Editorial: Turning 55

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Fifty-five is a LOT of candles! Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Tomorrow morning, at approximately 6:00 a.m. Central Standard Time, I will turn exactly 55 years old. And I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that fact.

There was a time, back when I was first invited into the Sansar closed beta, when I cherished the idea that someday in the future, I would emulate the many successful avatar fashion designers whose stores I visited in Second Life, and create and sell clothing for male and female avatars in virtual worlds, and be wildly successful. But the brutal reality is, that NOBODY is yet making any kind of liveable income on ANY of the newer social VR worlds yet. It’s simply too soon. My dream of taking an early retirement from my job and earning a comfortable side income from virtual worlds is just that—a pipe dream. It’s just way too early. And I have to accept that.

Today, in order to inject a little much-needed perspective amidst the general midwinter gloom of the Sansar Discord channel, I posted the following historical video of the earliest days of Second Life, before it was even called Second Life:

And I said:

Here is a video showing SL back in 2001, which makes it FIVE YEARS until it became popular with Anshe Chung appearing on the cover of Businessweek (item #6 on this list).

SL came a long way in those 5 years and I have no doubt Sansar will do likewise.

The problem is that software development takes time. And software development for a project with as many different moving parts as a virtual world—and a virtual world that supports virtual reality, at that—takes a LOT of time. What’s happening is that people are looking at High Fidelity and Sansar and Sinespace and VRChat (even though the last one doesn’t even have an in-world economy yet) and expecting it to be just like Second Life with its over 15 years’ worth of features and opportunities for vendors, and I’m sorry, but it just ain’t gonna happen. At least, not yet. Fortunes are not gonna be made overnight. We need a reality check.

Some content creators have decided to sit on the fence and see what develops over time with the various social VR platforms, perhaps waiting to see which ones take off and become more popular. Others, disappointed by slow sales in those virtual worlds that already have marketplaces, have scaled back their work. Still others are boldly plunging ahead and churning out content. Only time will tell who made the best decisions.

But with increasing age comes (hopefully) some patience and a little bit of wisdom. While I cannot yet retire and rely on a steady side-income from blogging about virtual worlds, hosting a brand-new show about social VR, or creating and selling avatar clothing, I do take some comfort from the fact that I am fairly well positioned, regardless of what happens on the various metaverse platforms. If one falters (like Virtual Universe, which only six months ago had seemed so promising), well, there are plenty of other places to write about, and people to interview, and fashions to learn how to create using Marvelous Designer and other software tools.

At 55 (well, OK, technically still 54.999…), I may have finally learned not to sweat about the small stuff. And ultimately, it’s all small stuff, isn’t it?

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Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash
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An Artist Contemplates Second Life

Wagner James Au of the long-running blog New World Notes has highlighted the work of artist Erik Mondrian, who found himself so inspired by Second Life that it became his MFA thesis at the California Institute of the Arts:

Here, in Second Life, a vast virtual canvas where we create what cannot be, what could be, what was, and what might be again, I step inside the imaginations of people I have never met, and who I may never even have spoken to, understanding something of their inner worlds nonetheless.

— Erik Mondrian.

Here is the entire nine-minute video on YouTube from which this quote was taken:

It’s quite beautiful, and I would encourage you to take a few moments to watch and enjoy it. If you want to see more, there is a playlist of ten videos shot and narrated by Erik here.

High Fidelity Pick of the Day: Queen Nefertari’s Tomb

This evening I had the privilege of joining a guided tour of the tomb of Queen Nefertari of Egypt (wife of the great Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II), led by Egyptologist Bethany Simpson. Bethany has been giving these tours since late last year; she has done about a dozen so far to small groups of visitors, and she will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. (Talk about an interesting job!)

The tomb is a recreation of what it would have looked like when it was built sometime around 1255 B.C., rather than how it looks now. In some cases, details from similar royal tombs were used to “fill in the blanks” on damaged images in Queen Nefertari’s tomb. (By the way, if you are interested in seeing a highly-detailed photogrammetric recreation of the tomb as it appears to visitors now, I can highly recommend Nefertari: Journey to Eternity on Steam for HTC Vive users, or the same named app on the Oculus Store for Oculus Rift users. Both are free!)

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Bethany Simpson in Queen Nefertari’s Tomb
This is a prime example of how virtual reality can be used for high-quality educational purposes, and this recreated “tomb” avoids wear and tear by countless visitors to the actual tomb in Egypt:

The tomb was closed to the public in 1950 because of various problems that threatened the paintings, which are considered to be the best preserved and most eloquent decorations of any Egyptian burial site, found on almost every available surface in the tomb, including stars painted thousands of times on the ceiling of the burial chamber on a blue background to represent the sky.

After the discovery of the tomb, scientists have found many deteriorated paintings caused by water damage, bacterial growth, salt formation, and recently, the humidity of visitors’ breath. The tombs’ structure set itself to be vulnerable to destruction. In 1986, an operation to restore all the paintings within the tomb and to replace over 3,000 years worth of dust and soot with pasted paper to the fragile walls and ceilings to preserve the paintings was embarked upon by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation and the Getty Conservation Institute; however, work did not begin on the actual restoration until 1988 which was completed in April 1992. Upon completion of the restoration work, Egyptian authorities decided to severely restrict public access to the tomb in order to preserve the delicate paintings found within. This restoration process lasted until 1990, when scientists decided to conceal the tomb from visitors. 5 years later, Egypt’s Prime Minister, Hisham Zazao declared the tomb to be reopened to visitors, 150 visitors at a time. In 2006, after 11 years, the tomb was restricted to visitors once again, except for private tours of a maximum 20 people purchasing a license for US$3,000. As per November 2017, holders of a 1000 EGP entry ticket or of a Luxor Pass can visit this tomb.

Here are a few more snapshots from my tour (note that I have deliberately turned on nametags over avatars’ heads; this is an option, and you can turn them off if you find it too distracting):

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You can see all the snapshots that I and others have taken of this domain on this page.

Note that you must register (for free) to get a ticket to be admitted to these tours; you cannot just go in and explore on your own whenever you want, at least, not yet! Just select a date and time from the High Fidelity Events page and get your ticket from the EventBrite website (please note that certain dates and times are already sold out).

I cannot recommend this domain (and this tour) more highly! Having a trained Egyptologist show you the highlights of Queen Nefertari’s tomb and answer questions is a truly marvelous experience! Let’s hope that we see more such events in the various social VR platforms this year (of course, there are already three separate sets of antiquities you can explore on your own in Sansar from the Voyage Live: Egypt portal experience). Have fun!

Linden Lab Hires Consulting Firm Twofivesix to Survey Sansar Users

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Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

It would appear that Linden Lab has contracted with an external consulting firm to interview Sansar users. Someone on the official Sansar Discord server mentioned that they had received an email and wanted to know if it was legitimate or a scam.

I was curious and I did a little digging around in my email inbox, and lo and behold, there was this email message from three days ago:

TwoFiveSix

The agency checks out; here is Twofivesix’s website. They appear to be a gaming consulting firm, with a focus on videogames, esports, and virtual reality. Shortly afterward, Derrick Linden posted an official announcement to Discord:

Hi everyone!

Some of you have already reached out about this, but as a general heads up: we’re working with an outside firm at the moment to help gather and distill user feedback—all part of a broader research effort. If you have received an email from TwoFiveSix that mentions a survey, do not be alarmed – you are NOT being phished! This is a REAL opportunity to share what you think. Big thanks to those of you who’ve gotten in touch, and those of you who’ve already taken the survey! Feel free to drop us a line with any questions you have.

So I decided to fill out Twofivesix’s application form. They are operating on a very tight timeline; they basically want to complete all their hourlong user interviews between January 15th and 22nd! So please go check your email inbox for a message from them, and fill out the application if you wish to be considered for an interview and a US$50 AMEX gift card. What have you got to lose?

I do find it rather reassuring that Linden Lab has hired a professional consulting firm to get more feedback about how people feel about Sansar and what they would like to see happen on the platform. Involving a neutral third party which anonymizes answers might make it easier for negative comments and feedback to be submitted to, and heard by, the company.

It’s no secret that this is a do-or-die, make-or-break period for Linden Lab’s Sansar, especially given the rather lacklustre response to the platform’s launch on Steam so far. They’ve now got to pull out all the stops when it comes to figuring out what factors will make Sansar a success, and what things will drive people away.

As I have said before: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!