Second Life is a popular destination for businesses and schools because it’s cheaper and easier to use than most other enterprise-quality virtual platforms.
In addition, Second Life’s popularity with consumers means that there are already millions of people who know how to use the platform, who are all potential ambassadors for Linden Lab.
However, Second Life has been losing some of these educational and enterprise customers to OpenSim hosting providers, such as ReactionGrid.
What can Linden Lab offer to get them back?
Running an enterprise-class virtual world server in-house is expensive — starting at $50,000 for either the Second Life Enterprise platform or $55,000 for IBM’s Lotus Sametime 3D. Plus you need to have technical staff who understand virtual worlds. Attempting to cut costs by using a bare-bones free distribution of OpenSim puts extra burdens on the staff — they need to understand how to configure, upgrade, optimize, and maintain the software.
By comparison, renting a region on Second Life is just $300 a month (plus the $1000 setup fee) and requires no technical expertise at all. You rent the region, buy a few buildings, and you’re ready to go. As you get used to the platform, you can rent more regions, or hire designers to make your virtual workspace more attractive or functional. The downside, however, is no real names, no backups, and limited access and content controls. In addition, there are no company-wide user management tools — if an employee quits, turning off their account access and retrieving their inventories can be very tricky.
But rolling out these features on the main grid may negatively impact Second Life’s current consumer population.
To see this in action, just consider the huge outpouring of responses to the post “Will the real you please stand up?” by new Linden Lab conversation manager Mark Wallace. Ironically, the post was bylined with the pseudonym “Wallace Linden” — the Second Life blogging platform doesn’t allow the use of real names.
More than 200 people commented on his suggestion that Second Life accounts may be linked to people’s real-name Facebook pages — almost all of them negative. Existing users were concerned about the loss of privacy and about being discriminated against in-world if they don’t disclose their real names.
Enterprise users are a very small proportion of Second Life’s user base. They are a valuable proportion, because they typically have higher budgets than individual users.
Allowing enterprises to set up their own private grids would allow Second Life to roll out the features that enterprise users need, like user management and real names.
The issue of making backups of content is also a contentious issue. If retail users were allowed to make backups of regions they would, in effect, be making copies of virtual goods.
For a business however, the ability to download and upload entire regions is very important. For example, if a company has a conference center that it only uses occasionally, it can save a backup of that center, and put the daily use facility — say, an office building — up in its place. Then, when it needs to hold a conference, it could save the office building and pull up the conference center in its place. In addition, companies can save past version of building projects, in case something goes wrong and they need to revert. Finally, saving a region is useful if a company wants to duplicate an entire build.
For educational institutions, the ability to save region files means that schools can share classroom setups with one another, or historical recreations.
This is already happening in the OpenSim universe, with ReactionGrid being the epicenter of this activity.
For a company, the difference between a $300 region on Second Life and a $25 region on ReactionGrid is not necessarily the critical distinction, especially if a Second Life-based region will save substantial staff hours.
However, some applications require large land areas. Research institutions running environmental simulations, for example, need a large number of regions.
In addition, some non profits have plenty of brain-power in-house, but limited budgets.
Linden Lab should consider offering its enterprise customers the choice of running on the Second Life server platform or a lower-cost OpenSim option, the way many hosting providers offer Website managers the choice between Linux and Windows servers.