If you visit the Sansar homepage (and you’re not already signed in with your Sansar account), you will see a brand new, revamped homepage for the five-year-old social VR project:
One noticeable change is the “18+” logo prominently displayed, something which I do not remember seeing before. Wasn’t the age limit formerly 13+? I can’t recall, but I was pretty sure that teenagers were allowed onto Sansar, back in the days when naked base humanoid avatars were forbidden (you had to have baked-on underwear, or your avatar would be removed from the Sansar store).
So, it would appear that the new owners of Sansar are going to allow adult content. This would probably give them an advantage, in that few other social VR platforms currently allow adult content. Let me disgress by explaining how Second Life (Sansar’s predecessor in many ways) handles adult content.
BACKGROUNDER: In Second Life, they have a system where a sim (the basic parcel of virtual land) has one of three ratings:
General: “A region designated General is not allowed to advertise or make available content or activity that is sexually explicit, violent, or depicts nudity. Sexually-oriented objects such as “sex beds” or poseballs may not be located or sold in General regions.”
Moderate: “Second Life’s Moderate designation accommodates most of the non-adult activities common in Second Life. Dance clubs, bars, stores and malls, galleries, music venues, beaches, parks, and other spaces for socializing, creating, and learning all support a Moderate designation so long as they do not host publicly promoted adult activities or content and do not use adult search tags.”
Adult: “The Adult designation applies to Second Life regions that host, conduct, or display content that is sexually explicit, intensely violent, or depicts illicit drug use.”
While generally, Second Life is meant for people age 18 and up, in special cases, those age 13-17 can get in. Those 16 and 17 years old are restricted to sims rated General, while those age 13-15 “can access Second Life through an affiliated organization and will be restricted to the private estate of that organization.” Also, for those 13-15, older SL users won’t be able to access these private estates, except for pre-approved adults affiliated with the organization (e.g. teachers). This is intended to create a safe space for young teens, separate from adult areas.
So, it will be interesting to see whether Sansar will hold to a firm 18+ age rating, as I suspect, or if (like Second Life) they will set up some sort of system to gate-keep adult content, thereby allowing those users under the age of 18 some limited access.
Back in 2019, I wrote an entire editorial about adult content and social VR, which you can read here. Much of what I wrote then still applies today, particularly that adult content can be a double-edged sword! However, if managed properly, it can add life ( and longevity) to a metaverse platform. Whether you like it or not, sex sells!
What do you think? Please sound off in the comments, or join us in the RyanSchultz.com Discord, where over 700 people representing various social VR platforms (and flatscreen virtual worlds, too!) meet to discuss, debate, and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and the companies building it. More information here.
UPDATE Oct. 5th, 2022: I have been informed by a Sansar staff member:
Just a small clarification, we are adult only but without NSFW content, so it’s still safe for [a] professional or academic setting.
So it would appear that I was wrong in assuming that Sansar will permit adult content. I stand corrected! The staff member, EvoAv, goes on to tell me:
A lot of other things fall under [the] 18+ category, and mixing adult users with teenagers/kids has potential issues of its own. Our users have been predominantly adults throughout Sansar’s history, so we do not see this as a limitation, but more of a safeguard that will allow us to introduce content geared towards adults, just not NSFW, or at least give us the option to change our minds later if we want to allow NSFW content with some moderation in the future.
I struggle with serious insomnia, which seems to be getting worse the longer the pandemic drags on (and no, the pandemic is NOT over). After another sleepless night, I gave up this morning, called in sick, and I am now sitting in from of The Beast, doing what I often do when I am chasing the Sandman in vain: hanging out in Second Life. (Hey, some people play solitaire. Others read or crochet. You do you, boo, and I’ll do me.)
I often like to visit popular clubs to listen to the music stream (sometimes I just park my avatar, turn up the sound, and use it as a radio while I work on something else). I often use a handy free HUD called What Is She Wearing? to inspect what an impeccably-dressed nearby avatar is wearing; in fact, many of my impulse purchases for both my male and female avatars were often something which I first spotted on somebody else on the other side of the virtual room!
Some people are chatting (either in local chat or privately among themselves), others are dancing, still others are just doing a stand-and-model, showing off their avatar style. (Club 511 has a strict no-non-human avatars rule, so no furries, sadly! The Second Life furry community tends to hang out in their own clubs and bars.)
Which brings me in an meandering, roundabout way to the topic of this editorial: community. Clubs in Second Life come and go, and popular hotspots like Club 511 rise and fall in popularity with alarming regularity, but the thing that they all have in common is community. None of these places work without the avatars!
One of the reasons for VRChat’s success to date is that you can pretty much guarantee that, when you log in, you will find places where you can meet and talk with other avatars. Over time and through word of mouth, you hear about virtual clubs and regularly-scheduled events, you start to schedule them into your calendar, et voilà—you’ve become part of a community, and made new friends or acquaintances. (I vividly remember how much fun the Endgame talk shows were, while they lasted! Again, such popular events tend to come and go over time.)
I stood in the slanted rays of virtual sunlight leaving long shadows on the red floor of the central plaza, among the park benches, and chatted with friends I had made several years before, and even met a few new people. It was as if I never left! I have been admittedly rather absent from Sansar these past couple of years, as the platform changed corporate hands and struggled at times, but it is showing renewed life under the leadership of its new CEO, Chance Richie.
The point that I am trying to make is this: even in a social VR platform that might only still have a low number of concurrent users, like Sansar, there remains a hard-core, committed user base who have established friendships and working relationships. They might not be strong in numbers, but they are strong in a sense of community, and community is the reason that people keep coming back. I have seen this happen time and time again, in any variety of flatscreen virtual worlds and social VR platforms over the years. As long as the metaverse platform hangs around long enough (and Sansar just celebrated the 5th anniversary of its open public beta), a community will form—and if they’re lucky, in popular worlds like Second Life and VRChat, many varied and vibrant subcommunities, too!
And I have noticed that the relationships we make in virtual worlds and social virtual reality tend to carry over, not only in real life, but onto other metaverse platforms, too. For example, I have made a point of buying avatar fashion or virtual home and garden decor in Second Life from content creators whom I first got to know personally during the Sansar alpha test period. And many of the people who decided to leave less-successful or failed worlds have also tended to bring their friends and business partners to build and enrich many other metaverse platforms over the years! The seeds first planted in Active Worlds (now 27 years old!) and Second Life (which just turned 19) have borne fruit in many newer metaverse platforms!
So how about, instead of using the standard corporate yardstick of success, and focusing on the purely mercantile aspects of the metaverse, we talk about the communities that they foster, and the valuable relationships that we make because of these worlds?
Let me give you a recent example. The tech industry newsletter called The Information recently published an article titled The Metaverse Real Estate Boom Turns into a Bust. Now, you and I cannot read the full text of that article unless you shell out US$399 a year to subscribe to The Information†, but what they did freely share with us poors the first few sentences of their report, plus a couple of rather interesting graphs:
The metaverse is in the midst of a real estate meltdown. Sales volumes and average prices for virtual land have plunged this year, part of a broader slide in crypto and non-fungible token prices.
Soaring interest in virtual property spawned an industry that mirrors traditional commercial real estate—buyers develop land by adding virtual storefronts, and then sell or rent it to companies looking to set up shop as a marketing strategy or to sell things like clothing for online avatars. Investors who bought at the peak are now sitting on land that has tumbled in value. Meanwhile the real-world economic downturn could weigh on brands’ appetite for spending on building out their metaverse presence.
Yes, obviously, these platforms need to have some level of economic success in order to stick around and for community to have a chance to take hold; that’s a given. But to ignore and/or mock a platform like Second Life or VRChat for not attracting or keeping big-name corporations or “brands” is missing the point. Metaverse success can also be measured by the strength and endurance of the communities and relationships they foster, things which you cannot assign a dollar value to.
So get out there, explore the various metaverse platforms out there, and see what appeals to you. Don’t let the current gloom and doom surrounding the blockchain-based metaverse platforms put you off the entire metaverse marketplace; there’s a lot more out there than the recent crop of NFT-based platforms. There’s so much going on out there!
So go and find your bliss, and find your community. You might just surprise yourself, and make a few friends along the way. Or just hear some good jazz 😉
OK, now that I have vented, this blogger is going to try and get some much-needed sleep…
†By the way, if you do happen to have a subscription to The Information, I’d dearly love to read that article! 😉
Definition: Handfasting is an ancient Celtic ritual in which the hands are tied together to symbolize the binding of two lives. While it is most often included in Wiccan or Pagan ceremonies, it has become more mainstream and pops up in both religious and secular vows and readings.
One certain thing that I have learned in writing the RyanSchultz.com blog over these past five years is this: no matter what the metaverse platform, and no matter how obscure or popular it might be, there is always a committed community of die-hard fans associated with it! And the small but active fanbase of the social VR platform Sansar (built by Linden Lab and since sold to Wookey) is the perfect example of that truth. Despite the almost total absence of marketing by Wookey, the userbase continues to create worlds, meet up, and hold various events. It’s heartwarming.
Did you also know? Even within the relatively small user community of Sansar, since its launch in 2017, there have been at least five couples who first met up in Sansar and then connected in real life (and in some cases, even got married!). Actually, it might be six by now…I have lost track! We learned this lesson back in the days of Second Life; the metaverse brings couples together. ❤️
Recently, Sansar ambassador Bluebell (whom I know well from my earliest days in Sansar, and who is a tireless promoter of the platform) and her beau Moggz held a handfasting ceremony on March 3rd, 2022, attended by all their friends who, in real life, were scattered all across the globe. When I asked about having a handfasting instead of a marriage ceremony, Bluebell told me, “Yes, we prefer the old rituals.”
Bluebell was kind enough to share some pictures with me which were taken at the event (unfortunately, I could not be there). Please click on each thumbnail picture in this gallery to see it in a larger size:
Photos provided by Bluebell, Wolfen Howeller, and Mijeka Munro; thank you!
Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 600 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.
There will be a major scandal or controversy around one of the blockchain/NFT-oriented Metaverse platforms.
With NFTs beset by scams and NFT/blockchain-oriented metaverse platforms seeing low user numbers but extremely high investment and speculation, this is only a matter of time.
It’s only January 12th, 2022, but I have already written about a number of questionable NFT projects which at best are crazy schemes, and at worst are outright scams! MetaWorld springs to mind as the perfect example of the latter (ALLEGEDLY, I hasten to add, although IN MY OPINION, I don’t believe there is any actual MetaWorld platform, aside from a prototype which was created years ago by someone who has since left the company to work for Somnium Space).
Despite all the negative press from the Engadget exposé and my series of blogposts about MetaWorld, Dedric continues undeterred. Someone joked to me via Discord DMs that Dedric Reid is the Elizabeth Holmes of the metaverse, and I laughed out loud because it’s such an apt, concise description! Harsh, savage, but accurate.
But on to other topics; I am tired of talking about Dedric Reid and MetaWorld (and frankly, whoever falls for his ALLEGED scam at this point is simply not doing their proper due diligence, IN MY OPINION). There’s a lot of actual progress being made by many legitimate metaverse companies building social VR/AR platforms and virtual worlds!
Meta is facing such a never-ending litany of complaints, scandals, and even legal actions that this is, once again, a very easy prediction to make for 2022.
Next prediction: there’s going to be a lot of activity this year in the fuzzy overlap area between games and virtual worlds, what I like to call the “metaverse-adjacent” space. Both games (e.g. Fortnite, Minecraft) and game platforms (e.g. Roblox, Core) will continue to add new features in an effort to become more like social VR/AR apps and virtual worlds. And, given their immense popularity, especially among children, tweens, and teens, many people will get their first taste of the metaverse via these games and game platforms, in much the same way as an entire generation got their start in the metaverse via Second Life.
Second Life will continue to be successful and profitable—but it will face increasing competition from newer platforms such as VRChat, and it will no longer be the most popular virtual world.
My first prediction is a no-brainer. In my predictions for 2019, I wrote that Second Life would “continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity”, and that still holds true.
And, indeed, 2021 was the first year in which VRChat began to consistently surpass Second Life in user concurrency figures (Rec Room did too, I believe). VRChat has been breaking new user concurrency records, leading up to and including New Year’s Eve 2021, as Johnny Rodriguez tweeted:
Last night, 88,700 people put on a VR headset and decided to join the VRChat New Years event to countdown [to] the new year. For reference, this is Husker’s Memorial Stadium [at the University of Nebraska], which fits around 86,000 people when completely full. VR is here to stay.
Turning back to Second Life, the coronavirus pandemic caused a temporary surge in usage (and the current Omicron wave might well prompt people to dust off their avatars and give it another try, too). I still estimate that SL has somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 active users per month (that is, people who sign in at least once in the past thirty days). I really wish that Linden Lab would regularly release statistics like this, but if they are declining (slowly or quickly), I can also understand why the company would be reluctant to do so.
I was part of Sansar since I was invited into the closed beta in 2016/2017, and I was there for the whole crazy ride. Sansar is now on life support (the company that bought it from Linden Lab, called Wookey, furloughed all of its staff recently, and I believe that they could shut down at any moment without warning). Being there from beginning to end, I still marvel at how Linden Lab thought they could build a new virtual world/social VR platform and just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself in this competitive marketplace for metaverse platforms. “Build it and they will come” might have worked for SL in 2003 but it sure ain’t gonna work nowadays. You have to PROMOTE yourself to get noticed.
Also, Linden Lab could have done a lot of things to try and entice SL users to a) visit Sansar and b) make them want to stay, build worlds, create content, and form a new community. Instead, what happened is that Second Life folks (rightly or wrongly) saw Sansar as something which distracted LL from its work on SL, and as a result most SL folks hated Sansar and refused to have anything to do with it, hastening its downfall in my opinion. It also didn’t help that Linden Lab made a bet that many people would be owning high-end VR headsets tethered to high-end PCs with good graphics cards, and instead the Oculus Quest wireless headset took off.
I still shake my head and wonder “what if?”. Say a prayer for Sansar, it needs it.
Right now, Sansar’s best hope for survival in 2022 is for another company who wants to enter the metaverse marketplace to buy the platform from Wookey, much the same as Microsoft stepped in at the eleventh hour to snap up AltspaceVR.
Another prediction: we are going to see an increase in the number of companies providing services to metaverse platforms. Wagner James Au mentions the Linden Lab subsidiary Tilia, which provides financial services, in his blogpost which I linked to up top; I predict that they will land a few more clients this year. Another example of a company doing well in this niche is Ready Player Me, the avatar system currently in use in VRChat and over 1,000 other apps and games on VR, mobile, desktop, and web. Expect this nascent business-to-business sector to explode this year!
Well, that’s it for me, for now. I might update this blogpost with other predictions for 2022 as they come to me.
And I ask you, my faithful readers: what predictions are you making for the next twelve months? Feel free to leave a comment, or use the feedback form on my blog if you’d prefer to contact me directly. You’re also welcome to join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, a cross-worlds community where over 600 people, with experience in various metaverse platforms, welcome you! Just click the button on the left-side panel of my blog as shown (image right). If you are connecting via a smartphone or tablet instead of your computer desktop, just click the three-bars menu button in the upper-right hand corner, then scroll down until you see the Discord widget displayed.