And no, I do not consider Sansar a success, despite the most valiant efforts of the remaining staff who are still working on the platform, and the COMETS, a small group of hard-working volunteers creating and promoting events. Linden Lab themselves did not consider Sansar a success. Why else would the company sell the money-losing platform to Wookey, a company known for buying other companies which have fallen into financial distress, in a last-ditch effort to turn some sort of profit out of it?
What disturbs me most about the change in ownership is that Wookey does not seem to be doing anything different from what Linden Lab has done. The focus remains squarely on live events, but so far, I do not see a whole hell of a lot of those happening, aside from the Monstercat: Call of the Wild series of concerts (okay, there was also a Virtual Rave Prom last Friday, with DJ Yultron).
If this is supposed to be a live events platform, where are all the (NON-volunteer driven) events? Where are the performers? We should have had some announcements by now, surely. During the change in ownership, Sansar lost a lot of those events, and I do not see a lot of new events to replace those that were lost.
Tong Zou, a YouTuber who recently posted a lightly-edited one hour and 40 minute video of his adventures exploring Sansar, had this to say at the very end of his video, after finding Sansar essentially empty in his travels, and only finding a handful of other avatars hanging out at the Nexus:
I mean, this is pretty much the only players on Sansar right now, which is really sad, because in my opinion, Sansar has the best worlds out of any social VR app, but they have the least people, so what the heck? Why do AltspaceVR and VRChat have more people than here, I don’t get it. Not enough marketing or something, I dunno. This is all the people in Sansar. Give me a break. Linden Lab has got to do a better job of promoting this game. This is just sad. This game deserves better than this. This app deserves better than this. C’mon, there only about 10 people here across the entire app.
Tong Zou hits the nail on the head when he says that the company (no longer Linden Lab, but Wookey) needs to actively promote Sansar. If the Wookey-owned Sansar is doing any marketing or promotion, I sure the hell am not seeing any evidence of that. And if they are hoping that word-of-mouth advertising is going to work to attract people to Sansar, they are badly mistaken.
Seriously, what the hell are they doing? From my perspective, Sansar is simply drifting aimlessly. Just because you’ve built a social VR platform that allows for the creation of beautiful worlds, and allows for customizable avatars, and supports a marketplace for content creators to earn money, you can’t just set it out there, among all the current and upcoming competition (e.g. Fortnite Party Royale, Facebook Horizon), and just expect it to grow on its own, without promotion. There’s simply too much else out there competing for attention.
In the December 2017 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Leslie Jamison wrote an article about Second Life. The webpage for that article has the original article title, Second Life Still Has 600,000 Regular Users (which you can check for yourself by doing a Google search):
However, it would seem that Leslie’s editor at The Atlantic wanted a somewhat punchier title, and so we have The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future, which shows up when you click on that link. (I’m pretty sure that Linden Lab is less than pleased with that particular editor.)
There’s a quote from that article which is, to my knowledge, the most up-to-date statistic we have about how many people still use Second Life: “Of the 36 million Second Life accounts that had been created by 2013—the most recent data Linden Lab will provide—only an estimated 600,000 people still regularly use the platform.”
Let’s get this out of the way first: 542,967 unique users across 9.9 million sessions spending 17.7 million hours logged into Second Life on Firestorm over the last 30-day period.
If you assume that Firestorm has 90% of the SL viewer market (a reasonable assumption), that still works out to about 600,000 regular monthly users (that is, people who sign into Second Life at least once a month).
“The Second Life community, which now has about 900,000 active users monthly, hosts hundreds of events daily,” Ebbe Altberg, the CEO of Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, tells VICE. Altberg reveals that the most regularly attended virtual events include live music performances, shopping fairs, fan fiction conventions, book and poetry readings, academic lectures, fashion shows, and art exhibitions. “Events in Second Life can be held spontaneously or with careful planning,” says Altberg. “We have an events calendar and destination guide that helps the community discover what is happening at any given moment. Inside the Second Life Viewer, many communities also form chat groups that allow for like-minded people to stay informed about the latest events.”
Linden Lab does not often reveal usage statistics, so this is noteworthy. What is also noteworthy is that the number of people who log into Second Life at least once a month has jumped from about 600,000 to approximately 900,000—a 50% increase!
Even though Linden Lab has been trying mightily to promote their virtual world and increase the number of people using Second Life for well over a decade, the company has been caught flat footed by this significant increase in usage (be careful what you wish for!).
Due to the ongoing public health crisis, we’ve experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for new Second Life regions. While we are thrilled by the heightened interest, the increased demand has consumed our available inventory of full regions and homesteads (there are still many parcels available on existing regions, both on the mainland and from private estates).
We are committed to maintaining (and improving) the stability and performance of Second Life. So while we are very gratified that we can be of help to people in these trying times, unfortunately, our current server systems cannot accommodate unlimited growth without adversely impacting that stability and performance. This means that region inventory in Second Life will be extremely limited and may not be readily available until early fall.
As we’ve discussed previously, Second Life is in the process of migrating from our existing dedicated servers to a cloud hosting service. That migration has already moved a number of the most important services and databases, but we are not quite ready to host simulators in the cloud. We have a crack team working on that and are making lots of progress, but there are significant changes needed to make sure that we can provide the performance, stability, and security required. When that process is complete we will have a nearly unlimited region capacity, but until then we are constrained by the size of our existing server fleet.
While our migration project has been underway for some time, even our most optimistic business projections did not anticipate a surge of the magnitude we have seen in recent weeks for additional regions. While we planned for growth driven by improvements to Second Life and other factors, we didn’t expect demand to be created by a global pandemic.
As a result, we are in the unfortunate position of hitting the maximum capacity of our “old” servers until the “new” cloud servers are fully operational.
Sensing a business opportunity, the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the number of companies offering platforms supporting remote team work, or (as I prefer to call them) YARTVRA. (This last link will take you to all the blogposts I have written about the remote teamwork marketplace to date.)
And this is not going to be a temporary situation, either. In a best-case scenario, we are going to have to wait 12 to 18 months for a vaccine, which means that social distancing policies, lockdowns, and quarantines are going to be implemented, off an on, for the foreseeable future by governments around the world. We could well see successive waves of coronavirus infection well into 2021, or even 2022!
The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented business opportunity for social VR platforms and virtual worlds. As the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines!
Linden Lab has invested quite a lot in the past few years to upgrade their financial systems to meet these new regulations, and they decided to make the savvy move to sell their well-developed virtual economy services to other platforms.
It is no surprise that former Linden Lab platform Sansar (now owned by Wookey) is one of Tilia’s customers. But it is somewhat of a surprise to me that among those new customers is a blockchain-based mobile property trading game called Upland, which I had never heard of before. Here’s a brief Vimeo promotional video:
Now I think it is interesting that a game that describes itself as “a property trading game paired with a decentralized economy” would decide to use Tilia instead of trying to create and monitor its in-game economy. Linden Lab might well be on to something here! I can foresee a time when other social VR platforms, virtual worlds, and games might also make the decision to outsource the management of their virtual economies in this way.
Earlier this year, after an extended break, I rejoined the official Sansar Discord server, and while I have not nearly been as active there as I used to be, I still lurk from time to time. I had a good laugh at this snippet of conversation from the day before yesterday (and yes, I do have both Medhue’s and Vassay’s permission to quote them, and to post this image here on the blog):
Medhue: Literally, Ryan Schultz does more marketing for Sansar than Sansar does.
Vassay: Funniy (sadly) enough, that’s true.
Medhue: IMHO, we have a bunch of people who live in the past, when music was a 50 billion dollar industry. It is not anymore, and likely won’t ever be again. Gaming has always been growing and there are really no signs of it slowing, grabbing more and more of the entertainment market each year.
Wookey has been strangely silent since its purchase of Sansar, and their team have been largely absent from the Sansar Discord. And yes, it is indeed true: even though I barely write about Sansar at all now on this blog, I still do more promotion of Sansar than Sansar does! This relative lack of marketing activity is frankly baffling to me. After all, the often ineffective marketing of Sansar by Linden Lab contributed to the difficulties it encountered in enticing people to visit the platform—and keep them coming back for return visits, a key indicator of success.
As you might know, the money-losing Sansar was recently sold by Linden Lab to Wookey. Many Linden Lab staffers who worked on Sansar moved over to Wookey, including Sheri Bryant, who was Vice President of Strategic Business Development and Marketing and then General Manager at Linden Lab, and is now President of Wookey Technologies (LinkedIn profile). She is widely credited with saving Sansar by setting up its sale to Wookey, and it is under her management that Sansar has significantly shifted its primary focus from a VR-enabled platform for world builders and content creators (i.e. a second-generation Second Life), to a VR-enabled live events venue.
On September 3rd, 2019, Billie Eilish performed a live show in Oculus Venues, which has hosted numerous virtual events since it launched the live concerts feature with a free concert by Australian artist Vance Joy broadcast live from the iconic Red Rocks venue on May 30th, 2018.
In addition, both Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR (which has recently announced a pivot to live events) and the ever-popular VRChat (which is already home to popular talk shows such as ENDGAME, and many other regular live events) are no doubt eyeing the possibility of hosting live concerts on their platforms. And let’s not forget the upcoming Facebook Horizon social VR platform, where Facebook will probably take what the company has learned over the past couple of years with Oculus Venues, and where they will want to sign their own exclusive deals with musical performers to entice people to visit their platform after it launches.
And this is the important point: some profitable companies with very deep pockets—Epic Games (the makers of Fortnite), Microsoft, and Facebook to name just three examples—are going to want to get into this potentially lucrative market. Smaller companies like Wookey, trying to shop around Sansar as a live events platform, are going to find themselves outbid by companies like Epic Games to bring in top talent, which of course brings in more users to Fortnite. It’s a vicious circle; the big players get bigger, while the small ones fight each other for the leftovers.
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered real-world concert arenas for the foreseeable future, which has only increased the economic pressure on the management representing the artists to sign deals with various metaverse-building companies in order to host virtual concerts and events. There’s probably already a lot of activity going on behind the scenes that we can’t see, but I expect we shall see quite a few announcements for virtual concerts with major musical artists, as well as many smaller artists, over the next six months.
Where Fortnite is already running circles around Sansar, even at this very early stage of the game, is their ability to sign deals with the highest level of talent (using all those billions of dollars of profit earned from their games like Fortnite), and their ability to host massive live events for millions of attendees (again, leveraging off their technical know-how to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure to support millions of Fortnite players playing the game simultaneously all around the world).
One thing that Wookey could be and should be doing for Sansar is promotion—and yet they are leaving it to bloggers like me to talk about the product. Where is the marketing? If they are holding off on marketing, waiting until they land some big-name events, I think that would be a tactical error.
Wookey needs to get Sansar’s name out there; many people in our attention-deficient society still have no idea that the platform even exists. Yet everybody and their grandmother has heard of Fortnite by now. That is no accident. Epic Games did a masterful job of fanning the flames of user interest. Wookey should be taking notes.
If no action is taken, Sansar is going to continue on its downward trajectory, slowly circling the drain, and eventually will fold. Linden Lab has already made many grievous errors in trying to effectively promote the platform; Will Wookey continue making the same mistakes?