Sansar changes emphasis: of live events and audience

Linden Lab is shifting its development emphasis towards hosting more “live” virtual events to help build an audience

On Friday, November 1st, the Sansar Team held their weekly Product Meeting, which provided to be an event of two parts: an overview of the next Sansar release, which I’ve covered in my usual Sansar Product Meeting summary format, and confirmation that Sansar’s development is undergoing a change in emphasis in a drive to try to establish a much broader audience.

In short, and as noted by Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, and the Lab’s Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Sheri Bryant (aka CowboyNinja in Sansar), who now takes up the role of Sansar’s General Manager¹, the Lab plans to focus a lot more on building-out Sansar’s ability to run “live” events within virtual spaces.

The decision has in part been sparked by the rise in popularity of “live” virtual events in a number of platforms (most notably the Fortnite / Marshmello event and the 11 million attendees it garnered) and the more modest – but significant – successes Sansar has had in hosting electronic dance music (EDM) events through partnerships with Monstercat and Spinnin’ Records.

It’s a decision that was actually presaged in October, when IQ ran an article in which Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and Sheri Bryant were interviewed about the Lab’s intentions with “live” events in Sansar. As such, I wasn’t actually overly surprised to hear about the shift in emphasis, although others may have missed that piece. Certainly, the announcement has received a negative reaction from some, and has been – wrongly, I would suggest – characterised as akin to High Fidelity’s abrupt change of direction that occurred earlier this year – see: High Fidelity changes direction: the reality of VR worlds today (& tomorrow?) and High Fidelity changes direction (2).

I say “wrongly”, because while this is a change in emphasis, it is not in any way a shuttering / move any from anything within Sansar in the way High Fidelity’s change of direction was. As was noted in the meeting:

  • The intention is to make Sansar the “best possible” destination for virtual events, with an emphasis on both “larger” marquee-style events involving commercial partners and other brands / organisations and on the more creator-driven events we see in Sansar today.
    • Hence why the next release of Sansar – R37, due to be deployed in week #45 (commencing Monday, November 4th, 2019) will incorporate changes to the events system creators have been specifically requesting – including linking events directly to the world used to host them and allowing that originating world to gain the traffic figures of people attending the event version.
  • It will see Linden Lab endeavour to “integrate” user-developed events with major marquee events, so that audiences attending the latter will be made more aware of the former, and encouraged to explore more of Sansar beyond the current event they are attending.
    • So the hope is that if done correctly, provisioning bigger and more frequent “live” events, the Lab can not only achieve spikes in Sansar’s user base, but actually start to convert some of those visiting audiences into engaged users.
    • In this respect, work will be carried out to further improve the overall new user experience to make it more “unforgettable”, and to expand Sansar’s socialisation and communication capabilities to help encourage greater user/user interactions.
  • It also does not mean that other improvements for the platform are in any way being closed or abandoned – although it does mean that some are being re-prioritised and are seeing their possible deployment time-frames pushed back.

This latter point is likely why there has been some negativity around the announcement: for much of 2019 the emphasis has been on developing Sansar’s gaming  / questing capabilities, and these have reached a point where they are being actively and imaginatively being leveraged. Given that push to develop them and get creators excited by them, to apparently make a sudden track switch is bound to leave some feeling a little, “wait – what?”

Similarly, there has been a push to give the Sansar avatar a complete overhaul, with more being promised – particularly full body deformation and custom skin textures. It had been suggested these might appear before the end of 2019 – but they are now timetabled for delivery “in 2020”. So this again is likely to be grating on people. But that said, it is true that, insofar as encouraging people into Sansar to attend events, Avatar 2.0 doesn’t appear to have been any kind of barrier – and it might be argued that it is more important for Sansar to gain a broader and deeper user base than it is to keep iterating on new features and capabilities within the avatar system – particularly if there are relatively few people around to use it.

Even with the emphasis on “live” events in Sansar, the lab intends to keep working on the overall new user experience, including use of things like the Nexus (above) and the Codex

Obviously, there are risks involved in shifting the emphasis towards “live” virtual events as a means to generate an audience from which retained users might be gained. On the one hand, there is that aforementioned Marshmello / Fortnite event and its almost 11 million virtual attendees. However, it’s equally important to remember that Fortnite already had an estimated user base of some 200 million world-wide to draw on to attend that event – they weren’t using it to try to generate new users for the platform.

In this, Sansar has a long way to go to establish itself – and there is absolutely no guarantee that however things are developed or engineered, people attracted to the platform to attend an event by their favourite EDM DJ or comedian or talk show host or whoever aren’t really going to be interested in doing anything else other than attending an event. But again, to flip this over, it is certainly true that certain types of event that could allow audiences to have very unique experiences whilst attending such events. This is something Ebbe Altberg notes in reference to EDM events when talking to IQ:

It’s easier to hook up EDM artists to the system because DJs basically have an electronic output. So they stand there in their VR gear and we give them all kinds of in-game tools – fireballs, lasers, the ability to change the gravity so everyone can jump really high…

There’s also the fact that virtual shows and events do greatly increase the potential audience reach for artists and performers – and present the potential for physical world merchandising (assuming LL put such a capability in place – and they’d perhaps be stupid not to), something I touched on in Sansar: music entertainment with some sundry thoughts. This is something that performers and brands might well find appealing.

So to me, the shift in emphasis perhaps isn’t as upsetting as it appears to have been to others – but then, I’m simply not as invested in Sansar as some, which also should be taken into account. Certainly, and as I’ve previously argued, I don’t think a push to establish a presence in the “virtual events market” given the capabilities Sansar does have is not a bad thing. And, as I’ve noted in Sansar: music entertainment with some sundry thoughts, even if it doesn’t massively drive up the platform’s concurrency on its own, it could nevertheless contribute to doing so; what’s more, it could open the platform up to broader “repeat” audiences from a range of potential sectors and so help the Lab generate revenue from those sectors through a variety of means.

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  1. It is not clear right now, but Sheri may have shifted to focusing solely on Sansar, as Hari Raghavan, formerly the Lab’s Senior Manager, Marketing Communications, was introduced at the meeting as the “new Director of Marketing”.