New! Sansar Launches Mobile Apps for iPhone, iPad and Android Devices

While reading through all the ways that you could watch and listen to the Lost Horizon virtual music festival in Sansar, I learned that there are now mobile apps, for both iOS and Android devices!

Here’s a link to the iPhone and iPad apps on the Apple App Store, and here is the link to the app on the Google Play App Store.

Once again, the branding is squarely on attending live events in Sansar. The events listing includes this weekend’s Lost Horizon Festival, plus a number of other live music events taking place later on this month, such as Monstercat: Call of the Wild. Because it would appear that Wookey staff need to place cameras in place before the event, not every event from the Sansar Events Calendar is available to view using these new mobile apps (perhaps Wookey charges clients extra for this service?).

The only stage I could visit on the iPhone app was the Gas Tower stage, and the only views I could get were a direct view of the DJ on stage, or a birds-eye view of the event, seeing the avatars of the people who were there in person as tiny figures below me:

The sound quality was not great, and I was unable to visit any of the other music stages. The first set of reviewers on the App Store were not that impressed:

However, it is still a significant step for Wookey-run Sansar to have mobile apps, which dramatically opens the door to a much broader potential audience. I’m also quite sure that they are using these new apps as part of their product pitch to other music industry executives, to offer more live music performers in future! Let’s hope that this new feature will help to reel in a few new customers and events.


UPDATED! The Lost World and Lost Horizon Music Festivals Take Place July 3rd and 4th, 2020 in Sansar: A First Impressions Review of the Events

Please note that I am taking a vacation from the blog for the next two to three weeks, except for sponsored blogposts (with the occasional exception, like this review).

This morning, I paid a long-overdue return visit to Sansar, to check out both of the two-day music festivals that are taking place on the platform this weekend (July 3rd and 4th, 2020):

  • The Lost World event, held by an organization called Global Music Festivals, is being held in a specially-created world called Lost World, based the Incan architecture of Machu Picchu in Peru (here’s the entry in the Sansar Atlas):
  • The Lost Horizon Festival, which is associated with the real-world Shangri-La event at the Glastonbury Festival, a five-day festival of contemporary performing arts that takes place in Pilton, Somerset, in England every year (which, like many other events, was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic):

According to the Lost Horizon event page:

Two days. Four stages. Fifty-plus performances from a star-studded global lineup, including Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox, Jamie Jones and more. Welcome to Lost Horizon, from the team behind Glastonbury’s Shangri-La – the world’s biggest music and arts festival in virtual reality! Join us from wherever you live, across desktop PC and VR here at Sansar.

These are extraordinary times, and we know fans everywhere are hurting. Which is why we’re thrilled to offer a FREE TICKET to any and all affected by this current crisis.

If you can contribute, we’re also offering a PREMIUM TICKET that helps benefit two important causes – Amnesty International and the Big Issue – and includes some amazing goodies: an exclusive piece of art from Lost Horizon creatives, Instruct Studio; a virtual shirt from Instruct Studio; and more.

While you have to buy a ticket (a free one, or the US$10.00 Premium ticket) to get into the Lost Horizon events, anybody can pop in to visit the Lost World event, which is smaller and feels more intimate.

Lost World (by Global Music Festivals)

The Lost World event features more than 20 live DJs performing sets over two days. The two 12-hour streams will be live broadcast on Twitch and into the Lost World in Sansar especially built for this event. Deejays will play EDM, Trance, Goa, Techno, Psy, House, and Nu Jazz.

When I dropped by this morning there was an appreciative crowd of about 20 avatars gathered, dancing in lockstep to the light show. I found that if I stopped playing my own dance animations and stood still, eventually I, too, would start dancing with the rest of the crowd! I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about a world imposing its dance moves on me, though. (I would have preferred a choice!)

Saturday Night Fever moves in front of an Inca God!

Unfortunately, there is no lineup of artists on the Global Music Festivals rather bare-bones website, but there is a poster located in the stone building to the right of your spawn point. with the day’s lineup (there’s also a quest you can do as part of the festival):

Lost World Festival Schedule and Quest Giver

Lost Horizon Festival (by Glastonbury’s Shangri-La)

It’s clear that most people in Sansar this weekend are here for this festival, as this snapshot of the attendance figures (taken from the in-world Codex) indicates:

When I visited, the Gas Tower had over 100 avatars present, while the Freedom Stage and the Landing Zone had about 60 each, and the Nomad Stage about 40.

The Landing Zone makes a great first impression

This being Sansar, I expected the visuals would be top-notch, and they certainly are! You can use your Codex to hop from stage to stage, or start off at the Landing Zone, which features teleporters to take you to the various stages and exhibits:

The Info Booth at the Lost Horizon Festival’s Landing Zone
(I think the woman in the pink fringe boots is trying to steal my wallet!)

In addition to the stages, there is an art exhibit called ShangrilART, and a television studio called SHITV, broadcasting films and videos relating to the event. Both spaces were less crowded, giving you the opportunity to take a breather from the much busier music stages.

A documentary on transgenderism at the SHITV studio

At the Freedom Stage, the performers were a flat projection onto the stage rather than embodied avatars (the organizers used a green screen to erase the background). While I was a bit disappointed (I was really hoping for some sort of full-body tracking suits on the performers, like the one that electronic violinist Lindsey Stirling wore to animate her avatar in her awesome concert in Wave last August!), I do think that this was a best choice under the circumstances, and it worked well, especially when viewing the show from the back to the middle of the room:

It was only when you got right up to the stage that the illusion was shattered, as you can see from this shot I took of the deejays behind the booth at the Nomad Stage:

The only problem I encountered was the audio quality, which was consistently choppy and extremely poor while using a VR headset, and better but still a bit choppy while in desktop. I left and revisited several Lost Horizon stages where musical performances were taking place, listening while wearing my Oculus Rift and just on desktop, and there were definitely problems with the sound quality, especially in the Rift. If you are planning to participate in this festival, you might be better off setting your VR headset aside and just using desktop.

One very odd thing that I noticed was the dozens of animated bots that were placed in various spots near the periphery of all three music stages, or under the raised platforms provided for better viewing. You could tell they weren’t other “real” avatars because when you clicked the trigger on your hand controller and looked at them, an avatar name did not appear over them. Most were uniformly dressed in drab, grey colours, and they all cycled through the same dances. It was strange, to say the least.

Lots of animated bots under a viewing platform at the Freedom Stage…but why?

In an event that was already packed full of avatars, why did the organizers feel that they needed to add dancing bots to pad the audience? Were these bots included in the user concurrency figures in the Codex listings? I found myself wondering if the poor audio quality would be improved a bit if they were shut down and removed (I mean, having to render all the real avatars in a crowded world is adding enough to the load on my computer’s graphics card as it is; why on earth would you deliberately choose to increase that load by doing something like this?).

So, if you attend either or both virtual music festivals this weekend, be advised that you might have some sound problems (which will be more likely if you are using a VR headset). These are likely not events that users on lower-end hardware, or more restricted internet bandwidth, will enjoy.

There are schedules of the performers at each of the stages, with the times in BST when they are performing, information which is unfortunately missing from the official Lost Horizon Festival website (which just lists the artists at each stage alphabetically and provides links to their Facebook pages):

The schedule of performers at the Lost Horizon Festival’s Freedom Stage

Aside from the sometimes-poor audio quality and the creepy dancing bots, I’d encourage you to pay a visit to Sansar this weekend (perhaps your first ever?) to check out the dueling music festivals and experience the platform yourself. Sansar is, still, the most beautiful social VR platform in my opinion, and it lends itself well to events such as this. I’m quite sure that Wookey (the company now running Sansar) wants these festivals to bring many more new users to Sansar—and entice them to pay return visits.

It is now somewhat out of date, but back in April 2019 I did write up a step-by-step guide for newbies to Sansar, which you might find helpful. (I do know that Wookey has updated the selection of starter avatars.)

Have fun! I will be popping in an out of these two music festivals in Sansar all weekend, so say hello if you see me!

UPDATE 1:52 p.m.: Well, I signed out of Sansar and signed back in again, and there is a crowd of 188 avatars at the Lost Horizon Festival’s Gas Tower Stage:

While it is so good to see such a large crowd in Sansar having fun (I assume they are spread among multiple instances of the stage), the audio quality is still very poor, especially in VR, but also on desktop at times. For a music festival, I consider this to be a pretty serious problem. Let’s hope that Wookey can find a way to fix this before the Lost Horizon Festival ends tomorrow!

UPDATE 2:08 p.m.: There are now a total of 287 avatars at the Gas Tower Stage, and the sound on desktop is still choppy (I have given up trying to listen in VR). And just now, my Sansar client crashed completely. It would appear that the Sansar platform is experiencing some serious scaling-up problems as more and more people join (it’s evening now in the U.K., where I would expect the bulk of the audience is from). Signing in again, crossing my fingers…

UPDATE 2:21 p.m. Back in again, and I do have one piece of advice for people experiencing audio and/or visual glitches in Sansar: make sure that the Sansar client is the only thing that is running on your computer! I just checked and it is using well over 90% of my CPU just to render the Gas Tower stage and process the sound. Normally I have WordPress open in a browser window, but even something as simple as that brings the whole experience to a crawl, and garbles the music stream.

Now at 315 avatars at the Gas Tower Stage for Fatboy Slim‘s set, and rising…

UPDATE 6:41 p.m.: Well, I decided to pay one last visit today to all three music stages at the Lost Horizon Festival, and I am very happy to report that the music stream quality is much better in my VR headset! I’m not sure what Wookey did (or even if they did anything), but for the first time, I could stand in the middle of a virtual mosh pit in the front of the stage, feel fully immersed in the colorfully and creatively-dressed crowd in my Oculus Rift, and actually enjoy the music.

However, it’s clear that other people are encountering audio problems too. One person in the crowd near me posted to the chat at the Freedom stage:

Is there a www audio stream? I’m still clipping, even in desktop mode and low render; I’ve been trying for over 2 hours now.

Once again, the minute I opened up WordPress in a browser tab to report on this, everything went bad again. (So even if that person were to open up a livestream of the concert to get better audio, his performance in Sansar would take a hit.) It would appear your sound quality is a factor of three variables: how fast your internet connection is, how powerful your computer is, and what other programs you may have running simultaneously.

Your best bet might be to catch the Lost Horizon Festival via Twitch: the Beatport Twitch channel (which gives an overview of several stages at once), or the Lost Horizon Festival channel (which was offline when I checked this evening). There are also, new mobile apps for Sansar, which I will be writing about in another blogpost.

And, as I said before, it just felt right to see so many people in Sansar. Here’s hoping that the attendance at the music festivals this weekend met Wookey’s expectations, and that there are more such events in future.

UPDATED! #BlackLivesMatter: Meditating on Race, Racism, and Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

Image source: Black Lives Matter

The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.

—Scott Woods, African-American poet and blogger (source)

I have been avoiding the news, because I was afraid it would depress me even more than I already am, but I had a severe case of insomnia last night, and I woke up at 2:00 a.m., unable to fall back asleep.

I blogged a few items that were on my to-do list, then I lay down on the sofa and opened up the Apple News app on my iPhone and read all the latest news, about the outpouring of anger and outrage in many cities across America, about injustice and police brutality. About a President who had peaceful protesters tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets, so that he could pose with a Bible as a prop, in front a church for a photo op. Rev. Michael Cohen reported in Maclean’s, Canada’s national newsmagazine:

If there is one thing we have discovered to our cost about Donald Trump it’s that he can always surprise us. Not with delight at his eloquence or empathy, or some desire for harmony and decorum, but in horror at some new presidential depth.

And as the sun set over the capital of the United States, the most powerful man in the world had the police fire rubber bullets at non-violent protestors so that he could walk from his news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. He stood in front of this historic church, renowned for its commitment to social justice, held a Bible and posed ostentatiously for the cameras.

Just yards away, young people who had been demonstrating against racist violence and the murder of George Floyd wept with tears produced by tear gas and by frustration. Yet Donald Trump, supremely indifferent and even mocking, held high a text that roars love, peace, and justice.

This was blasphemy. In the most authentic and repugnant sense, it was blasphemy.

Global News reported:

The president held up a Bible and posed for photos at the front entrance with Attorney General Bill Barr, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and other administration officials, all of them white.

He did not go inside the church, instead returning to the White House without further mention of Floyd or the protests.

“We have a great country,” Trump said as he posed for photos. “Greatest country in the world.”

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees the Episcopal Diocese of Washington that includes St. Johns [Episcopal Church], issued a statement that called the combination of Trump’s photo op and the actions of police “antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for.”

“I am outraged,” she said.

“The President did not pray when he came to St. Johns; nor did he acknowledge the agony and sacred worth of people of color in our nation who rightfully demand an end to 400 years of system[atic] racism and white supremacy in our country.”

“In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation,” Budde added. Instead, she aligned herself and her diocese “with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd.”

All this crisis and chaos makes me want to escape even further into the safe, comfortable confines of my social VR platforms like Sansar, and virtual worlds like Second Life. In Second Life, Sansar, and on so many other metaverse platforms, it is so easy to create an avatar that looks absolutely nothing like yourself. You can be anybody—even a Black/African-Canadian person. And, at times, I have been.

(Yes, I full well realize that some people have a problem with me, a White person, creating a Black avatar, considering it offensive and calling it “racial appropriation”. Wagner James Au of the blog New World Notes addressed the topic in a 2017 blogpost. But I still wanted to explore what it meant, in some small way, to be Black, to walk a virtual mile in somebody else’s shoes, and view the virtual world through somebody else’s eyes. And in no way was it intended to be disrespectful.)

But all my experiences as a Black avatar in Second Life or elsewhere DO NOT FOR ONE MOMENT equate with the reality of the pervasive racism that so many Black people face in America and, yes, in Canada too. We are not immune from racism here in Canada, as much as we like to think we Canadians are more liberal, open-minded, and welcoming than our American cousins. (In particular, our country’s predominantly White settler culture still has to come to terms with its shameful, centuries-long history of racism against its Indigenous population. But that is the subject for another blogpost.)

A picture of my main male and female avatars in Second Life, Heath Homewood and Vanity Fair (the two leftmost White avatars), along with five of the Black alts that I have created and styled at various times in my Second Life journey over the past 14 years.
One of my avatars in Sansar, before Linden Lab “updated” the avatars. I’m still rather angry that I had to give this particularly handsome avatar up, in the Avatar 2.0 update of September 2019. Linden Lab landed up abandoning its avatar 2.0 upgrade literally halfway through the project, leaving us with only the head sliders being implemented. I rather doubt that we are ever going to see the rest happen (i.e. body sliders).

Second Life and Sansar and many other metaverse platforms are often overwhelmingly White/Caucasian, markedly more so than real life. Stop for a minute and ask yourself why that would be. Is it because real-life Black people pick a White avatar just to see what it was like to be a different race, as I did?

Or is it because they wanted to avoid standing out, in much the same way as many people who identify as female in real life choose a male avatar to avoid being hit on and treated as sexual objects by Neanderthal men? (My years of personal experiences as Vanity Fair at Frank’s Jazz Club and various other popular music spots in Second Life have provided me with an insightful perspective on the kind of badgering which some women have to put up with, in a way that would have been impossible in real life as a man!)

Back in 2014, Wagner James Au reported on a study done at Ohio State University, where the lack of avatar racial diversity in Second Life impelled Black users to create White avatars:

According to a study by Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee at Ohio State University, Discovery Magazine reports, a lack of avatar racial diversity in an MMO impels black users to create white avatars. Lee’s study was conducted in Second Life, but seems generally applicable to MMOs in general where it’s possible for usres to designate their race:

“Lee gathered 56 study participants — half identifying as white and half identifying as black. She then had them read a fabricated magazine story titled “Meet the Coolest ‘Second Life’ Residents.” The eight Second Life avatars profiled in the story were either all white, in the low-diversity scenario, or an equal mix of white, black, Hispanic and Asian, in the high-diversity scenario. She then had them perform two tasks: Create and customize their own virtual avatars, and rate their willingness to reveal their real racial identity through the appearance of their virtual avatar. She found that black participants reported less willingness in the low-diversity scenario, and that they also created whiter avatars, as judged by objective raters. By comparison, white study participants were largely unaffected by either the high-diversity or low-diversity scenarios.”

In other words, when the “cool avatars” are presented to be all white, black users tend to choose white avatars for themselves, while keeping quiet about their real race. This academic study matches the anecdotal reports we’ve been writing about on this blog, beginning in 2006 with “The Skin You’re In“, in which a white user experienced prejudice after she started using a black avatar. (An experiment another white user tried last year.) African-American users like Eboni Khan have told me about this phenomenon from their own perspective too:

“You don’t find many African-American people being dark online. Which is funny, because there are plenty of dark black people in real life. I came from [another online world], and I was one of the few chocolate avies. Most were caramel. They blamed it on clothes being designed more for caramel [skinned avatars]. But that’s a cop-out. I think it speaks to larger issues with race and skin tone. But you can’t preach to people online who only want to get virtual ass. So I keep my observations to myself.”

Here’s a link to the bibliographic details and an abstract of Lee’s paper from ResearchGate, if you’re interested and want to go read it for yourself: Does virtual diversity matter?: Effects of avatar-based diversity representation on willingness to express offline racial identity and avatar customization. (You’ll have to get the journal article via your local academic or public library, though.)

Race and racism is a very touchy subject, both in real life and virtual life. And I am being extra careful here, mindful of my White perspective, not to cause offense (but if I have done so anyway, I apologize). And I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, consider myself an expert on the topic.

But I do think that on the various metaverse platforms on the ever-evolving marketplace (which I do consider myself somewhat of an expert on), people have an unparalleled opportunity to interact with each other, and communicate with each other, without any bias as to your race (unless the person you are talking to chooses to self-disclose their identity as a person of colour).

I have had wonderful, wide-ranging conversations with people—and made many online friends—without any idea of what that person looks like. So I would think that social VR platforms and virtual worlds could have a potentially useful application in combatting racism in all the forms outlined in Scott Woods’ quote up top: not only overt hate against Black people, but also White privilege, access, ignorance, and apathy.

But equity, diversity, and inclusion in virtual worlds is not guaranteed; people (and their avatar representations) have to work, and they have to work hard, at creating the more just world they want to see, both in real life and in virtual life. Current news events are a stark reminder that we cannot just declare ourselves non-racist; we have to be actively anti-racist. And we need to bring that mindset into the virtual worlds we inhabit, as well.

You can start by educating yourself on the issues, as I intend to do. Journalist Katie Couric has compiled a detailed list of anti-racism resources to help you get started.

An image from this week’s global protests (source)

UPDATE June 11th, 2020: Linden Lab (the creators of Second Life) has issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, Social Injustice Has No Place in the Physical or Virtual World, that reads in part:

Like many of you, we are feeling a combination of horror and outrage over the history of racism against Black lives. What we continue to witness is deeply disturbing and demanding of immediate social change.

The killing of George Floyd seen on video around the world is only one in a long and unacceptable series of violent and racist attacks and discriminatory behavior directed against people of color. 

We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, all victims of systemic oppression and violence, and with Black communities across the U.S., the globe, and the virtual world in condemning racism and any and all actions that promote division.

Our mission at Second Life has always been to help build a better world, and in support of Black Lives Matter, we will be donating $10,000 each to three charities that are active in helping to fight oppression and injustice including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The company followed up with a second blog post, Exploring Black Lives Matter in Second Life, providing links to in-world locations such as the Walls of Freedom memorial (which I wrote about here), the Stand for Justice event, The Black Excellence Project, and the Virtual Black History Museum. The post includes the following 4-minute video:

Global Music Festivals Is Holding Two 12-Hour Events in Sansar on July 3rd and 4th, 2020 (and Yet Another Sansar Editorial)

After having just written an editorial criticizing the perceived lack of live music events in Sansar, guess what? I signed onto Twitter, to find the following tweet:

Join the Lost World Global Music Festivals on the 3rd-4th July the two 12 hour streams will be live broadcast on Twitch and into a Virtual World in Sansar especially built for this event.

Is this event an encouraging sign? Yes. Is it enough on its own? No. Let’s hope that Sansar actually does some effective promotion for this, instead of just leaving the job up to the organizers and word-of-mouth. I did a quick Google search and found the following plea for volunteers from one of the organizers, posted to the r/virtualreality subReddit:

We are working on our next music festival inside Sansar. Which can be attended in VR also Non VR. The last one was such a success we have been asked to do more, but we’re still looking for some help. We know a lot of people are sitting at home that might want to volunteer a little bit of their time. If you are a Club promoter, Event organizer or have experience in PR get in touch.

Again, I will say this: if Wookey-run Sansar is just going to sit idly by and expect unpaid volunteers to do all the heavy lifting for events (including promotion), then I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough. In its short history, Sansar has already burned through its first set of volunteers, people who have simply given up and moved on to other platforms (and I am one of them).

If Sansar expects to survive and thrive, then they are going to have to do the extra work to get at least a dozen Global Music Festivals onto their social VR platform! As we saw from the history of the old High Fidelity, simply having big events every couple of months doesn’t work, either; you need a steady stream of live events to keep people coming back, making connections, and setting down roots in any virtual world.

Wookey-run Sansar needs to learn from the example set by competing platforms such as AltspaceVR, which has just been running circles around Sansar lately in their work to attract, cultivate and promote live events. Just compare the event calendars of AltspaceVR and Sansar and you can see for yourself what effective event promotion can do. It’s a virtuous circle: more promotion means more people, who in turn create more events when they see what a platform like AltspaceVR can provide.

MARKETING IS A COST OF DOING BUSINESS, SANSAR. DO SOME. Simply calling yourself a live events platform isn’t enough; you have to back up those words with some action, and put your money where you mouth is. Anything else is lazy, short-sighted, and stupid.

As RuPaul says, “You better work!”