Sansar: thoughts around Kotaku’s hands-on

The Sansar Apollo Museum, unveiled LOOT Interactive’s The Art of VR event in New York on June 22nd, allows visitors to virtually explore true-to-scale models of the Saturn V rocket, Command and Service Module, and Lunar Excursion Module used to reach the Moon, then walk the entire mission from launch to re-entry via a Museum-length mission map; and teleport to a recreation of the Apollo 11 lunar landing site. Credit: LOOT Interactive / Linden Lab

While it doesn’t offer any revaluations of epic proportions about Sansar, and is headlined by the somewhat misleading Hands On With Sansar, the New Second Life, Cecilia D’Anastasio’s June 21st, 2017 piece for Kotaku, still makes for an interesting read, offering as it does further looks inside Sansar for those keen to get a look at environments there, and some food for thought.

Cecilia is a journalist I greatly admire, and who has excellently covered Second Life in the past (see A Perspective On Avatars and Identity and Motherboard Looks at Second Life). She got to spend time in Sansar, which appears to be currently on the road, visiting various events (Canada last month, now New York City) in which might be part of the Lab’s efforts in ramping-up public awareness of the platform as they roll towards an “open beta” phase with the platform.

Cecilia D’Anastasio: a hands on and thoughts about Sansar

Along the way, she visited several spaces within Sansar, and while treading the familiar ground of Sansar being the “WordPress of VR”, a “VR first” environment, etc., she also took time to point out the side of the platform which isn’t perhaps pushed quite so hard by the Lab: that it can be access and experienced by anyone using a PC system, regardless as to whether they have a VR headset.

True, the focus of development in Sansar thus far has leant towards the VR end of the scale because the Lab is convinced VR will be a major factor in people’s lives (and as readers know, I’m not so convinced of that argument), and the desktop side of things still needs work. However, that Sansar can be accessed via a PC sans headset, is something that perhaps should be underlined more, simply because sales of PC-based VR headsets really aren’t that stellar right now, and are likely to remain less-than-exciting for the next few years – something I’ll come back to in a moment.

Early in the piece, Cecilia drops a couple of comments which, while interesting, might require reading with care. For example, in one she references Sansar being subscription based. However, given the Lab hasn’t really been that forthcoming about the revenue model for Sansar, it’s impossible to determine what is meant by “subscription” in the article. Does it really mean anyone wishing to use Sansar will have to subscribe first, or is it a reference to that fact things like hosting space for Sansar experiences will have an associated fee?

But rather than nitpick, let’s come back to the “Sansar from a desktop” aspect of the piece. I found this particularly interesting because while the Lab has pointed to Sansar being “PC accessible” without a headset, many of those aware of it still see it only as a VR platform – and this could be a problem for Sansar, at least in the near-term.

Now, to be clear, and as I’ve tended to say in the past, there are vertical markets where VR – and thus, by extension, Sansar –  has exceptional merit and could gain significant traction in the near-term:

  • Gaming
  • Education – both for practical teaching, and for the ability to visit / recreate historical environments and bring them to a broader public. Hence the recreation of an Egyptian tomb from Lidar, which can only be accessed in the physical world with permission from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, and the just unveiled  Apollo Museum and the Harold Lloyd Stereoscopic Museum.
Another look at the Sansar Apollo museum, showing the complete “Eagle” Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) sitting on the Sea of Tranquillity (and with visitors!). Credit:  LOOT Interactive / Linden Lab
  • Architecture and design: allowing companies large and small work in VR to develop immersive models for clients, which can be toured, examined for issues or things like changes clients would like to see, all before any work is undertaken. Hence why (as I’ve previously pointed out), it was no accident that the first public demonstration for Project Sansar came during San Francisco’s month-long 2015 Architecture and the City Festival.
  • Simulation and Training: Sansar could again offer significant benefits to those requiring immersive and flexibility VR-based training and simulation without the need to heavily invest in dedicated work spaces / environments.
  • Healthcare: VR is already demonstrating its value in a wide variety of applications, including helping with post traumatic stress disorder, pain relief for burns victims, cancer care, and more.

BUT, the fact is that many of these sectors work just as effectively sans a VR headset. OK, so the depth of immersion would be lost, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be practically used. Thus, by pushing the VR-centric aspect of the platform so aggressively, the Lab could risk turning those institutions, companies, etc., that might be interested in exploring Sansar away from the platform, simply because they are unwilling to make the investment in VR systems, but are waiting to see how the market growth and what products appear.

No, it’s not a home in Second Life, it’s a home in Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab, via Kotaku

Within the mass market of home users, this focus on VR hardware could impact Sansar’s reach even further. Simply put, the “humble” PC with its “barriers” (as Philip Rosedale from High Fidelity would call them) of the mouse and keyboard, still has a far, far greater reach into people’s homes than VR is likely to achieve for several years at least. So again, putting the heavy emphasis on Sansar “being about the VR” could so easily turn people away from trying it, simply because they are also unwilling to put money into headsets and associated hardware, and won’t be until they see prices come down to the level of “affordability”.

Of course, the Lab state they are in Sansar for the long haul – pointing towards Second Life’s longevity; and as noted above, there are market sectors where VR perhaps is starting to gain traction and which Sansar could comfortably leverage. Even so and as Cecilia suggests, a more open approach to how Sasnar can be used with or without VR headsets and hardware, could broaden the new platform’s appeal even as VR goes through its own growing pains.

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10 thoughts on “Sansar: thoughts around Kotaku’s hands-on

  1. I am glad, Inara, that you have forgiven the journalist the title based on an otherwise good article. I do wish to GOD that people would stop referring to Sansar as the “New Second Life.” It’s an evolutionary step, not a replacement part. We still do not know what cultural format the platform will engender, and we will not know until it is up and running. Given the difference in general grid structure, it will not – cannot be the same as SL. It will have its own, unique cultural stamp. Ignoring the social imperative in virtuality is to miss one of its great strengths.

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    1. Indeed! Although in fairness to Cecilia, who has an adept understanding of social platforms and immersive environments, I wonder if the title was her choice, or that of an editor at Kotaku …

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    2. Yeah, the comments under that article too: “second life 2”, .. not to mention the various “game”, “video game”, “play”… When LL told countless times it isn’t meant to be SL2 and one of the very first thing they tried to show was Sansar used for museums. There will be various kind of entertainment, but the platform isn’t a game per se, not even SL is, given that it can be used for many different purposes, not just to play.
      Sometimes, seeing those comments, I think they shouldn’t have mentioned SL and LL at all and developed Sansar under a different company name, and just said something as: “hey, we are working on this VR thing, where everyone would be able to create a VR space easily, without coding it all by themselves – kinda like WordPress or Yutube, you know – see, we are developing it alongside this museum. It can be used for any purpose and application, whichever you need to display stuff in 3D to your costumers or whatever, possibilities are endless.” Don’t think just a game (or porn stuff).

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  2. I have been in Sansar. There is absolutely no “need” to have VR equipment. I guess a headset would give you a more immersive in-the-game feeling, but there is nothing that you can’t do with the regular keyboard and mouse. In contrast, I’ve also been in High Fidelity and that IS a VR centric world. You can muddle along with a keyboard and mouse but it’s greatly hindered. In my opinion, Sansar has much more potential.

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  3. Bluntly put, I wish folk would stop referring to 1st person 3D virtual preserntations as “Virtual Reality”. If SecondLife is not already Virtual Reality, what in God’s name is it?
    SecondLife is most assuredly virtual, so surely what makes Sansar so different is that it can be presented in 1st person 3D via a headset, is it not?
    Your commentators indicate that Sansar is definitely “on the right track” in allowing full access without a headset, but that said, if it did not it would have the life expectancy of a Mayfly.
    I, for one, am not holding my breath waiting to go there.

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  4. I’m unlikely to ever be able to afford a headset, on top of the expensive PC, so this is welcome news. It saddens me that it is news. The info that Linden Lab sends from SL to the local viewer would support a working headset: the images are generated locally. But there have been consistent claims that Sansar needs a sub-40ms ping time for convincing VR. Either the Lindens have redefined the term, or Sansar will be American-only, and not even all the country.

    Because of its underlying network structure the UK is about 50ms across, it takes rather more time for most people to get a packet from Cornwall than it does for the packet to pass through the trans-Atlantic wet string, and then there’s the long and winding road across the USA from from their north east to a data centre in the parched deserts of Arizona.

    There may be a very good reason why Linden Lab have put on a Touring Show. They may have to rent servers in a physically local data centre to get the low ping time they need to impress their targets.

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    1. Yes, the SL viewer does hold object and texture data locally, but the problem tends to be the data is so unoptimised that SL cannot consistently achieve the frame rates required of VR headsets (recommended 90 fps). It was that lack of consistency which largely killed high-end HMD support for SL.

      If you’ve been following Sansar development, you should know that a) all content is optimised for delivery (hence the dedicated run-time environment); b) the hosting / delivery infrastructure isn’t dedicated LL-owned servers in Arizona everyone has to reach, it is Amazon’s cloud services, allowing from a much broader, more efficient reach.

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