Techcrunch and THE examine Project Sansar

Project Sansar: increasingly in the tech media's media's eye
Project Sansar: increasingly in the tech media’s eye. Credit: Linden Lab

It appears that, in keeping with their word, the Lab is starting to allow journalists into Project Sansar. At the start of July, Ed Baig got a look inside Sansar for USA Today, as I reported here and here (with Ed’s own article here). now it is the turn of Techcrunch and, earlier in the month, Times Higher Education (THE), with pieces appearing in Russian, Polish and Brazilian outlets.

In Second Life creators look to revamp reality once again, this time in VR. Techcrunch’s Lucas Matney steps inside Project Sansar at the invitation of Ebbe Altberg, and his guide is the Lab’s VP of Product Bjorn Laurin (Born Linden). As with most articles we seen of late, nothing intrinsically “new” is added to what has so far been revealed about Sansar in terms of capabilities, approach or screen shots, but  there are some interesting tidbits, all the same. For example, early on he notes:

Traversing the worlds of Sansar and chatting with my guide, Linden Lab VP of Product Bjorn Laurin, was a mostly seamless experience but still an oddly unsettling one. It’s not that anything was particularly creepy about the place I was viewing through an Oculus Rift headset. Sansar is visually placid and often beautiful, but it’s also startlingly scalable and boundless. Scale is something that’s often taken for granted in an age of video game epics like Skyrim and GTAV, but when every horizon you see through your own point-of-view is conquerable, you’re left to either feel very bold or very lost.

Lucas Matney considers Project Sansar for Techcrunch
Lucas Matney considers Project Sansar for Techcrunch

The two things that are interesting here are the comment about the “mostly seamless” experience of moving between “Sansar worlds” (“worlds” here, I assume, means Sansar “scenes” which have been “stitched together”  – to use the Lab’s terminology – to create an “experience”). This appears to imply that whatever mechanism is in place to move avatars between different connected scenes (teleporting?) is pretty smooth and that there may not be too much in the way of any interruption when moving between scenes. It’ll be interesting to discover if / how this might extend to vehicles at some point down the road as Sansar develops.

The second interesting part of the comment is the apparently limitless size Sansar presents to users, suggesting that as with Second Life, Sansar will convey a sense of massive spaces which might reach beyond their physical limits – so will people be looking out onto open “water” as with SL, or will the “land” appear to stretch off into the far horizon – or is it simply that the available Sansar scenes all make use of the upper bounding size (previously reported to be around 4 km / 16 SL regions on a side)? Either way, it may well be that environments in Sansar aren’t quite as “enclosed” – at least visually – as people might be fearing.

A further point of interest in the article takes the form of an astute observation perhaps overlooked when discussing Sansar’s potential for success:

Like Second Life, Project Sansar is not an experience that needs to be perfect at its initial launch or see a certain number of first week user numbers to be a hit. It just has to stay consistent, evolve with the hardware/interface trends of modern VR and steadily push boundaries as it updates.

Hence why the Lab isn’t trying to cross all the “T”s and dot all the “I”s with Sansar from day one, and why they do repeatedly warn SL users it is not going to necessarily be to their taste when the doors first open. VR is going to take time to mature – not just in terms of user conviction, but the very hardware and software itself. Things will change within the industry, probably quite rapidly (look at the pace of change of other “disruptive” technologies, such as the mobile ‘phone), thus it’s important for Sansar to be in a position to demonstrate it can meet user cases and needs – but also remain flexible and responsive to emerging technology and the new needs / opportunities arising from it.

In a time when we’re perhaps becoming inured (so to speak) with the comparisons to Sansar with the likes of WordPress and YouTube for content creation, it’s perhaps refreshing to have someone put their finger on the button of LL’s monetisation focus for Sansar, with Matney observing the company plans to essentially build “an app store for VR creative properties”. This is not only a neat way to encapsulate Sansar’s approach to monetisation, it also neatly folds back into the idea that “creator” in Sansar encompasses a broader cross-section of users than perhaps we consider to be the case in Second Life – as I mentioned in covering Ed Baig’s USA Today piece.

Alice Bonasio: looking at Sansar and VR for THE
Alice Bonasio: looking at Sansar and VR for THE

One of the several target markets the Lab is looking towards for Sansar is that of education, and it is from this perspective that Alice Bonasio, writing for Times Higher Education, considered Project Sansar back at the start of July 2016.

Starting with a look at the success Second Life has enjoyed within education, Virtual reality really is heading to a university near you more generically considers the role of VR in education, and the manner in which Sansar might be a part of an education revolution – not just in terms of providing immersive teaching environments, but in the ability for universities and colleges, etc., to potentially monetise their environments.

It’s an interesting line to take, but what is perhaps of greater interest, in terms of gaining further understanding as to why Linden Lab felt they needed to push ahead with Project Sansar, is in the vision for education presented through the piece. In this, Alice Bonasio doesn’t just examine the Lab’s hopes for Sansar, she frames them in terms of experiments conducted by Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. These experiments demonstrated some very real benefits of using VR / augmented capabilities can bring to the basic  tutor / student relationship, quite aside from all the deeply immersive potential offer by the technology.

Again, neither article offers anything specifically “new” in terms of how Sansar will look when the door opens or what the baseline capabilities will be when that happens in early 2017. However, they do both provide individual insights into the platform which make them both a worthwhile read, with Techcrunch’s Matney in particular ending with further food for thought, noting that while Sansar might not  require a huge audience from the get-go, it does nevertheless need to succeed in its central aim of providing a platform for “social VR” – and that’s no easy thing, because “social VR” isn’t really an understood medium right now (we can only guess at what it might be like and – equally importantly – how people might react to it). But as he notes in closing:

The early beta shows great promise and while a wide release of its desktop and VR versions is still likely months away, it’s clear that Linden Lab understands the daunting magnitude of both Project Sansar’s challenges and its potential.

6 thoughts on “Techcrunch and THE examine Project Sansar

  1. Sansar has become more appealing than it was six months ago. But not appealing enough for me to even want to try it until at least the third quarter of 2017 if at all. Of course that is a year from now but there will have to be a lot of changes and a much lower hardware cost.

    It seems to me Sansar doesn’t really have a target audience. Serious Gamers who will already have the needed hardware might try it at first but will soon tire of it since it is not really a game.

    Current SL users won’t be that interested until the third quarter of 2017. Unless there is a substantial improvement in SL like features in Sansar but I don’t see that audience staying either. We have too much invested in SL time and money to make that attractive. Essentially it is starting over.

    One related possibility is the lab forcing a move from SL to Sansar. I know they say not but this is a year in the future and the lab will have a substantial financial investment with Sansar so I my crystal ball says it is a possibility.

    What about education users. That is possible but SL doesn’t have a great record in the area so a fallback position. With rapidly changing VR capabilities put that on a back maybe burner.

    Could there be some unknown target audience. Sure that is possible but I’m not holding my breath.


  2. As an almost ten year member of SL, a 73 yr old retired grandmother with vision problems and a major case of “claustrophobia”, and an avid content creator in SL, I totally agree with Willow. And I’ve yet to see or hear anything at all that would make Sansar more attrractive to me than SL currently is.
    Frankly I would not be very comfortable physically or mentally using one of those VR headsets. That is a HUGE “turn off” for me and many others I know. But then I also assume we are not the Lab’s target audience. I would indeed be interested in any information regarding “accessability” for those of us with specific physical issues and what if anything the Lab has or plans for Sansar .


    1. While it is primarily geared for the VR market, Sansar isn’t exclusively VR-focused. It will be accessible via desktop systems without VR at launch in early 2017. Hence why the Lab defines the initial Platforms as being, “PC / Windows and Oculus”, rather than “a Windows PC with Oculus Rift” (see here).

      However, the actual (non-VR) PC specification has yet to be finalised (although it is hoped it might be somewhat equivalent to SL – see here). But the overall system specification have yet to be finalised / announced (see here). It is also hoped that at launch, Sansar will be available for Mac (see here), again pointing to the non-VR capabilities of the platform, as neither Oculus and HTC support Mac.

      The Lab are also looking to make Sansar as fully accessible as possible, including the means to plug-in text-to-speech / speech-to-text (see here). More on this and other accessibility options will doubtless become clear in time.

      Hope this helps 🙂 .


  3. That Sansar will be accessible without the Oculus headset is helpful but not new. After six months away from Sansar discussions I expected more information since that was and still is a major concern of several people.

    I expected more information on the non-Oculus usage by now but what Inara said could have been cut and pasted from something said six months ago. Maybe she just doesn’t have more information. Understandable if you aren’t part of the in group of creators that has access to Sansar and given the secretive nature its development.

    Actually I am an eleven year veteran of SL. I celebrated my eleventh rez day yesterday. Here is something that worries me about using the headset besides claustrophobia and vision problems. Because of an injury my head shakes and it gets worse if I’m stressed. That is going to play havoc with the Oculus head tracker. Over the years I’ve learned to compensate for that enough so I held a high ranking professional employment position for years. One of the reasons I enjoy SL is my physical limitations do not make a difference in world. With the probable claustrophobic and vision stresses I can see my head staking getting worse.

    Sure I’m an unusual case but I’m chronologically too old to adapt to something new again. After all SL is fun but there needs to be something amazing in Sansar for me to even want to try it in the third quarter of 2017. I just don’t see anything that will make me want to try it.Of course something may change in a year but I’m still not holding my breath.-Willow


  4. Will Sansar be another technology people with disabilities cannot use because many people with disabilities cannot use VR gear. Second life was a blessing to many people with disabilities. Although Linden Labs did make some changes that, for instance, made windows voice recognition not work correctly because as Microsoft says makers of the software didn’t set it up correctly to work with the speech recognition. At one point removing some of the onscreen arrows people with disabilities need and use for navigation. Only after continually complaining did they actually add the arrows back. There have been many suggestions from people with disabilities for new second life viewer capabilities, but Linden Labs insists they should make their own viewer for second life.


    1. Sansar can be used without VR headsets and controller, although functionality is a little limited *at the moment*. The lab is working on wider accessibility – speech-to-text, text-to-speech, etc., to address a larger audience.

      Please see my report on a session with Bjorn and Widely Linden on Sansar’s direction.


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