Glastonbury in Sansar: post event observations

Lost Horizon: Nomad Stage, Saturday, July 4th, 2020

Friday, July 3rd and Saturday July 4th saw Sansar host Glastonbury Shangri-La – the night-time festivities traditionally held during the UK’s Glastonbury Festival (cancelled in the physical world due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic) – across four stages and provide some 24 hours (12 hours per day) of live electronic dance music (EDM) to anyone wishing to attend.

Organised in conjunction with the team behind Glastonbury Shangri-La, led by Creative Director Kaye Dunnings and VRJAM, the free-to-attend or view event featured some headline names in the DJ world including Fatboy Slim (Friday 3rd July) and Pete Tong (Saturday 4th), along with Peggy Gou, Carl Cox, Seth Troxler, and Skream for a total of 50 DJs across the two days. Basic admission to the event was free, but those wishing to receive “VIP” access could optionally pay US $10.00 for goodies, the money going towards donations to Amnesty International and The Big Issue.

Lost Horizon: landing point and stage portals

Called Lost Horizon, the event actually comprised six areas in total, with five comprising:

  • The main stage – modelled after the festival’s famous Gas Tower stage.
  • The Freedom stage.
  • The ShiTV stage, home to films, documentaries, theatre, live art, and comedy.
  • The Nomad stage – a “special” for the event, dedicated entirely to UK culture and drum’n’bass music.
  • ShangrilART – featuring 200 visual art pieces on the theme of human connection.

All of these could be reached either directly through the Sansar Codex (the directory of places and events available for users to visit) or via the fifth physical space offered to visitors: the Lost Horizon landing point. This formed a general gathering point for those coming to the event via the Sansar Nexus (the main landing point for incoming new users / existing users who do not use the web-based Codex (Atlas) to select where they want to go prior to launching the Sansar client), and which in turn offered portals to each of the four stages.

Lost Horizon: The Gas Tower, Saturday, July 4th, 2020

In addition to being open to people to come into and enjoy via their avatar presence (desktop with or without a VR headset), the event was live streamed across a number of platforms, including You Tube, Twitch and Beatport. Further, Lost Horizon was used to introduce / showcase the new Sansar streaming app for iOS and Android devices – an app I’ll be writing about in due course, as my own use of the Android version for this event wasn’t too successful.

A High-Level Look at the Numbers

EDM / trance / techno is hardly my kind of music, so I confess I didn’t spend much continuous time at the event per se – rather, I hopped in and out over the two days for periods of between 10 and 20 minutes, and also tried to keep a watch on things via the Codex (which reports active numbers at events and in turns of the individual instances of the event), and through things like the Steam stats page for Sansar. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit / observe Fatboy Slim or Pete Tong, which may have shown things at variance to my observations on numbers here.

  • The average hourly attendance I noted was within the 200-400 for the event. This was based on periodic checks by dropping in to Lost Horizons, or via checks on the web Codex / Atlas during the following time spans:
    • Friday: 19:30-02:00 BST (11:30-18:00 PDT).
    • Saturday: 17:00-19:00 BST (09:00-11:00 PDT) and 20:00-02:00 BST (noon-18:00  PDT).
  • Checks between this times (around between 2 and 3 per hour – if only perhaps one actually in-world at any given hour) tend to give the following approximate breakdowns of attendance:
    • Gas Tower: 140-200 across an average of five instances.
    • Freedom: 60-70, generally running two instances.
    • Nomad: around 40 in a single instance, sometimes popping up to 45-55 with two instances.
    • ShiTV: appeared to be below 40 most of the time and a single instance.
    • Landing Area: generally a single instance (so no more than 60), at times just tipping over into a second instance with a handful or avatars.
A moment in time: a snapshot of the Lost Horizon Gas Tower attendance figures via the client Codex, giving a breakdown of instances / avatar numbers. Generally, throughout my time checking / observing, 2 or 3 of the instances were running at full capacity (sometimes dipping to 38-39) and the remaining two tended to hover in the 30s and 20s / teens respectively

Those observing via Steam would likely have seen far more conservative number of active users in Sansar, topping out at a little under 180 at their peak for both days across all worlds (not just Lost Horizon). However, before much is made of this, it’s worth noting (again) that the Steam stats only relate to those accessing Sansar through Steam; they do not reflect users logging directly into Sansar from their desktop.

However, the avatar numbers are only part of the story; there was also the stream audience – which in the case of Twitch reached around 15,000 at various points in the event (I’ve not dug into You Tube or Beatport to gain numbers of people viewing / listening through those services). But again, people watching are not active (/paying) users, so having such a large passive audience still raises questions about Sansar building a more direct, active audience – although it is still early days for the platform as a venue for “live” events.

Steam tended to show lower active user numbers in Sansar for the peak periods of the Lost Horizon event – but this is likely due to Steam only reporting on users accessing Sansar through it, and ignoring direct log-ins through the Sansar client.

How successful it may come to be is open to question; I still stand by the view that if Sansar is handled correctly – and marketed correctly / more broadly – it can yet come to survive as a viable platform even without the kind of grass-roots users it is assumed it may need. But I also continue to admit that it is still a big “if” at this point in time.

I also believe that while focusing on live events (and hopefully other potential markets – training, simulation, design, etc.) can succeed in allowing the platform to become viable, it won’t help Sansar to significantly build an audience of engaged users, simply because – again, as I’ve previously noted – most of those dropping into Sansar for an event will do so to attend the event, and not out of any broader interest in Sansar itself.

That said, and in fairness, it is too soon after the event to see whether or not Lost Horizon (and a parallel but unconnected music event confusingly called Lost World also held in Sansar at the same time) lead to any noticeable uptick in platform concurrency.

Lost Horizon: the ShiTV stage

General Observations

The stages and locations themselves were well designed, and those in attendance certainly appeared to be enjoying themselves – although the atmosphere was at times spoiled by loud conversations (depending on where your avatar was standing) and occasional demands to know, “How the *&$@#! do I turn off microphones!” Music wise, the sound quality was, for me, acceptable, if with the odd hiccup – but again, as this music wasn’t really me, I did find I had the sound turned down more than up.

There were also a couple of curiosities I noted. The first was that the DJ weren’t present in avatar form; rather they were flat-screen projections. This wasn’t too obvious when viewing them from a distance, but once spotted, did tend to hold the attention.

Lost Horizon: The Zombie Dancers in the Gas Tower stage venue

The second was more more disconcerting: each of the music stages came with it own bots – or what I call the Zombie Dancers. I assume these were included to give a greater feel of audience presence within the stage instances (although I’ll hasten to add they did not count towards the avatar count in any given stage / instance but were simply scripted NPCs running dance loops). However with their general grey appearance and placement around the edges of the more shadowed parts of the stage, they were moderately disturbing; were we at a music event, or a set from a horror flick?

It’s a little early to see if the media will follow the event with write-ups – but if there are any, it’ll be interesting to read what they have to say. For my part, and as noted, it seemed as if those in personal attendance enjoyed themselves, and with a growing line-up of live events of assorted sizes, I’ll continue to keep an eye on things to see how they develop.

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