#636: VRChat is the Closest VR Experience to the OASIS in Ready Player One

Ready Player One was released on March 29th, and the current VR experience that comes the closest to realizing the vision of the OASIS depicted in the movie is the social VR experience of VRChat. By 2045, I predict that we’ll have a decentralized open metaverse that’s built on WebXR, and that it’ll be the open web that realizes the educational potential of OASIS that’s depicted within the novel version of Ready Player One. But I think we’ll continue to have open and closed systems just as we do today, and it’s likely that there will a closed, walled garden metaverse of interconnected worlds that is more akin to the vision of the OASIS that’s built by Gregarious Simulation Systems. But if you want to experience the OASIS today, then VRChat is the experience to check out.

I had a chance to talk with VRChat’s CEO/co-founder Graham Gaylor and Chief Creative Ron Millar at GDC where we talked about the recent growth of VRChat, what type of trends they’re seeing, what they’re doing to support streamers, and where they’re going in the future.


VRChat was one of the first social VR experiences to enable customized avatars, but they also allow creators to upload their own worlds. VRChat went through some exponential grown in the Fall of 2017 thanks in part to a number of YouTubers including Jameskii & Nagzz21, and Twitch personalities like pokelawls, dyrus, greekgodx, and LIRIK who discovered the unique user-generated VRChat worlds, customized avatars, a fusion of pop culture references & memes, as well as opportunities for live action role play, cosplay, social games, and serendipitous social interactions in these virtual worlds.

VRChat has the most advanced friend-finding features of any Social VR experience, but they also have the user experience of traversing between virtual worlds with a group of people by dropping in-world portals. They also have a diverse range of different private social VR experiences including invite-only instances or invite+ instances where anyone invited can invite their friends.

VRChat has enabled a 2D desktop version of their experience allows people to participate in the social VR worlds, but with limited functionality including not being able to use their hands. Not all of the concurrent users on VRChat are in virtual reality, but it’s an experience that’s been inspiring a lot of people to start to buy a VR system in order to have a higher fidelity social VR experience. This support for 2D, flat screen participation has contributed to their rise in popularity, and this success means that they’ve had to deal with various moderation challenges that come with operating virtual social spaces at this scale.

There aren’t any VR experiences yet that realize the full potential of the OASIS depicted in the novel of Ready Player One, as there are a lot more educational aspects to the OASIS that didn’t make the cut for the movie version. I think that it’s most likely the these types of educational experiences will be built on the open web using open standards like WebXR, and currently Google’s Expeditions is the probably the closest platform that is realizing the more educational aspects of the OASIS. It was encouraging to hear the Google Expeditions team talk about using A-Frame to build experiences that target the web, and so by 2045 I expect that there will be a combination of centralized walled gardens as well as decentralized open metaverse worlds that are built upon open standards like WebXR.

VRChat has opted to create the best experiences that’s possible today by creating a centralized solution where they are hosting all of the content, and they’re in charge of moderating content and social behaviors. The long-term business model for VRChat hasn’t been announced to the community yet, but Chief Creative Officer Ron Millar told me that they want to be sure that there’s a way for the most successful content creators to be compensated for their creations.

graham-gaylorCEO Graham Gaylor said that VRChat is open to exploring various decentralized solutions if it’s something that the community of users starts to ask for, but they’re currently focused on creating the best user experience that’s possible using the technologies that are out there. They’ve been focused on supporting Unity with their SDK which has allow existing VR creators to jump into creating worlds for VRChat.

AltSpaceVR actually put a lot of engineering effort to be able to integrate the open web into their platform. JanusVR has the most advanced implementations of seamlessly integrating with the open web, and Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity has always taken a hybrid approach of blending together a centralized and decentralized approach. An updated version of the networked A-Frame plug-in was just released, and it should provide a foundation for social VR experiences on the open web. These more decentralized solutions take more time, effort, and energy to design experiences for, and they’re using web technologies that still aren’t consistently at a level of quality that native applications can run. High Fidelity is probably the closest to achieving experience parity with their framework that’s built using JavaScript as the primary coding language, but it’s still not as a consistent or quality experience as native code — even though it’s rapidly improving all the time.

It’ll be interesting to see how VRChat continues to grow and expand, and they have a publicly-listed set of feature requests listed on their VRChat canny that provides a sense of their roadmap and popular feature requests. After WebXR 1.0 launches later this year, then I expect to see some of the more decentralized open web approaches to start to rapidly improve, but I expect that it is still going to take a number of years before these open web experiences will be able to catch up to the quality of the social VR experience that is currently provided by VRChat.

But Rosedale believes in the power of Metcalf’s Law, which says that the value of a network increases with the square of the nodes that are included in this network. This means that as more people start creating experiences for the open web, then the network effects start to make the value of the open web exponentially more valuable. Rosedale expects to see the evolution of the metaverse mirror what happened when people started to use the open web over the more curated and polished, centralized walled gardens of AOL, Compuserve, and CD-ROMS.

The recent privacy backlash against centralized companies like Facebook is an indication that the general public is starting to realize the dangers of a centralized entity growing to the scale of billions of users, and the antidote is decentralized architectures that protect user privacy. Chris Dixon’s essay “Why Decentralization Matters” documents how most of the VC funding and smartest entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are starting to build decentralized systems based on the blockchain, and so there’s a larger trend in the tech industry that’s starting to focus more on building a more viable decentralized economy that’s not as susceptible to a handful of centralized players like Facebook and Google from completely dominating the online ad marketplace thanks to their business models of surveillance capitalism.

Another recent announcement at GDC was High Fidelity & JanusVR announced the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance that emphasizes portable identities, registering assets, and acceptance of virtual currencies. It’s these types of decentralized architectures that are more forward-looking, and are building for the future, but VRChat’s Gaylor says that it has taken these companies a lot longer to build a user experience that’s been as compelling as what VRChat has been able to create. VRChat has opted for pushing the boundary as to what is even possible that inspires the decentralized solutions to have a design goal.

So in conclusion, I think that VRChat is still the closest VR experience that exists today that starts to realize the vision of the OASIS depicted in the Ready Player One movie, but I suspect that by 2045 that the open web built on top of the WebXR open standards are going to realize the full vision of the open metaverse and the educational potential of the OASIS that’s depicted within Ernest Cline’s novel. Both are important parts of creating the social VR metaverse that we all want to see in the future, and hopefully the dystopian sci-fi visions of the future depicted in Ready Player One can help us recognize the downfalls of centralized power, and inspire us to build an open and sustainable metaverse on a decentralized architecture that we all deserve.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So yesterday, on March 29th, 2018, Ready Player One, the movie, was released, and is an adaptation of Ernest Cline's novel of Ready Player One, which was released in 2011. So back in 2011, this was really before the Oculus Kickstarter, and it was like this piece of sci-fi that was really inspiring to a lot of the gamers as to what was possible to do with gaming and virtual reality. And I think Ernest Cline wrote this novel about what it would look like to be able to go into the future and 2045 and imagine what it would look like to have people play this massive online scavenger hunt, searching for these different keys and Easter eggs. within this massive virtual world that was created by this billionaire named James Holiday. So the virtual reality technology has actually progressed a huge amount over the last seven years when Ready Player One first came out. I mean, there's now consumer available virtual reality. virtual reality headsets, wireless and mobile headsets. We have haptic vests. We have haptic gloves from haptics. And so I think that the progression of where the technology was at when he first wrote it versus where it's at now, I think it's actually like the technology that's depicted in the movie is actually closer to today's technology than it is going to be what the technology is going to look like in 2045 and the future of spatial computing and augmented reality and virtual reality. First of all, I don't think that a lot of people are going to be walking around fully occluded in virtual reality headsets. I imagine that most people, if you're walking around in public, are going to be in augmented reality. But it could be that virtual reality is something that's done within the privacy of your own home. I think there's still a lot of social taboos in terms of being in public and having your eyes occluded. But who knows what things are going to look like in 2045? I think overall, in the movie, there's this dystopic context under which, you know, there's still a lot of centralized choke points. And, you know, I think as we move forward into the future, we're going to actually have a lot of decentralized networks as well, whether it's through cryptocurrency and blockchain, but also the open web and WebXR, which at this point hasn't really even fully launched yet, but I think is actually going to be a huge part of what's going to make the open web and both WebAR, WebVR, and under this umbrella of WebXR. But taking a step back and looking at where things are at today, in order to actually create a viable social VR experience, you've had to do something that is using either Unity or Unreal Engine and to have it running natively on your computer. And VRChat has been working at this since like 2014, releasing consistently, iterating, and building the tools that you need in order to generate this metaverse type of experience. Of all the different social VR experiences that are out there, VRChat's likely the closest that we have right now to having the experience that you see depicted in Ready Player One, which is this experience of going into all these different virtual worlds that are created by people and being able to embody all these different avatars and to really have this full expression of your embodiment. And it's built for high-level virtual reality. And so you can have your hands within the experience, and it just has this high fidelity of being able to express yourself within virtual reality. So I had a chance to talk to a couple of the employees of VRChat. I've done a number of different interviews with them over the years. In fact, going back to the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference 2014, I had my interview with Jesse Jodry, where he was talking about VRChat in the very early days of VRChat. they've been continuing to release the tools and SDKs that have been powering their users to be able to both create worlds and as well as the avatars and their expressions. And so this past year, they actually went viral. They just like really exploded. And there's a couple of things that happened there, both from the Twitch streamers and YouTubers, and just discovering that these worlds that have been created were just so vibrant that it was actually a lot of interesting content to have people hang out with their friends and do these different adventures and experiences. live-action roleplay and just play some games with each other and just hang out and that has been proven to be some compelling content to be able to watch both in these videos that are being produced but also in these live streams as well. So I had a chance to talk to the co-founder and CEO Graham Gaylor as well as the chief content officer Ron Miller about VRChat and their recent resurgence and where they say they're going here in the future. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Ron and Graham happened on Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:05:00.011] Graham Gaylor: My name is Graham Gaylor, and I'm one of the co-founders and CEO of VRChat.

[00:05:04.653] Ron Millar: Hi, I'm Ron Miller. I'm the Chief Creative Officer for VRChat.

[00:05:08.513] Kent Bye: Great. So yeah, I know at the very first VR conference that I went to, the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference on May 19th to 20th, 2014, VRChat was there. You've been in the VR community for a long, long time. And within this past year, something happened where it just sort of crossed the chasm in some sort of way. What's the story as to what happened with VRChat into it sort of blowing up and going viral in some ways?

[00:05:37.757] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so we've been riding the VR wave since almost the beginning. Right now, I think the VR market has grown a little bit slower than any of us really had hoped and wanted. But that's okay, right? We've been doing well. We've had this very, very tight-knit and passionate community that's helped us really get to where we are today. But really, the interesting thing that happened, probably starting in September, October of 2017, were two things. One, streamers, both on YouTube and Twitch, started realizing, hey, VHF has this amazing community. Hey, there's all this great content. and our audience loves it. So I think, I forget, who was the original YouTube, was it Nags?

[00:06:20.273] Ron Millar: Yeah, Nags was one of them. The other things that happened with Deadmau5 and Justin Roiland, they both met in VRChat and that was on YouTube. We've had other streamers and stuff too, Pokegloves, Whoops, other people. There's Jameski as well. Yeah, yeah, Jameski. So Team 5 basically, like the whole group just really kind of came in force around December and started doing a lot of streaming. That was part of it. Also, we started doing a lot of memes, as you probably know, and that all sort of came together at once, right? We put in a bunch of features, people started streaming, we hit that inflection point where everyone started seeing it, playing it, things started happening, stuff getting broadcast everywhere, and then that engine kind of spun up a lot faster than we expected to. Right at Christmas, when we were all trying to take a break, it was taken off.

[00:07:02.872] Kent Bye: Well, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007 when Justin.tv launched, and I remember watching Justin Khan do the live streaming where he was walking around streaming his life like 24-7. And then that eventually turned into Twitch, which got bought by Amazon, and now there's a little bit of this return to in real life streaming, or IRL streaming, where people are going out and filming themselves interacting with people, but in some sense, with VRChat, it's sort of like this blending of the genres of the IRL streaming, but it's in an environment where it's virtual, so there's a little bit of, like, a little bit more leeway as to people being able to do things to each other that, if they were to do that in public, they could get arrested or might be a regal, so.

[00:07:48.394] Ron Millar: You also couldn't have like a 600 foot dinosaur breathing fire or you know a bunch of cats like portal in with musical instruments and run around like you don't get that in real life and I think that's the amazing thing about VRChat. I've called it galactic TV before where it's like you know you change the channel get something different and I think that's that's a very design fertile environment not just for creators that want to be more curated like Endgame or Gunter's Universe doing talk shows and things like that but also for people that want to go randomly hunting. One of our guys, Double Goose, one of our users coined the term diamond hunting, which is like going out into the rough, the public rough, and finding people that they want to, you know, hang out with or stream or film. And a lot of our streamers really enjoy that too, going out into those sort of public areas and finding the random encounters as well as their more curated encounters.

[00:08:32.720] Kent Bye: Yeah, I saw that there was a couple of different sort of genres of people. Some people were doing more trollish behavior, trying to get a reaction or trying to capture candid moments. And then there's other people that were maybe doing cosplay or storytelling or LARPing, live-action roleplay or social games. it seems to be like a number of these different genres or things that people were doing that were having audiences on Twitch as well as on YouTube of the recorded versions. And so you had this phenomena at some point, I know that VRChat was within like the top 10 games being streamed on Twitch, which of all the games that are out there, to me that's pretty amazing that a VR game, that's a social VR game, that's not necessarily a game, it's more of a social interaction space that was able to have the people be able to generate enough of that content amongst themselves to be able to create enough interest to have their streaming audiences watch a reflection of their personality play out in these virtual worlds. So yeah, I'm just curious if you if you've noticed any of the other genres of things that people were doing that seemed to be generating enough interest that you would be able to kind of stream it either live on Twitch or on YouTube.

[00:09:45.944] Graham Gaylor: I think it's interesting because really what a lot of these, you know, streams are people hanging out with their friends, having a good time, which is similar to what you do in real life. But because we have all of these avatars and then content that are all user generated, there's just so many fun things to do that makes for great watching. When I guess even now, right, we now keep, you know, VR chat on Twitch on the TV in the background. It's at all times because it's just an entertaining thing to have on. It's great to have this window into kind of what's going on in the universe.

[00:10:13.892] Ron Millar: I stopped watching Netflix. I literally put Twitch on my TV or whatever Twitch app on my Apple TV and I sit on my couch and watch Twitch when I'm not like playing. The other interesting thing is we have Inception going on right now. So we actually have started putting Twitch streams and Twitch chat inside VRChat and making lobbies for them. So one of the things that creators have asked for, streamers have asked for is kind of like a clubhouse they can go to because they can't always have everyone drag around with them. They become famous people inside this virtual environment, and so they get mobbed. So what they want to do now is stick to their crowd, go around, maybe grab a few people here and there, take them on a journey, but then tell people, hey, look, go to this area, watch our stream from inside VRChat, and then we'll come back and maybe visit you in that area. So you can get to meet famous people, basically, meet famous streamers.

[00:10:55.753] Kent Bye: Yeah, because you have a lot of ways of doing invites, invite plus, different types of ways to have people not just be interacting with the general public, because if you're streaming to a big enough audience, there's certain things that you don't want to be streamed out with just interacting with the general public, people who are wanting to do more trollish behaviors. You have this sort of friend network that I think the barrier to entry to be able to have your friends come in and have your friends discover you as you're coming in. I think that in terms of the VR chat, it's probably the most advanced when it comes to being able to pull your friends in, be able to drop a portal, go into another world, make it private. In terms of architecting that, you know, it seems like this has evolved over many years. And so I'm just curious as like where it's at now and where you see it going in terms of the being able to manage this process by which you're able to kind of pull in your friends and hang out with them in these virtual worlds.

[00:11:45.375] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so you're exactly right. It has evolved and it's very much been based on how the community has used the technology. I mean, very early on it was just public and then I guess there's public and passwords. And then I guess we moved over to public and private. And then there was a need, hey, we need to invite my friends. But hey, we want my friends that are in the room to invite their friends. So we now have this five or six different types of instances. And that'll continue to grow. And we'll figure out better ways of managing that. But it's exactly based on how it's been used, we've built the technology around it.

[00:12:16.783] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I guess moderation is probably one of the biggest challenges I could imagine of creating a space that is people are abiding by the terms of service and I think that there's a certain extent where you can hire people to do that but then I think there's at some point you have to like the challenge is how do you create a culture so it's self-policing? And how do you distribute that? Because there's a lot of centralized points at VRChat right now. You're hosting everything. But yet, in order to really have this evolve into the metaverse, it's like, what is the governance model by which you create a culture that is either self-policing, or is the burden of that moderation always going to sort of fall on the shoulders of the centralized host of this community that's evolving?

[00:12:59.275] Ron Millar: Something about moderation is, if you have to understand, let me step back for a second, VRChat's not complete, right? So we're like a small percentage complete and we have a lot of big plans to bring to bear basically and that's going to start with this next release. So the community is going to be able to curate their own worlds and there's a lot of mechanics to curation and trust systems and social equity and things like that. We have to be very careful we can't get things like review bombs like you can get on Steam. So we've got some systems, we're not really fully ready to talk about them yet, but it's sort of a, think of it as a trust system. Like if you build social equity with someone, if you start building worlds and you start building your network, you're going to be sort of protective of that network versus someone who just comes in and just runs around and starts misbehaving and going crazy. They're slowly but surely going to, I wouldn't say get shunned, but they'll definitely be in their own area or their own aspect of VRChat. And I think people that want to have a safer or more friendly experience will be in there, be more protected essentially.

[00:13:52.994] Kent Bye: So Ready Player One is coming out March 29th. I can imagine that of all the VR experiences that are out there, VRChat's been able to create something that is the most similar to the Oasis or the Metaverse in terms of both the world creation, so user-generated worlds, but also identity creation for people to import their own avatars. And a big thing that I see the success of VRChat is empowering the users to be able to build their own worlds and to build their own identities. And a lot of the other social VR chats haven't prioritized that. And I think that the degree of the success of VR chat has been that it's been available for people to lower the barrier to be able to choose from a number of different avatars and embodiments. But it seems like with Ready Player One, there's going to be a lot of buzz. And I'm just curious if you have any plans or anything that you want to talk about in terms of to go along with this launch of Ready Player One.

[00:14:47.250] Ron Millar: Well, obviously, I think if you've played VRChat, it is like Ready Player One. I mean, it really is. It feels to me like we're making, it's almost art imitating life imitating art. We're making this thing that then, I mean, I feel like James Holliday sometimes. Our team, we joke about that. We feel like some of the creators of the Oasis. We are doing an egg hunt, so Gunter is putting together a really cool homage to Ready Player One, and that'll be announced, I think, if it's not announced already, it'll be announced really soon. So I think users of VRChat can jump in and kind of take part in that competition.

[00:15:19.692] Kent Bye: Yeah, I ran into a few of the world creators that were participating in that. So it sounds like you've been able to gather a lot of the big VR chat world builders to build many different worlds by which you could have this whole hunt, which is sort of the, I mean, Gunter S. Thompson. is named after the egg hunter or gunter of Ready Player One, so yeah, that makes sense. When it comes to that point of hosting everything, High Fidelity is taking almost the opposite approach where each individual has to host their own server and instance and everything, and because everything is hosted for VRChat, there's a certain amount, like, at what point do you need to start to have a lot of revenue to be able to really sustain this, and is there going to be mechanisms by which it could somehow seamlessly blend into something that's more decentralized, like the WebVR? I'm just curious to hear where things are at now and where things were going in the next five to 10 years. Do you foresee that VRChat's always going to be sort of a walled garden centralization, or if you see that there's going to be self-sovereign identity or decentralized cryptocurrency networks and web VR integrations moving forward here at some point?

[00:16:30.955] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so when we first started, our kind of main goal was to get VRChat to a place as quickly as possible where it was fun and easy to create your own content. on it just to work. A lot of these other social platforms have taken a step back and I think are probably thinking for the longer term and it has taken them longer to get to where they want to be. For us that's going to be a challenge moving forward because there are a lot of pros to having a more decentralized platform. But for us it was really, hey, let's get something that works well and is fun. And if we can make that work then and it sensorizes the direction we want to go and everybody wants us to do that, then that's something that we can look into in the future.

[00:17:10.543] Kent Bye: And how are you guys going to make money? What is the business model? Is there virtual currencies? Is there pay for access? What is it that you're going to actually start to bring in revenue for what you've created? Because it's amazing, but obviously it can't go on forever without it being self-sustaining in some way. So just curious what that model is for how you sustain this.

[00:17:32.949] Ron Millar: So we're not fully ready to announce yet the details of this, but I think We've already told the community a number of times that what we'd like is for our creators to be able to earn. So there's a lot of people out there making a lot of great content, better than we could ever make. And if you look at other models that are out there with other types of platforms like that, that's really one of the biggest inflection points is when you allow people to create their own content and then earn back from that content. So the thing that's interesting about VRChat is you have comedians going around, you have puppeteers, You know, someone playing a bartender in a bar, but then you also have world creators. You have people that are fantastic at making avatars. And there's probably even things we haven't thought of yet that people are going to do that are going to be able to earn. So again, we don't want to talk about the details yet, but that would be our goal is to try to empower those people. That empowers us, that empowers them. Everybody wins, I think, in that regard.

[00:18:20.389] Kent Bye: And is there anything else that's new when it comes to streaming? Because I know that streaming's been such a huge part. But if there's other streaming platforms, I guess part of the thing is that there's a little bit of the successful streamers, they could swoop in and cultivate a personality. But yet, if they're not in the process of actually generating any of the content that they're streaming, there's a little bit of swooping in and letting other people do the labor of actually generating this world. But yet, is there some sort of more model such that the people who are actually getting streams be able to get that back?

[00:18:51.277] Ron Millar: So I hang out a lot at night in VRChat and also with the streamers just for fun. So one of the things they've asked for, and we actually have the dev tools for, I actually made the original VRChat sizzle reel with some of these tools, is cameras. So being able to position 3D, you know, third-person cameras, like spawn them right off your character, they're only local to you, then be able to, you know, you can make movies at that point, you know, you can make red versus blue.

[00:19:13.143] Kent Bye: So like, you know making actual content making not just you're almost like live-streaming within VR chat But like look like a selfie stick or something.

[00:19:20.871] Ron Millar: That's great. But yes with a selfie stick But the thing that's great about those tools is you could live stream or what they also sometimes do is a live stream But then they go back and cut these up and make you know YouTube videos after the live stream using some of that content and then and then also in their quieter times Sometimes they go off and they're not streaming and they want to actually make funny little skits to either kick off the YouTube videos and we've seen evidence of this. If you look at some of the beginnings of Endgame from even like last year, they had some funny skits in the Great Pug where someone put an Owlboy face mask on and was pretending to be Owlboy. You can see that VRChat is fertile for creativity, right? It's virtual avatars and characters and cosplay and comedic situations. So I think the next thing is giving them those sorts of tools. One other tool that streamers have been asking for is incognito type stuff because, again, like a virtual personality, you know, if a famous person walked into the room right now, everyone would mob them. So they've been asking for, you know, we sit down, we actually have firesides with the streamers and we talk to them. We bring them all in in kind of a huddle and sort of take notes. And that's the big thing about VRChat I really love. We are able to meet our creators and meet our community and get good feedback. We actually have a thing called the Canny, VRChat Canny. You can Google that. That's like a little mini Reddit for feedback. And also on Discord, we have specific Discord servers that connect to different aspects of our community. So again, streamers give us feedback on all the things we want. So we've got a road map of of tools and utilities and things that will help make them better streamers and give them, you know, more access to be more creative in VRChat.

[00:20:48.340] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I don't know if you guys have had many immersive theater experiences where there's, like, a physical location and then there's actors who are then doing a little bit of live-action roleplay. You go in and you have a narrative and storytelling experience. And so, I'm just curious how that is evolving in terms of, like, this blending of immersive theater principles into these spaces and stories that are developing such that there's some sort of narrative arc that's either built into the world or there's actual actors or avatars embodying these different characters within these worlds to kind of create this whole immersive theater story. And if you've started to see that yet within VRChat.

[00:21:25.018] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so I think the most common thing we're seeing right now is this kind of pickup game of roleplay. Like, I'd walk into The Great Bug and someone would be behind the bar, like, you know, playing bartender, and I'd walk up and, you know, just hang out and start, you know, having a conversation, you know, pretend to drink and, you know, have all these, you know, fun conversations and other people come up and join. And I think that happens throughout the entire, you know, VRChat universe. And I think moving forward, we will start to see more kind of planned experiences, maybe with real actors or other members of the community, actually putting on shows and inviting people to come to those. I'm sure that's already happening now, and I just can't, you know, think of them off the top of my head. But absolutely, I think it's a great medium for that. Very easy to switch in and out of different characters. There's a lot of entertainment to be had that way.

[00:22:08.484] Kent Bye: So I'm curious to hear, like, I understand that VRChat's like a distributed company. And so in some sense, you are likely eating your own dog food of being able to actually use VRChat to be able to have social VR. So just curious to hear a little bit about what it's like to live in the future of a distributed company where you're actually working within virtual environments, having the social interactions as a team, and what that's been like to be able to have this distributed cohesion amongst people using the tools of virtual reality and having this sense of telepresence as a team and doing more group discussions that may not be easy to do within the context of a whiteboard or in the context of a 2D screen or a Skype with many, many different windows.

[00:22:52.178] Ron Millar: So if you take a step back, it's actually recruiting too. So I was playing VRChat, and now I'm working there. That was two years ago. So I actually met Graham in real life, and then I met Jesse, and Jesse scanned form. Graham, we're in San Francisco at an office, and Jesse was standing there by himself. And that's how we've actually met quite a few of our team members. So we have veteran game developers and people that have had some experience doing other things, but also about half of our team comes from the community. So we've met people from around the world. So that's enabled our recruiting and our team building to grab people that are passionate about the actual product and understand it. Then the second part of it is we all work from home. We all work virtually. People think that's, we're living the dream, right? I step into a meeting by just putting on my headset. And it's really awesome to sit around with 20 people and actually have an orderly meeting like you would in real space, except Graham's a giant penguin and I'm an alien and there's a cow standing there and a robot. It's pretty funny, like you sort of get used to it now. One of our guys actually built us a bunker that we all hang out in, like this VRChat kind of bunker, and we have this cool system, this queue. where we can push a button and see all the users online, or we can push a button and we can like sort of line up our two minute, we get two minutes each to talk. So when we do like round robin or like our team stand-ups, people like me that are very blabby, that's really good, gives other people a chance to talk. Yeah, it's awesome. I love it.

[00:24:07.620] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've been wanting to have those moderation tools to be able to manage like a meeting where there's an AI that's doing the moderation or something that's like automated within the VR to be able to, you know, create more equitable balance.

[00:24:17.926] Ron Millar: OK, well, we could probably easily put that tool into an interview room for you and let you use it.

[00:24:22.168] Kent Bye: Well, I'm really interested in group dynamics. And how can you start to have a facilitated discussion with people having groups of four people talking at the same time? And so I think a lot of people who have been using VR have been thinking about it in terms of what would you be able to do at a meet-up in real life where there's two people talking and doing a broadcast. But I think the real affordance of VR is to be able to have many-to-many conversations with people so that you get a group of people together. And there's all these social anxieties for that. sort of algorithmically put together people in groups and clusters and have small group discussions and kind of cycle people around such that you're able to have a specific focus or intention or questions that everybody's talking about and then you get the sense of everybody sort of talking to everybody and I think it's it's called the World Cafe process but there's many different things that I imagine that you could do with that type of moderation built into the technology such that you could even start to experiment.

[00:25:09.928] Ron Millar: We also have something called voice prioritization. So it's not fully mature yet. But if I point at you and talk to you, I actually hear you. And it dims down the volume of conversations over here to my left or to my right. So we have some stuff going on there that makes things interesting. It's actually in VRChat. Most people don't realize it.

[00:25:26.012] Kent Bye: Wow, interesting. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality? And what am I able to enable?

[00:25:35.775] Graham Gaylor: That's a big question. I mean, I think all of us have gotten into VR one way or another through a lot of the media, Ready Player One, Snow Crash. So I think at the end of the day, we're all excited for the all-in-one, put on my headset, launch into the metaverse, find my friends easily, move between applications seamlessly with my consistent identity, and spend a lot of time there.

[00:25:59.352] Ron Millar: The ultimate vision of VRChat. Or ultimate digital VR, yeah. Oh, for VR. Well, living and working and playing in virtual reality. I mean, I sort of live it a little bit right now. My brother lives in Seattle, I live in the Bay Area, and it's awesome. Almost every night, I've gotten to spend a lot of time with him, not just goofing off, but we've ended up peeling off to the pug and talking about work. He runs a game company, you know, life, instead of being on the phone or just texting. It's been pretty awesome. But the ultimate dream for me is, yeah, to be able to go in there, earn, live, play, get medical advice, all the stuff that you would expect you'd want to do, adventure, all those kind of things. I mean, people say build a matrix on the metaverse. I'm not sure that's exactly correct. I feel like it's building an addition to your real life. It's being able to teleport yourself, basically, to where you want to go, but then also come back to the real world and do things you want to do in the real world.

[00:26:48.180] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast.

[00:26:52.581] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, thank you. Thank you.

[00:26:54.894] Kent Bye: So that was Graham Gaylor, the co-founder and CEO of VRChat, as well as the chief creative officer, Ron Miller. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I think the key differentiating factor to VRChat across all the other different social VR platforms has been that they've really enabled people to both upload their own entire worlds, but also to give them the full expression of their identity. Pretty much every other social VR experience out there has been very constraining in terms of like creating a certain look and feel of the avatar, but also not making it easy to be able to embody just about anything that you want. It's created this opportunity for people to go in and start to really embody and connect to these different parts of culture. And I think people have these connections to these different characters and they want to start to embody those characters to be able to tap into dimensions of their own personality. So you start to see a lot of these things like cosplay and live action role play, where people are going in and being able to embody all these different characters and start to, you know, create their own fan fiction. Either live action role play, this improv or these social games where they're able to just, you know, have fun with each other. And they're just like essentially hanging out. And I think that's the vision that was depicted both in the Ready Player One is this is a world where you can go in there and start to hang out with your friends and connect to each other and have all these various different adventures. It's interesting to hear a lot of the tools that have actually been created before the streamers specifically. So being able to have a camera to be able to not only just like record your live streams and interactions so that you don't have to have a first person perspective. I think first person perspective within a Twitch stream can be a little disorienting for people. And so if you have something that is a third person camera that you're able to move around, it tends to have a little bit better establishing shot and. you can actually have a better depiction of your embodiment within these experiences as well if it's not coming from that first person perspective. So I really think that the third person perspectives work a lot better for live streams. And so I'd be curious to see how they continue to evolve these tools for streamers as they not only allow them to have like these selfie stick cameras, but also allow them to record themselves and create all these type of machinima experiences that are then kind of edited and put on video sites like YouTube. So at this point, VeerChat hasn't really announced any of their business models of how they're going to actually have revenue and be sustainable into this venture. Because they have been able to host all of these servers, every time that they blow up in popularity, they're basically eating through all of their investment funds that they have, because there's actually no way for people to be able to contribute or to help pay for those fees. In order for something like VRChat to really be sustainable in the long run, they really have to kind of figure out what that business model is and what are people willing to pay for. It's clear that people who are engaged within VRChat are having all these different experiences, and so are they going to move to something like a subscription model so that if you want to have these types of experiences, then you have to pay for them? Or in a lot of different social VR experiences, like either High Fidelity or Sansar, they have one of two combinations of either sales tax or property tax. So in high fidelity, they probably have the most sophisticated currency and economy that's been established so far, where they actually have like this cryptocurrency of high fidelity coin. They have a marketplace. And that's a mechanism by which that people who are creating these kind of a hybrid of decentralized and centralized systems where you can host your own within high fidelity, but you still have this economy that's essentially controlled by the high fidelity incorporated. And so what that means is that any transactions you have, there may be some sort of sales tax. Property tax, you know, in the case of high fidelity, if you're hosting it on your own, you have to basically pay for all those fees and everything. And so I think something like Sansar or Second Life, you would pay to be able to rent those different worlds that you have there. Now, and I think that in the case of VRChat, if they start to go to the approach like if, hey, if you want to host a world, you have to pay a certain amount, and then maybe they charge fees for people who are coming in and experiencing those worlds. That's in some ways what the model of Second Life has had with these virtual worlds where you have that land tax, but then you have different fees that you're paying as you're having these different experiences. So I think it'll be interesting to see how that all plays out. And in terms of looking at some of the other social VR experiences, I don't think there's any other social VR that's come close to be able to generate this user-generated inspiration to be able to create all these different worlds. there's only so much that any one entity can do. And I think that, you know, something like AltspaceVR has been very focused on, you know, just creating something that's accessible to people across mobile platforms. They really designed it for mobile first. And so it's really kind of like low resolution, low fidelity, but also really kind of cartoony avatars, which to me personally, don't really feel like an accurate representation of my identity. And so I just haven't spent as much time in AltspaceVR. There's Anyland, which takes a completely different approach, which is they've created a system by which you can create all of the world-building tools from within virtual reality. And so you can only build things in Anyland that have been built in Anyland. And so you have this kind of opposite approach from what a lot of other people have been doing. VRChat has a Unity SDK, so anybody that goes into Unity and wants to do a world, then they can integrate with their SDK and then upload it and be able to have it as, you know, this experience. But the WaveVR, they actually had like a whole distracted globe. In terms of the social VR, I think that, you know, the WaveVR tends to be a little bit more inner or, you know, your own personal experience. I think locomotion is actually a huge factor when it comes to social VR. The WaveVR, they have the teleport mechanic. And I think as you are able to teleport around, it's this trade-off between comfort and being able to locomote versus the social cohesion that you have by only being able to move around. By default, when you go into VRChat, you actually are doing this third-person teleportation so that there's a continuity between how you're moving through space and that's not broken by other people who are watching you. You're not flipping around. And so it's a more comfortable VR locomotion mechanic. And if you're comfortable with enough, then you can turn that off and you can start to have this first-person locomotion technique. Another, I think, dark horse in the social VR space is big screen VR, which is much more focused into this vision of coming into your own personal space and having these private conversations. Most of the stuff that's happening in big screen VR is in these private peer-to-peer interactions. Because big screen has been architected with privacy in mind, I think they likely have some of the highest engagement of being able to have people play games together, but also share movies and do all sorts of things within virtual reality spaces. But you have this high degree of telepresence and there's this very intimate aspect of being able to share whatever's on your desktop and whatever your games are and be able to have these interactions within big screen VR. And Rec Room is really focused on high agency. And so it's like focusing on playing games in this active presence and really participating with other people in these social VR spaces. And I think that, you know, of all the different social VR experiences, one of the things that VRChat has really gotten dialed in is that they've been able to start to build up this friend network, and it's very similar to what's depicted in the Ready Player One movie, which is as you go into these virtual worlds, you're able to check in where all your friends are, and you'll be able to actually go and meet up with them. And I think that it's that vision of that social graph that allows you to go into these virtual spaces and very quickly find your friends, see what they're doing, and start to have these different interactions with them. And it's because of that that they've had to come up with this very sophisticated method by which you have these different instances where you have these social VR spaces. At this point, it's just kind of like a hard limit where you can't have more than, I think, like 45 people within a social VR space. I think technically you can go up to about 60 people, but that's about the limit by which you can have an instance that you don't have to start to do these funny things of breaking apart different dimensions of the experience onto different servers. for a single server that's kind of what you can do and so because of that then you have all these different instances that have to be created and as you're creating these instances if they're open to the public then they can fill up very quickly and so they've just created a lot of different ways by which you can invite your friends into that instance or you can allow your friends to invite their friends or you can have a private instance or if you're the creator of that world then you have this other private instance of that So there's all these different layers of worlds that are existing. And a lot of what's happening in VRChat, I think is already happening in those different worlds. In part, just because I think that people just want to have these safe spaces with each other, with their friends, but also you can get these, you know, crazy kind of walking down the public and having these interactions with people who are just on the internet trying to cause trouble. And so they've able to create these safe spaces for people to have these social interactions without dealing with this aspect of, you know, people kind of being disruptive in different ways. And, uh, some of the other social VR, uh, experiences that I just want to point out is there's Janice VR. I think they're trying to really build for like the open web and I think doing some of the most sophisticated stuff for the open metaverse. So there's a frame and they have networked a frame in order to do social VR experiences as well. And I think that in the long run, there is going to be this tension and battle between the centralization and decentralization. And I think there's going to be a balance between these two, that there's not going to be one or the other that wins out, but there's always going to be this. The centralization is always going to move faster and be able to have a better user experience. But I think in the long run, in order for things to be really super sustainable, I think the decentralization has to come in as well. And so you have this kind of balance between the decentralization of the power and the centralization of that power. And I think in Ready Player One, that's really playing out in terms of, you know, seeing the downfalls of having everything just completely centralized and you know the thing that's not really shown in that movie is the counterpart of the decentralized open metaverse that i think is also going to be a part of the ecosystem it's already there and things like janice vr and web vr web xr and a frame and these different frameworks in order to create these open web platforms and so right now they're they're really far behind between the fidelity of the experience but that in the long run i expect to see the network effects of Metcalfe's law, which is that the more of the nodes that are connected to this, the more valuable these types of open web metaverse are going to become. And there's other social VR experiences like Facebook Spaces and Oculus Home and on Steam VR and Spaces and V Time. I think a lot of these other ones, again, there's this other balance between centralization and decentralization. But in terms of the ones that I think are seeing the most traction, it's definitely VR Chat and Rec Room, Altspace VR, High Fidelity, Sansar, The Way VR, as well as Big Screen VR. And finally, with the Ready Player One coming out this weekend, there's Gunter S. Thompson. Gunter is actually a pseudonym where he actually named himself after one of the egg hunters. He's somebody who's been doing a lot of talk shows within VRChat over the last number of years. And he's actually organized a lot of the world builders to create this, you know, kind of egg hunting type of event, as well as narrative and story that's going to be showing this weekend. I think on April 1st, that's Easter on the evening at 10pm Eastern or 7pm Pacific, he's going to be doing some live streams with NOGs 21. I think what's mentioned in this podcast as being one of the early YouTube streamers and now twitch streamer who has been you know really using VR chat and cultivating a strong community of people who are doing these types of Live-action role plays and these different improv skits and just generally hanging out in different ways And so they're gonna be having a whole event. That is still somewhat mysterious I think I'm not even sure what's gonna happen, but I'm gonna be there streaming on my twitch channel as well you can see that on twitch.tv slash can't buy I'm gonna be exploring around and participating in this event that he's been able to generate a lot of interest in. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. So either tune in live this weekend or participate in any way that you can by actually going into VRChat or just watch the live streams and tune in and see all the different fun that is going on there. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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