OpenSim grids reach new peak

The top 40 OpenSim grids gained 529 regions since mid-December, to reach a new high of 15,623 regions on January 15 of this month. The monthly growth rate, 3.5 percent, was the second-lowest since we started gathering the statistics in the summer of 2009, a possible indication of a seasonal slowdown.

OpenSim region counts. (Hypergrid Business survey data.)

Meanwhile, total downloads of the popular Diva Distribution of OpenSim grew by 18 percent since last month, for a new high of 3,707 downloads. The Diva Distro is a popular and convenient way to set up an OpenSim mini-grid, but the number of downloads does not necessarily correspond to total active grids, since a single user — or consultant — can download the software once and use it to set up several grids, while other users download it but never install it.

There are several other distributions of OpenSim, including an official distribution at, the Aurora Sim, and customized versions such as that distributed by OSGrid for users who connect self-hosted regions to that grid. There are no statistics about the downloads of any of these versions of OpenSim.

Avination doubles in size; users

As usual, OSGrid gained the most regions this month, growing by almost 500 regions to a new total of 9,009 regions. OSGrid currently has more regions than all the other top-40 grids combined.

In second place in terms of growth was the role-playing grid Avination, which gained 172 regions in just one month, for a new total of 324 regions.

MyOpenGrid was in third place, gaining 63 regions, giving it a new total of 200 regions. InWorldz came in fourth in growth, gaining 47 regions for a new total of 766 regions.

Avination and InWorldz are both closed, commercial grids — all regions are maintained by grid operators, and users are not allowed to connect their own regions running on home computers. This means that the grid asset databases are locked down, making them a more secure place for content creators and distributors. Both grids also have hypergrid teleports turned off.

OSGrid and MyOpenGrid are both open grids — anyone can connect a region for free, or rent one at a substantially lower price than on the closed commercial grids. In addition, both grids are hypergrid-enabled, allowing users to teleport to other grids with their avatars and inventories.

However, OSGrid was not in the lead when it came to gaining new users.

InWorldz gained 2,585 new users last month, for a new total of 28,153 registered users. InWorldz does not release active 30-day user numbers.

Avination was in second place, gaining 1,829 registered users, for a new total of 3,083 users. Of these, 1,673 were active during the previous 30 days.

OSGrid gained 1,424 new users, for a new total of 55,578. Of these, 3,170 were active the previous 30 days.

No other grid gained more than 500 users since last month.

Room for everyone

The closed commercial grids are competing against one another for customers, but they are not necessarily competing with the open grids since the two types of grids serve very different purposes and offer different user experiences.

Closed commercial grids like InWorldz, Avination, and, to a lesser extent 3rd Rock Grid and SpotOn3D, offer a more controlled, secure, private environment for their users and content creators. These grid owners typically charge more for region rentals than open grids, but also offer more support, and a more compelling user experience. Closed commercial grids are the destinations of choice for content creators looking to expand out from Second Life but worried about content theft. They are also welcoming havens for users looking for a scaled-down, cozier version of Second Life at a slightly lower cost.

Open grids, whether non-profits like OSGrid or commercial operators like MyOpenGrid are there to offer the most inexpensive way possible for someone to get land on a grid, and to start building. In fact, those with some technical skills can have regions for free, by running them on their own computers. Prices from third-party hosting providers start at under $10 a month per region.

Open grids are great destinations for homesteaders, for public offices, for marketing outreach, for classes, and for other functions where price is a concern but content protection is not a business-critical issue. For example, if someone comes into a classroom and uses a software exploit to steal copies of the blackboard and chairs, it isn’t likely to damage the school’s operations — but if the same thing happened in a furniture store, it would be a significant business problem.

However, some content providers are opening shops on open grids as well, following the iTunes model: the idea is that if content is reasonably priced, easy to find, well-supported and fun to shop for then enough people would buy the legitimate products instead of hunting down free, illegal copies. In addition, schools and enterprises that use OpenSim for training, education and collaboration need to have legitimately-licensed content and are willing to pay a premium for content that they can take to their own grids — which is possible on open, hypergrid-enabled worlds but not on closed grids.

At Hypergrid Business, we expect to see both closed and open grids continue to grow through 2011. However, new hypergrid security features are currently in development which will allow content creators to lock down content so that it can not be moved off-grid. As these features are rolled out, we expect more grids to turn on hypergrid and allow their users to freely travel around to other grids for events, meetings, shopping, and exploring.

However, we expect some grids to stay closed permanently. High-end gaming grids, for example, might want to keep their worlds closed and proprietary in order to control access, offer special features, restrict content to only that which is appropriate to the game, and to create a consistent gaming experience. We expect that users will be happy to create new avatars in order to experience compelling content — just as consumers buy proprietary video game consoles even if they already own PCs.

Second Life stats continue to slip

Even as OpenSim continues to gain ground on all fronts, Second Life continues to hemorrhage regions. Since mid December, Second Life has lost 132 regions, for a new total of 31,413 regions, according to data from Grid Survey.

More worrisome is that Second Life stopped publishing usage numbers last fall.

Regions in Second Life and OpenSim are the same size — 16 virtual acres — but there are some significant differences. OpenSim regions can hold more objects, and the objects can be bigger. OpenSim regions also cost as little as $10 with no setup fees, compared to $300 for a Second Life region with a $1,000 setup fee. OpenSim also allows megaregions, hypergrid teleports, full region backups and full control of the environment. However, OpenSim voice is currently significantly inferior to that of Second Life, and some high-end vehicle physics commands are not yet implemented. In addition, regions that are underpowered can suffer significant lag and other problems, and those running early versions of OpenSim are prone to crashing.

The biggest difference between the two platforms is that Second Life is a single world with a large, vibrant community and a wide variety of content of all kinds. OpenSim is software that is currently being used to run hundreds — possibly thousands — of independent worlds, both public and private. This is similar to the difference between AOL and the World Wide Web back when the Web was in its infancy.

January Region Counts

We are now tracking a total of 115 different publicly-accessible grids, 84 of which were up this month. The raw data for this month’s report is here.

As of publication, data for SpotOn3D’s Veesome grid was not available.

Maria Korolov