Linden Lab Announces Major Changes in Sansar Staffing and Direction: Is This a Platform Pivot Similar to High Fidelity’s?

This was me on Friday…
(Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash)

Yesterday I was off sick from work, and I landed up spending most of the day resting in bed, popping extra strength Tylenol and nursing a sore shoulder and just generally feeling depressed, tired, and cranky.

I slept most of the day, so I missed the unexpected Product Meetup held on Friday in Sansar (after a previous announcement that there would be no Product Meetup this week, instead of on Thursday when they are usually held). Even worse, Inara Pey missed the last-minute meeting as well; I usually rely on her excellent, detailed reports myself, as I tend not to go to Product Meetups that often.

At Friday’s Product Meetup, several major changes in Sansar staffing and direction were announced. I did watch the livestream video that is posted to Twitch here (warning: the audio is still a bit low for my tastes, so you might need to use headphones or earphones to hear it) and here is what I learned:

  • The big news is that Sansar will now be focused primarily on live events. Galileo said Linden Lab will be bringing in some new event partners, as well as encouraging Sansarians to create more live events. They also announced a second focus, on in-world socialization and communication tools, but there were no technical details given.
  • It would appear that avatar body deformation, which according to a message I received from Landon McDowell back in September, Linden Lab was “working to get body morph in before the end of the year“, has been taken off the Sansar development roadmap. It would appear that any further avatar customization features have been pushed back indefinitely or even halted. Landon McDowell is (was?) the Chief Product Officer at Linden Lab. I say was, because it is clear (both from announcements at the Friday meeting and gossip I am hearing today) that there has been a major staff shake-up on the Sansar project.
  • While Galileo said that Linden Lab couldn’t comment on specific staff changes, a few were announced or mentioned in passing at the meeting. Lacie Linden said she is now responsible for responding to support tickets in addition to her other duties. Galileo said that Harley Linden has been reassigned to Second Life. Other staff changes announced at the Friday meeting: CowboyNinja Linden (someone new to me) is apparently the new General Manager for Sansar; Sheri Bryant, previously Vice President of Marketing, is now also a General Manager of Sansar (two General Managers? I’m confused); Hari Raghavan, previously the Senior Manager, Marketing Communication at Linden Lab, is the new Director of Marketing.

Coho Linden, the Release Manager for Sansar, reported on what will be in the next release of Sansar (hopefully next week):

  • Desktop user aiming improvements
  • Support for the pre-morph skeletons (not sure what this means)
  • Improved freecam edit mode in the Lookbook editor mode
  • Scripting of avatar spawn points
  • Scripting of camera view
  • Snap-to-grid for movement and rotation of objects
  • Import JPEG files and remove the limitations on texture dimensions
  • Establish an avatar texture budget which would allow for more avatars to be in a scene, and improve Sansar performance for users on lower-end computers
  • Allow users to abandon in-progress quests

Binah Linden announced a few changes to the in-client shopping experience:

  • The Sansar Store is now a movable, resizable window
  • New searching filters: male, female, Marvelous Designer, static mesh
  • Can now copy and share store links in chat
  • New script to add an interaction to an object that will open your store

Boden Linden announced a major change to events: events will be linked to a currently published world, instead of a template. Also, notifications that an event is starting will be sent out in-world to those users who indicated that they were interested in the event.

Skyler Linden, the Engineering Manager at Linden Lab, announced that persistent storage is coming. New scripting abilities will allow you to save data and keep track of persistent data. Data can also be shared using tables.

More information on these new features will be published in the documentation that always comes out with each new Sansar release.

So, what do I think about all this? Glad you asked, because, as always, I have opinions. People have been messaging me all day with gossip surrounding what appears to be a major shake-up of staff working on Sansar. One person told me:

Hello Ryan are you aware that there was “restructuration” that went on at Sansar? Apparently Landon is gone, Harley has been sent to SL, Nyx is gone, and I don’t know other names. People are saying 30 are gone, but I don’t know if that number is just speculation. People are checking the staff’s profiles on Discord to see if they are gone, but it’s not up to date yet. Harley is gone altogether from the server. Others show up in white: no roles.

But I am going to wait until I can get some confirmation before I report on any other staff changes. Here I have reported on the four staff changes that were talked about at Friday’s Product Meetup.

It is clear that there has been a major change in Sansar product development, similar in tone (if not in size) to the recent pivot announced this spring over at High Fidelity. Only in this instance, the pivot is not away from consumers to enterprise users; the pivot appears to be a new, primary focus on Sansar as a live event platform, at the expense of previous development priorities such as further avatar customization options, including the long-awaited body deformation Landon had promised me.

And, as you can tell, it’s not even clear yet who exactly has been taken off the Sansar project, and who is no longer with Linden Lab at all. It sounds as though most staff affected have been reshuffled to other jobs rather than let go, but nobody external to the company knows for sure. Again, comparing this pivot to High Fidelity’s recent pivot, at least Philip Rosedale made an official announcement of staff layoffs. I doubt that we will get a similar formal announcement from Ebbe Altberg; Linden Lab has tended not to announce staff changes, such as layoffs, in the past and I do not expect this to change.

Is this set of major changes in staffing and product direction a response to the relative lack of interest in Sansar, compared to the higher levels of concurrent users on other platforms such as VRChat and Rec Room? Is this is response to the lambasting Sansar is getting in user reviews on Steam? There has been a steady stream of thumbs-down reviews on Steam lately, to the point where Ebbe Altberg has recently asked users on the official Sansar Discord to post a review if they haven’t yet. I take this as a sign that Linden Lab is obviously worried about all the negative reviews on Steam. Is this a battening down of the hatches? Has Linden Lab decided to do what some external critics have suggested, and transfer some workers from Sansar to Second Life?

But the thing that bothers me the most about all this, is that we are now stuck halfway through what was supposed to be a major avatar update! What happened to all the big plans for Avatar 2.0? We were supposed to be getting body deformation in addition to the extensive face deformation options previously released! It sounds as though all work in this area has been halted. In response to a question from Bagnaria, we are not even getting custom skins for avatars. To me, this is a major disappointment, and a major setback to the project.

Feel free to leave a comment below, or, as always, you are welcome to join the freewheeling conversations, arguments, and debates about social VR and virtual worlds taking place on the Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion forum! We’d love to see you there. (And we do have a Sansar channel there, just for Sansar-related discussions.)

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