Alongside of the announced shift in emphasis with Sansar, there have been rumours of multiple lay-offs among the Sansar team. Ryan Schultz has led with the story, stating 30 have gone, although the rumour mill has been bouncing between 20 and 30.
Exactly how many have departed is difficult to judge, simply because LL does not comment on departures or cuts, but there are some limited ways in which we can stick a finger in the air and test things. My own knowledge of the Sansar team is limited to around 16 names, but it would appear from my rudimentary yardstick, that four of those names are no longer at the Lab.
My yardstick for this measurement is simple, but has been known to be effective in the past. All Lab staff have a Linden account in Second Life. With most of the Sansar team, that account name tends to marry up with their Sansar name (e.g. Ebbe Linden marries up to Ebbe in Sansar; Boho Linden marries up with Boho in Sansar, etc.). So by checking to see which accounts are inactive, it is possible to hazard a guess that the individual is no longer at Linden Lab.
In this respect, my findings tend to concur that of the three very specific names that have been mentioned in reference to the Sansar lay-offs do indeed appear to have departed Linden Lab. However, it also appears (up to the time of writing, at least) that a third high-profile name – that of the Lab’s Chief Product Officer, Landon MacDowell – still appears to be with the Lab, as his SL account is still active.
Granted, this is not a genuinely scientific means of making a judgement. However, it amounts to 1/4 of the names I know in the Sansar team, and if I recall correctly (I confess that in digging back through my notes, I’ve been unable to pin down the specific quote) during a meeting in either Sansar or Second Life, Ebbe Altberg indicated the Sansar team is around the 100+ mark. So, my finger-in-the-air figure would tend to concur with the idea of 20 to 30 people being laid off / transitioned.
In this latter regard, I took time to try to dig around a little further and concluded that it seems likely that at least two of the Sansar team who originally moved to that project from Second Life may have transitioned back to working on SL (in addition to Harley Linden also transitioning from Sansar to SL).
Precisely what this means for Sansar development in the future remains to be seen. I’ve already commented on the move to focus efforts on trying to make Sansar a venue for “live” virtual events (see Sansar changes emphasis: of live events and audience, and it’s something I intend to circle back to in the near future as it seems some of that piece may have been misinterpreted. For now, all I will say in regards to the lay-offs, is that whenever and wherever they happen, no matter how big or how small, they are never pleasant – least of all for those being laid off. So I genuinely hope any who have been let go by the Lab are successful in finding new positions sooner rather than later.
On Friday, November 1st, the Sansar Team held their weekly Product Meeting, which provided to be an event of two parts: an overview of the next Sansar release, which I’ve covered in my usual Sansar Product Meeting summary format, and confirmation that Sansar’s development is undergoing a change in emphasis in a drive to try to establish a much broader audience.
In short, and as noted by Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, and the Lab’s Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Sheri Bryant (aka CowboyNinja in Sansar), who now takes up the role of Sansar’s General Manager¹, the Lab plans to focus a lot more on building-out Sansar’s ability to run “live” events within virtual spaces.
The decision has in part been sparked by the rise in popularity of “live” virtual events in a number of platforms (most notably the Fortnite / Marshmello event and the 11 million attendees it garnered) and the more modest – but significant – successes Sansar has had in hosting electronic dance music (EDM) events through partnerships with Monstercat and Spinnin’ Records.
It’s a decision that was actually presaged in October, when IQ ran an article in which Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and Sheri Bryant were interviewed about the Lab’s intentions with “live” events in Sansar. As such, I wasn’t actually overly surprised to hear about the shift in emphasis, although others may have missed that piece. Certainly, the announcement has received a negative reaction from some, and has been – wrongly, I would suggest – characterised as akin to High Fidelity’s abrupt change of direction that occurred earlier this year – see: High Fidelity changes direction: the reality of VR worlds today (& tomorrow?) and High Fidelity changes direction (2).
I say “wrongly”, because while this is a change in emphasis, it is not in any way a shuttering / move any from anything within Sansar in the way High Fidelity’s change of direction was. As was noted in the meeting:
The intention is to make Sansar the “best possible” destination for virtual events, with an emphasis on both “larger” marquee-style events involving commercial partners and other brands / organisations and on the more creator-driven events we see in Sansar today.
Hence why the next release of Sansar – R37, due to be deployed in week #45 (commencing Monday, November 4th, 2019) will incorporate changes to the events system creators have been specifically requesting – including linking events directly to the world used to host them and allowing that originating world to gain the traffic figures of people attending the event version.
It will see Linden Lab endeavour to “integrate” user-developed events with major marquee events, so that audiences attending the latter will be made more aware of the former, and encouraged to explore more of Sansar beyond the current event they are attending.
So the hope is that if done correctly, provisioning bigger and more frequent “live” events, the Lab can not only achieve spikes in Sansar’s user base, but actually start to convert some of those visiting audiences into engaged users.
In this respect, work will be carried out to further improve the overall new user experience to make it more “unforgettable”, and to expand Sansar’s socialisation and communication capabilities to help encourage greater user/user interactions.
It also does not mean that other improvements for the platform are in any way being closed or abandoned – although it does mean that some are being re-prioritised and are seeing their possible deployment time-frames pushed back.
This latter point is likely why there has been some negativity around the announcement: for much of 2019 the emphasis has been on developing Sansar’s gaming / questing capabilities, and these have reached a point where they are being actively and imaginatively being leveraged. Given that push to develop them and get creators excited by them, to apparently make a sudden track switch is bound to leave some feeling a little, “wait – what?”
Similarly, there has been a push to give the Sansar avatar a complete overhaul, with more being promised – particularly full body deformation and custom skin textures. It had been suggested these might appear before the end of 2019 – but they are now timetabled for delivery “in 2020”. So this again is likely to be grating on people. But that said, it is true that, insofar as encouraging people into Sansar to attend events, Avatar 2.0 doesn’t appear to have been any kind of barrier – and it might be argued that it is more important for Sansar to gain a broader and deeper user base than it is to keep iterating on new features and capabilities within the avatar system – particularly if there are relatively few people around to use it.
Obviously, there are risks involved in shifting the emphasis towards “live” virtual events as a means to generate an audience from which retained users might be gained. On the one hand, there is that aforementioned Marshmello / Fortnite event and its almost 11 million virtual attendees. However, it’s equally important to remember that Fortnite already had an estimated user base of some 200 million world-wide to draw on to attend that event – they weren’t using it to try to generate new users for the platform.
In this, Sansar has a long way to go to establish itself – and there is absolutely no guarantee that however things are developed or engineered, people attracted to the platform to attend an event by their favourite EDM DJ or comedian or talk show host or whoever aren’t really going to be interested in doing anything else other than attending an event. But again, to flip this over, it is certainly true that certain types of event that could allow audiences to have very unique experiences whilst attending such events. This is something Ebbe Altberg notes in reference to EDM events when talking to IQ:
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…
There’s also the fact that virtual shows and events do greatly increase the potential audience reach for artists and performers – and present the potential for physical world merchandising (assuming LL put such a capability in place – and they’d perhaps be stupid not to), something I touched on in Sansar: music entertainment with some sundry thoughts. This is something that performers and brands might well find appealing.
So to me, the shift in emphasis perhaps isn’t as upsetting as it appears to have been to others – but then, I’m simply not as invested in Sansar as some, which also should be taken into account. Certainly, and as I’ve previously argued, I don’t think a push to establish a presence in the “virtual events market” given the capabilities Sansar does have is not a bad thing. And, as I’ve noted in Sansar: music entertainment with some sundry thoughts, even if it doesn’t massively drive up the platform’s concurrency on its own, it could nevertheless contribute to doing so; what’s more, it could open the platform up to broader “repeat” audiences from a range of potential sectors and so help the Lab generate revenue from those sectors through a variety of means.
It is not clear right now, but Sheri may have shifted to focusing solely on Sansar, as Hari Raghavan, formerly the Lab’s Senior Manager, Marketing Communications, was introduced at the meeting as the “new Director of Marketing”.
Psychological profiling is a tool that today is in commonplace use within law enforcement agencies around the globe. It’s a means of literally getting inside the mindset of a murderer – notably the serial killer – and working out what makes them tick in order to understand things like their underpinning motivations: why they kill, how they might select their victims and murder locations, etc., all in an effort to be able to identify them, perhaps pre-empt them, and bring them to justice.
Profiling has largely entered the public consciousness over the last 30-ish years thanks to crime novelists, films and TV shows, particularly those featuring the FBI. Perhaps the earliest public recognition of criminal profilers came in the form of actor William Petersen: long before he took up the sample kit and got involved in forensic investigation through the original CSI series, he starred in the 1986 film Manhunter, portraying fictional FBI criminal profiler Will Graham from Red Dragon, Thomas Harris’ 1981 psychological thriller.
I mention all of this because an examination of criminal psychology and psychosis is the subject of the second in an interesting series of lectures being presented in Sansar during October.
These lectures are being led by Anglo-Canadian criminologist writer (and – wait for it – alternate country musician; who said people can’t be multi-talented?) Dr. Lee Mellor.
I’m actually a little peeved with myself for missing the first lecture in the series, which took place on Wednesday, October 9th, as I gained an introduction and interest in criminal psychology while at college, thanks to a study of Criminal Shadows: Inside the Mind of the Serial Killer by David Canter, one of the UK’s ground-breaking criminal psychologists and founder of the International Academy for Investigative Psychology, an academy for researchers seeking to apply social science to investigative and legal processes .
Friday, October 11th: Psychopathy and Psychosis – when you use the term ‘psycho’ are you referring to a psychopath or psychotic? Do you even know the difference? Lee Mellor helps us understand the basic neuroscience, psychological features, behaviours, and crime scenes of psychopathic and psychotic offenders through case studies.
Monday, October 14th: A motive for Murder – Dr. Mellor examines a plethora of motives to commit acts of murder from the utterly mundane to the thoroughly bizarre, and argues that there is rarely a motive, but rather, a number of intersecting motives, along with debunking the idea of the ‘senseless’ crime.
Wednesday, October 16th: M.O. and Signature – an exploration of the crucial concepts of modus operandi and signature, their differentiations, and the necessity of being able to identify and distinguish between the two in order to effectively link crimes and bring an offender to justice.
Friday, October 18th: Fetishism and Paraphilia – delves into the bizarre, fascinating, and controversial world of kinks, fetishes, and paraphilia: some utterly harmless, others indisputably dangerous – and some of which can manifest in crimes from breaking and enter to pre-mediated murder.
Monday, October 21st: Sexual Sadism – for details, please refer to the Sansar Events page, once they have been published.
Note that(all lectures commence at 15:30 PDT, and can be found in the Sansar Events page on the web.
While clearly intended to sit hand-in-hand with the Halloween month, this set of lectures actually goes much further than a “gimmicky” play on horrors an things that go bump in the night (in this case, bodies hitting the ground / floor): they can actually help demonstrate how an environment like Sansar can be used for educational / lecture purposes and provide a forum for discussion of real world events, situation and circumstances.
Sadly, given the timing of the series – very late evening for me, when my time tends to be busy in both the physical and the virtual realms, I’m not sure I can make all of the lectures – but I certainly hope to grab them via Twitch or YouTube.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m a Star Trek fan. I started on a diet of re-runs of The Original Series (which remains my overall favourite, simply because I started watching it at an impressionable age, my early teens), and quickly got hooked on The Next Generation. Within Second Life, I’ve reflected this interest by writing about various Trek-related events or activities (see A Starship Enterprise in Second Life big enough for an avatar crew and Having a little fun with starships for example).
These experiences reflect a partnership with Roddenberry Entertainment, which has also seen the broadcasting of the Roddenberry Entertainment’s mission Logs podcasts into Sansar, trivia competitions, and Q&A events with acknowledged Trek experts.
This involvement with Trek continues this weekend with Sansar providing access to Star Trek cast members and guest stars who are attending the Official Star Trek Convention taking place in Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, April 30th, Linden Lab updated the Sansar Movement release. An official summary of the update is available, and please refer to that document for details of bug fixes. Highlights of the release key features reviewed here are:
Avatar customisation, movement and gameplay updates.
Client Store updates.
Edit mode improvements.
As with the majority of Sansar deployments, this update requires the automatic download and installation of a client update, particularly as it involves changes affecting the Sansar avatar system.
Until this release, all avatars in Sansar have been of the same male / female height. With R32, users can now individually scale their avatars from 0.5 to 1.25 the scale of the default avatar size.
The scaling option will scale both avatar and current outfit and accessories. As it is part of the overall avatar customisation process, scaling can be applied to both existing looks – or now looks can be created and scaled for specific purposes, if preferred (so you could have a small and tall avatar in the same outfit for visiting different experiences, just by changing your look, rather than adjusting the scale of the one avatar).
To change an avatar’s scale:
Click the Create button and then Style My Avatar to go to Look Book.
From the Look Book panel, select the avatar you’d like to re-scale (if you have more than one).
Click customise (lower right corner of our Home Space / Look Book display,
Click the avatar icon (arrowed below) in the Avatar style panel to display the avatar customisation options.
Click the slider button at the top of the panel (arrowed below, right).
Use the Scale slider to uniformly re-scale your current avatar.
Save the look.
Points of note with avatar scaling:
Scaling will work on custom avatars.
Scaling does not affect the avatar locomotion graph, so small avatars will appear to move faster than their taller cousins. Similarly, very tall avatars will seem to move more lugubriously than their smaller cousins.
In VR mode, the world view is scaled accordingly to avatar height.
Scaling can cause some clothing glitches to become more apparent.
Avatars can now crouch and move. In Desktop mode, make sure the mouse isn’t in the Chat panel and tap C to crouch / stand up, and move as usual. In VR move, users must physical adopt a crouched pose.
Points of note with crouching:
The avatar’s motion will be correspondingly slower when crouched – just as we tend to move slower when crouched in the physical world.
The collider / bounding box for the avatar will also automatically adjust to match the avatar’s height as well, making it possible for tunnels, etc., to be made through which avatars must move when crouched.
The collider / bounding box in VR will collapse in accordance to how low the user crouched.
Desktop Movement Updates
Two new options have been adding to the Settings panel (More Options > Settings, then scroll down).
Keyboard Turn: if set to On, your avatar turns left and right when pressing A or D ( / Left or Right arrow) respectively. If set to Off, your avatar sidesteps to the left or right (without turning) instead.
Face Forward: if set to On, your avatar attempts to face the direction your camera is looking while you are moving. If set to Off, your avatar faces the direction your are moving.
Remember to click the Save button to preserve your preferred settings.
Avatar Gameplay Updates
With R32, Desktop mode now also has a new desktop throw indicator. To use it:
Pick up an object (left-click on the object).
Click and hold the left mouse button. A dotted line arc will appear showing the flight of the object when the mouse button is released.
A blue circle at the end of the dotted line arc will show the likely destination of the object when thrown – use the mouse wheel to adjust this back and forth.
When ready, release the left mouse button as usual to throw.
Note that depending on your Desktop movement settings, you might be able to adjust the left/right aspect of your throw by moving to the left or right (this can be easier in 1st person (F3) mode).
New simple skeleton: a simplified avatar skeleton reference file (70 bones, and refered to as a “low resolution” skeleton in the reference documents) to make it easier to hook up animations. See Avatar reference files in the Sansar knowledge base.
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.
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.