Editorial: Why Unoptimized Mesh Bodies and Content Are a Problem in Second Life—And Why Most SL Users Don’t Care

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Image of a well-optimized mesh avatar body with a lower triangle count
(from New World Notes)

I am going to broach an unpopular topic in Second Life. (Some have even warned me that I might get hate mail from some readers.)

Wagner James Au has been writing his blog about Second Life since the very beginning of the platform, and he has seen a lot come and go in his time. One of his regular rants lately has been about just how horribly unoptimized and inefficient many of the modern mesh avatar bodies are in Second Life. (Frankly, it’s not just mesh bodies; there is quite a bit of other poorly-constructed content in SL—houses, furniture, decorations, etc.—with sky-high rendering costs. Part of the problem is that Linden Lab doesn’t want to break any old content if they can help it.)

Why is this so important? Well, the more complex your avatar is, the more effort it takes for the graphics card in your computer to calculate and display what you see correctly on your screen. And it’s not just your mesh avatar; it’s everybody else’s mesh avatar who is on the same sim as you, plus all the scenery around you, too! Every Second Life user has experienced irritating delays in rendering scenery when they first spawn on a new sim, and significant lag at busy events where there a large number of avatars to render. These problems have been going on for years and years now.

The problem is that Wagner is pretty much beating a dead horse with his critiques. Most Second Life users care only about how good their avatar looks, and they don’t know (or don’t care) about how much unoptimized mesh content negatively impacts SL and other users, particularly those on older, slower computers. I myself have an absolute beast of a gaming computer, built especially to support my Oculus Rift VR headset and to run VR games and apps at the requisite 90 frames per second (to avoid VR-induced nausea). I routinely run my Firestorm viewer for SL at the maximum, Ultra quality settings, and usually my computer handles everything just fine.

Linden Lab well knows that this can be a problem, and some years ago they introduced something called the Avatar Rendering Cost (ARC for short). Here’s a summary of how ARC is calculated. Basically, it is a figure calculated for each avatar on a sim, based on whether they have a classic or mesh avatar, what they are wearing (clothes, hair, shoes, accessories), etc. Showing the ARC on yourself and other avatars is easy to turn on in Firestorm: just press Ctrl-P to bring up the Preferences panel, click on the General tab on the top left-hand side, and check the box next to “Show avatar complexity”:

Many SL viewers will allow you to automatically derender avatars whose ARC is above a certain limit (which means offenders will appear as the so-called “jelly dolls”). This feature can improve Second Life performance significantly for some users. (Like I said, I have my settings adjusted to properly view everybody around me on a sim, regardless of how high their ARC is. I want to see what everybody is wearing, dammit! I often find new stores to visit and new things to buy by doing a right click/inspect on avatars around me. I can’t do that if they are derendered! But obviously, there is a significant rendering cost on my computer, especially at busy events.)

But today’s discussion of this topic on the #second-life channel on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server really brought home to me just how serious the problem of unoptimized, inefficient mesh can be in SL. Recently, a Second Life vlogger named Cassie Middles created a chart showing how many triangles make up each of the popular mesh bodies. (Here’s a direct link to the Google spreadsheet she created. The higher the number of triangles, the more complex the object, and the harder your computer graphics card has to work in order to render it properly. As well as everybody else’s computer.)

One of the mind-blowing facts I learned today is that the brand new Legacy mesh body (just the naked body with hands and feet, without any clothes, shoes, jewelry, a mesh head, hair, etc.) comes out to a whopping 794,368 triangles!

To put that astronomical figure into some perspective, someone said that that number is significantly higher than the rendering cost of an entire match of Overwatch players (two teams of six avatars each, at an average triangle count of 40,270 triangles per character, for a total of 483,240 triangles). That is truly insane! And the feet alone on the new Legacy mesh body come to 380,368 triangles! Mind you, most games are deliberately designed to be as optimized as possible, but nobody needs that level of complexity! It is complete overkill.

But, as I said, writing about this is kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. There is really no incentive for mesh body makers (and other mesh content makers) to create and sell better-optimized mesh in Second Life, and no penalty if they don’t. Linden Lab does not ban or restrict avatars for having very high rendering costs. For example, here is one outfit I put together for my main avatar, Vanity Fair, which has a total Avatar Rendering Cost of 702,597! This means that, when I wear this lovely outfit to a place like Frank’s Jazz Club, I am pretty much seen as a jelly doll (i.e. derendered) by everybody around me. In other words, I am only dressing to be seen by me.

If I take off the three sets of shimmery flexiprims that are part of the skirt of this beautiful gown, the ARC drops to 108,365. If I remove the jewelry, the ARC goes down to a quite reasonable 59,575 (some older jewelry in particular can be quite badly optimized):

Even making these simple changes to an outfit can make a big difference to performance (for you and others), especially at crowded events.

So, even though it might be a losing battle, I might just decide to add my voice to Wagner’s about the proper optimization of mesh content in Second Life. I still think it’s a losing battle, though. Most SL consumers could care less.

I think that the best that we can do at this stage is two things:

  1. Promote awareness of the problems of unoptimized, inefficent content among Second Life consumers (for example, including triangle counts or some other complexity measurement in SL Marketplace listings of products);
  2. Educate SL content creators to make more efficient mesh by using proper decimation and other techniques in tools such as Maya, 3ds Max, and Blender.

Yes, it’s an uphill battle, but it’s worth fighting for a better-performing Second Life for everybody, don’t you agree?

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Recent Statistics Show a Slow But Steady Increase in Sansar Users (Also: The Most Popular Worlds in Sansar)

Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

I do find it somewhat ironic that the two Sansar users who have posted user concurrency statistics for the platform in the past—Galen and Gindipple—have both largely moved on from Sansar to other projects.

However, I did receive a recent statistics chart generated by Gindipple, courtesy of Medhue (thanks!), which I wanted to share with you:

Gindipple’s stats show slow but steady growth in the number of concurrent users on Sansar. The monthly average concurrent Sansarians figure (bottom chart) has roughly doubled between March 2018 and October 2019.

Galen’s statistics page shows a similar growth in users, including peaks of up to 150 concurrent users at one time:

Even Wagner James Au, of the long-running blog New World Notes, who has often criticized Sansar for its low user concurrency figures in the past, posted the following “infographic” based on Steam usage figures (drawn by the talented artist Danielle Feigenbaum, creator of the regular feature Nylon Pinkney is Online comic on his blog):

Now, I do have a couple of criticisms of this image.

First, it is not an infographic; it is a cartoon. The zig-zag graph in the background is purely decorative, not informative.

Second, the small print along the bottom is almost impossible to read. It says:

Total concurrent users across all platforms potentially 2-3 times larger than Steam CCUs (concurrent users). Numbers based on Steam stats in September 2019 – Source: Steam Database Info

Even Wagner cannot deny that Sansar has had a recent jump in usage:

As of last month, in terms of peak concurrent users, VRChat remains the 800 pound Knuckle [a reference to the Ugandan Knuckles meme], with Rec Room maintaining its distant second place.  There was also a small surprise bump for Linden Lab’s Sansar… After concurrency rates that averaged in the mid two figures (yes, that low) for most of the year, Sansar peak concurrency for September jumped to 220 last Friday. Thanks, at least in part, to a VR dating show hosted by online celebrity Jesse Cox and probably more key, the launch of an official Hello Kitty experience…

The problem with relying solely on Steam statistics in the case of Sansar is that there are two different ways that people can download the Sansar client software:

  1. Via Steam (which does publish public statistics on usage);
  2. Via the Sansar website (Linden Lab does not publish user stats).

We have no way of knowing what percentage of Sansar users downloaded their client software via Steam. Therefore, we still have to guess at the total overall level of usage of Sansar, using imperfect tools such as Steam stats and Galen’s and Gindipple’s statistics.

However, all three sources do show a slow but steady increase in the number of concurrent users in Sansar, which I’m sure Linden Lab is pleased to see. Of course, they also have their own internal statistics, which they do not release to the public, which I am sure confirm this trend.


Gindipple also released a pie chart showing the most popular Sansar worlds. Unsurprisingly (since all incoming users spawn there by default now), the Nexus is the most visited world, with 70% of the total number of recent visitors (I believe that these stats cover the past seven days):

Following the Nexus, the most popular Sansar worlds (formerly called experiences) are:

  • Skyway Avenue (3.69% of total recent visitors)
  • The Point of No Return – Chapter I (2.65%)
  • Susan’s Diary (2.39%)
  • Orphanage of Angels (2.35%)
  • Fire Goat’s Free Avatar Store (1.96%)
  • Ultimate Disc (1.93%)
  • The Slewhouse (1.85%)
  • Once Upon a Midnight Dream (1.77%)
  • Scurry Waters (1.57%)
  • Monstercat Call of the Wild (1.52%)
  • Sanrio World (1.44%)
  • Camp Goonies (1.24%)
  • 114 Harvest (1.07%)

I do have rather mixed feelings about Linden Lab’s recent design decision to have users automatically spawn in the Nexus when they log into Sansar. On one hand, it does make it much easier for avatars to encounter other avatars in-world, and I often see groups of people gathered having conversations with each other, which is good.

But on the other hand, it is an absolute pain in the ass to have to keep going back to the Nexus when you simply want to explore the various Sansar worlds. If you are in desktop mode, you can still use the Atlas on the Sansar website, but if you are in VR mode, you pretty much have to keep cycling through the Nexus to find and select new experiences to visit, which quickly gets tiring.

UPDATED! Second Life Cyberpunk Urban Science Fiction Sim Hangars Liquides to Close

Wagner James Au, of the long-running SL blog New World Notes, reports that the Hangars Liquides sci-fi-themed sims in Second Life will likely be shutting down at the end of this month:

Hangars Liquides, a cyberpunk city created in Second Life by an elusive 3D artist known only to the SL community at large by her avatar name, “Djehan Kidd”, is among the virtual world’s greatest works — shadowy, moody, awesome.

Unveiled into the metaverse in June 2007, it has surely attracted hundreds of thousands if not millions of visits over its 12 year history. As its reputation spread through the virtual world, numerous cyberpunk roleplay groups flocked to it, adopted it as their oven, turning it into their staging ground for ongoing stories they created on the fly.

The blogpost includes an interview with the creator and an overview of the 12-year history of the project, so you might want to hop over to Wagner’s blog to read it in full.

I decided to transform into a cyborg and do a little exploring of Hangars Liquides before it goes away forever:

Vanity Fair is wearing:

  • Animated Headpiece: Queen Sarra headpiece by Shu Mesh
  • Cyborg Outfit with Skin Applier (Maitreya): Cyber Braver Lady by Bare Rose
  • Cyborg Arm, Cyborg Mask with Scrolling Japanese Characters, and Animated Upper Arm Attachment: Cyborg Geisha outfit (I picked all these up years ago in a different sci-fi themed sim hunt)
  • Cyber Prim Eye: by Omega Point (store no longer exists)
  • Animated Belt: VK Belt by Shu Mesh
  • Animation Override: Chubby Girl AO by [ImpEle] (free from the SL Marketplace). This is a nice, simple, calm, free AO with no crazy movements.

Vanity is also wearing:

All pictures taken at Hangars Liquides.

UPDATE July 18th: Djehan Kidd has launched a crowdfunding initiative to save Hangars Liquides using Indiegogo. She has fifteen days to raise 6,000 euros (CDN$8,798) to keep the sims running for another year, and she is giving donors who give CDN$147 or more their own apartments in Hangars Liquides. So, if you’re interested, feel free to show your support.

An Artist Contemplates Second Life

Wagner James Au of the long-running blog New World Notes has highlighted the work of artist Erik Mondrian, who found himself so inspired by Second Life that it became his MFA thesis at the California Institute of the Arts:

Here, in Second Life, a vast virtual canvas where we create what cannot be, what could be, what was, and what might be again, I step inside the imaginations of people I have never met, and who I may never even have spoken to, understanding something of their inner worlds nonetheless.

— Erik Mondrian.

Here is the entire nine-minute video on YouTube from which this quote was taken:

It’s quite beautiful, and I would encourage you to take a few moments to watch and enjoy it. If you want to see more, there is a playlist of ten videos shot and narrated by Erik here.