Second Life Maker Linden Lab Wants to Build the WordPress of Virtual Reality

Project Sansar concept image
Courtesy of Linden Lab

The company behind Second Life is betting on a second chance.

Linden Lab, which pioneered the idea of virtual worlds with Second Life in 2003, is getting ready to jump on the virtual reality bandwagon. The company has quietly been building a new virtual world for the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality headsets, currently code-named Project Sansar, while still maintaining the original Second Life for hundreds of thousands of monthly users.

Second Life, which allows users to roam freely through virtual places built and maintained by its community, was at one time one of the hottest trends on the Internet. Business Week even devoted a cover story to entrepreneurs selling virtual goods in Second Life in 2006.

However, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg believes that Project Sansar can eclipse Second Life. “Second Life hit the ceiling at the hobbyist level,” he said during a recent interview, explaining that it once had slightly more than 1 million monthly active users, while still attracting just below 900,000 monthly users in 2015. Sansar isn’t just supposed to one day become bigger, but also much more instrumental to the success of virtual reality itself.

Different economics, better graphics

Ebbe said that Linden Lab had learned a few fundamental lessons from Second Life that are shaping the design of Project Sansar. Some of these are about economics. Second Life became famous for allowing users to buy land and produce and sell goods and services, but a few key economic rules stifled growth. “Land in Second Life is quite expensive,” said Altberg. Trade, on the other hand, is barely regulated. Linden Lab now wants to lower real estate taxes and increase sales taxes, he explained, to make it easier for people to pitch a tent in its virtual world.

Linden Lab is also rethinking some of the technical infrastructure used to power virtual worlds. Each virtual space could host only between 70 to 100 people at the same time before the server powering that instance of Second Life slowed down. More involved experiences could even hit that ceiling at a maximum of 30 participants.

SEE MORE: Landmark Entertainment Looks to Launch Virtual Reality Theme Parks

That, in turn, made it hard for brands to justify investing into virtual real estate. Why spend a lot of money to build a presence in Second Life if it could only be visited by only 70 people at a time? Project Sansar wants to solve this issue by allowing for unlimited copies of an experience. In other words, instead of just opening one restaurant, McDonalds could open hundreds or even thousands of eateries in the new virtual world, and open and close them based on customer demand.

Project Sansar will also be rendered with 90 frames per second to look fluid in a virtual reality headset.

Like WordPress for VR

But the most fundamental difference between Second Life and Project Sansar is a lot more conceptual: Second Life has always been first and foremost about Second Life itself. Sansar will be about individual VR experiences, powered by Linden Lab’s technology.

Project Sansar will allow brands and other developers to build their own VR experiences, and then deep-link to them from their websites or third-party apps. Users will still have to have the Project Sansar software installed to use them, but it will feel a lot more like custom experiences. “Second Life is a platform dressed as a product,” said Altberg. Project Sansar will be a platform that will allow others to build products. “The experience is the primary brand,” he said.

Altberg compared Sansar’s role to WordPress, the popular blogging and web publishing platform that now powers a quarter of the world’s websites. Linden Lab’s goal was to turn Sansar into a WordPress for VR, allowing enthusiasts and big brands alike to build VR experiences without spending tons of money and man hours on custom programming, he explained.

More experienced publishers will be able to use Sansar in connection with popular 3D software; initially, Linden Labs wants to make it work with Maya, and eventually add support for Blender, Sketchup and other apps as well. Getting those animations up and running in virtual reality will be a lot easier that starting from scratch, promised Altberg.

An open beta when the Rift launches

Work on project Sansar began in honest about 18 months ago. This month, Linden Lab is inviting a few select users to join an alpha test. Throughout the fall, it will gradually add more alpha users, and a public beta test is planned for early next year — just in time for the availability of the Oculus Rift consumer headset. A 1.0 version could launch by the end of 2016, said Altberg.

SEE MORE: Oculus Unveils Virtual Reality Headset for Consumers

Project Sansar’s success could hinge on the popularity of these VR headsets. It will also depend on how much control brands and other VR publishers are willing to hand over to Linden Lab. Developers that build experiences with Sansar will have to abide by its rules, use its billing system and share revenue with Linden Lab. In return, they’re promised an easier way to build those experiences, no matter whether it is a multiplayer game, a social space or even a telepresence application for remote learning or work.

Handing over more branding power to companies could also turn away users who aren’t looking for big real-life brands to dominate their virtual worlds. But it’s just as possible that both could co-exist. Much like Second Life, Sansar could in the end become anything that consumers, brands and developers want it to be. Altberg said that Linden Lab isn’t pre-populating the world with ready-made experiences or things ported over from Second Life. Instead, it’s betting on its users to start shaping their world. “It’s gonna start from the beginning,” he said.

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  1. Bivvia says:

    well lets see what the future will bring… hopefully everything as promised :)

  2. No one special, just another consumer of SL says:

    I’m in hopes that the land price reduction is in Secondlife and not the Sansar grid. Alot of us have been in SL for many years and and have invested alot of real life money in here and we feel that in the belt all the time and if you want a store you have got to pony up the money up alot of money for land. Even if your looking for Commercial/Residential and Residential on it’s own is outrageous but if you have a family in SL you need land to house that family in so either way your in a ball clenching crunch. The relief of land cost going down is a breath of fresh air and I’m looking forward to that as I’m sure many others will be too. Which now brings me to my question….What sales taxes are they looking to increase? I ask because we can go from one kick in the balls to another and in the end its ultimately still kicking our asses.

  3. R says:

    It’s about time. Their outrageous land prices, lack of interactive content and the programming limitations of their Second Life platform has been dated for quite a while now. Much of my time in Second Life is spent afk, since there’s really nothing to do other than create and chat. Even Minecraft is more enjoyable, being that it’s more engaging. Lets hope 3rd party and user developers really jump on making something interactive for users to do in this next platform.

    • Lee McKay says:

      Trust me. You have MUCH more capability in Second Life than you will have in Sansar. They will have it so tightly locked down, only the elite will be able to do anything. Count your blessings in SL. There’s a lot more to do.

  4. Mogi says:

    And of course, we will have to PAY for everything. As usual. No more ‘play for free’, the occulus shit will already cost well enough. I highly recommend to do like the Japanese elitists and keep it to USA only. You don’t want anymore povertons that can’t give you their car, their mother and chop off a leg too, right?

  5. argusrisen says:

    “WordPress for VR”?? Why would they compare themselves to an unstable blogging platform?

  6. jumpmanlane says:

    Well Sansar might be neat for porn and stuff. After 8 years or so hobbying around Second Life, in the end, sex is what I think most people log in for…and well DRAMA! Hehehehe.
    So, I’ll try Sansar at some point. Most folks who use the platform (SL) could care less about real life brands because real life brands confer nothing, no status.

  7. landacrystal says:

    Reblogged this on Landa Crystal and commented:
    Interesting news about project Sansar.

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