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.


9 thoughts on “Second Life Versus Sansar: Why Linden Lab Can’t Win, No Matter What They Do”

  1. Sansar, a VR-centric virtual world, is the ultimate mission of Linden Lab. It can be also profitable as long as it’s good enough. Second Life is like a child of LL but not its aim. SL will continue to be developed for its market based on the needs of SLers who may be currently not interested in VR. It’s actually a game of balance.


  2. Shame on you Ryan (*hugs*). Even you seem to have a contempt for us humble SL/OS desktop users since you fell in love with four-eyed goggles and new gen platforms that are all pretty much all deserted for most of the time!

    It’s ok for us to pay for the development of Sansar then is it while SL goes to pot when it didn’t need to?

    But anyway, as I said elsewhere, perhaps I wouldn’t mind the high cost of Second Life if a big investment was being made in the platform itself rather than Sansar which I suspect is doomed to fail anyway (Sansar centralized while everything seems to be moving towards decentralization and Blockchain). However, that said, I have reluctantly come to accept the land focused business model of Second Life as a necessary evil (coughs!) that actually helps SL limit the amount of land available and thus keeps land barons in business, another necessary evil if users would rather not commit to a high setup fee and can drop the land anytime without loss. At the same time I can see why Opensim never really took off either, and this is a lesson for Linden Lab too! Land costs have often been cited as good reason to move to Opensim but what seems partly to have prevented SL residents from doing that in any great numbers is that they have too much invested in Second Life inventories and well established relationships. Even the fact Second Life is expensive still hasn’t caused an exodus to Sansar either and likely never will given the widely held view that SL users are being ripped off to finance other platforms while they can only hope Linden Lab will continue to support SL, let alone improve it.

    I hear all the time that SL and OS can’t be improved much more now or perhaps the developers just don’t want to work on it any more (the article quoted would suggest that) but, together, SL and OS still has a big user base that are not showing signs of going anywhere so why not try to make the platform fundamentally better I ask?

    Even if things like voxel terrains and water surfaces are difficult or near impossible to implement in SL/OS surely it is high time some fundamental redevelopment took place and a new platform design that takes what is good about SL/OS, and works for so many people, and build a genuine SL2 instead of ignoring none-VR desktop users wishes and just looking at them as a cash cow until the old platform dies a slow painful death?

    Imagine SL2 or even OS2? There is still a huge user base with inventories and relationship to be invited in. Personally I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment if I find I still have access to my friends and customers and, of course, to my virtual dollars and my accumulated and PAID FOR inventory.


  3. In my humble opinion, it’s not so much WHAT they’re doing, it’s HOW they’re going about it. You refer to Second Life as “the goose who laid the golden egg”. That would seem to indicate there’s a user demographic supporting SL who any CEO with half-a-brain would desire to retain. The “make sense” way to have done this *should* have been – to make Sansar everything Second Life is AND MORE….utilizing new, up-to-date technology. I’m sure if you posed the question to Phil Rosedale “What should SL Mark II be?” he’d admit that Second Life became what it is largely due to the contributions of the end user, namely its great content creators who have managed to create commerce and in some cases, make a modest living. The other “moneymakers” in SL seem to be the land barons – and some of them have managed to make MORE than a “modest living”. These are individuals who aren’t afraid to INVEST because they’ve developed ways to PROFIT from creating suitable living and retail environments for the user/resident. Using the old cliché “don’t fix what ain’t broke” – creating similar opportunities in Sansar should be a no-brainer. SL’s antiquated technology versus Sansar’s state-of-the-art approach don’t mean a thing with regard to these two vital segments of LL’s market. Other than land, which seems on-the-wane so far as an income-generator (as stated this market peaked nearly 10 years ago) the largest cash flow segment in SL involves making ones avatar LOOK BETTER. Fashion, hair, accessories, etc. Why wouldn’t Sansar open its doors offering startup avatars that look more spectacular than anything we’ve seen in SL? It’s simply Marketing 101 to recognize & embrace the concept that people DO judge a book by its cover, so if you’re going to boast stunning environments, why kick open the doors sporting “Virtual Reality For Uglies”? Lastly, I briefly flirted with Blue Mars years and years ago. Sansar, for me, greatly resembles the Blue Mars concept – only Blue Mars seemed light years ahead of where Sansar is right now – perceiving the experience as any end-user would. “What can I DO here?” “What do things look like?” “WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE?” None of the tech mumbo-jumbo LL can boast about what Sansar is, can be, or will be, matters at all if they expect to put their focus on Sansar, take if off SL, yet still expect their SL client base to move over to enjoy the new technology. It has to be MEGA-miles ahead of SL from the first time a new user logs in – and NOT require major investments in equipment to enjoy the experience. I’m a *nobody* – a meager SL musician working around the fringes of thousands of far-more-important SL users who have helped to shape & mold a thriving virtual world now crippled by old tech. To conclude, since Linden Research find themselves knee-deep in Sansar, what I predict will happen is ….a large corporation will choose to fill this “SL with New Technology” void and LL will lose a large percentage of their SL customer base to *someone else*. Guess I’ll see you there. You’ll know me by my guitar and stupid jokes. Best to everyone – Love, Vinnie.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think you hit the nail — something I cannot ever understand at the LL management level (even Philip wavered sometimes) is why exactly they could never figure out what their product (SL) actually _is_ for, as opposed to what they wish or want it to be…


  4. The title is a bit click-baity but you did a decent job of covering this somewhat biased report. I agree with your conclusions that LL is doing the right thing by throwing itself at Sansar. Time will tell how this all works out but, at this point, the future does appear to be in VR.


  5. What is often not taken into account is tht Sansar is’nt the only VR world on the Scene. high fidelity, altspace and VRchat are all in their own ways fighting for similar users and it’s interesting to watch where each starts and how each gradualy end up dealing with similar issues and heading is similar directions. There was’nt really any competi0n for SL, while Sansar has competition right off the bat.


  6. I don’t see people leaving SL in droves. I’ve been in there 11 years and yes, there has been a decline, but only because SL exploded in growth for a couple of years. Now it has settled down. SL has such a great sense of community and the ability for people to create their own world. I peeked into Sansar once. No community, no thank you. It felt disjointed the way you enter various regions. SL may not be improving in leaps and bounds, but it has a solid user base and a way for that user base to create their world. And that world feels connected. It’s not technology that brings in people, but how easily people can use that technology to connect.


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