UPDATED! Notes from Yesterday’s Sansar Product Meetup: What’s On the Software Development Roadmap

I heard through the grapevine that yesterday’s Sansar Product Meetup was to discuss future developments to Linden Lab’s social VR platform.

Screen capture from the Twitch video of the Sansar Product Meetup

But no, I didn’t bother to come into Sansar for this meeting; I watched the hour-long Twitch livestream the next morning, coffee in hand. I am still on an extended, self-imposed break from Sansar, but I don’t think that watching a previously-recorded livestream (and blogging about it) is breaking that rule.

Here are a few of my notes from yesterday’s Sansar Product Meetup, regarding plans for the platform for 2020. Galileo, the Community Manager for Sansar, led the meeting, and Boden, SeanT, Lacie, Cinno, and a few other Linden Lab staff were also present (I didn’t catch everybody’s name). The audio on the Twitch stream at times was very uneven, and the sound cut out completely at one point, so I may have missed a few items in this report.

Any editorial comments in these notes are in italics.

Among the new features planned for the next few releases of the Sansar client:

  • New emotes system. You will not have to go into the character editor to select emotes. You can use hotkeys to play emotes instead of selecting them from a menu.
  • New starter avatar looks in the carousel, with more variety possible for first-time users.
  • Twitch extensions (a new feature for streamers; I have no idea what this means).
  • Scene-based animations (e.g. animations that are enacted when you enter a scene or world)
  • Having items in your backpack change according to certain events and triggers.
  • Improvements to moderation tools (internal use first, then eventually passing them on to end users).
  • Group travel and group chat (by the end of next quarter).
  • Improvements to the instance picker.
  • User Interface improvements (Binah is working on this).

After announcements, Galileo opened the floor for questions from the audience in attendance at the Product Meetup. Items and issues that came up during this question and answer session included:

  • Individual avatar volume controls are likely to come in the second quarter of 2020, as part of the roll-out of the UI redesign.
  • Skin textures and body sliders: Linden Lab is looking at skin textures in the first quarter of 2020, and they hope to have this feature released sometime over the next couple of client updates. “The body sliders are further out, for sure, but skin textures are closer.” (Editorial note: I’ll believe it when I see it. My understanding from various sources is that most of the Sansar avatar team was laid off in October, which will significantly impact further avatar customization plans.)
  • No planned changes to any income splits between creators and Linden Lab. (Editorial note: Again, no big surprises here. Some content creators are obviously still feeling cranky about the percentage LL takes when selling items on the Sansar Store, and cashing out profits.)
  • Various people reported problems with the avatar files in Blender, which Linden Lab has not yet had an opportunity to look at.
  • There are no plans for extending shader capabilites (and yes, there is still someone left on the shader team, despite rumours to the contrary). Linden Lab may bring him out to a future Product Meetup to answer questions.

Those are pretty much the highlights of the meeting, from what I can see. I’m glad that Linden Lab is still having regular Product Meetups, even though I still don’t expect to see any major new features showing up in any future releases in 2020. (The planned updates to the emote system are certainly very welcome, though.)

UPDATE Jan. 18th, 2020: As usual, Inara Pey has a much more detailed breakdown of what was discussed at this meeting. Thanks, Inara!


Saying Good-Bye to Sansar (Part II)

I’m still feeling extremely depressed today.

Rather than continue to flip-flop on Sansar, I’m going to stick with my decision to leave the platform. I just feel heartbroken about the direction Sansar is taking, and I realize that I have been a little too emotionally invested in the platform overall (after all, Sansar was the reason I started this blog in the first place).

Sometimes, I care a little too much about things, instead of being dispassionate about them. And this time, rather than try to fix things, I just need to let things be.

In retrospect, I became the one person whom people would talk to whenever they had complaints about how Linden Lab was running Sansar, hoping that I would blog about the issues in an editorial. And sometimes I did. But over time, all I heard about Sansar was the negative things that were going on, instead of the positive things, and I can see now how that it has worn me down. When it comes to Sansar, I am completely burned out.

I have learned my lesson, and I won’t be making the same mistake with over virtual worlds I write about. In future, I will be more resolute, more dispassionate.

But today, I am feeling depressed, heartbroken, and just plain worn out—hardly the best state to start off a new year. So I will be taking a couple of days off from blogging, to give myself an opportunity to heal a bit. I’ll be back after I have had a chance to rest and recover.

As for Sansar, I am going to stick with my decision to stay away for now.

Saying Good-Bye to Sansar: Some Final Thoughts on the Final Day of the Year

Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

I am feeling extremely depressed, disheartened, and discouraged today, the final day of the year.

You might be surprised to learn that the majority of the responses I received to yesterday’s Sansar “call to arms” blogpost have been negative, not positive. People are no longer inclined to feel positive about Sansar.

If I could summarize all the negative responses, they all pretty much run along the lines of: “We gave, we gave some more, we got burned, we’re not giving any more. Linden Lab made too many mistakes, and Sansar is doomed. I’m not responding to your call to arms to try and save it.”

Furthermore, I have had several private conversations with long-time members of the Sansar community over these past few days, partly in response to the Comet project set-up fiasco (to which I sadly contributed to the overall miscommunication). And I have heard a great many disturbing things, about which I swore promises that I would not write about them on this blog. So I will not.

But I can say this.

The small remaining Sansar community (those who have not already given up, packed up, and left) are largely feeling fearful, mistrustful, betrayed, and angry. By and large, they no longer trust Linden Lab, and by and large, they feel that they are not being listened to anymore. Communication between most LL staff and most Sansar users has broken down to the worst point that I have ever seen it in the three years that I have been part of this community. Small wonder the Comet project lead to such rumour-mongering, hearsay, and finger-pointing.

Linden Lab staff working on Sansar are currently stressed beyond imagination, scrambling to fill in for laid-off coworkers as best they can. I have also heard rumours that key LL staff who survived the October layoffs, but then quit after them, have not been replaced—hardly a promising sign. Because of their high-stress work environment, LL staff are making mistakes, which are often taken as signs of ill intent by an already distrustful user community (again, the Comet project is an example).

In my opinion, the entire Sansar community—both staff and users—is now so broken, so distrustful, and so dysfunctional, that I fear it will hasten, instead of forestall, the failure and shut-down of Sansar. When well-known, long-time members of the Sansar community tell me they are planning to shut down their worlds completely, and take their items down from the Sansar Store, it is a sign that there is something terribly, terribly wrong within the virtual society, within the virtual world, we have all built together. It breaks my heart more than I can say.

I now realize that I can’t fix this current mess by anything I say or anything I do. So, instead of rallying the troops to try and save Sansar, I have decided that the best thing for me to do is, simply, to walk away.

I give up.

I can’t fix Sansar’s problems, and trying to stay and fix them is making me more and more depressed, and negatively impacting on the rest of my life. So for my own personal mental health, I am leaving Sansar.

I’m sorry. Like those who responded to my call to arms yesterday, I realize that I have literally nothing left to give anymore.

I realize that I have now changed my mind for the second time in two days about Sansar. That in itself is a strong sign that I need to step away from the platform completely, and give myself time and space to heal.

I will still continue to write this blog, but I will be taking an extended break from Sansar, and not writing about it at all. I will continue work on the Metaverse Newscast, which is currently on hiatus while I teach myself digital video editing, to take over that task from my producer, Andrew William. There will be no future Metaverse Newscast episodes about Sansar for the forseeable future.

I hope that you will understand my decision. But even if you don’t, I expect you to respect it. Thank you. And I’m sorry if I let you down.

Good-bye, Sansar. It’s been a fascinating three years. But it’s over. As part of my decision, I have left the official Sansar Discord server.

Editorial: Sansar—A Call to Arms

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.

Something. Anything.

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.

Eugène Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People (1830, The Louvre)

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?