SpotON3D changes name, denies bankrupcy rumors

SpotON3D — the most controversial grid in the OpenSim metaverse, and the only commercial grid that doesn’t release any key statistics — has announced plans to change the company name to Worldworks.

The announcement was detailed in full in a members-only newsletter on Thursday.

The Worldworks brand will become the company’s new corporate identity, but the SpotON3D name will remain to describe the community. Worldworks — also spelled as WorldWorks in the newsletter — will serve as the central entry point to all the communities, including the specialized mini-worlds Veesome, Biz-Grid, Edu-Merge, Snowybrook and Colony3D.

“We think that the name Worldworks will give us a more professional looking, less game-oriented front face for our interactions with business and educational users, and even with content creators,” the company said in its announcement.

Protesters picket a SpotON3D patent discussion in August, 2011.

The company did not say whether the name change was in response to a number of public relations mis-steps the company made last year, mostly around its plans to patent some basic — and obvious — OpenSim-related functionality.

With a large number of on-staff developers, and little indication of in-world activity, some commentators were concerned that SpotON3D was little more than a front for a patent troll — a company that files for or buys obvious patents and then sues anyone who uses technology that is even remotely similar. The fact that its CEO is Stevan Lieberman, an intellectual property attorney, didn’t help its case.

Not going bankrupt

On Wednesday, SpotON3D issued a statement that it was not going bankrupt.

“We recently caught wind of rumors that SpotON3D was supposedly headed for bankruptcy, and in fact that we would be shutting down within the next few days,” the company said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The company admitted that it had been having technical issues that interfered with the user experience, trouble providing privacy and security for users, and attracting content creators.

But these issues have been resolved, the company said. “We have successfully overcome the major technological issues, and have been setting up Web worlds to accommodate groups of residents with different needs. With our growing base of creators and content, we are finally reaching the point that all of this can become a reality.”

To prove that it is still a vibrant and viable company, SpotON3D pointed to its Facebook plugin, its plans to create a winter-themed four-region residential megaregion, its plans to have rideable horses available for residents, its plans for an iPad app, and its hire of a new developer. She was mentioned in the newsletter as well, as a programmer with Mac and game development experience, and identified only as “Becky.”

However, SpotON3D didn’t provide any information that would have been actually useful in determining the health of the grid — such as the number of regions, registered users, and, most importantly, active users.

When it last released these numbers, back in August of 2011, SpotON3D reported 199 regions, 5,380 registered users, and 457 active users.

That put the grid quite a bit behind its commercial competitors. Avination, for example, had almost 900 regions, and around 6,000 active users, and InWorldz wasn’t far behind.

Today, InWorldz reports 897 regions and 5,696 active users. Avination now has 554 regions and 2,939 active users.

There are reasons to think that there is only room for one successful general-purpose social OpenSim grid, since both users and merchants will tend to gravitate to the grid with the most activity. Other grids will either have to find unique niches to attract users, such as proprietary role playing environments or services for niche social groups. That, or open up to hypergrid access, since there are only so many different avatars users are willing to create and maintain.

Like SpotON3D , Avination and InWorldz are closed, commercial grids — residents all have to rent land from the grid itself and can’t connect their own regions, hypergrid teleports to other grids are not allowed, and full region backups and uploads in the form of OAR files are restricted.

Most other OpenSim grids offer much more freedom to their users, allowing OAR exports and uploads, self-hosted regions, or hypergrid connectivity.

Hypergrid access allows users to visit multiple grids with a single avatar — they can rent land, go shopping, and attend events in different worlds without having to re-register and re-purchase their clothing and other belongings. Hypergrid filtering technology is currently available to keep proprietary content from leaving grids, and the filters are expected to get more sensitive later on this year, when Kitely enables hypergrid travel — but only for objects with both copy and transfer permissions. At that point, more commercial grids are expected to enable hypergrid teleports, with filters in place to protect commercial content.

In fact, we are already tracking 73 hypergrid-enabled grids, compared to just 20 closed commercial grids — only nine of which reported more than 50 active users last month.

Similarly, some commercial grids are filtering OAR exports. Kitely, for example, only allows objects with copy and transfer permissions to be saved to OAR files, allowing creators to easily decide whether their content will stay just on the grid, or whether their customers will be able to export it. This filtering technology is already available in the standard release of OpenSim, since Kitely donated it last year.

Instead of allowing OAR exports and imports, SpotON3D offers a proprietary, and commercial, alternative — HotSwap Scenes. Today, just three are available, one of which is just a flat region, one is a free conference center, and one a 2,266-prim Winter HotSwap Scene from M&M Creations, available for SO$ 9,200 — or US$92.

Residents of open grids, by comparison, have more than 60 (at last count) of free OAR files to choose from, most Creative Commons-licensed. They include two winter-themed OARs by Linda Kellie, the 3,060-prim Mountain Retreat OAR and the 3,770-prim Winter Sim OAR, which also comes with a stocked, fully licensed freebie store.

Commercial OARs are also available, such as these by architect Jon Brouchoud.

Instead of allowing residents to take objects to other grids via hypergrid, SpotON3D offers the Double Dutch Delivery system, where participating merchants can simultaneously deliver purchases to customers’ avatars on multiple grids.  Today, this delivery is only available to avatars on SpotON3D and Second Life. However, SpotON3D announced in its newsletter that it is in the process of adding InWorldz and Gay Nations to its delivery platform.

Take precautions

It’s not unusual for an OpenSim grid to go out of business. Meta7 closed last year as a result of legal difficulties without allowing its users to move their regions or avatar inventories to other grids. And Nova seems to have shut down with no warning at all earlier this year, leaving all its customers high and dry.

Startup businesses of all kinds have a high failure rate. According to the US Small Business Administration, 30 percent of all new companies go out of business in the first two years — and only half last five years or more.

In OpenSim, the numbers are even more dire. Of the 262 grids we’ve been tracking since 2009, only 145 are currently active — though this includes a number of personal and group-owned grids not intended to become viable businesses.

But OpenSim customers can take some measures to protect themselves:

  • Keep low balances in their virtual currency accounts. Merchants in particular need to cash out on a regular schedule to keep their virtual currency reserves from getting too high. If a grid closes, there’s no guarantee that your money will be refunded. Another option is to choose grids that use a multi-grid currency, such as Virwox’s OMC, which is used on over 30 grids. Even if any individual grid goes under, the currency can still be used on other grids — and can still be redeemed on the Virwox exchange.
  • After money, your next most valuable asset is your social graph. For merchants, this means being able to find their customers again if the grid closes. You can do this by encouraging — or bribing — your customers to join your Facebook group or to sign up for an email newsletter. Non-commercial groups such as role playing guilds or support groups can do the same, taking advantage of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, email lists, or even separate websites to track members outside the grid.
  • Finally, your stuff. Sure, it’s only stuff — you can build it or buy it again. But you can take some precautions here, as well. For example, even some closed commercial grids will allow OAR exports — for a fee — after reviewing them first for export rights. If you have invested a great deal of time into your builds, you might consider investigating this. In addition, many viewers allow free exports of content that you have created yourself. But don’t just stop at exporting individual objects — import them again into a more open grid, such as your own Sim-on-a-Stick or New World Studio, or into a free region on Kitely — and save them again as OAR files. Viewers change quickly, and XML object exports might not remain compatible from one version to the next, or from one viewer to another. In addition, some merchants, if asked, will deliver content for you to other grids — with or without the Double Dutch Delivery — often for an extra fee. If particular content is very important to you, and is available from multiple merchants, consider buying it from the merchant who will provided you with a downloaded backup or alternate grid delivery.
maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • http://twitter.com/thegoodinbad Vanish Seriath

    I didn’t want to write something about this after I saw it first on the SO3D newsletter and blog, but I’m really glad someone else thinks about this similarly. After all, I haven’t heard about the alleged “rumour” of SO3D closing, but their denial, especially combined with the rebranding of the apparently toxic SO3D brand makes it a lot more plausible than anything that rumour could’ve said. 

    tl;dr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiIP_KDQmXs

    • http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/ Maria Korolov

      I hadn’t heard the rumor, either. And Googling doesn’t turn anything up. (For me, at least.) There’s no private SpotON3D forum that I know of, other than the Facebook group. 

      Maybe it was a … gasp! … old-timey word of mouth rumor. I have heard of such things, back when I was just a wee child, walking to school through the snow, uphill each way…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Linda-Kellie/100002704826887 Linda Kellie

    I think SpotON3D has fumbled at every turn. Starting with their PR. I first heard about it in an sl interview video and was turned off right away by the snobbish attitude of the owner (a women who’s name I have now managed to forget). Since then they have filed for the patents which caused a minor uproar and now this. People normally don’t like change. And this name change is not a necessity then why do it? They really need a good PR person in my opinion. They seem to hide out and the only time I hear about them it’s something bad. (btw, I know I am notorious for changing but I am not trying to make money or run a business so people are kind enough to forgive me for all of my changes)
    Also in your “Take Precautions” section you managed to leave out the worst case of Legend City Online that just left people high and dry. Maybe because  Melanie Thielker (Avination owner) was such a big part of that grid that people don’t seem to want to talk about it and her part in it. So it just does not get mentioned at all .But Legend City Online screwed over so many people that had invested alot of time, effort and money and just left them hanging. 

    • http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/ Maria Korolov

      Legend City was mostly before my time, as was Giant Grid and some of the other early experiments. I heard about them, but you know, the first time someone tries to do a commercial grid, they’re going to make a lot of mistakes — nobody has ever done it before. So there’s bound to be a learning curve at the start, and it may take a few tries to get it right.

      It doesn’t help that early OpenSim grids were often founded and run by technologists, not community organizers. The community is where the value-add comes in. The community is why people pay a premium over bare land from a hosting company. A premium grid requires a premium community — and premium content is just a very small part of it. You need events, you need celebrities, you need groups and games and activities and social hot spots and tons of other stuff to give people a reason to stay there. You come and ooh and aah at a build once. You stay for the people. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Linda-Kellie/100002704826887 Linda Kellie

        GiantGrid was such pretty place. The builds in the public sims were wonderful. I didn’t like some of their policies so I didn’t stay there long but they had put a lot of work into it. And I don’t think many people (if any)had invested in it when they closed down. Legend City had made claims and promises and that is the reason that I am so upset about what they did. I never trust promises anymore and it pays to do background checks on the grids and their owners so you know what type of business they are likely to run. 
        I haven’t heard anything really tainted about SpotOn3D. I just, personally, was put off by the interview and snobbish attitude that I saw early on. First impressions are important and you just never know who might be seeing or hearing about your grid for the first time. It’s a very public business and they have to be on top of their PR all the time. They just aren’t (in my opinion).

        • http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/ Maria Korolov

          There was a great Dilbert cartoon about marketing promises — what’s deceptive advertising to one person, to another person is optimism. 

          Here’s the strip: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2001-11-19/

          (I love the web!)

          The thing is, the first person to start a grid doesn’t know what’s possible and what isn’t. They may be very optimistic about what they plan to deliver — then find out that they can’t. And so you end up with a lot of angry and disappointed people.

          Venture capitalists know this. They invest in a lot of different companies, and hope that one of them makes it.

          I’ve sat in on a bunch of investment pitch meetings in various industries, and the primary thing you look for is a strong team, with a balanced set of business skills. You pretty much ignore the promises — especially with a new and innovative product, they’re pulling all the numbers out of a hat, anyway. But with a strong team, when obstacles come up, they’re able to adjust and deal with them. 

          Right now, InWorldz has a strong team, with a mix of strengths.

          SpotON3D has an unbalanced team — stronger on legal and technical but very weak on marketing and business management. 

          Most other OpenSim startups, however, have no team at all — just one guy or gal with strong technical skills. 

          It’s always a good idea to have partners that complement your abilities. Too often, however, founders tend to look for partners who are as much like them as possible. And so when they disagree, they disagree on areas in which each one feels that they’re strongest. With complementary skills, you can defer to the partner with the expertise in that area without loss of face, and without the business exploding.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Linda-Kellie/100002704826887 Linda Kellie

             I loved that dilbert strip. Cracked me up. 

  • http://twitter.com/iliveisl Ener Hax

    “more professional looking” – in order to look more professional perhaps they should BE more professional . . .

  • DListedDISGUSTED

    IT is sad to see  how a once great reporter has stooped so low into what we expect, the DLISTED category of reporting, It is sad to see a once known reporters now obviously grasping at name calling for attention to this state thanks for enlightening me, once a fellow watcher and reader. -shakes head and walks away-