Sansar: new Creator Preview video as preview invites ramp-up

(courtesy of Linden Lab)

On Thursday, July 6th, Linden Lab released a further Sansar preview video focusing on the work of a content creator – Ria, which I’ve embedded at the end of this article

Given we’re now not that far away from the doors to Sansar opening to a wider audience in the “creator beta” (or whatever the Lab finally calls it), the video can be seen as a further ratcheting of things  – alongside recent media articles – ready for the opening. At the same time, the past week has seen a further batch of invited into the Creator Preview find their way to those who have applied to access Sansar.

Further invites to join Sansar have been issued in the last week by the Lab

At 99 seconds in length, the video is an engaging enough piece, Ria’s experience from both within and without, which takes the form of an immersive story involving a little girl and her toys, utilising three locations linked by teleports. Kudos to Drax for presenting a means of suggesting the potential of VR immersion by overlaying images from within the game with shots of Ria looking around her creation while using a HMD. It may not be as immersive as “the real thing”, but it’s a lot better that intercut views of heads with HMDs strapped to them bobbing and weaving in front of computer screens we’ve seen in the past.

Those looking for details on Sansar are going to be disappointed however – this is a promotional video after all. That said, there are some interesting shots of the edit environment and what appears to be the fully realised run-time space. Again, given it is a promo video, reading too much into what “is” or “isn’t” said would be a mistake.

Some have found a couple of statements in the video objectionable. The first is the idea that “there is nothing even remotely like Sansar out there” – and I admit to finding it questionable myself.While it may not be as deeply immersive as a “true” VR experience, the fact remains that SL offers pretty much everything Sansar promises, and has done for a good while now. And just because it doesn’t support headsets doesn’t change that. And in terms of VR, there is High Fidelity to consider as well…

The second is that Sansar will achieve “broad appeal” when launched. This has been pooh-poohed on the basis that VR itself has yet to achieve a significant market share. However, “broad appeal” needn’t necessarily mean “mass market” – and the two seem to be getting conflated.

Inside Ria’s Sansar Experience

I personally don’t think VR (and by extension Sansar) will be “mass market”. However, as I’ve oft said, there are markets were VR could have a significant role, and Sansar could be ideally positioned to leverage them. Design, architecture, training, simulation, education, healthcare, for example; plus, as friend and content creator Dassni pointed out to me in a lengthy conversation, it might even appeal to indie game / game modding enthusiasts.  Taken together, these could facilitate the kind of “broad appeal” for Sansar to generate a comfortable level of revenue for the Lab – in time.

How much time? Well, therein lies the rub. Sansar itself is going to need a lot more development work once the gates open to a wider audience, and even among the markets already looking at VR, the preference might be to wait until headsets have improved in capability and looks and come down in price – something which could be around 2-3 years away.

 

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Lab engages on Reddit about Sansar

Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

As Linden Lab gradually continue to ramp towards  more open access to Sansar, Peter Grey, the company’s Director of Global Communications has taken to Reddit and the Sansar sub-Reddit to address questions from those interested in Sansar and who may or may not be Second Life users.

While Peter’s responses to questions don’t reveal much about specific technical aspects of Sansar or reveal potential dates for the upcoming “creator beta” (again, the Lab has always indicated it using capability and functionality as the driver for opening the doors more widely, rather than a set-in-stone (or arbitrary) date marked on a calendar), his response to question thus far do make for interesting reading.

The thread starts with a simple enough question – has anyone been accepted into the Creator Preview yet? For those following Sansar, the response is fairly obvious (yes, several thousand now), and a re-iteration that more people will be invited over them coming weeks / months, together with an invitation for people to apply for access. Within the thread there is a series of questions which, although familiar with Sansar, have their answers summaries below for completeness:

  • There is no specific date on which the more open “creator beta” will be launched
  • Pricing for Sansar has yet to be finalised
  • Sansar is a platform for VR experiences that are also accessible via PCs (i.e. an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive recommended and preferred, but not necessarily 100% required)
  • What appear to be “delays” in opening the “creator beta” is because the Lab is approaching Sansar carefully as they effectively build it from the ground up.
Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

However, perhaps the most interesting responses follow two questions which have been raised in numerous forums  besides this sub-Reddit:

  • How does the Lab think SL regulars are going to like Sansar?
  • Is there a policy on adult content in Sansar?

In reply to the first question, Peter states:

To be totally honest, I think there will initially be a mixed reaction from SL regulars. Some will love Sansar and what’s possible with this platform from the start, while others will be disappointed that it doesn’t (yet, at least) meet their expectations or hopes of what it should be.

I’ve seen both reactions from SL creators who have joined preview. Some are excited about what they can create and do now, and what they’ll be able to do in the future. Others – particularly if they’re expecting Sansar to be “SL2” – can be disappointed about things not working the way they’re used to in SL, capabilities that are important to them in SL but not (yet, at least) available in Sansar, etc.

We try to be as clear as we can in repeating that Sansar isn’t intended to replace SL nor to be a sequel version of it. I’d encourage SL regulars to check out Sansar from that perspective and to bear in mind that even when we open creator beta, there will still be many features and further functionality yet to come.

All that said, creators in preview have already made some awesome social VR experiences with Sansar, and some of my personal favourites have been made by SL users, so I’m eager to see the swell of creativity when we open creator beta and even more creators join.

That reaction has been mixed among SL users accessing Sansar isn’t surprising – and it is likely to be something that will continue through the “creator beta”, simply because the view that Sansar is supposed to be some kind of “SL 2.0” does persist quite strongly within the SL user base, despite repeated comments from the Lab to the contrary.

There are a number of areas where Sansar, in the first instance, will take getting used to by those more at home with the full spectrum of SL capabilities. Some of these will likely be a case of having to accept – such as the editing environment which will remain distinct and separate to the run-time environment where most users will experience Sansar environments and interact, even if “native” creation tools are added to it at some point. Others – such as the avatar and avatar customisation capabilities – may initially appear limited, but will hopefully improve over time.

Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

In response to the adult content question, Peter stated:

Adult content won’t be allowed at the opening of Sansar’s creator beta this summer. Ultimately, we want Sansar to be an open platform that enables creators to make all kinds of experiences, but early on we also want to be careful that a single genre of content doesn’t come to define the platform and potentially limit its appeal to other creators.

While it may seem like censorship, limiting adult themed activities from Sansar does make some sense given the way that when Second Life did tend to hit the headlines from 2006 onwards, it was often in terms of the sexual content rather than the wider aspects of the platform. So  wanting to limit the risk Sansar will be similarly tarred is understandable. Of course, this still raises the question over how people react when “adult” content / activities are eventually permitted within the platform – but at least the Lab won’t be forced into fighting some kind of “rear-guard” action against any salacious reporting /  reporting bias towards focused only on adult activities from the minute the platform débuts to a wider public.

Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

Taken as a whole, this Sansar sub-Reddit is worth reading in full, both for Peter’s comments and the broader questions and feedback from other users. Certainly, seeing peter engaging through it is positive, and it’ll be interesting to see if / how feedback like this grows over the coming months, and whether it extends to other forums.

Sansar: new video from Linden Lab

Sansar from Linden Lab

On March 7th, 2017, Linden Lab issued the most insightful video thus far on Sansar, their next generation virtual environment platform. While it may not plumb quite the depths some might like to see, it offers far more in the way of glimpses and outright looks of what Sansar will look like and gives a teasing look at some of the capabilities currently present within it.

At just four seconds under the 2 minute mark, the video offers a narrative tour of the new platform, showing the runtime and editing environments, detailed shots of Sansar avatars, a look at the Sansar Marketplace – or Store – and more. It also touches on some of the market verticals and environments the Lab is hoping to attract to the platform, albeit with a clear slant towards education.

Sansar avatars. Credit: Linden Lab

Starting with the words, “Something is coming. Something revolutionary…”, over a slow, letterbox-style reveal of the platform, the video is polished, smooth and tantalising in what is shown. From scenes within Sansar we’ve witnessed before – the Golden Gate bridge, the fantasy realm with its enigmatic red door it flows to environments entirely new to the wider public eye. As such, it is an excellent piece of teaser advertising, clearly geared towards those the Lab hopes to being to Sansar’s worlds.

There is the inevitable pointer towards VR headsets – which is to be expected, given Sansar is primarily (although not exclusively) a platform for the fully immersed, consumer VR age, but it the video, by its nature, helps to demonstrate that Sansar can be used by those without head mounted displays (HMDs) as well.

A glimpse of the Sansar marketplace – or store. Credit: Linden Lab

For me, some of the points of interest in the video are the snippets of the UI we get to see, particularly when in the edit environment, and the first close-up looks of Sansar avatars offered to the world at large. While the latter may well still be in development, they are already impressive, and potentially a match in looks for Second Life avatars.

A closer look at a Sansar avatar. Credit: Linden Lab

Admittedly, the avatars shown in the video are all restricted to humans, so we don’t get to see the fully range of potentials, but again given that Sansar is being pushed towards the idea of “social VR”, where people are interacting with one another as humans, the emphasis shouldn’t be seen as negative. There’s also the fact that it’s unclear at the moment how far down the road the avatar system is when it comes to supporting non-human avatar types.

Voice syncing is also very cleverly indicated in the video, when the female voice used to narrate the piece is smoothly integrated with a Sansar avatar right at the end of the video, suggesting she has been our guide through this inside look.

A further point of interest for me is the video closes by adding a strapline to Sansar: Created Reality.

Back in September 2015, Ciaran Laval and I ruminated on a domain name filing made by the Lab around the time that the company was filing papers for “Project Sansar” and “Sansar” (see “Created Reality”- possible contender for Project Sansar’s name?). At the time we speculated whether “Created Reality” might be a possible alternative name for the Lab’s platform (still  at that time known only by the “internal” name of “Project Sansar”). Obviously, that didn’t prove to be the case – but it is still interesting to see the term, if not the domain, finding use in reference to the platform

And for those wondering when they’ll be able to step into Sansar, the video offers “Spring 2017”. But enough of the waffling. Here’s the video.

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.