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Furality's 8th gathering brings together 21,000 furs to VRChat event raising $42,269 for charity

Edited by GreenReaper as of Fri 12 Jul 2024 - 22:13
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Furality Lower Lobby 2 Furality finished its eighth gathering on the second weekend of June 2024. When the VRChat-based congregation had finished it had shown continual growth hitting 21,000 attendees registered and raising over $42,269 for charity. It has shown that in spite of the naysayers who thought that online only furry events would die down in the wake of waning 2020 pandemic restrictions, online conventions held in virtual reality spaces show no signs of slowing and are now clearly a new staple in fandom activities.

Being in attendance myself this year, I go over the strengths and weaknesses that these events have over their real-world counterparts. The article will also cover some highlights of the events such as the eclipse and firework show. In short, what we find is that while Furality has taken events and formats inspired by in-person conventions, it is clearly an entirely different beast.

Exploration of unseen worlds - and all its quirks

For most of my VR explorations prior to this convention, I relied on others in my friend groups that had already found interesting things to explore. But the cool thing about being a part of this event is that the areas of the gathering: the lobby, the dealer’s den, the events stages, and the dance halls, are all brand new when you attend. This means you find yourself on equal footing with your peers when exploring these new worlds.

The main lobby placed you on a near-blindingly sun-bleached cliff that dropped off into a crevice in the desert that hosted an underground settlement dressed in a neon glow. Its aesthetic seems similar to that of the Borderlands series of games.

Throughout the locales, there are television screens that show the main event stage, which is handy and creates a center point around which the world focuses. But if you just want to get away and do your own thing there is plenty of space to do that as well, as those screens are sparsely laid out in the large lobby area and are only a main focus in another sim world made for events called the cantina. Which, given its name, has a very bar in a galaxy far, far away vibe. Lower Lobby

You could tell that these worlds were tested and crafted with great care and dedication to detail. But also that they didn’t have the full chaos that furries could bring reigned down upon them prior to launch. One balcony in the lobby’s underground settlement was accessible by jumping off a higher balcony and landing within it. However, none of the testers must have found themselves there because as soon as your character found themselves on that balcony you were stuck. You could not jump out as the rails were too high, and there were no doors to click to exit the area either. The only way out was to click the respawn button which would brute force your avatar back to the opening of the world.

However, as the convention moved on, new versions of these lobby instances were implemented. They had this now infamous balcony contain a box within it that you could jump on to jump over the too-high railing. The box looked really out of place, like a Band-Aid put over a wound. It seemed the word of mouth about the glitch had eventually reached the right people to ‘patch’ the issue.

Like prior gatherings, these labors of love will be available in the future for everyone to view as publicly-accessible worlds, just a general place to hang out with friends in your own instances. Though being part of the festivities and seeing them as they first started up is what will help engrain these as a special place of memories for those that were at the original, and also being able to meet a curated group of furries makes for an atmosphere that just joining a public room in general VRChat will not.

Game rooms and curation of popular VRChat activities

One of the barriers to entry for a system such as VRChat can be that there are so many worlds to explore that it can be challenging to separate the chaff from the wheat. Going to a place such as Furality can help with this and help you keep a focused experience to get you involved. One of the things I found extremely helpful was their games and activities section on the site. Here you could find different group activities such as a virtual version of GeoGuessr, Chess, Karaoke (which had a roo plush manning the tip jar so thumbs up there), Uno, Among Us, grapple hook races, and other such popular group activities.

If you’re new to VR, it can be hard to know what options are available to you, so you don’t quite know what to look for. Having these experiences curated by the Furality staff means you’ll have generally positive experiences on polished worlds, rather than just bumbling through the search bar. Which is why when I learned that these instances were worlds that existed outside of the Furality convention instead of being fully original, I viewed it as a positive because then I could fav the worlds for later use if I wanted to do it with friends later.

So if you've tried VRChat but couldn’t find anything to do, the cost of entry is certainly worth it just to discover the options that are actually available to you. And maybe find people to do it with. And as new activity worlds are added to VRChat that catch the eye of those who are more in the know of the latest happenings and offerings on the virtual platform, they will probably be on this curated list in future Furalities.

Eclipse

Eclipse One of my critiques of the lobby at the start of the festivities is how blinding to the player it is to arrive. Many wondered "why not start in a shelter?", and I think that could have retained the effect if you came out of the shadow into the light and then got back down into the crevice. The highlight of the con in its logo was most likely the reason for this artistic direction.

Just before closing ceremonies the blinding sands were to become dimmed by a total eclipse. This was an event most attendees wanted to see, evident by the fact that once the moment came rolling around, Furality started experiencing technical issues preventing easy movement from one instance to the next. The closing ceremonies started a bit late, probably due to this.

This dimming by the eclipse was a cool effect if you had seen the lighting of the lobby prior to comparison. Unfortunately for the designer, it was not my favorite visual spectacle of the night; that easily went to the firework show.

This isn’t Furality’s fault; it was more that I was able to witness a total eclipse over my own house this year, and so I have experience on how dark things can get. It really does look like night time for a few fleeting minutes. Even cooler, the horizon all around takes on a 360-degree twilight. This didn’t quite get dim enough and the sky color was just a bit orange in color. But this Furality eclipse is supposedly two suns eclipsing one another? In that case looking at it may have not been advisable.

The fact they got it in the instance to work on a timer is probably a technically cool feat that was tricky to pull off. I don’t know how it would work, as it’s all wizardry to me. But for the audience, I don’t think it was server-clog worthy, so don’t feel too bad if you happened to miss it due to technical issues. When they publicly release the lobby, I wonder if there will be a time that it occurs or if it’d be a special version.

Fireworks show

Fireworks South.png The fireworks show was a primary example of the advantage a virtual world has versus the real one. The fear of missing out is mitigated in two ways. One, they can run an event multiple times, and secondly you can go to and from places relatively quickly. The fireworks show was indeed worth seeing, and due to it being in a virtual space you see it relatively unobstructed, without having to worry about crowds or traffic.

It took place in that same opening area of the lobby, except in this version of the world it was night time and you were limited to staying on the cliff. The flowering tower in the distance, which according to lore is where the Dealer’s Den was located, lit up while the sky exploded in an array of colors. They had the show start at the bottom of every hour and it would go on for about 25 minutes before the instance would go quiet again and would continue that cycle for many hours on Furality’s final day.

The colored beams and stars were extravagant. I probably took about a dozen 'photos' and most were very photogenic, so the one to use for this article was a very difficult process to make. No critique on this, it was very well designed and impressive.

Virtual vs. in-person conventions

Guest experience

The virtual world is better if you have friends you know going into it, and it may be more dependent on your friend group than a real world con. Furality has a party system where you and nine others can see where you all are and which instance of a world you are in. That’s the thing about the VRChat space versus the real world. If you go to a room in a physical convention there is only one ‘instance’ of that room and all convention attendees there are in that room. That’s just how reality works. In VRChat, there can be many instances running at the same time. Think of it like a multiverse.

Dealers Den.png This means that if you go to the lobby where your friends say they are and you head to the lobby though the site using a quick join option, you will most likely not be in the same room as them, but in a different instance. Instead, you’d look at your party screen and select to join them from there so you’re not only in the same room, but the same instance of that room. You have to use the site party system to do this, as using the VRChat invites directly won’t do anything. This is to ensure those going into the sim are paying (or vouchered) attendees.

This means that even though 21,000 people attended, you'd never be in the vicinity of all 21,000 of them. In-person conventions help you see how large the fandom is, because you can actually see the attendees; this helps give you a sense of the scale of the community that you should experience at least once in my opinion. But if you get anxious around crowded spaces, VRChat should feel like a smaller gathering no matter how large it gets.

An instance can only support up to 255 users at the most. But from what I hear, realistically getting into the 100s for those in the complex avatars that furries wear can be a bit of a strain on the system. So usually there wouldn’t be more than a hundred in a particular world’s instance at any given time.

Given you navigate from the webpage, virtual is extremely convenient in being able to get from place to place in a matter of moments, making it so the five-minute grace period between event sessions and panels really isn’t needed. Though ironically Furality did the grace points better than many in person conventions events I’ve attended. This may be because the casting space was shared rather than having disjointed rooms. In Furality the presenter seemed to be in a room that was then shared to the instances through television screens. This was probably done by streaming their particular instances to project in other instances, but again this goes a bit beyond my technical ability. The one in the main cantina even had closed captioning which was a nice touch not only for the hard of hearing, but if you couldn’t hear it over others chattering around you.

The centralized convenience of travel can also be a choke point, however. Real world physical spaces can be less susceptible to technical difficulties, because a technical difficulty on a gathering that is on a computer system itself and is fully dependent upon it can cause major issues should things not work correctly. Two major issues that happened at Furality this year were the Dealer’s Den being postponed a full day due to launching issues, and the eclipse event in the lobby causing people to be stuck on the instance they found themselves in as the site had a hard time keeping up with traffic demand during this time. This means you couldn’t really use the site to navigate to new worlds or instances during this time. Fortunately I was stuck with friends in the lobby during the eclipse, as we had arrived early as suggested.

Logistics

While the gathering does take a great deal of technical effort and Furality prides itself on being the largest weekend gathering of furries in the world, sometimes they or their fans will say it’s the largest convention in the world. However, for most people, it is obvious why it’s not fair to have the attendance of virtual and online events compete with real life and physical space conventions. Below are just some of the differences.

Club Fynn The cost of hosting such online events is cheaper, so this lack of cost can be reflected in the relatively cheaper cost of attendance. The cost of an in-person convention ticket usually runs between fifty and a hundred dollars for basic attendance these days, where Furality’s cost of entry was more akin to a convention ticket from the early 2000s, costing $25.

Furality was also able to provide free access to furs who put in a request indicating they were experiencing financial hardship. They were generous with this and indicated at closing ceremonies about 2,100 attendees were given the vouchers to attend for free through their program. This is a wonderful thing, and highlights that the cost of operation is much different than an in person event. No physical convention would be able to give free attendance to about 1 in 10 visitors without sacrificing something. That and given the demand for hotel rooms are in short supply for in person events, giving free tickets out would just exacerbate that problem.

In speaking of that, there's the fact that you don’t have to travel to attend Furality, and more importantly, you don’t have to find a place to room during the duration of the festivities. Due to this, theoretically Furality could have an attendance rate of millions and as long as the hosting hardware and the creatures keeping it together can handle it, you can take in as many as you wish. In person spaces, however, are always going to have a limit of people they can take in due to the limits of physical spaces.

One final difference that works to the advantage of virtual space is that there really are no time and space constraints. The dance club could have DJs on call at basically any time because there were no other main events that needed to share the space. Club F.Y.N.N. was a special space created just for the dances. Also, the dead dog dance period after closing ceremonies can extend as long as the staff wishes. Furality had DJs up until Tuesday afternoon, two days after the mainstream activities were closed. The dealer’s den which had a day delay in launch also stayed open for a full week after closing ceremonies. Which was good, because I was able to buy a kangaroo/wallaby base I liked during that extra time.

Cost parity being reached

For the ability to attract attendees, costs are also a major difference that works in Furality’s favor. The continuing lowering costs of VR and rising costs of travel and hotels is shifting virtual gatherings to have price competitiveness with real world experiences. While a VR headset is not required to use VRChat, most people are aware they won’t get the most out of it without the headgear. Even given that barrier of entry though, it is getting to the point where the cost of buying a VR headset and being capable of running it is competitive with cost of room and travel to a physical convention.

And when you buy the VR stuff, it’s a one time cost for many years of operation if you treat your equipment properly. You’d be able to use the VR gear on other activities as well. This is the foundation of understanding costs and separating them out into ‘capital expenses’ and ‘operation/maintenance expenses’. The cost of getting yourself equipment to fully attend a VR space is a capital expenditure; it’s a physical tool and the more you use it the more value each dollar you spent has. When you travel to a convention the expenses of travel and room are items that once used you never get back.

On the other hand, there are ways you can lower travel and room expenses for in-person gatherings. Rooming with people and splitting the cost of the room, or car pooling in the most fuel efficient car per occupant are great ways. For VR though, it’s not like you can share headsets with a group of friends at the same time. Each person attending needs their own headset. You can however buy two attendances for a $5 discount if you get the buddy pass for Furality, so you can share costs with friends - just not that much.

Perhaps most important of all is the time and dollar cost of personal expression during these events. If you have a character you want to dress up for a furry convention you have to buy a fursuit, which in and of itself is currently far more expensive than any VR headset. Even when you do buy one then you have to get in and out of it, go to headless lounges to deal with heating, and other such things. In VRChat there are hundreds of avatars you can try on for free; getting a paid version is quite simple, and if you have some technical skill you can modify a base design pretty easily.

My real-world partial kangaroo fursuit cost $500 plus materials back in 2013. In the virtual world I was recently able to make my character off of a base I bought from the Dealer’s den this year for $25, and that included me leaving them a tip, since it was on sale for $17. I could literally buy every base kangaroo I know of in existence currently and recolor them to match my scheme for less than it cost me to get one partial in the real world. That kind of value is very hard to ignore, but also I think it will make for a good place to design your fursona on the cheap before you fully commit to getting a suit of said character in the real world.

The future

Furality’s continued success has shown that it was not just a passing pandemic-propped congregation. Instead, it is now growing as another medium in which furries can support and be creative to their community in a whole new space. There are clear technical hurdles and a lot of behind-the-scenes items that can be improved upon, and as more discoveries are made in the development of these new spaces, who knows what the future can bring.

Because that is a final thing that the virtual world has that is different from real places. The experiences of next year’s Furality will be different from that of the current year. This can make things difficult to map out, but it also makes it so that a situation doesn’t become too familiar; if you go to Anthrocon every year, you’ll eventually be able to learn where all the interesting spots are and learn some new things about Pittsburgh each year. The virtual space will be completely different next year. So if you jump in and explore, you won’t have to worry about feeling dumb for not knowing how to get to some hotel that a veteran sort of expects you to know how to get to. Learning is part of the process in virtual spaces.

One thing I think will be interesting to keep track of is if furry virtual gatherings expand beyond the realm of VRChat. As much as it has made itself the next social gathering spot for furries such as Second Life before it, there are other platforms such as Resonite that have come forward recently, trying to put their own spin on things. For instance, I suspect it took a lot of work to get an eclipse to work in the Furality’s lobby instance. In Resonite’s ‘tutorial’ stage, you can literally point a tool at the moon and swing it in front of the sun to create an eclipse yourself by moving the moon. You can also resize and do other things with that tool. However, to make a gathering you can sell tickets to and curate, you'd probably require the world and instance infrastructure that VRChat has. Other platforms may also not be as accessible as VRChat for less-powerful headsets and platforms. But the true difficulties would be beyond my technical understanding.

It will definitely be interesting to see what the future of virtual worlds will be for the fandom. It equals the playing field as far as accessibility goes in terms of being the character you want to be and being able to get access to things that everyone else does, without worrying about expensive travel or intense social networking and vying for limited room space. And as VR becomes more accessible, we may see other furry gatherings crop up on different platforms that could bring in new experiences that may not be possible in VRChat, inspired by this solid foundation Furality has laid down.

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About the author

Sonious (Tantroo McNally)read storiescontact (login required)

a project coordinator and Kangaroo from CheektRoowaga, NY, interested in video games, current events, politics, writing and finance