Sansar Creator Beta: personal thoughts

Sansar: Villa Ortli – Sansar Studio

It’s been just over a week since the Sansar Creator Beta opened its doors to the public, allowing anyone who wishes to visit to do so. I’ve been jumping in and out for a while, both as a part of the Creator Preview and during the last week, and have also been following some of the feedback since the doors opened on Monday, July 31st. So, what are my thoughts (whatever worth they might be) on the new platform?

Well, first and foremost – it’s not Second Life.

I’m being neither flippant nor dismissive in saying this. Sansar is a very different beast to Second Life, and is liable to remain so for a good while to come. However, despite all the comment to this effect from the Lab, in blogs like this and elsewhere, there still seems to be a perception that Sansar somehow “is” the “new” / “replacement” Second Life, giving rise, perhaps to certain expectations where Sansar is concerned, as well as fears for SL’s future.

Certainly, and given it is early days for Sansar, which is still being built out with capabilities and features, the time may come when it appeals more to some SL users than SL itself. However, given the Lab intend to continue to develop Second Life for as long as it is a viable product1, it’s equally fair to say that other SL users may find Sansar offers little they don’t already enjoy in Second Life, and thus remain with the lattr as it continues to be enhanced; equally, some may find it attractive to have a foot in both. But overall, it is far too early to be looking at how Sansar is affect SL log-ins or carrying forward fears about SL’s future – particularly given the Lab is looking at a far broader audience for Sansar than the existing SL user base.

One significant area of negative feedback I have witnessed is over the use of the term “beta” in the title of this phase in Sansar’s development, with people decrying it as “not beta software”. However, I’d suggest that doing so is more a case of mistaken context than anything else. “Creator Beta” isn’t a reference to the platform’s software  development status (and thus a reason to dismiss it); rather it is indicative that this is the “second phase” of the development work involving creators – the first having been the closed Creator Preview.

Sansar: City Park night lighting experiment, Lex4Art

Personal Feedback as a User

The following feedback is based on what is currently available in Sansar, rather than what is lacking at present.

Atlas: the Atlas is a mixed bag. The title approach to presentation just doesn’t work for me, particularly given positions of items seem to change based on rating (visits?). Hopefully some form of experience categories / classifications will be added over time.

  • Negatives: finding experiences; lack of search in the version of the Atlas built-in to the client
  • Positives: URL access from web Atlas to experiences; ability to easily copy & share experience URLs; “slide show preview” option (although this is also now getting cumbersome); ability to see  all experiences by a specific creator.

Client Run-time UI: simple, clean, options easy to find and icons reasonably easy to identify. Snapshot capability: basic, but usable, particularly when using the camera in “free flight” or operating in first-person mode.

Movement: the WASD / arrow keys are pretty much standard for games (and should be familiar to all SL users).  The personal teleport option (CTRL and Left-click) can be very handy for “rapid” movement around experiences.

Camera: clunky and uneven.

  • Negatives (Desktop mode): no apparent default “follow avatar” position after orbiting camera (right-click and mouse drag) around avatar centre can initially be confusing when resuming avatar movement; the side-to-side juddering of the camera on small avatar turns left / right using the arrow or A and D keys can be visually unsettling (try pressing and holding the right mouse button and turning by dragging the mouse gently left / right for a smoother experience); “free flight” movement (F4) very basic, with camera movement perhaps a little too fast by default (numeric “-” to slow down / “+” to speed up).
  • Positives: reasonable integration with the mouse at this point; good first-person representation, making this “Mouselook” approach to movement superior to SL – although it would be nice to look down and see one’s own avatar.
Currently, arm movements made using HMD hand controllers can be disconcerting when seen by others

Avatar: basic, but acceptable. The walk is ungainly, but will hopefully be improved alongside things like the return of running, greater customisation, etc.

One strongly disconcerting element with the avatar right now is watching those who are using HMDs and hand controllers. The latter allow the avatars arms to behave most unnaturally (e.g. passing through the avatar’s body, arms sometimes appearing to detach from shoulders or bending weirdly, etc). Avatars being guided with HMDs / controllers also appear to have a really odd-looking arm “at rest” pose (hands held out in front of them as if carrying an invisible box).

Identification: for those from SL used to seeing avatar tags, this is perhaps the hardest element to get used to in Sansar – it’s simply not possible to readily identify who is who in a large group of people. The reason for the lack of tags is given as “spoiling the VR immersion”. Fair enough; however, right now, the avatars are far, far too generic to allow for easy visual recognition – so much so that people have already resorted to their own means of “tagging” themselves with their names in mesh placed above them or by wearing badges with their names on them.

Chat: text chat works well, as does direct messaging in text (IMs). It’s useful to remember the former can be seen throughout the current instance of the experience – there is no range limit as with SL. Voice chat is similarly unimpeded by range and can, frankly, be a pain right now.

While audio may well be spatial, when operating in groups, overlapping conversations can become confusing – as can quickly identifying just who is talking. People also have an annoying habit of leaving their microphones open when not speaking, leading to extraneous noises spilling “in-world”. While this is not a specific issue for Sansar per se, the controls for muting are currently limited, and the inability to  disable voice entirely (so one can focus purely on audio from videos, etc., within an experience) can be irritating.

Interactions: basic, but developing. HMD / controllers currently give far more in the way of interactive abilities (“holding” things, throwing things, etc), but Desktop mode allows some interaction with objects – notably teleport disks, doors and portals.

Sansar: Tierra de Gigantes, Luis Sotillos

Premature?

A lot of SL users have seen the Creator Beta as “premature” on the basis of a lack of expected capabilities. I’d agree that opening the doors to a general audience does feel premature – but not strictly because of any lack of capabilities per se. Rather, given this is intended to be a further step in developing the platform from a creator’s perspective of the platform, why throw the doors wide now? As it is, it has been indicated to the media that the Creator Preview attracted 10,000-12,000 applicants, of which some 2,000 were invited into the platform, so why not simply keep rolling that process forward for another few months?

If nothing else, it would have achieved two potential goals: allow further integration of more of the social tools and abilities which the Lab have indicated are part of the raison d’etre for Sansar, and it would have likely reduced the volume of negative feedback by offering general users more “things to do” when visiting experiences.

A Broader Perspective

All of that said, the Creator Beta undoubtedly gives a glimpse of the potential for the platform to reach into a range of markets, should those markets continue to invest in and grow their use of this new era of VR as a medium. This is an important point to repeat, because Sansar really isn’t about building another virtual world a-la Second Life, nor is it – strictly speaking – about appealing to the wants and needs of Second Life users. The Lab is casting Sansar’s net far wider, as has repeatedly been said throughout the development process, and which was repeated during the Creator Beta launch.

When one visits experiences such as LOOT Interactive’s Apollo Museum, or Sansar Studio’s Villa Ortli or any of the experiences being built by Mencius Watts, aka John Fillwalk from the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA – a division within Ball State’s College of Architecture and Planning that explores the intersection of digital and physical design) the huge potential of Sansar in the realms of architectural design, historical recreation, and education and learning via immersive environments, becomes abundantly clear.

Sansar: Newton’s Cenotaph (Work In Progress), Mencius Watts

Other emerging experiences equally point the way towards Sansar offering unique opportunities for entertainment and games. Teager’s Secrets of the WorldWhale, for example, offers a glimpse of adventure / explorations type environments which could be built complete with interactions, and Maxwell Graf clearly shows that role-play could be well suited to the platform.

In this, it’s perhaps important to note that the response to Sansar from beyond Second Life has, it’s fair to say, been positive. The press has been good, and (I understand) it has led to an uptick in interest from agencies beyond the SL catchment. What will be interesting to see is how this interest  / involvement grows as Sansar continues to be built-out, and just how effective the Lab is working both directly and through partners to enhance Sansar’s visibility among the markets they’d like to reach, the expansion in use of VR within those markets allowing, as time continues forward.

  1. I hope to be able to write more on this in a future article.
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21 thoughts on “Sansar Creator Beta: personal thoughts

  1. “the Creator Preview attracted 10,000-12,000 applicants, of which some 2,000 were invited into the platform, why not simply keep rolling that process forward for another few months?” ………I sooo wish Linden Lab had gone this route.

    It gives me the rage to keep reading the carping and whining by people who clearly have not taken one second to actually find out what stage Sansar is at right now. What it’s capabilities are – and can be, the uses it might be put to.
    So they moan that it has nothing to offer them, and stamp their feet about their avatar not looking as they want it to.
    And cast slights on something they have clearly not even tried to comprehend.
    (But it seems lot’s have managed to grab the ‘freebie land’! Raced in to stake their claim. Left ……and then proceeded to spread the word about what an awful place Sansar is)

    Many haven’t even bothered finding out if their machine and connection are capable of running Sansar! And then they complain that Experiences take an age to load. God forbid it’s their fault for not checking.

    Reading comments by such blinkered and closed minds makes me wonder how on earth they ever got themselves into SL in the first place.

    Rant over. As you were everyone.

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    1. Yeah, Ebbe Altberg was so careful in (not) showing things too early, in order to have a good start and good first impression. So it was surprising that they opened it in this way, rather to wait more and to accept extra testers. – getting info from those feedbacks before the release – understanding with more users what impression gives your product in those first critical 5 minutes for user retention – adjusting the presentation according, and maybe developing the product something further, finding possible solutions, and be readier for the open phase. They may have had their reasons to go out so early, but it backfired a bit.

      Plus, there were ambiguous wording and announcements. While E. A. and Linden Lab were pretty clear in telling (since the very beginning) that it wasn’t going to be SL 2.0 (indeed it turned out more SL-like than I thought, I was expecting something more aimed at showcasing things in VR at first, although more recently they seemed to give more emphasis to the VR social aspect), recently their wording didn’t help against wrong expectations.
      Inara somewhere noted (I can’t remember exactly her words) that while Sansar was announced to be going to do something new, actually those things were done in SL already.
      Then they announced this as beta. Actually it has been named “Creator Beta” (which can be a confusing term already), but in the news it became “Open Beta”. On other hand, Linen Lab itself announced it titling the news “Open Beta Begins for Sansar” No wonder that, after 3 years of development, there were different expectations for an “open beta” (that actually was something else).
      Also in the recent talks, telling that Sansar engine runs as fast as SL, but with better graphic is a bit misleading as well, because not every SL user is running Second Life in ultra graphics (I suspect it’s a minority). So this can lead to further wrong expectations and disappointments.
      And so on.

      As for the loading times, they appear long on gaming machines too. My computer specs meet the hardware requirements. My connection speed too: “10 Mbps recommended; 5 Mbps minimum.” while mine is 12 Mbps. Yet it still “takes ages” to load experiences (up to 15 minutes).

      As Inara writes, the aim is a broader audience than Second Life, so I don’t think these aspects help to reach this goal. However they could add graphic settings, progressive loading and whatever come to their mind in future.

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  2. When I read the list of negatives about Sansar, it highlights, to me, not so much of what Sansar is lacking but more to the point of how much SL has accomplished and that it took 14 years to create all that we tend to now take for granted and expect. Sansar has an advantage of being able to draw on the algorithms of SL’s hidden internal codings that are not apparent to the non-initiated.

    I transitioned from a desktop user to an HMD user yesterday. I have totally changed my mind about the VR experience. I was in the dark and was unfairly judging Sansar, in my own mind, based on a desktop experience alone. I underestimated the impact of the VR element. I am impressed, not because of how much more alive Sansar became because of it. It was because of what other applications have done with VR. I see the potential now. Its further off in time for Sansar to impact the way others have hit me but we are headed there and I think there exists an unstoppable push forward by sheer will of the believers hopefuls and entrepreneurs.

    One thing I realized about the concept of ‘Experience’ is that an Experience does not have to be something long in terms of time like say a movie or book or entertainment show. It does not have to be a museum tour. It can be something only a few seconds long, not unlike a shortened version of a TV commercial, as long as its impact-ful. That point in itself has shifted my paradigm. How long is a shared joke we tell each other? Short but impact-ful as it makes us laugh is often a small highlight of our day. It can be a minute long personal sharing of emotions to something akin to a VR version of a viral YouTube video.

    I did get a tiny bit nauseous so I will be limiting my VRing to shorter spurts of immersion spread out thru-out the day. I will also invest in Dramamine to see if that can help offset my slight bouts of dizziness.

    I don’t see VR being, for me,like SL where I am in it for hours at a time but that may change over the years as greater minds find ways to counter-act the ill affects of long-term sea-sick/vertigo-type side affects thru advances in technology. O maybe we will just adapt over time, not unlike when we 1st learned to use a new gadget called a mouse for hours on end.

    I get the sentiment of the bad press from what some feel was a pre-mature release. Easy for me to judge in my safe bubble. Not sure that if I had special interests to answer to that I had to try an back up promises made of when something would be made available to the public… if i would have acted differently.

    Not sure what that pressure is like.

    They could have continued to do incremental roll-outs but I suspect the value of that was of diminishing returns. I think they weighed the affects of negative reactions to the positive gains of exposing the platform to the potential group of users who might not want to bother with the hurdle of the ‘process of ‘applying to be a creator’ but who might have immense hidden talents and interest.

    Right now its a ‘creators platform’. That is a hard POV to maintain coming from an SL user perspective. Creators see potential of tool development. Consumers see lack-of-comfort.

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    1. HMD use does totally alter one’s perspective. I’ve avoided commenting on it directly, as I don’t own a headset, and my exposure is limited to “borrowing” one for a very short time – but the sheer presence I felt was stunning. At the time, things like the LOOT Apollo Museum weren’t available (which I’d classify as a “longer” experience), but the Egyptian tomb – small and focused, was amazing.

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  3. I don’t think as any surprise that I disagree with your overall conclusions about Sansar. I think I was probably the first person that said it was alpha software not beta. While I haven’t gone into the Sansar “world” since the third day of open access I do follow various blogs and that conclusion remains the same.

    The standard comment that is usually included is “it still early days yet.” But is it really the lab has had over three years to get things working fairly well and they haven’t.

    Too many basic things like the things that you mention in this post are missing. To someone developing software like this it should have been taken care of long before opening in open beta.

    The disorganized nature of the Atlas is an example. From the start the need for a way organizing and categorizing would be needed is obvious. It seems like the lab expects the “beta testers” to do its work for them.

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  4. I agree with the positives and negatives. It’s also positive the integration of everything in a streamlined way, and wearing clothes seemed fine. On the mouse, I liked the right mouse button to rotate the camera. On the negatives, spot to spot teleporting seemed to aim at a different spot rather to point at the mouse cursor position and not as user friendly as a double click.

    IMHO they could have had less hype but more positive feedbacks if they said (or they still say) something like:
    “Ok, folks, here it is an earlier preliminary version of Sansar. We won’t like to call it Alpha, but it isn’t exactly what you may expect from a Beta either. It’s just a first step in our open phase, maybe we may call it Step 1. What we are going to show you now is essentially a new VR engine. Other things are just stubs for now. In the past years we planned, experimented and among all we did, we developed a new engine from scratch. This is what you are going to see, along with various early experience that you can try (but they look good!). And you can create your own as well. For free. But under the hood there is more, new technologies that you can’t see yet, but they are the base for what’s coming next. What we have now is the foundation on what we are going to build and show you later”

    e. g. later they could show us what’s possible to do with so many bones and advanced features, and when you develop something you can be pretty excited of your work, anticipating what is going to do already, but what the newcomers-you-want-to-retain see is what they can see now and what you show them now.

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  5. They offered me access to the closed stage, and I do minimal creation. I had to create an account before I could discover that it was (currently) Windows-only. So useless to me. That makes me wonder just how reliable the numbers are.

    I get the feeling that many of the positive reports are coming from people with minimal exposure to SL, and especially its social side.

    While the Google Manifesto Affair was concidence, I keep getting a sense of cultural echoes. That seems to be an example of a programmer who fails on the social skills needed at the higher levels of management. I am seeing hints of the same failures to communicate and build teams within the interactions between Linden Lab and their customers. They shouldn’t have to depend on somebody like you, and I see echoes of the SL-specific Feted Inner Core of ancient legend in the current Sansar situation.

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  6. Opening the Beta was a necessity because as with any MMO-like experience you will need to do a pile-on test and for that you need large numbers of users. That tests network performance and that is a crucial element for Sansar. So opening up the Beta to get as many people as possible was a necessity. Was it too early ? It can seem that way (and did to me) but none of us are part of the development team so we can not tell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least one pile-on test was performed prior to the Creator Preview, and numbers per individual experience instance are limited to around 35 at present, so a 2K pool would seem to be sufficient to meet those aims.

      Granted, as the capabilities are built-out, load numbers are increased, etc., more bodies will be needed for such tests. But would holding off for another (say) two or three months really have made so much of a difference when it comes to overall load-testing, given they still had a pool of creators who applied for the closed Preview they could draw on (individual system specs allowing) during that period?

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  7. Pre-alpha refers to all activities performed during the software project before formal testing, as Sansar is far from full feature implementation Sansar is truly in pre Alpha stage.
    The alpha phase of the release life cycle is the first phase to begin, software testing on full feature version.

    Beta phase generally begins when the software is feature complete but likely to contain a number of known or unknown bugs

    It will require minimum 2 years for Sansar to arrive anywhere near the beginning of a beta stage and another 2 for it to be done with.
    So we looking for an official version release for 2021 on a graphics engine that is not the latest of technologies so very likely obsolete by then and a havok that is getting dated and with limited though powerful capabilities.
    the pre alpha is extremely bad and slow for professional 3d content creators, the physics is worse and the coding is non existent and has zero road map.
    metalness workflow is very buggy di per se and extremely inaccurate for high end graphics, but hey, it will make it easier on consolles

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  8. O maybe we will just adapt over time, not unlike when we 1st learned to use a new gadget called a mouse for hours on end.
    Beta phase generally begins when the software is feature complete but likely to contain a number of known or unknown bugs
    It will require minimum 2 years for Sansar to arrive anywhere near the beginning of a beta stage and another 2 for it to be done with.

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  9. Beta phase generally begins when the software is feature complete but likely to contain a number of known or unknown bugs
    It will require minimum 2 years for Sansar to arrive anywhere near the beginning of a beta stage and another 2 for it to be done with.
    Beta phase generally begins when the software is feature complete but likely to contain a number of known or unknown bugs
    It will require minimum 2 years for Sansar to arrive anywhere near the beginning of a beta stage and another 2 for it to be done with.

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    1. The idea that this is “beta software” is an assumption drawn from the use of “beta” in the public opening of the platform (“Creator Beta”). However, as I’ve noted elsewhere, this is perhaps an incorrect assumption: “beta” in this case does not refer to the platform’s status, but rather to the fact that this is the “second phase” of the Lab working with creators to primarily build-out the functions and capabilities the latter might wish to see in Sansar (the “first phase” having been the closed Creator Preview. This is pretty much what Pete Linden indicated when Bjorn and Widely were discussing Sansar’s development, and which I summarised at the start of this article.

      It’s a shame the Lab didn’t opt for a term that would be less prone to misinterpretation, Say, “Open Creator Preview” in place of “Creator Beta”, as it would have likely led to to lot less in the way of confusion in the use of words.

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  10. Beta phase angle generally begins when the package is characteristic consummate but likely to turn back a phone number of known or unidentified bugs
    It will require minimum 2 years for Sansar to come anywhere near the source of a beta phase and another 2 for it to be done with.
    Beta phase angle generally begins when the package is characteristic consummate but likely to turn back a phone number of known or unidentified bugs
    It will require minimum 2 years for Sansar to come anywhere near the source of a beta phase and another 2 for it to be done with.

    Like

    1. Again, “Creator Beta” should not be confused with “beta software”. There is more that one use for the term “beta” – and in this case, it seems the Lab intended it to mean “the second part of their focus on developing and expanding capabilities within the platform specifically aimed an creators and which follows on from the “Creator Preview”. It’s not a reference to the overall state of the software (alpha, beta or otherwise).

      As it is, the Lab have always maintained that the will be perhaps 2-3 years before the platform reaches a well-rounded state in terms of capabilities.

      Hence why I feel the problem isn’t with the “beta” label attached to this phase of LL’s focus of things (as confusing as it is), but simply that they could have continued this aspect of the work work (focusing on adding / refining tools for experience and content creators) without having a public launch. And the confusion over the use of “beta”, as well as some of the feedback seen within audiences who are particularly comfortable with using virtual world platforms, would seem to confirm this.

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