I admit it: I still have a soft spot in my heart for the early social VR platform Sansar.
I joined Sansar which was then in closed beta test, in January 2017, and I began this blog in order to write exclusively about Sansar (in fact, the original name for the RyanSchultz.com blog was the Sansar Newsblog). Over time, I slowly expanded to write about other platforms, but Sansar was my introduction to social VR.
In my opinion, Sansar (built by Linden Lab, opened to the public on July 31st, 2017, and later sold to Wookey in 2020) still boasts some of the most breathtakingly beautiful worlds in the metaverse (thanks in large part to their advanced lighting model). I wanted to reshare two of my favourite videos to give those of you, who might never have set a virtual foot in Sansar, a taste of those worlds.
First is a video by Wurfi, compiled in 2019, showcasing numerous worlds in Sansar. Watching this brings back so many happy memories!
And second is the following YouTube video by Daisy Winthorpe, made in 2020, which also shows off numerous Sansar worlds:
I regret that I haven’t been blogging very much lately (I’ve been full-on occupied with training requests and other projects this September at my university), but I wanted to use my blog to amplify a plea for help from a virtual world friend, Timothy Jackson, whom many of you know better as Maxwell Graf, a talented content creator in both Second Life and Sansar. I interviewed Max back in 2017 about his work in Sansar. His Second Life store is called Rustica: in-world location; SL Marketplace).
Like so many who have had their lives upended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Tim/Max and his wife are in danger of losing their home, so they have started a GoFundMe page:
We just had an offer accepted this week on the mobile home you see in the picture, our lender approved it but today we found out our total costs to go into contract are about twice what we have in our savings account. We have not been able to find housing close enough to let [my wife] keep her job, renting or buying, until this one. We are so close to having some stability. We need your help desperately to be able to keep from becoming homeless again. Please fund us if you can.
If you can help them with a donation, no matter how small, to help them meet their GoFundMe goal of US$7,500, it would mean a stable roof over their heads. Or, if you prefer, perhaps you can purchase something for your virtual home in Second Life from Rustica, such as this amazingly detailed set of bookshelves and books:
I personally own this set, and I never fail to marvel over the workmanship, and smile at the clever titles on the spines of the individual books!
I have known Maxwell Graff (Timothy Jackson) of Rustica for many years, in and out of SL. Having known him and his wife Lyric, and all they have had to go through, I am hoping we can do our best to help them in their time of need. They are at risk of becoming homeless as they wait to try and buy a house. There is more to the story, which you can read on the GoFundMe page, but I will post a bit of it below.
What we are all hoping people can pitch in in any way they can, no matter how big or small. There is the GoFundMe page for direct donations, the in world store location to buy his products, and the marketplace (it is not fully updated so some products are not listed).
Others are also helping get the word out, so know it is not just me. Max is dear to many of us, so if you would like to see what some of the others have to say, you can check out blogs from Ryan Schultz and Mona Eberhardt.
UPDATE Oct. 6th, 2021: I just wanted to let everybody know that Max/Tim and his wife met their goal, and have closed their GoFundMe page, posting the following message:
We have reached our goal, between this fund and donations to our PayPal, so [we] have locked accepting further donations, rather than continue to keep this open! We have what we needed, what we asked for, and more than we dared to hope. Thank you to all who shared, reposted, blogged, upvoted, linked, and most of all to those who donated. As of today we are legally in contract for the house and will be able to get this home. Your kindness and love have made every difference. WE ARE LIFTED BY OTHERS.
Congratulations to Tim/Max and thank you to all who contributed!
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 months…they 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.
There was a time, back in the day (ohhh, let’s say, May of 2006) when a Second Life avatar named Anshe Chung graced the cover of Businessweek magazine, which told the story of how she became the first online personality to achieve a net worth exceeding one million US dollars from profits entirely earned inside a virtual world.
It can be argued that this Businessweek article, and the resulting media attention it caused, was the spark that ignited a period of explosive population growth in Second Life, as people realized that they, too, could earn money on Second Life, and they began joining the platform in ever-increasing numbers.
In particular, between late 2006 and early 2007, dozens of real-life companies and brands decided to set up shop in Second Life: Dell, Toyota, Nissan, Sun Microsystems, IBM, even American Apparel and Playboy. Unfortunately, this corporate heyday did not last long. By the end of 2008, most real-world corporations were pulling out, not seeing the benefit (i.e. profit) in running operations on a virtual world, especially during a somewhat brutal recession.
And, for a long time, burned by their initial enthusiastic foray into Second Life, most real-world brands pretty much steered clear of virtual worlds, leaving them to the mom-and-pop stores, the individual content creators who were able to make a go of it.
Well, I am starting to notice the beginnings of a new trend lately: real-life brands are starting to enter into partnerships with social VR and virtual worlds once again. Is this the start of a new trend in marketing?
Two different news items, about two completely different types of partnerships, crossed my desk yesterday, one for Bacardi rum and the other for Coca-Cola, which tickled my fancy and made me laugh (hence the clever title of this blogpost!). Both are instructive examples of how such corporate partnerships have evolved and changed since the Anshe Chung summer of 2006 in Second Life.
Barcardi and Sansar: The Casa Bacardi Virtual Island Festival
Bring home some Caribbean vibes and get grooving to your favourite beats at a music experience like never before.
Casa Bacardi is a whole new virtual world on Sansar, with an epic stage for your favourite artists to perform on, games to play with your friends, hang out with them, play cocktail games and meet new people. Enjoy all of this and more from the comfort of your home along with your favourite Bacardi Cocktails.
You can even design your own look and express yourselves through your avatar before you land on Casa Bacardi Island. Festival fashion doesn’t go away, you know?
Find liberation from the real world on a virtual Caribbean island. Teleport to Casa Bacardi this Rum Month!
Performers at this event include a mix of afrobeat, hip hop, electronica and dance music artists:
Divine and the Gully Gang
Tsumyoki with Kidd Mange
Tickets are quite inexpensive, only US$1.99 for a concert pass, and US$2.99 for a concert pass plus a limited after-party event (you can pay via credit card or PayPal).
Coca-Cola, Tafi and Decentraland: The Friendship Box NFT
In a piece of news which I somehow missed, Coca-Cola entered the ultra-trendy NFT space with a limited-edition auction, partnering with the Tafi avatar creation system and the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland (NFT, of course, stands for Non-Fungible Tokens, the concept that blockchain-based property is a unique, distinguishable, indivisible blockchain-based asset which has some sort of monetary value, usually denoted in a cryptocurrency like ETH/Ethereum).
Coca-Cola is not the first big brand name to jump into Decentraland, of course; not too long ago I wrote about how Sotheby’s set up shop. It would appear that the current unabated frenzy over blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs is bringing together some rather unlikely bedfellows!
Tafi announced today that it has partnered with Coca-Cola® by designing virtual wearables for Coca-Cola’s first-ever non-fungible token (NFT) collectibles offering in the “metaverse” to celebrate International Friendship Day on July 30th, Coca-Cola will be auctioning an NFT loot box on OpenSea, that contains Tafi-designed digital apparel that can be worn forever in the virtual world of Decentraland.
Tafi, a leading designer of avatars and digital wearables, is a digital strategy and development partner with Coca-Cola. Tafi worked alongside Coca-Cola to produce the NFTs, as well as Virtue, the agency by Vice, who developed the initial concept. Details of Tafi’s involvement in Coca-Cola’s NFT Lootbox can be found at https://maketafi.com/coca-cola-nft.
Coca-Cola collaborated with designers at Tafi on all the NFTs including the branded wearable apparel. Auction-goers can bid on the Coca-Cola Friendship Box, a reimagined version of Coca-Cola’s highly collectible vending machine, itself an NFT, and once opened there will be three one-of-a-kind digital assets to own:
• A custom Coca-Cola Bubble Jacket Wearable – a futuristic jacket – is illuminated with effervescent fizz, purposely designed with subtle nods to Coke’s nostalgic delivery uniforms. It also will include an unlockable version that can be worn in the Decentraland 3D virtual reality platform. Inspired by metaverse trends and utility, the jacket features the Coca-Cola color palette, fusing the metallic red of the aluminum can and caramel brown of the delicious drink.
• The Sound Visualizer captures the experience of sharing a Coca-Cola using instantly recognizable audio cues: the pop of a bottle opening, the sound of a beverage being poured over ice, the unmistakable fizz and that first refreshing taste.
• The Friendship Card reimagines the design of Coca-Cola’s famous friendship-inspired trading cards from the 1940s for the digital world. The cards bear the “Symbol of Friendship” moniker.
This one-of-a-kind loot box contained some ultra-exclusive items, including a puffy jacket which can be worn by Decentraland avatars, and it sold for a whopping 217 ETH (which works out to about half a million U.S. dollars)!
Now I can tell you one thing for damn sure: no matter how luxurious and glossy that Coca-Cola puffed jacket may look on the OpenSea marketplace (and you can check out the fancy animations here), it is not going to look anywhere near as good when your avatar wears it around Decentraland! The current state of graphics in Decentraland looks like this, in case you needed a reality check:
Perhaps I am not the best person to explain all this, because frankly I am still mystified as to why people would want to spend outrageous sums of money on NFTs, except perhaps for bragging rights. However, it is clear that blockchain, crypto, and NFTs are not going away anytime soon (although they will not doubt continue to fluctuate wildly in value). I just report on what I see, safely from the sidelines.
And I repeat my usual warning: do EVERY. SINGLE. SCRAP. of your homework before investing a penny in any blockchain/cryptocurrency project.
Are we seeing a renaissance in such partnerships between real-world brands and social VR platforms and virtual worlds? Who knows. But it is fascinating to watch!