Today I’ll have a great post here in my blog. Sasha Le Baron, who is a VR passionate that knows virtual worlds much more than me (he’s a Second Life user since long time!) has accepted to write an article about social VR for me. You should know him, since he’s the one that introduced me to BigScreen VR and VRChat. I’m very happy about this, because of his experience in this field. So… this time I won’t say any more words and I will leave all glory to him… so, here you are his article (after a funny video)…

First let me say I’ve partaken in the VR the Cool Aid, I have been waiting for VR to drop since @GreatDismal first described it back in the day. So, my opinions are, shall we say, biased. That being said, there is a lot of pushback from the uninitiated suggesting that VR is anti-social. Let’s unpack that in the context of the current state of Social VR.

Let’s be clear, we are almost all screen addicts. In fact recent stats from the United States show an alarming 10% increase in traffic deaths last year. Why? Because of screens: even if the phone is in hands free mode, the car is still trying to show my facebook feed or the FM radio is 6 menus down on its screen and all I want is some DRIVING MUSIC!

Also pedestrians are all glued to the phone too. No situational awareness. Pokemon Go deaths were just part of the tragic impact of screen addiction last year. So we can agree that we are deeply tied to screens already… so what’s the big deal about putting them on our face?

It’s anti-social! I hear it all the time and I agree for the folks in the room/house with me in VR, I am no longer there. However VR itself is the most social thing I have ever done on my computer/smart phone.

Another confession: I am not a gamer. I don’t like consoles, I don’t like shooting zombies in the face, I don’t even like Tetris, but I love VR! Why? Because it’s social! I started with Second Life, sending it to my home-made mobile HMD using TrinusVR and it worked! It was laggy, it was juddery, it was terrible but it was social ’cause my buddy was laughing at me over the SL voice chat! And I was THERE!

Next I tried VTime, again for the smartphone. It’s like Second Life but optimized for Mobile VR. Several different locations, including the outside of the space station. Very cool! Chatted with some folks from all around the world and I was there! (But I could only move my head.)

Next step was into AltSpaceVR. Wow! I can move, I can talk, I have hands (with Leap Motion)! There are rooms, experiences and nice people to welcome you when you first show up. Very cool. But the avatars suck! I understand they have to keep them low poly to keep everything running smoothly but come on people! These avatars are… well: incredibly underwhelming, to say it politely.

Altspace VR
Typical AltspaceVR avatars… these ones are surely better than the first version ones that were really terrible (Image by AltspaceVR)

I did experience live comedy with Reggie Watts in AltSpace and it was cool if a bit goofy and it was hard to meet up with my buddy cause they kept cloning the performance room everytime it got full (around 30 people or so.) It was new and novel but still I was looking for more.

Then I tried Janus VR…that was cool, but too rough around the edges for my taste. Then on to High Fidelity, made by Second Life founder Phillip Rosedale. Amazing techical support, great community but again looking so rough and the caching of environments takes forever. Like really, hours (hopefully a bug, as SL loads in under a minute for way higher impact scenes).

JanusVR VR browser
JanusVR, with one of its typical portals (Image by JanusVR)

Having sampled everything but the full on porn sims, it was time to jump into the hard core social experience available from the great folks at VRChat. This is a gamercentric world of avatars, locations, teleport portals and amazing scenery. It’s fast, it works, the audio is positional and now that I have my Vive I can pick things up and move them around as well as uploading my own avatar and scenes (via Unity, so not for the faint of heart). Amazing! And after some initial vertigo I got used to the motion scheme, attended the Sunday VR meetups I had been hearing about and was amazed by how fast time went and how friendly people are in VR!

Fast forward a few weeks of trying to get Second Life to work in my Vive via and finally it did! Amazing, a bit laggy but amazing! Now I am signing up for Project Sansar as we speak but also I have an appointment to visit with my VR friend Antony @SkarredGhost of Immotionar fame in BigScreen.

social vr bigscreen
Me and Tony inside BigScreenVR

Setting up the room is easy, navigation is easy, changing settings is easy and then (other than getting stuck in the couch) we are together! Fist bumping, screen sharing, chatting with positional audio and even playing the same 2D game in VR while I am in Vancouver and he is in Italy somewhere! Again the time flies, the tracking is so tight that I know when I meet Tony in real life I will know him because of spending time in social VR and now it is time to go. Sigh.

Another 3 hrs of life “wasted” in front of two screens at 90 frames per second in a dark room and I feel great! Because I have been investing time in relationships, learning, growing and participating in the modern resurgence of VR which I believe may, along with AI, deep learning and AR, totally change the world. In actual fact checking my twitter feed with my kids in the room is anti-social while VR is the exact opposite.

Sasha LeBaron

Author, Builder, VR Consultant:

Wow, what an interesting article! From it you have been able to learn a bit of any social VR experience! Hope  you liked it too… if it is so, share it with everyone and add him on twitter!

(Header Image by Linden Lab)