Editorial: Will Sansar Survive?

Sansar is the reason I started this blog a little over four years ago, and it with a very heavy heart that I write this blogpost. As many of you know, I found that I had become too emotionally attached to what was going on with Sansar, and I had to step back from my previously comprehensive coverage of the Linden Lab-founded social VR platform, to gain some much-needed perspective and to be able to write about it dispassionately.

While the rumours of Sansar’s impending demise have been circling for quite a long while now, over the past few months, I have been hearing persistent gossip, from various well-placed sources, that Wookey-led Sansar is in serious trouble. I should rush to add that I have zero official confirmation of any of this, but every time I hear a new rumour, it seems to confirm what I have already heard from others. In other words, I am hearing the same thing from many different people.

Most recently, I’ve been told that the Wookey team is missing in action, both on the official Sansar Discord and in-world. I’ve heard that Sansar has lost big-name clients like Lost Horizon and Monstercat (although Sansar is still listed on the Lost Horizon Festival website). I’ve also heard that many people who used to be actively involved in Sansar have left, leaving for platforms as various and diverse as Helios, SapphireXR, and CORE (where I see many Sansar alumni chatting on their Discord servers).

My latest source tells me:

There hasn’t been a product meetup in monthsthey were all working like crazy on Splendour in the Grass…after that, crickets.

The marketplace for hosting live events has become extremely competitive, with social VR platforms competing with game companies like Fortnite and Minecraft to sign deals with artists and festivals, and to host concerts and other musical events. And if Sansar is struggling to do this during a pandemic, how will it fare when things return to (relative) normalcy, with a resurgence of live, in-person events? Can Sansar compete against better-funded companies to attract the kind of A-list talent which brings in audiences—and more to the point, can they get that audience to stick around and become content creators and community members after the music ends?

I am in a better position that most external observers to play armchair quarterback and try to pinpoint exactly where it all went so wrong, but I must confess that, like so many others (including numerous employees laid off in at least two rounds of wrenching, painful layoffs), I really thought that Sansar would succeed.

But the expensive bet placed by Linden Lab (and Philip Rosedale’s company, High Fidelity, which shut down a similar service in early 2020, and pivoted to a spatial audio product), is that there would be tens and even hundreds of thousands of people using high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Valve Index to access social VR platforms boasting beautiful high-end graphics. It didn’t seem like such a risky bet at the time, but looking back, perhaps it was.

Certainly, part of the problem is that these companies spent millions of dollars and many years building platforms, only to find that the VR hardware market was evolving so quickly that they couldn’t keep up. I mean, the Oculus Rift is no longer being sold by Facebook, which decided to put all their eggs into the standalone Quest, which is selling like hotcakes—and which Sansar can only run on if you attach a cable from your Quest to your high-end gaming PC.

What does it take for a platform to catch fire, like VRChat and Rec Room? Again, I don’t really know the answer (although social media, particularly YouTube and Twitch, certainly played a pivotal role in at least VRChat’s ultimate popularity and success).

At a time when the metaverse has again become a hot buzzword tossed around by many companies, both big and small, who knows what will happen to Sansar. But I must confess that I am very worried.

Rooom and nu.land: A Brief Introduction

It’s official: we are starting to run out of sensible product names, people. Companies are rummaging through all the leftover domain names, and it shows.

Rooom (yes, with three O’s, which apparently are meant to signify the 3 dimensions of space 🙄) is a German company which tries really, really hard to make it sound as if they already provide social VR services, but really, they don’t.

Oh, they talk about it, for sure:

Events with unlimited scalability

eventCloud has been successfully used for global events with more than 200,000 simultaneous participants. Accessible through virtually any internet-enabled device, online events in 3D are possible without the need for a VR headset.

But take a good, close look at the YouTube video for this:

I’m seeing a lot of flat-screen technology integration (Zoom-like videoconferencing, etc.), and the use of emojis and whatnot, but I am not seeing social VR! The only avatar I see in this promo video is the user him-or-herself. All of the other “avatars” at the briefly-glimpsed trade show above are the digital equivalent of flat, cardboard cutouts! Here’s another video:

Again, look at all the flat cutout “avatars”!! Rooom may have hosted events boasting over 200,000 participants, but all those participants seem to have experienced the virtual space alone, as far as I can tell. Compared to other social VR platforms already out there, with much more impressive feature sets, this is extremely underwhelming and disappointing. I’m not impressed by this at all.

Frankly, based on my perusal of their website, everything that Rooom offers so far seems to revolve around creating 3D virtual environments for business, without actually offering something that I would call actual social VR—that is, a virtual space which you can visit and interact with other real people using avatars.

However, there is mention of something Rooom is working on, called nu.land, which basically consists of nothing but a slick (and slow-loading) website:

So I am somewhat mystified as to how Rooom raised US$7 million for its so-called “multifaceted 3D virtual events platform”. Go ahead, take a good look through the website yourself, and check out the YouTube videos. I’m not seeing a whole hell of a lot of groundbreaking stuff here, to be honest.

I’m not even going to bother adding Room and nu.land to my comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds at this point. There’s no “there” there, at least not yet.