VRChat recently announced in-world monetization options for creators, and I’ve been wondering since then whether it’s too little, too late. The founders’ extreme caution around a creator economy is totally understandable, but the virtual world already has about 4-6 million monthly active users (by my estimate), making its population about the size of Los Angeles. And there are easily 1000+ VRChat creators already monetizing on third party sites like Patreon, YouTube, Gumroad, and so on.
The other challenge: VRChat is primarily played on Steam and through the Quest, both of which take a 30% cut. As compared, for example, to Patreon, which only takes a 5-12% commission; top YouTubers usually get into direct sponsorship deals, and pay YouTube zero percent in commissions. So creators already established on those platforms have more incentive to encourage fans to support them that way, and not through in-app payments.
All that said, I reached out to some top VRChat creators for their take on monetization:
Reimajo, who created the imperssive Roller Coaster Tycoon-type sim in VRChat (watch below), actually thinks it could be a better option than Patreon:
“I’m hoping that it will replace Patreon integrations which are less than ideal, because it requires that creators update their worlds/Patreon boards when someone new supports you,” as they put it. “If they can compete with Patreon fees, I’ll definitely switch over.”
The Patreon set-up process also comes with its own problems:
“It will be much easier for VRChat users to support a creator and instantly get rewards without needing to type a URL in their web browser, create an account on Patreon and then wait for the creator to update the world.”
But he fears VRChat’s payment system might end up blocking non-payers in some cases, by linking it to the white list function that allows only some VCers into a given world:
“I once joined my friends in a world where I was unable to leave the spawn area because I wasn’t whitelisted, and nobody was there who could whitelist me. It wasn’t a nice feeling to be left out. [VRChat’s company] announcement sounds like such a concept would be encouraged by them. Right now, users can usually only pay for some visual enhancements in some worlds which is a grey area and something that is not an issue in my opinion, but locking people out of areas is something that I don’t find good on a social platform.”
Lakuza, lead creator on a number of impressive VRChat projects like this one, isn’t primarily motivated by money, but is definitely open to it:
“Everything I’ve done so far has been free, including all the models I make and have on my booth store, everything is free. I don’t intend to change that as I personally don’t like paywalling any content I make for the community… I’ve already had a lot of requests over the past few years of people wanting to donate money to me because they enjoyed my worlds but I’ve never set something up for it. If VRChat makes this easy enough and accessible to all countries within the app, it seems like a good option for creators like myself that don’t want to paywall, but people still want to support.”
Lakuza also makes the good point that not everyone can easily access sites like Patreon.
“From what I’ve been told, the Japanese community for example have a lot of friction with Patreon’s payment processes so they tend to prefer sites like pixiv instead.” (Which is basically a Japanese language-optimized creator economy site.) “So definitely something VRChat could strive for to make it easy for people to support each other directly in-app instead of having to use multiple sites for different communities.”
All that said, it’s easy to see why VRChat’s creators have been slow to roll out this feature. I think the likely outcome is the established VRChat creators who are already on Patreon et. al. will maintain their focus there, while a second wave of creators emerge from within the in-app economy.
Thanks to Adeon for thoughts contributing to this post!