Requiescat in Pace: The Death of Sansar and its' Affect on the community

As of February 21st, Sansar, Linden Lab's bastard child of Second Life and the VR Hype of 2018, is now up for sale to any takers, according to this report from James Wagner Au at NWN.

Suffice it to say, I'm not surprised in the slightest. Last month I had made a personal declaration to Linden Lab and its' CEO Ebbe Altberg - that Although they had apparently done their best to keep Sansar alive, it was a failure. However, some people seem to think that Sansar could have done better. They're not wrong in that pursuit, but the thing is that Sansar failed due to three major factors:

  • It was touted as a successor to Second Life when it had little of what made Second Life great.
  • It was somewhat restricted (Mature content, for one)
  • It tried to compete with VRChat, as well as other VRMMO platforms such as Sinespace and due to the grassroots advertising campaign provided by many popular youtubers for VRChat, Linden Lab couldn't get the numbers they needed to justify keeping it afloat.
  • Not many Second Life residents used Sansar, meaning that there was little backing from Linden Lab's existing customer base.
And finally, VR IS NOT POPULAR. Yet.

And that's coming from someone who is a VR user. I've owned a Oculus CV1 for about a year and I genuinely enjoy using it when I can occasionally be arsed to get off my ass and play it. VR is not a cheap endeavor to pursue, and won't be for some time. As a result, the key selling point of Sansar is defeated in general - when Second Life exists, even with its' flaws, it has years of features, assets and content at one's disposal. Sansar doesn't have that. And it never would be able to compete.

Many point to Ebbe and blame him for not doing something. Could he have done better? Yes, he could have tried to work to make Sansar popular somehow, maybe through consulting social media specialists, discussing with influencers, but the thing is - he had, most likely. I mean, I've seen ads for Sansar, I've seen it promoted along side Ready Player One, I saw it play host to one of Monstercat's (A large Electronic Music Label) concerts! I'm certain Ebbe made some sort of fucking effort! And people point to Linden Lab's past failures - Desura, Patterns, Blocksworld.

Oh boy.. let me tell you why you're wrong.

Disarray in Desura

As someone who used it, I know for a fact that Desura was taking on Goliath. Some may say "Well, Linden Lab had Second Life backing it. Surely they could afford to run Desura."

At first, that may make sense. I mean - Epic Games is running EGS off of Fortnite's truckloads of money. And given at one point, Second Life had the GDP equivalent of Micronesia, they had the money for it. But a company shouldn't sell a product that they can't afford to keep afloat on its' own. You should *NEVER*, in the long term, operate a product that will not eventually see itself self-sufficient. Desura failed because it tried to compete with Steam. And failed spectacularly at it, through no fault of Linden Lab other than thinking it'd work, especially back in the early to mid-2010s.

The only benefit that Desura had was it served as a progenitor to Steam Early Access, which when it came out, everyone flocked to it. If Desura had launched now, I'm certain it'd meet a similar fate. The only way you could unseat Gabe Newell's fat ass from his throne is if you managed to provide a better experience than Steam, and even then, the problem with Steam is that you cannot transfer licenses to another platform. If you buy it on Steam, you can't launch it on EGS, and vice versa. I've got 90 or so games, and none of them can be played on EGS, or on Desura (if it still existed). So there's that issue.

To quote Benny from New Vegas - The game was rigged from the start - and Gaben was the one manhandling the strings while the boys from Battery Street got a .45 to the brainbox on the outskirts of Bellevue.

Patterned A Blocky Fucking Mess

I will concede that I have little knowledge of Patterns, or of Blocksworld, but just from looking at both I can tell that they tried to compete with existing products with massive followings. Patterns tried to compete with Minecraft's creative mode, and Blocksworld did much of the same, except with a bit of Roblox.

To quote Wesley Snipes..

"Some Motherfuckers are always trying to iceskate uphill."

Or in layman's terms, Some things take more effort than you could even imagine to muster. Competing with these two platforms, especially in their heyday, was difficult bearing on impossible. Look at all the Minecraft knockoffs. And look at the one or two Roblox knockoffs that never really went anywhere. Do I need to say more? I'm not saying that if you have ideas to improve on a existing idea, don't do it - I'm saying that if it's extremely popular, then chances are you're not going to convert others unless the existing userbase is looking for something more and the offerings by the dominant company aren't doing them any favors, as it were.

In the end, Linden Lab's issue with their older products is more or less amounting to chasing popular concepts where there's no reasonable chance for them to become popular. Second Life is probably Linden Lab's one off hit. They can't afford to lose it or sacrifice resources on it in the long term lest it lose steam and bring down the whole company. And they definitely can't afford to use Second Life like a piggy bank they can squeeze fees out of. Honestly, I feel in my personal opinion, that recent rises in fees across the board were done to mitigate Sansar's failure and not for any legitimate reason, which ties back into my initial argument - that you shouldn't milk your customer base to keep a dead service alive. That's like watching a porno and replacing the money shot with the picture of a fucking boat - the consumers are expecting a return on investment, be it time, money or effort on your product - not another product they have nothing to do with.

Where to go from here

It goes without saying that Linden Lab needs to focus solely on Second Life from here-on out. Some complain that Second Life needs a new engine. Or a new version altogether. This would be a difficult process and I'm going to tackle some of the dumber ideas - because I recall hearing similar discussion from people regarding Fallout 76.

We need a new engine! Use Unreal! Or Unity!

I'm no developer. I'll concede that out the gate. But I am more than aware of the effort that goes into a game, and to demand that Linden Lab use a different engine, is like me telling you that your Windows (or even Linux) computer you built is crap, and demand you buy a Mac - when you've never used one before in your life.

Multiply that by dozens of staff who need to relearn everything they can do in the existing engine, on top of the constraints of said engine, the possible fact that porting all the assets from the old engine to a new one would be difficult or even impossible, especially having to rebuild LSL for the new engine - that users who are used to the inner workings of SL would be unable to comprehend the new engine without external documentation, that Third Party Viewers like Firestorm, Black Dragon and Radegast would be rendered obsolete and due to the engine's closed-source nature, TPV development would be difficult ranging on impossible, that the userbase could even face a schism between legacy users and those demanding the new engine, causing tension in the community, could cost millions of dollars, of which aforementioned socio-economic strife in world would cause a decline in profits most likely, which could risk the engine upgrade being killed off, and maybe even risk SL's sale to a different company or even dying altogether, among other bad things. All this - for better performance? I can tell you right fucking now, that this is a bad idea.

The better option in this situation is to optimize and improve upon what we have. Some have argued that the way Second Life utilizes resources is too CPU-intensive. Others claim that it's because of content developers who don't know or care to optimize their content for Second Life, often ripping it from games (without the developer's consent, but that's a whole different ZIP code's worth of issues). One thing is certain - SL is overdue for a upgrade. But a new engine is not the way to go about it. Nor is a whole new VWMMO (Virtual World MMO) altogether, lest we want to see it fail like Sansar did for many unforeseen reasons both present in Sansar and not.

All in All, Linden Lab needs to focus on Improving Second Life as a whole. Starting with optimizing and improving the game's engine. Even if it requires a whole rework to get done.


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