Linden Lab, creators of Second Life, recently announced Project Sansar, which will be the company's next product, set to launch next year. Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab's CEO, and Peter Gray, the company's Senior Director of Global Communications were kind enough to speak with me about the project and their vision of its future.
Project Sansar is being designed with the purpose of embracing new technologies such as virtual reality and modern graphics found in the latest PC games, as well as open accessibility to more and more people who would like to create experiences.
At its core, Project Sansar is a natural evolution of Second Life, Linden Lab's current product. Second Life has been operating for 12 years now, and is not suited for new web trends and advancements in computer hardware. When Second Life was first created, it wasn't built for scalability. Everyone logs in to the same entry point. From there, users will find other experiences that they can enter from within Second Life.
Project Sansar will make experiences much more discoverable and easier to share. Creators will be able to offer an entry point from anywhere, allowing for completely private simulations that can be linked directly from a website, rather than a typical game login. This will also unlock the ability to make these experiences discoverable through search engines, rather than being limited to the pool of Project Sansar members.
Much like Second Life, creators will rent simulators (which the company refers to as "land") within Project Sansar to create and share their experiences with others. The critical difference will be the cost. Altberg said that pricing has not yet been determined, as it is too far in the future still, but the current plan is to make land much cheaper.
You will be able to purchase a larger space, for a lower price up front. He said the company will be "lowering property taxes, and raising sales taxes." Instead of charging large up-front fees, which can be prohibitive for many creators, Linden Labs is more interested in taking a chunk of the growing in-game economy.
Last year, creators within Second Life shared over $60 million of revenue from sales of items such as clothing and furniture for player avatars. Linden Lab expects this economy to grow significantly when more people are able to share their creations. In the current model, the company sees nearly no revenue from in-game sales; the new model will enable sustained growth for the company.
To attract more people to create VR content, which Altberg expects will be in short supply when VR headsets become available next year, Linden Lab is focusing on making Project Sansar into an easy to use platform. Peter Gray likened Project Sansar for VR to what Wordpress has done for the Web; the idea is to make it possible for anyone to create a virtual experience, without the need for a software engineering background.
Linden Lab is creating its own proprietary rendering engine to make this happen. I asked why the company took this direction rather than use existing options, and was told that the problems the company has run into over the years with Second Life made it clear that the company needed an engine designed from the ground up for this platform.
The company needed the ability to make the creator tools simple to use, a task for which the current available engines are not suitable. Project Sansar offers a whole package, including the underlying multi-user functionality, hosting, assets and tools. Additionally, Linden Lab is designing Project Sansar to be accessible through several different media.
Second Life is limited to access through a computer, but with Project Sansar, Linden Lab is seeking to make experiences that work on mobile devices, and through a PC in the traditional sense, or with a virtual reality headset. Currently, the company is not focusing on virtual reality through mobile phones with headsets like Samsung's GearVR. Although Altberg acknowledged that the majority of people will have experience only with mobile VR, the performance concerns of such a setup prohibit the ability to support it. The company is looking into tools that it can offer to creators to gauge what level of device an experience can be accessed through. This would give creators the ability to balance fidelity and complexity, with the potential audience for their experiences.
Currently, Project Sansar is in the very early stages of development, and Linden Lab was not willing to reveal any images yet. The company has invited a half dozen creators to participate and design assets for Project Sansar. The pre-alpha build is only able to support assets created in Maya, and those invited to participate are known to the company to be proficient in the software.
Linden Lab is starting off with the high end to make sure that the engine is robust enough, but future builds of Project Sansar will support any 3D modeling software, and there will be assets available to purchase, with some available for free, to create individual experiences without actually making new models.
Although no concrete dates have been set, there are plans for multiple stages within the development of Project Sansar. Altberg said a semi-open beta should take place in the first half of next year, and a full access beta is tentatively planned for the third quarter. An open public beta should take place before the end of 2016.