Sansar 2019 Product Meetings week #3 w/audio

Sansar Social Hubblog post

The following notes were taken from the Sansar Product Meeting held on Thursday, January 17th. The meeting was chaired by Stanley, the Director of Product for Sansar at Linden Lab and who was marking his first time leading a product meeting. Also in attendance (who I noted) were Cara, Aleks, Leslie, Nix and Stretch Linden.

Stanley has been with the Lab for some six months, and has been working closely with the Product team with a focus on improving the consumer experience, particularly the integration with Steam.

Sansar Dollars To US Dollar Conversions

On Wednesday, January 16th, 2019, Linden Lab published a Sansar blog post outlining Sansar Dollar to US dollar conversions. The post follow-on from changes announced in December related to Sansar becoming available on Steam – specifically the closure of the SandeX, which has been replaced by a flat-rate exchange rate for S$<>USD transactions.

The latest blog post outlines the key points of the new exchange process. In short:

  • Sansar dollars can be converted to USD at the rate of S$250 to $1.00. However, anyone who created their Sansar account before December 31, 2018, can exchange at the legacy rate of S$143 to $1.00 through until  December 31, 2019, after which the conversion rate for all accounts will be S$250 to $1.00.
  • The Process Credit page has been re-enabled for moving USD to PayPal accounts. However, to allow for processing of funds that may come via Steam, processing may take up to 30 days to complete a request.

However, there is more – and it has been somewhat negatively received.

  • Only “Earned Dollars” can be cashed out. That is, only S$ obtained via the sale of goods / services. S$ that are purchased or received as a gift / tip cannot later be cashed out (although all S$ held before the January 16th blog post have been converted to Earned Dollar Status).
  • It has been calculated that, even allowing for easements elsewhere in the system, creators are losing some 60% of potential income when cashing out.

This latter point was of particular concern at the Product Meeting, but the Lab’s hand is forced on the matter due to Sansar now also being provisioned through Steam, there is also concern as to whether the S$ > USD exchange rate might undergo further adjustments other than that planned for the end of 2019.

There are currently no plans to introduce adjustments to the cash-out exchange rate beyond those indicated in the blog post, which amount to anyone cashing-out paying around 60% in commissions. To help offset this, the Lab no longer takes a commission on any store-based transactions between users; they only take a commission on the cashing-out of S$.

Even so, and not unreasonably, creators feel that the shifting of fee payments to the cashing-out process means they are effectively subsidising the Steam integration, particularly given that – by the Lab’s own admission – the majority of users in Sansar are still coming directly into the platform, rather than via Steam, yet Steam still take a cut of the cash-out transactions.

The Lab acknowledge this is currently one-sided, but given they have no means at this point in time to accurately judge how much of an impact Steam will have on Sansar’s usage, they have erred on the side of caution. But whether in time the commission percentages could be adjusted, very much depends on how traffic flow through Steam develops over time, with changes to the cash-out process liable to be considered very carefully before being implemented.

It was asked whether Sansar could be provisioned through Steam “without the money part” in order to simplify matters. The problem seen with this approach is it would exclude Steam users from any economic engagement in the platform (as their transactions must come via the Steam wallet), reducing their interest in using the platform (no ability to buy avatar accessories, good, etc.).

The Future With Steam and Other Providers (e.g. Oculus)

Linden Lab see Steam as the “industry standard” for accessing games and for using VR with games. As such, they are unlikely to move away from the current partnership. However, if over time the relationship with Steam does not prove beneficial to Sansar in terms of growth, use, economy, etc., the platform is not in any way locked-in to Steam on a permanent basis, and so a future separation is not impossible.

The Oculus store has also been looked at as a potential channel for Sansar, and talks have been held. However, because of the relationship between Oculus and Facebook, this had proven a lot harder, but is still being worked on.

New User Experience

New User Experience Steam “versus” Sansar

There still seems to be a perception that users coming to Sansar via Steam have a different new user experience to those coming via Sansar.com. Aside for the sign-up process, this is incorrect. Sansar as provided through Steam is no different to Sansar accessed via the website / direct client download: all users go through the same on-boarding experience with their Home Space and the client tutorial, and the new Social Hub.

Enhancing the New User Experience

There are internal discussions at the Lab on further enhancements to the new user experience, such as adding some form of achievements / cosmetic awards system or similar, in order to encourage engagement (particularly among Steam users).

One of the issues Sansar faces (like Second Life) is how it should be pitched, simply because the potential use-cases are so vast and different. Creators, for example, have different reasons to try the platform to consumers; even gamers with an interest in modding view things differently to those purely interested in game play. Thus, the Lab is still juggling with approaches.

In terms of Steam, one of the most basic areas in determining how the appeal of the platform could be improved is via the constructive feedback offered through reviews, given that when provided, these most frequently involve comments on the “non-standard” approach to how control options are laid out on the hand controllers.

Gaming Templates

In keeping with previous Product Meeting summaries in these pages, the Sansar Team is working on various game-style Sansar templates (e.g. shooting games). It is hoped that when these become available, they will encourage creators / users to utilise them within their own experiences, further helping to drive engagement in Sansar.

These templates have also seen the Lab considering issues such as scoring mechanisms, persistence of scores / progress between sessions, etc.

Upcoming R29 Changes

The upcoming R29 release (the first for 2019) includes some further VR updates related to a user’s “connection” to their avatar.

  • One of these will be for the avatar to be more in sync with a users body movements, rather than lagging behind, as can be the case at the moment.
  • Another is to provide better control of arm movements (although this wasn’t clear to me, I assume this is related to keeping the arms more naturally in line with the avatar’s body when moving the hand controllers around).

R29 should also see the removal of the height calibration menu and storing a person’s height when using VR. There will still be options for setting it, if required (such as when a headset is being used by two different people); but where the headset is only used by the one individual, it shouldn’t be necessary to re-calibrate between sessions.

Continue reading “Sansar 2019 Product Meetings week #3 w/audio”

Advertisements

Looking at Sansar’s Social Hub

Sansar Social Hub

On January 10th, 2019, Linden Lab released Sansar update R28.3. no detailed release notes are currently available (if they are needed), but the core of the update appears to be the new Social Hub.

Available from the Atlas or via a user’s Home Space, the Social Hub is intended to be an experience where Sansar users can conveniently explore, relax, play games, and  – hopefully – meet other users. It can also (obviously) be used as a convenient meeting place when joining friends in Sansar.

Social Hub teleport portal

The easiest way for users to reach the Hub when logging-in is via their Home Space, which how includes a small teleport alcove to one side (previously marked as “under construction”). Walking into the teleport device within the portal will load the Social Hub experience and deliver you to it – no need to touch anything.

The Hub comprises five areas at present: the welcome area / arrival point; a games area;, a social area (the tree house); a kinetic sculpture (take parts and throw them to form an object) and a teleport area, all connected by a network of footpaths, with space to allow for further expansion (in fact, one area was marked as “under construction” at the time of my visit).

  • The games area offers a series of simple games that can be played in VR mode as well as (with some fiddling to get used to things) Desktop mode. I confess the 10-pin bowling to be fun – in that the bowling lane would appear to exist in its own local gravity field – when the pins are hit, the ten to fly up into the sky and then remain there until reset.
  • The teleport area has (at the time of my visit) had three touch teleport portals, each of which appears to rotate through popular experiences on what appears to be a timed basis. Hovering the mouse over a portal will display the current destination for a portal.
  • The tree house offers seating for chat, etc, with more seating at the arrival  / welcome area.

Note that when visiting the Social Hub, and as with the Home Space, the free cam capability in Desktop mode (F4) is disabled.

Given the ease of access from people’s Home Spaces, there is a potential for the Social Hub to become popular as a place to mingle and meet. Certainly during my own tour, there were around seven Greys (brand new avatars) who passed through – and interestingly, the ratio of VR to non-VR arrivals was biased towards VR (4 to 3).

Sansar Social Hub: tree house

However, the more I see Greys, the more I find myself wondering how they might dissuade people from sticking around in Sansar unless the find someone who can help them with their appearance (not exactly easy, given avatars vanish into Look Book); again, in y visit, I had two Grey approach me: one confused as to whether my avatar was “real” or an NPC, the other repeatedly asking “how do I look like you?”

Sit point indicator

A further recent addition – I’m not sure which update it came with (R28.1, R28.2 or the current R28.3), is the Home Space seating now has sit point indicators for the chair (as does the Social Hub).

These inverted triangles (or arrowheads) are displayed when the mouse is hovered over any object that has a sit point associated with it (see my R28 release overview for more on sit points), and the object itself is outlined in purple. Left-clicking on the object will cause your avatar to sit on it.

I assume these sit point indicators will become the norm as the sit point scripts are employed in all experiences – to be honest, I haven’t been in Sansar frequently enough since the R28 release to see how sit points are being used.

Feedback

The Social Hub is something that has been promised for a while, and it is good to see it delivered. Together with the log-in Home Space, it serves to make Sansar a friendlier place. Hopefully, it is a place new users will find comfortable and engaging – although a lot will perhaps depend on people being there and willing to  help out.

 

Sansar announces 2nd live comedy event

via Sansar / Linden Lab

Linden Lab have announced the second live comedy event to be held in Sansar. The SF Sketchfest will take place between 13:00-14:00 PST (21:00-22:00 GMT) at the new SF Sketchfest Playhouse. The event will feature comedians David Cross (Mr. Show and Arrested Development fame) and Amy Schumer (MADTv, Insatiable, Shameless), together with openers Irene Tu and Chad Opitz).

Compared to the Comedy Gladiators event hosted in Sansar on December 10th, 2018 (read more here), the SF Sketchfest is receiving fairly low-key and what seems to be very short-notice advertising through social media (by contrast, Comedy Gladiators was promoted via a press notice via the Lab).

Ticket for the event are USD $4.99 each, and can be purchased directly from the Sansar Store.

The SF Sketchfest participants: David Cross and Amy Schumer, Irene Tu and Chad Opitz

These events utilise Sansar’s Broadcast capability, allows avatar audiences across two or more instances of an experience to experience performing avatars, with instances allowing a greater opportunity for friends to attend the vent together (although more work is required to make this more fully possible).

SF Sketchfest is also the second official Sansar event to use the platform’s new ticketing capability, which – when expanded – will be a further means for creator / experience holders to monetise their offerings in Sansar.

Sansar at the end of 2018 – a personal perspective

Sitting and thinking in my Sansar Home Space

The end of December 2018 brings with it the end of the first full year of public accessibility to Sansar, Linden Lab’s “social VR” platform. It’s been a huge year, with monthly releases that have significantly added to the platform’s capabilities, together with a range of initiative to engage with audiences, improve the new user process flow, and raise the visibility of the platform. The article looks back at some of the Sansar-related events and activities over the past twelve months, and offers a few personal thoughts based on the year’s developments. In a future piece, I plan to look more broadly at Sansar in terms of audiences and potential.

Releases and Updates

Sansar updates and releases progressed at the rate of one a month throughout the year, offering some significant updates and improvements to the platform. Key among these have been:

  • Social improvements: the ability to find other people within Sansar, such as through the Atlas, and the ability to create and view profiles. Experience creators were could start promoting events held within their experiences through the Sansar Events pages, and to help them manage said events and keep undesirables at bay, experience owners were also given access / ban controls. Direct messaging between friends was improved, while the ability to teleport to them within a public experience was added; friending others was improved and the People App finally arrived in VR. Also added during the year was the ability to see and type text chat in VR, while overhead typing and speaking indicators were introduced to make it easier to identify who in a group was doing what.
  • Avatar: general improvements included emotes (gestures in SL parlance) being extend to desktop mode,  with more being added throughout the year. New system avatars were added, together with the ability for creators to upload custom (but non-customisable – unfortunately, the ability to better customise avatars (sliders) didn’t reach release in 2018) avatars, and improvements continued to be made to the avatar IK system. A basic sit capability was added through gestures, which also allowed users to “cheat” and sit on chairs and other objects. The ability for avatar to “grab” objects in their hands (Desktop and VR) and to sit on objects came later in the year. The Look Book was revamped and support for adjusting Marvelous Designer clothing in VR added.
  • Performance: a major effort was put into improving Sansar performance throughout the year. This included significant changes such as the removal of custom terrains (due to their negative impact), moving scene editing from the client to a server environment (which will also hopefully allow for collaborative editing of scenes in the future). Texture streaming was added to help with scene loading, and efforts were put into improving the overall load times for the majority of experiences, while the ability to cancel an experience from loading if it was taking too long was finally introduced.
  • Edit Mode: as noted above, editing scenes moved from the client to a server environment, work was put into helping creator organise inventory, and a range of diagnostic options added. General object editing was improved with a series of incremental updates.
  • Client: the client saw a broad range of improvements, from integration of events (mentioned above), through to full integration of the Sansar Store. To help with the new user experience, the entire client UI was overhauled at the end of the year, with new buttons and tool tips together with a small client tutorial.

The client UI was overhauled with new buttons and menus (l) better presentation of UI elements in VR mode (c) and the addition of tutorial elements for new users (r). Click on any image to view slide show

  • Scripting: multiple improvements were made to scripting, including Simple Scripts, designed to allow people unfamiliar with C# to add functionality (turn lights on / off, open / close doors, etc.), to their scenes, and scripters given the ability to update their scripts on the Sansar Store.
  • Sansar Store: categories were added to improve finding items of interest, as noted above, the Store was integrated into the client over a couple of releases.
  • Permissions System: the permissions system was deployed, allowing creators to set permissions against their products when selling them, opening the door to the supply chain economy desired for Sansar (although there is more work to be done to allow multiple objects to be linked together and resold as a whole).
The permissions system, allowing was deployed in October 2018. Credit: Linden Lab

The above isn’t a full list, but it gives an idea of the progress made with Sansar during the year that has helped move the platform forward.

New User Experience

2018 saw work completed designed to improve the new user experience. A key part of this was the new client UI and tutorial mentioned above, and examined in my overviews of the November and December 2018 releases. This work also included a new Home Space “mini experience”. Introduced in December, this Home Space also forms the initial starting point for users on logging-in to Sansar, rather than them simply facing the Atlas.

This Home Space helps orient new users by providing them with the means to complete the first parts of the user tutorial in private, learn to change their avatar look, and will – in time – be connected to a new “Social Hub” where they can potentially connect with other users.

Images of the new Home Space taken in Sansar’s new “mouse look” view, showing the various areas. Click on any image to view slide show

Continue reading “Sansar at the end of 2018 – a personal perspective”

Sansar 2018 Product Meetings #50

The following notes were taken from the Sansar Product Meeting held on Thursday, December 13th, the last such Product Meeting for 2018. As usual, Eliot, the Sansar Community Manager hosted the meeting, with Ebbe, Landon, Aleks, Leslie, Kelly and Julia from the Lab.

High-Level Outlook for 2019

Plans are still being finalised for 2019 and Sansar, so there is some reluctance to talk in-depth about what is likely to be coming and when, however, some high-level bullet points for the platform mentioned in the meeting were:

  • Avatar improvements (e.g. face sliders, custom skins).
  • World (experience) creation easier.
  • Making it easier for people to collaborate and group themselves around “things”.
  • Improving the ability to make interactive content and games.
  • See Sansar be more event-driven.
  • Continue to ship updates at a high rate (the average for 2018 being one update per month).
  • Accelerate the rate of change that is being made with updates, as per that last three releases of 2018.
  • Continue to be responsive to feedback to updates and changes.

A major review of plans is taking place over the final working week of 2018, so early 2019 should see the Lab in a better position to offer some insight into what the year may be bringing to Sansar.

Attending Events

Sansar recently hosted its first ticketed event (sadly at a time far too late for most of us in Europe – hint, hint, Linden Lab) – Comedy Gladiators, hosted by Steven Hofstetter (read more here).  The event apparently went well, with the audience spawning multiple instances and able to see the activities on stage. However, one problem did arise in that people wishing to attend the same instance of the event at times found they couldn’t. The Lab is aware of this and looking to make changes that will allow people access the same instance of a popular event like this, and enjoy it together.

One idea is a “party up” system, that allows a party of named individuals access an instance together. This could be extended to things like team-based games / puzzles / activities, where you need to work as a group and / or work best with limited numbers – so each party of players accessing the game / experience would be delivered to a different instance, thus avoiding interfering with others who already have a game in progress.

In Brief

  • Sansar / Steam Desktop mode issue: there is an issue running Sansar via Steam in Desktop Mode that leaves the audio sliders in Settings non-responsive. This is being investigated by the Lab.
  • Improved camera(s) for 2019? a frequent request through 2018 has been better camera options for filming in Sansar. Idea put forwards include a true “flycam” mode that allows for free filming and avatar movement of the part of the person filming; the ability to create multiple (scripted) camera objects within a scene for filming (and the ability to cut between them when recording); having “flyable” scripted cameras, etc. Such ideas are being discussed by the Lab with no commitment (at present) on what might be delivered or when.
  • Freecamming when using a Sit Point: it is not currently possible to freecam (F4) when seated using the Sit point capability introduced with R28. This will be fixed.
  • “Bigger” Experiences: currently, the upper limit on experiences is 4km on a side (the equivalent area to 256 SL regions). There are currently no plans to expand beyond this, as it is the limit at which the physics aspects of the engine start to break down, and the Lab does not want to get into a Second Life scenario with having to work out how to stitch scenes / experiences together and cater for physically crossing being them.
    • Even working to the 4km upper limit is questionable at present, as Sansar does not have any means of LOD (level of detail) handling within it.
  • Finding Sticky Grab: the new “sticky grab” option introduced with R28 to prevent people picking up guns and then throwing them, rather than firing them (left mouse click), is currently a little obscure when setting it in Edit mode, so it is liable to be better surfaced in an upcoming release.
  • Improved Moderation: an upcoming point release (possibly to appear before Christmas) should allow user-to-user blocking (so not only can a troublemaker be muted, they can be blocked and vanish from your view  – and you vanish from their view).
  • In-client Store Improvements: it is hoped that 2019 will see the in-client Sansar Store achieve parity with the web version of the store (filters and filter options, etc).
  • Steam “Fall-off”: A lot has been made about the fall-off in incoming numbers of users from Steam. This was in some way expected, as at the launch on Steam, Sansar was featured on the Early Access home page (actually how I saw it had been launched), and also on the Steam VR section home page. Since the launch, Sansar is no longer front-and-centre on either page.
  • Avatar Rig: this will likely see changes in 2019. Work is already in hand to try to simplify it; other improvements will be made over time.

 

Sansar R28, the Ready, Aim, Fire! Release

Sitting in my Home Space – one of the new elements in Sansar

On Tuesday, December 11th, Linden Lab issued the Ready, Aim, Fire! (aka R28) update for Sansar, the last planned release for 2018.

Interaction is very much a theme for this release, as is helping new users feel more at home, as well as providing a point of entry when logging-in to Sansar at the start of a session. The release also includes a very long list of scripting updates, some of which are to support the new interactivity functions.

This article is designed to provide an illustrative summary of the release, but do note the lack of an VR headset and controller on my part means that any features described in detail here are looked at from the Desktop Mode.

At the time of writing, there were no release notes available, only a release blog post. Whether this actually constitutes the release notes or not, I’m not sure – so a check on the Sansar Help page might be in order to see of any release notes appear. Similarly, in checking the scripting API documentation, it appeared this documentation was also awaiting update. so again, a check should be made for the addition of information on the new API elements and script updates.

Initial Notes

  • As with the majority of Sansar deployments, this update requires the automatic download and installation of a client update.
  • Updates in this release mean that on logging-in for the first time following the update, users will be placed in their Home Space after selecting their updated avatar.

Home Space

I’ll start with Home Space, a new “home location” so to speak. All users are dropped into Home Space, which resembles an open-plan skybox like apartment with three “rooms”, either when logging-in to Sansar for the first time or at the start of a new session (so in the latter regard it both appears as the back-drop image when logging-in to Sansar and replaces being dropped into the Atlas at the end of the log-in process).

As a physical environment, you can walk around your Home Space, sit on the chairs (albeit it using the teleport > /sit “cheat” and – for new users in particular – offers a starting point for the new UI tutorial (see below for more on this).

Images of the new Home Space taken in Sansar’s new “mouse look” view, showing the various areas. Note the “under construction” teleport portal, also shown enlarged in the last image, that will link Home Spaces to an upcoming new social hub experience. click on any image to view slide show

Note that Home Space is only accessible (for the time being?) when logging-in to Sansar at the start of a session; there’s no option to go back to it once you’re entered an experience, unless you re-log. Should you edit your avatar’s appearance (Create > Style My Avatar) from within an experience, you will still go to look Book and then back to the spawn point for the experience at the spawn point, as per previous Look Book behaviour.

Within The Home Space there is a hint of things to come: on one wall, and marked as “under construction” is the entranceway to the upcoming “Social Hub”. Reached via automatic teleport, this will be a new experience people can jump to and mingle, again with the intent to make it easier for newcomers to meet others. Some of the objects in the Home Space can also be grabbed, allowing basic interactivity to be tried – although the random nature of the tutorial pop-ups perhaps makes this a little hit-and-miss.

UI Tutorial

The new UI Tutorial is designed to help new users start to understand the Sansar Client UI (although it will also display for existing users logging-in to R28 for the first time). The tutorial comprises a selection of pop-up displays to controls and yellow hover tips that are displayed within the client. These can be displayed in both the Home Space and within initial experiences a new user visits.

Some of the UI tutorial pop-up (left) and tool tips displayed for new users. The pop-ups appear at the bottom centre of the UI window

The tutorial – while a good idea – seemed to be somewhat random. It’s wasn’t until my fourth log-in, for example, that I saw the pop-up for grabbing items. While not vital, given there are objects in the Home Space that can be grabbed, making this a little more predictable (coming up with the Walk and Teleport pop-ups, perhaps?) would perhaps be more useful.

Emote Menu and Emotes

New to both Desktop and VR modes for Sansar is the Avatar Emote menu. Access via the Socialise button (or CTRL-E in Desktop Mode), this displays a “dial” pop-up, with the available emotes (aka gestures or animations) on the right, and any emotes you may have already used in your current log-in session displayed on the left (if you have not used any emotes, this area will display an alarm clock like icon).

The new Emotes Menu. Note that Recent Emotes (on the left), are only displayed if you have used one or more emotes in the current session

Emotes are selected from the right of the menu, by scrolling up / down through them and clicking on the desired option. Recent emotes (if displayed) are accessed the same way. For VR users, an added bonus is that moving your head or arms will no longer cancel a playing emote (just walk forward, as per Desktop mode).

Note that the chat commands (“/sit”, etc.) are still fully supported, as is the ability to assign custom emotes to replace the default options.

Continue reading “Sansar R28, the Ready, Aim, Fire! Release”