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announced in December related to Sansar becoming available on Steam – specifically the closure of the SandeX, which has been replaced by a flat-rate exchange rate for S$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”

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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) on January 12th 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 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.

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.