100 Episodes of Atlas Hopping in Sansar: A Look Back

Yesterday, Draxtor Despres’ livestreamed Sansar Atlas Hopping show hit a major milestone: its 100th episode! You can see all the episodes here.

Congratulations to Drax on his achievement, and congratulations also to his co-hosts over the past two years, first Strawberry Singh and now Solas NaGealai. Mijeka Munro has been the regular photographer for these weekly adventures, creating an Atlas Hopping Photo Gallery, and here I share with you some pictures he has taken over the first 100 episodes!

Here’s to the next 100 episodes!

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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!

Sansar at the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas

I’m a little late in reporting this, but Linden Lab is present at the Official Star Trek 2019 Convention in Las Vegas from now through to August 4th in Las Vegas. Lacie Linden posted a cute picture to her Twitter:

In addition to having a booth at the convention, Linden Lab is also bringing in various people associated with the Star Trek franchise into Sansar to meet with fans in VR! Check the Sansar Events page for more details on events today and tomorrow:

Sansar: LIVE from Star Trek Las Vegas, Day 4 is running from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time/Sansar Time tomorrow, August 4th:

Come hang out one-on-one with:
– Suzie Plakson (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise)
– John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise)
– Jeff Combs (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise and more)
– Casey Biggs (Damar on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
– Tim Russ (Commander Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager, and a prolific writer, producer, and Trekkie)

All coming to you LIVE from Star Trek Las Vegas – only in the Sansar Roddenberry Experiences! Ask questions, meet other fans, and dive even deeper into Star Trek history. Be a part of the live STLV action without even leaving your desk.

See you there! And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Bridge of the USS Enterprise and the Roddenberry Nexus exhibit in Sansar. Here’s a picture from the official convention website inviting fans attending STLV to come and experience the latter:

You will need to install the Sansar client software on your computer and create an account to attend these events. Here’s a guide on how to get started.

UPDATED! Xaos Princess Checks Out Sansar

You might be surprised to hear that, amid all the doom and gloom over at High Fidelity, people are still pressing ahead with events. Just recently, DrFran hosted a pub trivia quiz in HiFi which I attended (I’m the one in the wizard’s hat):

Pub Quiz Night in High Fidelity

DrFran also hosts a conversational salon every Sunday where people gather to discuss a pre-set topic. The one I attended recently was on sex and gambling in virtual worlds, and it was a fabulous discussion. It’s due to hard-working people like DrFran that there is still a strong sense of community in High Fidelity.

However, there is no hiding the fact that High Fidelity has made a sharp pivot away from consumers towards the business market. Many HiFi users are looking at other social VR platforms such as Sansar. Well-known High Fidelity user Xaos Princess (whom I have profiled before on my blog) has recorded a video of her recent visit to Sansar, where she talks with Draxtor Despres and Theanine at 114 Harvest and then visits four of Theanine’s experiences: Synthwave, A House on the Hill, Stereopixel Arcade, and an in-progress, not-yet-public experience containing his photogrammetric scans of Chinese sculptures and virtual recreations of buildings and bridges he saw while he was living in China.

The video concludes with a point-by-point evaluation of Sansar, done on a interactive whiteboard in High Fidelity:

I noticed that the only thing that Xaos Princess didn’t like was the complete lack of in-world building tools, compared to High Fidelity. Personally, I don’t see this as much of a problem since everybody uses external content creation tools like Blender, Maya and 3ds Max anyway (even in High Fidelity, where she comes from).

Unfortunately, I can’t embed Xaos’ livestream (which was done using Periscope), but you can view it at this link. Please note that Xaos’ audio is very low and you will probably need to use headphones or earphones to hear what she is saying, although it does get better later on in the video. Also, the livestream video is three hours long! Despite this, I’d still encourage all users interested in social VR platforms to set aside the time to watch this; it’s always illuminating to get an “outsider’s” perspective on a platform you already know.

UPDATE Aug. 5th: Xaos Princess has now put a version of her Periscope video up on YouTube:

Note that this is actually episode two of a series titled Xaos Tours the Metaverse. Episode one, of course, was about High Fidelity, and it is available on YouTube:

By the way, Xaos also did a point-by-point evaluation of High Fidelity at the end of her tour, and she does not pull any punches:

It’s interesting to compare the two whiteboards. Xaos (who is obviously an expert at High Fidelity!) feels that HiFi is lacking in three areas: learning curve, gamification, and user concurrency (?!). I’m kind of surprised at the latter, but according to Xaos’ video, she gave it a red frowning face because of High Fidelity’s sudden shift in direction leading to doubt and insecurity among its users, which is understandable. Perhaps “user concurrency” would better be termed “level of usage”.

I look forward to future episodes of Xaos Tours the Metaverse!