5 warning signs your grid may fold

Whenever a grid closes unexpectedly, there are always some users who are surprised and unprepared. They didn’t make offline backups of their builds, didn’t get their OAR or IAR exports, didn’t move their in-world social networks to a more permanent — or, at least, different — platform like an email list or a Facebook or Google group.

Making backups is a good strategy in any case. Even if your virtual world doesn’t shut down, you might accidentally run afoul of its terms of service or annoy the grid owner one too many times and have your account closed.

So backup everything. Your builds. Your landmarks. Your shape. Your friends. Your groups.

And try especially hard to make those backups if you notice any of the following signs:

1. You don’t know the grid owner’s real name

There are still grids out there run by people under pseudonyms. I have nothing against people exploring alternate identities online. But if I’m paying them real money, I’d like to know who they really are.

When a grid owner keeps their identity secret, they protect themselves against angry customers calling them up and asking for their money back, or angry customers taking them to small claims court, or potential new customers remembering how their previous grid project ended in disaster.

Yes, those are all very good reasons why a grid owner might want to use a pseudonym. Good reasons for them. Bad reasons for you, the customer.

2. The grid isn’t a real company

This one is tricky. In some countries, companies have to be registered. In the United States, however, all a company owner has to do is add a one-page Schedule C to their tax filings at the end of the year. It’s ridiculously easy to start a company in the United States.

I love this country.

But it means you have to look for other signs of reality. For example, prudent grid owners might register their companies as limited liability corporations — LLCs. This insulates the founder from personal responsibility for the company’s debts, so you won’t be able to sue them to get all your virtual currency back. But it also means that the owner takes the company seriously enough to pay the fees to create the corporation and take on the additional administrative responsibility that goes with it.

Another sign of professionalism is registering the grid as a safe harbor with the US Copyright Office. It costs $105 and protects the grid from lawsuits by content creators. The grid will lose the safe harbor status if it doesn’t comply with other rules, such as taking down infringing content quickly, and banning users who repeatedly upload stolen stuff to the grid. By filing for safe harbor status, a grid is showing that it plans to grow big enough that copyright infringement lawsuits might become an issue.

You can check whether a grid has filed for safe harbor status by looking at the directory of registered agents — the list of people who are responsible for taking down infringing content on websites, in virtual worlds, and in other places where users might upload it. Linden Lab is on the list. So is InWorldz. So is Virtual Highway.  Even Kitely has registered, even though it’s not based in the U.S., since the safe harbor rules protect companies against lawsuits by Americans, who are particularly lawsuit-happy.

You can also check to see if the grid’s website lists a real company address, has a form or contact person for infringing content take-down requests, or has a phone number you can call if you have questions.

3. The grid is a one-man shop

There’s a lot of work, stressful work, that goes into running a grid. It’s too much for one person to handle. If the grid grows to any size, the community-building functions, sales and marketing tasks, and technology support requests grow quickly.

If the founder can’t take weekends off, can’t sleep, doesn’t have time to eat, burnout comes quickly.

Even if a grid outsources all its technology and customer support to a vendor like Dreamland Metaverse or Zetamex, there’s still a lot of community, marketing, and building and design work to do.

Plus, if the founder can’t find one or two friends to help him run the grid, that’s a bad sign right there.

Check to see if the grid has an “about us” page that lists the grid’s managers and their jobs, has their real photographs, links to their LinkedIn profiles and other indicators that these are real professionals who are putting their credibility and reputations on the line for this company.

4. The grid is run on some guy’s computer in a basement somewhere

There’s nothing wrong in having a grid on your home computer or laptop. I have a little family mini-grid that I boot up once in a while for my kids to play on. But I wouldn’t rent out land on it.

Unless they’re running heavy-duty servers with resilient storage and regular off-site backups on a high-speed business connection, a home computer is just too risky for a commercial grid. A hard disk could crash, or a kid could spill a pitcher of lemonade on it, and wipe out everyone’s builds. Then there’s performance issues and bandwidth issues. And if their Internet service provider notices that they’re running a bandwidth-intensive business on a residential line, they might cut the grid off entirely.

Find out where your grid is hosted and what kind of backup systems it has. Solid, reputable grids will be happy to tell you all about their multiple data centers, redundant RAID storage arrays and full daily backups. Fly-by-night grids will make excuses.

5. The grid doesn’t even have its own domain

A domain name costs around $10. If a grid owner can’t even shell that out, and uses a DNS service or, even worse, a numerical IP address for the website address, that’s a very big red flag.

Now, there are plenty of school, non-profit, personal, or test grids set up without registering domain names. That’s fine. No need for them to spend money if they don’t have to.

But when a for-profit grid skips this critical step, it’s a sign that the owners have a very bad understanding of basic marketing concepts. And that’s not a good thing.

This is not legal advice

This list is not fool-proof. Plenty of virtual worlds that do everything right still close down, like There.com. Though There.com recently reopened. So maybe this list is fool-proof after all.

Anyway, what I’m saying is, be prepared. Make backups. Don’t keep more money in a virtual currency account than you can afford to lose. Set up Facebook or Google groups for communicating with your in-world friends instead of relying completely on the grid’s communication channels — particularly important if you have a business, and don’t want to lose touch with all your customers if a grid goes down.

Finally, just because a grid is run by some friendless anonymous penniless guy in his parent’s basement doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer. And if you’re that guy, I apologize for casting aspersions. But seriously dude, register a domain name, rent a server, and find someone to share the work with. Your customers will thank you.

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.

  • Hannah

    Good advice! As a consumer it’s of utmost importance that you are able to back up your inventory, and I’d even suggest that’s one of the features that should be on any shopper’s checklist when they investigate putting time, effort and money into a grid.

  • hack13

    I completely agree with this article, there is a lot of planning that goes into a grid. This is one of the main reasons, I pulled out of running a grid, sadly twice.

    CyberWrld – This grid failed not due to really lack of work or anything, it was more at the time I was a one man show and it just way not working out. However this grid did give me the knowledge I needed to futher my carrier with Zetamex.

    AuroraScape – The closure of AuroraScape was done in the more profresional way, and closed due to the major instability of the platform at the time. AuroraScape is still a project, which may rear it’s head again when the platform is stable again, and the volunteer staff is behind it again.

    AuroraScape closed, however gave residents 2 weeks of time to retrieve any and all their regions, items, inventories, etc. We suspended all payments, and let everyone’s teir run out. If a grid is going to close, we think, taking simple steps such as these are a wiser option than just shutting down and leaving people in the dark.

  • Actually, one can sue for anything, whether or not they will win, or if it is even worth the effort, is another matter for each individual to consider for themselves.

    Sometimes simply sueing is enough to satisfy a person even if they do not “win”. Winning can come in many forms also.

    As well, there is likely some fiduciary agency regards that should or could be considered.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiduciary

    There is also common law and “reasonable person” tenants that can be considered.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reasonable_person

    Regardless, in all Commercial grids except Kitely http://www.kitely.com/ one cannot export [and import] their regions as they, imo, should be able to do.

    We do it in opensim all the time, and sometimes share them with others.

    As more people wake up to the realities of the restrictions placed on them by many commercial grids they find that true freedoms are quite nice-))

    • hack13

      I agree with you on this, that people will sue regardless. However in the terms of importing and exporting regions in commercial grids, I believe that Kitely has made some good choices in setting export functionality.

      I am a big fan of free and open, but I also understand the concept of wanting to feel like your content is safe. Granted, I have an article here on hypergrid business explaining how no content is ever really “safe” the fact of telling people they can’t just download it, some how gives people a feeling of satisfaction.

      Does this mean i do or do not support you being able to backup your content? No, but I do wish we could improve IARs a bit more to enforcing permissions fully no matter if you are in god mode or not. I mean, I support many people in their endevors to make profit, it is hard to do in virtual worlds, especially when content can be stolen, using built in opensim commands.

      • Of course, if one sues, they would get a response, if the other party has any sense about them, asking for dismissal on the merits…

        In other words, if the sueing person files a frivolous lawsuit with no facts to support it in law.

        As well, their response can include a countersuit, for, at the very least, attorney fees and court costs…which could be quite a lot…lol

        No, I am not an attorney-))

        I like that the Kitely owners created and then gave away some of their code improvements to opensim regarding OAR perms.

        However, I am not interested in having my god powers limited in opensim at all….all that would realistically mean is “someone” has god powers, but not me.

        If I wanted that again I would go back to the limited life I had in commercial grids and @ the whims and fiats of grid gods who think they know better than I, as an adult, do [which is actually not the case].

        As it is, Kitely is somewhat limiting in that regard but it is not of any concern since I have opensim also-))

        • This part still puzzles me. Why don’t more grids offer OAR exports? Kitely donated this code to the community around two years ago: http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2011/08/kitely-now-checks-perms-when-exporting-regions/

          Any grid can now offer OAR exports to its residents, setting up custom filters to keep proprietary content from leaving the grid and only allowing, say, full-perm content, or content that the user has created themselves from scratch, or content with the new export permission flag set, to be exported.

          The way I recommend doing this, for example, is to enable the export permissions flag, set it to “no export” by default on all existing content, then allow creators to change it to “export” on new content. So stuff you bought before still can’t be exported unless you go back to the original creator and get an exportable copy. So existing creators will be protected, residents can export their own builds, and merchants now have the option of selling items with the exports allowed if they want.

          • I personally think it is all to do with profits. Because, as you point out…they CAN do it..and easily.

            As well, it would open the eyes of some folx to what they can actually do in opensim, something which would also affect profits….unless of course they coupled it with a proper marketing concept which could have something to do with allowing people to have choices and make adult decisions and stuffs….

          • I’m not quite sure how allowing filtered OAR exports will affect profits, since you’re giving people the ability to make backups of their own work.

            Maybe some grid managers fear that the only reason people stay on their grids is because they can’t get their content out.

            If I had a strong, popular grid with an active, engaged user base, I’d want to offer OAR backups as a way to attract builders and make existing customers happy.

            Trying to keep customers by force is a bad strategy in the long term.

          • which is why, imo, they are not doing so well….more and more people are seeing what they can do…short term it worked [as in a matter of a couple or so years] only due to most not much knowing anything but sl and that type of vr business model.

            which is why i think the Kitely business model will work well…

    • Justmy2cents

      Nice work everyone. You all want to promote Opensimulator and Opensource and everyone runs around talking about suing people. No wonder nobody wants to try doing it. Things happen with software, nothing is perfect, and really if you are that worried and think your stuff is THAT valuable, create a standalone. Give everyone a break people, stop with the lawsuit BS so maybe more people will make some interesting things and interesting worlds for us to visit. You all keep up all this lawsuit crap nobody will bother.

      • Justmy2cents

        sorry this belonged at the top Minethere, not in response to your post.

        • no worries-))) hehe….normally people just ignore me, which is probably a good thing, for us all-)))) [wish I could ignore me too]

      • Hannah

        actually, I’m not sure that most -or even many- people are interested in the open source aspect of it. It seems like too many people are more interested in finding a way to turn opensim into some sort of cash cow.

        Despite how people have portrayed me, I’m not anti-commercial; however I think it’s a mistake to treat opensim as if it’s Secondlife -we should be figuring out what OpenSIM’s UNIQUE strengths are and build those up so that the platform will survive the coming paradigm switch away from desktops and towards tablets

        Instead, people seem more interested in running around chasing pennies and playing Anshe Chung and thinking in the short term.

        • Joe Builder

          Agree 100% Hannah, There are many in opensims now looking to make a buck on what’s already a free open source platform. The using of SL and opensims in the same sentence is funny, other than both have regions surrounded by blue water

          • Please do not confuse “free open-source software” with “free hosting.” The OpenSim software is free and open source, but the servers and bandwidth are not, and neither is the time required to keep the software up to date, and all the content backed up.

            Commercial OpenSim hosting is similar to website hosting. You’re not paying for the software — Apache and WordPress are both free and open source, just like OpenSimulator. You’re paying for the servers, the bandwidth, the backups, the maintenance and the support.

            Today, many website hosting companies charge by usage, with unlimited storage, and unlimited bandwidth for the occasional spikes in traffic — but if you regularly get a lot of traffic, they’ll move you up to higher payment tiers.

            I expect something similar to happen with grid hosting eventually — unlimited regions, most of them sleeping when not used (a la Kitely), ability to handle occasional spikes in traffic (through load-balanced, DSG, and similar technologies), and movement to higher tiers for high-traffic and commercial grids.

            To get there, though, the OpenSim hosting companies have to get bigger, so they can take advantage of economies of scale, there needs to be more of them (to compete on price), and there needs to be an open source — or commercial — grid management system, the OpenSim equivalent to Plesk or CPanel.

            And there need to be customers, to help pay for all this stuff. I’ll be interested in seeing whether the Oculus Rift will bring in renewed interest, or whether one of the big guys — like Microsoft, Apple or Google — will come out with their own alternative 3D platform to take advantage of this opportunity and market the hell out of it and take over this space.

          • Joe Builder

            I’m sure many here Maria are well aware of that aspect, But that’s really not what we where talking about. It was more along the line that it don’t turn into something that these grid owners could quit there first job over. Which the many false promises that one grid is better than the other, So you can purchase there plan. I can point out many things that really don’t make sense, One is what is software up to date? and the bandwidth? I really don’t get that part,

          • Joe —

            It’s important to keep software up-to-date and patched, and OpenSim is no exception. OpenSim hosting providers need to keep up with the latest releases of OpenSim and install patches when necessary. Sometimes updating the software requires migrating databases.

            Bandwidth is how many simultaneous visitors you can get on your site or grid. If you’re running a grid for free, on a home computer and with a typical home Internet connection, you can probably get five people in, if there’s not too much else going on. On a professionally hosted region, you can get between 20 and 100 people, depending on your hosting plan, and several hundred people on a region if your vendor is running DSG.

            I’d say that there are a handful of grids and hosting vendors now that have full-time management or employees.

            As an estimate, say that you’re renting regions for $50 each, and the hosting costs you $25 each. That leaves you $25 per region to pay for staff costs. A grid with 100 regions thus has $2,500 a month to pay for a manager or developer.

            I count about 15 commercial grids with more than 100 regions, plus there are the independent hosting vendors — who do not release their customer numbers except for one that told me that they’re running “hundreds” of private grids. Some grids charge more than $50 per region, and I’m sure the larger grids try to buy in bulk, and can get their server and bandwidth costs to below $25 a region.

            Then you have to add in the value added vendors — consultants and designers like Rivers Run Red that use OpenSim to build simulations for large corporate clients.

            It’s still a small number of people overall — maybe two or three dozen altogether — who make a living from OpenSim, and some of those work in other platforms as well, such as Unity.

            That’s up from zero three or four years ago, but you’re right, it’s still a very slow pace of growth.

          • Joe Builder

            Ok, I think I get it now ty, But I do some testing myself and being I use a home pc I like to see what’s capable on a average internet connection. 1 test was a 225 region Mega with 25 people with scripts (AO’s) statistics on my side where stable, everyone seemed ok. I think it depends a lot on how many things are tweaked for best performance. Another test I did was 32 instances of phoenix viewer logged into SL, 300 regions online in OSgrid, and 57 region Grid online at the same time that showed some stress. My personal preference is 7.4 at this time extremely stable for large tasks.

  • excellent advice and anything you create – be it a novel, an image, a painting, a song, or efforts in the virtual world – should be protected and, in my opinion, that responsibility is on the creator. that doesn’t mean that any service you pay should not also be protecting it – but ultimately, your work is only yours if you can always take full responsibility for it

    if i write a children’s book, it’s on me to keep it safe. so sharing it with the world as a Google Doc would be dumb and risky and it would not be Google’s fault if they closed down and all their servers blew up and i lost my only copy

    in effect, building on a publicly accessible grid is very close to sharing your work just like a public Google Doc. even with Second Life, you can use a $60 third party viewer and rip off the entire OAR and anyone’s inventory that is logged in on the sim (and their entire shape too)!

    and like anything else you do in the world, i think it is incumbent upon you to never assume someone is doing a better job looking out for you than you do, even if it’s a paid service

    my froggy 2 cents =)

  • “It costs $105 and protects the grid from lawsuits by content creators.”

    i’d maybe suggest even becoming an LLC and it’s about $100 a year in most states in the US. if you are doing a real business, then there are prudent channels to follow . . .

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limited_liability_company

      It does not convey a “blanket” protection.

      • agreed, there is no such thing as total protection. the LLC can help protect your personal assets (like your home and car) from lawsuits brought against your business

        the bummer is that if anyone sues you, you still have to defend against it and that costs more than what i have. sure you could counter sue, but who will force them to pay if you win!

        i’m sticking to making sand castles (hope no one trips over it and sues me!) =D

        • me too!!! [and keeping my head buried under that sand as much as possible]-)))

  • “3. The grid is a one-man shop”
    I advise anyone who wants to start a grid to NOT do it themselves. Trust me I tried and horribly failed. Even if you know what your doing its still very stressful. I somewhat knew what I was doing with the V Life grid and still couldn’t keep it going. I had friends say they will help me but they never did so if you want to start a grid make sure you have the help first before you even upload the opensim stuff to your server(s).

  • Jamie Wright

    I actually don’t ever expect anyone to tell me their real name in virtual worlds. This extends to grid owners. If you’ve been in virtual worlds long enough, you know what you’re getting into. Yes, we want every grid we join and love to be successful but in getting involved with any of them you need to accept that they may, in fact, not be permanent.

    • It’s one thing when fellow residents, in-world merchants, or owners of personal, group, for-fun roleplaying, or hobby grids use pseudonyms. But if a grid owner accepts real money — whether for virtual currency, or for land rentals — I think it’s reasonable to know who they are.

      • Jamie Wright

        Yes and no, but I’ll agree to disagree. I think in this world we hand over our cash to faceless corporations all the time. I personally don’t look up who owns every company I make purchases from in the real world unless there seems to be some sketchiness or no established reputation. Also, VWs are a hobby and the objects and avatars within them are made of pixels. I caution anyone against investing too much real money into such things in the first place. Some people will feel differently about this I know:)

        • ans it really hardly matters, seems to me, if we have some name or company name or whatever…not much on the net has much permanence.

          i recall some thing i was in once that was big at the time, that had a privacy statement and all, saying they would never sell the emails and such..

          back in those days i had my own domain and used a different address for each service i set up so if i got spam all of a sudden i would know who was responsible…

          several did, despite their digital rules, and i was able to easily route them to the ether…

          same thing with these grids…but still, if we cant save our stuff and our efforts in regions there is no point in being in one…

          there is most certainly no permanence in anothers grid, many stories are told of that….

        • Wolf Baginski

          It may be a faceless corporation, but it is a documented legal entity. And that is significant.

          I doubt I would run a grid, for all sorts of reasons, but something that I expect people to pay for, that has to be done right.

  • Vanish

    1. Check
    2. Check
    3. Check

    I guess I’m out.

  • bladyblue

    I have been developing a virtual world since May but not alone. I include the hypergate community and the grid residents. Grid development is not a get-rich-quick scheme or an opportunity to boss people around. After 8 years of developing venues in Second Life with over 100 staff persons, I know that it takes the community to “run” a large project like a grid, not a bunch of admins with fancy titles. The grid-owner’s partner is the company that provides the server services. If there is no communication or trust between these two, then the grid residents are the ones that suffer. A grid-owner’s time is best spent developing inclusive volunteer and incentive programs within the grid community, marketing the grid and listening and responding to the wants and needs of the grid residents.

  • Joe Builder

    The top 5 listed above is only in a perfect world, Being there is no such thing a few grids been running for some time now with just 2 of the above mentioned.

  • Joe Nickence

    One of the things I’ve learned over the years in VR, is that life happens. I’ve been through several worlds, all hosted professionally, and semi-pro. I’ve lost much of my inventory simply because the proprietary tech running the world was secured in such a manner that you couldn’t make copies.

    So my advice is, if it means something to you, and you have the ability to back up, by all means, do so!

  • punkguy420

    Well you can add gaynations to the list of grids shut down no one can log in or get a hold of anyone and they have just vanished off the face of the earth someone has even emptied out their blog.

    • It might be a domain name, DNS kind of issue. The grid was definitely up two weeks ago.

  • Alicia Stone

    This article makes me uncomfortable like I should be watching which public restroom I use. There is a lot to be said for owning a domain by proxy, not the least of which is for reasons of preventing identity theft.

    When I go to a McDonald’s I don’t need to know the francisee’s name, but just the fact they are offering burgers at the price they do.

    The bottom line is the small vendor is less likely to screw a person over than the shell corporation.

    So if this makes me a bad 3D Web Provider because I take value in my privacy so be it. I am sure my karma makes up for it in all the open source freebies I create.

    • The correct comparison isn’t between McDonald’s and a locally-owned cafe — both are legitimate businesses — but between either of those and a guy selling burgers out of the back of his van, with mud covering the license plates.

      He might have the best burgers in town — I’m just saying that you’re eating at your own risk.