Sansar, a virtual world platform from the creators of Second Life, will open its doors to everyone in the first half of 2017. Developer Linden Lab explains their new approach to virtual worlds, and the many ways they plan to enable creators to make money with compelling virtual experiences.
Not Second Life 2
Having launched Second Life more than 10 years ago—a virtual world that in 2016 alone had a GDP of some $500 million—Linden Lab has deep expertise in world worlds that goes back long before the recent rebirth of consumer virtual reality hardware. And now the company is building a new virtual world platform, Sansar, to serve the next generation. But this is no Second Life 2.
Sansar takes a fundamentally different approach than Second Life. While the Second Life model was about running a persistent virtual world that existed in one massive virtual space, Sansar’s aim is to be more of a platform than a singular virtual world. I recently spoke with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg at the company’s offices in San Francisco where he told me about Sansar’s new approach.
“Between the Creator and the Consumer, Second Life never really settled on which was our primary customer,” Altberg said.
With Sansar, Linden Lab’s focus is firmly on the Creator. The company wants to make it easy for creators to make discrete virtual worlds and experiences. Linden Lab envisions its success as helping creators easily build and monetize virtual experiences (and taking a cut from successful creators). Virtual spaces built on Sansar will be self-contained experiences that users jump around to, rather than one big virtual world that could be traversed continuously from end to end. Instead of ‘traveling’ from one place to another, like in Second Life, you’ll just hop in and out of experience at will, like jumping from one webpage to another with links.
Platform vs. World
Overall, Sansar aims to be more like an app store or a platform (Altberg compared it to WordPress, the web platform that’s the foundation of many major websites) than one big virtual world. That solves a number of key problems that the company has identified with Second Life’s model, Altberg told me. One of the biggest of which is ‘discovery’. Second Life is (and is marketed like) one big virtual world. There’s an incredible variety of things to do in Second Life that appeal to different people who want different things. But because it’s all contained inside one giant virtual world, it’s challenging and inefficient to market the entire world to those who might just want one particular thing from it.
Imagine if YouTube tried to get you to use their platform by saying “we have 80 million videos! Come see them!”… that’s neat, but lacks a specific appeal because I’m only going to watch a fraction of those videos, and who knows if any of them in particular interest me? But, if a friend links me to one funny or interesting video, that’s much more likely to get me onto YouTube.
Sansar is built and structured so that the individual experiences are like (using our metaphor above) individual videos on YouTube. They are entry points which the creators themselves can market to a specific audience, without needing to market the broader universe of Sansar.
How Creators Will Monetize
Linden Lab plans to give Sansar creators a number of options to monetize their content, all of which will vary drastically from Second Life’s ‘property tax’ model (where users paid to simulate virtual land, which entitled them to own it).
For one, consumers will be able to buy 3D models to customize their own virtual spaces and avatars. It’ll be possible for creators to charge entry fees to particular experiences. There’s also expected to be options for membership fees to access certain places. And the company is brainstorming more monetization options still, like the ability for consumers to pay money to a virtual object which would hold the money and pay it out to its owner at regular intervals. That could open the door to functional objects that execute their function for a fee (in the real world you can imagine objects like that—arcade machines, pool table, washing machines, vending machines).