2018 Sansar Product Meetings week #3 – with audio

Sneaking a peep at Anu Amun’s new steampunk experience

The following notes are taken from the Sansar Product Meetings held at 4:00pm PST on the afternoon of Friday, January 19th, 2018. These Product Meetings are open to anyone to attend, are a mix of voice (primarily) and text chat, and there is currently no set agenda. 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.

Ebbe Altberg and Paul  (aka Pierre), Alex and Nyx Linden from the Sansar product team joined meeting host Jennifer for the event. Audio extracts from the meeting are included below for reference to key points in the discussions. Note that some subjects were discussed at different points in the meeting, and so some of the audio extracts here represent a concatenation of the different points at which a particular topic may have been discussed.

Web Atlas – Concurrency Indicators

The Web Atlas has been updated with a new search category – Popularity – and concurrency indicator. When selected from the sort drop-down menu (see below), the Popularity option orders the listed experiences in a tab by current real-time use,  so those with avatars actually visiting them will be listed first.

In addition, those experiences with avatars in them have a concurrency indicator in the top left corner of their thumbnail image. This is a near real-time indicator that the experience is in use at the time it is seen in the Atlas.

Web Atlas: popularity in the sort drop-down (circled), and the concurrency indicators (arrowed) available for all experiences with avatars in them on all tabs. Note the relatively low number of “active” experience in this image may appear low as it was captured at 10:40am UK time on a Saturday morning, a typical time for low concurrency numbers for VWs

The popularity search option and the concurrency indicator will be added to the client Atlas, possibly as an update in week #4. Both present a first step in presenting users with more information on popular experiences and in helping them locate spaces which have a “social” presence in Sansar.

Sansar Store Tags

It is now possible for creators to tag items when creating Sansar Store listings, and the Store Guidelines have been updated to reflect this.

January Release

The January 2018 release, referred to internally at the Lab as “Release 17” (the Fashion release having been Release 16), is primarily code / performance focused. In particular this update includes:

  • Bug fixes.
  • Performance improvements – for example, the amount of data sent to the client for avatar and dynamic object animations has been reduced by some 60%, which will hopefully make things more fluid for users in busy experiences.
  • An experience loading progress bar has been coded, although the scene loading page has yet to be revised to show it, and it is hoped this will be in Release 17, or deployed shortly thereafter.

User Sign-up / On-Boarding Process

The Sansar product team believe the current sign-up / on-boarding process for Sansar (see here for the basics) is too complex. It is hoped that a more streamlined sign-up process will form the nucleus of the February 2018 release, and that these updates, together with the Atlas popularity ratings / indicators, will make it easier for incoming users to sign-up and start finding experiences where they can meet and interact with other Sansar users.

Under discussion at the Lab is whether or not to create a dedicated “on-boarding” experience towards which incoming new users could be directed following sign-up, rather than just leaving them to find their way around the Atlas. This would not be part of the February release, and could be more of an exercise in testing which route  – via sign-up and then Atlas, or sign-up and “learning / tutorial” experience – is preferred by in-coming users / helps improve retention levels among new users.

Should Sansar have “on boarding” experiences akin to SL’s Social and Learning islands (shown above)? If so, should they be split between “general / consumer” users, and “content creator users”? How would such learning centres, as part of a sign-up / on-boarding process sit with experience creators providing their own gateways to their experiences? These are some of the questions the Lab is asking itself

One issue with providing any “centralised” on-boarding experience is how will it sit with user-created experiences? Part of the idea with Sansar is not to have a central / main “gateway” into the platform (as is the case with Second Life), but to allow experience creators to develop their own gateways directly to their own experiences (e.g. through a dedicated web presence, a corporate website, or via Facebook or Twitter, etc.). So, how do any on-boarding experiences supplied by the Lab fit with these routes of access?

Should a user signing-up to Sansar through a specific experience gateway be “diverted” to a Lab-created learning experience and then dropped into the experience they were signing-up to join? If so, how exactly should that work? Should they simply be dropped into the experience they were expecting, and be left to work it out for themselves / complete any tutorial options provided by the experience creator?

There’s also the question of how deep does any on-boarding experience have to go – can things be made easier to understand through the client itself – keeping the UI straightforward, offering on-screen indicators for controller buttons options when required, etc?

Mentors / Greeters

A suggest was made to have a “learning welcome” space where volunteer “Sansar ambassadors” (akin to Second Life mentors) can spend time helping new arrivals gain familiarity with using the Sansar client – the atlas, settings, walking, running, chatting in text, IMing, etc.

In response, Ebbe noted that – contrary to anecdotal views in Second Life – having mentors (either at their own welcome environments or those at the various Community Gateways in operation around Second Life) does not actually lead to any greater levels of retention among new users than the self-teach environments that have been presented to incoming users over the years. However, the is a willingness to experience with methods – with the use of AI-driven NPCs or the provision of some kind of “learning HUD” also being mentioned as possible options to help new users.

Events

Pierre reiterated his comments from the previous Product Meeting, that additional tools to help creators / users mount and promote their own experiences will be appearing in the very near future. This is again seen as a component in helping to drive user interest in Sansar.

Avatar and Fashion

Currently, the Sansar avatar is not – outside of the head / face – customisable other than with clothing and accessories. As recorded in my 2018 week #2 notes, there are plans to enhance the degree of customisation available within the avatar, starting with the head, and then with work on the body. This led to concerns on how additional avatar customisation capabilities might impact clothing design. Animator and creator Medhue Simoni in particular laid out his concerns in a video on the matter, which apparently became the subject of discussion at the first Sansar Fashion Product Meeting (which I was unable to attend), with it being indicated that the Lab’s Fashion Team had watched the video, taken note of the concerns raised etc.

As the avatar is enhanced, there may well be a need for clothing designers to go back and re-rig clothing created outside of Marvelous Designer (MD), although it should be possible to re-simulate MD clothing over a changed avatar body shape once this capability has been enabled with Sansar.

In the short-term for Fashion, there will be an update to fix the UV issues people are experiencing with MD, wherein the export to Sansar is using a different UV space to the export to other formats. However, the avatar customisations capabilities will be added gradually over a longer period of time.

To help compensate for the avatar updates, requests have been made for a deformer mechanism to be added to Sansar to allow rigged mesh clothing to more easily adjust to the avatar shape (and changes to it – think Fitmesh is Second Life as a broad idea), while potentially avoiding the need for clothing to be supplied in a range of sizes. This may not be so easy to introduce.

However, and whether it will be possible to implement or not is still unknown, the Lab is trying to determine if, where different clothing sizes are required, the platform itself can auto-generate different default sizes rather than the designer having to upload them all (e.g. if a designer uploaded an item in a “standard medium” size, the “standard large” and “standard small” sizes would be auto-generated from it).

One of the things the Lab wants to do is keep the fashion creation flow relatively straightforward, and avoid placing too many requirements on designers. They are therefore keen to avoid things like morph-based solutions and blend shapes (thus negating designers having to implement a whole series of body morphs into their designs or having to run through some conversion process to handle blend shapes, etc.).

Other Points of Discussion

The following are not necessarily on the Sansar roadmap, but were raised as part of the broader discussions in the meeting.

Personal Spaces / Client-Side Spaces

Linked to the sign-up / on-boarding discussion is the idea of providing “personal spaces” for users where they could try-out looks, gain familiarity with the client, etc., in a space of their own (and in addition to playing with their avatar appearance purely in the LookBook avatar application).

  • A benefit with this kind of approach is it gives incoming users a sense of a personal space (e.g. a room) that is entirely their own, which may in turn encourage greater experimentation with purchasing goods through the Store and customising their avatar, offering them a feeling of “home”, etc., all of which might also encourage greater identification with using Sansar.
  • A downside of this, is that if handled on the back-end, this could potentially result in hundreds of thousands of instances of these personal spaces running at the same time, all of which will incur costs which must be met in some way.
  • One option for providing a concept of “personal space” while avoiding the latter, might be to build it into the Sansar client, so it would be an individual space, running on the local computer, rather than an instance of a shared space running on Sansar’s cloud servers.
  • An alternative approach to this would be to have a shared “lobby space” experience pre-cached in the client, so that when logging-in to Sansar for the first time, new users would be directed to that experience and again experiment with looks in and out of the LookBook before setting out to explore Sansar.

In looking at the overall concept of providing “personal spaces” there is concern from the Lab on how this might sit with the sale of experiences between users in the future. Having dedicated personal spaces for users throughout their involvement in Sansar could conflict with this idea.

Build Tools and “Kitbashing”

A further aspect of user retention is that of freedom to create. Right now, Sansar has a high barrier to entry in terms of creation: it requires an in-depth knowledge of tools such as Blender and Maya, etc., and an ability to understand what is a complex Edit Mode UI. It has been indicated that in the future (once the licensing / permissions system is in place), “content creation in Sansar could expand to include those more into “kitbashing”, than original content creation: taking existing content supplied by others and bringing it together to create a unique experience without having to build absolutely everything themselves from scratch (in much the same was as the majority of region creators in Second Life now tend to work).

For this to happen, the complexities of using Sansar’s own Edit Mode tools needs to become easier to understand among users who are not necessarily hard-core creators. One suggestion for during this is to produce one (or even a series) of tutorial videos which can walk people through basic steps of using the Edit tools – how to set-up a basic experience, how to change the sky colour, hints and tips on how to locate and place objects from inventory, etc.

Creator Academy: Hall of Materials – Creator Academy: Hall of Materials – providing more tutorial / learning style experiences where users can learn the basics of Sansar’s Edit Mode, tool use, etc., might help encourage people to experiment more with building their own spaces, and so assist in user retention

Another idea put forward (and which the Lab is already considering) is to have a learning experience akin to SL’s Ivory Tower of Prims or Builder’s Brewery (or Sansar’s one Hall of Materials), where those interested in learning the various aspects of content creation can go, learn, discuss with others, watch tutorial videos, etc.

Custom Avatars

Discussion of the avatar / fashion raised the issue of fully customisable avatars within Sansar. Currently, avatar design is restricted to the “Sansar default avatar”, and opinion is split both in the Lab and among creators thus far engaged in Sansar as to whether or not completely arbitrary avatars, using custom skeletons, should be allowed.

The advantage of keeping to a “Sansar default avatar” system is that it considerably eases making things like clothing, etc. fit and work. The disadvantage is it potentially limits the range of avatars which can be created. The advantage is allowing fully custom avatar skeletons / rigs is that is allows for a more diverse range of avatars, but also means they will more than likely be incompatible with anything rigged for or using the “Sansar default avatar” system – and could confuse users.

In Brief

  • Interactive capabilities: The Lab has recruited further expertise into the engineering team to help further interactive capabilities within scenes / published experiences. Their work will cover a broad range of tasks – object interactions, avatar interactions, etc., and building-out the required APIs for scripting.
  • Avatar animations: as noted in my 2018 week #2 notes, avatar animations will initially take the form of a “pre-set” or “canned” animations, possibly activated by a chat short-cut, and then gradually be made more complex to include scripted / custom animation override type capabilities.
  • Showing hands and bodies in VR: Currently, Sansar use generic blue “hands” in VR first-person mode. The lab hopes to be able to offer more realistic (and individual) hands in the future – potentially with showing more of the body overall. However, there are no time frames on when this may happen, and at least some of the work is tied to improvements to Sansar’s Inverse Kinematics system, to improve the synchronisation between real and virtual movements (although there are other issues involved as well – how are finger movements translated, for example, when using a VR controller and you want to simulate holding an object of an entirely different shape).
  • Brand guidelines: in light of some recent events, there have been questions around what is and is not permitted when using things like the Sansar logo in videos, etc. To help with this, a set of Sansar specific branding guidelines are in development.
  • Roadmap: effort is being put into better communications over what is on the Sansar roadmap and the priorities for high-level items (what they are, when they may appear, etc), and this information should start to appear in the near future, possibly on a quarterly basis.

 

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