Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Metrics: A Changing Metaverse

It was interesting to read  Hypergrid Business' monthly survey of the virtual worlds of the metaverse. SecondLife lost 41 regions while Opensim based grids collectively gained 1,102 for the top 40 grids. But HB is actually tracking 144 grids of which 80 report region counts. What is particularly interesting about these surveys is the picture it paints of the changing state of the metaverse which is in a real state of flux.

OSgrid and Kitely lead with significant gains in regions while  Avination, which rose so spectacularly in the early months of the year, lost regions and active users. InWorldz continued slow but steady growth and Meta7 closed due to legal issues. At the same time more grids came online. So it appears users are moving about a lot and new people are experiencing the free metaverse for the first time. The big loser of course is SecondLife which, while losing 41 regions might not seem much, has lost 500 regions in the past year.

There are so many options now compared to a year ago and the cost of setting up has dropped significantly too so it's no wonder Linden Labs, which still charges $1000 to set up a region and monthly tier of $295, is losing out. SecondLife still enjoys high traffic compared to Opensim based grids but no one really knows what the free metaverse traffic figures are. SL can report their traffic as it's all under one roof but the free metaverse is a partially disconnected cluster of small grids with no overseeing server to collect data.

Gaga checking a club out in Avination. Yeah, the dance pole works!

Hypergrid helps to connect grids but a lot of the grid owners keep it disabled to prevent content theft and, of course, partly to keep their residents on their own grid. Commercial grids of course are in competition with each other and since they rely on renting sims to users they obviously have a vested interest to operate on the same business model as Linden Labs which means a walled garden approach. And yet, even that is not stopping users from moving about no more than Linden Labs can prevent it's residents discovering what is out there in the free metaverse.

With the release of Opensim 7.1 at the start of the month things could be about to change still more. With 7.1 there is greater security to prevent content theft while still allowing users to travel to other grids with their same name and appearance. Once someone has found a place to call home (virtual home) and enjoy the community it offers they are less likely to travel so much but with 7.1 the barriers to travelling are reduced. What you spent on fixing up your avatar, for instance, wont be limited to the grid you call home so you wont arrive at some grid you visit looking like crap and having to rush around trying to find freebies to get fixed up for the visit. Moreover, you wont necessarily have to spend any more money to look as good as you did at home. Avatars are vain - believe it!

On the other side of the coin you probably wont be able to take anything you buy with you when you leave a 7.1 grid either unless the owner has the Outward bounds permission set to allow it. Most commercial grids, if they upgrade to 7.1 probably wont allow it anyway but that's not to stop you visiting to attend an event such as a music gig or dance with friends and just hang out. You might want to attend a business meeting or an educational class. Perhaps you are a role player in some ancient theme like Romans or the fantasy realms of Elves, Steampunk, etc, etc. And you set out to interact in war or peace with a neighbouring grid that follows the same theme. It's really little different than teleporting to a neighbouring region in SecondLife. You just find yourself on another grid and can still look the same everywhere.

Role Players at Role Play Worlds grid

The owner of Avination, Melanie Thielker has gone on record saying she will enable hypergrid once the security is better and she said she would press for this earlier this year. As she is also one of the code contributors to Opensim then we have no reason to doubt her. But Avination has not yet adopted 7.1 so it remains to be seen if they will open up to the rest of the free metaverse. Certainly, if Avination dose I think they will benefit with increased traffic and, since Avination has a reputation already for gambling there is another reason to keep the door open. InWolrdz on the other hand is unlikely to become hypergrid enabled even if they could because they have chosen to fork off from the main branch and develop their own code on top of Opensim which means they may be too far removed to be compatible now. This may yet prove a mistake for them as the metaverse becomes more connected.

There are of course still limitations to Opensim which may not please people coming from SecondLife where they are use to most things working after a fashion. Most notable is physics which are still better in SL than OS simply because Linden Labs can afford the commercial licenses. Opensim is still limited to ODE which most developers regard as very basic. certainly, you see it's limitations when sailing a boat on Opensim-based grids which is clumsy at best. SecondLife has Havoc physics which is far superior but this could also be about to change with the rise of Aurora sim. In Fact a lot of things are going to change with Aurora sim!

Decent physics still give SecondLife the edge when it comes to sailing and sea battles

Even Hypergrid Business survey might have to change as a result of the advances in server code that is being rapidly developed by the Aurora team. Most notably, region sizes. You see, Aurora developers have managed to change the structure of regions which they call var-regions. These var-regions can be up to 256 times the size of a standard SL region. Unlike mega-regions in Opensim, which are clusters or child regions attached to a parent region in order to avoid the problem of border crossings, var-regions are just a single region that has been expanded up to 256 times the normal size. So, where Hypergrid Business collects data on total regions on grids this would be misleading in the future when looking at grids running Aurora sim code. On a Opensim grid if you see 256 regions you can certainly count them regardless if some are connected as mega-regions. On an Aurora-based grid you might see just one region and count it as one while, in fact, it covers the area of 256 regions. The metaverse is certainly changing.

I have a big article coming up later this week which is an in-depth review of Aurora sim that I have been working on for weeks so check back again soon. But I will leave you with video from Skidz Partz - one of the Aurora team - to get an idea of just what is on the metaverse horizon.