Second Life Versus Sansar: Why Linden Lab Can’t Win, No Matter What They Do

Second Life Versus Sansar

Will Burns of the Andromeda Media Group has written a blogpost about a recent visit he paid to Linden Lab, which is pretty much required reading for anyone who’s interested in Second Life or Sansar (Wagner James Au of the New World Notes blog alerted me to this).

It’s very clear from reading his blog that Will thinks that Linden Lab, or at least Linden Lab’s CEO Ebbe Altberg, is focusing on Sansar at the expense of Second Life. Will says:

Why Linden Lab is so hellbent on pushing Sansar while effectively ignoring Second Life, or treating it like the wicked red-headed step-child internally, is anybody’s guess…

While I was at Linden Lab, I definitely got the feeling that Sansar was the main focus with a near total avoidance of discussing Second Life or its future. It’s technology evangelism at its peak.

As far as Ebbe is concerned, he’s all-in for Sansar while Second Life is … somewhere in the basement level with the engineers.

On one side of the equation I can see why Ebbe would be all-in for Sansar. I’d assume Linden Lab spent a stupid amount of money developing it and couldn’t afford to pull the plug, and so he was likely told to produce an ROI come hell or high water.

Welcome to the board of directors world.

In a way, I’d assess that [former Linden Lab CEO] Rodvik [Humble] made a mess and Ebbe is still trying to clean up and/or salvage things…

As a CEO, Ebbe has a choice to make – He is the captain of the Linden Lab ship, but he also decides what sort of captain he wants to be: Captain Picard or Captain Ahab.

Right at this moment, he’s showing qualities of Captain Ahab, in the blind pursuit of Sansar (Moby Dick). But I believe he’s intelligent and an overall great guy. Smart enough not to sabotage his own efforts and company.

After all, Second Life is still the goose that laid the golden egg. It didn’t die, it’s just being actively starved and strangled by the aforementioned organizational changes and CEOs.

Which is really unfortunate, because I also believe Linden Lab also has some brilliant and creative people there with their hands tied, and who absolutely love Second Life and want to make it better.

My opinion?

I think that Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab can’t win no matter what they do. If they continue to throw too much time and money at Second Life, Sansar will suffer and they’re betting the future on Sansar. (I’ll bet you anything that none of the dozen people LL recently laid off were working on Sansar.) Yet if they try to promote Sansar, as Ebbe clearly did with Will on his visit, folks who are wedded to Second Life get upset. Or people will say that SL is “being actively starved and strangled”.

Face it: Second Life’s glory days are now behind it. Its heyday was approximately from 2006 to 2008, a decade ago. Its fervent fans absolutely hate to hear people say it, but SL is now merely coasting along, not growing but slowly declining over time, the recent Bento-inspired mesh avatar renaissance notwithstanding. You can see vast tracts of abandoned land when you fly over the continents. It’s still profitable—very profitable—to Linden Lab, but it’s having trouble attracting new users, and the now-dated technology of the platform can only be extended so far. In the general news media, SL is being portrayed as quaint but outdated, and attractive only to those somehow lacking in their real lives, as this painfully-titled recent article from The Atlantic makes clear. (Ouch.)

I can also predict pretty confidently that Sansar’s glory days will lie ahead. I think it’s off to a good start. It only makes sense for Linden Lab to put the focus, the time, and the money on a product which (hopefully) will become the next successful virtual world, the next Second Life.

Virtual reality will only gain greater consumer market share over the next decade (it’s definitely arrived now with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and it’s not going to go away), and Sansar is being built from the ground up to support VR. Ebbe’s right when he says that he needs to design Sansar for VR first because that’s the hardest bit to get right. That doesn’t mean that desktop users (still the majority of Sansar users) are going to be ignored. It just means that LL has to work that much harder to try and provide feature parity between desktop and VR headset users.

Maybe it’s inevitable that Second Life adherents feel hard done by. Their world is starting to shrink. People are starting to move on. It’s only natural to feel that Linden Lab should be pouring all their resources into keeping SL going forever. But, for better or worse (and I believe it’s for the better), Ebbe Altberg and his team from Linden Lab have made their decision to move boldly ahead with a new, VR-capable platform that will hopefully have a much longer lifespan.

Everybody cross your fingers. We’re in for some interesting times ahead. And no matter what Linden Lab does from this point onwards, somebody’s going to be upset.