I’ve been covering virtual reality for almost a year now. In that time my jaw has only dropped once: when I saw the whale in my very first VR experience, The Blu. Since then I have been impressed, mystified, overwhelmed, etc. many times, but I have never truly managed to recapture that “this changes everything” sensation from my first ever demo. This meant that I was as surprised as anyone to feel my jaw hit the floor earlier this week as I stepped inside Linden Lab’s Sansar and once again saw the future being written before my very eyes.
Linden Lab is best known for the massively multiplayer online community known as Second Life. I’ll let my friend Dwight explain it to those of you who are unfamiliar.
Second Life is less of a game to play, it is more of a place to be. That place is populated by hundreds of thousands of dedicated participants all creating, enjoying and even selling digital creations for real world payouts. According to Linden Lab CEO, Ebbe Altberg, “Second Life has a GDP of around $500 million dollars,” making this virtual economy larger than that of certain smaller nations.
Following the creation of one successful online universe, Linden Lab is now poised to release a second. Its new creation, Sansar, has been teased in various forms during its three years in development, but now the company is finally ready to show it in action to a few lucky participants. On Tuesday, I was one of those fortunate few.
Sanar is as hard to describe to the uninitiated as Second Life. It is not a game, a film, a tech demo, or a specific social VR experience. Sansar is raw, limitless virtual potential that can truly be forged into the inter-connected digital world we’ve been dreaming about since Snow Crash.
In my brief demo inside the platform I walked on the surface of mars, strolled through the Scottish Highlands, explored a mysterious door to another world, examined a photorealistic Egyptian tomb, stood inside of a 360 video, and enjoyed a massive, outdoor, 4k amphitheater.
Each of these moments could be an entirely separate article on this site made by a company solely dedicated to photogrammetry ruins, or watching 360 videos. But in Sansar, these are just products born from the infinite potential of a platform that may represent our best chance at a true VR metaverse.
What sets Sansar apart from the wealth of other “social VR” applications out there are the creation tools. Apps like AltSpace VR, Oculus Social, Big Screen and Rec Room all build specific spaces for you and your friends to inhabit with pre-set activities for you to enjoy. Sansar flips that script and gives you the opportunity to create any place and enjoy activity you choose with other people.
These spaces are built using Linden Lab custom creation engine and released using their cloud-based publishing system. The world you make could be as small as a classroom for teaching biology, or a digital recreation of Westeros for taking the Iron Throne. There will also be scripting tools that enable designers to create their own games and avatar abilities (like shooting fire out of your mouth or flying) in the editor as well. Creators are encouraged by Linden Lab to design and import their own 3D assets into Sansar as well, and there will be a marketplace similar to that of Second Life‘s where users can exchange their creations for real world dollars and cents.
Each and every world I visited in Sansar was beautifully rendered, enjoyably designed and, most importantly, completely different from one another. The creators of Sansar emphasized to me over and over again that this is not an experience, it is a platform. From what I saw it is a platform that could replace many of the ancillary and disparate VR projects we’re seeing released today while democratizing the industry and exposing it to the mass creativity of the entire planet.
Sansar is shaping up to be our world’s first true exposure to science fiction programs like the “OASIS” from Ready Player One. We won’t have to wait until the far future to enjoy the project either. Linden Lab is targeting a “late Q1” release for a full Sansar release. It is currently in “creator preview” for a handful of testers.
We will have more insights from our interview with Sansar‘s creators next week. For now, start dreaming of the world you want to live in, because very soon you’ll have the ability to create it.