Sansar launches on Steam

Sansar on Steam. Courtesy of Linden Lab

As anticipated following last week’s community feedback hour / product meeting, Sanar has officially launched on Steam – although at the time of writing, there has been no official press release on the Lab’s corporate site.

Instead, the announcement came via a Sansar blog post, and a tweet via the official Sansar Twitter account.

As of today, December 5th, we are officially live on Steam!

We wanted to give a huge thank you to our current community who have been so supportive, and to extend a warm “Welcome” to all our new community members joining us from Steam!

You can find us on Steam as an Early Access Game, where we’re free to download. Even better, you’ll get to enjoy all the benefits of Steam as a social platform for gamers including full access to our Steam Community Hub!

– From the Sansar blog post announcing the launch

As the blog post notes, Sansar is being made available on Steam’s early access programme – a move the Lab hopes will help Steam users’ expectations regarding the platform and the fact it is still in development.

The Sansar page on Steam Early Access

The Sansar page on Steam includes a promotional video and a series of images from Sansar. In addition, and to underline the platform’s status, there is also a Q&A element, which addresses a number of questions, including:

Why Early Access?

“Sansar is a place where you can hang out with friends, play games, explore new worlds, and share incredible creations, but we can’t do that without you! Being in Early Access is important to us to make sure we’re hearing directly from the community on what you’d like to see and do in Sansar. Come join us!”

Approximately how long will this game be in Early Access?

“We plan on staying in Early Access until Sansar is the very best it can be. We’re constantly making improvements, and we’re eager for your feedback.”

How is the full version planned to differ from the Early Access version?

“We want Sansar to be the place where people can connect with communities and celebrate what they love through immersive virtual experiences, interactive events, customizable avatars, and easy creation. That’s why we plan to develop even more features around socialization, interactivity, personalization, and creation – elements that enrich the social experiences our platform enables. Plans will change based on your feedback, and we’re always listening and learning.”

What is the current state of the Early Access version?

“Right now, Sansar lets you host and attend virtual events, play games, explore user-created experiences, and buy and sell merchandise in the Sansar Store. Meet friends for a watch party and tailgate. Buy clothing and accessories for your avatars, or objects for the virtual experiences you build.”

The sansar.com log-in page now allows web log-ins using Steam account credentials (l). Sansar and Steam integration allows logging-in to Sansar using a user’s Steam credentials (r)

The launch blog post also has some important words for existing Sansar users (or those who have already created a Sansar account). these include:

  • Existing users can still access Sansar directly from their downloaded version of the client, and use all the capabilities with it, including creating new accounts; they do not have to use Steam to log-in.
  • However:
    • Existing Sansar users with a Steam account can add Sansar to their Steam account and launch it from there it they wish
    • Or if they are logged into Steam and opt  to launch Sansar via Steam, they will be prompted to log-in to Sansar with the account of their choice (Sansar, Steam or Twitch).
  • There will be no direct merging of Sansar and Steam accounts (“at this time”).
  • User with an existing Sansar account can continue purchasing Sansar Dollars using the payment information they have on file with Linden Lab.
    • However, users signing-up for Sansar via Steam must use their Steam Wallet to purchase Sansar Dollars.

The Sansar website gives full details on how to integrate Steam and Sansar accounts to get the most out of both. Once integrated, it is possible to access the Sansar Community on Steam directly through the Sansar client:

Accessing the Sansar community on Steam through the Sansar client (Shift-Tab) – requires Sansar / Steam integration for existing Sansar users / download of the Sansar client via Steam for Steam users

It will be interesting to see how this all goes for the Lab. Several years ago, there was an attempt to add Second Life to Steam, which didn’t go so well. However, the Lab believe they have learned some important lessons as a result of that process,  and the Sansar presentation through Steam does appear to be somewhat more integrated.

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Sansar 2018 Product Meetings #48: Steam and release 28

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

The following notes were taken from the Sansar Community Feedback hour held on Thursday, November 29th. A video of the meeting is available on the official Sansar Twitch channel, and timestamps referencing that video are provided in the text below.

Note that the entire discussion is not summarised here – general questions from the 47 minute point onwards are not included – please refer to the video for these. The focus of this article is the upcoming availability of Sansar on Steam and the the December R28 release.

Sansar On Steam

[3:00-5:44] If all goes according to plan, Sansar will be available on Steam from the end of week #49 (week commencing Monday, December 3rd). The platform has already gained initial approval from Steam, and should gain final approval during the early part of the week.

As I’ve previously noted, Sansar will be on Steam as an Early Access programme. As well as the client being available, there will be a dedicated forum and group on Steam.

Reminder: SandeX Closing

A reminder that as a part of making Sansar available on Steam, the SandeX will be closing on Tuesday, December 4th, 2018, and S$ to USD conversions will move to a fixed conversion rate model.

Please refer to Sansar extends to Steam; Lab to end SandeX for more on this.

“Sokoban” Puzzle Challenge

[5:48-8:40] To mark December, the Sansar team is going to be running a series of challenges through the month. These are intended to be fun items, rather than anything to be taken too seriously, and the first up is the Ugly Christmas Sweater Challenge. As the make implies, this is for clothing creators to make an ugly Christmas sweater and upload it to the Sansar Store. For those who can’t make clothing, some sweater templates may be placed on the Sansar Store that can be obtained, textured and used as entries.

Some of the Ugly Christmas Sweater challenge entries

[9:31-12:00] The second challenge is the Sokoban Puzzle Challenge.

Sokoban (“warehouse keeper”) is a puzzle video game in which the player pushes boxes or crates around in a warehouse, trying to get them to storage locations. An experience based on the game has already been created in Sansar, and users are being asked to create and submit their own levels t add to the experience – read Make A Sokoban Challenge for full details, including how to design and submit levels.

Upcoming Features for the R28 (December) Release

The following updates should be part of the R28 Sansar release, which is currently scheduled for some time between the 10th and 13th December 2018 – so it will be available after the Steam launch.

Teleport to a Friend

[15:59-17:35] This is being updated so that it will not work when trying to teleport to a friend in an unpublished experience, and will not show the experience name if you are in an unpublished experience and someone tries to teleport to you.  These fixes are temporary in nature, as they will not scale, so the Lab will be looking to make further changes to Teleport to a Friend in the future to prevent stalking.

Remember, this feature will teleport your avatar to the spawn point of the same experience as a friend, not directly to that friend.

Chat Updates

[17:39-19:00]

  • Nearby Chat and direct messaging (IMs) will have timestamps with the next release.
  • It will be possible to start a direct message (IM) with a friend from the Chat App without having to open the People App.
  • Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian and more will also be supported when typing.

[19:03-19:35] Some in VR have noticed the Chat App panel is “too far away” for them to comfortably reach and grab, forcing them to lean forward when trying to manipulate it.

Home Spaces

[22:24-23:35] The room in which avatars are placed when entering Look Book is to become a Home Space, and will include some light customisation options. The Home Space option will be developed over time to present users with a friendlier environment than the Atlas.

The Look Book “room” is set to become more of a Home Space environment with the next Sansar release, with some initial light customisation options

New User Experience

[24:09-25:28]  The next release will include some client UI “tutorialisation” for new users. This will include various call-outs identifying various parts of the client UI, but these will also be visible to established users the first time the client is run after the release has been deployed.

For the rest of on-boarding, new users will be dropped into the Home Space in the default grey avatar, and will have a list of recommended experiences (based on population within the experiences) they can be sent to.

Continue reading “Sansar 2018 Product Meetings #48: Steam and release 28”

US comedians in line-up for new Sansar series

Image courtesy of Linden Lab

On Wednesday, November 28th, Linden Lab announced a new series for Sansar: Comedy Gladiators, hosted by American comedian and television personality, Steven Hofstetter, which Linden Lab describes as:

A live comedy showcase that lets anyone, anywhere step directly into a comedy club for the night. The series will allow fans to do everything in VR that they would do at a real-life comedy club: purchase tickets in advance, shop for custom merchandise and memorabilia, even order drinks.

– From the Linden Lab announcement

Steven Hofstetter – Hosting and participating in Comedy Gladiators

The first event in the series is scheduled for 19:30 Pacific Time (US) on Monday, December 10th, and will feature the talents of Ben Gleib, Maz Jobrani, Alonzo Bodden, and Mary Lynn Rajskub – perhaps best known on television for her role as Chloe O’Brian in the action thriller series 24.

Comedy Gladiators represents a number of firsts for Sansar.

It is the first ticketed event on the platform. Ticketing is a capability the Lab have been developing for a while for Sansar, with the idea that in time, experience creators will be able to sell tickets to events held within their own experiences.

For Comedy Gladiators, tickets are offered for sale through the Sansar Store at US $4.99 through until December 5th, and then US $9.99 thereafter, up to the event itself. I would anticipate that in the future, experience creators will be able to sell their tickets the same way.

Another interesting factor with Comedy Gladiators is that it mixes the ability to purchase both virtual and physical through the Sansar Store – in this case, copies of Hofstetter’s latest book, Ginger Kidd – with the virtual goods including t-shirts, beer mugs.

Finally, the series is potentially the first large-scale showcasing of Sansar’s “Avatar Broadcasting” feature. This allows performers and presenters working from a single stage / experience in Sansar to reach a potentially unlimited audience through multiple linked instances of the event.

Every day, I get emails and DMs from fans who want to see a live show, but they live in parts of the world I’ll probably never tour in. VR allows those fans to not only see a live show, but feel like they’re part of a bigger community.

– Comedy Gladiators host, Steven Hofstetter

It’s not clear where else the event is being advertised – in checking various websites, including Hofstetter’s own, I didn’t come across any direct adverts. However, the media have picked-up on the event, with reports in the likes of  Variety, with the original press release being reproduced in multiple on-line media covering business, VR, and entertainment.

The Lab is clearly hoping for big things from this move, with Ebbe Altberg noting:

By bringing these commercial opportunities into VR, Sansar is taking virtual events to a whole new level – enhancing and expanding on what’s possible in-person. We look at Comedy Gladiators as the first ripple in a larger wave – the first event of many more that bring entertainers into VR.

– Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab CEO

The line up for the first Comedy Gladiators: Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ben Gleib, Maz Jobrani and Alonzo Bodden

It’s not clear how often this series will take place, or whether this first event is simply experimental. However, it is a daring move to bring something new and different to VR, and to extend the concept of social VR within the realm of entertainment.

One potential stumbling block is the comparatively low uptake of VR headsets; given Comedy Gladiators is being promoted as a “social VR event”, without very clear underlining that Sansar can also be enjoyed as a desktop activity, there is a risk people might avoid the opportunity to join the audience even if advertising does reach a wide audience due to the misapprehension that a VR headset is a requirement.

On a personal note, I am also curious as to the origins of this series – Comedy Gladiators is a monthly live event held in Bristol,  UK – which I believe is where Sansar’s community manager, Eliot, originally hails from…

With thanks to Wurfi for the heads-up.

Sansar extends to Steam; Lab to end SandeX

Courtesy of Linden Lab

On Tuesday, October, 30th, 2018, Linden Lab announced a significant set of changes to Sansar. In We’ve come a long way together. We can’t wait for what’s next, Landon McDowell, Linden Lab’s Chief Product Officer for Sansar, announced the Lab will, from around the start of 2019, be offering Sansar to users via the Steam gaming platform.

As Landon also goes on to explain, in order to achieve this goal, some significant changes are to be made to how Sansar operates, particularly with regards to SandEX, which is to be discontinued, and how  the process credit system work, with Landon noting:

These changes will also make the credit process for Creators far more consistent and predictable. The first change is that we will be discontinuing the Sandex as of December 4, 2018.

After that date, we will be moving to a fixed conversion rate model. Creators will continue to be able to sell their work for Sansar Dollars on the Store (and soon in experiences!). Eligible creators may convert some or all of their earned Sansar Dollar balance to US dollars at a rate of S$250 to $1, and then request a USD credit to be processed in 30 days. This matches Steam’s payment timeline.

We understand that this may have an impact on the amount of revenue returned to creators compared to the Sandex. However, we believe that in the long run our creators will significantly benefit from having access to the larger Steam user base. In addition, anyone who has created their Sansar account before December 31, 2018 will receive a legacy conversion rate of S$143 to $1 until December 31, 2019, after which the conversion rate for all accounts will be S$250 to $1.

Our automated Sansar Dollar Conversion page will not be available until January 2019. In the interim, we are committed to working with our Creators to manually process credit requests of Sansar Dollars through an email process, the details of which will soon follow.

These are significant changes which bring with them significant questions. While attempts have been made to address some of these through the Sansar Discord channel, Landon has indicated the next product meet-up, scheduled (at the time of writing) for Thursday, November 1st, 2018 at 11:00 PST (not Friday, November 2nd, as quoted in the blog post) will be used as an opportunity to address and discuss questions and concerns directly.

Sansar is expanding to Steam – something LL tried with SL in 2012. Times have changed on since then, so will Sansar do better?

All told, this is an interesting move, one the Lab sees as in keeping with the aim – stated at the start of 2018 – that they wanted to start growing their consumer user base (as opposed to designer / creator users). While some have chosen to question it on the basis of Steam’s VR-capable user base (which would appear to be just 0.72% of Steam’s 90 million monthly active users), it’s important to remember that Sansar has a Desktop mode and – as Landon alludes to in his blog post – Steam users are liable to have the kind of hardware required to comfortably run Sansar.

Of course, whether or not Sansar really is ready for a consumer focused prime-time is highly debatable. It could rightly be argued that there is a lot of functionality that might be seen as essential to generating widespread user appeal that is still missing from the platform. It’s a view I’d actually agree with; but it is worth pointing out that Sansar has come a long way in the last 18 months, and some of the more recent updates, together with those planned for between now and the end of the year, stand to significantly improve Sansar’s usability even further.

Jason Gholston departs Sansar and the Lab

Jason Gholston

Jason Gholston, who through social media and interviews, had become something of a public “face” for Linden Lab’s Sansar Social VR platform, has left the company for pastures new.

Jason joined the Lab in April 2012, working initially on Second Life before transitioning into the Sansar team as a Director of Product.

While working on Second Life, Jason Led the maintenance engineering team with a focus on customer retention and quality of service, and oversaw the attempts to integrate Oculus Rift with the platform.

On transitioning to work on Sansar, he worked on creating the Unity prototypes used to greenlight the development of Sansar. As Product Manager, he was responsible for management of the monthly releases of Sansar from the engine, rendering, audio, level editor, terrain editor, VR level editor, avatar simulation, and content pipeline teams. He also initially hosted the weekly VR meet-ups with the creator community within Sansar to gather feedback, help troubleshoot issues.

Jason was also responsible for establishing Sansar Studios, the content creation team for Sansar. This team has been responsible for developing a range of experiences on the platform designed to help demonstrate capabilities within the platform and for working with content partners to develop unique experiences.

From left to right: Jason Gholston, Drew Struzan, Greg Aronowitz discuss the Drew Struzan Gallery in Sansar during a Deviant Art livestream event with host Matthew Holt. Credit: Deviant Art

As a part of running Sansar Studios, Jason initiated and negotiated unique partnerships and content commissions between Linden Lab and partners, valued at over US $2 million. Some of these partnerships have included the development of experiences tied-in to the Ready Player One movie – Aech’s Garage and Aech’s Basement, the Star Trek ties-ins, Bridge of the USS Enterprise and the Roddenberry Nexus, and most recently No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, a collaboration between Linden Lab, Intel and The Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Jason also managed the collaboration with Greg Aronowitz and Drew Struzan that resulted in the Hollywood Art Museum, featuring Star Wars memorabilia reproduced in Sansar, together with the art of Drew Struzan and a reproduction of his studio workshop.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise – a social space where people can watch weekly broadcasts of the Mission Log Live series by Roddenberry Entertainment, hosted by Ken Ray (seen on the viewscreen) and John Champion. One of several collaborative experiences in Sansar Jason Gholston helped bring to fruition

In leaving the Lab, Jason has moved to UK-based Speech Graphics, where he takes up the role of Creative Director, working out of the company’s Bay Area offices. Speech Graphics is one of Linden Lab’s technical partners with Sansar, the platform utilising the company’s technology to provide accurate avatar lip-syncing and facial animations, driven in real-time as users simply speak into the microphones on their HMDs or audio headsets.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of dealing with Jason on several occasions whilst preparing Sansar articles for this blog, and would like to thank him for his willingness to provide his time and assistance, and for supporting this blog through social media. I wish him every success at Speech Graphics.

2018 Sansar Product Meetings week #42: licensing changes

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Note: This should have been a Product Meeting summary for week #42 2018. Unfortunately, my PC blue screened on me, some 45 minutes into the meeting, and I lost all audio to that point. As such, these notes focus only on the licensing  / permissions changes as reported in the official blog, with some additional notes from the meeting.

Licensing and Permissions

Following the R26 Thumbs Up release on Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 and the feedback provided, Linden Lab are making changes to the new Licensing and Permissions system. The full details can be found in the official blog post, and summarised below:

  • All items uploaded prior to the R26 Thumbs Up release are re-designated “Unlicensed” objects.
    • Unlicensed items will once again be editable as they were prior to the R26 release. This includes editing values in scripts, editing materials and all other object properties.
    • Unlicensed items can be combined and saved back to inventory, but they cannot be uploaded to the store and sold.
  • All items uploaded after the R26 deployment are designed as “Licensed” objects.
    • These will have fully editable properties  – including materials (so items no longer have to be set to Full Permissions in order to have their materials editable).
    • Unlicensed items can be combined with Licensed objects (e.g. an unlicensed script can be included in a licensed object) and saved back to inventory. However, the combined object cannot be uploaded to the Store for sale.

These changes will come into effect with a Sansar point release due on or around Thursday, October 18th, 2018.

An important point to note with the changes is that all objects uploaded since the R26 release will, by default have materials editing enabled by default as Licensed objects. Therefore, those items for which the creator does not wish to have materials editing enabled will have to be modified after the update has deployed.

Sample of updates properties editing on Licensed and Unlicensed objects. This was a work-in-progress at the time the images were captured, and the final design may be different on release. Credit: Linden Lab

Additional notes:

  • The official blog post on licensing also includes an FAQ that was a WIP at the time of writing this update, therefore please refer to that post for further updates.
  • There will be a further licensing / permissions update (most likely R28 in November) to surface what is, and what is not, an editable parameter on an object.or combined object.
  • As a reminder: all of the above, and the licensing / permissions system in general, only applied to “in scene” objects, Clothing and worn accessories are currently not a part of the licensing / permissions system, but will be added in the future.
  • To become Licensed products, any objects uploaded prior to R26 must be re-uploaded into order to enabled the ownership / license tracking on it.