Editorial: Are Social VR Platforms Dependent Upon High-End PCVR Doomed?

Today’s Melatopia Festival in Sansar: Less than 45 Avatars Total?

This afternoon, I paid a visit to Sansar to attend the virtual version of the Melatopia South Asian festival. I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and listen to some great music. Sansar is still (to my mind) the most beautiful virtual world, with a vibrant marketplace (44,582 items and counting) providing endless avatar customization options (there was even a mini velociraptor avatar running around amidst the crowd at the concert stage!).

But all the while, I had this nagging little voice in the back of my head, asking: Where is everybody?

To the best of my knowledge (and Wookey may correct me if I am mistaken), the Melatopia event never went above a single instance, and there were never more than 45 avatars total present at the festival (and most of the time that I was there, the figure from the Codex was in the low-to-middle thirties). (UPDATE: There was briefly one time in the afternoon where the festival hit a high if 51 avatars, spawning a second instance.)

Even granted that most people would be watching the show via Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, I find that to be a shockingly, abysmally low attendance figure, especially compared to the multitudes that would have attended the real-life version of this festival, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.

Frankly, this blogger has long ago given up trying to chastise Wookey for their puzzling lack of promotion of events on the Sansar platform. There’s only so many times I can write the same editorial: YOU NEED TO PAY FOR PROMOTION. YOU CANNOT EXPECT PEOPLE TO COME TO SANSAR IF YOU DO NOT PROMOTE THE PLATFORM. But my pleas (and those of many other observers) seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Whatever Wookey is doing to promote Sansar, it’s clearly not enough.

But it does raise a bigger question that I have only addressed in passing in earlier editorials discussing and dissecting the demise of the old High Fidelity and the near-death experience and resurrection of Sansar. And that question is: was it a mistake to build social VR platforms that would only run on tethered, high-end virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Valve Index? The collective term I and many other people use when talking about these VR headsets, all of which require a high-end Windows gaming computer with a powerful graphics card to run, is PCVR.

Let’s face facts: both now and for the foreseeable future, the clear VR headset of choice by consumers will be the wireless, standalone Oculus Quest, especially now that Facebook has released the newer, cheaper Oculus Quest 2. And Facebook will stop selling its Oculus Rift S tethered, PCVR headset (the successor to the original Oculus Rift) this coming spring. Business Insider reported:

“We’re going to focus on standalone VR headsets moving forward,” the company said in a blog post on Wednesday. “We’ll no longer pursue PC-only hardware, with sales of Rift S ending in 2021.”

The Rift line of headsets required a powerful gaming PC to power virtual reality experiences. The headset connected to the PC with a set of wires, but the latest Oculus Quest headsets are able to replicate this experience with a single detachable USB cable in addition to operating without a dedicated PC.

As such, Facebook isn’t outright killing its PC-driven virtual reality efforts. It will continue supporting higher-end, PC-powered virtual reality on the Quest line of headsets. 

“We’ve seen significant growth in PC VR via Oculus Link,” the blog post said, “and the Rift Platform will continue to grow while offering high-end PC VR experiences like ‘Lone Echo II’ and ‘Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond’ well into the future.”

Two years ago, TechCrunch reported on the disagreements within Facebook over the company’s decision to focus on standalone as opposed to high-end, tethered headsets, saying that Brendan Iribe, the co-founder and former CEO of Oculus, was “leaving Facebook  following some internal shake-ups in the company’s virtual reality arm last week that saw the cancellation of the company’s next generation ‘Rift 2’ PC-powered virtual reality headset, which he had been leading development of”.

If Facebook is leaving the high-end PCVR market, what does that mean for the future of social VR platforms which either do not run on the Quest, like Sansar, or do not run at their full technical capacity, like VRChat? (I wrote about my earlier experiences running VRChat on my Oculus Quest here. Although I’m sure the situation has improved somewhat since then, the fact remains that you still need PCVR to really experience everything that VRChat has to offer.) Are those platforms that run best (or only) on PCVR doomed?

No. So relax. (Yeah, all right, I admit that was a click-bait blogpost title. Sue me.)

While the market for high-end PCVR might mature more slowly than that of wireless VR headsets (and definitely more slowly than most overconfident observers had originally predicted), eventually it will come. Devices may come and go in popularity, but the overall trend is clear: ever more data being pushed to your headset, creating ever more detailed environments. Eventually, that screen door effect that can sometimes make it difficult to read text in a VR headset will vanish. Visual fidelity will only improve from here on in. Consumers and businesses will demand it, and they will buy it. It’s inevitable.

While we do not yet know what future headsets various tech companies have on their drawing boards, we can be assured that other companies will definitely step into the PCVR market while Facebook is stepping out, and up the VR/AR/XR game (many eyes are watching to see what Apple will do, for example). As I like to say, a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that many people who get their first taste of VR from an Oculus Quest will no doubt graduate to more powerful, tethered devices. (Even Facebook may decide to change their minds at some point in the future, particularly if they should see any potential competitors do well.)

I myself have already placed my order for a Valve Index kit to replace my trusty, four-year-old Oculus Rift, as part of my personal boycott of Facebook/Oculus products and services (more info here). I have heard through the grapevine that they are selling well since Facebook’s decision to force Oculus device users to get Facebook accounts, which is not sitting well with many early VR adopters at all.

And I very much look forward to visiting future virtual festivals in Sansar in my shiny new Valve Index!

Sansar Announces an Extension of the Grandfathered Sell Rate for Content Creators Cashing Out—But the Deadline is Tomorrow!

Way, waaay back in November, 2018, I reported on a change to the cashout rate for Sansar dollars which, to this day, has remained controversial among many content creators:

The buy rate will be set to 100 Sansar dollars to 1 US dollar. The exchange rate back (the sell rate) will be set to 250 to 1. However, the sell rate will be grandfathered for current Sansar users at the “legacy” rate of 143 to 1 until at least the end of next year (2019). 

Well, when Sansar went through the wrenching ownership change that eventually led to it being acquired by Wookey, many content creators were expecting that grandfathered rate to be extended beyond the end of 2019, but no announcement was ever made.

But just yesterday, the following announcement was posted to the official Sansar blog by Lacie, Sansar’s community manager:

We are happy to announce that we will be extending the Grandfathered rate of (143 Sansar Dollars to 1 U.S. Dollar ratio) until the end of 2021 to the creators that help our platform grow with their excellent creations. In order to be eligible for this extended rate, you MUST follow the instructions below:

If you would like to apply for the Grandfathered rate – you will need to send in a support ticket by August 28th

You can send in a support ticket at the following link: Link

You must include the following to be considered eligible:

1) Title of Ticket: Grandfathered Rate

In the body of the ticket, you must include:

2) Your full Sansar User Handle (Example: Lacie-5474)
3) Your email linked to your Sansar account
4) A link to your Sansar Profile (Example: https://profiles.sansar.com/profiles/Lacie-Sansar )
5) Indicate that you wish to receive the grandfathered rate.

The deadline to submit your requests is August 28th, 2020, 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, which is tomorrow, so don’t delay!

Lacie also writes:

Additionally, please note that our product team will be developing a forum post announcement in the near future that will outline both our current and future marketplace strategy. Please keep your eyes posted for this.

Although I had put my dream of becoming an avatar clothing creator in Sansar on indefinite hold, I might just apply for the grandfathered cashout rate, in case I change my mind! Sometimes it pays to keep all your options open.


UPDATE 1:00 p.m.: After writing and posting this blogpost, Lacie reached out to tell me that, despite the blogpost mysteriously being dated yesterday, this announcement had been made two weeks ago via the official Sansar Discord channel. Thanks, Lacie!

UPDATED! Linden Lab To Be Acquired By an Investment Group Led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager

Please note that I am taking the entire month of July off as a self-imposed vacation from the blog so I can focus on my other work, except for sponsored blogposts, and major breaking news such as this. See you in August!


Randy Waterfield (left) and Brad Oberwager (right). Source: LinkedIn profiles


This evening, Linden Research (better known as Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life) dropped a bombshell press release: the small but profitable privately-held company which has been run pretty much independently since it was founded by Philip Rosedale in San Francisco in 1999, will be acquired by an investment group.

SAN FRANCISCO, July 9, 2020 — Linden Research, Inc. announced today it signed an agreement to be acquired by an investment group led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager. Closing of the acquisition is subject to regulatory approval by financial regulators in the U.S. related to Tilia Inc.’s status as a licensed money transmitter as well as other customary closing conditions. Upon closing, Mr. Waterfield and Mr. Oberwager will join the Board of Directors of Linden Research, Inc.

“We’re excited for this new chapter to begin. We see this as an opportunity to continue growth and expansion for Second Life and our money services business Tilia,” says Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg. “We’re grateful for the ongoing support from our community, business partners and investors. Now more than ever, there is increased recognition of the value and utility of virtual worlds to bring people together for safe, shared, and social online experiences.”

“Both the company and its virtual world community have a unique culture and creative energy that remain important to the long-term success of Second Life,” says Brad Oberwager. “There’s a bright future for both Second Life and Tilia and we’re excited to help fuel these growth opportunities.”

“Since its inception 17 years ago, Second Life has been a pioneer in the concepts of virtual societies, land and economies,” says Second Life founder Philip Rosedale, who is now CEO of High Fidelity. “I’ve known Brad for 14 years personally and professionally, and I’m confident he will bring his passion and proven strategies to help Linden Lab achieve new heights in distribution, scale, and quality while remaining true to the original vision, creativity, and community that makes Second Life unique and special.”

Mr. Oberwager has spent his entire career in technology and consumer-focused companies. Mr. Oberwager is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Jyve, a Silicon Valley based technology company. Prior to Jyve, Mr. Oberwager owned Bare Snacks, acquired by PepsiCo. Mr. Oberwager is an advisor to several technology start-ups and sits on the boards of several technology and CPG companies.

Mr. Waterfield is the Chairman and CEO of the Waterfield Group. The Waterfield Group has invested in over 100 technology, financial, insurance, bank and other companies.


One commenter on the news over at the RyanSchultz.com Discord server noted:

One of the new investors in the group that bought Linden Research [Linden Lab] is Randy Waterfield, the Wookey guy.

Wookey, of course, is the company that bought Sansar from Linden Lab earlier this year, after the platform went through two rounds of staff layoffs and almost folded.

What does all this mean? Damned if I know! I’m quite sure many Second Life users will be wondering what it all means as well. New owners could mean a shake-up at Linden Lab, and we all know how much some Second Life users hate changes (witness the fuss last year over Tilia).

Of course, it might also be the best thing to happen to the platform, a new opportunity (with fresh investment!) to take it to the next level of growth.

Interesting times, indeed! Stay tuned.

UPDATE 11:08 p.m.: The news took many by surprise, including the team who work on the most popular Second Life viewer program, Firestorm, who tweeted:

Please don’t ask us, this was news to us too.

Longtime SL blogger Inara Pey reported:

I reached out to linden Lab on finding out the news, but was informed the company has no further comment on the acquisition beyond the press release.

However, given that the acquisition will see Mr. Waterfield and Mr. Oberwager joining the board, I would anticipate that – given the nature of acquisitions – it is unlikely there will be any immediate visible changes to Linden Lab, Second Life or Tilia Inc., and, and the company will likely to continue to operate in a “business as usual” mode with regards to both Second Life operations and the community for the immediate future. That said, there will likely be a lot of speculation as to the future of SL, together with concerns / fears as to what the longer-term future might be.

While it is purely speculative on my part, I would hazard a guess that the acquisition will take into consideration the increased interest Second life has witnessed over the last year(ish), and particularly as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and will see in inflow of cash for the company that will allow it to (hopefully) meet its immediate goals with both Second Life and Tilia Inc., and allow both platforms to continue to be developed.

And (of course!) there is an ever-growing comment thread over on the Second Life Community Forums.

UPDATE July 10th, 2:08 p.m.: In response to the intense level of speculation on the above-mentioned comment thread on the SL community forums, Brett Linden, Senior Director of Marketing for Linden Lab, made the following statement:

Good day, all!

Just jumping in to respond to a few of the comments…

A few folks are speculating that this is the end of SL and nothing could be further than the truth. Any talk of dismantling or radically changing the fundamentals of SL that we know and love is inaccurate. While we can’t get into specific details about the deal itself, I want to emphasize the fact that this keeps Linden Lab as an independent venture led by two investors who have a great deal of awareness about what SL is and isn’t. They are excited to join and help us grow both SL and Tilia while also respecting and recognizing the needs and sensitivities of the existing culture and community. 

And, in response to a question about when more detailed information would be forthcoming about the acquisition, and when the new owners would address the Second Life community, Brett said:

Great question! We look forward to being able to share more as soon as we can and I know that Brad is eager to meet the community as we get closer to the closing/approval date. 

New! Sansar Launches Mobile Apps for iPhone, iPad and Android Devices

While reading through all the ways that you could watch and listen to the Lost Horizon virtual music festival in Sansar, I learned that there are now mobile apps, for both iOS and Android devices!

Here’s a link to the iPhone and iPad apps on the Apple App Store, and here is the link to the app on the Google Play App Store.

Once again, the branding is squarely on attending live events in Sansar. The events listing includes this weekend’s Lost Horizon Festival, plus a number of other live music events taking place later on this month, such as Monstercat: Call of the Wild. Because it would appear that Wookey staff need to place cameras in place before the event, not every event from the Sansar Events Calendar is available to view using these new mobile apps (perhaps Wookey charges clients extra for this service?).

The only stage I could visit on the iPhone app was the Gas Tower stage, and the only views I could get were a direct view of the DJ on stage, or a birds-eye view of the event, seeing the avatars of the people who were there in person as tiny figures below me:

The sound quality was not great, and I was unable to visit any of the other music stages. The first set of reviewers on the App Store were not that impressed:

However, it is still a significant step for Wookey-run Sansar to have mobile apps, which dramatically opens the door to a much broader potential audience. I’m also quite sure that they are using these new apps as part of their product pitch to other music industry executives, to offer more live music performers in future! Let’s hope that this new feature will help to reel in a few new customers and events.