Avination, a significant OpenSim grid, officially shuts down

(Image courtesy Avination.)

Avination is one of the oldest commercial OpenSim grids and was, at one point, the largest.

This week, both the grid and the company behind it has officially shut down after a long outage and a series of financial hits.

The grid’s regions and user inventories are saved, but residents will lose any money they had in in-world currency, owner Melanie Thielker confirmed today.

Melanie Thielker

Thielker is a core developer of OpenSim and, after Justin Clark-Casey stepped down in mid-2015, she took over as the leading developer and public spokesperson for the OpenSim project.

She was also instrumental in helping OSgrid recover from its long outage in 2015, helped developed the export permission for OpenSim, has donated a great deal of code and worked on many bug fixes, and made many other notable contributions to OpenSim.

However, her grid, Avination, suffered a major blow last summer when a “catastrophic data loss” took the grid offline. Months dragged on while the grid looked for a new hosting provider.

Now, that effort is over, the company is shut down, and the brand is too damaged to try to recover it, Thielker told Hypergrid Business.

“We allowed the company to lapse because of the damage to the name Avination,” she said.  “We will shortly be able to provide avatars, inventories and regions from Avination in a new framework not called Avination.”

She explained that the grid’s terms of service allows the transfer of user assets.

“I’d like for people to have some assurance that the stuff is not lost,” she said.

That announcement might come as soon as next month, she said, but added that she won’t be running the new company.

However, residents cannot request copies of their regions or inventories, she said, due to license issues.

“They would contain things bought that can’t be allowed to move to private installations that don’t support digital rights management,” she said.

This has been an issue for some grids that have closed, most recently Aviworlds. And while license terms are an issue for any grid, some grids deal with this issue by filtering content. Kitely began checking permissions on region exports in 2011, and in 2014 Spellscape donated code to check permissions on inventory exports.

Content may be saved, but in-world currency is lost

While residents may yet see their builds and inventories come back, any money that they might have had in their accounts is lost.

“Since Avination is bankrupt and dissolved, there is no money there to pay out,” she said.

Avination was registered in the U.K. as a private limited company in December of 2010, and was dissolved on March 7, 2017. A private limited company means that the owners are not personally liable for company debts.

Avination’s history of problems

In addition to its recent technical problems, Avination has also had financial setbacks.

It started in 2011, when crooks used stolen credit card numbers to buy $126,000 worth of  in-world currency. After the money was refunded to the legitimate credit card holders, and all the fees and interest was paid, the grid was left $14,000 in the hole. Another round of fraud followed in 2013. In 2015, Avination attempted to address the issue with a new currency system, but the switch didn’t solve the grid’s problems.

“At the end of the day, Avination didn’t make it because it was gutted like a fish back in 2011,” Thielker said.

A snapshot from Avination’s first birthday celebration. (Image courtesy Avination.)

And it wasn’t just the currency that’s taken a big hit over the past few years.

The grid has been steadily losing ground to its commercial competitors in terms of both active users and land area.

We began keeping track of Avination stats in the summer of 2010. In April 2011, the grid had nearly 9,000 active monthly users, making it the most popular OpenSim grid and the largest commercial grid by land area, second only to the non-profit OSgrid.

For a commercial grid, land area is a key metric of success, since commercial grids get most of their revenues from land rentals.

(Hypergrid Business data.)

However, by the following year, InWorldz, another commercial grid, had overtaken Avination in both land area and active users.

In 2015, Kitely, another commercial operation, had passed Avination in active users. Kitely, with its highly scalable, automated, on-demand cloud hosting model and hypergrid connectivity, had outstripped both of its main commercial competitors in land area in late 2011.

Avination may also have been hit by the hypergrid squeeze.

Although Thielker originally helped develop the export permission that allows grid owners to choose whether or not content is able to leave the grid, Avination never took advantage of this technology. As a result, the grid stayed closed, with hypergrid travelers unable to teleport in or out.

This created a snowball effect. Users who wanted a general-purpose closed grid went to InWorldz and other closed grids lost users because maintaining multiple avatars is a big hassle. As of last month, InWorldz accounted for 79 percent of all active users on closed grids.

And users who preferred to travel the hypergrid could choose to have their avatar on any of the 200-plus hypergrid-enabled grids, and could then shop, attend events, even join groups and send messages to friends on other grids. In effect, the hypergrid has become one large interconnected grid.

As of last month, the hypergrid accounted for more than 81 percent of active OpenSim users and for over 95 percent of all OpenSim land area.

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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. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

  • Da Hayward

    I am truly sorry to read this.
    One can only wish the best to everybody involved

  • Melanie Thielker

    The grid itself isn’t dead. The grid is it’s users and it’s content, not a name or some servers. We have found a way to be able to offer the Avination experience, just not under that name and not with me as the top dog. Stay tuned, after the weekend there will be some info on the old Avination website address.

    • Da Hayward

      Oh fantastic Melanie that is great news. We do wish you and yours the best, you have done great work furthering Open Sim

    • Fanny

      So all the users assets have now been sold on to another grid that will now claim the assets as their own?

      • Melanie Thielker

        No. First of all, nothing has been sold and the assets are not actually stored on another grid. Here is how this works: Users will, from a certain point onwards, be able to request their Avination avatar to be transferred to the new home grid. Assets are held in trust on a server not operated by that grid. Only assets a user actually uses are transferred. So if you request your avatar to be transferred, whatever you never pull from your inventory or wear will not be transferred.
        Also, nothing that was for sale in Avination will be sold in the new grid for the benefit of that grid. Any proceeds from any sales, if any happen, go to the original creator/seller. There is no appropriation of assets, I made sure of that personally.

        • Carrie snowpaw

          Melanie – please see my comment above. Here you state that proceeds from sales go to the original creator/seller. This did not happen in my case. Care to comment?

  • Fanny

    Lots of questions unanswered here,

    “She explained that the grid’s terms of service allows the transfer of user assets.” – To who??

    “residents cannot request copies of their regions or inventories, she said, due to license issues.” Who now as these assets and what are they going to be doing with them?

    • Melanie Thielker

      The TOS allow the transfer of assets to a legal successor, e.g. a grid that Avination merges with or is bought by. However, this refers to the storage space of the assets, it does NOT constitute a transfer of creator’s rights or commercial rights except in the scope Avination already had, that is, mainly serving them up for display. While Avination is allowed to transfer the copyright assigned to it, beneficial ownership of the products these assets represent are still residing with the creator. This means that a natural person who has, by purchasing an item, acquired rights to use it may continue to do so and the successor grid may continue to serve the visual aspects of the item as is required to facilitate it’s use. It does not mean that a successor grid can begin selling items for it’s own profit; if anything happens to be for sale on a sim that is restored and sales happen, the proceeds will go to the owner of the items, not the successor grid. Such proceeds can be claimed by the item owner and be cashed out by the successor grid. License issues arise where regions are built with, or inventories contain, items that are neither freebies nor created by the user. In that case, allowing their presence in an export format means that that iar or oar can be loaded in a self hosted region and DRM removed from the item. That would subsequently enable resale of the item in Hypergrid-enabled grids, which would not be in the best interest of the creator/seller of the item. Therefore, exports cannot be provided. At a later time, filtered export may be possible.

      • Magnuz Binder

        According to Avination TOS, as is 2017-03-11, and as was 2011-05-16:
        Chapter 1.2 states Avination is “the Service” run by Avination Virtual Limited and available at domain *.avination.com
        Chapter 3.2 states creators grant a license for use within “the Service” only.
        Chapter 5.3 states Avination may transfer DATA, NOT licence to actually use, without further specification.

        So, the only legal ways to “transfer” content created under this TOS for use, is either to serve it at the “damaged” *.avination.com by the “damaged” Avination Virtual Limited, but owned by a new entity, or to request an explicit re-licensing of content from the creators for use with a new “Service”. This goes for any sub-licensed material as well.

        • Actually I don’t think the domain name it is served under matters as it is merely a “label”. The company ownership matters, as a direct company takeover continuing the original service should be able to retain the licenses. Transfer of the licenses to a new legal entity and a new service would require a new license from the originator IMO.

          The equivalent would be SecondLife and Sansar, where I don’t see that LL can transfer any content from SecondLife to Sansar without a completely new license (as it is a new service). However, if they migrated SecondLife to a version 2, where the old version was discontinued, it should be possible to use the original licenses.

          • Magnuz Binder

            I am referring to the phrasing in the Avination TOS, which is the legally binding contract, not the general interpretation of licenses.

            If Melanie’s intent is to let Avination servers, regardless of labeling, serve as some kind of secondary inventory and asset services to a new service, the exact phrasing of the TOS, specifically defining “the Service”, to which the content is licensed for use (Chapter 3.2), as run by Avination Virtual Limited in the domain *.avination.com (Chapter 1.2), prohibits the use of the content in any other context, like a new grid, regardless of what the general interpretation of licenses says.

            If the phrasing had been a bit more vague, which it often intentionally is in TOS, to give the service owner more freedom, she could have gotten away with it, but not as the TOS is phrased now.

          • I don’t have the TOS in front of me as it can’t be found on the avination.com website, so it is a bit unclear who the TOS are targeting.

            Presumably close to 100% of the Avination customers, including the content creators, satisfies the EU definition of Consumer, meaning if the TOS don’t satisfy the minimum requirements of European consumer legislation, it is null and void in court and the law will be applied. My understanding was the company operated out of Germany (at least the servers), so most likely German consumer legislation (per the book) applies. The TOS should state which jurisdiction applies for conflict resolution.

            Personally I have some original content on Avination, such as skins and eyes I don’t want to be transferred to a new version of the service, and most certainly unless I can 100% control it, including remove it.

          • Magnuz Binder

            I posted the direct URL to the Avination TOS, but since it contains a link, it awaits moderation. I would recommend anyone who think they may need it to download a local copy ASAP from www-dot-avination-dot-com/frontpage/footer/inside/policy/tos.html , since the original may be gone or altered to better suit Melanie’s plans soon.

          • Thanks!

            According to the TOS conflict resolution is per UK law, which should include most EU directives on privacy and consumer rights. Right away I see that the TOS don’t follow the law when it comes to notification of changes to the TOS. You also have the right to extract or remove your possessions / creations if you don’t accept the new changes. Failure to include such provisions in the TOS can alone make it null and void in court.

            It also has a clause on the DMCA procedure, which don’t exist in UK law and EU directives, so this point will also not hold in court.

            In general a consumer agreement shall not put the consumer in disadvantage, and the TOS is overly complicated for a consumer, which will also contribute to it not being accepted by the courts.

            The TOS looks like it is largely modeled on the Linden Lab TOS.

  • Sorry to see any grid shut down, the whole community loses in these situations. Hope things work out.

  • Melanie Thielker

    That Freedom comes at a price; many creators will not provide Freebies and therefore high quality, branded products may not be available in grids allowing unfiltered exports. At the end of the day, it’s the user’s choice and while many may be satisfied with the quality provided by OpenSim freebies, others long for items that have the quality found in SL. Those are rarely found in open grids and, in many cases, copybotted from SL in the first place.

    • Han Held

      Hey hey …It’s the greatest hits of 2011 FUD.
      Out of respect for your problems, I won’t flame further.

      Instead I will post an informative chart on the topic of critical thinking, and invite folks to bear in mind the context of your comments…as well as the fact that for the longest time Avination had a militant ‘no freebies’ policy in place.

      Apart from that, Lani is 100% correct. If it’s not on your hard drive, it’s not yours. For that reason, you should only rent from people who allow you to download copies of your inventory and regions to your hard drive.

      [edit]trying the chart again lol: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/343681015299931966/

      • Han Held

        nm delete me lol

    • Carlos Loff

      Kitely allows selfservice backups and still filters very well all author’s content, once I lost whole rows of buildings on the OAR jus because I forgot the linked doors scripts were not mine or export – So that freedom has nothing to do with selkers content – Lani is talking about not having to go after the owners to wait for a simple OAR backup

      • It DOES, however, have to do with the disinformation that some pass around and in their mislaid plans trying to capitalize on it…it ain’t working out so good for them tho, most people can see through it, but they keep trying anyway which can make one wonder about their sanity (and/or intelligence and/or their common sense)…………………………………………………………..

  • So to summarize: Tainted grid relaunch under new name, while keeping resident funds.

  • Alex Ferraris

    I know the feeling 🙁

  • Thelma Marks

    This is confusing.

  • watcher64

    Sad to see any grid go down, but at this point it is not a surprise. I wish them luck in the “new” venture, but as there has been no movement on OS development for over a month now(since 2017-02-02), I am concerned at the state and focus of all things opensimulator.

  • Talla Adam

    I’m really sorry to learn of the troubles at Avination Grid, in particular the losses involved both for the grid owner and the users. I hope no user has lost a big sum and most heard the good advice not to hold more token currency than you can afford to lose. In any event I hope Mel can sort things out for the content owners with the new service for the sake of Opensim’s good name quite apart from the brand, Avination. But thank you Mel for the huge amount of work you have put into the code base. We all owe you respect for that for I doubt Opensim would be as advanced as it is without your work.

  • dahlia

    Sorry to hear about the end of Avination, Melanie. Best wishes on your next venture.

  • Carrie snowpaw

    Melanie stated two days ago that proceeds from any sales go to the original creator/seller. This is untrue. I was invited as a merchant to bring some items in to sell in Avination. I tried to cash out my earnings, only to have them withheld when the credit card issues happened. I was promised several times that eventually my funds would be restored and I would be able to take out the money I had earned with my creations. This never happened and to this day I am still owned. So what happens to my creations that were purchased by Avination users. I was never paid? These items are still in those inventories.

  • It is sad news as it was great for scripting (a few years ago, I think other releases are as good). In terms of money, doubt I had anything worth worrying about especially after the conversion. Assets? well I would rather they were deleted but not a big deal and possibly unreasonable. I know what they were so no problem.
    However, at one point it was possible to link your Avi account to others on other grids as a way to transfer funds between (this is going back a few years). Now what happens to that info? I was OK with Avination Virtual Limited having that data, really not all that keen on whoever ‘inherits’ being privy to it. And not something I would be comfortable with being transferred without full disclosure and consent. (Hell knows what jurisdiction that would fall under viz privacy laws/data protection acts etc.).
    But yes good luck with it.

  • I feel the title is needlessly negative. But guess it worked. Hey Melanie, good luck for the next iteration. With all the experience, you have and share … the odds are that new adventure will be awesome. Best.

    • lmpierce

      I’m curious, how would you have worded the title?

  • Thelma Marks

    After reading through the Terms of service several times there are a lot of things that don’t add up. If someone is really disturbed by this they should definitely talk to a lawyer.

    • Da Hayward

      Personally after seeing a few TOS, I dont put a lot of faith in most of them. I think a lot are only goobly gock

    • Here is a link to the EU Directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts:

      http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:31993L0013

      Google, FaceBook and Twitter has been given a deadline to comply with the EU Consumer laws and been presented with a list of issues they need to sort out to be in compliance with the directive.

      • Social media networks cannot deprive consumers of their right to go to court in their Member State of residence;

      • Social media networks cannot require consumers to waive mandatory rights, such as their right to withdraw from an on-line purchase;

      • Terms of services cannot limit or totally exclude the liability of Social media networks in connection with the performance of the service;

      • Sponsored content cannot be hidden, but should be identifiable as such;

      • Social media networks cannot unilaterally change terms and conditions without clearly informing consumers about the justification and without given them the possibility to cancel the contract, with adequate notice;

      • Terms of services cannot confer unlimited and discretionary power to social media operators on the removal of content;

      • Termination of a contract by the social media operator should be governed by clear rules and not decided unilaterally without a reason.