Editorial: Inara Pey Weighs In On the Friday Product Meetup…And We Disagree On What It All Means for the Future of Sansar

*sigh* I don’t even know anymore…how can two people look at the same thing and see totally different things?

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Inara Pey has done her usual outstanding, painstakingly detailed job of covering the most recent Product Meetup held last Friday (thank God, since I tend to suck at that sort of thing), but I wish I could share her…what is the word I am searching for? Her sense of relative optimism, her sense that this is not a significant shift in priorities for Sansar, that this is, as she says:

It will mean a lot of attention will be placed on the Sansar events system going forward.However, it does not mean work on other features  / capabilities is being abandoned, although some will be re-prioritized and may be pushed back in terms of possible deployment time frames.

Now, we both listened to the same Twitch livestream, since we both were not actually present at the Friday Product Meetup. But I still think we heard somewhat different things. I heard that further avatar customization work will be halted in the new focus on live events; she heard that it will be “re-prioritized”. I guess we’re going to find out who’s right and who’s wrong over the next few weeks (and, of course, if I am wrong, I will certainly admit to it). But I listened to that whole livestream (twice), and I was left with a feeling of unease, a sense of unease that is shared by many Sansar users with whom I have spoken this weekend.

In a separate opinion piece, Inara does say:

On Friday, November 1st, the Sansar Team held their weekly Product Meeting, which provided to be an event of two parts: an overview of the next Sansar release, which I’ve covered in my usual Sansar Product Meeting summary format, and confirmation that Sansar’s development is undergoing a change in emphasis in a drive to try to establish a much broader audience.

In short, and as noted by Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, and the Lab’s Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Sheri Bryant (aka CowboyNinja in Sansar), who now takes up the role of Sansar’s General Manager¹, the Lab plans to focus a lot more on building-out Sansar’s ability to run “live” events within virtual spaces.

It’s a decision that was actually presaged in October, when IQ ran an article in which Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and Sheri Bryant were interviewed about the Lab’s intentions with “live” events in Sansar. As such, I wasn’t actually overly surprised to hear about the shift in emphasis, although others may have missed that piece. Certainly, the announcement has received a negative reaction from some, and has been – wrongly, I would suggest – characterised as akin to High Fidelity’s abrupt change of direction that occurred earlier this year…

I say “wrongly”, because while this is a change in emphasis, it is not in any way a shuttering / move any from anything within Sansar in the way High Fidelity’s change of direction was. 

And (of course) Inara caught something that I didn’t: that Sheri Bryant and CowboyNinja Linden are one and same person! D’oh! Which would, of course, explain why they were both called the new General Manager of Sansar. (Like I said, I am not the best at note-taking.) But I still want to know: what the hell happened to Landon Linden, who was originally charged with steering this project? He just vanished off the map—poof!

So Inara and I do agree that the Sansar pivot is not like the High Fidelity pivot in terms of its size and significance, something I said in my original blogpost. However, where we part ways is in her next few statements:

It also does not mean that other improvements for the platform are in any way being closed or abandoned – although it does mean that some are being re-prioritized and are seeing their possible deployment time-frames pushed back.

This latter point is likely why there has been some negativity around the announcement: for much of 2019 the emphasis has been on developing Sansar’s gaming  / questing capabilities, and these have reached a point where they are being actively and imaginatively being leveraged. Given that push to develop them and get creators excited by them, to apparently make a sudden track switch is bound to leave some feeling a little, “wait – what?”

Similarly, there has been a push to give the Sansar avatar a complete overhaul, with more being promised – particularly full body deformation and custom skin textures. It had been suggested these might appear before the end of 2019 – but they are now timetabled for delivery “in 2020”. So this again is likely to be grating on people. But that said, it is true that, insofar as encouraging people into Sansar to attend events, Avatar 2.0 doesn’t appear to have been any kind of barrier – and it might be argued that it is more important for Sansar to gain a broader and deeper user base than it is to keep iterating on new features and capabilities within the avatar system – particularly if there are relatively few people around to use it.

So to me, the shift in emphasis perhaps isn’t as upsetting as it appears to have been to others – but then, I’m simply not as invested in Sansar as some, which also should be taken into account. Certainly, and as I’ve previously argued, I don’t think a push to establish a presence in the “virtual events market” given the capabilities Sansar does have is not a bad thing. And, as I’ve noted in Sansar: music entertainment with some sundry thoughts, even if it doesn’t massively drive up the platform’s concurrency on its own, it could nevertheless contribute to doing so; what’s more, it could open the platform up to broader “repeat” audiences from a range of potential sectors and so help the Lab generate revenue from those sectors through a variety of means.

So, basically, Inara is taking the calm, measured, moderate approach, and I am taking the ring-the-alarm-bells approach. (Hey, I admit it.) Maybe after what happened with High Fidelity, I am in doomsday mode. I wouldn’t say that I am the only one who’s thinking that way, though.

And I did not hear that Avatar 2.0 was being pushed back to 2020; to my ears it sounded more like the work had been completely halted, and I am not the only one who heard that message in the question and answer session that took place afterward. Maybe it’s a case of hearing what we are listening for, and (perhaps) inaccurately reading in-between the lines of what was actually said; Inara’s notes clearly state that:

Does the shift in focus mean that avatar improvements are now on the back-burner? The current avatar system is seen as “relatively robust” and suitable for things like attending events. While the focus will be on the development of features around events / events management, avatars will remain central to Sansar’s development – they just won’t be a subject of focus in the immediate future. Nothing is being taken away from the plans for future avatar development. This does mean that full body deformation, that had been viewed as possibly being a Q4 2019 (October-December) release has been pushed back to a 2020 release, but no clear indication of when.

So, who the hell knows anymore?!?? The only people who do know, aren’t talking (at least, not yet). And I am hereby hanging up my note-taking pad and pencil, and leaving any further work in that area to others who listen better than I do.

Like I said up top, I don’t even know anymore…

Advertisements

Virtual World Economies: Developers for Anarchy Arcade, Cryptovoxels, Exokit, and JanusVR Have a Panel Discussion

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while now, and someone reminded me today on Twitter (in response to my recent blogpost about the state of current social VR) that there was a nearly two-hour-long YouTube video of a panel discussion held in September in VRChat, where four smaller social VR developers talked about various aspects of virtual world economies.

According to the video description page:

We’ve gathered an incredible cast of lead developers building VR platforms to discuss virtual economies. How can creative people make a living inside these worlds? What ingredients are missing to catalyze a thriving user-generated content economy? What’s the landscape look like? How can startups compete with big tech?

The four panel speakers are:

James Baicoianu: Working on Elation Engine since 2011 building web based virtual worlds and JanusWeb for past few years as a framework for anyone to easily create social VR experiences. Bai has 20+ years of web dev experience, is a webgl / threejs contributor, and a part time internet archivist.

Ben Nolan: Built scenevr which lead to aframe, worked at Decentraland for awhile building their first web client. Currently developing Cryptovoxels full-time, a browser based virtual world owned by users via the Ethereum blockchain.

Avaer: Created a minecraft clone on the web about 6 years ago, ran into browsers at the time. Took C++ background and built own web browser named Exokit just doing WebVR / WebXR. Now focused on bringing people together and incentivized to work on proper Metaverse with Exokit Web.

SM Sith Lord: Lead developer of Anarchy Arcade, a 3D desktop with VR support. Has been using 3D desktops for 10 years and streams to Twitch regularly to show it off on twitch.tv/anarchyarcade.

I must confess that haven’t watched all of the video myself yet, but I wanted to share it with you, in case you were interested in some of the smaller companies’ perspectives on virtual world economies (and before I forget to post about it yet again). Enjoy!

Editorial: The State of Current Social VR—Has Linking Newer Virtual Worlds to Virtual Reality Been a Tactical Mistake?

Are all the social VR companies going the wrong way?
(Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

So, I’m sitting here in front of my computer on an overcast, chilly Sunday morning up here in Winnipeg, with my cup of coffee rapidly cooling beside me, my dirty dishes piling up in the kitchen, dust bunnies gathering in the corners of my apartment, and my wet laundry needing to be moved from the washer to the dryer, and it just seems as good a time as any to pause and ponder the state of current social VR. (Anything to avoid housework!)

And if you’ve been paying attention, like I have, it would seem that social VR is, indeed, in quite the state. And not a good one. Let’s do a quick recap:

First, everybody from Mark Zuckerberg to Philip Rosedale has said the same thing: that consumer uptake of virtual reality is taking much, much longer than originally estimated. It’s making some inroads (Facebook is apparently selling the Oculus Quest wireless VR headsets as fast as they can make them), but we’re not there yet.

Second, there are the metaverse platforms on which companies have spent years of time and toil to build, expecting that influx of consumers in VR headsets, and which, still, sit largely unvisited in spite of their best promotional efforts. In most cases, these companies are now having to make some pretty severe adjustments (a.k.a “pivots”) to their software development roadmaps in an attempt to become profitable, and make their boards and shareholders happy:

  • High Fidelity (which is burning through all that venture capital, and is now trying to re-position itself as a remote workteams platform);
  • Linden Lab’s Sansar (which is relying on the reliable cash cow of Second Life, and has just announced a new focus on live events, at the expense of other features);
  • Sinespace (although nobody really knows how profitable the company is, the platform still seems to be having similar trouble attracting large numbers of users, from what I can tell from my admittedly infrequent visits).

Third, there have been a few early success stories in social VR, but they, too, have some storm clouds on the horizon:

  • VRChat is still the most popular social VR platform, thanks to the livestreamers, and it is coasting along in merry pandemonium, but how long will the company keep throwing money into the platform if they can’t make some sort of profit from it? VRChat is a business, and they face a potentially rocky road in their plans to move to an in-world economy with user-generated content and an in-world currency. Any misstep, and its young, fickle userbase, who are accustomed to everything being “for free”, will abandon it just as quickly as they picked it up in the first place.
  • Rec Room, the second most popular social VR platform, has found a comfortable niche. But is it profitable in the long term? Again, how do they plan to make money off it? It’s a bit of a mystery to me.

So, it would appear that those social VR platforms that do have in-world economies can’t attract large numbers of users, and the ones that don’t have in-world economies might be popular, but obviously can’t keep running indefinitely without a means of generating profit. It seems like a Catch 22, a rather hopeless situation at this present point in time.

Add to this the fact that the 900-lb. gorilla in the room, Facebook, is planning to launch their own social VR platform in 2020, and you’ve got a situation that must be keeping the CEOs of these various companies up at night, pacing the floor, wondering how, when and where it all went wrong.

The fact is, nobody seems to have yet found the perfect mix of features and promotion to snatch the mantle of Second Life. The venerable virtual world, at 16 years old, is still is the most popular platform around, with approximately half a million unique monthly users according to recent statistics provided by Firestorm.

But again, Second Life doesn’t support VR. And, in actual fact, VR users in almost all of the social VR platforms to date are still the minority, compared to flat-screen desktop users (yes, even in VRChat). So perhaps, have all of us made the wrong bet: that virtual reality was going to be key to the success of the next generation of virtual worlds?

It’s certainly not playing out that way, at least not yet. Facebook might succeed with Facebook Horizon, given its almost endless resources, but it hasn’t had a particularly good track record so far (witness the recently-shut-down Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms as examples).

If Facebook fails (or fumbles) with Facebook Horizon next year, then that will be the strongest signal yet that linking virtual worlds and virtual reality is, perhaps, a tactical mistake. And if Apple, who has so far stayed away from VR, launches augmented-reality glasses (as some confidently predict), could that be what finally catches fire in the public imagination, instead of virtual reality? Have we made the wrong bet?

So, is the news all doom and gloom? Hardly. There are a few bright spots, metaverse-building companies which are already making a profit:

  • ENGAGE has been able to carve out a profitable niche for itself in the educational market
  • NeosVR is profitable, largely due to its passionate Patreon supporters, and also by offering commercial licenses for businesses and schools (of course, it helps that it has a small, nimble development team!)
  • Cryptovoxels is already earning enough money via the sale of blockchain-based virtual land to support its full-time software developer, Ben Nolan

But even I must admit, these are the exceptions that prove the point: social VR is, by and large, not yet profitable. And the bigger the company, the more trouble it seems to be in. It seems to be the smaller firms that are able to cut costs and find niche markets to excel in and generate profit. Which doesn’t look especially good for Linden Lab and High Fidelity, with their large staffs and all the associated overhead.

So, for the various companies engaged in building the next generation of metaverse platforms, it becomes a waiting game: trying to find some way to survive until such time as social VR is profitable—or just giving up on VR. But I rather doubt that the companies that have already made such a huge investment in virtual reality will pull out now.

Linden Lab has decided to pin Sansar’s future on live events. High Fidelity is hoping that remote teamwork use will keep it going. Every company is going to have to come up with its own strategy to make it through these leaner-than-expected years.

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Gimme Gacha Gifts

One of Ryan’s eight rules for freebie hunting in Second Life is: visit the monthly fashion and gacha events. You never know what freebies you can pick up!

Today, my main SL avatar, Vanity Fair, just felt like exploring the grid in her lovely new blue lingerie, stockings with garters, and sapphire jewelry—because why the hell not? (Hey, usually Vanity’s in a full-blown ballgown. If you think about it, traipsing around Second Life in a ballgown is just as ridiculous as it is in your underwear!)

The November round of the Gacha Garden is now upon us. Many of the vendor booths have a free gift (you do need to join the Gimme Gacha group for free in order to pick up these gifts).

The Analog Dog booth has a very generous gift, a full fatpack of Mali hair. Analog Dog tends to specialize in long, wavy or curly hair, and this free hairstyle is no exception. Here it is in fully pulled-back mode:

There’s a styling section on the included colour HUDs (nine HUDs in total: blacks, dark blondes, dark browns, dark reds, light blondes, light browns, light reds, mix, and splash), which gives you a few hairstyle options, to make it even more versatile:

Wow, now Vanity really has that fresh-from-the-boudoir look! 😉 In addition to the Mali hair, she is wearing:

Vanity Fair is also wearing:

Here are a couple of other gifts at the November round of the Gacha Garden I wanted to show you, the Agata over-the-shoulder ponytail hair by Limerence and the Sophia dress by Sorumin:

This avatar is also wearing:

  • Mesh Head: Giselle Bento head by Altamura (no longer available for free; this was an Altamura gift from Christmas 2017 at the eBENTO event, and you had to join the Altamura group for L$50 to get it).
  • Mesh Body: Jenny Bento body by Altamura (this was a free gift from the 2017 Women Only Hunt, and on this version, you can remove the head and replace it with any other mesh head, as I did here. Note that the Jenny free mesh body is now available at the Freebie Megastore at London City (more information here), but you cannot remove the head on the newer free version.
  • Shoes: the free Sonnet pumps available at the Hilly Haalan freebie store
  • Animation Override: Chubby Girl AO by [ImpEle] (free from the SL Marketplace). This is a nice, simple, calm, free AO with no crazy movements. 

TOTAL COST OF THE SECOND AVATAR LOOK: Only L$50! (the group join fee for Altamura)

Here’s your taxi to the Gacha Garden. Remember, there are new freebies put out every month, so come back often. Happy freebie shopping!