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VRChat

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VRChat
Developer(s)VRChat Inc.
Publisher(s)VRChat Inc.
Designer(s)
  • Graham Gaylor
  • Jesse Joudrey
EngineUnity[1]
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows, Android (on Meta Quest 2 and newer, PICO 4, and HTC Vive XR Elite)
Release
  • Microsoft Windows, Oculus Rift
  • January 16, 2014
  • Steam
  • February 1, 2017
  • HTC Vive
  • September 13, 2017
  • Oculus Quest
  • December 11, 2018
  • Android (Alpha)
  • August 22, 2023
  • PICO 4
  • November 09, 2023
Genre(s)Massively multiplayer online
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

VRChat is an online virtual world platform created by Graham Gaylor and Jesse Joudrey[2] and operated by VRChat, Inc. The platform allows users to interact with others with user-created 3D avatars and worlds. VRChat is designed primarily for use with virtual reality headsets, being available for Microsoft Windows PCs and as a native app for Android-based headsets such as Meta Quest, Pico 4, and HTC Vive XR Elite. It is also usable without VR in a "desktop" mode designed for either a mouse and keyboard or gamepad, and in an Android app for touchscreen devices.

VRChat was first released as a Windows application for the Oculus Rift DK1 prototype on January 16, 2014, and was later released to the Steam early access program on February 1, 2017.

Features[edit]

Players in VRChat

VRChat's gameplay is similar to that of games such as Second Life and Habbo Hotel.[3] The game is made up of thousands of connected worlds,[4] in which players can interact with each other through virtual avatars.[3] Avatars and worlds are created and uploaded by their users[4] using a software development kit for Unity released alongside the game.[3] Player avatars are capable of supporting lip syncing, eye tracking, and blinking, in addition to mimicking head and hand motion.[5][3] Trends and variations of avatars spread through the community like memes, and avatars themselves are often distributed for free, or sold through online marketplaces such as Gumroad and Booth.[4]

VRChat is also capable of running in "desktop mode" without a VR headset, which is controlled using either a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad. Some limitations exist in desktop mode, such as the inability to freely move an avatar's limbs,[6] or perform interactions that require more than one hand.

In 2020, VRChat introduced Udon, a visual programming language which uses a node graph system. While still considered alpha software, it became usable on publicly-accessible worlds beginning in April 2020.[7] A third-party compiler, UdonSharp, was developed to allow world scripts to be written in C#.[8]

In 2022, support for the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol was added for more advanced interactions with external software and devices.[9] Later in the year, VRChat began to implement a secondary application—"Creator Companion"—for managing Unity IDE installations, projects, and downloading community packages using a Unity Package Manager (UPM)-compatible format.[10] The previous VRChat SDK2 was deprecated in February 2023, with the Udon-based SDK 3.x becoming mandatory for all future content.[11]

Trust Roles[edit]

Users of VRChat are classified into various "trust levels", based on factors such as the time they spend on the platform, and received and outgoing friend requests. All users begin at the "Visitor" rank (grey). When promoted to "New User" (blue) rank, they are given the ability to upload their own content using the VRChat SDK. This is followed by "User" (green), "Known User" (orange), "Trusted User" (purple), and friends (yellow). Users can choose to toggle communications, avatars, and avatar features based on their trust level. Additionally, users can gain a "Nuisance" rank (grey) after gaining too many infractions, such as being muted, and having all communications, avatars, and avatar features blocked.[12]

VRChat Plus[edit]

In November 2020, the service announced the VRChat Plus subscription service. On launch, it allows users to display a custom avatar image on their nameplates, increases the number of avatars they can save in their favorites from 50 to 300, grants them an "increased trust rating", and allows them to attach an in-game photo to an invite request. Other exclusive features for subscribers have been added since launch, including custom UI colors, menu backdrop images and custom emojis.[13][14][15][16]

Groups[edit]

In November 2022, the service began to deploy a Groups feature, which allows VRChat Plus subscribers to create social groups on the platform. Groups can also host their own world instances for organized gatherings and events. Groups have the ability to assign moderator roles to certain users, allowing them to issue warnings, kicks, or bans to prevent troublesome users from joining the group instances. There are 3 types of group instances that can be created, "Group", "Group+" and "Group Public". Each person in a Group instance must be in the group to be able to join. Group+ instances allow anyone to join, even if they haven't joined the group. Group Public instances operate like a public instance, where they are shown alongside regular public instances and anyone can join the instance.[17] [18]

Creator Economy[edit]

In May 2023, VRChat announced that it would add a new monetization system known as the "Creator Economy". Initially, this allows eligible groups to offer subscriptions (via a paid digital currency known as "VRChat Credits") that can, in turn, allow access to exclusive features in worlds (such as, for instance, VIP rooms) for supporters. 50% of revenue from subscriptions go to the group owner.[19][20][21]

Hardware support[edit]

VRChat has extensive support for a large number of PC-compatible VR headsets and accessories, including Oculus Rift, Meta Quest (via Quest Link), and SteamVR-compatible headsets (such as HTC Vive and Valve Index). VRChat is also available as a native app for Android-based standalone headsets, including Meta Quest, Pico 4,[22] and HTC Vive XR Elite.[23] These clients support cross-platform play with PC users; due to hardware limitations, only worlds and avatars compiled for Android and optimized within specific constraints can be accessed on the Android version. In January 2024, VRChat began to offer automatically-generated fallback versions of avatars .[24][25]

In March 2023, it was announced that versions of VRChat were in development for Android and IOS smartphones.[26] The Android version was initially released in a closed alpha for VRChat Plus subscribers on August 18, 2023, and is compatible with content built for Android-based headsets.[27]

Finger tracking and gesture recognition is supported on controllers such as the Index Controller and Oculus Touch, allowing users' finger movements to be reflected by their avatar, and hand poses to trigger linked animations (such as a corresponding facial expression).[28][29] VRChat also supports SteamVR full-body tracking for motion capture of waist and leg motions, typically by using HTC's Vive Tracker peripherals or alternative devices (such as Kinect, or Virtual Desktop on Quest).[30][31][32] The Vive XR Elite version supports the Vive Ultimate Tracker accessory.[23]

Community[edit]

VRChat's popularity has been attributed to use by YouTubers and Twitch streamers.[3] VRChat has spawned media such as a weekly newspaper in its forums, and talk shows and podcasts dedicated to a discussion of the game.[3] After an initial wave of viral popularity upon its release, the platform saw a steady increase in concurrent users with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and direct quarantine policies. There were recorded spikes in viewership of VRChat-related Twitch streams in mid-2020 and September 2020.[33] The service reported a record of over 24,000 concurrent users over the Halloween weekend (with over half using it on a VR platform), spurred by holiday events and the recent release of the Oculus Quest 2.[33] On December 31, 2020, the service recorded a new record of over 40,000 concurrent users for New Year's Eve, to the point that it experienced a major outage around midnight in the Eastern Time Zone due to a security provider having mistaken the surge as a denial-of-service attack.[34]

Assets such as avatars and related content are often sold on online marketplaces such as Gumroad and Booth.[35] The Japanese company Hikky has organized a series of events on VRChat known as "Virtual Market" ("VKet"), a virtual fan convention focused on the sale of digital assets by members of the VRChat community; the event has also attracted virtual booths and sponsor presences by companies such as Bandai Namco, Disney, East Japan Railway Company, and HP.[36][37]

The platform has a notable community of transgender users, as the use of avatars have allowed individuals to discover and portray an expression of themselves that suits their gender identity, especially if they live in regions where the transgender community faces prejudice. VRC Trans Academy—a support group for transgender users on VRChat—had over 22,000 members as of March 2024.[35]

Music and dance[edit]

The platform has attracted various music-oriented communities and events; dancers have leveraged full-body tracking support to give virtual performances and classes within VRChat, including ballet, breaking, and pole dance.[38]

Online dance music events have also occurred on VRChat, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. They are organized by collectives such as Loner Online, take place within virtual nightclubs, and sometimes simulcast on live streaming platforms such as Twitch. Loner's world was noted by an NME writer for its attention to detail in recreating an underground club experience, right down to having bathroom stalls.[39][40] In partnership with the VRChat-based electronic music festival SlyFest, British drum and bass producer Muzz organized a virtual concert tour consisting of headlining appearances at multiple VRChat events in 2021, including support from other producers such as Feint, Mollie Collins, and Teddy Killerz.[41]

In June 2020, French electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre presented a virtual concert experience in VRChat, "Alone Together".[42] On December 31, 2020, Jarre presented a second virtual concert for New Year's Eve, "Welcome to the Other Side", which was broadcast across other radio, television, and online platforms from outside of the Notre-Dame cathedral, and featured an interactive companion experience on VRChat, taking place in a world recreating its interior.[43]

Ugandan Knuckles[edit]

VRChat gave rise to a meme known as "Ugandan Knuckles", in which players use crude in-game models of Knuckles the Echidna from the Sonic the Hedgehog series while repeating the catchphrase "Do you know the way?" in a mock African accent.[44] The players' model and mannerisms originated in a review by YouTuber Gregzilla and Forsen's Twitch stream respectively, in addition to lines from the Ugandan movie Who Killed Captain Alex?[45] This has generated controversy from many sources; Polygon's Julia Alexander labelled it "blatantly racist" and a "problematic meme", comparing it to Habbo Hotel raids,[46] and Jay Hathaway of The Daily Dot called it a "racist caricature".[45] The creator of the 3D model used in the meme expressed regret for having made it, and urged players that they "do not use this to bug the users of VRChat."[47] In response, the developers of the game published an open letter on Medium, stating that they were developing "new systems to allow the community to better self moderate" and asking users to use the built-in muting features.[48]

Reception[edit]

Safety and security[edit]

In February 2022, a BBC News report accused the service of not providing enough safeguards to prevent minors from entering worlds that may contain adult themes and interactions.[49] In September 2023, VRChat added a "content gating" system that allows avatars and worlds to be flagged for containing adult themes, suggestive content, violence, and/or horror; by default, all flagged content is blocked for users under the age of 18. For users over the age of 18, filters are turned off by default, and may be customized based on user preferences.[50]

On July 25, 2022, VRChat announced that it would implement Easy Anti-Cheat (EAC) in order to protect against prohibited modifications to the client. The announcement specifically cited griefers using mods designed to crash other users out of VRChat sessions, as well as issues with account hijacking.[9] The announcement led to widespread backlash from the community, citing that some users had legitimate uses for modded clients, mainly to add quality of life (QoL) features that had not yet been added to the software, including additional accessibility features (such as allowing the display of subtitles on video players in worlds). The software was subsequently review bombed on Steam, while some community members urged others to cancel their Plus subscriptions. A spokesperson stated to Motherboard that its introduction of features such as OSC support had "enabled our users to have an entirely new dimension of creativity, as well as the ability to build accessibility tools to fit their needs".[9]

In response to the criticism, VRChat announced that it had amended its development roadmap in order to prioritize the addition of a number of new accessibility and QoL features that had been highly requested by the community, with some being already implemented by VRChat themselves, and many others being revived by the community by using the new tools provided.[51][52]

See also[edit]

  • AltspaceVR – A platform providing meeting spaces in virtual reality[53]
  • Sansar – A social virtual reality platform with a near-identical premise[53]
  • Metaverse – Term for a collective three-dimensional virtual shared space
  • NeosVR – A massively multiplayer online virtual reality game
  • High Fidelity – A virtual reality platform featuring an economy built on blockchain[54][55]
  • We Met in Virtual Reality - A 2022 documentary film centered on players in VRChat

References[edit]

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External links[edit]