3D Virtual Worlds vs. MMORPGs

I have spent 9 years exploring 3D Virtual Worlds, and 8 years playing MMORPGs.  For the longest time they felt like two different experiences.  3D Virtual Worlds are a creative outlet, while MMORPGs are a mostly cooperative gaming experience.  It seems that recently they have been merging.

I have not been adding many new virtual worlds to my master list lately.  While I am probably missing some, the main reason I have not been adding new ones is because there haven’t been any.  This is probably due to good old capitalism.  The potential market just isn’t as big as people thought, and the market that is there is covered really well by Second Life, IMVU, and OpenSim.

In the last couple of years, the growth in 3D gaming has been in free to play MMORPGs.  Not only do they attract a crowd with new gaming experiences, they have co-opted the social model of the 3D Virtual Worlds, creating central meeting places, and free “bases” you can decorate and host private gatherings.  They also have special interest groups you can join in game to meet like minded people.

Basically, everything that makes 3D Virtual Worlds popular, can now be found in MMORPGs too, except user created content.

This is why I now believe that if a complex “Metaverse” like OASIS in Ready Player One is  ever built, it is more likely to be in the form of an MMORPG rather than a 3D Virtual World.

We then must ask the question: How important is “user created content”?  Well, I learned early on during my 9 years of exploring that “content” is vitally important, in fact it is THE most important factor in the success of a 3D Virtual World, and in truth it is also one of the most important factor in MMORPGs, too (“playability” slightly trumps it however).  Allowing user created content is the fastest way to get content, but it is a two edged sword, because the vast majority of user created content is junk.  That user created content has to be loaded on the fly via asset servers which slows down and weakens the user experience.  So if a 3DVW or MMORPG can provide enough “content” without resorting to the user created variety, it is a better experience for the player.

On the other hand, creating the “user created content” is in and of itself the thing that attracts many to 3D Virtual Worlds in the first place.  It is one of the things I have enjoyed most about Second Life and There.com.

The truth is that content creators are seriously outnumbered by both socializers (especially since most content creators are also socializers), and gamers.  Now that MMORPGs are working to appeal to both of the latter groups, it is only the content creators who feel that 3DVWs are the better way to go.  For everyone else, there is simply more things to do in an MMORPG.

As far as “content” goes, competition between MMORPGs is fierce enough that the newest ones are constantly raising the bar on the amount (and quality) of the content they offer.  The thing that triggered this post is my exploration of “Lions Arch” in Guild Wars 2.  I have posted a lot of reviews of 3D builds, but I would say without question that the new “Lions Arch” is the most beautiful 3D build I have ever seen in any game I have ever played, regardless of genre.  It is a true masterpiece of the art form.

As I stated in a previous post, 3D Virtual Worlds are in a slow decline.  It is the competition with free to play MMORPGs that is doing it.  The MMOs are incorporating the stuff that makes 3DVWs popular.  If they are to survive, the 3DVWs need to start incorporating what makes MMOs popular.  They are just starting to do that.  The merging of the two genres seems inevitable.  I for one am looking forward to that, because it is only going to get more awesome.

3D Virtual Worlds Are In Decline

Catching up with the news on 3D Virtual Worlds, has been getting a little depressing lately.  Bottom line: they are all down in traffic.

Lets start with some news on the LL/SL front:  Linden Lab announced two weeks ago that they bought an interactive fiction company called LittleTextPeople. The small company develops 2D interactive fiction for play on mobile phones from what I can tell.  The group will develop new products under the Linden Lab roof, but they will not be associated with Second Life.  In other words, Linden Lab is finally diversifying its gaming line up.  This is what happens when you hire a game developer as your CEO, you start to develop new games.  Not reported anywhere is that one of the 3 developers at LittleTextPeople is Richard Evans, lead AI programmer for The Sims 3 who no doubt worked with LL CEO Rod Humble when he was in charge at EA/Maxis.  The other two are Emily Short, writer/programmer of text adventure Galatea, and Andrew Stern co-creator of a really cool experimental 3D interactive game called Façade.  Both are available for free.

So from the sounds of it, Linden Lab is looking to get into the mobile app market with interactive fiction.  Based on my minimal level of research, the project(s) that LittleTextPeople are working on are pseudo menu driven graphic interactive fiction. (since typing things on a phone/tablet is an annoyance to begin with).  Looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

But that is not all from the Linden Lab front. It seems LL has stopped publication of statistics for Second Life. The unanimous consensus is that the reason for no publication is that the numbers are way down.

Lets put these two items into perspective.  Linden Lab is diversifying their product line towards mobile apps, while Second Life is dropping in traffic, land sales, etc.  Linden Lab is looking to a future without its signature product.  I said before that I believe SL will close its doors when it stops being profitable, and we seem to be close to that point it sounds like.

I decided to take a look at other 3DVWs and see how they are doing.  IMVU is seeing lower numbers these days too.  There Inc is not seeing the huge influx of returning customers it was hoping for when it reopened its doors. It seems that maybe the age of the 3DVW is about up.

Some of the smaller ones are doing OK: NuVera is finally out of beta, and it seems a lot more stable. Avination says they fixed the sim crossing problem for vehicles in OpenSim.  InWorldz is now big enough to start holding a conference in Las Vegas. Onverse is still expanding with new lands and content. Despite some small time success, I am not hearing about any new ones lately, not even new OS grids.

What’s driving people away from the big 3D Virtual Worlds? Probably boredom, social networking, and the influx of “free to play” MMORPGs which are learning to incorporate the social aspects that used to be exclusive to 3DVWs.

I’m not expecting a lot of closures though, just the usual 3 or 4 a year. These things have long tails, and can get by for quite a while with loyal fan bases.  But the “golden age” is behind us.

 

Metaverse in Transition

I have not written anything in a couple of weeks because I have been busy working on the sequel.

Meanwhile…  There are many little things going on in metaverse land worth bringing up.

First, is the fast decline of Worlds of Warcraft. They are losing net subscribers at a rate of about 100,000 a month.  Currently they sit at 11.1 million and falling.  They are still the number one MMORPG out there by a long shot, but the declining numbers indicates a change in the market I figured would eventually come.

Let’s just say it: World of Warcraft is getting old.  It’s “look” is dated, and people are more attracted to the much better looking new releases like Rift and Aion.  Competition from the “free to play” games is getting tighter too.  At this point, adding new content will boost numbers some, but each “expansion” will be less and less effective.  Developing new content is expensive and time consuming, and at some point you just have to say,  “Time for a new game.”

Speaking of which, I’m getting excited for Guild Wars 2, which unfortunately still has a “sometime in 2011” release date.  November is packed for new game releases, and I hope it does not get lost in the mix.  GW2 and Skyrim are the two games I am most looking forward to.

And speaking of “dated”, There.com is now taking preregistration for their re-release.  Right now they are opening the ThereIM client “by invitation”, and you can reclaim your old account if you remember the login and password, you are over 18, and willing to pay $10 a month.  As nostalgic as I am about my There days, I am not feeling enough desire to go back in.  I wish them good luck in their re-release, but I think I’ll be watching from the outside.

Meanwhile in Second Life, the very long awaited release of mesh is getting close.  They released a “beta” viewer dubbed 3.0, which is the same as 2.0 but with mesh integrated in it.  Second Life has been growing a bit stale lately.  Many older great builds, stores, designer, etc. have been leaving.  I believe the “mesh” age will be a renaissance of sorts, and I am definitely looking forward to new builds and new stuff to see on the main grid when it finally goes live.  Be warned that only paying members will be allowed to upload mesh objects, and the prim cost of having mesh objects in world is higher than expected too, so those will be limiting factors.  I totally understand the first restriction as it is necessary to prevent a rash of copyrighted mesh objects from other games flooding Second Life.  The second restriction can change in the future.

Still, mesh has yet to reach the main grid.  Open Sim already has it, as long as you are using a mesh enabled viewer.  The sooner it gets to the main grid, the better.

Seven Years in Second Life

A thread at Second Life Universe put up a challenge to show the evolution of your avatar.  I decided to participate.   Even though I first did this three years ago on my 4th anniversary, I thought it was worth updating.

2004: Creepy system avatar.  Some would call this a “classic” SL avatar.   For me it looked ugly, which is why I spent most of 2004 playing There and City of Heroes instead.

By 2005, we could really customize out avatars with attachments and custom skin.  Unfortunately, this made us look like we had too much makeup on.  On the bright side, we could also use custom animations, like he sitting pose I have here.

2006: Vast improvements in skin and hair. there was now full prim hair available.  The world started to look normal by now.

2007: Yet another upgrade to skin and hair, and also eyes. Hair was flexible now so it moved in response to your movements.

2008: Windlight environments, reflecting and distorting water effects added much needed realism to the world.

2009: Sculptie prims made for better looking hair, and hats!

2010: Wide screen monitor, even better sculptie hair.  And cleavage with bouncing boobs. 🙂

2011:  While shadows have been around for a couple of years, the code is now stable enough to leave on all the time without crashing, making the world even more beautiful.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a picture of a mesh built SL and an improved mesh avatar for 2012.

The State of the Metaverse

So with a lot of State of the Union, and State of the Nation, and State of the State speeches the last week or so, how about a quick view at the state of the Metaverse?

Growth: None

Second Life has seen no real growth at all in the last calendar year.  This according to their last quarterly reportIMVU seems to still be growing but not at the pace they were a year ago.  Other promising 3DVWs like Twinity and Blue Mars are still barely populated, despite massive increases in real estate to explore.

Open Sim News

The past few months have seen a bit of new stuff in Open Sim.  Version 0.7 was released, proving to be a major improvement.   Open Sim will probably support mesh within days of SL’s support of mesh (whenever that happens).  Some new branch projects are being developed, primarily to work on physics.  Then there is the NASA education project that decided Open Sim was better than SL.

Client News

The push is on to get rid of clients that still run on version 1.  Linden Lab is doing their part by blocking search on version 1 clients.  Open Sim is doing their part by implementing the 2.0 client features like web on a prim.  The Third Party Viewer community is doing their part by making 2.0 compatible viewers that have significantly more features than either version 1 or the official viewer.  See this video demo for the latest Phoenix viewer.

Second Life Given Back to the Role Players

The Tesla Room in the soon to close France3D futuna sim

So I spent a  fair amount of posts devoted to what seems to be a battle of “visions” going on in Second Life.  A string of posts starting with this one I wrote a year ago.  I have written so many I just decided to create a new sl visions tag. Click to see all the related posts.

So here is the story in a paragraph.  There have been three competing “visions” of what SL should be: The role-player vision, the merchant vision, and the 3D Facebook vision.  Since the resignation of the last CEO Mark Kingdon, the temporary CEO Philip Rosedale has systematically disassembled the 3D Facebook vision, largely because it is unworkable (as I predicted).  Because of the resources spent, changes requested by the merchants have not only not happened, but actually they are worse now.  Merchants continue to quit with profits way down.  That leaves us role players basically in charge, and if you have seen the latest re-design of the main Second Life page, you will see, that SL has recognized it as well.  We are back to “Your World, Your Imagination” again (though not in those exact words).

Now a lot has happened under the brief Rosedale administration:

  • Second Life Enterprise Grid – Gone
  • Basic account support – Gone
  • Premium support – once 24 hours, now limited hours
  • Non-Profit/Educational Sim discounts – Gone (or soon will be)
  • Avatars United – Gone
  • X-Street, soon to be integrated into game, currency exchange Gone
  • Teen Grid – Gone (or soon will be)
  • Community Gateways – Gone

Now many of these I am sad to see are disappearing, while others I say good riddance.  What they are doing is simplifying the whole thing.  Simplifying, always a good thing.  The general philosophy is now a “hands off” policy, meaning they are giving us players more autonomy.

Meanwhile, check out where their current development efforts are focused:

  • Mesh
  • Display Names
  • Voice Morphing
  • Wearable Avatar Physics
  • Havok 7 support

Here is what they all have in common:  They are all good for us role players.  If you are in SL because you enjoy pretending you are someone else, whether that is a formal role player in a community, or an informal role player pretending to be someone you are not, then SL seems to be catering to you again, after a couple of years where they weren’t.

Here’s the cloud to go along with that silver lining.  Philip Rosedale has stepped down, and Linden Lab is once again looking for a new CEO.  Furthermore, there is good evidence that the remaining employees don’t really seem to “get” the whole RP vision thing.  Here is hoping they hire someone who does.  Unfortunately, I am not that hopeful.

Wither the Merchant Vision

So there are now two different visions left about what Second Life is, or should be. What vision you are apart of is largely based on what motivates you to play. I call these visions “role play” and “merchant” as a short hand way of understanding them.

There are builders who build for fun, they are part of the role play vision. There are builders who build for profit, they are part of the merchant vision. There is a lot of mixing and gray area obviously.

We can all see that SL has plateaued, and will likely decline soon. This is very bad for the Merchants. It is possible that Mesh could revitalize the market, but I am leaning to the idea that it will radically change the market so much that it is unlikely to help the current merchants.

Most of us Role Players have accounts in other places, especially many open sim grids. When SL closes, we’ll probably spend a little time mourning, then we’ll be elsewhere.  Us non-merchant types will likely move on to Open Sim and start building there. Heck, a lot of them already are. Similarly the various role play communities would move and rebuild as well.

The Merchants don’t have many other places to go.  With no currency, no theft protection, no one to file a DMCA complaint to, the merchants have no desire to move to Open Sim, even if there were no SL.  The market place in SL is one of a kind, the closest is IMVU, and it is about a tenth of the size of SL.

The RPers may have built SL, but it is the merchants that made SL popular, they provide most of the content we RPers enjoy.  We non-merchant RPers are better off with the merchants around, which means we are better off with SL around.

I believe that when SL eventually closes, there will be a new virtual goods market somewhere, innovation abhors a vacuum.  Maybe not of the same nature as SL, but I see other virtual good markets, like Renderosity and various app markets, succeeding in other similar venues, so it is only a matter of time before there is another virtual goods market where creative people can make a few bucks.  This is another topic I have already written about.

The Problem of a Multi Grid Economy

My last post was about the slowly being developed 3D Internet, which I am guessing is likely to be built on the Open Simulator platform. There are other open source platforms in the competition, Open Cobalt is one I mentioned, while Open Wonderland is one mentioned in the comments. For completeness sake, I should also mention Sirikata, another open source platform.

Don’t expect a battle royale between these different open source platforms.  It is possible that in the end, they all might work together.  The IEEE (a major engineering organization that develops standards for web protocols) has put together a workgroup called VWRAP (Virtual World Region Agent Protocol).  The group’s first easy to read paper on the topic can be found here in PDF form, if you are more technically inclined, you can read their preliminary drafts here.

From a Second Life perspective, a 3D Internet presents many challenges.  The biggest one on the minds of most people is “How do I make money?”  Because of the open nature of a 3D internet, any rules regarding permissions and copying simply cannot be enforced.  The Second Life economic model will not work.  There will be money making opportunities on the 3D internet, but the buying and selling of 3D goods for virtual cash can only be done in a closed off system like Second Life or an individual Open Sim grid.  The 3D internet will involve multiple grids and possibly multiple platforms.  Moving stuff from grid to grid, platform to platform, and avatar to avatar makes the SL economic system worthless.

Second Life’s Flawed Intellectual Property Policy

Before discussing what a multigrid economy might look like, lets take a look at the biggest weakness with the Second Life economic model.

Second Life is the first ever to try creating a virtual economy where people retain ownership of their creations. When Second Life decided that was what they wanted to do, a lot of people said it was unprecedented and would never work.

Guess what? It doesn’t work!

There are two court cases right now, one I mentioned here, and another detailed here.  Both take issue with SL’s Intellectual Property policy from two different perspectives.  While neither case has been tried yet, these cases are the apparent cause of  Second Life’s recent rather draconian Terms of Service changes.

The problem with making an unprecedented policy is that the legal ramifications are unclear, and it may cost quite a bit of legal fees to hammer out clarity in the courts, a price I am not sure LL is willing to pay.  Eventually, Linden Labs is going to have to change to one of these two proven models:

1. The There/IMVU/Facebook/MySpace model where “We own everything you upload, so you can’t sue us if your stuff is copied, or if we remove your stuff, because we own it, not you”.

2. The Internet Host/OSGrid/Google model where “We just sell the server space and index stuff for search, so solve your own damn Intellectual Property issues.”

SL Beta member Oz Spade made a good response to this:

I think LL intended to do #2, but wasn’t doing it fast enough or in the right ways. I recall when they first announced this whole IP thing and people were asking questions like this and the answer was “well eventually we want to be like an ISP or Linux distributor or website hoster, we host, provide access to content, and support and you do everything else.” Which is fine, and would work if they really were going for that model and not sitting on their ass trying to sweep up the cash. The problem they’re having is relinquishing control because, well, they’re a company, and not a non-profit.

The other problem with that model is, in the example of the ISP/hoster you still have to respond to take down requests and “violations.” The difference between LL and the other models is, with the other models your content can go with you, i.e. you can have all the html files on your computer and take them to another hoster. However with SL, your content, if you play by the rules, can only be accessed via SL grid. So in reality they aren’t really providing only a hosting service, which is what fucks them and is completely their mistake / stupid-attempt-to-keep-out-competition-that-might-use-their-software-features. It’s like if to host a website on a hoster you had to write your website in a special language that could only be written and hosted on that hoster and you couldn’t convert it to html without hacking around.

So basically they made a legal decision before they had worked out all the kinks in the technology that uses it. Or had made a legal decision without wanting to fully commit due to money/selfishness/whateverdouchery.

The first thing they should have done when saying “you own the IP” is make sure that you can take that IP with you, that you actually DO own it. And this is what people have been screaming for since they announced it and why we have things that people freak out about like “copybot” and other ways to “illegally” copy objects/etc. If LL had ignored the douches freaking out about “holy shit people will steal shit!” and actually implemented backup features properly that allowed content to travel with the creators, we would be avoiding a majority of this bullshit.

Seems spot on to me.

And another problem I have not even mentioned is the conversion of dollars to lindens and vice versa.  Linden Labs has insisted that the “Linden” currency has no real value outside of the game, and yet nobody believes that.  Lots of virtual worlds, both 2D and 3D, have virtual currencies exchangeable for money.  If a court were to rule that these virtual currencies should be treated like real money, it opens a whole new can of worms legally speaking.

Linden Labs is not going to be able to straddle the line between IP freedom and IP protectionism for long.

Eventually these legal difficulties could eventually follow over to other grids, or other grids could take this as a precautionary lesson and try something else.

A Possible Open Grid Economic Model

The SL economic model can only possibly work in SL, because there is one entity that controls all the asset servers.

In an Open Grid model with cross grid travel and communication there will be hundreds of asset servers controlled by hundreds of independent companies, just like the 2D internet is controlled by hundreds of web hosts. In the case of avatars, everyone may possibly host their own avatar outside the grids, so we could be talking thousands of asset servers.

An OpenSim grid is going to have to toss the whole SL paradigm out completely. Forget about inventory, selling individual units, and permissions, it won’t work in an open grid.

The open grid must work as a true 3D internet, with the internet as a paradigm.
Region = website
grid = webhost
inventory = stuff you store on your computer or via “cloud”

Think of the way the internet works now. If I have a website, or blog, or facebook account, etc. I can easily copy pictures, text, scripts, music embeds, etc, from other websites and post them on my web site. Its my responsibility to make sure I have the rights to what I post, but of course, most people don’t check the rights of everything they post. Since most sites are non-commercial, and visited by very few people, nobody gives a damn mostly.

On the other hand, if a site gets popular, and designed to make money, or has a big company behind it, then that website will be required to have the rights to all content on that site, or find itself with a cease and desist notice, or the web host might get a take-down notice and suddenly your site is gone.

This is the way an open grid has to work as well: everything is full perm, but copyrights are still in play.

What is needed are sites similar to Renderosity for open sim grids. Nothing on Renderosity is ever copy protected, because it makes it unusable. Buying a file is not what is important, it is buying a license, which is why most things are overpriced at Renderosity, but if you are using Renderosity objects for a commercial project, you damn well better have a receipt.

That has to be the model for open grid as well.  For example I make a couch object that in SL could sell for maybe 100L. For Open Sim I sell a commercial license for $10 or about 25 times the SL sales price, which I sell on a specialized website.  If someone buys it, they get a full perm object that they can edit, or copy, or give away, but can’t legally sell.  Most Open Sim grids have no in world currency so I can’t sell there anyways. I could try to post it for sale on a specialized website, but if the website is a legitimate one, they could investigate the origin of the items on sale on their site and prevent resales.

Because the object in world is copyable, why would anyone buy a copy when they could just grab a copy in world? Well that is where the “Internet” paradigm takes over. You could just grab a copy and post it on your region, but if the region is commercial in any way, you damn well have a commercial license for the object or be potentially subjected to litigation or grid take down.

The big money in Open Sim is going to be in the building of commercial regions for clients. Professional region builders who want to use your couch will definitely pay the $10 for the license to use it, just as the region builder expects to be paid for use of his region model for anyone that uses it.

I have proposed this idea to many, the primary objection is that it will limit the people that make money to only the best creators.  I’m sure that other methods of making money on the 3D internet would emerge that we have not thought of yet.  My primary point is that the SL economic model is not one we can (or should) consider.

Why Open Sim is the Future Metaverse (and why it is not the present)

I have been following the Open Sim development for a couple of years now. Some of the latest developments have convinced me that if there is ever going to be a 3D internet, it will be based on Open Sim. I say this knowing that Open Sim currently has a rather low population of participants, low enough that one could question the sanity of such a statement.  Well here is a brief summary of this conclusion.

What is a 3D internet?
A 3D internet is one that is navigable in 3 dimensions rather than two. Instead of websites, you have explorable regions. Instead of 2D text chatting, you have 3D avatar chats.

Why is a 3D internet inevitable?
Sometimes things can be explained easier visually rather than textually, and 3D often gets visual points across better than 2D. For example if you are a photographer with a website, and you want people to see your photographs and find the ones they like best for purchase, the “slideshow” approach is a bad way to do it. After the 4th or 5th click, people start to wonder if it is worth it. Immerse the visitor into a 3D gallery of your photos and people will venture around, allowing them to find the pictures they most like fast.

Hyperlinks in 3D

The thing that got me interested in talking about the 3D web again is the recent development of  “hypergrid” teleporting.  Teleporting from region to region is easy if your start point and end point are on the same grid, but the 2D World Wide Web is built on the ability to move from page to page, where the pages are often on different sites and different hosts.  The development of a 3D web requires the ability to move from grid to grid, and from host to host.

While far from perfect, that obstacle has been resolved.  It is now possible to move from grid to grid without needing to create accounts on every grid or closing your browser.  The picture above is the OSGrid me meeting the Reaction Grid me after clicking on a “hypergrid” link.

It works similarly to the slurl’s in SL except if your destination is on a different grid, your avatar is uploaded to the new grid and your name changes to firstname.lastname @ gridyoucamefrom to prevent conflicting names. It is really cool when it works, but unfortunately a lot can go wrong.  Instructions can be found here, if you want to try it.

Not all hypergrid enabled regions can reach all other hypergrid regions.  Took me about a dozen tried to find a combo that worked.  To get from OSGrid to Reaction Grid, I found a region called Hypergrid Market Middle on OSGrid (a very boring place BTW), then clicked on this link: secondlife://hypergrid.reactiongrid.com:9009

Eventually all the bugs will get ironed out and an independent 3D web will really start to develop.

Why will the 3D Internet be based on Open Sim?
It wont be Second Life.  There are many reasons. First, a 3D internet cannot be controlled by one company.  Second, it is inappropriate for a 3D internet to be under a virtual economy if it is going to be universally adapted.  Thirdly, the designers of Open Sim are moving away from SL’s strict protocols.  Open Sim regions no longer have to be strictly 256m x 256m, they can be larger.  Researchers have managed to put 200 avatars on a single region, and have run up to 40 regions on a single server.  Open Sim offers a flexibility that SL cannot offer.

It wont Be Blue Mars, IMVU or any other current 3D Virtual World. These all do what they do well enough, but they are all designed to be proprietary.  IMVU is strictly a chat program in 3D, Blue Mars is a gaming platform.

The only real open flexible 3D platform that could be competitive is  OpenCobalt.  It interfaces with Google protocols allowing Sketchup KMZ files used in Google Earth, allowing import of the huge library of 3D objects in Google’s database, as well as in the OBJ format.  This is stuff OpenSim still can not do.  My knowledge of OpenCobalt is small, but there are three reasons why OpenSim will win: 1. it is already proven scalable technology, 2. More developers are working on Open Sim than OpenCobalt, 3. It is a lot easier to add KMZ and OBJ support to OpenSim than it is to add the OpenSim scalable multi-region stuff to OpenCobalt.

Of course, something designed from scratch could be better than OpenSim, but it would take years to develop, and OpenSim has a huge head start.  Network protocols could be designed to replace TCP/IP as well, but would never be implemented because TCP/IP is too well entrenched.  I believe we have reached a point where we are stuck with OpenSim.  Improving the platform is easier than rewriting it.

If OpenSim is the future, why is it not more popular now?
This is a very valid question.  SL has more than three times as many regions (32,000) as all of the OpenSim Grids combined (10,500).  The OpenSim grids are growing at a rate of 10% a month so far this year, while SL has only grown 1.4%.  That’s the best stat comparison.

SL has more than 500 times the number of accounts as OpenSim, and over 100 times the number of active players.  At any given time, about 60 to 70% of all regions in SL are uninhabited. In OpenSim, that percent is closer to 99%.  OpenSims one advantage is cost.  It costs 10 times as much to get a dedicated region in SL as it does to get one on OSGrid, but your SL region is 100 times more likely to get visitors than in OS, so if you want visitors, the premium is probably worth it.

Why the horrible stats?  I like to think of the 2D internet as it existed 20 years ago.  SL is AOL, and the WWW is a couple of years away.  The people who were on the web at that time were students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.  So who are the few people on OpenSim?  students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.

When it became obvious that the open WWW was superior to AOL, everyone flocked to WWW.  I’m hopeful that history will repeat again with OS and SL.  On the other hand, maybe it is more accurate to think of SL as “Windows” and OS as “Linux”, and OS will be forever stuck as a niche platform despite its parity.

Setting up a Simple Open Sim Sandbox on your hard drive

This is an edited repost from last August.

Most people that play Second Life, run into this problem eventually: You want to build stuff, and cant afford a lot of land, so you go to a sand box region, and when you go, its laggy and overcrowded.

Why is it even necessary to build stuff in world anyways? We can make our own textures and animations offline using other programs then import them into SL. Why cant be build objects in a third party program and import them?

There is a solution with OpenSim. You can create a free, lag free personal sandbox island on your own computer and build what you want.

I heard horror stories about setting up an Open Sim server of my own. Unfortunately, instructions to set it up are often overly technical and have the format “if you want to do this, then A, but if you want to do that then B.” A lot of tutorials want you to compile the latest source and set up another database, none of which are really necessary.

All I want to do is set up an Open Sim sandbox on my own hard drive. I’m not looking to connect it to a grid, or invite my friends to connect to it. I just want a free place to play and experiment. How difficult is that?

Its not difficult at all. Here is the process for Windows PC’s in four easy steps:

Note: If you already  have an earlier Open Sim set up, back up your build in an OAR file, and your inventory in an IAR file, so you can reload them later, then completely erase the old files before beginning.

Step 1: Download and unzip the latest Open Sim build. They now have a zip file for PC’s that makes loading Open Sim on your hard drive really easy.  You just need to know where you want to unzip it to.

The download page is here.  The file you want for the PC is http://dist.opensimulator.org/opensim-0.6.8-binaries.zip

Step 2 : Open the directory you installed the program to, and find “opensim.exe” if you have a 32 bit version of windows, or “opensim.32bitlaunch.exe” if you are running a 64 bit version. Right Click and “create a shortcut” and move it to your desktop. (Vista and 7 users only: Right click on the shortcut you just created and go to Properties, then the “Advanced…” button, and check “Run as Administrator”). This is needed to get all the permissions right. Every time you launch the shortcut you may also be asked to “allow” the program to run. Its a very minor inconvenience.

Step 3: Run Opensim for the first time. The scary part is that it will look like a DOS command prompt which you may not be used to. Don’t worry its easy. It will ask you to fill out a bunch of initial settings. You need to make up a first name, a last name, a password, and a server name. The rest of the settings you can just press enter to use defaults.

Step 4: Right click on your Second Life shortcut, and create another shortcut. Right click on this new shortcut, rename it to whatever you want, maybe something clever like “Local Life”. then in the “Target” section add the following info the the end of whatever is there already:

-loginuri 127.0.0.1:9000 -login firstname lastname password

The last three things should of course be whatever you made up in step 3. Launch shortcut!

OR Step 4: Launch the Hippo Viewer (downloadable here) and put your name and password in, then select “local” on Quick Grid Select and sign in. If you plan to do some building, this is better as the Second Life client does not support building with prims bigger than 10 meters on any side.

The first time on you will probably see a puff of smoke on top of a small round dome shaped island. Going into inventory under Body Parts you can create then wear a new shape and new skin. If you still see a puff of smoke press ctrl+shift+R to rebake your texture.

Note some third party viewers do not work in Open Sim, especially the Emerald Viewer.  This may change in the future, but for now stick with the Second Life client or the Hippo Viewer client.

There you are on your new island. There are no shops to buy stuff and you will have to load all your own textures, build your own stuff, and basically start from scratch. But at least there will be no lag. For help you may want to consult the opensim wiki page.

Free Content

If you feel lonely stuck on this tiny atoll with nothing visible in any direction. I found the following free content you can download and load to your private server.

Here is a decent OAR file you can download (read the thread for details).  If you do not know how to import OAR files to your private server, read this page.  It will create a city in the clouds high above your head along with teleporters on the ground so you can easily reach it.  You can edit to your hearts content.

Here is a decent collection of freebies in an IAR file you can download into your inventory. If you do not know how to import IAR files to your private server, read this page.  This should give you a decent collection of props (including trees, campfires, etc) to make your island less barren.

Moving Content from Second Life to Open Sim Using Hippo Viewer

You say you have too much invested in SL to move over to OS?  There is a simple and free way to move your own prim based content, and full perm content from SL to OS without getting a paid program like Second Inventory. This also works with the Meerkat viewer for Macintosh computers.

1. Go to SL and select the object in world. Right click and select “more” then “more” again, then “Export”. Save item as an XML file on your hard drive.

2. Quit Hippo and go to an Open Sim grid of your choice. Click “File” then “Import” then “Upload Textures + Import”, then select the XML file you saved. Instantly the object appears in front of you.

If you can find some nice full perm prim hair or prim shoes in SL to export, you can look stylish in OpenSim. Demo Video.

Have Fun!

I may eventually write about upgrading the database on your home grid and connecting your build to the OS Grid, but these are more complicated, and I have not even figured them all out myself yet.

For now I have a sandbox to play in and build stuff… FREE!

The Mainstreaming of SL (or why I will reduce my coverage of Second Life)

On a web page I wrote about the history of computer animation, I charted how the industry went from cutting edge to mainstream in about a decade, wearing off the novelty, but still producing quality from time to time.  I believe that is the present state of SL today.

Second Life is becoming “mainstream”.

I have said on a few occasions that SL is like a 3D AOL before the world wide web exploded. In the early days of the web it was fun exploring new web sites to see what people were posting. As the web progressed, the number of web sites exploded, and the overall quality improved.

At that time I was a reader of PC Magazine and they were doing an annual “Best of the Web” list each year. They had to stop when the web reached a saturation point.  I feel like we have reached that point in Second Life.

We used to go to really original places like Svarga, Straylight, and Insilico and be amazed. Now dozens of new servers pop up monthly with similar looks to these places.  It is getting harder and harder for builders to trump the latest, and even if they do get something amazing built, it gets lost in the noise.

The overall quality of SL region builds is going up, which is a good thing for us players that love to explore, but it is getting harder and harder to find places unique and original and wonderful enough to blog about. My next post is going to be the my second annual best of SL, and it will probably be my last best of list.

At the same time SL is changing its business model. Recent xstreet changes have been made which have upset casual merchants, but at the same time should help keep the copybot pirates from making a quick buck. SL is also limiting scripts people can run simultaneously, and making other changes that hurts the “freedom” in SL, but should make the platform more attractive for casual “mainstream” users.

All of this is following the same trend we saw in computer animation and the world wide web.  We are reaching a saturation point. Second Life is no longer cutting edge, instead it has dulled a bit.

The cutting edge is in the Open Sim community, which still is working on improving the platform to match SL, and hopefully surpassing it soon.

The potential cutting edge can also be seen in Blue Mars, which recently added the Caledon “steam punk” community from Second Life to Blue Mars and is opening stores.

My current plan is to keep this blog going, but instead of pushing myself to post every week, I may post only when I find something to post about.  Hopefully there will be enough to keep me busy.