Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Update, February 21st: please also see Lab seeking a “plan B” to secure Sansar’s future.

Update, February 13th: Linden Lab offered a statement on Second Life that references the lay-offs. I’ve posted separately on that with some additional notes on SL. See: An Update About Second Life (Linden Lab) and Linden Lab provide statement on SL in the wake of Sansar lay-offs.

On Tuesday, February 11th, Ryan Schultz reported a claim that Linden Lab had shut down development of Sansar, their Social VR platform, and that there had been a large number of lay-offs (up to 40 of the remaining staff of approximately 60-75 people).

Unsurprisingly, the news gave rise to a lot of speculation on the platform’s status and future. I have a request for information in with the Lab, but due to time differences, I’ve yet to receive a reply (the major reason I had thus far held off on writing about the matter – assuming I do get a reply. But in the interim, here is what has been stated:

  • The Lab is rumoured to have shut down Sansar development.
  • Some 40 staff are rumoured to have been laid off.
  • Some staff are rumoured to have been transferred back to Second Life.

The only official word in response thus far on the matter is a Sansar Discord post by Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg:

So, I’m only going to say this tonight as it’s late. We can pick up the conversation in the following days. Yes, there were lay-offs today. A truly wonderful group of people. But as you can see Sansar is up and running. We are still in discussion about next steps. Including with the wonderful group of people. More to come. Don’t give up yet. Go create and have fun. Not much point in speculating until we can tell you more.

So it would appear the rumour of lay-offs is accurate, if not necessarily the number. There is always a temptation to dig into potential departures, but I would rather not unduly add to speculation on that front until more is known via official sources.

In terms of Sansar staff transferring back to Second Life, it is worth noting that a number actually did so in late 2019 (or at least, some transferred back while some may have resumed splitting their time between Sansar and SL – Monty Linden, for example resumed posting to the SL forums on topics at the end of 2019, while one of the rendering team moved back to SL from Sansar). So, at this point, it is not clear if there may have been further moves from Sasnsar back to SL, or whether the current rumours on on such moves is the result of people picking up on last year’s shifts.

As it is, Sansar currently remains accessible to users (I’m in Sansar as I write this), and events through until the end of March 2020 remain active in the Sansar events page. However, this should not be taken to mean “business as usual”; until the Lab comments further on the matter, nothing can really be taken for granted either in terms of Sansar’s continuance or otherwise.

On a general note, I would hope some form of clarification / statement of intent regarding Sansar is made sooner rather than later. This is because news of lay-offs + rumours and speculation, particularly coming on top of the lay-offs at the start of November 2019 and the shift in emphasis with the platform that occurred at that time, tend to rock confidence for those actively engaged in Sansar (and there are a fair number of creators very active within the platform), and can also easily result in FUD and rumour spreading well beyond the platform, potentially to its detriment.

As further information becomes available I’ll follow-up on this post with either updates or additional articles.

5 thoughts on “Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion

  1. Ryan shouldn’t feel intimidated from reporting the news as he gets from a source he finds reliable. He shouldn’t be chastized even for not calling to get a comment from the Lab before going to press. It’s a black box, there’s a lot of obfuscation, and bloggers have to work with what they have.

    What’s so bizarre here is that you could have lay-offs of as many as 40 people, and still consider that a world hasn’t been shut down. The fact that it is running on empty still technically doesn’t mean anything. Unless they had 500 people running this, it’s hard to understand why they assume that with this large a cut, it’s somehow still viable. I’m just seeing double talk from LL here and I hope Ryan will keep posting what he knows. I personally have no stake or interest in Sansar and never understood it, but I do see a lot of creative people putting time and effort into it, and they shouldn’t have their hearts broken needlessly. There’s a larger problem of the unreality that LL lives in that I will write about on my own blog.

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    1. I agree, Ryan shouldn’t be harassed by others on the basis of his reporting.

      In terms of numbers, if the mentioned 40 is correct, it is a sizeable chunk of the Sansar team, which was, I believe, around the 100+ mark prior to the October / November lay-offs, so this latest round might have had a significant impact on the Sansar team size. Unfortunately, the matter has perhaps been exacerbated by a high profile blogger stating that the October / November lay-offs had left Sansar with a “skeleton” team running it, a term that implies only a few people left when it actually appears that perhaps 20-25% of staff were let go, with the majority retained. As such, while the lay-offs were of a concern, they didn’t leave Sasnsar at that time in as dire a position as the term “skeleton” team implies.

      For those actively engaged in Sansar – which as you state, and I noted in my piece, remains operationally active with roughly the same general level of concurrency – the general level of uncertainty concerning the platform’s future as a result of what has happened this week just isn’t healthy – or fair, given the Lab’s previous public position with user has been that “we’re all in this together”. As such, one would hope that clarification on the platform’s future and direction would be provided sooner rather than later.

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  2. … why am I not surprised? 😉

    Back in 2017 I ran a poll as a joke on Sansar — even though very few people replied, it’s not surprising that even back then, one-third of the responses believed that Sansar would fail…

    Well, allegedly, it hasn’t ‘failed’ yet. However, it just sounds like it’s sucking up too many human resources which would be better employed working with LL’s cash cow, Second Life. But there are no surprises here: we’re still waiting for ‘someone’ to figure out a business model for a virtual world that actually works (hint: have you heard anything about Facebook’s virtual world recently… uh, I mean, Oculus Venues? 😉 ).

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    1. I don’t think it unfair to say that any poll that involves SL users voting on any other product or platform produced by LL that is seen as a “threat” to SL is actually worth the results it gives, simply because people are going to be driven to react negatively towards “the other”, out of fear, uncertainty, doubt and misinformation / misunderstanding (and there was a *lot* of the latter two back when Sansar was first “announced”).

      Having spent a reasonable amount of time in Sansar since it was in its closed phase, I believe that it has a huge amount of potential. The problem, from my perspective has been a largely marketing issue, and in two ways. First, those at the top of LL bought into the whole ridiculous hype concerning VR’s market value (i.e. that from a standing start as a consumer product, it was going to hit US $20 billion by the end of 2016 and rocket to $70 billion by 2020) when there was simply no evidence to back such claims other than a wing, a prayer and a lot of wishful thinking.

      Second, because VR didn’t exploding into the consumer consciousness the way the hype “foretold”, Sansar was then bogged down in a lack of understanding of where and how to market it in order to build an audience. Thus, it ended up from wibbling between not being a virtual world, but being a platform, and being a virtual world AND a platform, then seemingly to desperately chase any VR-related opportunity that came along – first “social VR”, then “gaming VR” (via steam) and most recently “Live events” (admittedly with VR de-emphasised).

      Far better, IMHO (and which I’ve stated in these pages almost from the outset), would have been to keep Sansar’s development behind closed doors, feeding it carefully and gently whilst keeping an eye on consumer and business VR uptake, with the latter also incorporating the potential for Sansar to offer a white label solution (Something I also discussed in the past, and Ebbe Altberg did actually indicate to be a potential for Sansar).

      As to “sucking up resources”, that’s not always a fair analysis either. True, in the early days of re-starting the work of Project Sansar (remembering that it actually had its seed planted back in the Rod Humble era), did see resources “pulled away from” Second Life and placed on Sansar somewhat to SL’s detriment.

      However, this did actually stop fairly quickly, when it was decided to split the two projects into two, each with its own team and recruiting path (which admittedly then leaves the question on potential management bias in where the thrust of recruiting should be placed when both SL and Sansar needed a similar resource). And while it may seem that the money spent on recruiting human resources for Sansar “could” have been spent on recruiting people into work on Second Life, there is also limited truth to this, simply because there is only so much manpower that can be thrown at any given product or project before people start tripping over one another, getting in each other’s way, etc., and potentially generating confusion rather than results.

      As to Sansar’s future: time will tell on that; hopefully an announcement will be forthcoming before too much longer.

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