You Can Help Us: The Metaverse Newscast Is Looking for Sponsors

My producer Andrew William and I are wrapping up our first season of the Metaverse Newscast show. It’s been great fun to do, but it’s also been a lot of hard work for us, particularly for Andrew, who records the shows and edits the footage to make the final episodes you watch on YouTube.

As we move forward to Season 2, we are actively looking for one or more financial sponsors who would be willing to assist us with this endeavour, in exchange for promotion of their products and/or services on the show. A good fit would be a company working in virtual reality or virtual worlds, but we’re pretty much wide open to any good suggestions. If you’re interested, let’s talk. You can contact me on my contact page on this blog.

If we do not find a sponsor, the Metaverse Newscast will continue, but we will need to scale back from our original goal of one show per month, and just do a show every now and then, as we are able. Both Andrew and I have full-time jobs right now, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to carve out time for this work (which is done in the evenings or on weekends).

If you are a reader of this blog and you know of somebody who might be interested in sponsoring the Metaverse Newscast, please contact me and I will follow up with that person or company, thanks! Any leads would be appreciated.

And—as always—thank you for your continued support of this blog! It means the world to me.

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Editorial: Will Social VR Companies Have to Turn to Influencers to Promote Their Products?

Photo by Diggity Marketing on Unsplash

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Recently, I have become fascinated by a particular kind of celebrity: the YouTube influencer. Yesterday, I watched a video by the successful YouTuber and real estate agent Graham Stephan, who is currently pulling in US$100,000 per month from his YouTube channel alone:

These are people who have been able to attract significant numbers of subscribers to their YouTube video content, and earn hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars a year with advertising and endorsement deals. For example, the 28-year-old Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (a.k.a PewDiePie) earned US$15.5 million last year, according to Forbes.

Now, you might remember that PewDiePie was one of the YouTubers who devoted coverage to the social VR platform VRChat in late 2017 and early 2018, which led to a surge in the number of concurrent users (here is a chart from Steam showing the number of concurrent users of VRChat over time, with an arrow pointing to that surge):

Now, I’m pretty sure that PewDiePie did not sign an endorsement deal with VRChat; he probably just stumbled across it and thought it was entertaining enough to share with his audience of 98.6 million viewers. VRChat was probably just as surprised as everybody else by this sudden spike in users. I remember how they struggled to keep their servers running smoothly to deal with this unexpected onslaught over the Christmas holidays in 2017, and they were eventually forced to implement a detailed safety and trust system to cope with the resulting tidal wave of harassment and griefing on the platform. (Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it!)

But obviously, PewDiePie and his fellow livestreamers on Twitch and YouTube were a powerful, free promotional tool for VRChat. (The Ugandan Knuckles meme helped a lot, too, by becoming a self-perpetuating cycle that helped popularize VRChat.) While the platform peaked at 28,500 simultaneous users, it has since settled down to around 6,000 concurrent users in recent months, which still makes it the most popular social VR platform so far.

It’s no secret that most social VR platforms are struggling to attract users. According to a statement made by Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg to Forbes about the Monstercat 8th anniversary concert event in Sansar:

Monstercat: Call of the Wild Experience is a VR space where the music label will host artist meet and greets, giveaways, and more. Altberg didn’t give me exact numbers but over a thousand people watched the show in VR via Sansar.

“Tens of thousands of people watched the concert across Twitch, Mixer, and Huya, and over a thousand people around the world attended the event in Sansar – across 6 continents, 65 countries, and 675 cities.  Fans feel more connected and immersed in the music they love, while artists, in turn, effectively reach more people and places in a single day than they’d reach on a real-life tour. “

Now, while I am slightly suspicious at that “675 cities” figure (I always knew you could determine country by IP address, but I wasn’t aware you could pinpoint IP addresses down to the city level), the fact remains that 1,000 users in one day is seen as a major success for Sansar. But compare this with the estimated 600,000 regular users for Second Life. And compare this with the estimated 7,500 users of the adult virtual world 3DX Chat, which, as one commenter noted (here and here):

… 3DXChat. It started as just a sex sim. Then they added building. Then users started building and visiting each others places, instead of paying for sex like they were supposed to.

It’s more successful than High Fidelity, Sansar, and Sinespace put together. About 7,500 paying users.

So, although 1,000 users in one day for one event in Sansar is a significant achievement, it still doesn’t take the platform to the next level, where Linden Lab can really start making money off it.

Which leads to my question: will Linden Lab and other social VR companies eventually have to pay YouTubers and other influencers to promote their platforms to a wider audience and attract more attention? The experience of VRChat was an instructive lesson on the advertising power of influencers like PewDiePie.

Linden Lab has already taken some tentative steps in this direction already, with links to Twitch livestreamers like UmiNoKaiju (which, as far as I know, went nowhere). It would appear that companies would get more of a bang for their buck if they entered into partnerships with people with much bigger followings on Twitch and YouTube. And frankly, that is not cheap. Viral Nation, one of the top influencer marketing agencies, which represents hundreds of successful influencers using Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Snapchat, is only interested in customers who have a advertising budget in the range of $10,000 to $10,000,000.

Linden Lab and other social VR companies may decide that slower, organic growth is best. However, the pressure to attract a lot of users more quickly using high-profile influencers must be sorely tempting. Will Linden Lab, High Fidelity, Sinespace, and other social VR platforms eventually bite the bullet and sign deals with popular influencers? Only time will tell.

UPDATE Aug. 16th: I have been told that it is, indeed, possible to identify cities by IP address, which I did not know before!

UPDATED: Why the Ready Player One Movie Tie-In Did Not Give Sansar a Boost

Wagner James Au 1 May 2018.png
Wagner James Au’s “scoop”


Last week, Wagner James Au of the long-running virtual worlds blog New World Notes, wrote a blogpost about Sansar, using user concurrency data collected by Gindipple, who is runnning a program which automatically scrapes data from the publicly-accessible Sansar Atlas listings sorted by popularity. Wagner wrote a blogpost citing Gindipple’s data, underscoring the fact that Sansar had less than fifty concurrent users at any one time. It was the first time any sort of user concurrency figures for Sansar had been publicly released, and some people were surprised at how low they seemed to be.

This is partly my fault. Wagner first reached out to me via Facebook Messenger, saying that he had heard that someone had some Sansar user concurrency figures, and if I knew how to get them. I told him that I didn’t have any, but I did mention Gindipple’s work. I then referred Wagner to Gindipple directly, who decided to share his data with him, thus Wagner’s blogpost last week.

I must confess that I feel very conflicted about the role I have played in this, even though Wagner very kindly thanked me publicly for making the connection. Gindipple has, quite rightly, pointed out that his figures are accurate and truthful. But Wagner’s coverage of Sansar has always been somewhat negative (at times unfairly so, in my opinion). In a sense, Gindipple just gave Wagner another really good and valid reason to bash Sansar.

Wagner went and cross-posted his blogpost to various Second Life communities prefaced as follows, which really made me grind my teeth in anger:

Wagner James Au

I get a very definite whiff of schadenfreude here. If Wagner had wanted to make a fair comparison, he should have compared Sansar’s concurrency with Second Life’s user concurrency nine months after it was first released in 2003, not with today’s SL user concurrency figures. And it doesn’t help that he is sharing his news specifically with SL communities who might already feel aggrieved (rightly or wrongly) that Second Life is suffering by comparison as Linden Lab continues to put resources into Sansar. This is just like pouring gasoline on a raging fire, in my opinion. It makes a big flash, it sure gets attention, but it’s not going to put the fire out, or help the situation overall.

But Wagner does make a valid point in his blogpost based on Gindipple’s data: the fact that the official Ready Player One movie tie-in really did not make much of a difference at all in the overall level of usage of Sansar (the following is a screen capture of the section of Wagner’s blogpost where he discusses that):


Sansar User Figures 1 May 2018.png


If Linden Lab had been hoping for an uptick in Sansar usage as a result of the Ready Player One tie-in, they must be feeling rather disappointed by now. So why didn’t that happen?

I am going to compare the RPO movie tie-in with a similar situation over a decade ago when Linden Lab also had a media tie-in, this time with the popular TV crime drama CSI:NY. (The episode was called “Down the Rabbit Hole” and it aired October 24th, 2007.)

Recently, there was a discussion thread in the popular Second Life Friends group on Facebook, asking people to share their stories of how they got involved in SL. And a surprising number of those people stated that they started SL due to the CSI:NY TV show tie-in. So why did that one work so well for Linden Lab and Second Life, where the Ready Player One tie-in failed to ignite user interest in Sansar?

CSINY
One of the Virtual CSI:NY sims in Second Life (from my archives, 2007)

First, Second Life was an integral part of the storyline in that particular CSI:NY episode. Second Life was mentioned by name throughout, and there were also several in-world video segments showing television viewers what SL looked like and how it worked. By contrast (as far as I am aware), there was no mention of Sansar in Ready Player One, and no in-world footage of Sansar in the movie. (I’m not 100% certain of this, because I haven’t gone to see the movie in the theatre yet.) People could come in, watch the movie, enjoy it, and leave without ever hearing about, or knowing about, Sansar. There was never a definite link between the two properties in people’s minds.

Second, the Second Life tie-in to the CSI:NY episode was an interactive game where avatars were expected to work to solve a puzzle (see image above). The only level of interactivity in the two Ready Player One experiences that Sansar Studios created, were clickable icons with audio clips of Aech describing various artifacts. The experiences were beautifully done and skillfully assembled, but after you visited them once and listened to all the audio clips, you were essentially done. There was really no reason to return, unless it was to show someone else the experiences.

Linden Lab may have won the jackpot in getting an official movie tie-in for Ready Player One, but that win has not translated into increased attendance in Sansar. They’re now hoping that the tactic of signing up with some popular livestreamers like UmiNoKaiju might attract people (hey, it worked for VRChat). It’s becoming really clear that simply offering people beautiful experiences is not enough to retain users. You need to give them something to get involved in, something for them to do. And a “soft” movie tie-in is simply not enough to bring people in nowadays. You need more.

Wagner James Au may be more on the negative side of the fence about Sansar, and I may be more on the positive side. But we do agree on one thing. Linden Lab, unfortunately, is going to have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to drumming up interest in Sansar, and promoting the platform effectively. The old playbook, used in the days when Second Life was pretty much the only game in town (and pretty much sold itself based on its merits) doesn’t seem to be working like it used to. They’re going to have to think outside the box.

And, especially after my guided tour of Virtual Universe last weekend, I realize that the marketplace for compelling social VR experiences/virtual worlds is going to be extremely competitive. I can now pretty much guarantee you that not every virtual world product currently on the marketplace is going to survive. The days of a virtual world like Second Life having the market essentially to itself are done and over. Every company is going to have to try harder to get the consumer’s attention, and keep it.

As Bette Davis said in the movie All About Eve“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

UPDATE 8:48 p.m.: Galen made such a great comment that I wanted to add it here to the blogpost. He said:

Nice essay, Ryan. I especially appreciate the distinction you draw between the CSI:NY tie-in and the RPO tie-in, which helps explain the different outcomes.

I don’t actually think that the NWN blog post was all that bad. I thought it was relatively fact-based and not really slanderous. And I think the world and even LL benefit from some transparency. I don’t think there’s any reason for LL or the Sansar community to be ashamed of the relatively small persistent population here right now.

Gindipple’s pioneering work in collecting data from Sansar inspired me to finally get around to doing the same a bit over a month ago. Not surprisingly, my data generally agree with his. But one conclusion I draw from the data I see is that there is a very steady stream of new people coming to Sansar every day. From a few fuzzy indicators I would estimate it’s around 50 first-timers each day. That translates to maybe 1,500 first-timers each month. At HoverDerby, we usually see 1 – 5 newbies each weekday during just one practice hour.

The important take-away from this is that Sansar may be new, but it is fresh and growing. And the work we residents are doing to capture the attention of those daily newcomers, combined with the new features LL is regularly adding to Sansar, are slowly yielding fruit. Stay tuned.