Once again, the branding is squarely on attending live events in Sansar. The events listing includes this weekend’s Lost Horizon Festival, plus a number of other live music events taking place later on this month, such as Monstercat: Call of the Wild. Because it would appear that Wookey staff need to place cameras in place before the event, not every event from the Sansar Events Calendar is available to view using these new mobile apps (perhaps Wookey charges clients extra for this service?).
The only stage I could visit on the iPhone app was the Gas Tower stage, and the only views I could get were a direct view of the DJ on stage, or a birds-eye view of the event, seeing the avatars of the people who were there in person as tiny figures below me:
The sound quality was not great, and I was unable to visit any of the other music stages. The first set of reviewers on the App Store were not that impressed:
However, it is still a significant step for Wookey-run Sansar to have mobile apps, which dramatically opens the door to a much broader potential audience. I’m also quite sure that they are using these new apps as part of their product pitch to other music industry executives, to offer more live music performers in future! Let’s hope that this new feature will help to reel in a few new customers and events.
This morning, I paid a long-overdue return visit to Sansar, to check out both of the two-day music festivals that are taking place on the platform this weekend (July 3rd and 4th, 2020):
The Lost World event, held by an organization called Global Music Festivals, is being held in a specially-created world called Lost World, based the Incan architecture of Machu Picchu in Peru (here’s the entry in the Sansar Atlas):
The Lost Horizon Festival, which is associated with the real-world Shangri-La event at the Glastonbury Festival, a five-day festival of contemporary performing arts that takes place in Pilton, Somerset, in England every year (which, like many other events, was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic):
Two days. Four stages. Fifty-plus performances from a star-studded global lineup, including Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox, Jamie Jones and more. Welcome to Lost Horizon, from the team behind Glastonbury’s Shangri-La – the world’s biggest music and arts festival in virtual reality! Join us from wherever you live, across desktop PC and VR here at Sansar.
These are extraordinary times, and we know fans everywhere are hurting. Which is why we’re thrilled to offer a FREE TICKET to any and all affected by this current crisis.
If you can contribute, we’re also offering a PREMIUM TICKET that helps benefit two important causes – Amnesty International and the Big Issue – and includes some amazing goodies: an exclusive piece of art from Lost Horizon creatives, Instruct Studio; a virtual shirt from Instruct Studio; and more.
While you have to buy a ticket (a free one, or the US$10.00 Premium ticket) to get into the Lost Horizon events, anybody can pop in to visit the Lost World event, which is smaller and feels more intimate.
Lost World (by Global Music Festivals)
The Lost World event features more than 20 live DJs performing sets over two days. The two 12-hour streams will be live broadcast on Twitch and into the Lost World in Sansar especially built for this event. Deejays will play EDM, Trance, Goa, Techno, Psy, House, and Nu Jazz.
When I dropped by this morning there was an appreciative crowd of about 20 avatars gathered, dancing in lockstep to the light show. I found that if I stopped playing my own dance animations and stood still, eventually I, too, would start dancing with the rest of the crowd! I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about a world imposing its dance moves on me, though. (I would have preferred a choice!)
Lost Horizon Festival (by Glastonbury’s Shangri-La)
It’s clear that most people in Sansar this weekend are here for this festival, as this snapshot of the attendance figures (taken from the in-world Codex) indicates:
When I visited, the Gas Tower had over 100 avatars present, while the Freedom Stage and the Landing Zone had about 60 each, and the Nomad Stage about 40.
This being Sansar, I expected the visuals would be top-notch, and they certainly are! You can use your Codex to hop from stage to stage, or start off at the Landing Zone, which features teleporters to take you to the various stages and exhibits:
In addition to the stages, there is an art exhibit called ShangrilART, and a television studio called SHITV, broadcasting films and videos relating to the event. Both spaces were less crowded, giving you the opportunity to take a breather from the much busier music stages.
It was only when you got right up to the stage that the illusion was shattered, as you can see from this shot I took of the deejays behind the booth at the Nomad Stage:
The only problem I encountered was the audio quality, which was consistently choppy and extremely poor while using a VR headset, and better but still a bit choppy while in desktop. I left and revisited several Lost Horizon stages where musical performances were taking place, listening while wearing my Oculus Rift and just on desktop, and there were definitely problems with the sound quality, especially in the Rift. If you are planning to participate in this festival, you might be better off setting your VR headset aside and just using desktop.
One very odd thing that I noticed was the dozens of animated bots that were placed in various spots near the periphery of all three music stages, or under the raised platforms provided for better viewing. You could tell they weren’t other “real” avatars because when you clicked the trigger on your hand controller and looked at them, an avatar name did not appear over them. Most were uniformly dressed in drab, grey colours, and they all cycled through the same dances. It was strange, to say the least.
In an event that was already packed full of avatars, why did the organizers feel that they needed to add dancing bots to pad the audience? Were these bots included in the user concurrency figures in the Codex listings? I found myself wondering if the poor audio quality would be improved a bit if they were shut down and removed (I mean, having to render all the real avatars in a crowded world is adding enough to the load on my computer’s graphics card as it is; why on earth would you deliberately choose to increase that load by doing something like this?).
So, if you attend either or both virtual music festivals this weekend, be advised that you might have some sound problems (which will be more likely if you are using a VR headset). These are likely not events that users on lower-end hardware, or more restricted internet bandwidth, will enjoy.
Aside from the sometimes-poor audio quality and the creepy dancing bots, I’d encourage you to pay a visit to Sansar this weekend (perhaps your first ever?) to check out the dueling music festivals and experience the platform yourself. Sansar is, still, the most beautiful social VR platform in my opinion, and it lends itself well to events such as this. I’m quite sure that Wookey (the company now running Sansar) wants these festivals to bring many more new users to Sansar—and entice them to pay return visits.
Have fun! I will be popping in an out of these two music festivals in Sansar all weekend, so say hello if you see me!
UPDATE 1:52 p.m.: Well, I signed out of Sansar and signed back in again, and there is a crowd of 188 avatars at the Lost Horizon Festival’s Gas Tower Stage:
While it is so good to see such a large crowd in Sansar having fun (I assume they are spread among multiple instances of the stage), the audio quality is still very poor, especially in VR, but also on desktop at times. For a music festival, I consider this to be a pretty serious problem. Let’s hope that Wookey can find a way to fix this before the Lost Horizon Festival ends tomorrow!
UPDATE 2:08 p.m.: There are now a total of 287 avatars at the Gas Tower Stage, and the sound on desktop is still choppy (I have given up trying to listen in VR). And just now, my Sansar client crashed completely. It would appear that the Sansar platform is experiencing some serious scaling-up problems as more and more people join (it’s evening now in the U.K., where I would expect the bulk of the audience is from). Signing in again, crossing my fingers…
UPDATE 2:21 p.m. Back in again, and I do have one piece of advice for people experiencing audio and/or visual glitches in Sansar: make sure that the Sansar client is the only thing that is running on your computer! I just checked and it is using well over 90% of my CPU just to render the Gas Tower stage and process the sound. Normally I have WordPress open in a browser window, but even something as simple as that brings the whole experience to a crawl, and garbles the music stream.
Now at 315 avatars at the Gas Tower Stage for Fatboy Slim‘s set, and rising…
UPDATE 6:41 p.m.: Well, I decided to pay one last visit today to all three music stages at the Lost Horizon Festival, and I am very happy to report that the music stream quality is much better in my VR headset! I’m not sure what Wookey did (or even if they did anything), but for the first time, I could stand in the middle of a virtual mosh pit in the front of the stage, feel fully immersed in the colorfully and creatively-dressed crowd in my Oculus Rift, and actually enjoy the music.
However, it’s clear that other people are encountering audio problems too. One person in the crowd near me posted to the chat at the Freedom stage:
Is there a www audio stream? I’m still clipping, even in desktop mode and low render; I’ve been trying for over 2 hours now.
Once again, the minute I opened up WordPress in a browser tab to report on this, everything went bad again. (So even if that person were to open up a livestream of the concert to get better audio, his performance in Sansar would take a hit.) It would appear your sound quality is a factor of three variables: how fast your internet connection is, how powerful your computer is, and what other programs you may have running simultaneously.
Your best bet might be to catch the Lost Horizon Festival via Twitch: the Beatport Twitch channel (which gives an overview of several stages at once), or the Lost Horizon Festival channel (which was offline when I checked this evening). There are also, new mobile apps for Sansar, which I will be writing about in another blogpost.
And, as I said before, it just felt right to see so many people in Sansar. Here’s hoping that the attendance at the music festivals this weekend met Wookey’s expectations, and that there are more such events in future.
And no, I do not consider Sansar a success, despite the most valiant efforts of the remaining staff who are still working on the platform, and the COMETS, a small group of hard-working volunteers creating and promoting events. Linden Lab themselves did not consider Sansar a success. Why else would the company sell the money-losing platform to Wookey, a company known for buying other companies which have fallen into financial distress, in a last-ditch effort to turn some sort of profit out of it?
What disturbs me most about the change in ownership is that Wookey does not seem to be doing anything different from what Linden Lab has done. The focus remains squarely on live events, but so far, I do not see a whole hell of a lot of those happening, aside from the Monstercat: Call of the Wild series of concerts (okay, there was also a Virtual Rave Prom last Friday, with DJ Yultron).
If this is supposed to be a live events platform, where are all the (NON-volunteer driven) events? Where are the performers? We should have had some announcements by now, surely. During the change in ownership, Sansar lost a lot of those events, and I do not see a lot of new events to replace those that were lost.
Tong Zou, a YouTuber who recently posted a lightly-edited one hour and 40 minute video of his adventures exploring Sansar, had this to say at the very end of his video, after finding Sansar essentially empty in his travels, and only finding a handful of other avatars hanging out at the Nexus:
I mean, this is pretty much the only players on Sansar right now, which is really sad, because in my opinion, Sansar has the best worlds out of any social VR app, but they have the least people, so what the heck? Why do AltspaceVR and VRChat have more people than here, I don’t get it. Not enough marketing or something, I dunno. This is all the people in Sansar. Give me a break. Linden Lab has got to do a better job of promoting this game. This is just sad. This game deserves better than this. This app deserves better than this. C’mon, there only about 10 people here across the entire app.
Tong Zou hits the nail on the head when he says that the company (no longer Linden Lab, but Wookey) needs to actively promote Sansar. If the Wookey-owned Sansar is doing any marketing or promotion, I sure the hell am not seeing any evidence of that. And if they are hoping that word-of-mouth advertising is going to work to attract people to Sansar, they are badly mistaken.
Seriously, what the hell are they doing? From my perspective, Sansar is simply drifting aimlessly. Just because you’ve built a social VR platform that allows for the creation of beautiful worlds, and allows for customizable avatars, and supports a marketplace for content creators to earn money, you can’t just set it out there, among all the current and upcoming competition (e.g. Fortnite Party Royale, Facebook Horizon), and just expect it to grow on its own, without promotion. There’s simply too much else out there competing for attention.
Earlier this year, after an extended break, I rejoined the official Sansar Discord server, and while I have not nearly been as active there as I used to be, I still lurk from time to time. I had a good laugh at this snippet of conversation from the day before yesterday (and yes, I do have both Medhue’s and Vassay’s permission to quote them, and to post this image here on the blog):
Medhue: Literally, Ryan Schultz does more marketing for Sansar than Sansar does.
Vassay: Funniy (sadly) enough, that’s true.
Medhue: IMHO, we have a bunch of people who live in the past, when music was a 50 billion dollar industry. It is not anymore, and likely won’t ever be again. Gaming has always been growing and there are really no signs of it slowing, grabbing more and more of the entertainment market each year.
Wookey has been strangely silent since its purchase of Sansar, and their team have been largely absent from the Sansar Discord. And yes, it is indeed true: even though I barely write about Sansar at all now on this blog, I still do more promotion of Sansar than Sansar does! This relative lack of marketing activity is frankly baffling to me. After all, the often ineffective marketing of Sansar by Linden Lab contributed to the difficulties it encountered in enticing people to visit the platform—and keep them coming back for return visits, a key indicator of success.
As you might know, the money-losing Sansar was recently sold by Linden Lab to Wookey. Many Linden Lab staffers who worked on Sansar moved over to Wookey, including Sheri Bryant, who was Vice President of Strategic Business Development and Marketing and then General Manager at Linden Lab, and is now President of Wookey Technologies (LinkedIn profile). She is widely credited with saving Sansar by setting up its sale to Wookey, and it is under her management that Sansar has significantly shifted its primary focus from a VR-enabled platform for world builders and content creators (i.e. a second-generation Second Life), to a VR-enabled live events venue.
On September 3rd, 2019, Billie Eilish performed a live show in Oculus Venues, which has hosted numerous virtual events since it launched the live concerts feature with a free concert by Australian artist Vance Joy broadcast live from the iconic Red Rocks venue on May 30th, 2018.
In addition, both Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR (which has recently announced a pivot to live events) and the ever-popular VRChat (which is already home to popular talk shows such as ENDGAME, and many other regular live events) are no doubt eyeing the possibility of hosting live concerts on their platforms. And let’s not forget the upcoming Facebook Horizon social VR platform, where Facebook will probably take what the company has learned over the past couple of years with Oculus Venues, and where they will want to sign their own exclusive deals with musical performers to entice people to visit their platform after it launches.
And this is the important point: some profitable companies with very deep pockets—Epic Games (the makers of Fortnite), Microsoft, and Facebook to name just three examples—are going to want to get into this potentially lucrative market. Smaller companies like Wookey, trying to shop around Sansar as a live events platform, are going to find themselves outbid by companies like Epic Games to bring in top talent, which of course brings in more users to Fortnite. It’s a vicious circle; the big players get bigger, while the small ones fight each other for the leftovers.
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered real-world concert arenas for the foreseeable future, which has only increased the economic pressure on the management representing the artists to sign deals with various metaverse-building companies in order to host virtual concerts and events. There’s probably already a lot of activity going on behind the scenes that we can’t see, but I expect we shall see quite a few announcements for virtual concerts with major musical artists, as well as many smaller artists, over the next six months.
Where Fortnite is already running circles around Sansar, even at this very early stage of the game, is their ability to sign deals with the highest level of talent (using all those billions of dollars of profit earned from their games like Fortnite), and their ability to host massive live events for millions of attendees (again, leveraging off their technical know-how to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure to support millions of Fortnite players playing the game simultaneously all around the world).
One thing that Wookey could be and should be doing for Sansar is promotion—and yet they are leaving it to bloggers like me to talk about the product. Where is the marketing? If they are holding off on marketing, waiting until they land some big-name events, I think that would be a tactical error.
Wookey needs to get Sansar’s name out there; many people in our attention-deficient society still have no idea that the platform even exists. Yet everybody and their grandmother has heard of Fortnite by now. That is no accident. Epic Games did a masterful job of fanning the flames of user interest. Wookey should be taking notes.
If no action is taken, Sansar is going to continue on its downward trajectory, slowly circling the drain, and eventually will fold. Linden Lab has already made many grievous errors in trying to effectively promote the platform; Will Wookey continue making the same mistakes?