Editorial: Inara Pey Weighs In On the Friday Product Meetup…And We Disagree On What It All Means for the Future of Sansar

*sigh* I don’t even know anymore…how can two people look at the same thing and see totally different things?

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Inara Pey has done her usual outstanding, painstakingly detailed job of covering the most recent Product Meetup held last Friday (thank God, since I tend to suck at that sort of thing), but I wish I could share her…what is the word I am searching for? Her sense of relative optimism, her sense that this is not a significant shift in priorities for Sansar, that this is, as she says:

It will mean a lot of attention will be placed on the Sansar events system going forward.However, it does not mean work on other features  / capabilities is being abandoned, although some will be re-prioritized and may be pushed back in terms of possible deployment time frames.

Now, we both listened to the same Twitch livestream, since we both were not actually present at the Friday Product Meetup. But I still think we heard somewhat different things. I heard that further avatar customization work will be halted in the new focus on live events; she heard that it will be “re-prioritized”. I guess we’re going to find out who’s right and who’s wrong over the next few weeks (and, of course, if I am wrong, I will certainly admit to it). But I listened to that whole livestream (twice), and I was left with a feeling of unease, a sense of unease that is shared by many Sansar users with whom I have spoken this weekend.

In a separate opinion piece, Inara does say:

On Friday, November 1st, the Sansar Team held their weekly Product Meeting, which provided to be an event of two parts: an overview of the next Sansar release, which I’ve covered in my usual Sansar Product Meeting summary format, and confirmation that Sansar’s development is undergoing a change in emphasis in a drive to try to establish a much broader audience.

In short, and as noted by Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, and the Lab’s Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Sheri Bryant (aka CowboyNinja in Sansar), who now takes up the role of Sansar’s General Manager¹, the Lab plans to focus a lot more on building-out Sansar’s ability to run “live” events within virtual spaces.

It’s a decision that was actually presaged in October, when IQ ran an article in which Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and Sheri Bryant were interviewed about the Lab’s intentions with “live” events in Sansar. As such, I wasn’t actually overly surprised to hear about the shift in emphasis, although others may have missed that piece. Certainly, the announcement has received a negative reaction from some, and has been – wrongly, I would suggest – characterised as akin to High Fidelity’s abrupt change of direction that occurred earlier this year…

I say “wrongly”, because while this is a change in emphasis, it is not in any way a shuttering / move any from anything within Sansar in the way High Fidelity’s change of direction was. 

And (of course) Inara caught something that I didn’t: that Sheri Bryant and CowboyNinja Linden are one and same person! D’oh! Which would, of course, explain why they were both called the new General Manager of Sansar. (Like I said, I am not the best at note-taking.) But I still want to know: what the hell happened to Landon Linden, who was originally charged with steering this project? He just vanished off the map—poof!

So Inara and I do agree that the Sansar pivot is not like the High Fidelity pivot in terms of its size and significance, something I said in my original blogpost. However, where we part ways is in her next few statements:

It also does not mean that other improvements for the platform are in any way being closed or abandoned – although it does mean that some are being re-prioritized and are seeing their possible deployment time-frames pushed back.

This latter point is likely why there has been some negativity around the announcement: for much of 2019 the emphasis has been on developing Sansar’s gaming  / questing capabilities, and these have reached a point where they are being actively and imaginatively being leveraged. Given that push to develop them and get creators excited by them, to apparently make a sudden track switch is bound to leave some feeling a little, “wait – what?”

Similarly, there has been a push to give the Sansar avatar a complete overhaul, with more being promised – particularly full body deformation and custom skin textures. It had been suggested these might appear before the end of 2019 – but they are now timetabled for delivery “in 2020”. So this again is likely to be grating on people. But that said, it is true that, insofar as encouraging people into Sansar to attend events, Avatar 2.0 doesn’t appear to have been any kind of barrier – and it might be argued that it is more important for Sansar to gain a broader and deeper user base than it is to keep iterating on new features and capabilities within the avatar system – particularly if there are relatively few people around to use it.

So to me, the shift in emphasis perhaps isn’t as upsetting as it appears to have been to others – but then, I’m simply not as invested in Sansar as some, which also should be taken into account. Certainly, and as I’ve previously argued, I don’t think a push to establish a presence in the “virtual events market” given the capabilities Sansar does have is not a bad thing. And, as I’ve noted in Sansar: music entertainment with some sundry thoughts, even if it doesn’t massively drive up the platform’s concurrency on its own, it could nevertheless contribute to doing so; what’s more, it could open the platform up to broader “repeat” audiences from a range of potential sectors and so help the Lab generate revenue from those sectors through a variety of means.

So, basically, Inara is taking the calm, measured, moderate approach, and I am taking the ring-the-alarm-bells approach. (Hey, I admit it.) Maybe after what happened with High Fidelity, I am in doomsday mode. I wouldn’t say that I am the only one who’s thinking that way, though.

And I did not hear that Avatar 2.0 was being pushed back to 2020; to my ears it sounded more like the work had been completely halted, and I am not the only one who heard that message in the question and answer session that took place afterward. Maybe it’s a case of hearing what we are listening for, and (perhaps) inaccurately reading in-between the lines of what was actually said; Inara’s notes clearly state that:

Does the shift in focus mean that avatar improvements are now on the back-burner? The current avatar system is seen as “relatively robust” and suitable for things like attending events. While the focus will be on the development of features around events / events management, avatars will remain central to Sansar’s development – they just won’t be a subject of focus in the immediate future. Nothing is being taken away from the plans for future avatar development. This does mean that full body deformation, that had been viewed as possibly being a Q4 2019 (October-December) release has been pushed back to a 2020 release, but no clear indication of when.

So, who the hell knows anymore?!?? The only people who do know, aren’t talking (at least, not yet). And I am hereby hanging up my note-taking pad and pencil, and leaving any further work in that area to others who listen better than I do.

Like I said up top, I don’t even know anymore…

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4 thoughts on “Editorial: Inara Pey Weighs In On the Friday Product Meetup…And We Disagree On What It All Means for the Future of Sansar”

  1. I left field think what it is, is that there is some due thought process going on as far as avatars, with use in a mixed reality setting. Obviously my unqualified opinion.

  2. Some points of clarification:

    1) My article on the shift in emphasis is based on LL’s general thrust re: events & partners, which I stand by. Whether it will work or not is open to debate. I’m actually not convinced it will work in the way that LL envisage – hence the comment pointing out the difference between Fortnite’s success with Marchmello (which drew on an established user base) and Sansar using events to *build* an audience. Nevertheless, I do see the potential in the idea – it really comes down to execution (and there I really do have doubts, LL have something of a reputation when it comes to implementing ideas that’s not always … positive). .

    2) The comment on full body deformation being pushed back is there in the Twitch video, at around the 45 minute mark:

    Medhue: Well, I heard that, you know, we’re going to be able to move the bones in R37 … So
    the community has been waiting for sliders on their in-world bodies.

    [45:14] Julia Munck: Right, yes … Right, yes, absolutely. So that is still on the roadmap, however it’s pushed out. We originally thought we were gonna squeeze it into Q4.It doesn’t look like that any more, but it’s still on the roadmap, but it’s not of as high of a priority; also with the change of focus to be more live events, we’ve need to de-prioritise that a little bit. But it’s still coming; it’s something we want to get to.

    Galileo: So, Julia, you’re thinking 2020?

    Julia: Yes, definitely next year, Definitely not this year.

    (My emphasis.)

    3) I’m still trying to dig into the numbers let go. So far, I’ve only found evidence for two people likely to have gone (and I’m not naming names). That’s not to say there are not more – just that they are the two I’ve been able to verify have likely departed; right now I’m still digging (hampered by the fact I only know of those whom we see in the Product Meet-ups). I’ll be doing a follow-up on these changes in due course.

  3. Oh, a further follow-up.

    While Landon Macdowell (Landon Linden) has taken something of a lead with Sansar, his title is Chief Product Officer, which (so I understand) covers both Sansar and SL. Right now (Monday, Nov 4th), he still appears to be active at the Lab (e.g. his SL account is still active, unlikely a couple of others I’ve been checking on).

    So, it is possible that with Sheri taking over the “GM” post with Sansar, he may have simply stepped back from the more day-to-day hands-on aspects of running Sansar, rather than having departed from LL or anything of that nature.


  4. I agree that Fortnite and Marshmello is a different beast. Fortnite is an hugely successful multiplayer game, because it’s *fun*, not just because of events inside it. 250+ million people enjoy to play together in Fortnite, so they also enjoyed to have that music event together, there.
    When I played MMORPGs – that are closer to social virtual words – we had events and celebrations there too, but we didn’t come to play that game because of a few events. On the contrary, we were players and friends who had the same gaming hobby and enjoyed to share a moment, an event, together within the game and world we loved already.

    If Linden Lab tries the opposite way around, hoping to replicate the success of the Marshmello’s event, they may be misunderstanding the social dynamic in these games and misunderstand what made that event so popular. Or they know, but they are just doing the opposite anyway.
    High Fidelity too used events to build audience. Their audience record at events is higher than Sansar and… it didn’t work.

    If they want to make a game out of Sansar, the game must be fun in first place. If that doesn’t work, is isn’t because of people only want events and aren’t into gaming so you ditch that, but because you failed to make an entertaining game and all it’s left is a few dozens of people that remain just for the event. Ditto with the social side. Why, after 2 years, the avatars in Sansar still look like lifeless mannequins that walks like robots? Just one example among many.

    If VRChat works and Sansar still struggles to gather 40 people, there are reasons. Note that VRChat didn’t took the success away form Sansar when it was released: when Sansar was released, VRChat was still unknown and became popular after.
    Honestly, the deficiencies and issues Sansar had were apparent in 2017 already, despite the marketing talks and how much I wished a new virtual world to play with. Now it’s too little, too late to realize it: the social virtual square has been established in VRChat already and unless VRChat does something really stupid, only a spark of genius, something really innovative would bring virtual world people to Sansar or elsewhere now rather than to VRChat. Or Second Life. Linden Lab couldn’t find or think of a different kind of users yet. Did they really made a true and fun game first and events after, like Fortnite, maybe…
    High Fidelity was visionary and interactive instead, and potentially awesome, but it was plagued by bugs, issues, not the most user-friendly setup, and probably not the best decisions, so it didn’t work for another set of reasons.

    It’s like one does it well here and ruins it all elsewhere; another one does it better there, but a mess on the other hand. Then they can’t figure out what the good and bad parts are, ditch this and that, sometimes misunderstanding their potential users.
    VRChat itself could be better.
    Sinespace is interesting too, with a few clever ideas, but probably with an order of magnitude less the resources to develop and promote it.
    Then there are the various Decentraland, Cryptovoxels…

    I feel like that there are interesting ideas here and there, but that nobody found the right mix yet.

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