Engadget Interview with Ebbe Altberg: Why Linden Lab Decided to Sell Sansar

On March 27th, 2020, the Engadget website published what is probably the most detailed interview yet with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, in which he explains the thinking behind the company’s decision to sell their fledgling social VR platform, Sansar, and focus on Second Life.

It’s clear that one of the strong messages that Ebbe wanted to send out with this high-profile industry interview is that Linden Lab is now in a strong, profitable position as a company. Here’s an excerpt from that interview, which I would encourage you to read in full:

So why did Linden Lab sell the platform? In short, the company wanted to be profitable and Sansar wasn’t making enough money. “We incubated Sansar,” Altberg explained. “We got it up and going. It’s fantastic technology, but it’s still [got] quite a way of runway [before it can] become a cash-positive.”

Altberg said it was ultimately a “strategic decision” to sell Sansar and give the development team a chance to branch out on their own. “I’m super stoked that we’re able to find a way for them to continue the journey,” he explained.

First, though, the company needed to find a buyer. It considered “a bunch of different paths,” according to Altberg, which included some larger owners. In the end, it settled on Wookey Project Corp., a little-known startup that wants to create “a new generation of online AR/VR experiences,” according to a Linden Lab press release. Altberg describes the company as a “really scrappy investor type of player” who wants a challenge and is prepared to let the Sansar team drive its own agenda. Wookey’s CEO also lives in the same town as Altberg, which probably helped seal the deal.

And (yes, I have to say it), I first drew attention to Linden Lab’s essential dilemma in a blogpost I wrote two years ago:

I think that Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab can’t win no matter what they do. If they continue to throw too much time and money at Second Life, Sansar will suffer and they’re betting the future on Sansar… Yet if they try to promote Sansar…folks who are wedded to Second Life get upset. Or people will say that SL is “being actively starved and strangled”.

Linden Lab was trying to juggle two completely separate projects, at completely separate stages of development, and was finding the juggling to be a bit much. Like Philip Rosedale found with High Fidelity, Linden Lab discovered that all the time and money they had poured into a social VR platform, in hopes that users would flood in, was a cash drain that put the entire company in danger. In the end, something had to give, and that something was Sansar, which, under the circumstances, makes perfect sense.

Sansar now has a “really scrappy investor type of player” who will try to turn the platform into a profitable endeavour, and Linden Lab can go back to what they do best: keep Second Life humming smoothly along as the reliable cash-cow it is, at almost 17 years of age. I’m quite sure that Philip Rosedale and his original team at Linden Lab back in 2003 never dreamed that SL would enjoy the long, successful life that it has had!

However, I will put on my prognosticator’s hat and issue a prediction: Wookey will go all-in on Sansar, and they will do their absolute damnedest to aright the Good Ship Sansar, which has been listing badly of late. (Go ahead. Call the metaphor police. I dare you,)

But Wookey isn’t going to stick around forever if Sansar fails to take off a second time. The number crunchers at Wookey already have a deadline in their head. I give them two years, max. If they haven’t turned a profit by then, Wookey will sell Sansar in turn, or shut it down.

Clock starts now.

Image from the brand new Wookey website
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UPDATED! Linden Lab Has Sold Sansar to Wookey Project Corp.

Not a lot is known about Wookey, the company that purchased Sansar

Although some virtual worlds bloggers have already reported on the news (notably Daniel Voyager and Inara Pey), I decided to wait until Linden Lab made an official announcement, which was released this afternoon:

A lot of you might be wondering what we’ve been up to these past few weeks. Where we’ve been, what we’ve been working on, what’s next for this platform and its extraordinary community. Today, we finally have answers to share, and we can’t thank you guys enough for your patience and support in the meantime. None of this would be possible without you!

Meet the new Sansar. Recently we were presented with an exciting opportunity: strike out on our own as a new entity, under new management with a focus on premier virtual events. We knew we needed to keep together our team and our vision, and the incredible community we’d built over the years.

Lucky for us, there was a company out there just as ambitious and passionate about virtual events as we were – a team that is nurturing and expanding our platform to new heights, deploying capital and expertise in a time full of opportunities for virtual communities around the globe. This week, we’re thrilled to join their family officially. Join us in saying hello to our new owners, Wookey Project Corp.! 

Wookey is bringing together some of the world’s most exciting technology verticals out there at the intersection of music and entertainment, AR, VR, and mobile.

Together, we’re turning a page on Sansar’s most dynamic chapter yet, and we’re excited to take you with us. We’re also grateful to Linden Lab for their many years of support, and we look forward to building on the work we started there.

What does this mean for you? More of the amazing events you know and love! More cosplay karaoke, more zero-gravity game nights, more of the massive interstellar shows that Sansar’s known for – thousands joining from anywhere in the world for one-of-a-kind live performances. You can also expect more features for meeting, socializing and hanging out with friends from around the world. Possibly even more ways to experience Sansar across different devices (more on this in weeks to come!). Nothing will change in your day-to-day.

In these challenging times, we know just how important it is to stay connected. That’s why we’ll be working hard these next few weeks to bring people together with new shows and surprises. Meet-and-greets and live performances from some of music’s biggest names. Virtual versions of the festivals you thought were canceled or postponed. It’ll be the most fun you ever had staying home!

Thanks to you, the future looks bright. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Sansar wouldn’t be what it is today without its dedicated community. Big, big thanks to all of you still throwing parties, creating, exploring with friends and staying connected through Sansar. We’re ecstatic to be embarking on this journey with Wookey, and we couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come!

On March 21st, Inara Pey posted some early hints of the takeover:

  • Sansar was removed from the footer links of Linden Lab properties earlier this week.
  • The Sansar web pages have all been updated to assign Sansar as “©2020 Wookey” in the footer areas.
  • The Sansar Terms of Service  and Privacy Policy (which broadly remain the same as previous Terms of Service for the platform, have been revised to reference “Wookey Projects Inc (Wookey)”.

Meanwhile, Daniel Voyager noticed that Sansar no longer appears on the Linden Lab website. So it would appear that the deal is now truly done.

What will this mean for Sansar? There has been much discussion on the official Sansar Discord channels about this change. It has been pointed out by someone on the SL Community forums (and NOT Chic Aeon as I had originally reported! Sorry, Chic!), that Wookey is a company that tends to specialize in buying up distressed businesses.

I responded with my own thoughts and concerns as follows:

Also: Wookey is a company that buys up distressed companies. Often, these sorts of companies impose wrenching changes to the companies they buy, in order to turn them around and generate a profit as quickly as possible. It is possible that we will see several unwelcome attempts to earn MORE income from the users, including increases (not decreases) in fees, perhaps even new fees and charges. I also hope that Wookey will spend more time and money MARKETING Sansar. Also, they will likely shake up Sansar staffing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to let some senior management go.

While it would seem that Sansar is safe (for now), We still don’t have a very clear idea of why Wookey decided to purchase the platform, and what they intend to use it for. Their website gives us very little information.

(source image from the Wookey website)

(In fast, the web site template they are using is so new, that none of the social media buttons listed along the bottom of their About Us page even work yet.) So we will all have to be patient and see in what direction the new owners take the social VR platform, and what changes are in store.

The Wookey Logo

UPDATE March 25th, 2020: Linden Lab has also posted a press release to their official website, which answers a few more questions about the acquisition:

Why did Linden Lab sell Sansar?

Linden Lab chose to streamline its focus to continue the development and operations of the leading virtual world Second Life and licensed money services provider Tilia.

Is Second Life also being sold to Wookey Project Corp.?

No. Second Life and Tilia both remain under the independent ownership of Linden Lab.

Who is Wookey Project Corp.?

Wookey Project Corp. continues to create a new generation of online AR/VR experiences that allow users the power of collaborative interaction through knowledge immersion.

Will my Sansar account and personal information be safe?

Yes! Your Sansar account information remains secure and safe during this transition. Please refer to the revised Privacy and Terms and Conditions on Sansar.com to learn more. If you have comments or questions about the privacy policy, feel free to email legal@wookey.com.

Will Linden Lab retain any ownership or management with Sansar after the transition?

No. Effective immediately, Wookey Project Corp. assumes all operations and management of Sansar. Wookey Project Corp. has contracted with Tilia Inc. as a third party service provider to perform certain back office functions for Sansar, including the issuance and redemption of Sansar’s in-game virtual tokens.

What will be the focus of Sansar under the new ownership?

Sansar will continue to evolve as the premier platform for live events and entertainment including (but not limited to) support for VR, while Second Life is positioned as the Internet’s leading user-created virtual world platform. Both Linden Lab and Wookey Project Corp. will continue to develop our respective platforms independently.

What does this mean for Second Life and Linden Lab?

Operations at Second Life are not impacted at all. The Second Life community will continue to be able to login and enjoy SL without any interruption. As for Linden Lab, many members of the Sansar team formerly employed by Linden Lab are staying with Sansar as employees under its new ownership.

Daisy Winthorpe Launches the “I Love Sansar” Campaign

In an effort to promote Sansar, dauntless Sansar user and content creator Daisy Winthorpe has launched a social media campaign. Here are some of the images that are already being circulated:

Daisy Winthorpe’s Avatar

I also learned from Daisy today the the COMETS program set up by Linden Lab staff to host and promote events in Sansar (which I had originally reported on here) is no longer operational. That is concerning to me, but not a total surprise. Daisy tells me:

It’s not a big secret. We are still “alive” but not getting any missions [from Linden Lab].

Daisy is to be thanked and commended for her promotional efforts!

Editorial: How Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds and Social VR Platforms Can Reduce Isolation During a Potential SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic

O.K. it’s time to inject a little levity (thanks, Neobela!):

It’s so funny because it’s true. Second Life users make friends and build communities not based on physical proximity, but on mental and emotional connections between their avatars. That very basic fact, common to all virtual worlds and social VR platforms, may be a life-saver to those people who, either by choice or by circumstance, are forced to self-isolate in their homes because of quarantines and the imposition of social distancing policies by their governments.

And it’s not just Second Life. It’s any virtual world, and the concept applies to the newer social VR platforms like Sansar, too.

I am one of those depressed people who often walks away from a real-world interaction with a friend or acquaintance with an uplift in my mood. And I know that I often can replicate that response, when I interact with other people in a virtual world, too. My brain literally does not know the difference between a real-world interaction and a virtual-world one, and it responds the same way.

Of course, this works both ways: someone in my real life or or in virtual one can just as easily bring me down and depress me further. But the fact remains that social VR platforms and virtual worlds are built on the foundation of human communication. It literally doesn’t matter if those humans are living right next door or at the other end of the globe in our modern era of information technology. We can find our own community, people who share our thoughts, goals, and dreams, and literally build new worlds!

So, while the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 outbreak continues, don’t forget to sign into your favourite social VR/virtual world platform(s) from time to time, to reconnect with your communities.