Sansar’s sale and Tilia Inc: Ebbe Altberg reveals more on both

Speaking at the Above the Book session at the 2020 Virtual Worlds Brest Practices in Education conference on March 26th, and again during the Lab Gab episode 19 segment that aired on Friday, March 27th, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg revealed more about the about the sale of Sansar and the future of that platform. Also during the VWBPE session, he revealed something of the future path for Tilia Inc, the Lab’s subsidiary company.

The following is an amalgam of his comments during both sessions, complete with a quotes, audio extracts from the VWBPE Above the Book session, references to source material and supporting links.

Sansar’s Sale

Summary

The decision to sell Sansar came, at least in part, from the recognition that as a platform, it lay at a very different stage of its evolution compared to Second Life, requiring different investment and resourcing¹.

With the decision made, the Sansar team were apparently given the freedom to attempt to raise money / seek interested parties in order to keep the platform going (hence, perhaps, Ebbe Altberg’s February 12th comment that the former Sansar team were involved in discussions concerning the platform’s future – see the quote in Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion, February 12th, 2020)².

As it is, with the sale of Sansar, some 30 members of the team have (so far?) received offers to join Wookey Project Corp, and as of the March 27th Lab Gab session, “a bunch of them” are back to work¹. In support of this, I noted in a recent blog post that Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, appears to already be part of the Wookey Sansar team, having posted the Sansar blog post referenced below. Further, both Sheri Bryant and Julia Munck, formerly Sansar’s General Manager and Sansar’s VP of Product respectively at Linden Lab, have departed the company – presumably to join Wookey Project Corp.

It appears that the focus for the platform will potentially remain on it being a platform for large scale virtual events in the music / entertainment sectors, and that both desktop and VR support will be continued – although obviously, strategy and direction are now the remit of Sansar’s new owners.

Linden Lab will remain a “partner”, inasmuch as Tilia will continue to be used for Sanasr Dollar transactions and fiat money payouts (see more on Tilia below)¹ ².

Ebbe’s Comments – VWBPE Above the Book

To make the long story short about Sansar, we at Linden Lab decided to sell it and to give the team the chance to go raise funds and go it alone. I think it’s easier for them to go raise money as a separate stand-alone company rather than as a part of Linden Lab. Second Life is a very established, profitable, product and we kind-of had a start-up inside of an established, profitable company. And it was actually easier for them, I think, to raise money as a standalone, rather than as a part of Linden Lab.

So … the staff that worked on Sansar are all getting offers by the new entity to come back and start working on Sansar again, and I think they’ve started this week, so I’m super happy that the product and the technology and the team all get a chance to continue … and it makes it easier for Linden Lab and Sansar to both succeed, I think, going forward. I’m happy for the way things ended up in the end.

References

  1. Lab Gab – 0:40-3:00.
  2. VWBPE 2020 Above the Book – 49:55-51:47.

Additional Links

Tilia Comments

We are all likely familiar with Tilia Inc., Linden Lab’s subsidiary that handles all micro-transactions and payments /payouts related to Linden Dollars and Sansar Dollars, and which manages the Lab’s compliance with regulations relating to its role as a Money Transmitter / Money Services Business (MSB).

Tilia officially launched on Thursday August 1st, 2019, having been formally introduced to SL users in July 2019 – although as I noted at the time, SL and Sansar users may have had some awareness of its existence as the Tilia Inc., logo had been on both the SL and Sansar web pages related to L$ and S$ account purchases and Sansar account management for some time. For my part, I’d been speculating about the company since November 2015, and did so again in July 2019, when I noted that Tilia appeared to be geared towards providing its services to other companies.

I first ruminated on Tilia being a means for Linden Lab to offer virtual economy solutions in July 2019, as a result of the (fairly obvious!) clue on the Tilia home page

Whilst speaking at the VWBPE Above the Book event, Ebbe indicated that with the sale of Sansar, Wookey Project Corp is effectively Linden Lab’s first customer for Tilia’s services, as the latter will continue to provide payment / payout capabilities for those using Sansar and the Sansar Dollar.

In addition, he also indicated more customers for Tilia are on the way:

We’re partners with them [Wookey Project Corp] because they’re using Tilia for payments / payouts just like Second Life is doing, and Tilia will have more and more customers over time. We have several of them lined-up to be integrated to get those payment services.

No specific details on which companies are planning to use  Tilia, I’ll hopefully have more as they are announced.

Linden Lab confirm the sale of Sansar to Wookey Project Corp – updated

Courtesy of Wookey Project Corp

On March 21st, and following rumours and conversations on the Sansar Discord server, I reported on Linden Lab having sold Sansar to Wookey Projects Inc (now referred to as Wookey Project Corp).  At the time, there was no confirmation from either Linden Lab or Wookey Projects on the matter (although I can note that since that post, I’ve had a brief conversational exchange with Wookey’s interim CEO, and hope to have more in the future).

On Tuesday, March 24th, Linden Lab, in response to assorted enquires issued a press release confirming the sale, which reads in part:

Linden Lab has had some inquiries from the public and media about the current happenings of Sansar. We are very excited to witness the unfolding of Sansar getting a fresh opportunity to thrive under the ownership of Wookey Project Corp., a San Francisco-based technology company that has assumed all operations without any interruption to operations or the Sansar community.

We are proud to have given birth to this amazing platform for creativity and live events, and encourage our community to continue the process of supporting Sansar as it shifts to new ownership. We’ve assembled a quick FAQ to address key inquiries about this transition.

Among other things, the release also makes clear that:

  • Wookey Project Corp. assumes all operations and management of Sansar, and Linden Lab is no longer involved with the platform.
  • The deal does not include or affect the ownership, management and operation of either Second Life and Tilia Inc., which continue under Linden Lab’s sole ownership.
  • However, Tilia Inc., has been contracted by Wookey Projects Corp as a third party service provider to perform certain back office functions for Sansar, including the issuance and redemption of Sansar’s in-game virtual tokens.
  • Wookey’s aim for Sansar is to “continue to evolve [it] as the premier platform for live events and entertainment including (but not limited to) support for VR, while Second Life is positioned as the Internet’s leading user-created virtual world platform.

Further to the announcement, a familiar face at Sansar – Galileo, the community manager there – issued a Sansar blog post that also provided a further official confirmation, reading in part:

Meet the new Sansar. Recently we were presented with an exciting opportunity: strike out on our own as a new entity, under new management with a focus on premier virtual events. We knew we needed to keep together our team and our vision, and the incredible community we’d built over the years.

Lucky for us, there was a company out there just as ambitious and passionate about virtual events as we were – a team that is nurturing and expanding our platform to new heights, deploying capital and expertise in a time full of opportunities for virtual communities around the globe. This week, we’re thrilled to join their family officially. Join us in saying hello to our new owners, Wookey Project Corp.! 

Galileo’s post also makes it clear that Wookey intends to continue building Sansar as a platform, stating:

What does this mean for you? More of the amazing events you know and love! More cosplay karaoke, more zero-gravity game nights, more of the massive interstellar shows that Sansar’s known for – thousands joining from anywhere in the world for one-of-a-kind live performances. You can also expect more features for meeting, socializing and hanging out with friends from around the world. Possibly even more ways to experience Sansar across different devices (more on this in weeks to come!). Nothing will change in your day-to-day.

In these challenging times, we know just how important it is to stay connected. That’s why we’ll be working hard these next few weeks to bring people together with new shows and surprises. Meet-and-greets and live performances from some of music’s biggest names. Virtual versions of the festivals you thought were cancelled or postponed. It’ll be the most fun you ever had staying home!

I recommend both the press release and Galileo’s post for further information, and I will likely resume coverage of Sansar in these pages in the near future.

Those interested can also catch-up on my own look at Wookey here: Sansar: looking at the apparent new owner – Wookey Projects Inc.

Update: Sheri Bryant (formerly Linden Lab’s General Manager for Sansar) and Julia Munck (formerly VP of Product for Sansar) both appear to have departed Linden Lab in the course of the last week. Whether they have moved across to join Wookey or not has not been confirmed – but such a move would appear to make sense for both Sheri and Julia and for Wookey Project Corp.

Sansar: looking at the apparent new owner – Wookey Projects Inc.

Courtesy of … Wookey Projects Inc (?)

News is buzzing on the Sansar Discord servers about a possible take-over / buy-out of Sansar by Wookey Projects Inc.

There has been no official word from Linden Lab on the matter as yet, however:

  • Sansar was removed from the footer links of Linden Lab properties earlier this week.
  • The Sansar web pages have all bee updated to assign Sansar as “©2020 Wookey” in the footer areas.
  • The Sansar Terms of Service  and Privacy Policy (which broadly remain the same as previous Terms of Service for the platform, have been revised to reference “Wookey Projects Inc (Wookey)”.
The Sansar Terms of Service and Privacy Policy both now refer to Wookey Projects Inc. (Wookey).

There are some hiccups evident in the change-over: when logging-in to Sansar via the web, users may get a log-in pop-up asking them to agree to the new Terms of Service, but I found the link still points to the Lab’s ToS page for Sansar, resulting in a 503 page error. Doubtless, issues like this will be smoothed out in time.

I first noted the absence of Sansar in the footer areas of Linden Lab related web pages (e.g. the SL Dashboard) earlier in the week of March 16th-20th, which first alerted me to possible changes coming in Sansar’s status

Who Are Wookey Projects Inc?

Information is scarce, but in a couple of hours of digging since seeing the Discord speculation, here’s what I’ve (hopefully correctly!) put together:

The address for Wookey Projects Inc is given as:

Wookey
765 Beach Street
San Francisco, California 9410

This puts it remarkably close to the Lab’s own stomping grounds at Battery Street.

But more particularly, and  going by the corporate logo, Wookey Projects Inc., appears to be either and offshoot of, or new operating name for Wookey Search Technologies (strapline “We removed the search bar from search”).

The latter’s place of address is given as 235 Montgomery Street Suite 912, San Francisco, CA 94104, so its not entirely clear if Wookey Technologies and Wookey Projects will operate as separate entities, or whether the latter’s address might signify a physical move on the part of Wookey Technologies. Certainly, both entities appear to share the same web domain of wookey.com.

Wookey Technologies was founded by Mark Gustavson, who serves as the Chief Financial Officer, with Garnet Chaney serving at the Chief Technology Officer, and Steve Moriya as the Senior VP of Marketing. The web page also gives Jonathan Fried as serving as interim CEO.

The Wookey Technologies Management Team: Mark Gustavson (Founder / CFO; Garnet Chaney (CTO) and interim CEO (r) Jonathan Fried.

Peeking behind the curtain of the company’s website, it appears that they are spreading their wings  and moving into the VR / AR environment, with the About Us page reading:

Wookey started from our own experience. Just like you, we saw the limitations of flat, one-dimensional internet interaction. With each experience, the frustration grew. It’s evident that algorithms are telling me what it wants, not hearing what I need.

What if we could create on-line experiences that were unbiased and arranged by relevance to us, not by advertisers or bias of company? We realized, with the right team and the right investors, we can.Wookey was born.

We endeavour to create a new generation of on-line AR/VR experiences that allows users the power of collaborative interaction through knowledge immersion.

Interestingly, and despite having been around since approximately 2016, the company describes itself as “approaching the beta stage of development”. Quite what this involves is unclear, but I assume it is in relation to their move to focus VR / AR. In this, and given the changes to the Sansar ToS and PP, it would appear likely they are seeking to keep the platform going in some active form, at least for the time being, possibly as a (further?) means of leveraging themselves into the VR space.

If this is correct – and keeping Sansar alive is certainly what Linden Lab have been hoping to achieve – it will be interesting to see if any of those formerly working on Sansar at the Lab might be involved in the shift of Sansar to Wookey, and whether familiar names might yet be seen to return to the Sansar fold. I speculate on this because, at the time it was confirmed the Lab would no longing be developing Sansar, Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg noted that the company was trying to keep former employees engaged in Sansar involved in discussions in the platforms future:

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.

– Ebbe Altberg, February 12th, 2020 (see: Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion) – emphasis added

In the meantime, we’re still awaiting official word on things from both Linden Lab and Wookey projects Inc. I hope to have more on this as and when something more official is available.

Sansar in limbo: revisiting it as a white label service

Sansar Studios Conference Stage – and example of a meeting / event space from early in Sansar’s public development

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).

A Sansar Studios conference room template design

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.

Information boards from the 2018 Swansea University VR / AR conference installation in Sansar

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.

Meeting room access points (teleports) at the 2018 Swansea University VR / AR conference installation in Sansar

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.

Lab seeking a “plan B” to secure Sansar’s future

Courtesy of Linden Lab

During the Friday, February 21st live stream of Lab Gab, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg gave what may amount to the first fully public statement on the future of the Lab’s social VR platform, Sansar.

Speaking at the top of the programme, he stated:

Yeah, so as you might have heard, sadly we have decided that we, as Linden Lab, couldn’t continue to sponsor the project financially, so we’re looking for a plan B for Sansar to continue. I can’t say much, but we’re having very interesting conversations with several parties to help that project move forward, which I’m really excited about. But no deal is done yet, so people will just have to be patient and see what happens with it, but yes  it is true that Linden Lab going forward will focus entirely on Second Life and Tilia. I’m still busy making sure that Sansar finds a great home and that the great work that that team has started can continue.

So that’s where things are at. Hopefully, we can be more specific on what’s going on in the next couple of weeks or so. So lots of conversations going on.

The statement confirms belief that, following the recent lay-offs of staff working on the platform, that Linden Lab is looking for a new home / a new means to continue Sansar. Whether this means the Lab is looking to sell the platform entirely, or looking for a company to partner with them in order to allow development of Sansar to continue, was not made clear – although the former appears to be more likely.

Also in commenting on Sansar, Ebbe also referenced the “heavy hitters” who have returned to Second Life, laying to rest the unfounded rumour that perhaps Philip Rosedale had returned (Philip is still very much engaged with High Fidelity as a company), and instead appeared to pointtowards the long-term Lindens Whirly Fizzle and I have previously pointed to (see: Linden Lab provide statement on SL in the wake of Sansar lay-offs) – for example: Maestro, Monty and Runitai Linden.

You can hear Ebbe’s comments on Sansar’s future in the audio clip below, and in the Lab Gab video, including his remarks vis. the returning “heavy hitters” and his relationship with Philip Rosedale.

In the meantime, Sansar does still remain open for users, community events continue to be added to the events calendar and experiences remain open for people to visit.

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.