Sansar World Hopping: Episode 2

Spectators watching Battleship

Atlas Hopping (the regular Saturday morning group tour of four or five Sansar worlds, led by Draxtor Despres and Solas NaGealai) has now been renamed World Hopping (since we no longer have an in-world Atlas, just the one on the Sansar website).

As a result, I will be creating a new category on this blog, Sansar World Hopping, for blogposts reporting on our weekly adventures. (I will keep Sansar Atlas Hopping as a category for older blogposts.)

Drax’s livestream of this week’s tour should be posted shortly to his YouTube channel, but here’s a video of last week’s episode, which unfortunately I had to miss:

Today, we had an epic crowd of avatars who met up at our standard starting point, the basement of 114 Harvest, who then went on to visit the following worlds:

It was an adventure, especially trying to beat all five levels of Fire Goat’s Dungeon! Here are some more photos taken by Mijeka Munro (click on any picture to see it in full size; here is the full archive of photos):

The picture in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo mosaic is none other than the CEO of Linden Lab himself, Ebbe Altberg, who often joins us on Atlas/World Hopping events. He put together a very cool avatar look!

But the best part? Drax obviously bribed El Diablo to wear this signboard!

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Editorial: Gamification, Second Life, and Sansar

Jim: You playing that game again?

Dwight: Second Life is not a game. It is a multi-user virtual environment. It doesn’t have points or scores. It doesn’t have winners or losers. 

Jim: Oh, it has losers.

The Office

This well-known clip from the American TV sitcom The Office perfectly illustrates a long-running debate about Second Life: Is it a game or not?

The issue is raising its head again after yesterday’s Sansar Product Meetup, where Linden Lab staff announced several new, game-like features would be added to Sansar, such as XP (experience points), a Nexus, a Codex, and a Prime Portal. Is Linden Lab trying to turn Sansar into a game?

Some users welcome these changes, and others are adamantly opposed to the gamification of Sansar. On the official Sansar user Discord yesterday, after the Product Meetup, several users on both sides weighed in with opinions (this is just an anonymized sample):

A: Well, I see a big problem though. The hub will be slower than the Atlas, which is just an UI [user interface]. There is a new UI, which lists recently visited places. It’s as fast as the Atlas. People will be very likely to just use the history to quick travel, not everyone, but many. And these people are then far less likely to even be aware of new experiences. They’ll mostly stick to the experiences they already visited before…

B: Been to NeosVR Nexus like… place , massive , massive wall of places to go, tools for adding your world, but frankly/honestly after 20 minutes of hoping, so to speak, it was a place you had to go, to go somewhere else, from the place you were. I am hoping it turns out to be more than that. Anxious to understand the vision behind it.

C : I just wanted to throw my two cents in. I absolutely love the idea of the way exploration and questing will work going forward. I was on the fence about jumping back into Sansar and this pushed me over. This is definately the way things need to go to grow interest in the platform. Bravo!

D: What I’m wondering, is how the Lab can give us the same Atlas, when it is not a UI element. How can it be a UI element, when it is specific to the Nexus experience. No UI in Sansar is specific to an experience. So, this means, the Atlas is not a UI element, and is a clickable element. Now think about how bad it will be to navigate thru the Atlas by clicking buttons.

E: I’m a bit upset right now… I imagine LL talking with potential business partners. They want to meet in Sansar to get the feel of it. They create an account, and they are thrown into a tutorial experience with stupid quests to complete . Blank stare. Questioning look. “it will take only 30 seconds”, says Greeter Linden. If I were the would-be partner, I think I’d walk away at that point.

And I myself have concerns about people spawning in the New Nexus as opposed to their private home space, as I have written in an update to my blogpost yesterday.

Let’s provide a bit of history to give some context to this topic. Most SL users probably don’t remember that the earliest version of Second Life had many game-like features. Wagner James Au of the blog New World Notes, who has been writing about Linden Lab and Second Life since its very earliest days, noted in a tweet today:

Second Life had a ranking system and leaderboard up until about 2005, and the company considered The Sims Online to be a direct competitor. The “It’s not a game” messaging was concocted by Linden Lab’s marketing department to (unsuccessfully) sell it as an enterprise platform.

In a blogpost he wrote yesterday, Wagner also commented on the upcoming changes to Sansar:

Smart additions to Linden Lab’s new social VR world, which is starting to see some traction, at least during special live music events from artists on the Monstercat label. Adding an XP system should do much to encourage returning users and more deeply engaged users.

From a corporate perspective, this also represents a major reversal for Linden Lab: Since roughly 2005-2006, the company’s marketing department and executive leadership positioned itself as not making games (even though virtual worlds are themselves a game genre) and pushed the messaging “Second Life is not a game!” so much that many veteran users still accept the statement to be true. (And not market positioning that’s become harder and harder to justify). Since then, the company has resisted adding game systems to Second Life  — or rather, re-adding them, as they existed at launch — and it’s a key reason why Second Life has failed to grow its userbase. But with Sansar still not anywhere near to getting viral growth, it’s past time to junk that marketing strategy.

And I do find myself somewhat in agreement with what Wagner has said here. In particular, the old business-as-usual way of marketing Sansar, which relied heavily on tactics which might have worked for Second Life a decade ago, has has lackluster results so far. Ebbe Altberg and his team are to be commended for thinking outside the box and trying out new things in order to entice new users—and to keep them coming back. As Ebbe himself said on the Discord, in response to the many users questioning the direction Linden Lab is taking with these new features:

Retention retention retention people.

So, we shall see exactly how all this works when the latest update to the Sansar client software arrives, hopefully for next week. Keep your fingers crossed!

More and More People Are Visiting Sansar, and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Ryan in Drax’s basement, telling the story of how he got banned (and then unbanned) from Second Life. I really like this picture that Drax took and posted to Twitter.

True confession time: I still feel like an idiot for throwing such a diva hissy fit when I was served with a 3-day ban from Second Life just before the Tilia Town Hall. It was not my proudest moment and I am deeply ashamed of myself, and I would once again like to apologize to the staff at Linden Lab. (You can read all about it here.)

But it also happens to be a good story, and who can resist telling a good story? I was telling people about it in Drax’s basement before we went Atlas Hopping on Saturday morning when Drax took this picture. You can actually watch the whole conversation here (starting at the 1:20 mark):

I haven’t been to Atlas Hopping in several months. In fact, I have been so busy covering other social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and playing with my new Oculus Quest, that I haven’t spent a lot of time in Sansar like I used to! In fact, I had been away so long that I had even forgotten how to use some of the control buttons in Sansar’s VR mode! That’s what happens when you try to cover too many virtual worlds in your blog.

I can’t believe that we are almost at 100 episodes of Atlas Hopping! (Yesterday’s was episode 98.) I want to congratulate Draxtor Despres (the hardest-working man in the metaverse!) for being the driving force to get this regular event started and to keep this going. I met many new people yesterday and I had so much fun!

And I have noticed something significant: more and more newcomers are checking out Sansar. Later that same day, I encountered a group of newbies sitting in a circle on the ground in Nya Alchemi’s medieval roleplay experience The Faire, having an intense philosophical discussion about avatars versus the people operating them, how avatars present themselves, and sexual harassment in virtual worlds (I’m the one wearing the angel wings in the photo below):

For over an hour I chatted with people from around the world (including Iraq and Syria), and again, I had a wonderful time! They were all people I had never seen in Sansar before.

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate on the official Sansar Discord server about the user concurrency statistics collected by Galen and Gindipple and how accurate they are. And the Sansar community manager, Galileo, told us that while he can’t share the internal figures from Linden Lab with us, he said they are definitely higher than Gindipple’s and Galen’s stats. And my observations in-world would agree with Galileo.

The Monstercat launch event was a massive success for Sansar. I don’t know how many people attended in total (I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, because that was the exact same day I was having my diva hissy fit), but I do not doubt that it was an significant milestone for Sansar, and it brought a lot of new people in.

And I have popped into the Sansar Social Hub regularly over the weekend, and it is always busy, even at 3:00 a.m.! Groups of avatars are chatting about technology, virtual worlds and many other topics.

More and more people are coming into Sansar and discovering it for themselves, and I couldn’t be happier. I think the future looks promising. And I want to congratulate Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab for making this happen. It’s been a fascinating journey for me to blog about Sansar from its opening day through to today, and I very much look forward to blogging about it in the future.

(And, according to my calculations, I have had one diva hissy fit per year, so I should be good now for another twelve months or so. I’ve been assured by Galileo and Lacie Linden that they have prepared puppy and penguin GIFs for immediate application the next time it happens!)

via GIPHY

Every blogger has his or her biases. My bias is that I have an abiding love of Linden Lab and their products, both Second Life and Sansar. It’s the reason I get so upset sometimes, because I care passionately about the company and its products. I’ll admit it, I am a raving fan. And Sansar was the whole reason I started this blog in the first place!

Things are most definitely looking promising for Sansar.

UPDATED! Inara Pey Writes an Open Letter to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg

Inara Pey is a longtime virtual worlds blogger, who does such a stellar job of covering the various technical meetings that take place in Second Life and Sansar that I have, in the past, simply reblogged many of her comprehensive reports rather than try to emulate her tireless work. I admire Inara greatly and I consider her a model for my own blogging, so when she speaks out on a subject, I pay attention.

And she has posted an open letter to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, asking him to reconsider planned changes to Basic avatar accounts in Second Life:

Throughout the last five years, I’ve personally appreciated the efforts Linden Lab have put into trying to meet the demand for lower land tier and to make virtual land holdings in Second Life more attractive. I also understand the need to offset such reductions with increases elsewhere to ensure LL as a company mains a good revenue flow. As such, while the fee changes announced on May 29th have caused me something of an “ouch!” reaction, I can understand the motivation behind them, and will learn to live with them.

However, what I feel is ill-conceived are the proposed Basic account changes.

Although I can understand there may well be technical reasons for doing this (load balancing to enable the increases to the same capabilities that are to be offered to Premium subscribers, perhaps?), the fact remains this these reductions come across as best as being punitive and at worse entirely mean-spirited towards Basic account holders. As my friend and fellow SL user Will Burns has noted: “One increases the value of a Premium account by actually increasing the value added proposition, not forcing the issue by reducing the value added of the free account.

I would therefore urge you to re-consider this move, and allow Basic members either retain their current 42 group limit, or as a compromise (and while I appreciate this is easier said than done), seek to allow current Basic member retain the current 42 groups cap whilst restricting those joining after June 24th to a maximum of 35 groups.

I am not the first Second Life user, Premium or otherwise) to voice concerns over this move. Please do take the time to consider what is being said the changes to Basic accounts via Twitter, in the SL forums and other social platforms, and how they could stand to significantly alienate a good portion of a user base that, while they may not pay subscription fees, nevertheless pay an important role in both the economic and social fabric of Second Life, and who – like all of us engaged in the platform – want to see it continue to thrive and grow and remain a part of our lives.

And I agree 100% with what Inara has said. Let me illustrate what an absolute pain in the ass the planned reductions in groups from 42 to 35 will mean for me. Let’s say I have a Basic (i.e. non-Premium) avatar account that is already at the 42-group limit. And let’s say that Scandalize (a store with many group gifts and a group join fee) decides to have another weekend where you can join their store group for free.

Right now, all I have to do is leave one group (hopefully, one with no group join fee) and join the Scandalize group. But, after June 24th, I will have to leave eight groups (almost 20% of them) before I can join the Scandalize group. In fact, I might even have to leave groups where I already paid a join fee, and that fee is not refunded. Many people already do this intricate dance of leaving and rejoining groups in order to stay informed about events and hunts and take advantage of group gifts. Making this sort of difficult decision even more difficult is going to negatively impact millions of SL customers with Basic avatar accounts. (And please don’t bother nitpicking apart the “millions” part of that last statement. Arguing over how many active user accounts Second Life really has is not the point of this editorial.)

Now, according to Grumpity Linden:

We’re not lowering [group] limits [for non-Premium users] out of spite, groups really are quite a strain on our back end for a variety of painful historical reasons, including overloading group functionality instead of having other tools.  This subject alone is worth a novel liberally sprinkled with tears. So anyway, we don’t hate basic users, and in fact we work hard to retain our free-to-play offering as one of the most generous across many industries.

But, as I have said on the Second Life community forums:

Basic (non-Premium) account holders are feeling somewhat shafted by the reduction of groups from 42 to 35. It doesn’t matter what LL’s technical explanation is; what matters is how it LOOKS, and it looks like LL is being petty and cheap. 

This might seem like a trivial issue to many, but it’s not. Groups are a key means of communication within Second Life. Stores use them to keep in touch with their customers, events such as hunts use them to share hints and make announcements, and they are heavily used in roleplay sims to assign player roles, among many other uses.

So, I am adding my voice to Inara’s and many other SL users who have spoken out against these planned reductions in service to Basic account holders, who make up the vast majority of SL users.

UPDATE 9:45 p.m.: Well, guess what? Linden Lab has listened to us, and they have made the following announcement:

On May 29th, we made an announcement about future changes to Premium and Basic account features including plans to increase Group Memberships and offline IM limits for Premium account holders while reducing them for Basic accounts.

We’ve since heard strong and convincing feedback from many in our community about the impact of changing Group Membership limits for Basic accounts. For example, many Residents have shared how they rely heavily on Groups to stay informed about new product releases as Merchants use this feature to regularly communicate news and updates to their customers, and how much Groups are used for keeping communities active.

We hear your concerns and, as a result, Group Membership limits for Basic Residents will NOT be reduced as part of our Premium Membership changes rolling out on June 24th.

Thank you, Ebbe Altberg and the team at Linden Lab!