It’s been a little while now since Sansar was launched on Steam, and today’s title is perhaps the least flattering of reviews that it’s received from steam users since its launch. To be absolutely honest, I’m not a gamer, although I have some good friends who are, and I don’t really understand what Steam is but I do know that it’s the domain of seasoned game players who are well experienced in a variety of different formats and genres and so – one would hope – probably know what they’re talking about in that particular field. So our titular review: ‘Weird game with nothing to do’ is particularly damning feedback.
Or is it?
I daresay that exactly the same criticism could be levelled at SL, and to me it underlines the fundamental difference between true virtual worlds and traditional games.
At this point, of course, I could go off on the well-trodden path of ‘SL is not a game’, but I’m not going to. It’s an argument that’s been hotly debated for the last 14 years and will continue to be debated for the next 14, but what I will say is that one of the stronger arguments against SL being a game is that hardened gamers simply don’t understand it. You land inworld and there’s nothing to shoot, no game plan to follow, no strategy to adopt, no factions to join and a disjointed social experience – it’s all very open-ended and freeform and everybody has their own way of going about things. It’s patently not a game in any traditional sense.
And neither is Sansar, and I think that’s where Linden Lab has slipped up in a big way because, depsite their best efforts to sell Sansar as absolutely not Second Life 2, in every fundamental detail, that’s exactly what it is. Unfortunately, the Lab have taken great pains to disassociate Sansar from SL and very successfully too, which leaves Sansar in the rather untenable position of trying to appeal to both hardcore gamers, and at the other extreme, absolute beginners who’ve never set foot in anything like a virtual world before. That is going to take some doing, since it’s not a game, and the Lab has successfully alienated the virtual worlders of SL by divorcing Sansar completely from the earlier platform. The Lab could have, if they’d really wanted, allowed funds, names and probably even some content to be transferable between SL and Sansar, which would have gone a long way towards bringing on board a user base who understand what a virtual world is and would love to have some incentive to invest in Sansar. Unfortunately, the very thing the Lindens shied away from – ie calling it SL2 – is the very thing that could have been instrumental in making the Sansar start up a success.
The end result is that nobody really knows what Sansar is.
We do know that the focus is on a VR immersive experience, (something incidentally, that its arch rival – Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity – is now dropping like it’s hot), which is fantastic for gaming, but a bit rubbish for the average Joe running an average set up, who wants text chat, dressing-up and shopping. I suppose you can’t have it all, but by putting all their virtual eggs in one basket, I can’t help thinking that the Lab are taking a bit of a risk. Take up of VR has been horribly slow, is dependant far too much on high end and expensive equipment, and is really just too much faffing about for most people to be bothered with. My own gut feeling is that it will go the same way as 3D TV, and where does that leave Sansar?
Maybe the Lab have a backup plan? Could it be that if VR doesn’t turn out to be the universal panacea that they imagined, they’ll quietly pull the plug and allow Sansar to revert to more traditional ways of participant interaction? Even then, it could be a little too late – I can’t see hordes of virtual worldies dumping their carefully crafted mesh avatars and heading over to Sansar to start all over again, because – let’s face it – even in it’s current incarnation, SL is just too damn good, and it’s where all the action is!
I’m not a doom-monger, and I’d always hoped that Sansar would bring great things, but I’m starting to wonder, in the harsh light of day, whether it’s actually going anywhere, anytime soon… Hopefully, it won’t turn into a white elephant haemorrhaging cash and resources from the Lab and SL, but there’s always a danger that it could.
On the positive side, SL has benefitted from the tech and development that has gone into the Lab’s new offspring, in much the same way that everyday things in RL have benefitted from the space programme. Certainly, none of us will be spending our holidays on Mars in the near future, but every one of us has reason to be thankful in some degree for memory foam, baby formula, cochlear implants, stayclean oven linings, infrared thermometers, CMOS active pixel sensors, scratch resistant specs coatings, and indirectly, the SuperSoaker!
It may be a weird game, but those of us who understand SL can readily assure all those hardcore Steam gamers… There’s more than enough to do!
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind!
Noel Harrison – The Windmills Of Your Mind