Sansar Creator Beta: observations, one year on

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum: one of the first public experiences I visited in Sansar, and from the start, one of the ones that clearly demonstrations the potential for Sansar’s immersive educational reach when and if VR really gains a foothold in education. It also demonstrate the power of VR to visit physical world events and places that might otherwise be closed to us

July 31st, 2018 marked the first anniversary of Sansar’s public Creator Beta, Linden Lab having thrown the doors wide to the world at large to come in and have a look, back at the end of July 2017.

The move came with a lot of forewarning that those familiar with the capabilities of a (then) 14-year-old platform such as Second Life would likely find a lot of things lacking in Sansar, but even so, in a lot of quarters Sansar was negatively leapt upon for this very reason. And while some of that criticism may have been and still be valid, it is worth pointing out that Second Life didn’t burst forth on the world in June of 2006 fully formed and ready to go with all the capabilities we take for granted today (and so perhaps expect Sansar to have from “day 1”).

That said, there were  – and remain – certain aspects of Sansar which perhaps could have done with more development time before opening the doors to “everyone” (quotes deliberate, given the emphasis of the public Creator Beta was very much on people where a creative / content crafting mindset and abilities, rather than on consumer / creator users). Interaction, for example was almost entirely VR HMD-centric; non-headset users were restricted to walking into / over things and initially had no means to more directly interact with objects. Scripting for object interaction was also somewhat limited. Sansar additionally lacked a permissions system at the time of the public Creator Beta – indeed, a year on, we’ve still yet to see it – although may well be making its first appearance in the coming month.

Hover Derby is one of a number of individual / team games that have arrived on Sansar in the course of the 12 months since the Public Beta launched, and has proven popular enough to spawn its own social area

While not a major drawback in terms of overall commerce (Sansar was always going to take time to build a consumer audience), this has limited areas of creativity – such as working collaboratively. The lack of the permissions / supply chain / licensing system has also limited convenience in selling items between creators, as the ability to sell “multi-part items” is very bound up with it, leaving a creator wishing to sell an object with several components having to sell the various parts individually.

At the time of the opening, I noted that given the Lab had reportedly received more than 10,000 closed Creator Beta applicants, and given the lack of scripting support, avatar  customisation (another area of limited capability), lack of permissions / supply chain / licensing system, etc.,  I did question why they didn’t just extend that programme by, say, another year. In terms of take-up, the outcome would perhaps have been the same. Certainly, in terms of encouraging interest on the part of existing virtual world users, a “launch” of Sansar now, with all the added capabilities from the last year might have resulted in something of a more positive reaction.

Voyages Live: Egypt: offers Sansar users the opportunity to visit three Egyptian sites of antiquity, and has been the focus of a tour with Egyptologist and archaeologist Dr. Philippe Martinez, one of the people who helped with the creation of the experiences (and the format of environment and guided tours has recently been replicated in another VR-centric environment!)

Certainly, given that VR itself is going to take a good few years yet to come into its own as a household product, the leeway for the Lab to do more under the hood tinkering with Sansar, get more feedback from their existing pool of creators and partners, etc., and be in a position to offer something of a more rounded product to the public was certainly there. But again, this also brings drawbacks.

Take, for example, the misunderstanding that Sansar was to be a “replacement” for Second Life – an idea that took root and flourished despite Ebbe Altberg stating numerous times in 2016 / 2017 (VWBPE addresses, Lab Chat sessions, and Meet the Linden events) that this wasn’t the case. How might the flames of rumour and “the end” od Second Life been fanned had a more “SL-like” Sansar popped up?

From the start, Sansar’s graphics fidelity has been attention-grabbing, allowing creators to offer attractive, photogenic environments to explore; what was missing the early days was the ability to really do anything in them – even sit down

As it is, for the last 12 months, Sansar has been able to plod away, receiving broadly positive responses from the tech media while those of us immersed in Second Life have been able to if not breathe a sigh of relief, then at least accept LL’s word that they are going to continue to invest in and develop Second Life, up to an including the major (and continuing) work to shift that platform to a cloud-based infrastructure.

And Sansar has come a fair way over the course of a year. Yes, there is still much more to be done, make no mistake, but Sansar today is something of a different beast to a year ago. Performance on mid-range desktops has been improved, load times tidied, the Atlas made far more user-friendly, the client has seen a host of improvements, a veritable boatload of new capabilities have been delivered  – Desktop interaction, better scripting capabilities, and so on. And thus experiences have started to get more involved and interactive. There are individual / team games like Hover Derby and Paintball; rudimentary combat, as seen in The Secret of Mount Shasta, is possible. Storytelling capabilities have grown, while the platform has demonstrated is ability to be fully capable of presenting art through the virtual medium through the likes of the Hollywood Art Musuem project.

More particularly, Linden Lab has been able to flex its muscle and establish partnerships whilst also building a reputation as a design studio as well. Most visibly this has been done through the likes of the Ready Player One tie-in of Aech’s Garage and Aech’s Basement and which saw LL via Sansar Studios working with the likes of Intel, Amblin Entertainment and Warner Entertainment to recreate scenes from the film in VR.

Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane, part of No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man in Sansar, where it forms part of an experience  arising out of linden Lab’s ongoing relationship with Intel, and the latter’s work with the Smithsonian Museum

Continue reading “Sansar Creator Beta: observations, one year on”

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Sansar: experience counts increased for creators

Courtesy of Linden Lab

In something of a (to me, at least) surprising move, Linden Lab has announced across-the-board increases in the number of experiences each subscription level of users can have published.

The new limits come into immediate effect and are as follows:

  • Free users: Increased from 3 to 20 experiences.
  • Creator (US $9.99 per month): Increased from 5 to 25 experiences.
  • Super-Creator (US $29.99 per month): Increased from 10 to 30 experiences.
  • Professional ($99.99 per month): Increased from 20 to 40 experiences.

The major surprise in the announcement is its sheer scale, with free accounts seeing the limit on the number of allowed experiences increase almost 600% – huge by any standard (the others being 400%, 200% and 100% respectively).

Give the scale of the increases, during the July 20th, 2018 Sansar Product Meeting, questions were asked about whether the Lab was looking to increase transaction fees off the back or these changes, and what will be done to maintain the attractiveness of the paid subscription levels, given the 20 experiences available with free accounts will likely meet the needs of most active creators.

In addressing the fees issue, Landon from the Sansar Product team indicated that it is not the intent to make any alternations to other fees being charged by the Lab as a result of these changes, although he could rule out future possible changes as Sansar continues to develop. Eliot, the Sansar Community Manager also made it clear the increases to allowed experiences are not part of any bigger plan to increase fees or anything else.

In terms of maintaining the value of Sansar paid subscription options, Landon indicated the plan will most likely be to make them more attractive by adding further practical benefits and perks in addition to the current Marvelous Designer free trial and subscription discounts.

The initial response to the announcement among those actively engaged in Sansar has been positive. However, and from more of an “outsiders” perspective, I found myself considering both the strengths and the possible weaknesses of the move.

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrQuality experiences within Sansar – such as The Secret Of Mount Shasta – are a major means of encouraging engagement in the platform. The increased limited on published experiences could encourage a new push in experiences – perhaps more multi-part / linked experiences for games or learning

On the strength side, it could well – and the Lab hopes – up the ante for creativity in Sansar. More experiences means the opportunity to be more creative – and potentially more adventurous. How about something like a true multi-chapter (experience) quest or adventure (capabilities and functionality, of course, allowing).

On the minus side the Atlas – still the main gateway into Sansar experiences –  is dogged by the fact that of the 1,000+ experiences within it, only a couple of dozen might be regarded as actually engaging to an audience. Also, with just the first 8 or 10 in the list tending to show people in them, scrolling through the Atlas tends to suggest that Sansar is actually a very empty / lonely place. Simply having people add more experiences to the list  – especially things like testing environments, sandboxes, etc., could actually both further “hide” then worthwhile experiences and increase the feeling that Sansar is “empty” when browsing the Atlas.

1,017 public experiences with just 8 apparently having visitors  – if the increase in published experiences causes a further upswing in the total count of experiences in the Atlas, it could make Sansar appear even “emptier”

But, growing something like Sansar is difficult, particularly when many core capabilities  – a permissions system that would enable commence on the platform, for example – seem no closer today than they did when the Public Creator Beta launched a year ago. But while such observations might reinforce the case for Sansar perhaps having been launched prematurely, the fact is it is here, and efforts need to be made to try to grow the level of interest in the platform – and offering a greater range of experiences might be one way to do this.

However, even if it doesn’t encourage people to come take a look at Sansar (and my feeling is that any growth in platform usage requires a far more concerted campaign on the part of Linden Lab), offering more experiences to creators is meeting a long-standing request. As such, it’ll be interesting to see how people opt to make use of the increase in the coming weeks / months.

Sansar thoughts: don’t ignore the power of a community platform

A Sansar Christmas – but what might 2018 and beyond hold for the platform

It is five months since the Sansar public Creator Beta opened. At the time it did I, along with many others, felt that maybe – from a “consumer” user perspective – the opening was perhaps a little premature: there was (and remains) little for general visitors to the platform to do – particularly those accessing platform via Desktop Mode – who would likely be in the majority. Of course, the aim of the Creator Beta was to … encourage more creators to the platform, rather than growing the platform’s user base.

In the five months since that launch, there have been developments and improvements to the platform – and I have remained interested in seeing how the platform builds out. The Desktop Mode – the means by which, frankly, the vast majority of people are liable to use for access Sansar for the foreseeable future – in particular has seen some important improvements, although there is still a long way to go.

Identifying other avatars in Desktop Mode was added to Sansar in the October / November Friends release. Just one of the updates Sansar has seen to improve usability

However, recently the Lab has indicated that in 2018 they’d like to start addressing issues of generally user attraction and retention – which is fair enough. What has surprised me, however, is the idea – floated at a recent Sansar Community Meet-up –  that some kind of “consumer launch” (consumer = non-creator user) is being considered for the platform in 2018.

This actually surprises me; there is still so much that needs to be put in place on a technical level alone which is needed to help encourage usability. There’s the whole permissions / licensing system – vital in allowing creators offer their goods on more flexible terms (e.g. modifiable); providing the means for avatars to interact – dance, sit, etc; offering a customisable avatar, and so on. The Lab has indicated much of this is complex work, and proving difficult to implement. Should this continue to be the case, then trying to push the platform to a broader consumer user base before the end on 2018 seems to be a tad optimistic at best; at worst, it could be self-defeating should people find that while Sansar looks good, there is really little for them to do.

Nor, I’d also suggest, are there just technical issues to be faced when considering drawing in a broader audience. Two things in particular have been on my mind for some time now.

The first is Sansar’s blog / forum / knowledge base environment. Currently, this is based on ZenDesk – which is singularly unsuited to the task to which it has been put. As I noted in a recently Product Meeting, the Lab has now recognised this in is looking at options, including possibly using the platform and tools used to build the Second Life “community platform”. This is actually good news, although as I noted in those Product Meeting notes:

Frankly, I’m still stunned that this wasn’t the route taken from the start given the Lab have the tools and the experience to use them, which could have been easily leveraged, rather than going for a tool entirely unsuited to the task and which presents information in a very unfriendly – and dare I say amateur – manner.

Simply put, the Lab has an ample investment in the SL community platform tools in terms of time, effort and development experience. That they apparently opted to ignore all of that to try to reinvent the wheel using a tool evidently unsuited to the task seems nothing short of an exercise in disconnected thinking.

Sansar needs and deserves a descent community environment. Yes, there is Discord, and yes, it is more ideal to have user-to-user interactions within Sansar experiences, rather than by people sitting in forums, etc. But the fact is, forums, blogs, a structured knowledge base, all supported by a decent search engine do far more than “just” provide a space for users to interact: the forum a core aspect of news and information dissemination, as such their value simply shouldn’t be under-estimated or dismissed as something to consider somewhere down the road.

There’s something more here as well. Not only can a decent community platform form the backbone for communications (via outwards blog posts, through forums discussions, the provision of documentation, etc), it can do much to help boost ta platform’s web presence and attractiveness to potential users. Again, right now Sansar’s website – beyond the initial splash screen – is both simplistic and confusing – and not a little bland. Surfacing blogs, forums, etc., immediately adds depth to Sansar’s website and presents the opportunity to draw people in to the platform – if done right.

There have been improvements to the Atlas – but frankly, finding experiences of interest / value is still less than easy

The second thing I’d like to see the Lab address when considering encouraging more “consumer” users into Sansar,  is that of the Atlas.

Again, we’ve already seen some improvements here: the ability search listed experiences and to list those offered by friends, and we have the promise of indicators for how many people are in any given experience. Even so, with over 700 experiences already listed, finding those which relate to a specific interest is hard. Of course, the idea with Sansar is for experience creators to be able to direct an audience to their experiences through their own web presence – and this will be more than enough for some of the markets the Lab hope (/ are?) attempting to attract to Sansar.

However, for the broader audience of potential users who may well come to the platform by way of the web, providing the means for creators to categorise their experiences and for users to group / select experiences based on those categories would be of and undeniable benefit – even with the complexities involved in defining / managing suitable categories. Additionally, providing a means for people to directly “bookmark” experiences that interest them within the Atlas would also be of enormous benefit.

I admit to remaining unconvinced that Sansar is really ready for a “consumer” audience. However, if the Lab is determined to move in that direction, I at least hope that things like updating the forums / blog environment and making the Atlas more amenable for users to locate / record the kind of experience they’d like to visit, is given as much attention as issues of presenting improved “in scene / experience” capabilities.

Sansar Creator Beta: personal thoughts

Sansar: Villa Ortli – Sansar Studio

It’s been just over a week since the Sansar Creator Beta opened its doors to the public, allowing anyone who wishes to visit to do so. I’ve been jumping in and out for a while, both as a part of the Creator Preview and during the last week, and have also been following some of the feedback since the doors opened on Monday, July 31st. So, what are my thoughts (whatever worth they might be) on the new platform?

Well, first and foremost – it’s not Second Life.

I’m being neither flippant nor dismissive in saying this. Sansar is a very different beast to Second Life, and is liable to remain so for a good while to come. However, despite all the comment to this effect from the Lab, in blogs like this and elsewhere, there still seems to be a perception that Sansar somehow “is” the “new” / “replacement” Second Life, giving rise, perhaps to certain expectations where Sansar is concerned, as well as fears for SL’s future.

Certainly, and given it is early days for Sansar, which is still being built out with capabilities and features, the time may come when it appeals more to some SL users than SL itself. However, given the Lab intend to continue to develop Second Life for as long as it is a viable product1, it’s equally fair to say that other SL users may find Sansar offers little they don’t already enjoy in Second Life, and thus remain with the lattr as it continues to be enhanced; equally, some may find it attractive to have a foot in both. But overall, it is far too early to be looking at how Sansar is affect SL log-ins or carrying forward fears about SL’s future – particularly given the Lab is looking at a far broader audience for Sansar than the existing SL user base.

One significant area of negative feedback I have witnessed is over the use of the term “beta” in the title of this phase in Sansar’s development, with people decrying it as “not beta software”. However, I’d suggest that doing so is more a case of mistaken context than anything else. “Creator Beta” isn’t a reference to the platform’s software  development status (and thus a reason to dismiss it); rather it is indicative that this is the “second phase” of the development work involving creators – the first having been the closed Creator Preview.

Sansar: City Park night lighting experiment, Lex4Art

Personal Feedback as a User

The following feedback is based on what is currently available in Sansar, rather than what is lacking at present.

Atlas: the Atlas is a mixed bag. The title approach to presentation just doesn’t work for me, particularly given positions of items seem to change based on rating (visits?). Hopefully some form of experience categories / classifications will be added over time.

  • Negatives: finding experiences; lack of search in the version of the Atlas built-in to the client
  • Positives: URL access from web Atlas to experiences; ability to easily copy & share experience URLs; “slide show preview” option (although this is also now getting cumbersome); ability to see  all experiences by a specific creator.

Client Run-time UI: simple, clean, options easy to find and icons reasonably easy to identify. Snapshot capability: basic, but usable, particularly when using the camera in “free flight” or operating in first-person mode.

Movement: the WASD / arrow keys are pretty much standard for games (and should be familiar to all SL users).  The personal teleport option (CTRL and Left-click) can be very handy for “rapid” movement around experiences.

Camera: clunky and uneven.

  • Negatives (Desktop mode): no apparent default “follow avatar” position after orbiting camera (right-click and mouse drag) around avatar centre can initially be confusing when resuming avatar movement; the side-to-side juddering of the camera on small avatar turns left / right using the arrow or A and D keys can be visually unsettling (try pressing and holding the right mouse button and turning by dragging the mouse gently left / right for a smoother experience); “free flight” movement (F4) very basic, with camera movement perhaps a little too fast by default (numeric “-” to slow down / “+” to speed up).
  • Positives: reasonable integration with the mouse at this point; good first-person representation, making this “Mouselook” approach to movement superior to SL – although it would be nice to look down and see one’s own avatar.
Currently, arm movements made using HMD hand controllers can be disconcerting when seen by others

Avatar: basic, but acceptable. The walk is ungainly, but will hopefully be improved alongside things like the return of running, greater customisation, etc.

One strongly disconcerting element with the avatar right now is watching those who are using HMDs and hand controllers. The latter allow the avatars arms to behave most unnaturally (e.g. passing through the avatar’s body, arms sometimes appearing to detach from shoulders or bending weirdly, etc). Avatars being guided with HMDs / controllers also appear to have a really odd-looking arm “at rest” pose (hands held out in front of them as if carrying an invisible box).

Identification: for those from SL used to seeing avatar tags, this is perhaps the hardest element to get used to in Sansar – it’s simply not possible to readily identify who is who in a large group of people. The reason for the lack of tags is given as “spoiling the VR immersion”. Fair enough; however, right now, the avatars are far, far too generic to allow for easy visual recognition – so much so that people have already resorted to their own means of “tagging” themselves with their names in mesh placed above them or by wearing badges with their names on them.

Chat: text chat works well, as does direct messaging in text (IMs). It’s useful to remember the former can be seen throughout the current instance of the experience – there is no range limit as with SL. Voice chat is similarly unimpeded by range and can, frankly, be a pain right now.

While audio may well be spatial, when operating in groups, overlapping conversations can become confusing – as can quickly identifying just who is talking. People also have an annoying habit of leaving their microphones open when not speaking, leading to extraneous noises spilling “in-world”. While this is not a specific issue for Sansar per se, the controls for muting are currently limited, and the inability to  disable voice entirely (so one can focus purely on audio from videos, etc., within an experience) can be irritating.

Interactions: basic, but developing. HMD / controllers currently give far more in the way of interactive abilities (“holding” things, throwing things, etc), but Desktop mode allows some interaction with objects – notably teleport disks, doors and portals.

Sansar: Tierra de Gigantes, Luis Sotillos

Premature?

A lot of SL users have seen the Creator Beta as “premature” on the basis of a lack of expected capabilities. I’d agree that opening the doors to a general audience does feel premature – but not strictly because of any lack of capabilities per se. Rather, given this is intended to be a further step in developing the platform from a creator’s perspective of the platform, why throw the doors wide now? As it is, it has been indicated to the media that the Creator Preview attracted 10,000-12,000 applicants, of which some 2,000 were invited into the platform, so why not simply keep rolling that process forward for another few months?

If nothing else, it would have achieved two potential goals: allow further integration of more of the social tools and abilities which the Lab have indicated are part of the raison d’etre for Sansar, and it would have likely reduced the volume of negative feedback by offering general users more “things to do” when visiting experiences.

A Broader Perspective

All of that said, the Creator Beta undoubtedly gives a glimpse of the potential for the platform to reach into a range of markets, should those markets continue to invest in and grow their use of this new era of VR as a medium. This is an important point to repeat, because Sansar really isn’t about building another virtual world a-la Second Life, nor is it – strictly speaking – about appealing to the wants and needs of Second Life users. The Lab is casting Sansar’s net far wider, as has repeatedly been said throughout the development process, and which was repeated during the Creator Beta launch.

When one visits experiences such as LOOT Interactive’s Apollo Museum, or Sansar Studio’s Villa Ortli or any of the experiences being built by Mencius Watts, aka John Fillwalk from the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA – a division within Ball State’s College of Architecture and Planning that explores the intersection of digital and physical design) the huge potential of Sansar in the realms of architectural design, historical recreation, and education and learning via immersive environments, becomes abundantly clear.

Sansar: Newton’s Cenotaph (Work In Progress), Mencius Watts

Other emerging experiences equally point the way towards Sansar offering unique opportunities for entertainment and games. Teager’s Secrets of the WorldWhale, for example, offers a glimpse of adventure / explorations type environments which could be built complete with interactions, and Maxwell Graf clearly shows that role-play could be well suited to the platform.

In this, it’s perhaps important to note that the response to Sansar from beyond Second Life has, it’s fair to say, been positive. The press has been good, and (I understand) it has led to an uptick in interest from agencies beyond the SL catchment. What will be interesting to see is how this interest  / involvement grows as Sansar continues to be built-out, and just how effective the Lab is working both directly and through partners to enhance Sansar’s visibility among the markets they’d like to reach, the expansion in use of VR within those markets allowing, as time continues forward.

  1. I hope to be able to write more on this in a future article.

Sansar: thoughts around Kotaku’s hands-on

The Sansar Apollo Museum, unveiled LOOT Interactive’s The Art of VR event in New York on June 22nd, allows visitors to virtually explore true-to-scale models of the Saturn V rocket, Command and Service Module, and Lunar Excursion Module used to reach the Moon, then walk the entire mission from launch to re-entry via a Museum-length mission map; and teleport to a recreation of the Apollo 11 lunar landing site. Credit: LOOT Interactive / Linden Lab

While it doesn’t offer any revaluations of epic proportions about Sansar, and is headlined by the somewhat misleading Hands On With Sansar, the New Second Life, Cecilia D’Anastasio’s June 21st, 2017 piece for Kotaku, still makes for an interesting read, offering as it does further looks inside Sansar for those keen to get a look at environments there, and some food for thought.

Cecilia is a journalist I greatly admire, and who has excellently covered Second Life in the past (see A Perspective On Avatars and Identity and Motherboard Looks at Second Life). She got to spend time in Sansar, which appears to be currently on the road, visiting various events (Canada last month, now New York City) in which might be part of the Lab’s efforts in ramping-up public awareness of the platform as they roll towards an “open beta” phase with the platform.

Cecilia D’Anastasio: a hands on and thoughts about Sansar

Along the way, she visited several spaces within Sansar, and while treading the familiar ground of Sansar being the “WordPress of VR”, a “VR first” environment, etc., she also took time to point out the side of the platform which isn’t perhaps pushed quite so hard by the Lab: that it can be access and experienced by anyone using a PC system, regardless as to whether they have a VR headset.

True, the focus of development in Sansar thus far has leant towards the VR end of the scale because the Lab is convinced VR will be a major factor in people’s lives (and as readers know, I’m not so convinced of that argument), and the desktop side of things still needs work. However, that Sansar can be accessed via a PC sans headset, is something that perhaps should be underlined more, simply because sales of PC-based VR headsets really aren’t that stellar right now, and are likely to remain less-than-exciting for the next few years – something I’ll come back to in a moment.

Early in the piece, Cecilia drops a couple of comments which, while interesting, might require reading with care. For example, in one she references Sansar being subscription based. However, given the Lab hasn’t really been that forthcoming about the revenue model for Sansar, it’s impossible to determine what is meant by “subscription” in the article. Does it really mean anyone wishing to use Sansar will have to subscribe first, or is it a reference to that fact things like hosting space for Sansar experiences will have an associated fee?

But rather than nitpick, let’s come back to the “Sansar from a desktop” aspect of the piece. I found this particularly interesting because while the Lab has pointed to Sansar being “PC accessible” without a headset, many of those aware of it still see it only as a VR platform – and this could be a problem for Sansar, at least in the near-term.

Now, to be clear, and as I’ve tended to say in the past, there are vertical markets where VR – and thus, by extension, Sansar –  has exceptional merit and could gain significant traction in the near-term:

  • Gaming
  • Education – both for practical teaching, and for the ability to visit / recreate historical environments and bring them to a broader public. Hence the recreation of an Egyptian tomb created from LiDAR mapping, while the real tomb can only be accessed in the physical world with permission from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities,  and the just unveiled  Apollo Museum and the Harold Lloyd Stereoscopic Museum.
Another look at the Sansar Apollo museum, showing the complete “Eagle” Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) sitting on the Sea of Tranquillity (and with visitors!). Credit:  LOOT Interactive / Linden Lab
  • Architecture and design: allowing companies large and small work in VR to develop immersive models for clients, which can be toured, examined for issues or things like changes clients would like to see, all before any work is undertaken. Hence why (as I’ve previously pointed out), it was no accident that the first public demonstration for Project Sansar came during San Francisco’s month-long 2015 Architecture and the City Festival.
  • Simulation and Training: Sansar could again offer significant benefits to those requiring immersive and flexibility VR-based training and simulation without the need to heavily invest in dedicated work spaces / environments.
  • Healthcare: VR is already demonstrating its value in a wide variety of applications, including helping with post traumatic stress disorder, pain relief for burns victims, cancer care, and more.

BUT, the fact is that many of these sectors work just as effectively sans a VR headset. OK, so the depth of immersion would be lost, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be practically used. Thus, by pushing the VR-centric aspect of the platform so aggressively, the Lab could risk turning those institutions, companies, etc., that might be interested in exploring Sansar away from the platform, simply because they are unwilling to make the investment in VR systems, but are waiting to see how the market growth and what products appear.

No, it’s not a home in Second Life, it’s a home in Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab, via Kotaku

Within the mass market of home users, this focus on VR hardware could impact Sansar’s reach even further. Simply put, the “humble” PC with its “barriers” (as Philip Rosedale from High Fidelity would call them) of the mouse and keyboard, still has a far, far greater reach into people’s homes than VR is likely to achieve for several years at least. So again, putting the heavy emphasis on Sansar “being about the VR” could so easily turn people away from trying it, simply because they are also unwilling to put money into headsets and associated hardware, and won’t be until they see prices come down to the level of “affordability”.

Of course, the Lab state they are in Sansar for the long haul – pointing towards Second Life’s longevity; and as noted above, there are market sectors where VR perhaps is starting to gain traction and which Sansar could comfortably leverage. Even so and as Cecilia suggests, a more open approach to how Sasnar can be used with or without VR headsets and hardware, could broaden the new platform’s appeal even as VR goes through its own growing pains.

Sansar via Road to VR: opening “first half” of 2017, monetisation and sundry thoughts

The new Sansar logo (courtesy of Linden Lab)
Sansar. Image courtesy of Linden Lab

In ‘Sansar’ Will Open to All in First Half of 2017 with a New Approach to Virtual Worlds (January 15th, 2017), Ben Lang of Road to VR becomes the latest tech journalist to sit down with Linden Lab to try out and discuss Sansar.  While he covers a lot of what has come to the for in other, similar recent articles, he also provides some further confirmatory / interesting tidbits, some of which allow for a little speculative thinking.

The biggest piece of information is perhaps right up there in the title: Sansar will open in the first half of 2017 (my emphasis). This actually comes as no surprise, as Sansar is a new project, and time frames for new projects of any description tend to slip a little as the work progress. Further, and as I noted in discussing Dean Takahashi’s recent look at Sansar, a degree of slippage appeared to be on the cards when he referred to Sansar opening to the public in “early” 2017, rather than the “Q1 2017” the Lab had previously indicated might be the case.

Ben Lang, Road to VR
Ben Lang, Road to VR

At the top of the article, Lang touches on the aspect of Sansar being focused on “creators” rather than “consumers”.  Again, as I’ve previously mentioned, defining “creator” here is perhaps important.

By and large, “creator” in SL tends  to be used in reference to those who design and make the goods we use to dress our avatars and furnish our land. Outside of lip service, it’s perhaps not a term closely linked with those who obtain land in SL and create environments using the goods they have purchased, rather than building and scripting everything themselves. With Sansar, however, it is pretty clear “creator” is intended to encompass both, and thus perhaps encompasses a broader cross-section of users than might be seen as the case with Second Life.

The focus on “creators” shouldn’t be taken to mean Sansar is “only” for “creatives”. Spaces hosted on the platform will obviously require an audience, be it the public at large or drawn from specific, more niche audiences. It simply means that from a technical standpoint (and most likely outside of the UI), Sansar’s focus is tipped towards those wishing to build environments within it. As an aside to this whole “creator” thing, it’s also worthwhile noting that where previous articles had pointed to around 600 creators being involved in Sansar’s Creator Preview, Lang mentions the number might be around 1,000.

Further into the article, Lang references moving between Sansar spaces, specifically noting “hopping” from one to another via web pages. This is unlikely to be music to the ears of many in SL; however, it’s important to note that this approach is not necessarily the only means to move between experiences.

In the past, Ebbe Altberg has mentioned the potential for “portals” between environments which might be see as “linked” (although it is by no means certain this idea is still be pursued). More particularly, in June 2016, when talking to Mark Piszczor of Occipital about Sansar, he referenced the idea of “teleporting” between Sansar spaces, and more recently we’ve had a glimpse of a Destination Guide style capability in Sansar (apparently called “Atlas”) for moving between different spaces.  So the web page approach might simply be one of several means to get from space to space in Sanar. Time will tell on that.

Inside Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab, via Road to VR
Inside Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab, via Road to VR

When referencing creators being able to monetise their creations, Lang touches on the previously noted ideas of selling virtual goods and creations (up to and including entire experiences) through the Sansar marketplace, and the potential for creators to charge people an entry fee to their experience if they wish. However, beyond this, Lang indicates some of the broader brainstorming going on at the Lab – such as the ability for consumers to pay money to a virtual object which would hold the money and pay it out to its owner at regular intervals.

As Lang points out, this opens the doors to a whole range of potential items – pay-to-play pool tables, vending machines (think broader than the gacha machines we see in SL), rides, etc. So –  and slipping into the realm of pure speculation for a moment – might this allow experiences creators to “rent out” their experiences – say an events venue – to others, and receive a fee each time it is used / instanced anywhere in Sansar, rather than simply selling them for a one-off fee on each copy purchased? The could be an intriguing route to take, if at all possible.

Might Sansar offer the means for experience creators to "rent out" their spaces as a means to monetise them?
Might Sansar offer the means for experience creators to “rent out” their spaces as a means to monetise them? Credit: The O2 Arena

But to come back to Lang’s Road to VR article. He notes that in terms of capabilities, Sansar’s graphics are “actually quite good”, although the physics are lacking. The former is perhaps something of a step down from verdicts passed by other journos, while the latter is promised to be improved in a forthcoming update. He also underlines the “style agnostic” approach to Sansar, which again is a potential differentiator to SL in that creators of experiences in Sansar are likely to have far greater freedom in how they visualise the spaces then build than can be achieved in Second Life.

Overall, ‘Sansar’ Will Open to All in First Half of 2017 with a New Approach to Virtual Worlds, makes for a further interesting read on Sansar, offering some apparent insights that help build the picture of what the world at large might expect once allowed in the platform. Definitely worth a read – as are the comments which follow it.