Saturday, 5 January 2013

Second Life's Embarrassing Start to 2013 And More Predictions...

If it wasn't for the fact Linden Lab is headed by a game's industry heavy weight like Robvik Humble I think they could be forgiven for marketing Second Life as a game package on Amazon recently when everyone that knows the beleaguered virtual world and has experienced it would, in the majority, be inclined to say it is not a video game. The general consensus around the blog sphere seems to be that the Lab has embarrassed themselves once again with this move. And yet there are those bloggers that want to forgive Linden Lab for this action on the premise it could work to bring in more people at least. Pretty much all bloggers, however,  have expressed a loud sigh of general disbelief regardless.

Second Life offered free on Amazon. It turned up un-announced and has since been pulled off probably because existing residents noticed the free 1000 Linden dollar. Perhaps the Lab will try it on eBay next.

As we start the year 2013 I will be making a few predictions further on but, given that I had something to say about Second Life last year and the Lab continues to make blunders I ought to look back on it see if I got anything right which I will come to. But I can't let go of the present gaff I noted above without taking a closer look. It does seem a bit incredible that, despite having Rod as CEO, the brass at the Lab didn't consider that marketing SL on Amazon as a video game might be an embarrassing mistake that bloggers were sure to pick up on. On the other hand one might consider it was all thought out and quite deliberate given that Rod Humble has already released a bunch of video games under the Linden Label in the past year and announced Second Life will be marketed on the Steam video gaming site. It does seem Rod makes little or no distinction between his concept of "Shared Creative Spaces" and a video game so why would they not market SL as a game? This appears to be squarely what the Lab is focused on these days.

When Rod joined Linden Lab he told us he was trying to get to know Second Life and now he has got to know it he has decided it is, as mentioned above, a shared creative space which, unsurprisingly, it is a another way of calling it a video game! The users or Residents of Second Life I think view their virtual world differently though. I would say, as a long time resident myself that Second Life is, to all intents and purposes, an endless social-economic soap opera where people can get creative. It has no end goal like a video game has and yet there can be goals set by the residents themselves with either commercial or none-profit motives in mind. It can be viewed as an adult playground if anything where grown-up's play out all kinds of fantasies and express themselves in many ways. The residents or users make their virtual world. It's a labour of endless possibilities that grow out of the collective imagination of the residents. It appears doubtful if Linden Lab executives understands this or if they do they certainly don't treat the residents as partners and yet, in my view and by everything they do, I think residents do demonstrate they are partners by being serious contributors. Linden Lab owns Second Life of course and can do what they please but the product is nothing without the residents who spend money, build the sims and make the content. In fact, the residents who interact with each other breathe life into the product and become an essential part of it. That is the part the company dose NOT own. That is where the partnership comes in and Linden Labs have never looked upon their residents as partners - just paying customers. And paying customers buy video games, right?


Last year I said I wouldn't get carried away with my predictions but I'm rather pleased with myself that the first one actually turned out sort of on the mark. I said Linden Lab would pull out all the stops to try and get Second Life growing again and I could say they did by releasing four new video games. Well, those games were not exactly Second Life applications but clearly the Lab is working on trying to save their shirts. Trouble is Second Life itself is not seeing much of the effort unless you consider Linden realms and Pathfinding tools are a big deal. It appears that the residents are not exactly falling over themselves with excitement though. In any event, if the measure of success is region count then it's been a disastrous year with the net loss of regions rising to 2863 which represents a 12% loss. Even more telling is that user login's have declined too and there are a large number of sims for sale nobody wants as well as rentals with no takers. People are not buying and even the strongest fashion stores are struggling to keep afloat.

Turning now to the open Metaverse the situation is not all a bed of roses there either. OSgrid has seen a sharp decline in recent months after sustained growth through the summer months. Avination too has continued to decline while InWorldz is holding out but not growing. On the other hand new grids are still popping up so, while region counts may be down the number of grids is up - double the number since last year in fact! So, for every new grid that means at the very least a few more people are contributing to the growth of the free Metaverse. I some cases the new comers may even represent a sizable little community even. 

Finding the growing number of grids to choose from as the free Metaverse expands is going to require better support with search and other features suited to the growing market. Above I am showing my test version of a search page that can link grids to the main viewer for login which makes it easy for new users to find grids to visit.

The latest trend amongst grid operators seems to be the offering of free plots on commercial grids to get users in rather than making the low cost sims they offer as the main the sales pitch. However, as usual there is plenty of rivalry between grids with flame wars breaking out from time to time. Generally, though, the Opensim platform code continues to improve although Hypergrid 2 has not materialized yet but, that aside, it is looking likely we will see both the core and forks rolling out better physics engines in the new year which is the good news.

I predicted we would get a viewer with grid search in 2012 and that V1 viewers might be disabled in Second Life. Well, we did get some experiments with new grid management but nothing serious yet. On the other hand Linden Lab did pull the plug on V1 and instructed the TPV developers to drop support for Opensim if they wanted to include the client-side Havoc physics. This led to some dropping V1 viewer support and others like Firestorm saying they would release two versions, one for Second Life and one for Opensim. According to the developers it has become increasingly difficult to include the code changes LL are making to the viewer which includes Pathfinding and server-side rebaking to work all this code into the older V1 model. And yet, there are developers that insist it can be done so some of the viewers with a V1 UI are likely to still get support. These include Singularity and a forked development of Phoenix while the Firestorm team have stated they, themselves, will lay Phoenix to rest.


First up I would predict that InWorldz will become the must see grid of 2013 once they get PhysiX fully working. I say this because the team have already rebuilt the scripting engine making it faster and more efficient. One of the key drawbacks to Opensim has been physics, incomplete scripting functions and problems with border crossings. The InWorldz team look like they have solved all the main issues and are on track to launch seriously improved services in the new year. This I would expect will help get the grid growing again.

Demo of PhysX at InWorldz race track

Not to be out done my second predictions is that Kitely will become the top grid in 2013 and will even knock OSgrid from it's present position as HUB of the Hypergrid if HG 2.0 or 2.5 actually , finally, gets the export perm and Kitely actually adopts it and becomes HG enabled. If they don't then I don't expect them to grow that much. I do expect them to grow considerably, regardless simply because they have built a great product that gives value and they have a pretty good track record of contributing to core. They have a good reputation and a very competitive pricing structure.

My third prediction is that competition will hot up between Opensim grids in 2013 and we are already seeing this in the form a Free Land offers which will encourage users to login more often and spend time on the host grids and start to build community. This, in turn, will encourage content sellers to open stores and make sales provided the web front doesn't take customers away like has happened in Second Life with the web Market Place. But, anyway, I do expect more commercial grids to come online during the year and I think free land offers could even be tied to paid premium accounts as an alternative to charging tier. However, I think Kitely already has the edge on this approach and smaller commercial grids will find it extremely difficult to compete unless they have a really dedicated core team to make visitors welcome and, of course, provide some form of regular entertainment, gambling, adult stuff, gaming or get a bunch of role players to bring their theme to the grid.

Demo of Bulletsim supports large numbers of objects seen here

My number four prediction is that Opensim core will get a decent version of Bullet physics working but I don't think it will be ready that soon from what I have seen and tried. I am absolutely sure it is going to happen but there is still work to do yet.

In previous years I predicted that a web application to stream Opensim to a web page was likely to happen soon but, apart from the patented version, that SpotON 3D brought out so only they can use it all we have seen is the webGL Cloud Party and something similar that I haven't fully checked out yet called Meshmoon. All the others are basically Unity3D web viewers which, of course, are not likely to ever be able to connect with Opensim girds. In deed, it remains a fact that only Opensim has the technology to build independent but interconnected worlds via Hypergrid at the moment.

Finally, I predict Second Life will continue to slide during 2013. The region loss will continue and with education grants coming up for review and the stagnant state of the real world economy I would not be surprised to see some quite heavy losses in the early year but, like I said last year, the summer months should see a leveling out both for Second Life and Opensim before further heavy losses again for SL at least in the Fall.

Here's wishing all my readers and fellow travelers a Happy New Year.

P.S. If you are looking for textures you can use on Opensim grids then check my top links or click here to visit my Textures page for a list of vendors that allow their textures to be used in both Second Life and Opensim.