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August 1st, 2017

Why The Dream Of Social VR Will Become A Reality

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Our virtual reality world is coming closer …

People who fantasize about social experiences in virtual reality could find their dreams are coming true.

San Francisco-based Linden Labs has announced that the creator beta for its social virtual reality platform Sansar is now open to the public. According to a press release, there are already hundreds of virtual reality experiences available within Sansar, many of which can be explored as a social VR experience by up to 35 people at any one time.

The platform—which has been in development for around four years—gives people the chance to create shared virtual reality experiences such as historic sites, national landmarks, pop culture locations, movie theaters and museums. All of these experiences have been designed for multi-person use, with people able to share these virtual moments via existing forms of social media.

Linden is best known as the company behind Second Life—an online environment where people can create digital representations of themselves in a virtual world. Second Life was launched in 2003 and hundreds of thousands of “residents” have lived, worked and played there.

Fast forward 14 years and Sansar appears to be the 2017 version of Linden’s long-running virtual world.

In much the same way as they do in Second Life, people create customizable avatars, although real-time interactions are conducted via headsets and virtual reality hand controllers. Creators can earn money from their virtual experiences in the Sansar Store, which already has thousands of items for sale.

For the moment, Sansar can only be accessed through HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets and Windows PCs. Unlike Second Life there is no requirement to log in, but Linden said that the aim is to make virtual reality both more accessible and social to the general public. The platform is free to use and paid subscriptions for creators start at $9.99 per month.

“For those who are familiar with 3D creation, it could take a day or two to make an experience,” said Sansar’s vice president of product Bjorn Laurin, according to an interview cited by VentureBeat. “But everyone can do it. I was walking around in a VR redwood forest the other day, and we got lost in it. That’s how big the experiences can become. We will see exciting things in the weeks and months and years ahead.”

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Social VR Can Be Virtual Reality’s Killer App

In the last 12 months, the concept of social VR has gained a significant amount of traction.

Much of the hype around virtual reality thus far has been limited by a growing consensus that the technology is still in the proof-of-concept stage. The primary use case remains games and VR has yet to provide any evidence that a killer app is imminent.

Social VR can fill that gap.

Back in April, Facebook (no surprises there) demonstrated its Facebook Spaces platform at F8 in San Jose, a declaration of intent that put human interaction in a virtual reality package. However, the multi-person experience promised by the likes of Ernest Cline’s “OASIS” in Ready Player One and even Star Trek’s Holodeck has seemed to be a long way in the future.

In that respect, Sansar could provide the missing link. For example, avatars can not only mirror hand or arm movements and facial expressions but also lip-sync exactly what the person is saying into their microphone. To find out more about Sansar, click here.

Ultimately, Second Life was more about the virtual representation of society in a non-gaming sense, albeit one that allows people to create visions of themselves in a digital world without boundaries. To successfully live in that world, you need to socially interact with other residents … a scenario that is at the core of Linden’s latest project.

“Sansar democratizes social VR,” said Linden Lab’s CEO Ebbe Altberg. “Until now, complexity and cost has limited who could create and publish in this medium, and Sansar dramatically changes that. It’s been inspiring to see the thousands of virtual creations that have already published with Sansar during our limited preview, and I’m looking forward to the explosion of creativity we’ll see now that we’ve opened the doors in beta.”

Did you know? Applause has a community of over 300,000 real humans that can ensure your digital product works in the physical world. Learn how crowdtesting can be the key to your success here.

All Sansar images by Flickr user Linden Lab, Creative Commons

Note: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that Second Life continues to operate as an online virtual community. The original article referred to Second Life in the past tense. People who want to learn more about Second Life can do so here