This past Sunday evening, feeling vaguely anxious, uneasy, and depressed, I loaded up my Vanity Fair avatar in Sansar, outfitted her with a brand new gold outfit (dress by Daisy Winthorpe, matching shoes by Morgane Paris), and I spent a couple of hours wandering through the various worlds in my Codex, in search of…something.
I don’t even really know what I was looking for. Reassurance? Inspiration? Answers? I should know better than to find answers in virtual worlds. But I set out exploring anyways, dressed for a party that didn’t exist, and not feeling in a party mood at all.
Somehow the look on Vanity’s face seemed to match my inner mood: dissatisfied, bored, restless. I must have wandered through at least two dozen different Sansar worlds over several hours, some old, some new.
And I never found what I was looking for, even if I could have named it.
I think what is bothering me most about Sansar lately is the fact that it is still so utterly empty; despite all the beautifully-designed places you can visit, only a small handful have anybody else in them at any one time. You can pretty much be guaranteed to run into groups of avatars chatting at the Nexus, of course, but other than that (and the occasional scheduled event), you’re on your own. Sansar is a ghost town.
Despite every concerted effort made to date, Linden Lab has not succeeded in getting more people to visit Sansar, and it has also failed to convince them to come back for return visits and set up a home or a shop (aside from a small, tight-knit community of die-hard regulars that essentially communicates primarily via the official Sansar Discord).
I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of the Sansar community since December 2016, when it was still a closed beta (actually, it was more alpha than beta). I vividly remember that there was such an infectious energy and excitement among the chosen few who had been allowed in to test everything out, almost a giddiness to try different things out, to see what would work and what would break, sending feedback to a development team that at times seemed even more excited than we the testers were! The future seemed so bright.
But that initial giddiness has slowly ebbed away over time. Many of those early testers have moved on to other worlds, other projects. Now, if I could use one word to describe Sansar lately, it would certainly not be giddy. It would be forlorn. Sansar seems to have completely lost its way. And it breaks my heart to admit the truth to myself. It almost moves me to tears.
As I have written, I have a deeply emotional connection with this place (and yes, I do consider Sansar no less a place than Paris or London or New York in the real world). My soft spot for Sansar is also my blind spot, I fear. I held on that honeymoon feeling about Sansar for far, far longer than most other people. And so when the layoffs happened in October, I was triggered, furious, and upset. I wasn’t thinking with a clear head; I was grieving the loss of what could have been. What should have been, that seemed to be suddenly taken away from me by forces outside of my control. How dare they make such massive cuts to a place I loved? Couldn’t they see they were killing the place?
For over two years I strove mightily, within my admittedly feeble sphere of influence, to portray Sansar as a place where an exciting future was going to happen. I wrote and wrote and wrote to entice people to pay a visit, and to make them want to come back again and again, becoming a regular part of what I hoped would be a growing, vibrant Sansar community.
And at this task I feel I have failed (which might be one reason why I feel so depressed this holiday season). Perhaps nobody could have pulled this task off successfully; maybe the technical, social and political obstacles were altogether insurmountable. Getting people to pay sustained attention to a new virtual world is a much, much harder task than it seems at first glance (as many other companies are finding out).
At first, I decided that I would respond by blogging about Sansar and High Fidelity less often, since obviously my many previous blogposts about those platforms attracted so little traffic and attention. Why bother?, I told myself.
And then, the inevitable happened, the other shoe finally dropped, and High Fidelity announced they were essentially shutting down completely early in 2020, seemingly a victim of lack of interest in VR in general, and social VR in particular. And I thought: would Sansar follow soon after High Fidelity?
So, while mournfully wandering through the various Sansar worlds on Sunday evening, with recent High Fidelity events weighing heavily on my mind, I made a decision. I changed my mind.
I decided that I would, once again in the new year, start writing more regularly about Sansar worlds and events. Sansar might well still falter and fold in 2020 (or 2021), and there is absolutely zero guarantee that a pivot to hosting live events is going to save the platform. But if I can do anything within my limited power to help promote Sansar and show potential users the potential and possibilities of the platform, perhaps even my small efforts can still make a difference before it’s too late.
Many say it is already too late. Some have told me Sansar is doomed. Many former Sansar content creators and users have already given up, packed up, and moved on, angry with one decision or another made by Linden Lab over the years, or upset that one or more key features they wanted weren’t on the software development roadmap. Many have given up on Sansar, but I won’t. Not yet. Not without a fight. I am damned if I am going to write a post-mortem for Sansar on this blog, which, after all, was originally started to write exclusively about Sansar.
Sansar needs our help. All of us, all our help, and whatever talents we have to offer. Sansar might well still fold despite all of Linden Lab’s efforts, and despite all of our own individual efforts. But at least we can try.
Nobody knows what lies ahead in 2020. Anything can and may happen. Obstacles and hurdles can appear out of nowhere, and Linden Lab can choose to respond to them in any way that the company seems fit. What is increasingly clear is that the Sansar project cannot continue along the way it has been going, with the relative lack of overall usage it has, and the relative lack of corporate partners it has, forever. Something, somewhere, is going to have to give. Something has to change.
Linden Lab may choose to shut down the Sansar project completely, or put it on indefinite hiatus until conditions improve. They may decide to sell Sansar off to another company. They might even decide to make the Sansar code open-source, leaving further development up to the community in a way similar to the OpenSim project. Anything can happen, and we have to be prepared for anything to happen.
I want each of you to think about the Sansar project, and what you can do as individuals and as teams to help build the platform and make it better, and help take it to the next level. You might be an event planner or a talent booker; you might be a content creator or a world designer; you might be a talented scripter; you might be a blogger. Or perhaps your talent is just being friendly and greeting newcomers at the Nexus and helping them get oriented. Everybody has something that they can contribute.
And rather than turn away from Sansar as a lost cause, I humbly ask that you come back, and fight to keep this wonderful, special, fragile place that we have been building over the past few years from slipping away completely. At this point we need plenty of fresh ideas and fresh inspiration, thinking outside of the box. We need you. Don’t turn away.
Sansar needs all the friends it can get at this point. I hope that you can be counted on to be one of them. I know that I will be. It won’t mean that I will refrain from criticism when I feel it is necessary. I will still hold Linden Lab’s feet to the fire when and if I see them do something stupid. But I will not walk away. I will not ignore Sansar in 2020. Good, bad, and everything in between, I plan to be there to cover it all.
This is your call to arms. Will you accept?