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 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!


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.

UPDATED: Comparing Sansar and High Fidelity: A Few Thoughts

High Fidelity VR Talent Show 3 21 April 2017

Caption: Drax interviews a contestant on the High Fidelity VR Talent Show, April 21st, 2017.

Since January, when I upgraded my personal desktop computer to a high-end gaming model and got an Oculus Rift VR headset, I have been exploring in both Sansar (where I was lucky enough to be part of the closed beta test) and High Fidelity (HiFi for short, which has been in open beta for some time now). High Fidelity is the new company of Linden Lab’s founding CEO, Philip Rosedale. And of course, Linden Lab, under the leadership of current CEO Ebbe Altberg, has launched Sansar. It’s only natural to compare and contrast the two VR-capable virtual world products.

There’s lots to love about High Fidelity. Some of the experiences (or sims, or whatever HiFi calls them), are fun and funky, like Mexico. You can take and share snapshots. You can import your own customized avatar (if you have the technical skill to know how to do it). They have a basic, in-world “prim building” tool which you can use to create simple objects. You can stream audio, so you can have in-world performances.

And I must confess that HiFi has just been killing it lately with respect to promotion, public relations, and live-streamed regular content like The JimJamz Show and LIVE in High Fidelity with Michelle Osorio. They’ve hosted popular events such as the first talent show in VR. Linden Lab staff should be taking copious notes on how High Fidelity assiduously promotes their brand via social media. (I do hope that Atlas Hopping with Drax and Berry will become the first of many live-streamed shows in Sansar. And apparently, Shoutcast audio streaming will be coming in the next release of the Sansar client software.)

One thing I also love about High Fidelity is that you can fly! This is something which always gives me a bit of a thrill when I lift off from the ground in my VR headset. And guess what? You can even sit down! 😉 I’m going to keep ribbing Linden Lab about this until they support object animations…something that is also supposed to be coming soon.

But there’s currently no way for content creators to make money in HiFi. There’s a store, but everything is free. There’s currently no way to pay for something, although Philip Rosedale has mentioned that they are looking at using cryptocurrency to support financial transactions in the future. Also, because HiFi is open source, some content creators are unhappy that it’s just too easy for other people to steal your content. Maxwell Graf mentioned this when I interviewed him. He said:

Generally, I am a proponent of open source, but content has to come from somewhere and sometimes it comes from places it shouldn’t and is used the wrong way. I saw a lot of IP and copyright issues that concerned the hell out of me, basically.

But by far the most irritating thing about HiFi to me is the glitchy software update process. High Fidelity automatically installs its Sandbox software (to enable you to host your own content), plus nine assignment client processes in Windows, and these are all running continuously in the background, even if you are not using High Fidelity. Every time I try to update the HiFi client software, I have to manually go in and kill each of the assignment client processes, and the Sandbox software, using the Windows Task Manager. Ever try to kill all nine assignment client processes as they are continually respawning? It’s like trying to herd cats. This is a big, showstopper bug in my opinion.

Over on the High Fidelity user forums, HiFi user Theanine has posted a good comparative summary of the two platforms:

Sansar is really nice, but still has glaring problems. Just as High Fidelity does.

Ironically the things Sansar is strong in, are things High Fidelity sucks at. And vice versa. High Fidelity could really use better lighting and rendering, Sansar is great in that area. But High Fidelity lets you fly, has better voice, and the freedom to upload a completely custom avatar mesh (Sansar, as far as I know, only lets you customize a preset human avatar.) On the other hand, Sansar has official, built-in text chat, and the ability to sell on the store and make money already. But then, there’s also [the] fact that Sansar is Windows only and closed-source, while High Fidelity is cross-platform and open source. I could go on.

In time these differences will even out as both software [programs] improve. I’m keeping a close eye on both, and will be using both. They each have their strengths and weaknesses that make them interesting to me.

I plan to spend far more time in Sansar than in High Fidelity, but I still expect to pop in for a visit to HiFi every so often. It’s very interesting to watch the social VR marketplace as it evolves!

UPDATE Jan. 9th: I have updated my comparison of Sansar and High Fidelity with an infographic.