For anyone following the TDMB team blogs, you might have gathered that Michele has a bit of a fascination right now with virtual worlds, and that whole Matrix thing. So she’s been getting pretty excited about the news of Sansar, Linden Labs’ newest venture.
Let’s Go To The Virtual World of Sansar
Linden Labs are probably best known for Second Life, the virtual world of the last decade. The Second Life platform was hugely popular, until about 2006 when social media began to take over the digital socialisation space that Second Life offered. Social media was an easy and straightforward way to communicate in real time, and, compared with the complicated nature of Second Life, anybody could use it.
Second Life still has a million or so users, and a GDP of half a billion dollars, which is impressive considering its heyday is long over. Nonetheless, millions more are put off by the sheer amount of time that it takes to become accustomed and acquainted with the complex keyboard-mouse commands, as well as the latency issues, and the server capacity which limits the amount of users that can be in one place at any one time.
Second Life was the brainchild of Philip Rosedale, who has been dreaming about virtual worlds all his life. From the age of sixteen, he was thinking about how computers could contain entire worlds, and how he could make one, and in 1994 he began putting his ideas into action. As an example of Rosedale’s obsession with virtual worlds, Wired reports this anecdote:
“In 1999, Rosedale went with a group of friends to see The Matrix. Afterwards, while his companions gushed over the film’s brilliance, he was slumped in a corner, depressed. ‘That was my dream,’ he told them. ‘I wanted to build that’.”
Within a few months, he’d taken $1 million of the money he’d made in his video compression startup, and created Second Life.
This is just a bit of background, just to give you an idea of the roots of the new Sansar platform. Rosedale isn’t behind it anymore, though Linden Labs was the company he founded which ran Second Life. Instead, he is working on his own equivalent, High Fidelity, which is an open-source alternative to Sansar. Sansar, for its part, is closed-source, and meant for standalone experiences. The two companies, obviously, are in competition, although it’s friendly competition. After all, they are pretty interlinked.
Sansar, like High Fidelity, is a place for players to create their own virtual reality content. The thing that stands in the way of Sansar actually being a full virtual world, however, is that any number of people could be in the same location and not bump into one another. High Fidelity, on the other hand, has no such segmentation, and is probably, therefore, a more immersive and realistic virtual world than Sansar.
Sansar Accepts New Content Creators
But let’s get back to the latest news on Sansar. Linden Labs began accepting its first creators in 2015, and now, in 2017, it has 1,000. A further 10,000 have reportedly signed up requesting access. It’s worth noting, however, that Sansar is still in really early stages, and as Road to VR reports, the latency is not great. On the plus side, the graphics are apparently extremely good.
Along with intricately created visualisations, the Sansar platform also features real-life monuments that have been captured with photogrammetry, such as an Egyptian tomb. It also has 3D positional audio built in, which adds to the realism of the platform, and, in multi-player scenarios, allows users to tell who’s speaking. This, along with automatic lip-syncing, further emphasises a sense of realism.
The examples on offer for those lucky enough to get an early preview are a limited selection. They simply show some possibilities. As the number of new creators grows, however, the limits on what can be created will surpass imagination.
Sansar and Monetisation
The structure of the Sansar platform, in that the spaces are individually, rather than collectively, accessible, offers much potential for monetisation. Basically, creators can charge a fee for entry to their world. In this way, it’s more efficient than the High Fidelity model, from a marketing perspective. Ben Lang, of Road to VR, offers a good way of explaining this:
“Imagine if YouTube tried to get you to use their platform by saying “we have 80 million videos! Come see them!”… that’s neat, but lacks a specific appeal because I’m only going to watch a fraction of those videos, and who knows if any of them in particular interest me? But, if a friend links me to one funny or interesting video, that’s much more likely to get me onto YouTube.”
A Virtual World or A Virtual Room: What Would You Prefer?
This seems a bit mercenary to me, though. And I don’t see why the more expansive High Fidelity model couldn’t enact the same monetisation strategy in a world where everybody can be at any place at any time and be together within that virtual space as in the real world.
I suppose, essentially, I want a virtual world that really is a virtual world in its entirety. I don’t want standalone experiences that lack the capacity for the whole of humanity to plug into the same Matrix. In this way, I guess I’m with Rosedale, whose High Fidelity vision is to create a full meta world. However, I can definitely see why many others would prefer this, and perhaps that’s where the two companies can work together. Standalone worlds and fully-immersive ones side by side for whomever may want them.
Of course, High Fidelity and Sansar aren’t the only companies trying to build a new internet in virtual reality. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift back in 2014 was a telling sign that we can expect a three-dimensional version of the social media platform at some point. It could be that all these worlds could merge into one, making the internet a fully immersive place, as in Ready Player One.
Down the Virtual Rabbit Hole
All of my interest in such virtual worlds and the rise of the new internet all ties in with my fascination with digital immortality, which I touched on in a post I wrote back in November on Google Earth VR and meta realities. It’s an issue I am fully immersed in (if you’ll excuse the pun), making my current intellectual crush Ray Kurzweil, who’s a leading spokesperson for this, as well as the applications of AI for the evolution of mankind.
So, whether it be Sansar, High Fidelity, Facebook, Google Earth VR, or some other giant that finally creates the OASIS (see Ready Player One again – my favourite!) I’ll be there. I’ll be the one with the avatar that looks like Scarlett Johansson.
What are your thoughts about virtual worlds?
Let us know by dropping us a tweet, or with the hashtag #AskTDMB
Michele Baker is the Senior Content Strategist at TDMB Tech, where she explores a range of content strategies for, and writes extensively on, all aspects of technology. Her main interests centre around the social, cultural and political implications of Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies.
Outside of writing and being a tech boff, Michele is also a generally clumsy person who falls over a lot, and is obsessed with dogs, shoes, and old vinyl records.
You can catch up with Michele on Twitter, to chat about virtual reality, or any other aspect of tech.