Category Archives: In the Press

Engadget and VentureBeat visit Sansar

The new Sansar logo (courtesy of Linden Lab)

The new Sansar logo (courtesy of Linden Lab)

There have been a couple of articles on Sansar in December, each of which touch upon Second Life. While both retread ground already familiar to those of us who have been following Sansar’s development. However, hidden within them are some interesting little nuggets.

Appearing in the December 17th edition of VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi’s Linden Lab’s Sansar will take virtual worlds far beyond Second Life, caused umbrage with at least one pundit, leading as it did with the statement “Second Life is by far the most successful virtual world ever created”, resulting in some kind of kindergarten like comparison of “who has the most”.

Dean Takahashi, lead writer, GamesBeat

Dean Takahashi, lead writer for VentureBeat’s, GamesBeat

Yes, there are other virtual / game environments out their with a larger cache of active users; but then, do any of them present the kinds of opportunity  for revenue generation on a scale achieved by Second Life? Does it really matter which has the most of what?

No, not really. Of far more interest to me is what Takahashi has to say about Second Life – the fact that it is still going strong – and about Sansar.

Foremost in this – although easily unnoticed – is the reference the Sansar opening its gates to the public at large in “early” 2017.

Over the last few months the Lab has talked in terms of “Q1 2017” as the time frame for Sansar’s opening out. It’s a precise time frame, indicating a period between the start of January and the end of March. “Early 2017” is somewhat less precise, and while Takahashi may be using the phrase as a different means of stating “Q1 2017”, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps his wording is indicative that the Lab is now looking a little beyond Q1 2017 for opening Sansar to the public.

If so, it wouldn’t be surprising. Slippages happen with big projects, and shouldn’t be unexpected or seen as sign that something is “wrong”; it’s simply the nature of the beast. And we have already seen it at least once with Sansar, when the opening of the Creator Preview slipped from the target of June 2016 to August 2016.

Elsewhere in his piece, Takahashi pulls out the WordPress analogy. This is something we’re all probably tired of hearing, given it’s been raised in just about every interview / report on Sansar during the course of 2016. However, that doesn’t make it any the less important, because it is one of the central reasons why Sansar could reach a much, much broader audience than Second Life has managed to achieve, and Takahashi observes:

Rather than one continuous world, Sansar is a set of virtual spaces that will be a lot more accessible than Second Life. You could, for instance, share the link to your virtual space on social media and invite people to visit it that way. With Second Life, you typically visit the site, download the client, create your avatar, and then join it.

Second Life users looking unfavourably on Sansar has made much of this lack of it being a “continuous world”. but while we, as Second Life users are undoubtedly conditioned by the presence of the map, the same isn’t automatically true for a broader audience of the kind Sansar is being aimed towards. They’re liable to be far more interested in finding and accessing the experiences they want to enjoy and then having the means to possibly jump to other points of interest, regardless of whether or not they are in any way “geographically defined” one to another – perhaps via teleporting, something Ebbe Altberg hinted might be the case when talking to Occipital’s Mark Piszczor back in June.

Nick Summers, associate editor, Engagdet UK

Nick Summers, associate editor, Engagdet UK

In writing Second Life’s creator is building a ‘WordPress for social VR’ for Endgadget on December 21st,  Nick Summers also examines how people will move between Sansar experiences, referencing the use of an “Atlas” search directory (something we’ve also previously seen demonstrated). This appears to be akin to the SL Destination Guide, presenting a means for Sansar users to hop between connected experiences much as we hop around Second Life.

A further point of interest between the two pieces – which cover a lot of common ground in terms of what the reports are shown within Sanasar – is the manner in which the one article raises a question and the other answers it.

Take object manipulation. Up until now, the vast majority of object manipulation in Sansar has been sown in the Edit Mode, although it has been indicated that some basic manipulation will be possible in the run-time environment (and we’ll certainly need to interact with objects in the run-time environment if we are to sit on them, drive them, fly them, etc). However, Takahashi refers to moving a palm tree around and bouncing rubber balls about. So is object manipulation not more accessible in the run-time space?

Summers’ article suggests not, noting that manipulation in the run-time environment is still “limited”, and referencing the edit more more directly when discussing moving and placing things.  Both offer interesting tidbits which perhaps also help people who may not quite see the “point” or “audience” for Sansar.

Ebbe Altberg moving virtual furniture around in Sansar, demonstrating some of the platform's capabilities at the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th

So far, object manipulation in Sansar has only been shown in the platform’s edit mode, such as when being demonstrated at events like the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th. How much of this might be possible in the runtime environment? How will personal object manipulation be handled within spaces you don’t necessarily own, such as a role-play environment where you are a “player”?

Takahashi, for example, references Altberg’s comments that Sansar offers the kind of defined, manageable environment in which a school or architectural might comfortably develop (and have hosted) an immersive educational or design experience without the need to necessarily being in external design talent or partake of an entire MMO / virtual world experience.

Elsewhere, Summers shines a little bit more light on the potential for revenue generation through Sansar for both the Lab and content creators:

It’s unclear how much Sansar will cost for people who want to design their own VR world. Linden Lab envisions a low, monthly fee that will grant creators access to a virtual plot of land. They can build whatever they want on top, and then choose whether to charge an entry fee for visitors. Designers will, of course, also have the option to sell their individual items on the in-game marketplace. Sansar is therefore like a canvas. Linden Lab will provide some basic paintbrushes, but the hope is that artists will bring their own. They’ll pay the company to store and display their work — similar to an art gallery — and then earn some cash when someone requests a viewing or permission to rework it as part of something new.

Taken together, both of these articles complement one another nicely. Yes, they do re-tread familiar ground, but they also – possibly – give us a few new pointers and insights into Sansar which raise the interest level a notch or two.

A journalist’s voyage of discovery in Second Life

Second Life has again been getting some fair press coverage, both directly and directly, of late. I’ve already written about the platform either being the focus of, or looked at as part of, two interesting articles published in Motherboard. Also during the week, Second Life was written about on this side of the Atlantic, as first reported by Ciaran Laval.

On April 28th the on-line edition of France’s Le Monde carried an article focused on Second Life, written by  Morgane Tual.  Bearing the delightfully French title Absurde, créatif et débauché : dix ans après, « Second Life » est toujours bien vivant (Absurd, creative and debauched: ten years later, “Second Life” is still alive), it weaves a wonderful introduction to the platform which cannot fail to have those of us immersed in this digital world smiling and / or nodding in agreement.

Morgane Taul: an engaging article on Second Life

Morgane Tual: an engaging article on Second Life

This is very much a hands-on, through-the-eyes look at Second Life, good and bad, written with an unabashed honesty and wonderment. Opening with a description of her initial time in Second Life and a (first?) encounter with another resident, Ms. Tual quickly informs her readers where she is and why she is there – and hints that what she has to say might come as a surprise for who might have heard of the platform at some point:

Like me, some haggard and clumsy beginners landed on this strange beach to discover what remains of this game that occupied the headlines there about ten years. I expected to find, a decade later, a deserted world, ageing technology and a few cobwebs in the corners. It was exactly the opposite.

From this set-up we are lead on what is very much a personal voyage of discovery through Second Life. In it we encounter the realities of the platform – good and bad in equal measure,  each presented to us as they are encountered.

So it is we share in her wonder as she hops from place-to-place; her confusion (and that of others newcomers) in finding herself unceremoniously dumped at an infohub; the embarrassment that can occur simply as a result of clicking the wrong button, or in awkwardly accepting the help of another. We share in her delight in her discoveries of the music scene and in finding a place were she makes a new friend, Patti, a fellow French woman. From here we join her on a whirlwind tour of Second Life which take her to Hogwarts and thence via Star Wars, 221B Baker Street and a nightclub, to the Petit Trianon, Tatiana Dokuchic’s wonderful build in the Duché de Coeur, and a conversation with Tatiana herself.

Petit Trianon by Tatiana Dokuchic, featured in Absurde, créatif et débauché : dix ans après, « Second Life » est toujours bien vivant

Petit Trianon by Tatiana Dokuchic, featured in the Le Monde article by Morgane Tual

Interspersed with this are the assorted facts and figures from the Lab – the 900,000 monthly log-ins, the broad demographic, the economics of the platform, and so on, together with the usual potted history of the platform, all of which paints one of the clearest pictures of Second Life I’ve had the good fortune to read; one with a personal narrative free from the need to fall back on cliché or dogged by mocking observation.

Such is the narrative, we’re drawn directly into Ms. Tual’s experiences, all of which are related without judgement, but often with a real sense of joy and / or wonder. Of course, the sex is also there, but so too is the discovery that contrary to belief, Second life isn’t necessarily “all about the sex”, a point of view Ms. Tual fully embraces.

The breadth of possible engagement in Second Life is touched upon in other ways as well. Through the conversation with Tatiana, readers are introduced to the richness of opportunity for creativity in Second life. Art and entertainment are referred to – the latter supported by the inclusion of some hand-picked videos.

We also witness the tales of others, such as the guy who initially mocked the activities of SL users, regarding them as “losers”, only to himself become engrossed in the platform and all it offers. We are also – movingly – introduced to the way in which Second life bridges the physical / digital divide, very genuinely bringing people together when entire continents might otherwise separate them.

With videos and in-world images, personal tales, a frank narrative, Absurde, créatif et débauché : dix ans après, « Second Life » est toujours bien vivant is one of the most engaging pieces on second Life it has been my pleasure to read. Recommended.

 

Motherboard looks at Second Life

There have been a couple of interesting articles which have appeared in Motherboard over the last couple of days which make interesting reading.

In the first, Men Are Working Out Their Issues By Playing As Their Lovers and Exes in RPGs, published on April 28th, Cecilia D’Anastasio looks at a little researched aspect of avatar use within Second Life and MMORPGs: using their capabilities to create avatars in the likeness of a ex- or current partner or spouse.

Cecilia D'Anastasio: writing on identity in the digital age

Cecilia D’Anastasio: writing on identity in the digital age

I’ve always enjoyed reading Ms. D’Anastasio’s pieces on matter of digital identity, and have previously written about her excellent Avatar IRL, which appeared almost exactly a year ago.

This new article examines a number of ways in which people – notably, but not exclusively, young male gamers – have created representations of current or past Significant Others in the virtual environments they use.

Some of the related stories are pretty innocent. From Second Life, for example, we learn that well-known boat designer Jacqueline Trudeau  uses an avatar “minutely resembling” her husband to help promote her designs, even though he seemingly has no interest in either the platform or his wife’s ability to generate an income through it.  Similarly,  Kevin D. Kramer, a Second Life DJ in his 50s, has designed an avatar modelled on his wife which they both use, candidly admitting it offers him the opportunity to buy gowns, dresses and outfits to surprise her with in ways he cannot easily replicate in the physical world.

However, some are much more disturbing in tone, notably the examples drawn from Skyrim and XCOM-2 where the motivation for creating likenesses of ex-partners be 20-something gamers as a means to exert greater (and not entirely positive) control over them, even to the point of subjugation, or to increase their own self-image as a “protector” of the women formerly in their lives.

The piece is certainly an interesting read, going by way of Nick Yee’s research into matters  of gender-bending as covered by his Daedalus Project (you can also learn more about his work on matters of avatar identity here and via Draxtor’s excellent interview with him), and including feedback from Dr. Jamie Banks of Department of Communication Studies, West Virginia University. However, it is not without potential fault.

There is an acknowledged lack of research in why people might create avatars in the likeness of former or current partners; as such, there is perhaps a bias present in the piece, which I did find undermined it in places.

For example, while it is hard to reconcile Dr. Banks’ view of creating avatars in the image of a former partner as a means of coping with the Skrim and XCOM2 examples cited (they are far too calculated in their creation and use), it doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t have merit in other possible cases. Unfortunately, any potential credence it might have is more-or-less directly thrown under the bus in the paragraph of the article following Dr. Banks’ comments.

There are other flaws evident in the writing as well. It is noted, for example, that one of the people who created a female avatar based on his ex-girlfriend has since been banned from an unrelated game. The reason for that ban isn’t specified and could be entirely unrelated to the issues being discussed in the article. Thus, the inclusion of this statement seems to serve no other purpose than to enhance the reader’s negative view they may already have of the individual.

However, given this is an aspect of the use of avatar-driven environments and MMOs that hasn’t really been deeply researched, the article does open the door to discussions on the subject, and may encourage a greater academic study of the issue.

In Why Is Second Life Still a Thing?, which appeared on April 29th, Emanuel Maiberg poses a question I suspect might be asked by a lot of journalists who have perhaps been previously familiar with the platform and are suddenly exposed to it once more.

In asking the question, Mr. Maiberg also does a fair job in answering it as well, and in doing so, takes the reader on a no hold barred tour of the platform, commencing with what has been it’s crucial differentiator over other, “prettier” platforms and games:

A crucial difference between Second Life and MMOs like World of Warcraft is that the latter are mostly fixed worlds. Once in awhile, developer Blizzard will introduce a new continent or reconfigure an existing location, but all players are guests in the world that Blizzard created. Second Life, by contrast, allows users to not only create their own avatars, but also to shape and create the world they’re in, importing their own 3D assets and modifying the world with the Linden Scripting Language.  

Emanuel Maiberg - a frank look at Second Life

Emanuel Maiberg – a frank look at Second Life

A potted history of the platform follows, together with an examination of much of what goes on in-world being referenced: art, education, user-generated transactions, and so on, together with the highs and lows the platform has seen. Of course, sex gets a fair mention within the piece; no surprises there, as it does both act as a draw for at least some of those coming into the platform (although equally, they may find their interests moving elsewhere once they are engaged in the platform), and it does contribute fairly to the platform’s economy.

Project Sansar is also touched upon – as is one of the core reasons why the Lab is keen to emphasise it is a platform designed to run alongside, rather than replace, Second Life. The very success of the latter and the level of investment users have within the system mean that displacing them anywhere else is at best exceptionally difficult; no other platform or service as thus far managed to achieve what Second Life invented in terms of environment, capabilities, user numbers and economical viability.

Those of us familiar with Second Life may not find much that is new in Mr. Maiberg’s piece, but that’s beside the point. What he offers is a frank look at the platform, free from bias or agenda but which fairly addresses many of the reasons which have made the platform a success in and of itself.

Overall, both pieces made for interesting reading.

Readwrite: a potted history of SL and a look at Sansar

Project Sansar screen shot (credit: Linden Lab)

Project Sansar screen shot (credit: Linden Lab)

Writing in Readwrite on March 2nd, Ryan Matthew Pierson looks at Linden Lab’s Project Sansar and the Future of Virtual Reality. It’s an interesting article in that Mr. Pierson is a journalist who likes to research his subject, rather than relying on cliché or the input of jaded pundits.

As such, what is presented is a brief, but fair potted history of Second Life, charting the highs and lows, and pointing out that while it can be “dark” it’s simply not all about the adult naughties and nasties. So it is that Mr. Pierson charts the highs and lows of Second Life, with input from someone who know it well:  Gary Wisniewski (Wiz Nordberg in SL) the founder of Treet.TV.

Starting with the rise in SL’s popularity in 2006/7, thanks to the attention of the media, the reader who might be unfamiliar with Second Life is given glimpses into the platform’s magic which are painted as effectively with words as they might be illustrated by an image:

You could travel quickly from island to island, experiencing a fantasy world filled with a lush forest one minute and a sprawling post-apocalyptic CyberPunk-style city the next. Just about everywhere you went, there were crowds of people taking in the sights, chatting about their experiences, or dancing the night away in one of Second Life’s many nightclubs.

He also touches on the broad appeal of the platform:

This appeal extended well beyond tech-savvy early adopters. Many residents found that you could do things in Second Life that transcended physical disadvantages. For example, someone bound to a wheelchair could dance the night away in Second Life’s nightclubs, or even fly through a mountain range like a superhero.

Ryan Matthew Pierson

Ryan Matthew Pierson

The darker side of SL isn’t shirked, as noted, with Mr. Pierson pointing out the platform did suffer from a reputation for seediness – and that the Lab sought to try to address it as best they could through maturity ratings and safeguards, and without impinging unnecessarily on people’s freedom of choice.

From here, and via an all-too-brief mention of Relay for Life (when, oh when will journalists realise the sheer depths of human interest these is to be found within Second Life’s ability to support global fund-raising events in what is – when compared to the physical world costs involved in trying anything nearly so large – so utterly cost-effective? But I digress, as charity isn’t the focus of this article), the piece gently segues into an overview of Project Sansar.

In this, nothing exceptionally new is mentioned regarding the Lab’s new platform, although the parallels with the likes of WordPress and YouTube are avoided. The familiar comments on the VR tech support, the shift in revenue model away from land, and the desire to make it easer for “creators” all get the usual mention, as do the plans to make Sansar more broadly accessible to consumers:

Linden Lab also wants to make Project Sansar more cross-platform accessible. Where Second Life is largely tied to a desktop-only experience, Project Sansar’s users will be able to log in and enjoy the virtual world from various other platforms including mobile devices as well as HMDs.

It’s likely that SL users will find the Readwrite article frustrating for its lack of new information on Project Sansar. However, that more information isn’t provided stems not only from the fact that the Lab isn’t as yet ready to divulge more details – assuming they keep to their desired time scales, I’d expect this to start happening from about the middle of 2016 onwards – but from the fact that Mr. Pierson isn’t actually writing for Second Life users. He’s addressing the audience the Lab is primarily trying to reach: those ready to invest themselves in opportunities presented by the emerging wave of new VR technology.

That said, it’s fair to say the Readwrite piece isn’t perhaps as engaging as Sophie Charara’s recent piece in Wearable, but as an attempt to encapsulate both Second Life and Project Sansar, it’s a pretty good overview of the past and the present – and the Lab’s hoped-for future.