Social VR Cultural Index 1

Social VR Platforms . . . . . . People . . . . . . Companies . . . . . . Society

Social VR is not the Metaverse. It is a component of the Metaverse, and the central component in a Metaverse I’d like to participate in.

Basic organizational data on 18 social VR platforms is shown below. Select the links above for more detail. Three platforms have been added to this version of the Social VR Index, Bigscreen, Horizon Venues, and Spatial.

A Cultural Index for Social VR, first attempt

Every social VR platform is unique for many reasons — history, design, initial goals, and strategic decisions. The culture of each platform is also unique. Easy to sense, very difficult to describe.

Of course different cultures exist within platforms as well. Social VR is already at the point where making essentialist claims about platforms is just as misleading as similar claims about nations or groups of people.

The complexity of the real world and the virtual world is necessarily smoothed over in categories and ratings. If the intent is understanding and the categories stay fluid, summaries can be useful.

Beginning to think about useful summaries about the culture of different social VR platforms, distinctions emerge immediately.

Whose culture? The culture of people creating things on a platform? The culture of people who participate regularly in events on a platform? The culture as it appears to a newcomer or very casual user?

An even more basic problem might be deciding what a social VR Platform is, so we can say what’s In and what Isn’t.

What is a Social VR Platform?

There is no universally accepted definition. There is not even a universally argued about set of definitions. I will quickly take apart the term, working backwards to describe my understanding.

- a Platform is an integrated set of technologies that creates a 4D time/space for people to interact with the space and each other; often called a Virtual World, a platform is a simulated environment where multiple people, represented by avatars, can function and communicate.

- VR, (Virtual Reality) represents the most immersive form of spatial media; some platforms offer less immersive options, others do not, but VR is essential to being a social VR Platform

- Social means that real-time communication and interaction among avatars is a primary goal or at least a major design consideration of the platform. For example, Roblox, while a major VR platform, was not in my opinion a social VR Platform until voice chat was added this month, November, 2021.

Ryan Schultz has a well-thought-out definition that adds several criteria, of which ‘Open ended-ness’ is the one that is hardest for me to apply. Roblox is about playing and creating games. That’s somewhat wide open, but is it wide open enough to be “Social,” and not more like, “Game?” I may be lighter on the ‘Open ended’ criteria than he is.

It is certainly true that there are apples and oranges on the current List of 18 social VR platforms. The purpose of the exploration is not to produce a definitive guide to the metaverse or reveal some invisible thread that connects them all, just a better understanding of how to talk about social VR culture.

Initial Factors in the Cultural Index

Any set of factors is subjective and thus subject to the researcher’s bias. These factors and the way I interpret and use them reflect my values. I offer them for others to remark on, and to suggest additions, deletions and other changes I can’t imagine.

  1. Business Model — I identify four models, B2B, consumer, both, crypto
  2. Age — I try to identify the amount of children less than 13 who are present
  3. Content Creation — Are there any creator tools?
  4. Event Management — Are there any Event Management tools?
  5. Public Space — Are there places gathering without a structured event?
  6. Community Helpers — Is formal or informal support directly available?
  7. Device Support — Is it available on mobile, computer?

Each one is rated on a three point scale, usually framed as None, Some, A lot, with A Lot indicating the Most Social and rated as “3.”

In order to add more nuance to the model of social VR, I weighted some factors (3–6, above) as potentially having a greater impact than others.

All rankings and weightings are based solely on my direct experience in the platforms or in some cases, what I have read. I present the results knowing they are just a starting point for inquiry:

Each one of the initial factors is complicated and changing. To proceed with this approach, the following improvements should be considered:

  1. More Factors, possibly deleting some of the initial set
  2. More Raters, get more input

2. More Nuance, moving from three- to five-level ratings, with explicit criteria

3. More Subtlety in the Weightings, through Sensitivity Analysis

4. More system-level description of relationships between the factors, so a change in one has an effect on others

5. Additional dimensions not yet contemplated.

Virtual communities, such as Educators in VR, are not the same as the social VR platform they partially exist on. Some virtual communities operate on multiple platforms, not all of which are virtual.

I think we will also learn that there is a reciprocal relationship of influence and support between communities and platforms. The ‘culture of the platform’ may not be the best way to think about culture in social VR.

The way a platform helps shape the communities that grow there might be a betterway to frame the question going forward.

/Platforms for People #12 — previous issue, Platforms for People #11

If you enjoyed this issue, please Follow us as we expand our coverage of the human and social side of VR and all spatial media.

The Social VR Platforms, Companies, People, and Society tabs at the top of the article are linked to our growing base of very brief, right-to-the-point pieces about social aspects of the Metaverse.

Platforms for People is produced by Tom Nickel. I welcome contributions.



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