Jem Alexander Brings Some Reality To Virtual Reality Discussion

Jem Alexander over at Develop has published a two part look at Virtual Reality, where we are now and where we go next. These posts are excellent in terms of the reality they bring to the discussion of virtual reality. Part 2 also features a few quotes from Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, I’ll come to that later.

Part 1 : VR Check-In Where are we now focuses on developers. The article starts by pointing out that the hype cycle has cooled somewhat, although developers are still very excited, we’re not there yet and it’s a slow ride.

Part of the issue is that there are different headsets and hardware requirements, this is a challenge, but not a showstopper for developers. An arguably larger issue is that hardware remains expensive and then there’s the issue of room space.

Lukas Roper, a freelance games developer seems to think the choice of hardware is good as it will improve the quality of VR experiences, but he is also quoted as saying :

“However, as much as engine developers and headset manufacturers present supporting a headset as a simple task, it isn’t, and for each platform you support, you have separate issues to consider.”

Eventually we will need standards regarding hardware so that developers and users can get similar experiences, but early competition to set those standards can definitely be good.

In terms of room space, developers seem to be keen on the idea of seated and room scale experiences, they will of course be different experiences and this is summed up well by Owen O’Brien, CCP Newcastle’s Executive Producer on EVE: Valkyrie when he says :

“I don’t think large audience size and bespoke VR experience have to be mutually exclusive. Not everyone has enough space for room scale of course, but equally you can create a bespoke VR experience that is seated. It totally depends on the market you are going after. At CCP we are pushing forward on both fronts, with EVE: Valkyrie being the seated experience and Sparc our standing experience.“

I agree and a one size fits all solution would be limiting for VR.

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Sansar Springs Closer

Sansar Screenshot 2

Linden Lab’s Sansar is said to be heading for an Open Beta spring release, this has been exemplified by a new video (which I will embed at the end of this post) and a slew of articles on the subject.

The articles show some of the hopes, aspirations and excitement surrounding Sansar. We also see that some people appreciate the work done by Linden Lab and its community when it comes to Second Life, as well as pointing out that Second Life got some things wrong.

Ben Lang over at Road To VR writes : New ‘Sansar’ Video Glimpses More Virtual Worlds Made on the Social VR Platform. The article starts with Second Life, which is a very good place to start :

There’s no denying that Linden Lab did some things right with Second Life, a $500 million GDP in 2016 is a testament to that. But they also did some things wrong, even Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg will admit.

“Between the Creator and the Consumer, Second Life never really settled on which was our primary customer,” Altberg told Road to VR in an interview at the company’s San Francisco headquarters in January.

The article also touches upon something that will feel different to Second Life users, which the eagle eyed may notice in the video. Visting Sansar experiences looks like it will be a case of visiting individual experiences, in a similar manner to High Fidelity and back in the day, Cloud Party.

Unlike with Second Life, the Linden Lab is shifting away from having a single massive virtual world, choosing instead to set itself up as an enabler of creators by making Sansar a platform, rather than an all encompassing virtual landscape.

This will feel different to Second Life users initially, but a lot of Second Life is already similar to this model with Islands that can only be reached via teleport. The lack of a contiguous mainland may disappoint but I’m sure people will soon get over that if the experiences are engaging.

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Sansar Marketplace And Sansar Dollars Set For Debut

Project Sansar Concept Art

Linden Lab’s Sansar (formerly known as Project Sansar) has hit the new year running with press reports of a new round of creator invites, a Sansar Marketplace, news of monetisation with the introduction of the Sansar dollar and a video giving a sneak preview of Sansar which appears to have been produced and directed by Draxtor Despres of The Drax Files : World Makers fame. I will embed the video near the bottom of this post.

Dean Takahashi over at VentureBeat reports : Linden Lab debuts marketplace for Sansar VR world. The article informs us that Sansar will allow creators who are already in Sansar to buy and sell content from today. Ebbe Altberg makes an appearance in the article :

This sets the tone and shows creators they will monetize what they create on day one, when we open our doors,” Altberg said. “The buying and selling will get them comfortable with the new platform.

Those of us who are familiar with Second Life will not be surprised to learn that the Sansar Dollar will work in a similar way to the Linden Dollar, with Sansar Dollars being used for purchases and then redeemed for a US dollar to Sansar Dollar exchange rate. Linden Lab will take a cut of these currency transactions, as they do with the Linden Dollar.

The currency and sales transaction fees are likely to be higher than Second Life because the aim with Sansar is for hosting fees to be much lower than they are in Second Life. The VentureBeat article again turns to Ebbe Altberg for further information :

We want it to be low enough that it does not add unnecessary friction to the economy,” Altberg said. “But we do want to get a piece of the GDP and then make the hosting fees for Sansar as low as possible. We charged quite a bit for the hosting fees in Second Life and didn’t have a consumption tax to take part of the GDP. So now we will balance the hosting fees and the consumption fees in the economy.

There’s plenty more to read in the VentureBeat article and I highly recommend that you read it if Sansar interests you. There’s also an article about Sansar by Kevin Carbotte over at Tom’s Hardware : Linden Lab Introduces Sansar Monetization System, Reveals First Video Footage. This article includes an interview with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and Gray of the Lab from San Francisco (AKA Peter Gray, Senior Director of Global Communications at Linden Lab).

Pete Linden at VWBPE 2015

The above is a picture of Peter Gray in Second Life, I have no idea how he looks in Sansar!

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Educators Should Look To The Past Before Moving Forward With Education In Virtual Reality

Saint Leo University

Back in February 2010, Jeffrey R. Young published an article on The Chronicle Of Higher Education : After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds. The article, as the title suggests, delved into areas of frustration for educators such as performance, navigation, ease of use and :

Plus, a lot of decidedly nonacademic activity goes on in Second Life, and it’s difficult to limit access so that only students can enter a classroom there. Online vandalism is so common that there’s a name for it (“griefing”), and it’s easy to stumble into areas designed for virtual sex that is, ahem, graphic.

Jeffrey makes a far point about griefing but I’m sure that part of the reason his article rubbed many Second Life users up the wrong way was due to the complaint about nonacademic activity. Second Life was not created as an education product.

National University of Singapore

A very interesting and very telling point from Jeffrey’s article though was the willingness of educators to look at alternatives, continue with Second Life and persevere with the goal of virtual education :

What surprised me the most was that, despite these challenges, educators appear more interested than ever in the idea of teaching in video-game-like realms. A group of college folks interested in virtual environments organized by Educause, the higher-education-technology organization, has a growing membership. Tellingly, though, it recently changed its name from the Second Life group to the Virtual Worlds group, in part reflecting an eagerness to find alternatives.

I was actually subscribed to the mailing list at the time when the change of name was made from Second Life to Virtual Worlds. This wasn’t solely due to educators wanting to explore other virtual worlds, there was also the issue of Linden Lab’s branding policy regarding the use of the Second Life name at the time, but many welcomed the move to discuss and explore alternative virtual worlds.

Virtual Universtiy of Edinburgh

This week Jeffrey has published another article on The Chronicle of Higher Education regarding Second Life, Virtual Worlds and education : Remember Second Life? Its Fans Hope to Bring VR Back to the Classroom.  The headline and opening text is likely to rub Second Life users up the wrong way. Jeffrey has experience of this as he discussed his 2010 article in the more recent article :

In 2010 I wrote an article for The Chronicle pointing out that some colleges were moving away from Second Life, arguing that the virtual world hadn’t lived up to the hype. I got more hate mail for that article than for anything else I’d ever done. And in one of the strangest moments of my journalism career, I was invited to discuss that article in a forum within Second Life called Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable.

As we can see from the link to the discussion, Jeffrey got a hostile reaction. I will say at this point that disagreeing with Jeffrey is fine, but sending him hate mail is not. Second Life users have hopefully grown thicker skins by now.

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Caitlyn Meeks Is Doing A Great Job Of Highlighting High Fidelity Content

Due to ongoing personal commitments I’m not finding as much time to explore virtual worlds as I would like. This is a great shame, but can’t be helped. This is particularly a shame when it comes to High Fidelity because they are making some great strides and they are being highlighted in an excellent fashion by Caitlyn Meeks, who made the move from the Unity Asset store to High Fidelity in February.

Caitlyn brought us the news that Content Team members Eric Levin & Jazmin Cano won best VR scene at the San Francisco VR Hackathon at  Microsoft’s Reactor Space in March.

Caitlyn has also been talking us through the concepts of creating Mini-Golf in High Fidelity :

This is aimed more at content creators than consumers, but you can see Mini Golf in action here.

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