Project Sansar will have a hard time taking over the Second Life audience

Sansar Screenshot 1

Since the hot summer of 2014, when Ebbe Altberg first hinted to the ongoing development of “Second Life 2.0” at the Third Party Viewer developers meeting, Project Sansar (now it has a name) has been on the minds and in the conversations of both Second Life residents and the tech communities outside of Second Life. It is understandable that people are concerned about the potential decrease of the Second Life userbase in favour of Project Sansar, especially given that Second Life had been on decline since 2008, as Ebbe Altberg himself admits, and who would not want to move over to the more advanced virtual world developed by the company with an experience in running virtual worlds! I myself am excited about Project Sansar, after hearing about all the features that are planned to be implemented there (the latest summary of all the awesomeness waiting for us in Project Sansar can be found on the Inara Pey’s “Living In The Modem World” blog), but I am also confident that I will not be in a hurry to leave Second Life behind – and I am just as confident that many other Second Life residents will not be in a hurry to leave Second Life behind either.

An outsider may ask a reasonable question – is Project Sansar is more technologically advanced, why would we stay in the outdated virtual world? We, the Second Life residents, have at least 5 reasons for that:

– Project Sansar development is really not that well-planned

The alpha stage is taking place right now, and we are promised the open beta around the beginning of 2017, meanwhile Ebbe Altberg still gets stumbled at various questions about the Project Sansar mechanic, which makes one wonder if he himself has a decent idea of what the finished product is going to be like – which, in turn, raises questions about the readiness of the prototype. I am tremendously worried about the fact that Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life and Project Sansar, have set up a deadline for themselves – the tech companies tend to exaggerate their product development abilities, and there is not enough time for finishing the product, which results in the product being released underdeveloped. High Fidelity, another virtual world that is being developed by the Philip Rosedale team, had took its time with the alpha stage, which lasted over a year and a half – right now, High Fidelity is in the open beta, and the virtual world is still as puzzling. Ebbe Altberg has no lesser hopes for Project Sansar than Philip Rosedale for High Fidelity, yet Ebbe had been talking about accepting alpha testing applicants around August 2016 – which leaves applicants about half a year for alpha testing. Something tells me that the beta version will be the continuation of the alpha one… Therefore, we have got plenty of time to observe the Project Sansar potentially sloppy development process (prove me wrong if you can, Linden Lab) from the comfort of the already developed and inhabited virtual world – Second Life.

– Project Sansar aims to achieve goals different from Second Life

Ebbe Altberg himself mentions that in various interviews. Project Sansar will NOT be Second Life 2.0. It will revolve around Virtual Reality (which Second Life fails to support) and interactive Experiences (which did not take off very well in Second Life, in part because it clashes with the game mechanic Second Life residents are used to). Many users may find such an immersion-based mechanic not suitable for their virtual needs – and will stay in Second Life. This is just a speculation, because I know only so much about the Project Sansar mechanic, but the idea is that we also love Second Life for particular features, some of which will be sacrificed in Project Sansar – and many of us will value these features more than the benefits of Sansar.

– Project Sansar is expensive hardware-demanding

Actually, everything that implements Virtual Reality is expensive hardware-demanding – because Virtual Reality on itself is expensive hardware-demanding. I can run Second Life fine on machines as old as from 2006 – yes, I will turn some graphics down, but I will still be able to use and enjoy Second Life. Accessibility is the key to the widespread success of any software. Imagine that Microsoft Office requires a top-notch GPU for the best experience with it… Project Sansar will require a gaming computer for the best experience, while aiming at the non-gaming crowd. Yes, I have heard Ebbe Altberg claiming that they intend to make system requirements for Project Sansar no higher than the ones for Second Life, but if the Project Sansar mechanic revolves around VR, the presence there without a VR headset may simply not be worth it. Second Life, which has years of experience of VR gear not being necessary to enjoy it, is much more appealing to the crowd of those who at the moment cannot afford the hardware powerful enough for VR.

– Project Sansar is yet to gain the recognition Second Life already has

When Second Life saw the light back in 2002, it was something the world has not seen before. The content and service creators were willing to take their chance on Second Life, because it was new, exciting, engaging, and there was no other place like Second Life on the Internet. They turned Second Life into a flourishing universe where people from all walks of life and with all kinds of intentions can find something for themselves. Playing music, event organizing and hosting, competing in various games, photographing, writing one’s own story, just living a dream – people who want to do those things are coming to the world where a venue is built for them already, and all that’s left for them to do is to provide their services (or spend their money earned in the physical world). After all, many currently active Second Life residents, including myself, have arrived in 2006 or the later year, when Second Life had already survived the test of time, and thanks to the creators’ effort, had plenty to offer. An empty world has to undergo some construction first before service providers and money spenders want to contribute to it. Project Sansar at its earliest stages may attract asset creators with proper hardware, but today, people who want to live in a virtual world do have alternatives to Sansar, the most advanced of which is… Second Life.

– Second Life residents have got A LOT to lose

During our second lives, we, the residents, have accumulated a great deal of commodities – from large inventories of clothes, avatars, furniture, vehicles, and other virtual necessities, to great relationships, established reputations, favourite places and pastimes, to confirmed business practices and loyal clientele. Would we like to exchange that for something similar of better quality? Sure. But this is not what Project Sansar offers us. Instead, we will be venturing to a brand new barren universe which we will have to build and populate from the ground up, like Second Life had been a long long time ago. While there are innovation enthusiasts who will take that risk, we most certainly can not claim that all Second Life residents will pay a price of leaving their Second Life belongings and relationships behind for the sake of pioneering the unknown. More likely, they will wait a year or two – when the cost of leaving Second Life behind is lower than the benefits of switching to Project Sansar.

Sansar Screenshot 2

The reasons listed above has a great potential in slowing down to different degrees the growth which Linden Lab envisions for Project Sansar. If they want to achieve their goal of bringing over a million users to Project Sansar, they will have to overcome them all – for the initial growth, they will have to overcome at least a couple of them. How will Linden Lab take care of it, and will they take care of it at all? That is another question.

Now, to be fair to the side that argues in favour of the position that Project Sansar will have no problem taking off from the very start, they have some reasonable arguments on their side as well. Let’s go through them:

– Second Life is bursting with bugs, and residents cannot wait to leave SL for a less buggy Virtual World

Even if that is the case, that “less buggy Virtual World” will not be Project Sansar, at least for the next year or two. Whenever we are getting the open beta version, we have to remember that this is going to be a BETA version, not a complete one. Beta versions are by definition full of bugs – and the volume of impact of such bugs on your Sansar life will most likely be incomparable with the impact Second Life bugs make on your Second Life. You will love Second Life bugs after Project Sansar bugs.

– The userbase of Second Life decreases day by day

(WARNING: Adult Content)
As a consequence, the Grid shrinks, too. However, here, the main concern should be the rate at which the Second Life population goes down. Grid Survey, the Second Life metrics service, helps us with that. We can have a look at the average, median and maximum/minimum daily concurrences graphs that had been comprised from the records since December 2009. All the graphs had been taken from the Grid Survey website.

20160831 Mean SL Daily Concurrency

20160831 Median SL Daily Concurrency

20160831 Maximum SL Daily Concurrency

20160831 Minimum SL Daily Concurrency

From what we can observe in these graphs, there is an inverse correlation between logons and time.

In 2010, the number of concurrent logons at any moment of time oscillates between 34k and 80k, with the average and the median of approx. 55k.

Since the beginning of 2016, it is between 27k and 59k, with the average and the median of approx. 42k.

The difference between 2010 and 2016 is indeed significant. Let us take the year right between 2010 and 2016 now. It will be the year 2013, where the mean and the median are approx. 44k, and the number of concurrent logons oscillates between 29k and 65k – which is slightly higher than the results of 2016, but significantly lower than the results of 2010.

Therefore, we can conclude that the rate of decrease in daily logons had been slowing down. Since I have overloaded you with numbers already, I will leave the similar analysis of the number of region on the Grid and its decrease rate to other statistics enthusiasts. I hope, however, that the analysis above has convinced you that if ever Second Life userbase reaches the numbers at which it will make sense to discontinue Second Life – it will not happen that soon.

– Project Sansar will be cheaper to build in

Damn, you got me on this one!.. Indeed, when the money comes at play, it is hard to argue with a fine bargain. We have been promised that hosting experiences in Project Sansar is indeed will be much more affordable than owning land in Second Life. However, again, this will be appealing mostly to those who want a space to create. Those who want to visit places or provide services at the already existing venues hardly care if the owner of the place pays $30 or $300 a month – to them, either the place exists or it does not. Project Sansar sure will take some time to get populated and built, therefore some time has to go by before creators make in populated with landmarks and venues. Those who will not be building in Project Sansar will spend that time in… Second Life.

… and I’m out of reasons. All the other ones (that Sansar will have better building tools, will be more engaging, etc.) are easily debunked with the counter arguments in the first part of the article.

Sansar Screenshot 4

Therefore, if you hesitate with investing your time into building and performing in Second Life, I will tell you just this – build away and perform away! To those who hesitates with investing your money into buying something new – if you truly want it, buy it and enjoy it while you can! Do not stop living your Second Life. Do not feel that you are missing out because the door to your Sansar life is locked at the moment. There will be your Sansar time. Right now, we have a wonderful, populated, engaging world to continue living in. So let’s live it out.

Stay digitized!

Source of all Project Sansar screenshots: Linden Lab Flickr

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20 things we can learn from the Constant Innovation interview with Ebbe Altberg

While we all were running from stage to stage at SL13B, Ebbe Altberg had given another interview – but this time, it was not at Second Life, it was at the Constant Innovation podcast, hosted by Donnie SC Lygonis. As soon as several days ago it had been released to the public, and we all have got an opportunity to learn some more about both Second Life and Project Sansar

Listen to the episode at Spreaker: Episode 7, Ebbe Altberg, Virtual Reality Snowball Champion

Also: Project Sansar website | Second Life website

This shortlist has been written to highlight the most interesting points of the interview. Time stamps are included so you can verify each claim. Those of you who follow the Project Sansar news very closely may spot the details you already know about, but those are for the people who have not heard of them yet – we all have to catch up at some point.

So, what have we learned from this interview?

ABOUT EBBE ALTBERG

1. Ebbe Altberg had quite a trip in between companies.

Microsoft, then Ingenio, then Yahoo, oh my! At the very beginning of the talk, Ebbe talks about his background, about all the companies and roles he had been involved in the past with. Mostly management, not a lot of technical duties.

2. Ebbe Altberg’s perception of the separation of powers.

15 minutes in, Ebbe gets asked a question about the level of control Linden Lab exercises over users, and we learn that Linden Lab is trying to “manage the community”, by being the “police force, community management”, and he compares Second Life with the city where policies have to be executed. As an example, he uses gambling in Second Life – it is not allowed and Linden Lab handpicks the games that can be considered “skill games” and that are not pure games of chance. I hope to come back to the hypocrisy of Linden Lab on the question later, and for now, I will just say every experienced user of Second Life will tell you that Linden Lab itself does little to nothing for actually policing and managing the community – all they do is set regulations in a form of Terms of Service and accept support and abuse report tickets (but there is no transparency in the fate of these tickets, so it is equivalent to praying to God). The community has to manage itself with little power it has got. So, Ebbe, kindly stop taking the credit for that.

3. Second Life educational communities are great at supporting Ebbe’s arguments.

They have been brought several times during the podcast as a positive example in answering the questions. At around the 10th minute, Ebbe remembered speaking at the “big conference […] at educational community” (which is, of course, VWBPE), brought them up again as an example of who are the residents of Second Life (“you have educators, and students” at approx. 12:20), brought the educational regions as an example of students making more success when they learn in the virtual world.

4. One can get a feel that Ebbe Linden has not been anywhere in Second Life other than at The 1920s Berlin Project and the different meetings with the communities.

Otherwise he would’ve had more examples of the Second Life possibilities. If there were examples other than The 1920s Berlin Project and Ebbe’s meetings with the communities, they were way too easy to miss. The 1920s Berlin Project and Ebbe’s meetings with the communities were brought up as examples all the time.

ABOUT SECOND LIFE

5. If Second Life is such a wonderful platform for meetings, how come companies do not have them in Second Life?

To this question Ebbe gave as honest of an answer as there could be. In Ebbe’s own words, Second Life has some issues that make it complicated to use – it takes effort to use it effectively, and there are people who are willing to put that effort and get the positive outcome of it, and there are people who give up too soon. There was another resident who voiced exactly the same reason for people not trying Second Life enough, and I myself completely agree with it.

6. Supposedly businesses are trying to use Second Life.

At approx. 23:00 Ebbe claims that “there is a lot of businesses trying to come in and use Second Life”, but interestingly enough, he mentioned it very briefly and hurried over to the next point of the conversation. Judging from him constantly bringing up educational communities as examples of a successful use, we can conclude that had some real life big business try to use Second Life that actively, Ebbe would not be shy about it – every answer to the question about Second Life would start with mentioning that real life big business, and The 1920s Berlin Project would have to move over. But he quickly skims over it. Make your own conclusions.

7. Ebbe compared Second Life to a city of almost a million people (at approx. 12:55)

This claim is not verifiable, but hardly believeable. Lately, concurrent logons struggle to reach 60,000 in the busiest hours of Second Life. Of course we could assume that there are people who are able to log on only on certain days of the week, or perhaps once or twice a month. (I would not consider a resident anybody who logs on less often than that, would you?) Also, people from different parts of the world can log on Second Life only at certin times. I am one of those people who logs on Second Life everyday, unless it is impossible due to real life circumstances – and everyday, I see the same people at in-world locations, in my friends life, in active group chats. They barely rotate. Therefore, it is NOT different people logged on concurrently on different days. It is the same people everyday. There are definitely more than 60,000 residents of Second Life – perhars around 120,000-130,000. This is no way close to the promised “almost a million”.

8. Ebbe acknowledges that Second Life had not been growing since ’07-’08.

No point in pretending it had – this is a very well known fact. He brings it up at around the 21st minute.

ABOUT PROJECT SANSAR

9. Project Sansar is planned to be 13+

Mentioned at approx. 16:30 while talking about the age limitations of Second Life.

10. Ebbe plans to go with Project Sansar way beyond what Second Life has achieved.

He talks about it at approx. 17:10 – Second Life is the most successful virtual world to date (agree!), and Linden Lab aims to outdo with Project Sansar even such a high bar.

11. The main concept of Project Sansar (the short version).

Provided by Ebbe at approx. the 19th minute, with the preface starting a minute earlier. The main idea is that today, to build a VR multi-user experience, one has to have a team and the equipment close to the game development studio, and Project Sansar aims to be, in Ebbe’s own words, “an MMO platform”, on top of which people will be able to build multi-user experiences without needing a team of programmers for writing a game engine to make that experience come true. In short, you imagine it – they make it easy for you to build it.

12. The concept of instances in Project Sansar.

At approx. 23:20, Ebbe talks about the inconvenience of the technical limitations due to which regions of Second Life can host an experience to a very limited number of residents. The solution to this problem is going to be the concept of instances – when an experience is filled up with users, the platform spawns another instance of that experience, and the newly arriving users are filling up that new instance. This concept had been explained poorly in this interview, so to clarify what Ebbe means, let me bring the example from another interview with him. Imagine there is a popular live singer, and he or she gives a concert. An experience with the artist him/herself is singled out, but the experience where the audience is located gets recreated in a form of instances when the existing ones get filled up. Therefore, everybody watches the show taking place in the same instance of the artist’s experience, but they watch it from different instances of the audience’ experience. How’s that for optimization!

13. Second Life is a world, and Linden Lab are planning to move away from that concept with Sansar.

Ebbe brings up a wonderful point about Second Life at approx. 24:53 – Second Life from the very beginning had been designed to be a world one has to enter to begin discovering what it has to offer – and this world has little to no connections with the outside one. I loved the comparison with YouTube – indeed, going to youtube.com is not the only way to discover the YouTube video, we can come across it in our Google search, or find it embedded at some webpage. That is what Ebbe envisions for the Sansar, and if they figure out how to make it possible, this indeed will make the experience outreach much, much broader.

14. Whole experiences will be building blocks on themselves.

Donnie has asked a question around 26:45 about how easy it would be for creators to make experiences. The answer Ebbe gives to this question is so good I encourage you to listen to it yourselves, but long story short – in Second Life, there is a market for objects, scripts and other buildng blocks of one’s place, but Ebbe plans for the experiences to be products on themselves. That would be some kind of basic experiences one can obtain from the Marketplace and customize to one’s liking rather than making it from scratch.

15. Project Sansar will give us an ability to own experiences.

Ebbe elaborates it past the 29th minute mark. He imagines the future in which we may own separate experiences for business, for personal life, in which we visit public experiences, like pubs, and everything of that kind.

16. Virtual reality (VR) is still at its early stage.

At approx. 30:25, Donnie mentiones somebody at the recent VR conference making a statement that “we need to live through another year or two of crappy VR content”, with which Ebbe agrees (and so do I) – the field is relatively new and effort-demanding, and there is a lit of fiddling going on with it. Some time will have to pass before the right way to work with it is found. There are people who are sceptical about VR becoming widespread, but according to Donnie and Ebbe, the same attitude was with mobile phones and with smartphones – and look at the world now, mobile technology is everywhere. Same may very well apply to VR. Further into the podcast, they talk about the hardware issues – mainly its cost and physical inconveniences, about which Ebbe is confident that those are only temporary and the hardware will be improved with time.

17. Ebbe believes that in the future, we will be flipping between VR and AR (Augmented Reality)

As an answer to the question asked by Donnie at 32:15, Ebbe shared his vision for the future in which we will be immersed in the virtual location at one moment (VR), and in the next moment, be back to the real world having some scoreboard in front of us (AR). While VR will get ahead of AR at first, AR will make much more sense on various professional fields.

18. About the release of Project Sansar.

To many concerned Second Life residents, this information is barely new, but if you would like to brush up on thi, somewhere around 36:40 Donnie asks the question about the release date of Project Sansar. Linden Lab plans to have many test users for the creator preview by the end of August (they have got about 5 thousand applications from various content creators), and they plan to open Project Sansar for the public access sometime around January next year.

19. Ebbe expects Sansar to be around for decades.

He expresses it at around 38:20, along with mentioning that Second Life has entered its second decade, still alive and kicking, and Linden Lab builds Project Sansar to last.

20. Sansar to become the WordPress of VR.

At around the 42th minute mark, Ebbe shares his excitement over all the different communities, locations and separate people (of course The 1920s Berlin Project was mentioned!) that find the opportunity to realize their ideas in Second Life – and he imaines Project Sansar to be an easy way for creative and savvy people to create experiences while only being concerned about the design and the social side of the creation process and without worrying about the technical side. Ebbe draws the parallel with how the websites are created nowadays – we use WordPress and similar website engines! (Can confirm, am on WordPress too.) We can tweak the design, the website structure, and obviously we are the ones to fill it up with the content, but we do not worry about writing the website engine from scratch and getting it online. This is the technology Ebbe plans Sansar to be.

As you can see, there have been moments that got me upset, furious, happy and elated, but overall this has been a very interesting interview with the right questions asked and answered – speaking for myself, it definitely has got me more excited for Sansar. What about you?