The end of December 2019 brings with it the end of the second full year of public accessibility to Sansar. The year has been marked by both a continuing round of updates to the platform, some of which have given rise to concerns among the established base of creators while others have been welcomed; plus a shift in emphasis in an attempt to try to further build Sansar’s audience base and which might be described as “risky”.
I’ve tracked most of these changes through my Sansar reports, particularly those related to the (generally) monthly updates and releases and my Product Meeting summaries. As such, I thought I’d review some of the more notable changes the year has brought forth, and take a brief look into 2020.
Significant Updates and Releases
The Sansar avatar 2.0 release was one of the biggest changes to Sansar made in 2019 and arrived as a part of the September R36 release, potentially the biggest Sansar release for 2019.
Avatar 2.0 was a complete overhaul of the avatar system, rendering the original avatar system obsolete. It introduced a new range of starter avatars, and provided a set of tools to help users and creators adjust their avatar clothing and accessories to fit the new avatar skeleton. In particular, the system provides a completely new deformation capability, initially limited to the head / face, but with the promise at the time of release that full-body deformation would likely follow before the end of 2019.
Response to the new avatars was mixed, with the female avatar in particular being critiqued for its proportions and overall lack of feminine shape (which gave rise to new range of body form garments designed to provide the avatar with some semblance of bust, waist, hips and bum).
Beyond this, 2019 saw other avatar improvements, including the ability to jump and / or crouch/crouch-walk, uniform scaling, improvements to object manipulation / throwing (again for games), IK updates, better desktop movement controls and improved VR body tracking, etc, most of which came with the April R32 release.
Gaming, Questing, and Experience Points System
Late 2018 through much of 2019, Linden Lab was pinning attempts to build Sansar’s user base on gaming / questing type capabilities – for example, at the end of 2018, Sansar was released through Steam. More particularly in 2019, the March R31 release saw the introduction of Sansar’s questing capabilities, initially for the Lab’s use only. The ability for creators to build their own quests appeared in the July R35 release, with the ability for creators to offer rewards added in October, and an experience points (XP) system officially released in November’s R36 release.
The questing system is designed to be used in games (e.g. adventure quests), games, puzzles, tutorials, guided tours through experiences (or “worlds” as they would be renamed), with the XP system designed to be a multi-functional means for users to gain points and “level up” in Sansar, whether they actively participated in quests and games or simply spent time exploring the worlds in Sansar or come to the platform to socialise and attend events.
Given their nature, these updates also fed into changes within the entire Sansar user / social experience, although changes in this area started in advance of the quest system deployment.
User / Social Experience
The first significant change to the social structure in Sansar came in the January 2019 point release 28.3 with the introduction of the Social Hub. Linked directly to users’ Home Spaces (the point where users were at that time logged-in to Sansar when using the client rather than an experience URL), this was intended to provide a common space all users could easily reach and so meet one another, reach other places of interest via portals, play games, etc. It also became the focal point for the first Lab-derived quests deployed with the March release of the quest system.
To further encourage social interaction, personal and group teleport portal capabilities were introduced with the February release for easier individual / group movement around Sansar, while the May R33 release saw the in-client Atlas receive an overhaul with the aim of making finding events and places easier.
The Nexus, Prime Portal and Codex
The biggest change to the user experience came in the September R36 release, alongside the avatar 2.0 update. This saw the introduction of the Nexus, Prime Portal and Codex.
- The Nexus: a new landing point towards which all users were initially directed towards when logging-in to Sansar. For new users, it included a set of tutorials built around a series of quests intended to help users gain familiarity with the platform.
- Prime Portal: a physical location within the Nexus linked to a new UI element that replaced the in-client Atlas. It was intended to manage the process of new world discovery (experiences were re-titled “worlds” by this point) by users.
- The Codex: a new UI element to allow users record, manage and quickly return to places they have previously visited while in Sansar.
The Nexus was also supposed to introduce an evolving “backstory” to Sansar, initially revolving around an non-player character (NPC) called Agent Primus. However, this back story didn’t receive much growth, with Agent Primus acting as little more than another quest giver.
The splitting of world discovery away from what has been the in-client Atlas and into the Nexus / Prime Portal led to concerns that the latter would become a bottleneck with users, discouraging exploration of “new” (to them) worlds. This concern appears to be confirmed by a chart released by user Gindipple. While only covering a single week, it shows the Nexus gaining 70% of all Sansar visitors, while 19 other worlds accounted for just under 28% of users by popularity. This split tends to indicate a “pooling” of users within the Nexus, without much of a spread outwards to other world (the 2nd most popular world only gaining 3.69% of logged-in users, for example).
However, Linden Lab promised to evaluate the use of the Nexus, and in the December R38 release, they formally changed the log-in process to once again deliver users to their Home Space when using the client instead of the Nexus. In that release, the Codex was also updated to list all public worlds a-la the old Atlas, rather than just those a user has visited, thus hopefully making it easier for people to discover and visit worlds they have not previously been to.