Sansar: music entertainment with some sundry thoughts

Monstercat is one of two EDM labels Linden Lab has partnered with for Sansar, as noted in the IQ article

IQ posted an interesting article on Sansar on Wednesday, October 23rd that gives – for those who haven’t been tracking the platform’s progress – insight into one of the directions Linden Lab is seeking to grow Sansar’s exposure and use.

In Linden Lab: Virtual worlds will make Madison Square Garden look small, Jon Chapple sits down with the Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg and Sheri Bryant, Linden Lab’s VP of Business Development and Marketing to explore the growing role of virtual spaces – including MMOs – in promoting music and artists, and in doing so, opens the door on the potential for a platform like Sansar to generate audiences beyond those which might be considered “traditional” VW users.

As the article notes, the relationship between music and virtual worlds is not new. Second Life has been a huge platform by which musicians, singers and DJs can reach a global audience and supplement their income, and – again as IQ notes – it has even seen the odd high-profile event involving the likes of Duran Duran (including “official” regions in-world), Suzanne Vega and U2. However, Sansar presents the potential for musicians and – particularly – DJs to reach much, much larger virtual audiences.

Interest in this kind of pairing perhaps really came into focus in February 2019, when Marshmello performed a 10-minute set in the MMO Fortnite – and to an estimated in-game audience of almost 11 million. This was achieved through Fortnite’s ability to instance environments – spin-up multiple versions of an experience according to demand. It’s a technique common to on-line games – and it is (as most of us are aware) a capability Sansar has as well. Add to it Sansar’s built-in ability to avatar broadcast – allowing selected avatars within an environment to be broadcast to all the other instances of that environment simultaneously in real-time – and you have a powerful capability ideally geared to presenting large audience events.

The Blasterjaxx headline event took place in the Social Guild club at Sansar’s Nexus, and saw attendees from 600 cities world-wide

In particular, Linden Lab have partnered with the electronic dance music (EDM) labels Monstercat (Canada) and Spinnin’ Records (The Netherlands) to host events by both labels within Sansar. Already the début events held by both labels were each seen by audiences spanning more than 600 cities globally, with the Monstercat début was attended by over 1,000 unique avatars). While this might not be on the scale of the Fortnite / Marshmello event (which had the advantage of being able to draw on Fortnite’s estimated active user base of some 200 million), it is still impressive for a virtual world event – just try to imagine an event in SL, for example, that has around 300 avatars at again given point in time in the “same” region.

In talking to IQ, Altberg and Bryant make it clear that they see the involvement of Monstercat (who now feature weekly activities in Sansar) and Spinnin’ Records as the tip of the iceberg, and that while EDM is an “easy” choice for an initial foray into music and entertainment partnerships, there are others the Lab is actively seeking out.

It’s easier to hook up EDM artists to the system because DJs basically have an electronic output. So they stand there in their VR gear and we give them all kinds of in-game tools – fireballs, lasers, the ability to change the gravity so everyone can jump really high … You can tell how much fun they’re having controlling the environment. They can change the way the world looks and functions by pressing buttons and turning dials – so they’re not just tweaking the music but creating a whole experience for people.

  – Ebbe Altberg to IQ

One question here is what do the likes of Monstercat and Spinnin’ Records get out of this? At the moment monetisation is limited to the current simple revenue-sharing system, which perhaps isn’t really that attractive. However, the article hints at some of the ways the Lab will be changing this – including the potential for what appears to be targeted subscription packages (VIP passes to back-stage green room events / meet and greets? Discounted physical world merchandise? Time will tell). Certainly, merchandise is a significant consideration – following the Fortnite event, for example, Marshmello / Fortnite (an admitted Fortnite fan / player) started to offer physical world merchandise as well as in-game goodies (which can already translate as in-world merchandise in Sansar).

For me, instancing and avatar broadcasting are between them one of the reasons I can see Sansar creating multiple niche, but viable, audiences for itself. For example,  around the world are multiple instances of remote learning for everyone from children through to adults, often with limited opportunity for interaction with tutors, subject matter specialist or one another. Here in the UK, for example, we have the Open University, catering to some 170,000-180,000 students (including between 7,000 and 10,000 non-UK based), who at most only get to discuss their work with a tutor via the Internet or telephone, whilst working in isolation from others on the same course. So imagine the power in being able to bring those students together into a lecture theatre or classroom, where they can learn together, share, ask questions, collaborate / participate in demonstrations / experiments – and then socialise together afterwards. Sansar can support this both through small-scale teaching environments and through lecture facilities that can sit 100+ students at a time via instancing / avatar broadcasting.

Nor is this entirely limited to education. Imagine, for example, the opportunity to sit down in your own home and attend a presentation by members of NASA’s Curiosity rover team – and ask questions of them. Or to be able to join a presentation / moderate Q&A by one of your favourite authors and then have your question possibly put to them  – and afterwards being able to hop on a link to purchase their latest book. And that’s just skimming the surface.

The potential for Sansar to host public lectures with global appeal was shown, albeit in a modest way, with Dr. Lee Mellor’s Murder in VR series held in October 2019. Credit: Sansar Official You Tube channel

Such activities may not come anywhere close to the kind of thing that “will make Madison Square Gardens look small”, but collectively, on-going approaches and leveraging Sansar in this kind of manner could help the platform generate the kind of steady traffic (if not large-scale or exciting) it requires to prove its worth. In the meantime, adding capabilities that allow better revenue generation, building out partnerships with music labels and other entertainment genres could help lay the foundations for Sansar becoming seen as a means by which much large audience-driven events can be hosted and run.

Obviously, none of this is going to happen overnight, and a lot is dependent on how LL bring to fruition various capabilities that are likely to appeal to partners – and on how well they can actually market the platform as an audience generator, and haul in users / attendees from their various strands of potentiality (those already familiar with virtual worlds also being one of those strands).

In this, I do admit to a nagging doubt that for all the effort put into them, all the road shows and attendance at Star Trek conventions and the like is really going to garner a lasting return in terms of audience growth. I say the because these activities appear to be almost entirely VR centric – and given that VR itself is still a long way short of being mass market, which it could leave those trying Sansar at such events as being something novel to “have a go on”, rather than something they take note of and then explore when they get home and fire up their PCs.

But, doubts aside, the IQ article makes for interesting reading and, for those not following Sansar that closely, perhaps sheds some light on the Lab’s thinking around that platform and how it diverges from SL.

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