VRChat will be releasing on Steam in Early Access on February 1st 2017. The platform will support the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and OSVR and is free-to-play. Founders Graham Gaylor & Jesse Joudrey plan to keep it that way for the “foreseeable future”. Like other social VR experiences before it, the app will allow friends to meet up online in virtual environments with personalized avatars and talk, share videos and more.
At this point, if you want to stand out in the social VR space, you have to offer a bit more than the basics. The VRChat team, which raised $1.2 million late last year with help from the likes of HTC, certainly seems to be doing that. On top of casual hangouts, users will be able to play community-built games. As you can see in the trailer above, these range from Western-style first-person shooters to even a Tron-like game dubbed Battle Discs, which looks similar to CCP Games’ upcoming Project Arena.
Simple meetups, meanwhile, are enhanced with tools that allow you to draw, sculpt and more. Environments invite sandbox-style madness; at one point in the trailer a bowling game is abandoned as two groups of friends instead start to hurl balls at each other.
VRChat also aims to offer deeper user customization with integration with Unity. You can create your own avatars from scratch, meaning users won’t conform to a particular style like they do in other social platforms. You could create a realistic version of yourself, stylize your avatar in any way you see fit, or make something entirely different. Users appear as full body avatars with lip synced speech. The company’s Unity SDK will also let you build your own worlds for others to explore, and it claims there are already “hundreds” available.
The developers haven’t set a final release date for the full version of VRChat yet, as it’s intended to be a constantly evolving platform, but they do note the Early Access release has many of the “core features” of the platform.
Social VR is set to be a powerful use for the technology as it improves, so we welcome the addition of new, more ambitious platforms to the genre. It remains to be seen, however, how apps like VRChat will compete with upcoming offerings from bigger companies, like Project Sansar from the creators of Second Life, or Facebook’s own VR experience demonstrated at Oculus Connect 3 last year.