Editorial: Sansar, Sovietology, and Reading the Tea Leaves

In the days of the old Cold War, American spies, historians, and Sovietologists would spend hours poring over published pictures of Communist party gatherings (such as the annual May Day parade rostrums) with magnifying glasses, trying to figure out who was in and out of favour among the ruling class: who was a new and rising star, and who had fallen from power, perhaps even banished to the Gulag.

And, given how Linden Lab has refused to comment publicly on their most recent round of layoffs, bloggers like Inara Pey and I rely on not dissimilar techniques to read the tea leaves, and figure out who’s in and out at LL. (For example, Inara has pointed out that Landon McDowell, Linden Lab’s Chief Product Officer, seems to have survived the layoffs, as she could still find his Second Life account. Yes, such are the straws we are currently clutching at. Of course, until such time as Landon actually pops up to say something, we’re just guessing.)

A tried-and-true tactic (used to parse previous Linden Lab layoffs in the past) has been to check the ratings and stories of recently-laid-off employees posted to the Glassdoor website. One such review, posted Oct. 31st, 2019, states:

I worked at Linden Lab full-time for more than 5 years

Pros: Some hard working people who were trying to do the right thing and ship a compelling project.

Cons: Exec leadership is inept beyond belief. No clue about the product they’re in charge of or the industry they’re a part of. Sansar had a chance to shine, but leaders who were too scared to make important decisions, constant pivots, and wasting too much time building unnecessary tech spelled it’s doom. CEO was an old friend of the chairman of the board who got the job due to nepotism. CPO was useless.

Advice to Management: Fire yourselves.

Yee-ouch! Well, if I were suddenly and unexpectedly laid off, I would be probably be that bitter too. But the overarching complaint here is one that is often lobbed at Linden Lab: that the company has had great difficulty explaining exactly what purpose Sansar was intended to fill.

(Also a note: of course the board of directors is going to rely on their existing social network to find and hire a CEO! That is hardly a crime. And overall, Ebbe Altberg seems to have done a much better job as CEO of Linden Lab than many of his predecessors, as far as I can tell.)

So, all the hue and cry is pretty much over now, and the people who have been let go have packed their boxes and left the premises. Now what?

Well, now that the marketing people (as opposed to the engineers) are firmly in control of the Good Ship Sansar, I think that we can expect what we were clearly told at the Friday Product Meetup: the new focus will be on live events, with a secondary focus on socialization and communication tools, and providing a better on-boarding experience to new users. Anything that does not support those primary and secondary foci, such as further avatar customization and gamification/questing options, will likely be pushed back, or taken off the software development roadmap completely.

Frankly, a new focus on live events is a pretty canny move for Linden Lab. It also helps define more clearly the purpose of the platform (which, as I have said above, is a core problem Sansar has had from the very beginning).

And Linden Lab wouldn’t have to look very far afield to find talent; it is right under their noses in Second Life! SL has been a fantastic incubator for countless musical performers, some of whom have gone on to achieve real-life success, stepping out from behind their avatar.

If I were Sheri Bryant, I would set up a formal program to try and encourage many of the talented live performers who entertain audiences in various venues in Second Life, to consider using Sansar as a new platform to attract a whole new audience. We have already seen this happen to a limited degree with events that Alfy and others have organized in Sansar; why not pull out all the stops and take it a step further?

Of course, I expect there will also be a big push to bring in small, medium, and big-name artists from the real world. Sansar was already off to a good start in that department; I’m quite sure they already have plans in the works for many future concerts and events.

And, as I have said before, I expect that Linden Lab will continue to cultivate selected social media influencers in an effort to get the word out. It’s the best bang for their advertising dollar in this digital age, in my opinion. Like it or hate it, social media is here to stay, and influencers have power.

So, what do you think will happen next? What do you see in the tea leaves for Sansar? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost. Also, there’s the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the world’s first cross-worlds discussion forum! I’d like to extend an invitation to have you join us and participate in the many discussions and debates that take place there.

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2 thoughts on “Editorial: Sansar, Sovietology, and Reading the Tea Leaves”

  1. I can understand the frustration of the engineers. I always think that Linden Lab had the chance and resources to make a good modern virtual world. The execution wasn’t the best. Also companies need marketing, but marketing is manipulative and the marketing experts are skilled at that: If a manager talks to engineers and marketeers, the latter are usually more convincing. They aren’t necessarily honest or right though… and engineers may know better how things work. It wouldn’t be the first time that a product or a whole company is ruined by the misleading of the marketing department and the managers.

    Engineers: “Guys, there is an hole in this ship hull and we have a weak keel, it’s gonna sink if we don’t redesign it”. The marketing dep. decorates the ship with ribbons and the CEO approves.

    They don’t seem entirely in touch with their target users either. Whatever they are…
    VR? Cool, but not so big, yet. Next. Museums? Dunno. Next. Quest game? The Nexus made exploration less practical. And are we sure that’s the best kind of game for a virtual world? Why not promote it as a game maker platform like Roblox instead? Next. Live events? That sounds good, I liked those too, but it’s the same route High Fidelity took: live concerts, Nefertiti tomb tours… they gathered 300 people, then? Should that work better than HiFi? How large is that niche?
    Next… What will happen next? Pivoting another time? If a roads leads to nowhere it’s wise to change, but honestly, the above feels like a clueless wandering.

  2. However, my “next” is… let’s enjoy what’s enjoyable and don’t worry too much. If anyone comes up with a good idea and a company receives it, great. We can still enjoy events in Sansar, as well as in Second Life, VRChat, Sinespace or elsewhere. We can enjoy mix and matching clothing in Second Life, exploring, sailing, creating, hanging out with our friends… then if one day Oasis will be made, I’ll hop there.

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