5 ways to fund a WebGL viewer

I love Cloud Party. I love the responsive, 3D graphics. The cute tutorial. The in-world building tools. The free house.  I even love the Facebook integration.

Most of all, though, I love the fact that it’s WebGL. It runs natively in modern browsers like Chrome and Firefox and Safari — no plugin or viewer download required.

What I would like to see is a Cloud Party-style WebGL viewer, but using OpenSim as the back end instead of Cloud Party’s platform. Their platform is nice, sure, but it’s proprietary and a walled garden.

Cloud Party runs in a viewer.

A viewer built from scratch would help get OpenSim away from Second Life-related licensing issues, solve the 4096 teleport bug once and for all, and allow OpenSim greater freedom of development. However, Ilan Tochner, CEO Of Kitely, says that there’s a way to convert existing viewer code to WebGL, though it will take a little fiddling.

Either way, how do you pay for it?

Here are some ideas.

1. Crowdfunding

A WebGL viewer is exactly the kind of focused, sexy, mass-appeal project that crowdfunding was meant for.

Kickstarter,  IndieGoGo,  CrowdFunder are three popular options for crowdfunding a development project. Donors could get the opportunity to vote on features, to be beta testers, or to get custom branded viewers for their grids. They could also get credit for helping make the software possible on an “About Us” screen or page. Or they could get virtual content, like T-shirts for their avatars.

The project shouldn’t limit itself to OpenSim users for its funding — I’m sure there are plenty of role playing groups, schools, non-profits, artists, and companies using Second Life that would like to have an easier access option for their users as well.

A key success factor for the crowdfunding will be the strength of the development team. Creating a viable software product requires programming skills, yes, and a good understanding of LibOpenMetaverse, the library of messages that go between a Second Life or OpenSim server and the viewer. But it also takes project management skills, marketing skills, interface design ability, and the interpersonal skills to keep everyone on the same page.

If I was younger — and with no kids or mortgage — this is exactly the kind of project I’d want to be part of. Who doesn’t want to help make history? Right now, however, the best I can do is sit on the sidelines and cheer. Oh, and donate money. I hereby commit to donating money to any even half-way credible team that wants to make a WebGL viewer happen. Who’s with me?

2. Create a portal

Back in the early days of the Web, everyone wanted to be a portal to the Internet. Netscape had its own website that was supposed to be everything to everybody. Microsoft had its version. AOL should have been a shoe-in but had problems with opening its garden gates and seeing the possibilities of the web fast enough. Oh, and it didn’t want to give its stuff away for free while subscribers were still paying for it. So Yahoo became the de-facto entryway to the World Wide Web.

Well, there’s no Yahoo yet on the hypergrid. Okay, our Hyperica grid wants to be Yahoo. But we’re getting less than 200 unique visitors a month right now — it’s still new — so there’s plenty of opportunity for competitors to step in. Not that I’m saying I want them to, but, well, if they can do it better…

A gateway to the metaverse would have plenty of option for monetization. For example, users can be offered free avatar accounts — but if their inventories grow past a certain size, they would need to subscribe to the premium service for extra storage. Gmail works that way now — your basic mailbox is free, but if you run out of space, you can add more for a small fee.

A portal could send land to merchants, or rent out advertising billboards — tastefully, of course — promoting hypergrid destinations.

It could also track the behavior of visitors — what ads and offers do people respond to? Where do they prefer to go first? I’m not saying that I approve of this kind of intrusive privacy-violating corporate behavior. But if it helps us get a decent viewer, I might be willing to put up with it — and I’m sure someone will invent an avatar cloaking device soon enough.

3. Create a currency

Imagine if PayPal owned Netscape. By logging into your browser, you’d automatically be logging into your payment platform, and can make purchases on any site without having to provide them with your credit card numbers or home address.

On the Second Life grid, as well as on Avination and InWorldz, this is already the case — the viewer is tightly integrated with the in-world payment system. But that doesn’t work on the hypergrid. Instead, we have the OMC payments from Virwox, which require a separate confirmation step on a Website to ensure that the transaction is legitimate.

A viewer with its own payment system built in could let users and merchants avoid the hassles of dealing with multiple virtual currencies on multiple grids, and instead take payments in actual money — and keep a portion of each transaction as its commission.

The lock-in possibilities would be huge. Users wouldn’t want to switch to other viewers, because they’re using to the payment system in the first viewer. Merchants who use that viewer for payment processing will encourage their customers to use it — a competitor will have a really hard time breaking in.

And now that I’ve written that down, I feel a little scared about the future. Do we really want one giant company knowing where we go, what we do, and how much money we spend? The only comfort is that all the big giant evil corporations are currently busy battling over the mobile space right now, and aren’t paying any attention to virtual environments.

4. Sell custom viewers

Let’s back away from that scary future for a minute and look at some nicer, gentler, monetisation options. For example, a company with its own proprietary viewer can sell private-label versions of it to grid owners, customized for their particular worlds. For example, a closed corporate grid could integrate its viewer with its corporate single sign-on system, or its employee directory, or its unified communications platform.

5. Sell custom servers

Another option is to sell custom server code designed to work specifically with the viewer. Netscape tried to do this in the early days, and Japan’s 3Di took the same approach with its Web-based OpenSim package.

With a custom back end companies could, for example, integrate their product inventories into the world or run custom content management systems. The OpenSim code base is free and open source, but it’s licensed under the BSD license, which allows vendors to modify it and keep their modifications private. Many vendors and grids take advantage of this, including IBM and ReactionGrid. By being able to match up the custom server code with custom viewer code, the integration can go even deeper and be even more powerful.


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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.

12 Responses

  1. Gaga says:

    Good article Maria. You laid out the options for building, effectively, a next generation viewer – this one in a browser built on webGL and no download. The open Metaverse needs it’s own viewer anyway and with Linden Lab about to force third party developers to lock out Opensim now is the time to consider a bold new approach.

    Personally, I would be happy to donate quite a lot of money to a growdfunded project (and I mean serious sums!) if the resulting code is made open source and licensed to deny it being used by trolls attempting to file a patent on it (if that is possible).

    Once HG2 arrives and we can assess it’s effectiveness we who build Opensim worlds need to focus on traffic and how to draw in users but we are still limited by the viewers available. We need both a viewer seriously dedicated to Opensim and a webGL application to help give that first look at our worlds for just the click of a web page link.

    Armin Weatherwax is now part of the Firestorm developer team with responsibility for Opensim development and other viewers are making use of the grid list improvements. It still has a way to go but grid search is an important part of Opensim viewer development. A WebGL application should also be part of it too.

    • Good point on the licensing — given a choice between two similar crowdfunding projects, I’d give all my money to the one that will make the final code open source and freely available. 

    • lordsirm@gmail.com' LordNine says:

      Talk to RealXtend/Adminotech, or LudoCraft :  https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!topic/realxtend/XYOhhvTXw5U


      In both of these, adding OpenSimulator to their open-sourced viewer/server technology is discussed, so it is something they have thought about doing but haven’t the financial resources themselves to do yet. They have historical knowledge of both OpenSim and SL so it would seem a good fit.

      • Gaga says:

        Thank you LordNine. the links are helpful and make interesting and informative reading. On 1st reading it dose seem like a good fit.

        I can follow the tech to some extent but I am an end user with a good idea of what I want and what I am willing to pay for. To that end I can put quite a lot of money on it if acceptable proposals are forthcoming.

  2. graymills says:

    I’ve always thought that a WebGL viewer is a desirable medium-term goal and would probably contribute personally to a crowdfunded project. I do, however, think that WebGL and Crowd Party are currently a distraction for OpenSim educators — “let’s all go to Cloud Party because they have WebGL” is frankly shortsighted. One reason is that the primary platform in education is going to be mobile and WebGL simply isn’t there yet: http://caniuse.com/#feat=webgl

    Incidentally the emscripten project the article mentions has now successfully converted a 3D game: http://mozakai.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/scripting-bananabread-using-compiled-cc.html

  3. ange.zanetti@gmail.com' Ange Zanetti says:

    Crowdfunding is one good choice in this case i think. Many people  actually want a WebGL viewer for Opensim and nobody can really make his own. The Virtual worlds is ready to contribute to on project like this i guess. 

    One conditions : it have to be opensource to really belong to the whole community !

    • ange.zanetti@gmail.com' Ange Zanetti says:

      Maybe it’s possible to fork the WebGL viewer made by realxtend to reduce the amount of work !

  4. graymills says:

    That’s when Radegast and SoaS come to the rescue — but yes, I’ve had that problem too.

  5. What ever happened to Tipodean’s tech?

    • The weird-ly named BuiltBuyMe viewer put an OpenSim/SL viewer inside a Unity-based Web page. There were some problems with graphics — notably, showing avatars correctly. But, more vitally, it wasn’t clear how the company was going to make any money from the project.

      So the small, self-funded startup moved to focusing on things with immediate revenue potential. For example, they’re converting existing OpenSim regions into Unity. Once you do the conversion, you can put the scenes up on your website, or you can import them into one of the many Unity-based virtual worlds springing up — ReactionGrid’s Jibe, Second Places’ Unifier and, now, 3Di’s 3Di Cloud.

  6. erosdeustho@gmail.com' Eros Deus says:

    Excellent article!

  7. sjatkins@mac.com' Samantha Atkins says:

    I am a very young padawan learner on WebGL. But from what I see so far it is possible to make a much better virtual world viewer with far better in world building tools and scripting than today – scripting on client as well as server side. I wouldn’t just produce the same thing warts and all as we are used to if I was doing a WebGL viewer. Yes you could still view and deal with all the older content.