Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Traffic: Opensim Grids Up. Second Life Down!

Trying to get an accurate picture of traffic to Opensim-based grids is pretty hard so I always look forward to the statistics published each month on the  Hypergrid Business. Maria publishes metrics for the top forty grids indicating how well they are doing at the end of each month charting loses and gains in regions as well as the gains in user registrations. It's by no means certain if the metrics are 100% reliable but there is no doubt that the trend is upward over all.

I have collected my own figures too taking a daily sample of peek and off peek traffic for about six months and before that on occasion during the previous year. Back in September 2010 I counted traffic for a sample of round twenty grids and got a daily average of about 600. Back in January of this year that figure had risen to just over 1200 for the same sample. It's still not a big number and Second Life remains significantly more with approximately peek traffic of 60,000 and off peek at 30,000 but what is important in these figures is that Second Life is static while Opensim has doubled.

Second Life enjoyed peek traffic of around 80,000 back in 2008 so the current figures show a big fall in regular users. A few days ago I checked SL again at an off-peek time and got a figure of just 27,751 which just goes to show it isn't looking good for the virtual giant. In contrast, Maria's figures show Opensim grids consistently making gains, that is, more regions than Second Life which has actually lost over 500 over all in the past year although many of those are probably education and none-profits since Linden Labs doubled the tier from the beginning of January. Most of the Second Life losses seem to be gains for Opensim grids though.

One grid that stands out having the highest growth rate of any Opensim grid ever in a very sort period and that is  Avination which had been hovering along with about 250 regions and no more than 1200 registered residents up till December 2010, then suddenly it took off gaining over a thousand regions from January to March. The number of new registrations has also exploded to over 20,000 to date. I visited Avination back at the beginning of January just before it took off and wrote about it here. At the time the daily traffic was a mere 35 peek and down to 18 off-peek but over the month it just kept rising so by the end of January it stood at around 200 peek rising to 395 mid way through February. It has dropped off some since but still manages up to 350 at peek times.
Gaga at the slot machines in an Avination gambling region

Avination growth is attributed partly to a promotional campaign which ran radio commercials in Oregon, USA that were also aired on Web radio and in-world radio stations in Second Life. Avination puts virtual-goods Merchant's interests first. puts restrictions on making freebies readily available and goes further imposing charges to download inventory. This is partly to protect the merchants but also to help prevent copybotted items finding their way onto the grid, they claim. To this end, Avination is probably the only grid that charges for downloads and groups, an action which has brought plenty of attacks from disgruntled users objecting to these charges when other grids don't. But Avination has come in for a lot more attacks over it's policy allowing gambling in the form of Zyngo and other types of slot machine play. In deed, when I recently visited again I found search awash with gambling and red light sims to visit so, clearly, Avination wants a slice of the second Life Adult market and it comes as no surprise that gambling interests that can no longer do business in Second Life have been quick to set up shop in Avination.

Avination currently charges $60 rent for a sim with 15,000 prims (free set up). So, they must be turning over in excess of $50,000 a month already and this appears to be the bread and butter of Opensim commercial grids and has not gone un-noticed by others which are due to go live soon. However,  InWorldz, another commercial grid, has already been in business for nearly two years and started with a hand full of people that left OpenLife grid - a forked version of Opensim - which started up at the time of the Open spaces fiasco in Second Life around the end of 2007. Apparently, there was some connection between the InWorldz founders and the owner of OpenLife and a falling out which came to a head and caused the departure. InWorldz began as a small grid based on the official Opensim core server code and went live early in 2009. It grew slowly at first then took off last summer gaining around 800 sims which helped them break even and finally make a modest profit enough to pay wages at least.

InWorldz charges $75 rent per month (no setup fee) but offers 30,000 prims for mainland sims and 30,000 to 45,000 prims for pivate islands. The high prim offering has caused a few raised eyebrows from Opensim core developers and those opposed to walled-garden grids who insist no Opensim grid can reliably handle more than 15,000 prims which, incidentally, is the maximum that Second Life offers. What they say is, while it is possible to set a sim to permit more than 15,000 prims, it is not advised since it puts a heavy load on the server. This becomes more critical when people are asked to pay rent for sims on shared resources where a heavy user can impact on the rest causing excessive lag for all. Anyway, that aside, InWorldz has some coders that came with the migration from OpenLife and they promised to improve the core Opensim code and put right all the bugs and missing functions they insisted had not been adequately dealt with by the core developers when they accused them of concentrating on "shinnies" such as media on a prim and Hypergrid rather than cleaning up the core which they described as a mess. InWorldz no longer takes the Opensim core so has become a forked version too which is exactly the same as what happened with OpenLife.

On the plus side InWorldz dose have the reputation of being friendly and welcoming to new comers and they have attracted several role play groups to their fold, including, the Reaglen Shire tiny community and elfclan. The owners appear to go out of their way to be helpful and are quick to show noobs where to find freebies to fix up their basic "ruthed" avatar. Avination by contrast is not so welcoming and some have said their business-like attitude is reflected in their welcome sim which, I can vouch, dose seem bleak and rarely has anyone to greet noobs. But, bleak and un-welcoming as Avination appears they do have their plus side. For one, you get a de-noobed avatar to begin your adventure with so freebies are not your first consideration. For an Opensim grid lag is surprisingly low though and I personally have only ever crashed once when my viewer froze trying to access search. A change of viewer fixed it and all was well again. I had no problem with search after that.

InWorldz dose suffer a great deal of lag and many have noted this which is probably due to the high prim load on the servers and not necessarily to inadequate resources in general.  OSgrid, the official Opensim developers test grid that lets anyone to connect a home standalone sim, also suffers horrendous lag on some of those standalone sims which are most often hosted on home PCs with standard home DSL connection. Sims like these can only handle a low prim environment and two or three avatars at most before lag becomes a problem. As far as concurrency is concerned, OSgrid fairs quite well with peeks of around 150 users online. But this is miss-leading really because the main grid can't account for all the Hypergrid connected regions and there are a lot.

One other grid I should mention is  ScienceSim which has backing from such big names as Intel and IBM. I noticed the grid has dramatic swings in user concurrency, ranging between 100 off-peek to over 1000 peek. This may be due to load testing - I don't know for sure - or their connection with education. I'm not really up on what happens at Sciencesim but I do know Diva Canto, creator of Hypergrid, set an outward bounds permission for them recently which allows Hypergrid teleports into the grid but prevents inventory gained on the grid from leaving it.

New grids are coming on to the free metaverse all the time and each seems to be either catering to a particular niche or, in the case of commercial grids, selling themselves as a particular business model they believe will attract customers. InWorldz focuses on community while Avination focuses on content sellers. Both these grids sim prices are about level pegging though. Meta7 on the other hand is more expensive with charges $105 for a sim but they do focus on technical advances. Another grid aiming to go live soon also has higher sim charges, AvWorlds will charge $120 for a sim but the owner says he will give up to 25% discount to large land owners that rent out parcels at lower prices. They also promise to encourage in-world sales by only showing pictures of virtual goods on their web site and a link back in-world to the store in order to keep buyers patronizing the malls and business sims. No doubt there will be winners and losers but the free metaverse is really starting to take off so the traffic away from SecondLife is set to accelerate.

There are many more grids but most are small or hidden behind fire walls such as those run by colleges, universities and business interests so it is hard to really get a reliable figure on over all concurrency for Opensim grids but it must be in the thousands now. SecondLife can show a figure for the grid because it is all under one roof but Opensim grids can be set up by anyone with a server and a connection and this is what makes it near impossible to build an accurate picture of it's total traffic. However, what is absolutely certain now is that free metaverse based on Opensim grids are posing a serious challenge to SecondLife and it's getting bigger.