New Opportunities for Business and Advertising in VR Social Media

By Yisela Alvarez Trentini Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Virtual reality (VR) social media is on the rise, with applications like VRchat and RecRoom reaching higher concurrency peaks each day. These platforms offer novel opportunities for companies and startups to monetize their brands and services.

Many people see the times we’re living in now as the era of social media. No longer a place where people just hang out or chat, the latest platforms offer tailored experiences and games and offer unique chances for brand growth and advertising.

VR social media made its first debut around 2015 when vTime became available for Google Cardboard through smartphones.
Unlike traditional social media, VR environments are built on immersive, highly personalized experiences. Users can choose the way their avatar looks, the places they want to see, and the games and rooms they want to experience.

This has been made possible in part by VR hardware finally becoming more affordable. The latest Samsung Gear VR headset can cost as little as $30, and Facebook’s Oculus Rift is available for less than the price of an iPhone. More and better devices are being added to the market constantly, including lighter, wireless sets that make VR social media a very accessible reality.

In consequence, businesses are beginning to explore how people can connect with their products in new ways. The use of VR can be considered to still be in its infancy, but its promise of personal and engaging experiences is definitely creating interesting opportunities for brand advertising and business.

VR Social Media Platforms

VRChat

VRChat is currently the largest VR social media. The game is free and available through Steam for a variety of devices such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive - and it can also be run from PCs and phones. Its large collection of worlds is constantly updated with new content.

In VRChat, a user can hop in and simply explore what’s been made. There are rooms for playing games, chatting, and watching videos. The spaces can be shared with others or experienced as a single instance. Among the most popular ones in mid-2020 were a room where it always rains, an underwater world where you could explore a sunken ship, and a bedroom with a large TV screen that constantly streams anime series.

The VRChat SDK is built in Unity and opens up a world of possibilities for creating avatars or new environments. Last August, the platform announced its new 3.0 avatar creation framework, including expressions, emojis, and Gesture Toggle for all controllers.

RecRoom

RecRoom is a VR, online video game, and game creation system that can be played on PC, PlayStation, iOS, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. In it, players explore various games and user-generated rooms and interact with objects like balls, weapons, and construction tools.

Like VRChat, RecRoom is free. The platform is, however, more oriented toward games. With a single unified look, RecRoom has hundreds of mini-games that can be played with people from around the world. In September, RecRoom announced a new charades venue called The Ink Space. Every aspect of the room can be customized, replaced, or deleted, and the charades pen can be used for drawing with a controller, a mouse, or a touchscreen.

The platform is only supported by investment at the moment, but they expect to start trying monetization options soon.

Horizons

This year, Facebook hired several top VR game developers to integrate them into its growing Oculus VR division. Beta testers are now trying their new social VR app called Horizons.

This cartoonish VR world allows users to design their own avatars from various styles and body options and connect with others virtually using magic portals to visit public spaces and new worlds. Horizons’s spaces range from decorative rooms to fairly complex mini-games. A creator mode also allows users with no 3D modeling knowledge to create their own structures and props.

When signing up for the Beta, Facebook lets users know that they will use their Oculus information to show more personalized content, including ads and Facebook Company Products.

Sansar

Sansar was created by Linden Lab, the company behind the 2003 hit Second Life. When it was first announced, Facebook had just acquired Oculus VR, and the technology was at the peak of its hype.

Even though Sansar attracted some commercial clients such as Hello Kitty, Levi's jeans, and Fnatic, the platform struggled to gain traction among VR users. Linden Lab had leaped into the VR space a bit early.

Sansar has been sold to a studio called Wookey Search Technologies, who will take over development. Wookey is focusing on rebranding the platform as a “new live events destination from the makers of Second Life,” emphasizing virtual performances. Musicians, record labels, and event organizers have shown continuous interest in using Sansar.

Advertising Opportunities in VR

The launch of Horizons and the growth of VRchat and RecRoom show that VR social media is here to stay. But how can companies take advantage of these new platforms?

When Second Life came out, it caused a revolution. The virtual world became populated with people, institutions, and businesses who had to figure out how and in what ways to capitalize on the trend. Provided with endless opportunities for innovation, different models began to take shape. Second Life became quickly populated with tour guides, performers, avatar creators, and 3D modelers for clothes, accessories, gestures, and furniture. Although Second Life is 16 years old, it still has an active economy based on billboards and thousands of products in its 3D shop.

Virtual worlds also offer almost unlimited real estate where brands can advertise their products or services. Advertising can be targeted to certain audiences or be included only in certain rooms. It can also take the shape of visual signs, sound, video, branded games, and experiences.

An economy also tends to form around creating custom assets such as avatars and 3D models for VR social platforms. RecRoom, for example, launched its own market where players can sell inventions for tokens, and VRChat has been surrounded by a small ecosystem of external companies offering 3D modeling of exclusive avatars.

In VRChat, a custom commissioned avatar, which includes animations and gestures, can cost between $100 and $2,000 depending on the model’s complexity and the skills required to make them. The most popular creators can get several requests a day through platforms like VRC Traders. According to the Endgame talk show, about 30% of creators on the platform work on avatar creation full-time.

As the VRChat user base increases, so does the demand for custom avatars. This has given birth to enterprises such as Tafi, an avatar company that offers users access to a library of pre-designed “infinitely customizable avatars.” About 30% of Tafi’s 400+ closet options are free and can be imported to VRChat with just a click. The rest are paid and cost around $5-$10 for a set of premium hairstyle, accessories, and clothes.

VR social media offers major opportunities for businesses to experiment with custom assets and services. Second Life has several agents offering guided tours for new users, and a well-established real-estate network for buying virtual land. Similar ideas can be easily ported into platforms like VRChat.

A lot of today’s physical world is moving to VR, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we all work and interact with each other. Virtual performances from musicians, comedians, and artists are also becoming more commonplace, especially in games like Sansar.

VR allows for people to interact on a much more personal level. In consequence, there’s an increasing demand for custom avatars and experiences. As these emerging platforms continue to grow steadily, they make for the perfect playground to try new ideas.

About the Author


Headshot of Yisela Alvarez Trentini

Yisela Alvarez Trentini is an Anthropologist + User Experience / Human-Computer Interaction Designer with an interest in emerging technologies, social robotics, and VR/AR.

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