Change brings anxiety. I expect that. Last year in July, Linden Lab announced that they were working on a next generation virtual platform – code-named Project Sansar. Second Life residents are, understandably, anxious. I spoke a little about this in my recent panel appearance on the DraxFiles Radio Hour, and I’ll expand my thoughts on it here.
What are they anxious about? I host weekly discussions at Basilique – a bit like Tom Boellstorff used to do back in the day with his weekly meetup called Virtual Cultures. At one of the discussions, I asked participants:
Are you anxious about Sansar? If so, what are you anxious about?
10 anxieties rose to the fore:
- They’re worried that Sansar will replace Second Life
- They’re worried that Sansar won’t allow them to do adult activities that 6 /10 already do in Second Life
- They’re worried they will “lose” the inventory they’ve spent hundreds or thousands of real dollars on
- They’re worried that the technical requirements will be beyond them
- They’re worried there’ll be fewer people left in Second Life when Sansar opens, and that Linden Lab will split the user-base
- They’re worried they’ll be forced to share their private information to use Sansar
- They’re worried it will be less of a world, and more of an isolated platform or game
- They’re worried it will be “dumbed-down” for the masses
- They’re worried they’ll be unable to build there – that it will be just for professionals
- They’re worried about the economic model, their businesses going up in smoke and the cost implications of sales tax
Some of these anxieties are legitimate. Some have no basis in fact. If you are interested in what we know about Project Sansar to date, I invite you to read Inara Pey’s post – A Project Sansar Summary – which goes into detail on the facts, and references each claim with a source.
Why are people anxious? Partly, because more people are resistant to change than excited about embracing it. I meet this resistance every day in my consulting business. Everyday, I meet intelligent people who fear things just because they are new or unknown. And let’s be honest – fear is a useful thing sometimes: It’s one of our instinctual responses that helps us avoid danger.
So what do anxious people do?
Some passively panic. They become paralysed and stick their heads in the sand and refuse to think about the future. Others actively panic. They might pick up sticks, divest themselves of everything they own in Second Life, and run off to places like Inworldz, effectively manifesting the reality they most fear, before it even happens.
When I work with people who are resistant to change, I give them a change management plan. This is an easy, step-by-step transition plan, that lays out the facts – and the options – and gives people clear choices and pathways to follow. I’ve noticed that leaving people to work out their anxieties on their own doesn’t work as well as guiding them through the process in a structured and professional way.
In every group affected by big change, there will be innovators, there will be a middle majority, and there will be laggards. The innovators are excited about the new option that’s coming. From the organisation’s standpoint, they’re pretty easy to deal with, because they see change as an adventure. Everyone else will be harder work, and they need transition plans. If Linden Lab wants everyone else, they might want to create transition plans for them. For example, I’d create a website, where Second Life users could register and find out more about Project Sansar. I’d call it “Your Project Sansar Transition Plan”.
I’d lay the change process out for people, step-by-step. Barring that, then people will just have to deal with it on their own. It’s not ideal, but it’s life.
What about people who just don’t want change? I think people have to realise that just because something new isn’t right for everybody, that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for many people.
Is Sansar for Second Lifers?
For some it will be great, but not for all. I imagine Linden Lab would like every Second Life resident to move over to Sansar the day they open. If that happened, I have a feeling they’d be pretty happy, because they could shut down Second Life, and save bundles of money on maintaining a business model that has a very limited future.
Beyond that, who wants to fight a battle on two fronts? We don’t have two Facebooks – one for the original college students and one for the rest of the world. Apple doesn’t support 10-year-old operating systems, they focus their attention on the latest and greatest because that’s where the future lies.
Sansar might not be for many Second Life residents, and that’s ok. No one will force you to move. No one will force you to leave Second Life, until of course, there is no more Second Life.
Might Second Life disappear? Of course it might, and it probably will.
Companies retire products all the time. In the recent fireside chat with UploadVR just this month, Ebbe Altberg is talking about “years” for Second Life, and talking about “decades” for Sansar.
New project launches aiming for the moon need massive focus and investment. If Linden Lab really want Sansar to succeed, they’re going to have to focus a different kind of customer, and that’s the person who’s likely never stepped into a virtual world.
Let’s face it, Second Life only has 900,000 active users and concurrent users have declined year on year since the golden ages. Linden Lab want 10s and 100s of millions to visit Sansar. Do you really think that under a million Second Life users is even their primary target market? Perhaps at first, but the real target is people who will be brand new to virtual reality experiences – and there is nothing you, I, or anyone can do about that, other than get in line and enjoy the ride.
Second Life Blogger Nalates Urriah is writing a series on Sansar-related anxieties, including a post on fragmentation and separation, both worth reading because they go into more detail about each of these anxieties and why they’re needless.