VRChat is one of the most popular social VR applications out there, and Chief Creator Officer Ron Millar recently told me that they had over 18,000 concurrent users this past weekend. I had a chance to catch up with the co-founders Jesse Joudrey & Graham Gaylor at Oculus Connect 6 back in September 2019, soon after they had announced a Series C fundraising round of $10 million.
VRChat’s SDK integrates with Unity, and so they’re leveraging the power of the game engine to enable the creativity of users to generate worlds and avatars. At the time of this interview, they had hundreds of thousands of worlds and over 5 million avatars. They talk about how they manage moderation through community labs moderation as well as a trust system that helps them identify potentially problematic creators. At the time of this recording, they were still working on the visual scripting language of Udon, which was just released on April 1, 2020. They’re hoping that Udon will make it easier to make interactive content for their user base. On March 17th, 2020, they released a sheltered at home guide for how VRChat could be used to stay connected in the midst of a global pandemic.
I’ve consistently had check-ins with the leaders and employees of VRChat over the past 6 years starting back in 2014 in episode #31, #172 in 2015, #318 in 2016, #566 in 2017, and #636 in 2018. This is my 2019 check-in, and there’s already a lot that has been rapidly changing as VRChat moves quickly and has been seeing a lot of interest in using virtual spaces to gather and connect with each other. I’m looking forward to checking in again, and I may be updating this post if I receive some more usage statistics and information from the VRChat team.
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[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 today is Monday, April 13th, 2020, and we've been in the midst of this global pandemic. I've been tracking what's happening in the wide world, but also what's happening in virtual reality. A lot of my focus recently has been looking at virtual conferences, attending different virtual conferences. There was an international education summit that I was a speaker at. HTC had their ecosystem conference in the Engage platform. IEEE VR moved the entire academic conference from Atlanta, Georgia into online and virtual reality, and so I attended that. was exploring a lot of what is happening in the virtual space when it comes to conferences and teleconferencing. And one of the social apps that I found myself using with my wife to go out on different adventures has been VRChat. VRChat has been around since the early, early days of 2014 of virtual reality. I talked to Jesse Jodry back in 2014 at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference and have had a number of different check-ins with both Jesse Jodry and Graham Gayler over the last six years. And they've been growing and seeing a huge uptick of people participating in VRChat. As we're in the midst of a global pandemic and quarantine, a lot of folks want to be able to actually have that sense of social interaction. And I think that VRChat actually does a really great job of allowing you to go on different adventures, to express your identity in different ways, but also just to have these different embodied social interactions. So this interview with Jesse and Graham actually happened back at Oculus Connect 6. Obviously, with any of these conversations, there's so much that's been changing so quickly. especially with VRChat. I think in this interview we talk about how there was around 5,000 to 6,000 concurrent users and I talked to Ron Miller, Chief Creative Officer, and he said that there was around 18,000 concurrent users over the weekend. So I hope to at some point catch up with VRChat and get a little bit of an update. But I wanted to just dip into some of my archive and just because I've personally been just kind of enjoying going into VRChat and exploring around and feel like you're going out and having new adventures. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Oasis in VR podcast. So this interview with Jesse and Graham happened on Thursday, September 26, 2019, at the Oculus Connect 6 conference in San Jose, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:38.296] Jesse Joudrey: Hi, I'm Jesse Jodry. I'm the CTO and one of the co-founders of VRChat with Graham.
[00:02:45.319] Graham Gaylor: I'm Graham Gaylor. I'm the other co-founder and CEO of VRChat.
[00:02:49.876] Kent Bye: So I'm wondering if you could each give me a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.
[00:02:56.118] Graham Gaylor: Sure. So I actually started VRChat in 2014 as a side project during university. I just got my DK1 from the Kickstarter. I was like, hey, it's super cool to talk to everybody on Reddit about VR, but why aren't we talking about this inside of VR? So I built a very basic virtual reality chat room, hence the name VRChat. And it kind of took off from there. A community started forming around it, where I met Jesse.
[00:03:20.008] Jesse Joudrey: I had got my start in interactive entertainment in 99 at Electronic Arts and I worked there for five years. Then I ran another video game studio from 2004 to 2012 and I was dabbling in VR and kind of working on figuring out what was coming next when I encountered VRChat and then I said, You know, there is something totally magical here. I'd been working on the Avatar angle before that in, like, as an NPC capacity, rather than actually talking with real people. And then I saw what Graham's work in real people, and I said, this has to be something. And I've been working on it ever since.
[00:03:56.690] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think I remember doing a number of interviews with each of you over the years and remember talking about the SDK that you were creating and just to see how you were empowering the creators to not only create a world, but also to have their own avatar representation. And I feel like of all the VR, social VR experiences, I feel like still VRChat gives the most latitude for people to express their identity in the most complicated, nuanced ways. And so, yeah, I'm just curious to hear a little bit about how that has evolved and how you've seen that, because you've got the quest and the optimization and how to control what people can and cannot be and how you can just... I think another thing is being able to just jump into the world and be able to jump into different Avatar representations and how that was super seamless in a way that was not like any other of the different types of immersive experiences. So it comes like a little bit of a game to try to find Avatar in some ways. Yeah, I'm just curious how you've seen that or how you think about avatar representation and identity.
[00:04:55.682] Jesse Joudrey: You know, there's a lot of thought about how hard it must be to have custom avatars be whatever you want. But in another way, it's actually easier. We didn't have to do a lot of the kind of authoritative design that a lot of other people in the space have done to say what you must have. We worked with some very simple parameters. We worked with the Unity game engine, which is obviously one of the top two engines for creating professional content in the industry. So we know we can create great stuff. And we used it in a way that we set a couple parameters on kind of what you can do and then just kind of let the people go wild. And that's been our core vision since the very beginning of just like, we're not going to tell people what their virtual reality experience is going to be. We're going to let those people decide what they want their virtual experience to be and let them have it.
[00:05:52.237] Graham Gaylor: I mean, when Jesse came on and implemented the first iteration of the avatar system, we kind of stumbled into the magic of giving the community that flexibility. You know, I don't think that any of us ever imagined the level of creativity that they would bring or the things that they would add and build into these avatars and worlds eventually. So I think that a little bit of luck and a little bit of awesomeness, but mostly it's the creativity of the community. If you can empower them to do that, you get some really awesome stuff.
[00:06:20.670] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the most weird avatars I saw in VRChat was like a person made out of cats, like six cats just kind of like strung together. Is there any of the avatars that you've seen that really stick out or that you remember from other people, like what they look like?
[00:06:35.905] Jesse Joudrey: Olivier came in the giant robot at that time. Let's call it, say, 10 stories tall. And there's the Catron, was the robot assembled from cats that you're referring to. There's actually been a few people who have iterated on that design in various ways. There's Jumbo Catron and Normal Catron. There's one of the avatars that's kind of circulating right now is a walking stick of butter. And Graham had a friend who was in there recently and decided to role play what it must be like to live as butter for a while. And, you know, you can't predict how this is going to go, as Graham said. You know, all you can do is hope people have an idea that they want to fulfill and let them do it.
[00:07:17.756] Graham Gaylor: I think that one of the things that we've seen over time is, you know, at the very beginning we had basic, you know, any 3D model you can bring into Unity, you can use it as your VRChat avatar. And, you know, as time goes on and people build more and more interesting things with their avatars, you start to see the expansion of what an avatar is and what it can do. So, you know, in the early days, again, you know, basic 3D model. Today, you have people putting on entire shows with just their avatar. You have people driving their animations and facial expressions and then playing music and doing performances and playing games all built into their avatars. So it's really interesting to see, you know, how these things evolve over time, just with a creative community.
[00:07:57.398] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's been the thing that's been so surprising and delightful whenever I go into VRChat and just see like somebody who has an avatar that has all these tripped out shaders and it feels like I'm like looking at a psychedelic experience that's walking around and yeah, I feel like that there's been able to have a little bit of Cosplay as well like I saw that at this anime convention there was like a VR chat like meetup with like over 100 people I don't know how many there was but there there seems to be a lot of crossover between Different people who like to dress up at conventions that people like to dress up and VR chat and have you found that in terms of that kind of cosplay type of Communities that they've found a home in niche to be able to year-round have those type of interactions and VR chat Yeah, I think
[00:08:41.488] Jesse Joudrey: Playing with identity, the concept of identity, is something that brings people to VRChat in particular. Roleplaying as Butter is obviously just the ridiculous side of that coin, but a lot of people have very different experiences in life. We all have different experiences in life, and some people find a virtual environment a place where they can experiment with identity they can't necessarily do in real life and I think that's especially in today's online world actually it seems funny to say that from an online virtual product but people's identities right now are stamped and recorded for generations to come on their social media and on the way we record everything we do and VRChat is kind of a place where you can go and play with that and you can dress up and you can be something else and you can disassociate from your real life for a little while and just let it go.
[00:09:34.517] Graham Gaylor: Do you think it's a natural phenomenon when you get into a virtual space and you put on this avatar You suddenly feel the urge to roleplay as an avatar. As Jesse said, I brought in one of my best friends into VRChat for the first time a few weeks ago. He decided on the stick of butter and immediately started roleplaying as stick of butter. He's never, like I've never seen him do anything like that before. And like, it's the same thing, right? You pick a funny avatar and you start to pretend to be that thing. It's like, I feel like it's a natural inclination that we again, like accidentally almost stumbled into. And obviously we've embraced now, but it's a really powerful thing in a virtual world.
[00:10:09.867] Kent Bye: Yeah, to me what I find interesting is this process of going into these different virtual worlds and different contexts or different identities and to see what's consistent within myself and what changes and to find that there's maybe aspects of myself that I haven't discovered that's there. And so I feel like there's like this contemplative process by going in and experimenting with all these different contexts and identities that you eventually perhaps discover new things about yourself or aspects about What's consistent about your character amongst all those? I don't know if you've found that as well.
[00:10:43.126] Jesse Joudrey: Yeah, I think, I mean, back to the identity experimentation thing, there's a lot of us get a good opportunity to do that in high school. And we want to try to play super cool, and we want to try being an asshole, and we want to try making inappropriate jokes, and we do a bunch of those things. But a lot of us either didn't have that opportunity in high school or continue to develop and want to have that experimentation to figure out what you really are. And a lot of people who do those things, they learn that when I do this inappropriate thing, I'm ostracized. And when I do this appropriate thing, I learn and grow as a person and I incorporate that into my identity. But that experimentation is an important part of that phase.
[00:11:29.534] Kent Bye: So one of the other things about VRChat is just the number of worlds that are there. I was just talking to Gunter, and he said there was thousands or tens of thousands of different worlds in VRChat. And for me, that's certainly the very early beginnings of a potential metaverse. But how do you manage that many worlds? Because there's a part of user-generated content, and then what's the process for vetting, and where that's at about how many worlds you have and how you manage that.
[00:11:56.685] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so I think we're in the realm of hundreds of thousands of worlds today. And certainly discovering and getting through all that content is difficult, as well as what is good content versus bad content. I think we've experimented and explored various ways of doing that, whether it's human moderation, going through all this content. And then very recently, we launched our product, what we call Community Labs, essentially a community-based solution that when you publish a world, it kind of goes into this community labs row, and based on how the community interacts with it, whether they give the thumbs up or the thumbs down, it'll publish. It'll go out into a public space. I think we're still in the early days of that problem, both in the moderation and discoverability of content in VRChat. And we'll continue to push forward on it. But it's an OK place today. Wow.
[00:12:42.300] Kent Bye: Hundreds of thousands. That's a lot.
[00:12:45.321] Jesse Joudrey: Yeah. Avatars is up around 5 million.
[00:12:49.122] Kent Bye: Wow. How many users do you have, or registered users,
[00:12:53.368] Jesse Joudrey: If you look at the Steam graphs today, you'll probably see maybe, that's a Thursday night, so maybe 5,000, 6,000 concurrent.
[00:13:01.659] Graham Gaylor: So I think if you look at the Steam graphs, it shows CCU, and so we range between around 5,000 and 10,000. whether it's a Wednesday evening to a Sunday. I think we posted some public numbers for the end of 2018. I think we were sitting around 6 million registered users. Don't call me on that. It's on Twitter somewhere. But we're still going strong.
[00:13:25.242] Kent Bye: Well, so you obviously have some sense of how many numbers there actually are. By citing the Steam numbers, are you kind of saying that those are good enough as a proxy? Because there's obviously, like, the Quest and Oculus Rift that I don't even know if that would show up in the Steam numbers. And so, like, what's the sort of calibration of those numbers?
[00:13:44.477] Graham Gaylor: So that is fair. I think that, again, public numbers you can find on Twitter somewhere. As of the end of 2018, we were seeing around 30% of our users in VR, 70% of those users in non-VR desktop. I think it's safe to say that most of those desktop users are coming in through Steam. So a majority of users are still, you know, the CCU are still Steam users, both VR and non-VR. So it's a pretty good proxy of the overall CCU in VRChat.
[00:14:11.834] Jesse Joudrey: Quest users have been, since the Quest launch, we have to revise the numbers, the public numbers we're putting forward. We're definitely seeing some growth in that market for sure, and it will be a significant portion of our VR users now, but we haven't really released any public numbers since that time.
[00:14:28.473] Kent Bye: Well, how do you do the optimization portion there? Because VRChat, you can push a really high-end gaming PC to the limits with how complex both some of the worlds can be, as well as the avatars. What's the process of doing responsive design, but by what device it is, and to know what level of complexity? Do they have to upload different versions for it to be available on the mobile? Or how do you manage the optimization process there?
[00:14:53.887] Jesse Joudrey: They do need to upload, users do need to upload different versions of the asset. It doesn't need to be different. If it's already performant on mobile, you can upload the same version for both platforms. And while it seems like a completely daunting task for us to optimize, we did spend a lot of time optimizing our client and our user interface and made a bunch of performance improvements to the core technology. But as far as the content goes, it's more of a assigning reasonable limits for each platform. So a Quest world can have a maximum of this size, you know, this much memory usage, this many polygons or meshes or materials or things like that. And if you hit those limits, you can publish that thing to both Quest and to PC. Or you could publish an up-res version to the PC, you could add more details, do more shader work, make it look more like a PC product than a mobile product, and allow people to access both those things. So our part there is actually in a lot of ways easier than other products' roles, and we just have to say, This content that was published two years ago and it barely performs on PC is just something we're not going to let you see on Quest. And if you live by these limits, we will.
[00:16:09.596] Graham Gaylor: And that's where we are today. I think the dream is similar to what YouTube does today, right? You upload your video once and it is available across all platforms. So that's something that we're actually looking into. It's not where we are yet, but that is the eventual goal.
[00:16:23.348] Kent Bye: Yeah, and just within the last week or so, we've had this VR market from the Japanese community of VRChat. And maybe you could give a bit more context as to how this came about, because it sounds like a completely user-generated phenomenon that's been happening for a number of years now.
[00:16:37.958] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so first shout out to everybody involved with the virtual market. This is the third year that the Japanese community has put it on, but it's incredible what they've been able to pull off. Essentially, for those not familiar, Virtual Market is a series of VRChat worlds that is essentially a giant convention with virtual booths that you can wander up to, open up a website and buy various 3D models, avatars, props, all sorts of things from creators. Last year, they touted 125,000 visitors to Virtual Market 2, and I'm sure the numbers 3 this year will be even higher. But they have sponsors, very big sponsors all throughout Japan, and I'm sure the numbers will show that and reflect that this year.
[00:17:21.226] Kent Bye: So of the hundreds of thousands of worlds in VRChat, how many do you estimate that you've seen over the years?
[00:17:27.752] Jesse Joudrey: Ooh, geez. couple thousand maybe and this is the challenge is that a lot of times a world will come out of the blue we'll see it'll grow in popularity or we'll find a link to it on Twitter it'll be a shame because there's something in that world that is totally incredible that we totally never anticipated but there's So many people doing so many things in VRChat that it's impossible for us to keep up to date on all the new stuff that's coming along. And don't get me started on avatars. There's absolutely no possible feasible way to even look at a tenth of what's coming through.
[00:18:06.343] Kent Bye: So how do you do the moderation then? Do you have people report things if it doesn't meet up with the guidelines then?
[00:18:11.901] Graham Gaylor: That's right. So essentially with world specifically, right, we have our community labs technology. So before a world goes public, it's vetted by the community in some form. And then if something happens to slip through, we have report functionalities, at which point we have human moderators who step in and will take down the content if necessary.
[00:18:29.394] Kent Bye: Do you have to have some sort of implicit social score on users to be able to mitigate their trust and be able to see if there's been a lot of harassment reports against somebody? Are you able to quantify that to be able to help in the filtering process as you're actually helping to moderate all the stuff that's happening in VRChat?
[00:18:46.967] Graham Gaylor: We do have some system, a trust rank we currently call it, that is a combination of all of those things. We implemented that to solve a moderation issue of people uploading content that was inappropriate, and we had no way to protect against that content in some situations. So essentially what we have here is based on the number of blocks, mutes, or whatever, we can say, hey, for a new user, maybe we won't show as many features on this user's avatar because of their level. But for the higher level people that we know are our most likely going to be good people, will show more things on their avatars.
[00:19:19.197] Kent Bye: What is the underlying structure of trying to come up with gates for people to go through to be able to help mediate some of that trust?
[00:19:26.536] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so we don't talk about the details of how those ranks are calculated. But the basic idea is that if you spend time in VRChat and are a good, don't harass other people, and basically play by the community guidelines, then you'll move up in those ranks. And those will unlock what people see on your person, but also unlock other things, such as, I think, I don't know at what rank you can start uploading content. But very early on, you move from new user to known user, you're able to upload content.
[00:19:57.120] Kent Bye: So there seems to be these communities that have been cultivated within VRChat around the world. And obviously, with 6 million users, it's hard to quantify all of the communities. But have there been center of gravities of big communities, like the Japanese community? How do you make sense of the major communities that you see within VRChat?
[00:20:18.953] Jesse Joudrey: Jeez, I don't know. There are so many communities in VRChat because, yeah, I don't really have a good answer for that one.
[00:20:28.964] Graham Gaylor: I do think one of the frustrations on our end, and this is a discoverability problem both for worlds and for communities and for avatars, is that we don't know a lot of what's going on. A world will pop up and we'll be like, how did we not know about this? A community will pop up. We met a couple of folks here that have whole communities in VRChat, whether they're YouTubers or content creators, and they have huge communities that they meet up in VRChat. They make TV shows using VRChat. They do all these amazing things that we just have no idea about. So I do think there are probably hundreds if not thousands of these types of things going on in VRChat today. Maybe one day we'll have a better way of understanding them and knowing about them, but as long as they're there and people are able to use the platform in ways that they would like, we're happy.
[00:21:14.668] Kent Bye: Well, there was a YouTuber, I think his name is Symore. He was kind of doing these little profiles and went viral to like 700,000 to 800,000 subscribers now. And so I'm just curious to hear what's been happening with people like that to sort of document some of the community that's happening there.
[00:21:32.017] Jesse Joudrey: Suramar really tapped into the human condition in a way that is very difficult to do in real life. It's hard to walk up to somebody in the real world and ask them very personal questions about their lives, but in virtual reality with a bit of obscurity over who you really are in the real world, you can open up to a stranger in a way that is very difficult. Most of us find very difficult anyway, and so his content in particular is heart-wrenching stories of people describing difficult situations dealing with death and mental illness and disease and isolation and You know, things that, I don't know, we don't necessarily hear those stories told in the first person before. And they come out of little cartoon characters on YouTube, and it's this juxtaposition of strange, friendly imagery with personal tales that are very compelling. Yeah, I love all of his work, for sure.
[00:22:37.378] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there's also the whole phenomenon of streamers, of people that were streaming different things in VRChat. I know that PewDiePie was doing VRChat for a while, and then there seemed to be these huge waves of awareness of people that felt like it was a good platform to do different things in streaming. And so how would you characterize the different genres of what people do? cosplay or like roleplay or like prank type of things or like what type of like genres do you see of streaming of what people are streaming on Twitch with VRChat?
[00:23:09.496] Jesse Joudrey: Yeah, there's role-playing streams where people will assume an identity of an avatar and I have a cast of you might call them recurring characters that they play their roles and you know even have like artificial storylines and things like that but I think some of the most compelling content is, it's content, it's hard, it's actually a hit or miss job, but it's like to be with people and see what happens. And sometimes you get, you hit a goldmine and like you, you're in a social situation which is just, somebody's being funny and somebody is doing slapstick humor and falls down or bangs their head on their desk or whatever and it turns into something that's entertaining in the way like a sitcom would except it's all live and all with real people and all wearing strange outfits.
[00:24:03.938] Graham Gaylor: We have lots of different types of streamers and YouTubers. I think one of the awesome bits of VRChat is because there's so much content being created There's always something new to do. I mean, a lot of it is the role playing because of just the sheer number of avatars and environments that there are out there. But as we see more interactive games coming out, as we see interesting experiences, as we see people dancing up on stage and doing amazing things there, we start to see lots and lots of different types of content. And I think one of our goals is to empower more of those types of things. So giving people better tools and more access to things that enable that type of creativity will lead to an increase in the types of content we see on streams of YouTube.
[00:24:47.361] Kent Bye: Yeah, and did you recently raise another round of funding? Did I say that? Maybe you could give a little more context as to that and what your plans with that next round is going to be.
[00:24:57.556] Graham Gaylor: Yeah, so we recently raised our Series C financing. I think the announcement, our main two investors there were HTC and Makers Fund, both of which are heavy hitters in the VR and gaming space. Our big goal for this financing is really to get VRChat to the next level. We have a large community, we have some really great core tech that's built, but we still have a long ways to go. with really building that foundation. We always joke around that we're not at VRChat version one yet. We're not exactly sure what all goes into it, but we feel that this financing will help us get there.
[00:25:34.127] Kent Bye: Well, one of the challenges, I think, in creating a virtual world that's really vibrant, look at something like Second Life. You have a whole virtual economy. And so what is the business model for VRChat in terms of either for how you as a company make money or how the economies within the virtual world itself are going to be able to potentially exchange value with each other?
[00:25:55.488] Graham Gaylor: So we're thinking about it a lot, and we've been thinking about it for a while, and for us it's important to get this right, explore the different options, experiment with things here and there. I think our long-term goal is to empower and enable our creators to be able to make a living in VRChat. Today, we see the virtual market. We see creators being able to make a living from selling avatars, from doing streams, from building all sorts of content. And any way that we can make that easier for our community and more accessible, I think, is right up the alley for the types of monetization. We'll explore other things as well. It's not an easy thing to do. We see a couple of players in this space that have done it in the past, so we can learn from what they've done well and what they haven't. But we'll see.
[00:26:40.897] Kent Bye: Well, one of the things that I'm talking to Chris Pruitt, who's the head of Oculus ecosystem, and I asked him, I was like, is it possible for an application on Oculus Quest to have a cryptocurrency? And he was essentially like, well, unless it's going through our payment processing system, then no. It sounds like that with Facebook and their platforms, they're taking a little bit of that app approach where anything that is having payment and money being exchanged. And I'm not sure if it's the same thing with Steam, if anything is going through Steam, if it has to go through their payment processing system. But as you are trying to do this cross-platform distribution of your app, then if you do have virtual economies, then do they have to kind of plug into whatever the distribution platforms are? Would you have to kind of be in alignment with those?
[00:27:25.742] Jesse Joudrey: Yeah, we love all the partners we work with for distributing VRChat, and if users on those platforms are going to be spending money, I'm sure we'd love to share those finances with our partners as appropriate.
[00:27:41.572] Kent Bye: OK, yeah, and because I saw that in the VR market, there was like these QR codes and having like a back channel to be able to have money and transactions that happen there. So that's something that you're just OK with for people if they want to find ways to connect to each other and exchange value, but you don't necessarily. I mean, because that's surprising to me that that's sort of unordinary with how things usually go is that companies usually try to lock all that down and take a cut. So I'm glad to see that innovation, but also I get concerned of like, well, how How is the business model going to really sustain this so that it's not going to just be funded by the VZ funding and then go away?
[00:28:15.742] Jesse Joudrey: Right. Yeah, we we want to help those people make money and we think we have value to offer them and efficiencies that if they work with us in the future when our systems are set up that they'll want to do that. For now, though, we're not in that position. We haven't done that work. And our philosophy is still one of like people doing what they what they want virtual reality to be. And we don't really want to we don't really want to stifle that, especially when they're doing such a bang up job of it.
[00:28:44.945] Kent Bye: So for each of you, what do you think either some of the biggest open questions that you're trying to answer or open problems you're trying to solve right now?
[00:28:55.061] Jesse Joudrey: When you get to VRChat, it's a big, daunting thing in front of you. It's a world. It's like landing in New York City and not knowing where to go next. We really would like to help people find experiences that are the experiences that they're looking for and people that share some interests and want to do the similar things with them and get them into the experience in a way that they most want to engage with it. So much content right now, and only a few things get to be on the top of the most popular list. And if that's not what you're looking for, it's hard to find the other things. Discovery is absolutely one of the main things that is open for us right now that we're hoping to deal with soon.
[00:29:38.935] Graham Gaylor: I think that's the big one for me, to discoverability of both people and content. And in addition, I think the quality of content. Our creators today are building incredible things with the tools that we've given them. They're basically building these things with two hands and a leg tied behind their back. We don't know how they do some of this stuff. I mean, for us, it's like, hey, you know, if they're able to build these things with what we've given them today, you know, imagine what they can build if we really give them some professional-level tools. So that's a big effort for us. By the end of this year, we'll be releasing one of our new scripting tools called Udon, which is a visual scripting language that's used in the Unity game engine. that will help open a whole new level of interactivity in these experiences.
[00:30:21.537] Kent Bye: Is there any plans for doing world building within the world? So you can actually be in VRChat and make experiences within VRChat itself?
[00:30:29.621] Graham Gaylor: I think that is certainly a longer-term goal for us. We're keeping all these things in mind as we build our new technologies to make sure these doors are open to us should we ever want to pursue them. I certainly think that many folks on our team are excited by this, you know, the possibility of building content within VR with each other, but it's not on the immediate roadmap.
[00:30:50.811] Kent Bye: Well, I know that there's been meetups with people like Gunter who's been to thousands of different worlds and done these guided tours. I would imagine that people who have explored a lot of these worlds, that there's some perhaps role for people to do a little bit of that tour guide, but also the portals of being able to like create connections between the worlds. And so you find that there's a lot of interconnections between those worlds, but also like potential tour guides as a job description for people to know the landscape and experience a lot of these things and to help take people on a tour to things that they may find that they really resonate by having these conversations with people.
[00:31:27.850] Jesse Joudrey: So yes, the Absolutely Tour Guide is something that I think would be really valuable. I think that it's more of a community role than a VRChat employee role. But like Graham was saying earlier about monetization and supporting the community, we don't necessarily just want to support community members who are building worlds and avatars. It would be nice if somebody could be a tour guide and that would be their contribution to VRChat and we can support them too.
[00:31:56.063] Kent Bye: Well, it definitely seems like that with the scale that you're at, this is like probably the most built-out version of the Metaverse that I've seen that's out there. But also, it is self-contained in a sense that like, or is it even possible to go from VRChat into other virtual worlds? Or is it all kind of like self-contained where you can only go in between different VRChat worlds?
[00:32:17.935] Jesse Joudrey: Only between VRChat worlds right now we'd need lots of other factors to line up to go outside of the systems we control. Right now all of our data, all of our worlds, all of our avatars live on our own servers and that's the world we live in right now.
[00:32:33.781] Kent Bye: Have you been looking at the decentralized future in terms of either people on the open web or being able to host on websites? Do you see that this is kind of bootstrapping something that could eventually potentially move something into WebXR or WebVR from this Unity basis? If you see that it's like there's some time potentially in the future that you could export things and put them on the open web?
[00:32:58.095] Jesse Joudrey: I think we're locked into our current plans right now. We've leveraged Unity and kind of our own technology to kind of get to where we are and I mean we've raised some money but we are actually still pretty much a small company when you look at the grand scheme of things so we don't have a lot of extra manpower to change a technology that isn't necessarily directly in line with where we're going. Nothing says that that couldn't change in the future, but right now we need pretty tight control on everything we're doing because we have to be so agile and make the changes that we have to make to get from point A to point B, and then we can worry about point C. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of immersive technologies and what they might be able to enable?
[00:33:46.502] Graham Gaylor: all immersive technologies. I'm going to zoom in on VR and AR and MR. I think that today, as we've seen at Oculus Connect, it seems like the time is now, as has been said a few times. We certainly are seeing an increase in VR adoption with Quest, and that's great for all applications, including VRChat. We're still at the point where it's still early-ish adopters who are buying into this technology and probably a subset of that who are coming into VRChat and staying around. In order for us to expand to a much wider audience, we're not going to do that this year or maybe even next, but as the technology becomes smaller, wider, more accessible both in VR and AR, I think that'll have a really big impact for VRChat. We've thought a little bit about, we've had conversations about what AR VRChat might look like. And it's more so a water cooler conversation at this point, but it's exciting to think about what that could be.
[00:34:46.257] Jesse Joudrey: As much as we don't like that VR has these big bulky headsets, VR works with big bulky headsets and AR doesn't, so I'm actually going to steer away from AR because I think it's way out. Although I think its promise is extreme. But as I think more about VR, I think the ultimate potential of VR in particular is building unreality in the way that we expect. So that sounds a little bit maybe opposite of each other, but it's like building something we can use in the way that humans are used to using the tools in their world, but in situations that are unreal. I don't think there's much use of replicating things that are real, things you can do in real life, but I do think it's important that it interfaces the way you expect it to. So I think that the ultimate potential of VR is just to be the place where fantastic things happen.
[00:35:43.705] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:35:47.489] Graham Gaylor: Just do a shout out to our amazing community and all the amazing things they're building. We wouldn't be where we are today without you, and we hope that we can continue to grow VRChat and the community with you moving forward.
[00:36:01.580] Jesse Joudrey: And thanks to our team, which everybody who works with us at VRChat cares so much about virtual technologies. There's not a single person on the team who doesn't care deeply about every decision we make. And that, I think, shows in what we've been able to accomplish so far. And thanks to them, too.
[00:36:19.665] Graham Gaylor: Also, we're hiring. I think it's VRChat.com slash careers. Please check it out. See if anything looks like something of interest to you and apply.
[00:36:29.892] Kent Bye: You're a remote team, right? You sort of meet up in VRChat and have meetings in VRChat, I imagine?
[00:36:34.895] Graham Gaylor: That is right. We are a totally remote team. Everybody works from home. We're heavily on the West Coast, Bay Area, Vancouver, Oregon. But we're trying to expand globally. We're in the UK. We're in Sweden. We're in France. So wherever you are, if you're interested in building the next virtual universe, look us up.
[00:36:53.947] Kent Bye: And how many people are you now? How many employees?
[00:36:56.609] Graham Gaylor: So we're at 27 on the team today.
[00:36:58.968] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, just congratulations for all that you've been able to do with VRChat. I know that from the very first Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference, you've been there from the beginning and just continue to iterate and put stuff out. And I think it's just a testament for this slow and monotonic growth of what VRChat's been able to do. And it's just really cool to see where it's at now and where it might go in the future. So thank you.
[00:37:21.478] Jesse Joudrey: It's been fun to experience it with you, Kent. Thanks, Kent.
[00:37:27.335] Kent Bye: So that was Jesse Chaudhry. He's the CTO and co-founder of VRChat, as well as Graham Gaylor. He's the CEO and co-founder of VRChat. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, from the beginning, VRChat has focused on trying to enable user-generated content and user-generated creativity. And they're trying to do everything they can to provide the tools to the community to be able to both create the worlds that they want, create the avatar representations that they want, to create the different types of experiences. the interactive components and they focused on building on top of unity and just empowering the users and i think vr chat is one of the most successful platforms just because they have given the users so much creativity and they're not trying to surveil you and track everything that you're doing and to a certain extent jesse and gram aren't necessarily paying attention to everything that's happening in the community. There's certainly other people at VRChat where that's their main role and job. I know that Ron Miller is the chief creative officer, and he's doing a lot of work with what's happening day to day within VRChat. But Jesse and Graham are just trying to provide the tools to be able to enable all sorts of innovation that happens within VRChat. And the VR market number three had just happened and completed by the time I had this conversation with them back in September of last year. And now the VR market for is happening right now, and it goes to May 10 2020. So definitely going to check that out as well. And that is basically one of the largest expos within virtual reality. And there's a lot of different commerce that's happening and selling avatars, And, you know, you look at the future of experiential entertainment and having some sort of unique identity with avatar and avatar representation. That is one of the things that like buying fashion and its way for you to connect your identity to something that you really identify with. So there seems to be the latest round of funding focused on trying to build out those tools. I know that they actually just within the last couple of weeks released the latest SDK version of VR chat to be able to have the Udon scripting language. It's like a visual scripting language within unity to be able to have even more interactive content. And so hope to check in again, just to see what kind of content that's being created and just to see other stuff that's happening, but. You know, a big part of VRChat is the role play and communities that are emerging and streaming on Twitch has been a big part of both getting the word out about VRChat and what it is, but also a way for some people to make money as well. And so I think in the future, they're going to be just focusing on continuing to build out some of those tools to empower people and some of the different virtual economies and in-world building tools. Those are stuff that's still on the horizon and being worked out, but It was really helpful for me to hear a little bit more of their design philosophies, which I think has been consistent over the years of just trying to empower the users to be able to create. And the fact that they have so many different worlds, hundreds of thousands of worlds, 5 million different avatars. This is as of, you know, September of last year, I'm sure that number has gone up with over 6 million registered users at that time. hopefully get some more updated information and statistics. Check the post that I have on Voices of VR. I'm sure that VRChat will either be posting a new blog post or I made a request to see if they wanted to make an update as to what's happening. And VRChat also just recently put out a whole sheltered at home guide in terms of how folks could start to use something like VRChat to be able to have something to do. There's only so much you can do with a teleconference and Zoom meetings, but to actually go out and adventure with somebody. And I just found it quite enjoyable to go on different places. And, you know, the way that VRChat has their portal technology to be able to go in between different worlds, as well as to be able to search different worlds. It's definitely one of the most robust systems I've seen out there in social VR. And there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of discoverability and discovering communities. When you first go in, Jesse said that it's kind of like being thrown in the middle of New York City and not being told much of what to do. There's obviously a lot of the different worlds are the most popular. But if you're not into some of those most popular worlds, then you know, how do you go about finding worlds that you're going to be connected to? I know that they've added playlists so that each users can start to have ways that they can store worlds that they want to visit. And that is broadcast out. So people that spend a lot of time in VR chat, exploring these different worlds, start to curate their own lists. And then you can find a creator that you like and see what worlds they've created. You can also see what worlds they like. And so there's other ways of discovering new worlds that I think either been implemented since the time that I had this conversation, but it still gets into that line of trying to find out the discoverability of both worlds and people as well. So I'm sure we'll continue to see more innovation there. And it sounds like that, you know, VR chat is pretty committed to unity. And that's the technological foundation that they've started with at the time of this conversation that had about 27 people, but they've continued to expand out and hire more people. They are a small team. They're not necessarily going to innovate when it comes to building all the tech stack that's needed to be able to have parody level experience on the open web. But they're kind of a benchmark in terms of if you're going to have a social virtual interaction, then There's other folks like Exokit as an example, where they're trying to take some of the avatar representations and try to do porting so that it's possible to have those different types of interactions on the open web. And there's different performance limitations of what happens on WebXR and browsers that are built for the 2D DOM, but Exokit is taking another approach of trying to create a whole spatial web to be able to look to VR chat as an inspiration and to try to create an open version of that. In the short and long term, it seems like VRChat is going to continue to focus on creating their closed walled garden metaverse, but that the level of experience that they're able to provide is actually the best immersive embodied social VR experiences that you can have right now. And the fact that they have both the quest and PC version, when you go into the quest, uh, you have different worlds and avatars that are compatible with the quest. And so you can have an experience of being able to see a little bit lower resolution of both the avatar representations, as well as the worlds. And then when you go into BC, it's just like a whole nother level at which they're able to take the dynamic lighting and all the shaders and just. a lot higher assets and better textures and, yeah, just a whole other level of immersion. And I'm excited to see what is continuing to happen with both the new interactive worlds, but also folks being able to kind of gather different worlds that are worth visiting and exploring together. I know that there's a lot more that's happened since I did this interview. Actually, there's a lot more happened in the world so quickly. And so just day to day, it seems like we're in the midst of exponential change. And so I'm going to try to get back into some frequent updates and just to kind of dive into different things that have been happening for me within virtual reality, things that have been happening within the wider virtual reality sphere, but also just trends that I find really exciting. And there's certainly a lot of focus on teleconference and social interactions, especially in the midst of a global pandemic and everybody's kind of quarantined. So there are 2d versions of VR chat. There's about 70% at the time of this interview, folks were on a PC and flat 2d experience, about 30% being within the virtual reality. And so we'll see if those numbers have changed and how they've shifted since September. But Certainly, if you have VR, it's a much preferable than just the 2d version. But I think that has made something like VR chat more valuable is that it does have an ability for people to have a 2d experience. And if there's just completely empty worlds, and it becomes a lot less compelling, because a lot of the content actually is the people that are there and the people that you can interact with. and folks like Symore who's able to go in and have these really deep intimate connections with folks and to be able to air those conversations juxtaposed with these avatar representations that are very cartoony and stylized, but at the same time talking about the deepest part of what it means to be human. So those are the types of things that I think make VRChat so special is that it is a wide open platform where you can really do a lot of different things there. And, you know, it is tricky to find your right community in the right worlds, but I think with enough exploring around and hopefully there'll be more tools that are released over the future. And it's definitely worth checking out if you haven't yet, certainly one of the most robust expressions of the future of the metaverse is going to look like. So that's all that I have for today and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voices of VR podcast and if you enjoy the podcast then please do spread the word tell your friends and Consider becoming a member of the patreon. I know there's a lot of stuff that's happening in the world right now There's a lot of contraction you may be somebody who has suffered from job loss or you know may not be in a financial position to be able to donate to something like this, but I do think that Virtual reality is one of the technologies that is going to have a future, especially in this context. If we continue, there's just so many different use cases that are really compelling and just hope that you would consider supporting me on trying to cover all this different stuff and to help guide you to different things to go and check out and to just help to capture the evolution of this. I've recorded over 1500 interviews. over the last six years and aired a little over 900 of those. And so I just want to continue to track the evolution of this medium as it unfolds. And so if you'd like to see that and see more of that, then please do consider becoming a member to the Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of DR. Thanks for listening.