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 Korolov