Sansar: the Wookey in ex-CEO lawsuit

Stock image via MGN

Sansar, the platform for live virtual events originally created by Linden Lab, had something of a scare in later December 2021, when all services, including the platform’s website went off-line for a period of time. This prompted a round of speculation / rumour (and in some cases, indignation) that the platform had been shut down without warning.

As we all know, Sansar went through an intensive development cycle from 2014 through 2017, prior to being (prematurely, I tend to believe) launched on the world at large. It then – being brutally honest – went through a period in which Linden Lab flip-flopped in direction and purpose for Sansar as the bubble of hype surrounding consumer-based VR (unsurprisingly) burst. Finally, in March 2020, after having laid-off the majority of staff involved in Sansar at the end of 2019, Linden Lab sold Sansar to what appeared to be a start-up company, then called Wookey Projects (eventually to be come Wookey Search Technologies Corporation (operating as Wookey Technologies). For a time, this seemed to bode well for Sansar’s future: the majority of laid-off staff were re-hired, development work resumed, etc., and Sansar event hosted some large(ish) events in 2020, such as Lost Horizon’s Glastonbury Shangri-La. But really, Sansar continued to struggle to build a genuine audience.

Then, on Wednesday, December 22nd, Sansar’s presence on the web abruptly vanished, with the website returning a 404 error, and the client left unable to connect to any servers. As the hours passed, so speculation grew that perhaps the plug had been pulled, particularly in light of the comments that had been doing the rounds that all Sansar technical staff had been placed on extended furlough since some point in September 2021 (which, given the company’s total number of direct employees is put at just 22 by RocketReach and others, could represent a something of a significant portion of staff).

Sansar Discord channel screen capture, courtesy of Dr. Fran Babcock

Having heard the news about the outage, I decided to wait things out for at least 24 hours to see if the situation changed, or if any announcement were to be made. As it turned out, things did start to change in that time, as Sansar’s services began to come back on-line on December 24th, starting with the website, with the avatar service about the last visible service to re-surface prior to log-ins resuming.

Exactly what went wrong is unclear – being completely transparent, I’ve not actually been actively involved in Sansar since the end of June 2020 – but so far as I’m aware, nothing official has been stated beyond a Discord channel statement from “Steve from the Wookey management – Sansar team” (displayed on the right), from Steve Moriya. VP of Business Development (with thanks to Dave for the pointer).. Given we are on the year-of-year-break; perhaps something will be stated in the New Year – but time will tell on that.

However, the outage did prompt me to return to information that came my way in September 2021, and which I (again) opted to withhold from blogging about at the time, in order to see how developments progressed.

Coming by way of Cain Maven, a Second Life creator and individual not given to hyperbole or rumour, that information was / is that Wookey Search Technologies Corporation is engaged in a long-running dispute with its former CEO, Mr. John Fried. He has been seeking recompense from the company that could amount to something over US $1 million.

Companies being sued by former employees isn’t precisely unheard of in the United States (Linden Lab themselves has faced it – or the threat thereof – at least once), and can be subject to settlement without ever reaching a formal court case. Hence why, when Cain pointed me to the matter, I decided to hold off on commenting, and await developments.

However, case number CGC20584302¹, filed with the Superior Court of California, San Francisco, does now appear to be on course for a potential trial by jury, following demands to do so were filed with the court by both parties at the end of November 2021.  

The situation has been developing since shortly after Wookey acquired Sansar in 2020; at its heart, is a claim by Mr. Fried that Wookey failed to honour commitments they allegedly made to him concerning salary and reimbursement of relocation fees (from Florida to California), and further failed to honour an alleged US $1 million bonus payment for which he is also seek recompense. It’s a case that has seen both sides file claim and counter-claim, motion and counter-motion; but as noted above, both parties filed demands to move to a trial by jury in late November 2021. As a result, the court issued a Notice of Time and Place of Trial at the start of December 2021, and unless anything else arises, the trial will commence: June 27th, 2022, and it will be heard in the court of the Honourable Suzanne Ramos Bolanos.

That said, a settlement may still be reached – a conference to attempt to see if this is possible remains scheduled for March 16th, 2022, having been postponed from its original December 8th, 2021 date. But the In the meantime, both parties are moving to the Discovery phase of the case  – which may also bring requests for continuance before the judge, further delaying the trail, or altering the direction of the case.

I offer no direct conclusions on the matter here – I’m not a lawyer, after all. However, given Wookey Search Technologies appears to be valued at around  – as of September 2021 – US 3.78 million, were the case to go all the way, and a judgement made in favour of Mr. Fried, it could put a significant dent in the company’s finances. As such, I’ll continue to track the case and look to provide updates in 2022.

  1. Note that this website requires multiple responses to a Captcha system, and can time-out relatively quickly, requiring additional Capcha confirmations.

A visit to a Scarlett Hotel in Second Life

DRD: The Scarlett Hotel, December 2021 – click any image for full size

If you are seeking something different from a winter-themed region might want to pay a visit to The Scarlett Hotel, a full region designed by Jaimy Hancroft and the Death Row Designs (DRD) team – although you may need to do so before the end of December 31st, 2021, as I’m been informed (unofficially) that that is when the little adventures on the region may draw to a close).

The setting offers what might be taken as a coastal township caught in the midst of winter, snow lying so heavy on the ground, a snow plough is required to keep the local streets clear, and even the local fishing wharves sit under the snow’s thick blanket. Dominating this township is the eponymous hotel, its broad front carrying a certain similarity to the Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s The Shining (or if you prefer, the Stanley Hotel, Colorado, which was used for many of the exterior shots of the hotel seen in that film).

DRD: The Scarlett Hotel, December 2021

Not only does the hotel give its name to the region, it is the location for a set of adventures that set this winter setting apart from others. There are 12 in all that visitors to the region are invited to participated in; and those who complete all 12 can earn a reward. In all there are 12 individual adventures – or stories – in which people can participate, and completing all 12 will reward people with a prize.

For those who do wish to participate in the quest, the best way to do so is to touch the Tutorial sign mounted on the wall of the landing point. This offer the opportunity to visit a browser-based tutorial (and also a web page of general rules), which forms a fairly good guide to getting started. The key points of this is that you must accept the local DRD experience and join the DRD group. Both of these actions can be achieved at the landing point. However, if you have problems with getting an invitation to join the experience (as I did), you can go to Me / Avatar in the viewer menu bar, click on Experiences → Search, make sure the search maturity is set to Moderate and search for “DRD Experience” (no quotes); this should display the experience name – double-click on it to open the experience profile, then click on Allow to join it. You’re then ready to obtain the game HUD.

DRD: The Scarlett Hotel, December 2021

Once players are set, the next stage is to head for the hotel and trigger a story. This is done by finding a story introduction – which is displayed in local chat (generally at the entrance to a room), and then clicking around objects and surfaces (including drawer and cupboards) to find the start point – once you have done so, the active story/ies (you can have more than one active at a time) will be indicated by a gear icon in the checklist of the HUD.

The recent history of the kitchen is a sad and tragic one. In 2002, an excited young chef from France named Claire Ménard started her career right here at the Scarlett Hotel. Her dishes that she wrote in her personal recipe book were fresh, new, and exquisite, but Head Chef Ernest Cunningham was not a fan. He was well respected in the culinary world and didn’t take well to a newcomer changing his beloved menu. It is reported that he was quick to temper and abusive with staff. Ever since The Accident, there have been reports of banging noises coming from inside the walk-in freezer…

– An introduction to one of the stories from The Scarlett Hotel

DRD: The Scarlett Hotel, December 2021

However, even for those not interested in the adventures, the region offers opportunities for photography and the introductions to the various stories to do tend to whet the appetite.

So, if you do fancy something a little different when exploring, why not check into the Scarlett Hotel and see if you can solve some of the mysteries there – or just and a wander and take a few snaps? Just make sure you do so before the end of 2021, just in case the rumour I heard is right, and  things change.

DRD: The Scarlett Hotel, December 2021

SLurl Details