Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

next-upnext upauthorJanko RoettgersNoneDo you know what's coming up next in the world of tech and entertainment? Get Janko Roettgers' newsletter every Thursday.9147dfd6b1
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Power

Second Life maker unloads social VR platform Sansar

What Sansar's story so far teaches us about the next crop of social platforms.

Second Life maker unloads social VR platform Sansar

Sansar was meant to bring the concept of Second Life to the world of VR. The experiment reaches a turning point as its been sold to a little-known company called Wookey Projects.

Image courtesy Linden Lab

After over five years of development, Sansar, a social VR platform built by Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, has a new owner.

Sansar has been acquired by a little-known startup called Wookey Projects. Details of the transaction, which was first discovered by members of the Second Life community, haven't been disclosed.


Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.


"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," said a statement on the Sansar blog. "We knew we needed to keep together our team and our vision, and the incredible community we'd built over the years."

Sansar, which was first officially released in 2017 after several years of development, is basically a more sophisticated version of Second Life, allowing users to interact in a graphically rich online world.

The sale happened just as everyone is looking for new ways of connecting with friends and colleagues around the world, and as companies forced into telework by coronavirus are considering AR and VR as a solution.

Sansar acknowledged the opportunity presented by the moment.

"In these challenging times, we know just how important it is to stay connected," it said in its blog post. "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!"

Linden Lab did not reply to a request for comment, but in an announcement, the company said it was choosing "to streamline its focus to continue the development and operations of the leading virtual world Second Life and licensed money services provider Tilia."

Sansar's sale is reflective of the slower-than-expected adoption of high-end VR, but there's also a lesson to be learned about the way Sansar had been positioned — a lesson that's of significance to anyone building, or working with, the next crop of social platforms.

Sansar: An evolution of Second Life, made for VR

Sansar's new owner Wookey Projects is a bit of an enigma: The company, which has existed in various iterations since at least 2015, seems to have few people on staff, high turnover among executives, and an opaque business proposition. Founded with the intent to launch "a web-cloud social search engine focused on positive human interaction," Wookey at one point attempted a reverse takeover of a publicly listed company. Now, it seems to have pivoted to AR and VR and acquired Sansar to kickstart those efforts.

Linden Lab began working on Sansar all the way back in 2014 and started sharing it with the public in 2016 as a successor to Second Life. The online virtual world first launched in 2003 had managed to attract a dedicated following, at one point topping 1 million monthly active users. However, efforts to grow the platform beyond that core following produced some cringe-worthy moments: Brands built huge virtual outposts and then quickly abandoned them, John Edwards campaigned in Second Life, only to see his virtual campaign headquarters vandalized. An in-world interview was disrupted by flying penises.

Sansar was supposed to deal with some of these and other shortcomings of Second Life, while also future-proofing the platform for massive audiences to come. Where Second Life's locations could only be visited by a couple of dozen users at a time, Sansar allows brands to run parallel instances of the same experience, making it a lot more scalable. Second Life liberally allowed X-rated content within designated communities, and Sansar was meant to be a safe space without porn. Where Second Life also came with a significant learning curve for new users, Sansar was supposed to be easier to navigate and inhabit.

Sansar's development was also very much a response to the tech zeitgeist of 2014: Facebook had just acquired Oculus for $2 billion, and PC-based VR headsets like the Oculus Rift were being seen as the future of immersive gaming and entertainment. However, sales of PC-based VR headsets disappointed, as early VR adopters flocked to cheaper solutions like Sony's PlayStation VR headset instead. By last year, even Facebook had largely pivoted to its standalone Oculus Quest headset. Linden Lab never extended support to either headset, telling consumers that the Quest was simply "not powerful enough to run Sansar."

Sansar can also be accessed without a headset, but still requires a powerful gaming PC to run. This reliance on heavy computing allowed Linden Lab to and some of Sansar's creators to build stunning 3D worlds, but it also became a significant barrier of entry. Linden Lab never published official Sansar numbers, but available metrics suggested that participation lagging, and even company employees admitted that it "has not had explosive growth yet." By late last year, members of Reddit's Sansar community concluded: "Sansar is dead."

Of course, there's no telling what might happen under Sansar's new ownership. Sansar's blog post seems optimistic that Wookey's lifeline will continue and expand the comapny's vision for virtual communities. "We're ecstatic to be embarking on this journey with Wookey, and we couldn't be more excited for what's to come!"

You can't just declare something the metaverse

There may be another reason that Sansar failed. From the very beginning, Linden Lab designed it as a social VR platform. A kind of metaverse, much like it has been described in science fiction books like "Snowcrash" and "Ready Player One." Studio exec turned VC Mathew Ball didn't specifically mention Sansar in a recent essay. about ways to build the metaverse, but he did call out this kind of top-down thinking as wrong:

"Consider the real world," Ball wrote. "Just making a mall capable of fitting a hundred thousand people or a hundred shops doesn't mean it attracts a single consumer or brand. 'Town squares' emerge organically around existing infrastructure and behaviors, to fulfill existing civilian and commercial needs."

The same was true for the metaverse, Ball argued. Instead of building a social canvas, companies were better suited to build apps or games fulfilling a specific need, and then organically grow the social layer once the user base is big enough. Ball cited Fortnite as an example for something that has been primarily positioned as a game but has since become so much more to many of its users.


Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.


Roblox a company that just raised $150 million in funding at a $4 billion valuation very much fits the same bill. It launched as a multiplayer online game in 2006, and has since become a blockbuster success story with 4 million peak concurrent users. Compared to Sansar, Roblox is a lot less polished, but it is a lot easier to create content for it. That, in turn, has allowed players in Roblox to build from the bottom up what Sansar was meant to be, as David George and Marc Andreessen recently wrote in a blog post about their decision to lead a $150 million investment round in the company:

"While pundits have been distracted by the readiness debates and questions over VR vs. AR, the foundations of a global metaverse have been quietly built in the background … in Roblox. With the company's focus on safety, persistent identity across worlds, and the ability to easily hop from one immersive experience to the other — tens of millions of which already exist on the Roblox platform — the company is well on their way to making the metaverse a reality."

A reality, one might add, that will ultimately unfold outside of dedicated social VR platforms like Sansar.

Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Photo: Christine/Unsplash

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

pay

What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

Keep Reading Show less
Alex Katouzian
Alex Katouzian currently serves as senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure (MCI) Business Unit at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. In this role, Katouzian is responsible for the profit, loss and strategy of the MCI BU, which includes business lines for Mobile Handset Products and Application Processor Technologies, 4G and 5G Mobile Broadband for embedded applications, Small and Macro Cells, Modem Technologies, Compute products across multiple OS’, eXtended Reality and AI Edge Cloud products.
Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Power

Activision Blizzard scrambles to repair its toxic image

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is the first executive to depart amid the sexual harassment crisis.

Activision Blizzard doesn't seem committed to lasting change.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

As Activision Blizzard's workplace crisis rages on into its third week, the company is taking measures to try to calm the storm — to little avail. On Tuesday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who took the reins at the developer responsible for World of Warcraft back in 2018, resigned. He's to be replaced by executives Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio in a power-sharing agreement some believe further solidifies CEO Bobby Kotick's control over the subsidiary.

Nowhere in Blizzard's statement about Brack's departure does it mention California's explosive sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit at the heart of the saga. The lawsuit, filed last month, resulted last week in a 500-person walkout at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. (Among the attendees was none other than Ybarra, the new studio co-head.)

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories