future, but still won't connect every venue. Decentralization between music venues is here to stay.
- Speaking of art, VRChat's photography scene is well into its own swing, and now people are trying their hand at painting. Pretty much all VR platforms have art galleries if you seek them out.
- As we covered last time, VR cinema crossed an amazing milestone already. Early machinima artists of Second Life would be proud.
Raves are still found in VR and will always be there, no matter what platform you visit. It's just being joined by different forms of entertainment.
The Big Finale: The American Election
Social VR's biggest challenge is the upcoming American presidential election.
Elections tend to divide opinions, and this one looks like it's already bringing up some ugly subjects. This is stressful for VR users because they want to log on to relax and get away from the madness. There's going to be some bleed-in from the physical world as the election nears. Because the resulting friction might actually cause real harm to VR communities if left unaddressed, The Metaculture began preparing for this the year before. If we can help to fight hate in VR, it'll be through the power of writing.
How, you ask? Easy: our VR safety guides, which focused on user empowerment.
Issues like hate in online spaces are like giant storms rolling in on vulnerable towns. Prepping for them is a twofold plan. First, you start petitioning your platform's administration to think about revising their ToS to become more scalable for larger crowds and difficult situations. Then, you turn to public education. You've got to get people talking about safety, acceptance, and how to recognize red flags with bad actors. Knowledge is indeed power.
When we first wrote our safety guides, it was met with some confusion but gradual acceptance. There was also a bit of pushback on bringing up the subject at all, because a certain amount of users in social VR use their surroundings for complete escape. That's fine, but not everyone can get away from their physical world--especially when hate starts to ruin their experience no matter where they are.
After writing the guides, we then passed them around and talked to other users about them. There were thankfully simultaneous efforts by others happening at once, because videos like this one began to appear online. The more people repeat the message of personal safety and discernment, the more others talk about it, and the more it becomes an accepted topic of conversation.
The next step involves less direct action, and more about keeping an eye on the horizon. Are users talking about intersectionality in order to understand the power of mutual support? Is your platform's more socially vulnerable crowd now able to form support networks? This is the stage where users are proverbially boarding up their houses and reinforcing their supply stash.
By the time the election actually happens, and its barrage of negative events begin to weather users emotionally, users will be able to make it through. They'll have havens of social networks they can fall back on as their emotional sanctuary. They are practicing emotional independence, able to tell when someone is toxic, and when to break away from them for their own well-being. And if they aren't to the point of emotional maturity yet, they at least have community tools and guides available for them to learn at their own pace.
So, how prepared is social VR for election season? One quick way to check is to travel around to different platforms, and see how users talk to one another when a safety issue arises. We were able to field these conversations recently with players not only in VRChat, but Horizon Worlds as well. This manifested as users who proactively asked if other people on the same map felt okay, were safe, or asked if anyone needed staff if a disturbance occurred. While Cluster is mostly Japanese, it also has its own community-reinforced system of anti-harassment messaging on venue maps. These results don't imply the absence of problems, but provides a pretty good picture of where a platform's headspace is at.
It takes a community of users who care about keeping their platform welcoming to make these results happen. Some of this is the handiwork of ToS refinement by platform administration, while the other piece of the puzzle is community action.
If you haven't read our safety guides yet, take this time to familiarize yourself. It might help you or a friend out later.
Thank you for reading our predictions for this year. May all platforms grow and its users find happiness, wherever they are.