The following notes are taken from the Sansar Product Meetings held on Friday, January 12th, 2018. These Product meetings are usually held every Friday at 9:30am PST and 4:00pm PST, and are open to all. There is currently no set agenda, and the meetings are a mix of voice and text. The official meeting notes are published in the week following each pair of meetings, while venues change each week, and are listed in the Meet-up Announcements. and the Sansar Atlas events section.
Joining both sessions alongside Jenn and Cara was Pierre (aka Paul), from the Business Operations team at the Lab, covering Sansar. His work involves the business side of Sansar (something not so in the public eye, but which particularly interests me), including corporate strategies and road maps, and among other things, he spoken about the Sansar presence at CES in partnership with Intel.
There has been a 15 avatar limit imposed on Sansar experience during the past week. This has been to prevent individual instances of the experiences associated with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES – January 8th through 12th) becoming overloaded. As individual experiences cannot currently be capped for access, the 15 avatar limit was applied across all experiences. It should now have been lifted, or will be lifted soon.
Fashion and MD
The Lab will be starting a new series of meetings on Sansar fashion. It’s not clear what this will involve, but most likely will include information not only on what is upcoming on the fashion side, but also Marvelous Designer (MD). A request has also been put forwards for a new MD-specific channel on Discord. This is being considered, but for now, MD issues will be folded into the fashion channel.
Sansar Store 50 Item Limit for Free Accounts
In October, the Lab announced new Sansar Store policies, which at the time generated some negative feedback so that not all of them – e.g. the credit / debit card requirement – were implemented. At the Friday morning Product meeting, Jenn indicated that another restriction – limiting free Sansar account holders to only listing up to 50 items at a time – is also being lifted for the time being.
Intel and CES
As noted above, Linden Lab and Sansar were represented at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas in partnership with Intel. Three experiences were made available as a part of this partnership: the Intel CES Booth (actually the entire Intel display floor), Step Inside Intel’s 8th Gen Core (a tour inside Intel’s latest CPU), and Aech’s Garage, an experience reproducing one of the film sets from the Warner Brothers Entertainment / Amblin Entertainment / Village Roadshow Pictures film Ready Player One, also presented in association with HTC – and which you can read more about here.
This partnership was so high-profile, it featured in the CES opening day keynote by Brian Krzanich, Intel’s CEO, and his specific remarks can be heard in this extract from his address.
While it may look a little cheesy to some, this kind of exposure is extremely beneficial for a platform like Sansar:
- It offers huge exposure to an audience, even allowing for Sansar’s current stage of development.
- Perhaps more importantly, it offers a practical demonstration of how an environment like Sansar can be used as a tool for business (e.g. running virtual booths where people can see / learn about products, innovations, etc., without necessarily being physically present), and for learning (e.g. take the Step Inside … experience, and learn how a CPU actually works…).
I should have more to say on this in a separate article.
Pierre re-iterated that 2018 will see a shift in a lot – but not all – of the Lab’s focus from content creation tool development towards encouraging general user engagement and retention. This was in part couched in terms of wanting to improve / smooth the user on-boarding process so that as and when experience creators start looking to bring their own audiences into their experiences, it will be a lot easier for them to do so. He also expanded on some points touched on by Ebbe Altberg in the January 5th meeting:
- Concurrency indicators are to be added to the Atlas, providing a measure of people using experiences, and the Atlas can be sorted based on this.
- Improved options for making friends.
- A broadening of events support to allow experience creators and users to be able to host more of their own events and activities and promote them more easily through a range of channels – the Atlas, the web, social media, etc.
- Performance is to be looked at to ensure the experience people have in Sansar is optimal, whether in terms of the number of people concurrently in an experience (e.g. 50-100 having a smooth experience in Sansar towards the end of the year), the load time of experiences, being able to appropriately hear people across and experience, etc.
In line with the above, the Lab is looking at – and seeking feedback on – “ideal” limits for numbers within an experience. For example: is it better to have a band performing to one mass audience of 200-300 avatars (or more) in a single experience, or to have them play before a mass audience that is split between a number of experience instances “looking in” on the band? The later could help counter performance degradation with large numbers in a single space, prevent interruptions, etc., affecting the entire audience but – if the audience is so sharded to groups of 100-ish, each unable to see the other audience groups, it could detract from the overall immersion offered by the event.
There are also other issues to be addressed as well: audio (voice) roll-off seems to be problematic in Sansar experiences. Sometimes it is possible to have 3 or more little groups conversing around an experience without all the audio running together; at other times, even with groups spread around an experience, all the conversations seem to over-run one another, leading to an ugly mess of voices.
Also in line with the above, the Lab will be using 2018 to look at social interactive issues such as group capabilities – what’s the best way for groups to communicate directly in voice and chat, for example? Here, “group” has a more involved meaning than in Second Life, as it could include allowing teams in a team-based experience / game to communicate with one another in voice and / or chat without being “overheard” by the other team(s) in the experience. How can things like presentations and group Q&A sessions be handled? Should there be some kind of microphone construct which can be used to prioritise a speaker over any over voice audio to ensure they are heard? Should this be an option that can be passed between multiple speakers sharing a stage, etc?
More generally, and in terms of Second Life style group text chat, the Lab is looking at implementing group chat capabilities that are persistent across all of Sansar – the Runtime mode, Edit mode, Atlas, LookBook – so people can see and respond to group chat wherever they are.
A key part with engagement is finding people, and the Lab will be looking at this in 2018, initially through the broadening of event (above), and with the potential introduction of group messaging (immediately above), and also through things like:
- The ability for people to teleport friends directly to the experience / instance of the experience they are currently visiting.
- Possibly the introduction of user profiles so people can better defined themselves.
A further key aspect in user engagement is interactivity, with the following being noted as under consideration:
- The introduction of scripts directly associated with object to allow greater interaction.
- Possibly to enabling “short cut” text triggers to animate avatars with a set of pre-defined full-body animations (e.g. “//hi5” or similar to get avatars to high 5 one another, or “//dance” or something to start an avatar dancing on its own, etc). It’s hoped this could be released in the first half of 2018.
- Default animations like these would likely be the precursor to allowing creators to develop dedicated animations / animation systems.
- Enabling NPC type characters in the future (people, creatures, etc.).
- The ability to gift / exchange items between avatars (possibly late 2018).
- Adding day / night cycles to experiences.
In terms of extending scripting capabilities, Pierre views this as a very necessary part of Sansar’s growth in order to encourage broader experiences such as MMO-style environments, which could again be key in driving up Sansar’s audience:
Pierre reiterated that experience creators will at some point be able to monetise their work by charging for admission through some kind of ticketing system. He also suggested that in-world sales of goods is something which will likely come along at some point.
In terms of in-world stores / shopping, he indicated the Lab is in discussions with so “big name” brands concerning selling their goods through Sansar. He would not be drawn into specifics at this point, as there is still more to be put in place before it can happen.
The Avatar Rig and Customisation
There are currently to themes of concern with the Sansar avatar as it stands (no pun intended!) at the moment:
- Lack of general customisation capabilities to alter Sansar avatars so they are more distinguishable in looks, one to another.
- Concern that future enhancements to the avatar / avatar rig to increase customisation, etc., could lead to conflicts with clothing design.
Pierre answered this in part by explaining some of how the Lab plan to tackle things – by offering greater ability for head / facial customisations first, then moving to offer more in the way of body customisation (e.g. height, build, etc.) – the reasoning being it is already possible – to a degree – to make avatars a little more individual through the clothing choices and attachments which can be applied to an avatar’s body. However, technical aspects on how this work would be done, what it might mean for the avatar rig., etc., were not answered, as the engineering aspects are outside of his direct purview.
Cara also indicated there are likely to be new appearance guidelines published in the near future, to help define what people should / should not do when attempting to mask the avatar’s baked underwear.
Sansar, VR, Desktop and More
A frequent critique – one I recently repeated myself when discussing Sansar and building an audience – is that for the foreseeable future, it is not unreasonable to say that in terms of a “general” audience of users, the majority of those coming to Sansar will not be VR users. To this end, 2018 will seen a push to bring Desktop Mode capabilities up to the same level as VR Mode. More also needs to be done within VR Mode to make things like text chat visible to VR users.
In terms of looking at other VR platforms – Microsoft, etc., the Lab are in conversations with some, but something like PSVR (PlayStation VR), there are considerable difficulties – not only because of the console hardware, but because there are apparently some requirements on Sony’s part which could impact how experience creators and creators / designers would be able to monetise their own work.