VRChat EAC Update: Backlash, Accessibility Worries, Promises

Harrison Mossflwer11 minute read

You don’t need to have seen a live DJ set on top of Mt Everest, watched movies on a space station, or chatted with new friends at a virtual bar to understand what draws people into virtual reality social spaces. VR social applications such as VRChat have become a great way to socialize, especially during the pandemic. For tens of thousands of users though, their ability to participate drastically changed last week when VRChat announced that it would be implementing easy anti-cheat and effectively disabling all client modifications, including accessibility-focused ones.

While virtual reality itself has many accessibility hurdles to overcome, the technology can make many certain experiences easier to access. When it comes to VRChat, players have been able to add features like closed-captions, text-to-speech, visual clarity improvements, and more using third-party mods. This is largely because the native experience lacks these accessible tools.

The Backlash

According to VRChat, it has had major issues with problematic users crashing or hacking others using modded clients. As a result, the studio sees anti-cheat as a solution to reduce its moderation load while also protecting users. In its original announcement, the studio acknowledged that this will disable all client modifications, including ones used for quality-of-life improvements and accessibility features. 

This decision was met with a large amount of backlash, both on social media and official feedback channels. Less than 24 hours after the announcement, a post to the VRChat’s feedback forum calling for the change to be reversed had accumulated over 22 thousand votes. The recent Steam reviews are categorized as “Overwhelmingly Negative”, with the majority of the reviews citing the inclusion of anti-cheat as the reason for a bad review. 

In response to the backlash, VRChat released a notice saying that they “are reprioritizing, reorganizing, and changing our internal development roadmap to focus on the feedback.” The release confirms that the change, which went into effect recently, would not be rolled back despite the community’s reaction. “Our first priority for these changes is addressing several accessibility concerns in VRChat. We’ve got an internal list of improvements we can implement quickly and are fast-tracking it through our production and implementation process.” 

VRChat later released a third blog post detailing a few of the features that it plans to fast-track. Within “the next week or two” VRChat plans to release features for horizon adjustment (necessary for playing while laying down), color-blindness settings, and customized mic sensitivity. At the end of the post, VRChat says “In addition, we will be doing our best to make sure the community is better informed about what is coming down the pipeline in the future. We’re already working on a few things that we believe will dramatically increase the amount of interaction that we have with users.” 

Community Stories

The primary modding community for VRChat released a statement detailing reasons why anti-cheat will not work to solve the problems VRChat has. I wanted to get an idea of the types of mods being used to make the game more accessible, and was able to chat with players with a wide range of accessibility needs:

To help with mobility, players used mods to add extra controls and movement options that are unavailable in the base game. Especially for players who need to play laying on their back, the vanilla menus and interface can be difficult to interact with or use. 

“For me the big one is Comfymenu,” a player who wishes to remain anonymous tells me, “I’ve been stunned over the past interface changes. They have yet to address the location of the large menu.” They continue, “My issue is my neck having no real range of motion, joint problems due to arthritis, that and I’m an older person in my earlyish 50s. I have a very hard time looking straight down. Hell, I have to strain hard to even maintain looking down even to a 45-degree angle so down is just pain and strain.” The anonymous player tells me that using the client mod Comfymenu helps move the menu into their field of view. 

Another user, known as Noodle, talked about their requirement for client modifications on the VRChat feedback forums. “I have a permanent and painful medical condition that prevents me from playing VRChat standing up or even sitting most of the time, so I prefer to play laying down. The ability to access the menu while laying down is REQUIRED to play this game. The ability to ACCESS THE MENU shouldn’t be a constant reminder of how my body is broken.”

Jayed Skier tells me that VRChat’s default menu spawns beneath their view and is rotated at an odd angle. This is because they have very low stamina from their disabilities and spend “a lot of time in VR laying down, trying to be as comfortable as I can be.” Jayed says that “The mod, for sure, would’ve helped with the extremely uncomfortable and painful ways I’d have to contort myself just to view who was online or to scroll worlds when my body wasn’t cooperating.”

One player I talked with, known as DecentM, used a mod called NoBlink which turned off blink functions on avatars. In the past, this mod helped them to avoid triggering a tic that forced them to blink twice as much playing the game. They explain why they are skeptical VRChat will implement more obscure features like this:

“The thing that they don’t seem to understand, and what I’m frustrated with the most though, is that they’re saying that they’ll implement mod features into the base game as if they would do it better than anyone. They have a track record of a very slow development cycle, so I don’t think that’s going to happen in any sort of reasonable timeframe. One company can’t keep up with the needs of all of their users, and mods have dealt with these niche needs consistently quickly because there are so many more developers in the community than the company could ever have.”

A large number of users I spoke with used mods to accommodate their cognitive disabilities. Many of the most popular activities in VRChat are extremely social, which can come with a world of triggers that can uniquely be avoided in VR. These mods allowed players to set up safe zones, customize who could interact with them, who they could hear, who they could see, and more beyond the default controls available in VRChat. 

“Having the avatar hider mod really makes partaking in events such a lot better for me as someone with anxiety and ASD,” another anonymous player tells me (Anonymous 2), “Avatar hider also enabled me that so when it got a bit too much I can just go to the back of the room and everyone goes away. I don’t need to reload worlds, switch instances, or miss parts of songs or events, I can just go to the back or a corner somewhere and relax a bit while still enjoying the event. Now, this is impossible, I’ll have to switch instances, stay in smaller ones or get out of VR when I get overloaded.”

One major group of mods added features for users that are hard of hearing, Deaf, or have difficulties speaking. Many users highlighted the VRC-CC mod which allowed them to add closed captions to media being played. VRChat player and accessibility advocate @TheFoxipso explained the issue and demonstrated the mod in the video below.

Working With Communities

In VRChat’s update to their original announcement post, they said that “we’ve been talking to VRChat communities and community leaders about the changes and additions that they want most.” One of these communities includes Helping Hands, a community dedicated to teaching sign language in VR including varieties developed specifically for use in VR. Helping Hands has been in direct contact with VRChat staff members and feels that they are being listened to, while also acknowledging that the update deeply affects its community. 

From a VRChat staff member: “We’ve been collecting information on the most beneficial and helpful modifications that were/are in use for quite some time now, but it’s great to get the perspective from members of the HH community. Although it will take some time, we plan on implementing as much as we possibly can to help anyone play VRChat.”

A Skeptical Future

A large swath of the community is unsure of what to do after this issue. Some groups and creators remain optimistic about the future, hopeful that VRChat will make good on its promise to quickly add the accessibility features that have been requested. However many are skeptical that VRChat will actually deliver on their new promise to reprioritize and deliver the accessibility features that have been asked for. 

“I am extremely hopeful they will change it back, only due to the sheer amount of uproar this has caused in the community.” a player named FliXFolf tells me. “It’s affected those with disabilities, those without disabilities, desktop users, $1500+ setup users, almost everyone! To think that VRChat wouldn’t try and appease their close community by accepting that they went wrong would be bizarre to me and many others.”

Anonymous 2 say they have “very little confidence” in the studio implementing accessibility features due to the community requesting them “for years” and not seeing anything implemented. They state that “people from within the modding community are willing to work with VRChat on implementing these.” They also say that “[I] just don’t see VRChat being as open or responsive as they say they will be. If they do implement these I believe it will be a very long time until they do and/or they will be poorly implemented/half-arsed or missing features.”

“What feels even worse is the rate at which blog posts and communication was given AFTER the fact, especially the updates to accessibility features,” Jayed says. “The development team could have worked on these features at any point in the last few years and given them to us, but instead chose to only help their disabled playerbase after [the community] review bombed their game and stopped giving them money. It’s so shameful, and it makes me feel unwelcome and unvalued by the product I’ve invested hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours in.”

Lastly, one player tells me that “The fact they didn’t [implement features] before dropping this kinda makes me feel they are not going to implement this in anything like a timely manner. They really should have gotten the low-hanging fruit done before angering the community. It seems like a bad faith move.”

Migrating to Other VR Spaces

Some players are migrating to similar VR social spaces like Chillout VR or Neos VR, both of which have seen a huge influx of users and are quickly trying to scale their services. AlphaBlend Interactive, the studio behind ChilloutVR has even hired former VRChat mod creators to help them expand their service according to their official Discord. Coincidentally both services have released statements affirming their support for client-side mods.

Many users are unsure whether or not they will be able to leave VRChat, as despite the mod removal it is still the largest VR social game and the alternatives can be more resource intensive. Not to mention users that have paid up to thousands of dollars for in-game assets that will take additional time or money to move over to another platform, or the creators trying to make a living selling those assets. 

What Next?

It seems that regardless of how fast VRChat manages to implement new accessibility features, this update has caused an incredible impact on the community. It does seem like VRChat is willing to listen to players, and hopefully, the studio will stay true to its word and implement the accessibility features that were so abruptly disabled.

A developer-focused blog post from VRChat does seem to show that they are rapidly implementing requested accessibility features, several of which are now available in live open beta. It’s clear that VRChat did not expect the level of blowback that it received, and was partially unaware of the depth of needs of its disabled players.

The amount of attention that other social VR apps are getting in the wake of the update shows that players will go to places where they can be better accommodated and have more agency. The VR community is larger than any single application, and will no doubt recover from this upset. Hopefully, the amount of visibility that VR accessibility tools have gotten will encourage developers to prioritize these features in the future that enhance their experiences for everyone, not just those with disabilities. 

Enjoy our work? Please consider supporting us!

Donating through DAGERSystem with PayPal may be tax deductible

Follow CIPT

Latest from CIPT

(Opens in new tab) starting with