In July 2015, I produced the first in a (possibly) semi-regular series intended to summarise what has actually been stated / revealed about Linden Lab’s next generation virtual experiences platform, Project Sansar.
Since then, more information has been released, both to the press and more particularly via in-world sessions such as the annual VWBPE conference (April 2016), the Lab Chat meetings (November 2015, January 2016, May 2016) and the recent SL13B celebration Ebbe linden Q&A (June 2016).
This article is an attempt to pull relevant core information from those sessions and assorted press / media reports into a summary of what has been said thus far about Project Sansar, citing references for anyone wishing to follow-up. I don’t claim to have covered everything that has been said, but I have attempted to include the most relevant points of interest.
Citations are given in the format [number (article / publisher, month year)] where “number” indicates it is a unique reference (citations to the same reference use the same number); “article / publisher£ indicates if it is a transcript (e.g. LC1 = Lab chat 1) or a media publication (e.g. “Wareable” = Wareable on-line) and “month year” is self-explanatory. Thus, for example:
- [1 (LL Apr 16)] = 1st citation, a statement from Linden Lab, April 2016
- [36 (LC2, Jan 16)] = 36th citation, from Lab Chat 2, January 2016.
Citations to Lab Chat, etc., transcripts provided in this blog reference the relevant part of the transcript; podcast /video citations include a time stamp, if relevant; external media citations are to the article.
Time Frames: Creator Preview and Extending Access
- The Lab launched the “Creator Preview” application process on April 26th 2016 [1 ( LL Apr 16)]. The application form is still available at the time of writing
- Access is limited to content creators willing to work with the Lab, provide feedback, etc., [2 (VWBPE Apr 16)], and accept the risk that changes to the platform may break their content [3 (LC2 Jan 16)]
- This followed closed alpha testing which commenced in August 2015 [4 (LL Aug 15)], which included invitations to those in markets which the Lab are targeting for Sansar [5 (Wareable Jan 16)]
- Further creators are to start gaining access from August 2016 [6 (Podcast Aug 16 – 37:19)]
- Those simply wanting to look around Sansar will not be accepted [7 (LC3 May 16)]
- Around Q3 2016 they hope to start publicly revealing more about the platform, more images, possibly videos, possibly information on specifications, etc [8 (VWBPE Apr 16)]
- It is hoped that full public access is expected to commence in January 2017 [6 (Podcast, Aug 16 – 38:09)]
- When first opened to the public, Sansar will not be as feature-rich as Second Life, and will take time to mature [9 (VWBPE Apr 16)].
Content Creation Tools / Capabilities
- As the year progresses, the Lab will expand Sansar support to other content creation tools beyond Maya (e.g. to include Sketch-up, Blender, 3D Max, etc) [10 (VWBPE Apr 16)]
- Notably, Sansar will offer .FBX file import capabilities to support a broader range of content creation tools [11 (LC2 May 16)]
- There will be built-in tools for terrain building and layout management, which have been focus for the Lab [12 (LC2 May 16)]. These land tools should allow for creating caves, overhangs, etc., and offer some means of auto-generation of some vegetation and present more in the way of volumetric liquids (so you will eventually be able to eventually fill a beaker with liquid). HOWEVER – these are not all “Day 1” capabilities [13 (Drax Files, Apr 16 ]
- Internal tools for original content creation (e,g, using prims or voxels), together with mesh editing capabilities, may come in time, but these are not currently a priority focus [10 (VWBPE Apr 16)], [11 (LC2, May 16]], [13 (Drax Files, Apr 16 05:32)]
- Scripting will be C# and over time capabilities to better support external tools, IDEs, etc., will be added [14 (LC2 Jan 16)]
- Sansar is being built more a “design-centric” view, focusing on ease-of use to present a virtual environment for people to access and use [6 (Podcast, Aug 16 (24:24)]
- The term “creator” in Sansar is not restricted to those who build actual mesh models, accessories, etc., it applies equally to those who design spaces inside the platform using items purchased from others [6 (Podcast, Aug 16 (26:32)]
Separate Editing and Runtime Environments
- Sansar will have separate editing and run-time environments, which is not the case with Second Life (where you can walk down the street as see someone manipulating prims to build a house, for example). This is necessary to ensure Sansar can support the required frame rates for VR [15 (VWBPE, Apr 16)]
- Experiences will be built and content added / positioned within the editing environment and then “published” via optimisation (aka baking) to the runtime environment where it is accessed by users – hence the comparisons between Sansar and platform like YouTube and WordPress [16 (Fortune, Nov 15)]
- This editing environment is currently single user only, but the Lab hope that by the end of 2016, it will support multiple people editing / creating collaboratively on a single project [13 Drax Files, Apr 16 04:30)].
Avatars, Personas, Avatar Inventory
- People will be able to create their own avatar identities, with existing user names for Second Life residents already reserved [17 (LC3, May 16]
- Rather than running multiple accounts, users will be able to have multiple “personas” under a single account. However, it is not clear if a user will be able to have multiple “personas” logged-in to the platform simultaneously [18 (LC1, Nov 15)]
- User will be able to customise their avatar look and appearance in time. However, experience creators will have more power to dictate the appearance of visitors to their environments if they so wish, in order to preserve any required immersiveness. This may even include forcing visitors into a first-person view during a visit [19 (LC2, Jan 16)]
- Avatar editing will initially be limited when Sansar first opens (be will improve over time). It may be limited to “skin tone, maybe a couple of hairstyles, a couple of pre-defined outfits”; however, the overall aim as Sansar develops is to present a fair easier means to manage an avatar’s appearance than is the case with SL [20 (SL13B, Jun 16)]
- Overall, clothing should be easier to manage and fit, but inventory may be dependent upon experience, rather than being central to the avatar (e.g. if you only need gun Y for Experience Y, it will only be available to you whilst in that experience [21, (LC1, Nov 15)]
- Avatar controls / use will be different in Sansar, due to the added dimension of VR support (controller, need to see hands, etc [22, (SL13B, Jun 16)].
User Identity, Pseudonyms and Accounts
- Users signing-up to Sansar will likely be encouraged to provide wallet identity information, which will be kept purely between the user and the Lab [23 (SL13B, Jun 16)], [24 (LC3, May 16)]
- Within this relationship, users will likely have a choice of how they reveal themselves to other users – real wallet ID or via pseudonyms
- In some circumstances (e.g. business environments, it is seen as advantageous to the owner of the experience to determine the level of identity required to access it [13 (Drax Files, Apr 16 13:00)]
- Identity will also feature in the on-boarding process to ensure only authorised users access a given experience from a web portal connected to is (e.g. only valid school students can access a classroom) [13 (Drax Files, Apr 16 23:59)]
- The idea is not to force people into revealing their wallet identities to other users, but providing the means to provide the broadest means of avatar identification applicable to multiple use-cases
- The idea of supplying personal information to the Lab is also bound with the issue of trust: providing requested information helps the Lab verify individuals, allowing them to do more, and so potentially helps decrease things like the use of multiple throwaway accounts used for griefing, or possibly exposing the platform to attempts at illegal use [25 (SL12B, Jun 15]], [26 (LC2, Jan 16)]
- Sansar may support logging-in via Facebook, but it will not be a pre-requisite that Sansar users must use Facebook [27 (LC3, May 16)].
Ebbe Altberg discusses Project Sansar at AWE in June 2016
Scenes: the “land” of Sansar; Discovery; Instances
- Individual spaces within Sansar are referred to as “scenes” [28 (SL13B, Jun 16)] which can be “multiple kilometres” on a side (four kilometres – 16 SL regions – has previously been mentioned [29 (LC2, Jan 2016)])
- Scenes can be “stitched together” to present even larger spaces, with users able to interconnect them “as they wish”, such as by using language, culture, theme, activity, etc [30 (LC1, Nov 15)]
- However “region crossings” as we know them in Second Life are not currently being solved for, and may not be [28, SL13B, Jun 2016)]
- It appears as if avatars may be able to move between scenes / experiences. Techcrunch reporter Lucas Matney refers to “traversing the worlds” of Sansar, suggesting he was seamlessly moving between scenes, [31 (Techcrunch, Jul 16)]; while in talking to Mark Piszczor (video embedded above), Ebbe Altberg references “teleporting” between experiences [32 (AWE.tv, Jun 16 – 07:02)])
- Scenes need not necessarily be “land”, they could be water (above and / or below, one assumes) or space [33 (SL13B, Jun 16)]
- The cost of scene ownership should be very much lower than land ownership in SL; it’s therefore unlikely that business models focused on sub-dividing “land” and leasing it to tenants will be a business model for Sansar [34, SL13B, Jun 16)], [35 (LC3, May 16)]
- Scenes / experiences will have an associated web page to help owners attract an audience to their environment. This may be a basic format page supplied by the Lab, but Experience owners may also use their own, more sophisticated pages if they wish [36 (LC2, Jan 16)], [37 (LC2, Jan 16)]
- Sansar will not support the idea of a central “world map” from “Day 1”, but it is something the Lab may consider over time [36 (LC2, Jan 16)]
- Scenes within Sansar will support far higher concurrency than is possible in Second Life (in the “hundreds”), although this may take time to ramp-up. The Lab also plan to have multiple instances able to view a shared instance, further increasing the numbers of people able to witness an event [38 (LC3, May 16)].
- Project Sansar will not now use the Linden Dollar [39 (VWBPE, Apr 16)]
- The Lab is still considering matters, but it will likely support some form of convertible token, rather than supporting fiat money across multiple currencies [40 (LC3, May 16)]
- The Lab is looking to generate revenue through various means, in order to keep the cost of scene / experience ownership down [35 (LC3, May 16)] . These may include [13 (Drax Files, Apr 16 19:15)]:
- Fees associated with the resources used, e.g. paying for the experiences published through the platform people can visit
- Commission against in-world sales (currently for Second Life, the Lab only charges a direct commission for Marketplace sales)
- Subscription options for users / customers, possibly based on resource usage – capabilities used, size of inventories, how many experiences can be published, what kind of privacy controls are provided, etc.
- Sansar currently supports the PC / Windows Platform. Work is in-hand to port the runtime application to run on iOS and Android, although this may not be available from “day 1” of public access. Mac support will be provided down the road, as will a streaming solution, utilising a slightly different business model [41 (VWBPE, Apr 16)]
- Linux is currently “not high” on the Lab’s list of operating platforms, due to the comparatively low number on Linux users [42 (LC2, Jan 16)]
- Desktop hardware specification have not been finalised. However, those wishing to use VR headsets with Sansar, the requirements will be as per the hardware requirements for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. For users without VR equipment, the system specifications will be lower [43 (LC3, May 16)] , [44 (SL13B, Jun 16)]
- Sansar will have a streaming solution, suitable for mobile devices, browsers and thin clients. This will be based on a subscription model, but no fees have been determined as yet. Sansar was also featured in an Amazon case study on service delivery using Amazon ECS [45 (this blog, Jan 16)]
- VR Support:
- Sansar primarily supports Oculus Rift [46 (LC2, Jan 16)] and the HTC Vive [47 (VWBPE, Apr 16)]
- There are no plans to support OSVR [48 (LC2, Jan 16)]
- It is unlikely that mobile VR (Gear, Cardboard, etc.) will be supported until the capabilities have matured further (and perhaps not even then) [49 LC1, Nov 15)]
- There are currently no plans to make Sansar available through something like Steam [47, VWBPE, Apr 16)].
Sansar Customer / Client Markets
- Linden Lab have already identified a number of vertical markets they believe Sansar can leverage because VR immediately adds value: education, training, simulation, healthcare, design, architecture and business [50 (LC2, Jan 16)], as well as “casual” users, seeking to build games, role-play environments and social spaces
- The Lab also appear to have a number of “content partners” with whom they are working [51 LL, Aug 15)]
- To help businesses and organisations establish themselves in Sansar, their may be something akin of the former Second Life solution Provider programme – people engaged in the platform who can sell services and expertise to others [52 LC2, Jan 16)].
General Capabilities / Options / Thinking
The Lab are aiming for Sansar to be open to anyone of 13 years or older, although this may change [53, VWBPE, Apr 16]
- Some form of content rating will b used to ensure proper access to different environments; Sansar will not disbar adult content or activities – although providing specific support for adult-related activities won’t be a focus [54, VWBPE, Apr 16]
- Support for the impaired will hopefully be provided, although what forms this takes is still to be determined [55, LC2, Jan 16], although third-party text-to-speech and speech-to-text services will hopefully be supported in the future [56, LC1, Nov 16]
- Sansar will likely have its own Terms of Service, but this may at some point be merged into a more general ToS covering the Lab’s products [57, LC3, May 16]
- Sansar will not support Skill Gaming when the doors first open to the public, as the underpinning capabilities for any complex games will not be fully in place. Whether the Lab would want to support Skill Gaming on Sansar in the future is still TBD [58 (VWBPE, Apr 16)]
- Spacial audio, in-world media, and streamed content will be supported as will keyboard and mouse as well as VR controller systems [32 (AWE.tv, Jun 16 – 07:14)]
- Sansar will likely have different tools for the Lab to deal with griefing [26 (LC2, Jan 26)]
- There is no “tablets of stone” roadmap for Sansar. including taking feedback from those using Sansar [32 (AWE.tv, Jun 16 – 08:35)]
- As Second Life and Project Sansar are entirely separate products, utilising very different technologies and approaches, it is extremely unlikely that capabilities can / will be ported directly from one to the other [59 VWBPE, Apr 16)]
Selected Press / Media Items
The following is a selection of the more informative articles and media pieces on Project Sansar, produced over the course of the year from late July 2015 through early August 2016.
- Podcast – Constant Innovations 7: Ebbe Altberg (August 2016)
- Techcrunch – Second Life creators look to revamp reality once again, this time in VR (July 2016)
- Times Higher Education – Virtual reality really is heading to a university near you (July 2016)
- USA Today – Second Life’s creators try for a third — in virtual reality (July 2016)
- PC Magazine – Are You Ready for ‘Second Life 2.0’ in VR? (July 2016)
- ZDNet – Second Life Lessons: What Linden Lab is Doing Differently with its New VR Platform (July2016)
- Video – Augmented World Expo Interview with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg (July 2016)
- VR Life – Create Your Experience with Project Sansar May 2016)
- Road to VR – Open vs Closed Metaverse: Project Sansar & The New Experiential Age (May 2016)
- Video – Ebbe Altberg, Collision Conference: User-Created Realities: the Future of VR (May 2016)
- The Creators Project – Peek Inside Second Life’s Virtual Reality Successor, ‘Project Sansar’ (April 2016)
- VentureBeat – Linden Lab Wants Users to Create Social Experiences in Virtual Reality World (April 2016)
- Readwrite – Linden Lab’s Project Sansar and the Future of Virtual Reality (March 2016)
- San Francisco Business Times – In Virtual Reality, Second Life Prepares for its Second Act (January 2016)
- Wearable – Virtual Worlds Reborn: Can Second Life’s Second Life Democratise VR? (January 2016)
- PSFK – A Look Into a More Social Virtual Reality With the Makers of Second Life (December 2015)
- Video – UploadVR discusses Project Sansar with Ebbe Altberg (August 2015)
- Re/Code – Welcome to the Metaverse (July 2015)
- Variety – Second Life Maker Linden Lab Wants to Build the WordPress of Virtual Reality (July 2015)