By Bixyl Shuftan
In the past few years, VR Chat has enjoyed an increase in numbers. They've gone from 9,100 active users in February 2018, when the Newser gave a review, to 42,500 in December 2021 (link). These are numbers that have made it a true rival to Second Life in contrast to the various Opensim worlds. The world has gotten both praise and condemnation. Early in its history, it was documented that several players came to the aid of another who suffered an epileptic seizure (article). More recently, there were allegations that younger teen users were being "groomed" into sexual acts (article).
On Monday July 25, the developers announced a security update (link), the largest change being the installation of "Easy Anti-Cheat." "If you’ve played Apex Legends, Fortnite, Gears of War, Elden Ring, or many more," they stated, "you’ve seen Easy Anti-Cheat (EAC). EAC is the industry-leading anti-cheat service. It’s lightweight, effective, and privacy-focused. In short, for any game or platform looking to prevent malicious users from breaking the rules, it’s a powerful solution."
The reason for this security update, they stated, was because of problems with modified viewers being used to grief other users, "“Modified clients” are a large problem for VRChat in a variety of ways. Malicious modified clients allow users to attack and harass others, causing a huge amount of moderation issues. Even seemingly non-malicious modifications complicate the support and development of VRChat, and make it impossible for VRChat creators to work within the expected, documented bounds of VRChat."
VRC-CC which allows closed-captioning for deaf players so they can see movies inworld.
The development team acknowledges there is a problem, "we hear you and see you saying that many of the modified client features that are being lost due to this are extremely important to you, or in some cases allow you to use VRChat at all, when in regards to modifications that added accessibility features that VRChat currently lacks." But are going ahead with it, "we are going to be releasing this update, and we do not have plans or intent to revert or roll it back."
The result has been numerous complaints, including many angry ones, from a number of VR Chat's users. The Steam page was full of recent negative reviews. "The latest update introduced Easy Anti-Cheat which has turned the game into garbage," wrote a Yifrick, "This was an amazing social game but now the developers have gone and ???? on it and everyone who loved this game by including this spyware under the pretence of making the game 'safer' for users, when it does absolutely no such thing, and actively harms the community." "Many hours i played and some years on it," wrote an Appie_Dude, " but when I heard of the new update, no (I) am done, am out. ... the devs won't listen to people and go for the money now. You ruined a game, goodluck." "You literally just destroyed your community who heavily relys on mods for quality of life improvements since you are so slow to do it yourself," wrote a Smackdatmoney, "What a actual shame that you continued and STILL went through with it anyways even after massive community backlash. ... you've just became another one of those companies who see their own community as 'idiots who dont know what their talking about'. ..."
In one review by a Soulful, "there's not a lot to be said here about the state of VRC. I've had issues for a while, game has serious optimization issues for folks who play through virtual desktop, has pretty much no graphical optimization implemented in any capacity, atop of compounding problems with lack of communication, community engagement, and a huge lack of understanding with their userbase's needs and wants. I lived with these issues, in hopes that these features would be implemented sometime, having relied on modding and even Steam's own built in VR stuff to help with these problems, which has been a godsend for those times when there's more than a handful of folks around ... For a long while the VRC team either would ignore a lot of these posts of critique and even real complaints of issues, or directly missing the point of something being brought up to begin with, it was nothing new, now though they're showing their ugly heads when it comes to something as big as adding an anti cheat. Normally I'd be for them implementing something into the game to help with dealing with malicious users doing things like code injecting or script kiddy nonsense to harass and disrupt other people. (But) to destroy something as big and as fundamental as the modding community, the Steam community, and even just plain ol Meta/Quest users on Virtual Desktop ... outright shutting down all sorts of background apps and taking snapshots of your PC if it even suspects even a little bit of something 'suspicious' or 'malicious', and is already VERY well known for not playing well with lots of 3rd party software used in day to day services, including VR services, and from the statements they've been handing out, and lots of the other things going on with VRC itself lately in terms of monetization, it's very clear where they lie in terms of the future of their platform. And it's not to be user friendly, not to be community friendly, and definitely not to be true to the spirit of a social platform to push any envelopes in the VR industry."
Someone named Keith complained the update didn't really stop malicious users, writing, "EAC was defeated in less than 2 hours after it hit the Beta Branch. This means that any malicious actor who wants to continue to use mods to cause problems can do so unimpeded. ... even if EAC was a perfect anticheat with no way around it? That wouldn't stop 99% of crashers, rippers, and account hijackers. The VAST majority of those people utilize completely vanilla clients because VRChat's code is just that insecure. ... at the end of the day EAC is a pure negative. There isn't a single pro about its presence in VRC. It will only make the crashing and other issues worse as it strips people of community made defenses, it takes away many accessibility features disabled folk relied on to be able to participate, and without the community driven QOL options many people use, VRChat just becomes an inferior platform compared to other options."
review bombed" VRChat. Its recent reviews were ranked "Overwhelmingly Negative."
"Disabled players are feeling the brunt of this update the most," stated an article from Eurogamer that appeared in senegalbgs.org, "They say they are now stuck with a game they cannot play, with no guidance on when the game will be made accessible to them and no guaranteed way of making sure their needs are being listened to. ... this is a huge setback, particularly considering the work that is going into accessibility options in high-profile games . They say they now find themselves stuck in an ecosystem that has taken away the tools that allow them to join in without providing a sufficient alternative."
Not everyone is complaining. Talking to Marusame, who started out in Second Life, but appears much more often in VRChat now, he stated he didn't use mods, "Most people are just (complaining) because they can no longer use mods that give you power like flying around, crashing people, messing with things like turning off mirrors or making things move around or generally being a nuisance. ... though this doesnt get rid of crasher avatars. Imagine if in Second Life someone could whip out an avatar and crash a sim?" She also thought people had plenty of time to get ready, "I've known they was gonna do something like this for MONTHS. I've hanged out with some of the devs and one works on security. ... so for me, this change didnt do much other than lobbies are filled with less crashers now and they are more chill. (It) reminds me of the Second Life Windlight UI thing where everyone said they'd go to Opensim because of it, and a month later everyone came back."
So what to do? There are calls not to get on VRChat for a week so the drop in numbers will get the attention of the development team. There are also calls for those who signed up for VRChat Plus, a $9.95 USD a month subscription service to cancel.
Marusame was less enthusiastic about the alternative clients, saying ChilloutVR was harder to use, "the api is fried, also the sdk is janky was harder to upload an avatar than vrchat especially to get material toggles and has a harsher public avatar upload review process." But went on to say they are "doing a lot of hiring so maybe they actually want to do something. Neos VR I hear is more complicated and you can build in world, very Second Lifey experience. But development is dead at the moment with people leaving and infighting."
Erron Kelly in Venturebeat would comment that there was something about VRChat that reminded him of the early "Wild West" days of the Internet, which while offering an unexplored frontier also had bad guys such as trolls using racist language, "VRChat taking steps to sanitize that stuff? In the long run it’s probably good for the software. But every time the Old West gets settled it’s a little sad. That’s just me being nostalgic about how I grew up. The people losing access to genuine quality-of-life mods? They’ve really got something to complain about."