Editorial: Linden Lab Needs to Fix Sansar’s User Forums and Blogs

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Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash

Inara Pey, in her most recent blogpost report of last Friday’s Product Meetup, says this:

Sansar forums, blogs, etc: it has finally been recognised that the current tool used for these – ZenDesk – is not well suited to the task (YAY!), although fixing this is not a high priority. There have been internal discussions at the Lab about using the platform and tools employed in creating the Second Life forums, blogs, etc., to build something for Sansar – potentially more as a cost saving opportunity then for the sake of functionality. Frankly, I’m still stunned that this wasn’t the route taken from the start given the Lab have the tools and the experience to use them, which could have been easily leveraged, rather than going for a tool entirely unsuited to the task and which presents information in a very unfriendly – and dare I say amateur – manner.

AMEN. I am in 100% agreement with Inara on this. I am going to add my strong opinions on this matter, which I have shared already with everybody (including Linden Lab staff) on the official Sansar Discord forums.

I know that at the casual meetup he attended last week, Ebbe Altberg (Linden Lab CEO) said he wants to have a “consumer launch” of Sansar sometime in 2018 (as opposed to a “creator beta”). But BEFORE they do that, Linden Lab really, really needs to reconsider the software they are using for their community forums/blog/documentation. I mean this truly ugly and uninspiring thing with the too-small font: https://help.sansar.com/hc/en-us.

Frankly, it looks terrible and it projects a bad image for Sansar, which in so many other ways has a professional look and some design appeal to it. They already have a fully-functional, attractive-looking community forums/blog/announcement system in place for Second Life, why don’t they use that? Their official blog in particular really looks TERRIBLE, and it has a HORRIBLE URL to boot: https://help.sansar.com/hc/en-us/sections/115001137103-Official-Blog (hate to say it, but it’s true). Linden Lab should fix this before they kick off any campaign to attract consumers/end-users into Sansar.

I hate Zendesk, it is unattractive and Linden Lab can certainly do better. Look at the Second Life community forums page: https://community.secondlife.com/ and their knowledge base: https://community.secondlife.com/knowledgebase/english/ and their blogs: https://community.secondlife.com/blogs/. Much better than what Sansar currently has!

 

Look at what High Fidelity has, it is much more visually appealing and functional: https://forums.highfidelity.com/. High Fidelity uses Medium (a free solution!) for their blog: https://blog.highfidelity.com/. Let’s compare that with the official Sansar blog:

High Fidelity Blog 8 Jan 2018
High Fidelity’s Official Blog
Sansar Blog 8 Jan 2018
Sansar’s Official Blog

I rest my case!

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Twitch, YouTube, and VRChat

According to a recent online article by Polygon, a website that covers the gaming industry, The social VR world VRChat has attracted a lot of attention recently because of YouTubers and Twitch streamers:

Considering that VRChat is only available on Vive and Oculus Rift, the player base is still limited. The reason VRChat has skyrocketed in popularity is because of YouTubers and Twitch streamers who have brought attention to the game. One YouTuber in particular, Nagzz21, uploads near daily videos with his time in VRChat. These include weird dating scenarios, oblong takes on popular gaming avatars, drama happening between players and groups in VRChatand exploring all the different realms.

His videos have become so popular that VRChat Inc. has subscribed to him and promoted a view of his videos.

Unlike Sansar, which has focused so far on human avatars, VRChat (like High Fidelity) allows users to create non-human avatars (which requires some level of technical skill). The Polygon article notes:

Watch any VRChat video and there’s one thing that sticks out: It’s chockfull of characters that you already know. There are strange versions of Spongebob Squarepants, Pickle Rick from Rick and Morty, an assortment of Pokémon and too many anime characters to name.

This is one of VRChat’s biggest draws. Using a combination of character models, VRChat Inc.’s software development kit and Unity, players can create their own (unauthorized) avatars based on other popular figures from games, television, anime and movies.

…Multiple characters from popular culture, including Hank Hill from King of the Hill and Pikachu from Pokémon, can be seen interacting with one another. Players are able to pet Pikachu and Pokémon trainers can be seen in the distance. Much of the game’s appeal comes from players recklessly mixing and matching characters from various franchises and assuming their persona, virtually. Think cosplaying but without the expensive costume and in the comfort of your own home.

Obviously, this feature is a massive draw for some people. I’ve even had one Facebook commenter state that she will be making avatars for VRChat exactly because of that freedom to create whatever kind of avatar she wants, rather than create for Sansar. Of course, there is rampant IP theft happening in VRChat; the lawyers are going to have a field day if somebody tries to sell a Pikachu or Mickey Mouse avatar! Right now, it’s the wild west in VRChat, and everything is being given away for free.

Anyway, I thank what Sansar really needs is a few Twitch or YouTube livestreamers with a sufficiently large audience. For example, the phenomenally popular YouTube personality PewDiePie has posted a video of his VRChat adventures that has pulled in 2,828,337 views so far!

Of course, PewDiePie has over 58 million subscribers and makes millions of dollars from his YouTube channel! If I were to start YouTube livestreaming in Sansar, I would not have nearly the same pull! So the key here is not to get just anybody to start livestreaming Sansar. The key is to get a livestreamer with a large audience to start playing in Sansar.

As I have mentioned before, High Fidelity has already started a handful of livestream shows to promote their social VR world. To date, none has quite taken off like the VRChat streamers’ shows, but hey, at least they’re trying their best.

Of course, Drax and Strawberry’s Atlas Hopping remains relatively popular, and both Strawberry Singh and Draxtor Despres livestream each episode to YouTube. And just this month, Sam and Boden Linden launched another planned monthly show where they visit and comment on Sansar experiences. It’s a promising start.

So, what do you think it would take to get someone like PewDiePie to visit Sansar and livestream it? Anybody have any favours they could pull in??

Commerce Comes to High Fidelity

Up until now, one of the major differences between the two VR-capable virtual worlds of Sansar and High Fidelity was that the former allowed the sale of objects, while the latter had only a “free” online store. Well, that has now changed with the beta release of shopping in High Fidelity.

There has been a lot of media attention to this development, as High Fidelity has decided to implement a form of blockchain to prove valid ownership and combat content theft.

Commerce in High Fidelity is currently limited to avatar accessories (not stand-alone objects) and it is currently restricted to just one domain, Avatar Island, where there are four separate stores for you to go shopping.

One thing I noticed immediately is that HiFi has put a lot of care and work into the design of Avatar Island. It looks really good and visually appealing, with helpful signs and maps to help the new user get oriented. Here’s a picture I took in-world of a Japanese-themed store called Usagi:

High Fidelity Usagi Avatar Island 5 Dec 2017

Another nice thing is that there are actual mirrors in the stores so you can get a good look at yourself! We need mirrors in Sansar. (Actually, I first encountered working mirrors several years ago in a little-known virtual world called Twinity.)

Here’s a snapshot of my HiFi avatar (a standard-issue photo-realistic model from the “free” store), wearing a wizard hat and looking at himself in the mirror. I must admit that the ability to adjust what you are wearing just by tugging on it is a very nice feature to have. (I still can’t figure out how to resize avatar attachments if they’re too big, though.)

High FIdelity Avatar Wizxard Hat 5 Dec 2017.png

You can walk out of the store wearing something you haven’t paid for yet, but if you teleport away from Avatar Island, the unpaid-for item automatically detaches itself from your avatar.

HiFi’s currency is called High Fidelity Coin (HFC for short), and anyone can request a free grant of 10,000 HFC as part of the beta test, simply by emailing  info@highfidelity.com and giving HiFi your username and associated email address. I understand this takes about three days to process, so I am still impatiently waiting for some currency so I can finally buy things! (You cannot yet buy HFC using your credit card, as you can with Sansar dollars.)

Another interesting thing about this new endeavour is that it is an in-world shopping model, unlike Sansar’s Web-based Sansar Store. There are even little green “recycle” bins in the stores, where you can deposit items you decided you don’t want to buy after all. The High Fidelity shopping experience goes so far as to include check-out stands in each store, where you “scan” items that you wish to purchase, just like you can do at the self-check-out kiosks at many real-world stores and supermarkets!

I did notice that you have to type in your passphrase on the user tablet which pops up when you use the check-out stands, which is still a real pain in the ass when you are in a VR headset. I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole tablet metaphor in High Fidelity. Sometimes I find it useful, other times I just find it irritating. At least you can reposition it so it doesn’t block your view.

Here’s a YouTube promotional video of the whole in-world shopping experience:

Frankly, I wish we had the option to do in-world shopping in Sansar much as we do in Second Life, but I certainly understand why Linden Lab started off with web-based shopping only (it’s easier to implement). Having well-stocked in-world stores where the creator can arrange the wares to his or her taste has a certain charm and convenience, and I think it adds a lot to the overall shopping experience. In fact, there are already a few Sansar experiences which are essentially in-world showcases for a particular creator’s products, like Alfy’s oYo Showroom. We can expect to see more of these types of experiences as Sansar grows.

Shopping is a popular pastime in most virtual worlds, and people often put a lot of time and care into how their avatars look, and how they decorate their personal spaces. It will be interesting to watch how the retail landscape evolves in both Sansar and High Fidelity.

 

Galen Compares High Fidelity and Sansar

The most recent episode of Draxtor Despres’ long-running podcast, The Drax Files Radio Hour, is titled War of the Social Worlds. Drax and his co-host, the irrespressible Second Life 1920’s Berlin landlady Jo Yardley, had a panel of guests discussing the pros and cons of the various virtual world products currently in the marketplace: Facebook Spaces, Sinespace, Second Life, Sansar, and High Fidelity. Among the guests was Sinespace founder Adam Frisby, who said that Sinespace will have its own VR client soon!

show-162-final

One of the guests, Galen, who is already well-known for his scripting abilities in Sansar, posted a great comment comparing Sansar and High Fidelity. His comment is so good that I am going to quote it almost completely here:

I’ll preface this by saying that my opinion is based on a limited experience with HiFi and my own interests, which won’t be shared by everyone.

Put simply, HiFi has a lead, right now. Users can “do” much more there than in Sansar, especially in VR mode. The interface is richer, including a virtual tablet, the ability to see your own avatar in first person and to sit on things, laser pointers to click on and move things around up close or at a distance, and more. For now, we’re still fumbling stiffs in Sansar. HiFi opened in public beta in mid-2016, while Sansar only opened up for public beta this August. Programmers in HiFi have a rich API to work with and are creating some awfully clever things. And HiFi is introducing new features at a fast pace and inviting outsiders to contribute via their open-source process.

On the basis of these considerations, it would be tempting to declare that HiFi is a guaranteed winner in the VR market. And I’ll admit that I’m assuming that the two platforms cannot ultimately coexist with equal popularity in the long term. One platform will have to win most of the market share.

However, I’ve placed my bets on Sansar by investing nearly all my time there since July. Not surprisingly, I do so because I believe Sansar has a better chance than HiFi does. Why? More than anything, I think HiFi has made a fatal error that it is committed to. I think Philip Rosedale, whom I have enormous respect for and admiration of, is trying to replicate the success that Tim Berners-Lee had in creating the World Wide Web. There were hypertext-like systems before the Web, of course, but they mostly disappeared and nothing compares in terms of ubiquity to the Web’s success. But I honestly believe that HiFi simply cannot follow this same path. This isn’t the same problem or era.

Take some time to get to know the early pioneers using Sansar and HiFi and you will see a marked difference between them. HiFi is full of very creative and super friendly folks who really buy into an everything-is-free model of the world. They seem to be here just for the fun and for the vision. Now spend time talking to people in Sansar and you will quickly get the impression that you are talking to professionals. Most of the prominent content creators in Sansar are already big successes in Second Life. Many of them actually work in the gaming industry. They, too, are creative and super friendly, but there is also a thick air of competitive drive to them that I did not see in HiFi. We’re not making money in Sansar any more than people are at HiFi, yet, but you can almost taste the expectation that many of us in Sansar have that we’re going to very soon.

If my perception about the difference in personalities between Sansar and HiFi is correct, what explains it? In a term: intellectual property (IP). I know enough about the underlying technology to see how HiFi is an IP sieve. People will steal 3D models, scripts, audio, and all other assets that come to their clients just as fast as we steal and repost cat pictures from websites today. Sansar can’t stop all IP theft, but I think most of us in Sansar believe that Linden Lab is trying and is genuinely committed to protecting as much of our IP as is possible. We all know that it’s next to impossible to make money spending weeks building rich content if someone else can come along and nab it in seconds. And that prospect already sends content creators running to game and media companies because at least they pay salaries.

I don’t think a comparison of HiFi and Sansar would be complete if I didn’t mention polish. Let’s face it: HiFi’s best domains are neat, but they feel cartoony, while Sansar’s best experiences have been described as being AAA-game-quality by some outside observers. Sansar has placed almost all its emphasis so far on visual (and audio) richness, forsaking almost everything else up to now. Read Sansar’s forum and you will see an endless barrage of complaints about usability and requests for features we’re used to in Second Life and over at HiFi. But what you won’t see is complaints about how things look, because Sansar really is a visual wonder already.

To this I will add that Second Life’s fashion industry teaches content creators a solid lesson: appearance is everything. People will gladly give up almost every other feature and will suffer the most torturous processes for changing clothing in order to look great. If that lesson has broader application, then it should be apparent that Sansar is in the lead, if for no other reason than that experiences and avatars look slicker already. And as soon as Sansar’s “fashion market” opens up in December(ish), there will be an explosion in avatar creativity that will gradually plow the other competing platforms (including Second Life) under.

I could draw many more comparisons between HiFi and Sansar, but I would leave off by saying that, despite the common connection between the two and an amazing start by both, I believe Sansar has more potential for success over the next 5 years than HiFi does. They have very different business models driving them and appeal to very different creator audiences. When the masses of consumers start trickling in (they haven’t yet), I think they will favor Sansar over HiFi because that’s where the most appealing content will be. HiFi does have a head start and is moving quickly, but I don’t think it has the winning strategy.