Introductory note: over the course of the last 24 months I’ve drafted a number of pieces on Sansar none of which, for a variety of reasons – including something of a lack of dedication on my part – never got to see the light of day. The following piece represents a synthesis of some of those views, in part borne from recent events in the physical world.
Back in the mists of time, and before Sansar gained its first users through the original Closed Alpha programme, there was talk that the platform would have support for third-party access controls built-in to it, so that a company or organisation or similar would be able to employ their own user authentication services as a “portal” for their users to access their Sansar experiences (or the “next generation platform” as it was still called at the time, the name not having been finally determined).
We’ve also heard in the past wishes to be able to connect your users with Second Life, where you can manage user access from places where you already do that within your institutions today, and support for third-party authentication and access control is something that we’re building-in to the foundation of the next generation platform [Sansar].
– Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE Conference, April 18th, 2015
At the time – for me at least – this appeared to suggest that Sansar might have some form of support for white label offerings, that is, environments that are built and provided within Sansar’s cloud services, but due to branding, path of access, etc., appear to be a natural part of a customer’s own services and capabilities rather than being provided and operated by a third-party (Linden Lab).
It’s an idea I mentioned in a number of articles on the platform between 2015 and 2017, and would it have been the case, then potentially Linden Lab could have a powerful offering for companies and organisations that wanted to leverage VR in a “dedicated” (platform / environment manner), but didn’t necessarily have the in-house skills to do so.
By this I mean that, rather than have to hire-in staff versed 3D design and able to utilise engines such as Improbable, Unreal or Unity, etc., and have to place the burden of running the resultant environment(s) through their own IT department, or having to to find a design house and a suitable service provisioner, they could use Linden Lab’s “one stop shop”, capable of providing all the design expertise (via Sansar Studios) and the ability to provision and manage the environment(s), on pretty much a reasonably “fixed” price basis, and no significant additional overheads in terms of hardware costs, depreciation, engineering, etc.
Such a white label service would provide both clients and the Lab with assorted benefits. For the Lab, it means a business model that can be relatively easily marketed to almost any client, and offer a constant revenue stream (design of the required environments, providing any required custom avatar looks and the necessary API requirements; operating fees (potentially on a defined sliding scale depending on frequency of use, number of active instances, etc); the potential to offset the cost of developing specific Sansar capabilities which – under a contractual agreement – they can use / offer elsewhere in the platform; gaining brand names of users of the Sansar engine.
For customers it means the aforementioned ease of provisioning opportunities through assorted third-parities (design, implementation, operation) or need to hire-in specialist staff; they gain capabilities that are branded as their own with the ability to easily adapt / expand those capabilities according to their needs / the needs of their own clients, and for a controlled price; they also have the ability to turn services off without undue financial impact; no concerns over hardware purchase / lease / depreciation.
If such an approach had worked, then it’s not unfair to assume it might have helped with the platform’s ability to generate revenue whilst Linden Lab sought to grow the more public presence of Sansar with other audiences – creators, VR enthusiasts, gamers, and so on.
Admittedly, in writing this piece I’m making the assumption that LL didn’t tread this particular route of trying to promote Sansar as white label service; truth be told, they might have done and found it to be a dead end. However, there is evidence to suggest they didn’t get that far. Firstly because even by June 2015 Ebbe Altberg was indicating that the third-party authentication and direct access would arrive some time “later” in Sansar’s development path, whilst Product Meetings during the past year suggested it was still something LL would “like” to do, some time.
Today, with mounting fears about the latest coronavirus outbreak – Covid-19 – there is obviously a case for the use of virtual environments to handle certain use-cases, thus helping to avoid people from having to travel or gather in large groups where the risks of infection tend to climb. As I reported on March 13th, Linden Lab has just moved to make the use of Second Life more attractive to educational institutions and non-profits by lowering the fees for such regions and opening a micro-site dealing with using SL as a workspace.
But how much more inviting might a platform like Sansar be in this situation, particularly if it could be offered as such a white label service to entities specialising in organising events, conferences, etc., on behalf of others, or to companies that routinely need to organise and host their own staff / client events? Yes, there is something of a credibility hump in using virtual spaces – with or without the accompanying headsets, given Sansar can be accessed and enjoyed without the latter) – but that shouldn’t necessarily be a barrier to making the effort.
As it is, and as we know, Sansar currently sits in limbo; staff (including the team forming Sansar Studios) have been let go, and Linden Lab is seeking a “Plan B” for Sansar. So getting things moving forward once more would appear to be a little difficult given that most of the personnel involved with Sansar have (hopefully, for their own security) found a new home and income.
Nevertheless Sansar as a white label environment offers an interesting thought exercise.