This week, ReactionGrid has released its $8,950 Banbury virtual world server, for those who want to physically own their own virtual universe. But for customers willing to let their virtual worlds be managed by someone else, there are also inexpensive hosted options.
Today, ReactionGrid runs one public grid, and a couple of dozen smaller grids for individual customers.
Clients can rent space on the public grid, or get their own, separate grid.
A grid is functionally equivalent to a website – it can have multiple regions on it, the way that a website has many pages. And it can be linked to other grids, the same way that a website uses hyperlinks to connect to other websites.
Renting space on someone else’s grid is like having a single page – or several pages – on someone else’s website.
A separate grid can be as public or private as the customer wants, said Robin Gomboy, ReactionGrid’s chief operating officer. Some grids run completely behind a customer’s firewall, with local or VPN access only. Others are hypergrid-enabled, allowing people to jump in from other grids. And some customers prefer to simply have islands on the main ReactionGrid itself.
Some customers are even sharing their regions with other people.
“A lot of teachers have opened up their private grids to students from other areas of the country,” Gomboy said. “There’s a lot of sharing.”
Today, a little over a third of ReactionGrid’s customers are educational institutions, said Chris Hart, ReactionGrid’s chief technology officer.
And no wonder – the price for a basic region on the ReactionGrid is just $25 a month, with a limit of 6,000 primitives, or basic building objects.
A region with a limit of 12,000 prims is $45 a month. “However, we haven’t had anyone fill their $25 sim up to the prim limit yet,” said Gomboy .
The reason, she said, is that OpenSim allows the use of larger prims than Second Life does.
“You’re able to build prims the entire size of the island,” she said. “You’re not limited to the ten-meter Second Life limit.”
That’s not the only difference between OpenSim and Second Life grids. With OpenSim, all image uploads are free. Image files are needed to create textures – to make primitive cubes and spheres look like brick walls, upholstered chairs, or frisky puppies. OpenSim-based regions are also more customizable than SecondLife regions.
“How do you design an auditorium if you can only speak to people within twenty meters of you?” asked Hart. “With OpenSim, you can configure the chat range to the distance that you want.”
For customers who need more than just a single region, ReactonGrid also offers private servers. A machine with 1 gig, at $75 a month, can run four regions, said Hart. The regions can be either located on the public ReactionGrid, on a private grid located behind a company’s firewalls, or on a new, independent grid just for that customer.
Schools in particular often want completely private grids, not connected to the other grids on the Internet.
“A lot of education systems want full control, and hardware behind the firewalls,” Gomboy said. “Often, they don’t allow children to have access to the Internet at all, they want the kids to work on their computers, to keep the kids safe.”
It takes just 24 hours to set up a new hosted region or grid for a customer, said Robin Gomboy .
Most customers use their grids for training or education purposes, and for meetings, said Kyle Gomboy, ReactionGrid’s CEO. Microsoft, for example, hosts round tables for the Microsoft development community.
As a result, there is not much buying and selling on ReactionGrid’s public world, and no “game currency.” By comparison, many other virtual worlds allow their users to have play money, like gold pieces, or even a tradable currency like Linden Dollars, which can be converted into cash.
But ReactionGrid customers – companies using it for for training and meetings, and schools using it for education – weren’t interested in having play money.
“It was distracting to the students,” Robin Gomboy said.
It is still possible to sell products in the ReactionGrid’s world, or in other grids that ReactionGrid hosts – through the normal Internet payment channels, like PayPal and credit cards. But there’s no in-world play money economy.
As a result of the focus on business and education, ReactionGrid’s public grid has a very different atmosphere from other grids, such as SecondLife.
“We’re PG-rated and we emphasize business and education,” said Kyle Gomboy. “We only have a small percentage of people who do frivolous things. For example, we have elves on an off-shore little island who build space ships.”
That doesn’t mean that ReactionGrid won’t host other, separate grids for other kinds of content, he added.
“We could host R-rated virtual worlds, as long as it isn’t illegal,” he said. “We’re out there to provide hosting for anyone.”
In addition, there are other, more specialized, virtual world platforms beyond OpenSim, Robin Gomboy added, which ReactionGrid can also run. These include Vastpark, which is geared towards professional CAD designers.
Now, the company is starting to roll out the realXtend platform, which is a derivative of OpenSim but uses a mesh-based system of creating objects, rather than the cube-and-sphere approach used by OpenSim. A mesh-based system is more compatible with professional tools as well, and allows user to import models from architectural software and CAD systems, as well as from Google’s 3D Warehouse.
These specialized worlds are more difficult to integrate with other grids, may require different browsers, and may take additional time to learn.
By comparison, OpenSim can be accessed by any browser compatible with Second Life, including Second Life’s own browser, the free Hippo browser, and others.
“OpenSim is a Swiss Army knife of virtual worlds,” Robin Gomboy said.
The one disadvantage of OpenSim right now is that, as a new technology, it doesn’t yet have the base of millions of users as other worlds do, such as the gaming worlds like World of Warcraft, or community worlds like Second Life.
“If someone says, I need a lot of people flowing through my store, I would recommend Second Life,” said Chris Hart. “They are the big dog. They are the top portal.”
A company can also have a presence in Second Life, and additional regions running on OpenSim, she said.
“You can get times times the room,” she said.
Today, it’s not possible for an avatar to teleport from inside Second Life to an OpenSim world, but that might be coming in the future. However, objects can be moved from one platform to another with services such as Second Inventory.