Linden Lab Announces Major Changes in Sansar Staffing and Direction: Is This a Platform Pivot Similar to High Fidelity’s?

This was me on Friday…
(Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash)

Yesterday I was off sick from work, and I landed up spending most of the day resting in bed, popping extra strength Tylenol and nursing a sore shoulder and just generally feeling depressed, tired, and cranky.

I slept most of the day, so I missed the unexpected Product Meetup held on Friday in Sansar (after a previous announcement that there would be no Product Meetup this week, instead of on Thursday when they are usually held). Even worse, Inara Pey missed the last-minute meeting as well; I usually rely on her excellent, detailed reports myself, as I tend not to go to Product Meetups that often.

At Friday’s Product Meetup, several major changes in Sansar staffing and direction were announced. I did watch the livestream video that is posted to Twitch here (warning: the audio is still a bit low for my tastes, so you might need to use headphones or earphones to hear it) and here is what I learned:

  • The big news is that Sansar will now be focused primarily on live events. Galileo said Linden Lab will be bringing in some new event partners, as well as encouraging Sansarians to create more live events. They also announced a second focus, on in-world socialization and communication tools, but there were no technical details given.
  • It would appear that avatar body deformation, which according to a message I received from Landon McDowell back in September, Linden Lab was “working to get body morph in before the end of the year“, has been taken off the Sansar development roadmap. It would appear that any further avatar customization features have been pushed back indefinitely or even halted. Landon McDowell is (was?) the Chief Product Officer at Linden Lab. I say was, because it is clear (both from announcements at the Friday meeting and gossip I am hearing today) that there has been a major staff shake-up on the Sansar project.
  • While Galileo said that Linden Lab couldn’t comment on specific staff changes, a few were announced or mentioned in passing at the meeting. Lacie Linden said she is now responsible for responding to support tickets in addition to her other duties. Galileo said that Harley Linden has been reassigned to Second Life. Other staff changes announced at the Friday meeting: CowboyNinja Linden (someone new to me) is apparently the new General Manager for Sansar; Sheri Bryant, previously Vice President of Marketing, is now also a General Manager of Sansar (two General Managers? I’m confused); Hari Raghavan, previously the Senior Manager, Marketing Communication at Linden Lab, is the new Director of Marketing.

Coho Linden, the Release Manager for Sansar, reported on what will be in the next release of Sansar (hopefully next week):

  • Desktop user aiming improvements
  • Support for the pre-morph skeletons (not sure what this means)
  • Improved freecam edit mode in the Lookbook editor mode
  • Scripting of avatar spawn points
  • Scripting of camera view
  • Snap-to-grid for movement and rotation of objects
  • Import JPEG files and remove the limitations on texture dimensions
  • Establish an avatar texture budget which would allow for more avatars to be in a scene, and improve Sansar performance for users on lower-end computers
  • Allow users to abandon in-progress quests

Binah Linden announced a few changes to the in-client shopping experience:

  • The Sansar Store is now a movable, resizable window
  • New searching filters: male, female, Marvelous Designer, static mesh
  • Can now copy and share store links in chat
  • New script to add an interaction to an object that will open your store

Boden Linden announced a major change to events: events will be linked to a currently published world, instead of a template. Also, notifications that an event is starting will be sent out in-world to those users who indicated that they were interested in the event.

Skyler Linden, the Engineering Manager at Linden Lab, announced that persistent storage is coming. New scripting abilities will allow you to save data and keep track of persistent data. Data can also be shared using tables.

More information on these new features will be published in the documentation that always comes out with each new Sansar release.


So, what do I think about all this? Glad you asked, because, as always, I have opinions. People have been messaging me all day with gossip surrounding what appears to be a major shake-up of staff working on Sansar. One person told me:

Hello Ryan are you aware that there was “restructuration” that went on at Sansar? Apparently Landon is gone, Harley has been sent to SL, Nyx is gone, and I don’t know other names. People are saying 30 are gone, but I don’t know if that number is just speculation. People are checking the staff’s profiles on Discord to see if they are gone, but it’s not up to date yet. Harley is gone altogether from the server. Others show up in white: no roles.

But I am going to wait until I can get some confirmation before I report on any other staff changes. Here I have reported on the four staff changes that were talked about at Friday’s Product Meetup.

It is clear that there has been a major change in Sansar product development, similar in tone (if not in size) to the recent pivot announced this spring over at High Fidelity. Only in this instance, the pivot is not away from consumers to enterprise users; the pivot appears to be a new, primary focus on Sansar as a live event platform, at the expense of previous development priorities such as further avatar customization options, including the long-awaited body deformation Landon had promised me.

And, as you can tell, it’s not even clear yet who exactly has been taken off the Sansar project, and who is no longer with Linden Lab at all. It sounds as though most staff affected have been reshuffled to other jobs rather than let go, but nobody external to the company knows for sure. Again, comparing this pivot to High Fidelity’s recent pivot, at least Philip Rosedale made an official announcement of staff layoffs. I doubt that we will get a similar formal announcement from Ebbe Altberg; Linden Lab has tended not to announce staff changes, such as layoffs, in the past and I do not expect this to change.

Is this set of major changes in staffing and product direction a response to the relative lack of interest in Sansar, compared to the higher levels of concurrent users on other platforms such as VRChat and Rec Room? Is this is response to the lambasting Sansar is getting in user reviews on Steam? There has been a steady stream of thumbs-down reviews on Steam lately, to the point where Ebbe Altberg has recently asked users on the official Sansar Discord to post a review if they haven’t yet. I take this as a sign that Linden Lab is obviously worried about all the negative reviews on Steam. Is this a battening down of the hatches? Has Linden Lab decided to do what some external critics have suggested, and transfer some workers from Sansar to Second Life?

But the thing that bothers me the most about all this, is that we are now stuck halfway through what was supposed to be a major avatar update! What happened to all the big plans for Avatar 2.0? We were supposed to be getting body deformation in addition to the extensive face deformation options previously released! It sounds as though all work in this area has been halted. In response to a question from Bagnaria, we are not even getting custom skins for avatars. To me, this is a major disappointment, and a major setback to the project.

Feel free to leave a comment below, or, as always, you are welcome to join the freewheeling conversations, arguments, and debates about social VR and virtual worlds taking place on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion forum! We’d love to see you there. (And we do have a Sansar channel there, just for Sansar-related discussions.)

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Sansar Store Spotlight: Thiccmarize Shapewear by Ravioli

THICC (Pronounced “thick”):
When a person has fat in the right places, creating sexy curves.

Urban Dictionary.

*sigh*

I just keep looking at this elongated, stylized default Sansar 2.0 female avatar, and I keep thinking: Why? Why?!??

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHYYYYYYYYY?!???!

What sins have we committed to deserve such punishment?

Now, there are some people who actually prefer this avatar shape (heathens!). Sansar and Second Life blogger Chic Aeon, for example, is absolutely rocking the androgynous look in this picture:

But, alas, I just can’t seem to muster up any sort of enthusiasm for it. It is firmly, absolutely, resolutely not working for me, and I will resist this foul temptation with every fibre of my being! I want my female avatar to have curves, damn it! Curviness is next to Godliness!!! (Can I get an Amen?)

*cue organ music*

So out of the wilderness came my plaintive cry. And lo and behold, the shapewear makers heard my desperate plea for salvation! Thank you, sweet minty Jesus, for the talented and nimble Sansar content creators! (Who would have ever thought, a week ago, that shapewear would become a necessary category on the Sansar Store? Truly, it is a sign that we are living in the end times.)

Late yesterday evening, I blogged about Daisy Winthorpe’s miraculous line of shapewear. And early this morning, I have decided to blog about a new line of products that also promise to transform your skinny Minnie into a voluptuous Vera. (Yea, verily, true believers!)

Ravioli has created what he calls Thiccmarize shapewear, a rigged body attachment for the default Sansar Avatar 2.0 female avatar body:

Unlike Daisy’s solution (which you wear, drape your clothing over, then remove), Ravioli’s Thiccmarize shapewear is tinted in five colours to match your avatar skintone exactly, and you are intended to be worn underneath and with your outfit (even peeking through at the bust or butt!).

Here’s what Vanity Fair looks like wearing Thiccmarize shapewear, from the front, side, and back, in a Marvelous Designer-created dress plucked at random from my inventory:

Hallelujah! Much, much better!

Here’s the link to Ravioli’s Thiccmarize shapewear in the Sansar Store. And the best part is, they’re all free!

Thus concludes my sermon. Go now, and spread the blessed Thiccmarize gospel to the slim and slender women of Sansar! And may God be with you. Amen.


UPDATE: Sorry, but it’s time to ditch the televangelist schtick and discuss a serious subject.

I have been rather sternly taken to task by one reader of my blog, for using the word “emaciated” to describe the new default Sansar female avatar. He shares the following picture of what emaciated really looks like (see right). And he asks me if I would be okay with the opposite trend of fat shaming.

He has a point. So, I will henceforth not use the word “emaciated” to describe these avatars, even though the arms on the default Sansar female avatar distressingly resemble this photo, in my own, purely personal opinion (please see the image at the top of this blogpost for reference). And I do apologize if I have offended anybody. I’m sorry. I hadn’t realized that I am still looking at things from a fat-person perspective and bias, and a First World, North American consumerist viewpoint. We all need to work on complicating our perspectives in order to make this world a better and more accepting place for everybody—thin, fat, “thicc”, and every variation in-between.

Sansar Users!!! Are You Unhappy with the New, Default Avatar 2.0 Female Avatar? Market Forces to the Rescue!

Photo by Karine Germain on Unsplash

One of the things that I have noticed about virtual worlds with an in-world marketplace is that, quite often, market forces will solve a problem that has been created, or address an issue that is causing concern, without the company that made the platform having to do anything to fix it! The customers solve the problem themselves!

This has been demonstrated over and over again in Second Life. Creative content makers have, time and again, stepped up to the plate to fix a perceived problem, and reap some profits from their ingenuity. For example: do you hate the default duck walk on your Second Life avatar? Et voilà! Animation overrides were created, and they sell like hotcakes for literally dozens of animation vendors. (I’m still waiting for them to come to Sansar.)

Dislike the default Second Life system avatar? Crafty creators like Onyx LeShelle (who designed the ever-popular Maitreya Lara body) made a completely mesh body, mesh bodies become the new avatar standard, and Onyx and other mesh body creators take home money by the wheelbarrow! Witness market forces at work.

So, when Sansar released stylized, rather emaciated-looking default human avatars with their Avatar 2.0 rollout, many people (including me) complained. But Daisy Winthorpe, bless her heart, saw a business opportunity!

Daisy has just released new shapewear for the Avatar 2.0 female avatar (top and bottom) that you can add to your avatar before you put on clothes, to give you the Kim Kardashian shape of your dreams! Here’s Sansar Store links to the top and the bottom (they’re only S$25 each!):

How they work is simple but brilliant. You add the shapewear first, and adjust it as you like using the simulate button (they are made using Marvelous Designer so they are completely adjustable like any MD clothing). Then you freeze the simulation for the shapewear, then add the clothing you want to wear over top and simulate just that, then freeze your outfit and remove the shapewear! The curves remain!!!

Here’s a before-and-after demonstration. BEFORE (please click on each individual image to see it in a larger size):

And AFTER (again, just click on the image to see a larger size):

Here’s another comparison shot, before and after:

Not only has the shapewear made for a shapelier, “thicc” body, it’s also made the dress seem fuller and longer overall! (UPDATE: Whoops! I just realized that it’s not the shapewear that makes the dress look bigger; the dress looks bigger because I actually made it bigger using the new Transform Item button on the Worn Items window! You can now resize clothing to fit your personal style! Try doing that in Second Life!)

Yes, I will admit it’s a bit of a matronly look with this particular style of dress I chose, but at least I was able to get rid of that starving, hangry supermodel Barbie look! I absolutely freaking love it! Thank you, Daisy!

Now, if you do find that this is perhaps a little too shapely for your tastes, fear not! Daisy has made less Kardashian-curvy models of shapewear to please just about everybody! Hurray!

Here’s her store. Now, go and give her all your money!!!

Market forces strike again!!!

UPDATED Editorial: Moving from Avatar 1.0 to Avatar 2.0 in Sansar—A Look at the Gains and Losses, and Why I Think Linden Lab Has Made A Mistake with the New Default Female Avatar 2.0

Let’s make one thing very clear: I am not a happy camper. My first two blogposts I made very early this morning about the most recent update to Sansar (here and here) were bouquets to Ebbe Altberg and his team for a job well done, but this third blogpost is about a major beef I have with the new Avatar 2.0 system, specifically the new female avatar.

I first had inklings that something was wrong when people were complaining about the female avatar proportions on the Sansar Discord. I wrote up a blogpost about it, Cara Linden responded and I posted her response, and then I promptly forgot about it.

But today. TODAY….

I decided to load up my Vanity Fair avatar to see what kind of impact the move to Avatar 2.0 would have on her inventory. I already knew that I would lose all the old custom avatars, as well as any rigged clothing and hair, but I wanted to see what I was left with, and how I could work with what was left.

The change was actually pretty wrenching for me. I hadn’t anticipated that I would lose EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. PAIR. OF. SHOES. I had ever bought! I was left with one pair of tan boots and that was it. I would have thought that at least shoes could have been carried over from Avatar 1.0 to Avatar 2.0!

And, as expected, all my old hairstyles were gone, replaced by the six default female hairstyles, none of which I liked. *sigh*

Another very unpleasant surprise was that Linden Lab removed all their previous default clothing from my inventory, except for the futuristic Nexus top, pants, and shoes I was wearing! What the hell, Linden Lab?!?? Couldn’t you have offered us some NON science-fiction outfits? Are we supposed to be an all-science-fiction, all the time, now?!??

I am not a fan of any of the preset face shapes, or the choice of skin tones and eye colours. Would it have killed Linden Lab to give us a few more options in these areas, especially since we have to wait for custom skins and eyes? This is the best I could come up with on short notice, without touching any of the sliders or the face deformation buttons:

Vanity Fair, Avatar 2.0

A little boring, but a perfectly serviceable starting point.

Now to get to the main reason I am so upset. The default basic female body shape is absolutely ridiculous. She’s too elongated, her shoulders and hips are too narrow, and her arms look like they have no muscles at all! I honestly cannot believe that we have been given such an unrealistic starter female avatar. What the hell was Linden Lab thinking?!?? I consider this to be a definite step backwards, and the sooner that Linden Lab implements proper body sliders and body deformations, the better.

So now it’s time to try on some of the Marvelous Designer-created clothing which survived the transition from Avatar 1.0 to Avatar 2.0, to see how well it fits and how much adjusting is needed. The first thing I tried on was a simple white top, which by default fit far below her actual shoulders:

Using the new Transform Item button on the Worn Items window, I tried to adjust the top to fit my new, overly-elongated body:

You can now edit clothing using tools which will be familiar to users of other virtual worlds such as Second Life: translate, rotate, and scale:

The fourth button allows you to adjust all three at the same time:

So, after a bit of fiddling, here is what I was able to come up with:

So yes, the tools are there for you to be able to make your old clothing fit the new avatars, but you are going to have to do a lot of fiddling and tweaking and adjusting. Even worse, you are going to have to do all that fiddling and adjusting all over again if you take the item off and then put it back on from your inventory, because when you put it back on, it will automatically go to the same spot on your avatar body.

It also means that any clothing originally designed for Avatar 1.0 avatars will be a pain in the ass to use, because it will not fit the new avatars well by default. Most clothing makers will probably land up just removing older items from the Sansar Store completely, since they won’t fit as neatly and automatically as any new clothing specifically designed for Avatar 2.0 avatars will.

At this point, I’m a really very glad that I have so few items in my store on the Sansar Store, since I now am pretty much forced to redo them all. And yes, I am angry about that.

And keep in mind that this sort of fiddling, tweaking and adjusting of old clothing designed for Avatar 1.0 will be a major stumbling block to new users of Sansar, who will not understand why their clothing “doesn’t fit right”. I can only imagine how much work that somebody has to do now, who has already put dozens, or even hundreds, of items of clothing on the Sansar Store, in order to make them work better for the Avatar 2.0 avatars. It’ll be like starting over from scratch. This is very clearly NOT going to be the smooth process that was originally promised by Linden Lab. If I were a clothing maker who invested a lot of time and money into making clothing to date, I would be furious at Linden Lab for making such major changes to the avatar. Why was such a drastic change necessary? Why wasn’t an effort made to keep at least some sort of backwards compatibility?

And finally, and most damning of all…

I put on my VR headset and looked down myself as Vanity Fair, and I was HORRIFIED! My forearms look like toothpicks, and my hands are much too small! I look like someone with a wasting disease or a small child, not a grown woman!

The difference between Avatar 1.0 and Avatar 2.0 is so jarring that it is immersion-breaking. It’s also a complete deal-breaker for me. This is just a truly horrible default female avatar and at this point, I don’t think I will even bother to design clothing for it until it is replaced or improved. I’m that unhappy with it.

What the hell was wrong with the much more realistic proportions of the default female Avatar 1.0? Why did Linden Lab fuck this up so badly?? What were they thinking?!?? Let’s do a direct comparison, wearing the same outfit, between Avatar 1.0 and Avatar 2.0:

Vanity Fair, Avatar 1.0: This is what a real woman looks like
Vanity Fair, Avatar 2.0: Way too tall, hips too narrow, too thin, hands too small, looks like a Barbie doll

If you can’t see that there is something seriously wrong with the default female Avatar 2.0 just by comparing them side by side, then I give up. There were clearly drastic design decisions made that were NOT communicated by Linden Lab effectively to the users. This is NOT what we asked for. This is NOT what we wanted.


UPDATE: O.K. I’ve had a chance to calm down and think this over.

I think it is highly unlikely that Linden Lab is going to roll us back to Avatar 1.0, but I really disagree with the direction they decided to go for the female avatars. Landon Linden reported from the official Sansar Discord in response to this blogpost:

We’re working to get body morph in before the end of the year. It is a top priority for us, too.

And this is a bit of comfort. I keep forgetting that this is a beta, and that things like this will happen. We all take part in the beta knowing that something could come along and break everything for us, and we have to start over again. That’s part of the deal. I made the assumption that things would not change, and when they did change, and that change potentially impacted an avatar clothing business that I would very much like to get off the ground, I got upset.

I’m sorry.

SECOND UPDATE: Market forces to the rescue! We now have some good interim solutions to the new default female avatar proportions, and I’m much happier!