Note: I woke up very early this morning to write this editorial. Once Linden Lab makes their announcement (which is expected today), I will make a new blogpost with that information. UPDATE: It’s now official—Sansar has launched on Steam.
Today I also am getting feedback from many Sansar users that I have been way too harsh and negative in this particular blogpost, so…
***Please READ THROUGH MY ENTIRE BLOGPOST, INCLUDING THE SECOND UPDATE, thank you!***
Linden Lab has a problem (although they won’t label it that). Fewer people than they probably expected by now are using their social VR platform, Sansar. They’ve tried a few things (like partnering up with esports leagues and popular Twitch livestreamers), in an effort to ignite the fire that made VRChat suddenly so popular earlier this year. Frankly, they’ve had very little success so far. And they’re probably scratching their heads and wondering what it’s going to take to get people to try Sansar—and stay.
So, on October 29th, 2018, Linden Lab made a major surprise announcement:
Sansar has come a long way since we started the project. In 2018 we have devoted an enormous amount of effort to improving the end-user experience, and will continue to do so.
Given those improvements, we believe we are quickly approaching the point where we want to start bringing a large number of users onto the platform. This is an important milestone for us and especially our creators. One of the foundational principles of Sansar is that creators must be able to profit from their creations. For us to make that a reality, we need to give our creators a large audience of customers.
The cornerstone of our growth effort will be to put Sansar on Steam. Steam is where more than half of the VR market goes to find software. It also is a huge pool of users who are interested in our space and are likely to have the hardware required to run Sansar.
Why has Linden Lab decided to take this step? Well, as they said above, they want to get more customers for Sansar, and they know that making the platform available through Steam is going to put it in front of a lot more eyeballs. People who might not have known about Linden Lab or Sansar before. And (most importantly) people who are more likely to have an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Windows Mixed Reality VR headset than the general population. These are the hardcore gamer crowd, who tend to be early adopters of technology. Linden Lab wants these people.
Linden Lab is betting that, if can get sufficient numbers of Steam users to try out Sansar, that a significant number of them will become regular users: exploring, socializing, building experiences, and shopping for items from the Sansar Store. It’s a risk, but it’s a calculated risk. And Linden Lab is willing to get into bed with Steam to do it (even if it means closing down their SandeX Sansar dollar exchange, which happened yesterday).
However, there’s absolutely no guarantee that simply putting Sansar on Steam is going to be enough. For example, the statistics clearly show that High Fidelity’s launch on Steam in late 2016 has, so far, had very little demonstrable impact on its usage levels, aside from the spikes of users attending the monthly stress testing events and the recent FUTVRE LANDS virtual reality festival.
Whether or not Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab want to call it that is a moot point, but essentially, what we have here is the “consumer launch” of Sansar I had blogged about back in April 2018. My major concern then was that Sansar did not yet have enough features to attract and retain new users. So let’s take a quick look at the 12 things I thought that Sansar should have before a “consumer launch”, according to that April editorial:
- Better avatar customization features. We have a few facial sliders, zero body sliders, and no custom avatar skins. The avatars look good, and there are plentiful clothing options, and you can dye your hair any colour under the sun, but you really cannot customize your avatar to the extent you can in other social VR platforms like Sinespace. Nope.
- More and better avatar animations: OK, here at least we now have custom emotes, plus a few more dances and the ability to sit down on the ground. Still needs work. Half a check mark (and I’m being generous here).
- Particle effects: Fire? Water? Fog? Smoke? Nope. Just kludgy workarounds. High Fidelity already has this feature, and builders such as Noz’aj are using it to great effect in domains such as Beyond.
- More interactive content: At the moment, there isn’t nearly enough interactive content in Sansar, although the situation is slowly improving as the scripting abilities are built out over time. But note that two of the most popular Sansar games to date, Galen and Jasmine’s HoverDerby and Gindipple’s Combat Zone, have both shut down because of the developers’ deep frustration with the current scripting limitations and user interface issues in Sansar. At this point, we seem to be going backwards, not forwards. I’m not even going to give this half a check mark. UPDATE: Please see Bagnaria’s comment below.
- One or more community hubs: Nope. Linden Lab’s position is that the users can create their own hubs, and some have tried, like David Hall’s Avalon experience.
- Greeters: Nope. Other virtual worlds like Sinespace and High Fidelity have paid greeters whose job it is to welcome guests, answer their questions, and make them feel comfortable. As I said before, it’s a business cost. You can’t just rely on volunteers. Hire people. Put them in your community hubs. Pay them (in Sansar dollars, if you prefer).
- The ability to pay an avatar directly: Finally, something we do have! Check mark.
- Paypal support: Still no Paypal support.
- More functional and attractive user forums and blogs: We are still stuck with Zendesk, which is butt ugly and makes Linden Lab (and Sansar) look bad. The Sansar blog is especially horrible. FIX IT. Fail.
- Better communication and collaboration with livestreamers and other potential promoters like bloggers and vloggers: This has had mixed results. The UmiNoKaiju thing was a total bust, as far as I can tell. And so far, I am still one of the few people blogging about Sansar. Linden Lab has failed to gain much traction with livestreamers, vloggers, and bloggers when it comes to Sansar. Fail.
- More contests: (sound of crickets chirping) Fail. Linden Lab needs to have more contests (and have more and better prizes for those contests), in order to encourage and reward the creativity of Sansar’s userbase. Period.
- More regular events: OK, this is another area where things have much improved since April. The Sansar Events calendar is starting to look pretty good. Check mark.
FINAL SCORE: 2½ out of 12 (numbers 2, 7, and 12). In my books, that’s a failing grade. Now, do you see why I wanted Linden Lab to wait another six months to a year before launching on Steam?
My worst nightmare is that we are going to have a repeat of Sansar’s open creator launch, when dozens of people trooped in, looked around, declared themselves dissatisfied, and left, never to come back. And even worse, told their friends how bad Sansar was. Linden Lab cannot afford to make a bad first impression with a brand new bunch of Steam users. And Steam users can be truly brutal in rating their experiences if they feel a product is not up to their standards, as High Fidelity has already learned:
And, if you think that user reviews are not important, think again. I read user reviews for new apps on the Oculus Store all the time, and if they are mixed or bad, I don’t buy. The same applies to Steam. A recent Queen’s University research study showed that Steam users left negative reviews more quickly than positive ones, and that boring games were reviewed worse than buggy games:
Lin and the team also found that while most reviews are written after around 13 hours of play, “the majority of negative reviews” are posted within the first seven hours. Additionally, free-to-play games see a spike in reviews after just one hour of play.
Linden Lab better have a SWAT team on call to handle unhappy reviewers on Steam! This is part of the new landscape, and they’d better be responsive.
So cross your fingers and say your prayers. We are entering a new era.
UPDATE: Bagnaria has taken me to task for saying that scripting is “going backwards instead of forwards”. I have decided to post her comment in full in this blogpost, since people often skip the comments and what she has to say is important:
While I agree that Linden Lab should have waited a few months longer, I do not agree with what you are saying here regarding interactivity : “At this point, we seem to be going backwards, not forwards.” Here is why:
We have seen a large influx of new interactive experiences since Linden Lab introduced Simple Scripts about two months ago. Simple scripts have enormous potential. The best example I can give is Scurry Landia which is one of the most interactive experiences in Sansar right now. We made much of its game logic simple script compatible. Also many of it’s individual games can be completely wired up using nothing but the Linden Lab provided simple scripts. The Lab also provides the source code of all their simple scripts. FullSpectrum and many other creators are releasing dozens of additional simple script compatible add-ons that we created for everyone to use without having to code. That includes some more complex animation controllers, the ability to add puzzles, digit displays and very soon weapons and relatively soon vehicles. The key point is that any coder can add more script functionality in a way that can talk to other simple scripts. 98% of what one can do in Scurry Waters right now will be possible without writing any additional code.
When more people discover that simple scripts are like LEGO blocks that do not require writing any code, they will realize just how powerful that is to create interactive experiences.
The other part to that is that Sansar engine can not only host stunning visuals. It is doing a phenomenal job at handling all the scripts and animations we are throwing at it. Scurry Waters uses hundreds of scripts. Everything is moving and it just proves that it is possible to create engaging interactive experiences at this point and we are really just at the beginning of that accelerating evolution.
We are in the early stages, but I continue to be willing to invest my time in Sansar because I know how much is possible already and we creators are barely able to keep up utilizing all the new features we are given. In regards to interactivity Sansar is a very short distance away from becoming truly amazing and I do believe this will make enough difference to finally create a WOW.
So, as a result, I hereby give Linden Lab another check mark for item 4 on my list from last April…which brings it to a final score of 3½ out of 12.
SECOND UPDATE: I am getting feedback from various Sansar users today, who feel that I have been way too harsh and negative in this particular blogpost.
I want to stress that this is only one person’s opinion, not an official Sansar spokesperson’s point of view. I still remain a strong Sansar supporter, but I would be neglecting my duties as an independent social VR/virtual worlds blogger if I simply posted nothing but “good news” about Sansar, as some people want me to do.
There are indeed many truly wonderful things about Sansar, and I want Sansar to be a success! And please keep in mind that Sansar is still a BETA platform, and in constant development. There has been much good progress over the past two years. But I still feel—STRONGLY—that Linden Lab should have waited six months to a year before releasing Sansar on Steam. And I stand by my statement, and I feel I have supported it with my arguments. (Perhaps the tone was a little too sarcastic.)
When Linden Lab makes their official announcement, I will either update this blogpost, or (because this is getting ridiculously long as it is) I will start a new one.