3Di Cloud starts at $10 per month

Japan’s3Di, Inc., best known for their browser-based OpenSim viewers, has set the starting price for their Unity-based, in-a-Web-browser virtual world at around $10 a month.

According to an announcement released yesterday, the “personal” 3Di Cloud starts at 9,800 yen a year, or about US $125, and can handle up to 500 simultaneous avatars.

An enterprise license starts at 29,800 yen for a three-month contract, or about US $380 — $127 a month.

A behind-the-firewall version of the software is also available, but pricing for this has not yet been determined.

There is no limit to land area or number of objects that can be placed in the world, 3Di senior manager Norman Lin told Hypergrid Business.

“Land area and objects are basically unlimited, since they run on the client,” he explained. “Larger worlds will require longer download times, of course. Content creators should tune their worlds to have appropriate size for their target audience’s hardware.”

The same principle applies to in-world scripts, he added. “However, if a script causes network traffic, that will cause increased load on the server.”

So, for example, a script that allows users to move in-world objects, or ride in vehicles, would require that the changes to the environment be instantly transmitted to all other users in the environment.

“Our tests with a fairly heavy-traffic test client indicate that we can support at least 500 simultaneous connected users on one server,” Lin said.

3Di Cloud’s default environment, now with a wider selection of starting avatars.

Price comparison

For individual users, 3Di Cloud compares well to other browser-based enterprise-oriented virtual world platforms, which typically start at around $50 a month.

The easiest of those is VenueGen, which offers a choice of pre-made virtual environments. The most developed platform is AvayaLive Engage — which is also backed by the biggest vendor, Avaya, Inc. — and allows for full customization of the environment.

Other browser-based virtual environments include the Unity-based Jibe from ReactionGrid, Second Places’ Unifier, and HostaVirtualEvent.com. Altadyn’s 3DXplorer is based on Java.

However, individual users may also be interested in Cloud Party, a browser-based social world where a private island starts at $15 a month and no plugin in or download is necessary because it runs on WebGL and HTML 5 Web standards.

The Unity-based worlds all require that users download a Unity plugin, and the Java-based world requires that Java be installed.

In addition, there are two Web-accessible OpenSim options.

SpotON3D has a proprietary plugin that allows a full OpenSim viewer to run inside a browser window. New users still have to download the full OpenSim viewer — in addition to the plugin — but the way it’s embedded in a Web page may provide some psychological comfort to new users. Low-prim regions start at $26 a month. Prices top out at $60 a month for a full 15,000-prim region.

Kitely allows customers to post a link on their websites that takes them to their Kitely world page. There, new users are prompted to install the Kitely plugin as well as an OpenSim viewer if they don’t have one yet. The plugin then automatically launches the viewer and sends the users to the customers’ region. The viewer does not run in a browser window, however. All users get one free region and two free hours of use a month (six hours the first month), with paid plans topping out at $35 a month for 20 regions and unlimited use.

Feature comparison

3Di Cloud currently has less functionality than any of the alternatives listed above, though users can add the functionality themselves.

“As it’s built on top of Unity, you can have the 3D models, animations and scripts that Unity supports,” said Lin.

For example, customers can edit terrains with the Unity terrain editor and import mesh objects and mesh avatars saved in the FBX or Collada formats.

No in-world building or scripting tools are available, however — everything takes place externally, using 3D design software, or the 3Di Cloud Developers Kit.

Say, for example, you wanted to provide vehicles for your avatars. You would need to create appropriate animations for the avatars, and import the 3D mesh model for the vehicle. Then you would need to write the vehicle script, using either JavaScript or C#.

“You would need to write a controlling script to move the vehicle and to force the avatar position to follow the vehicle,” Lin said. “We don’t have any sample code for this right now, but it’s definitely possible.”

Similarly, 3Di Cloud avatars cannot move objects around. However, customers can build this functionality themselves. This would require creating a user interface inside Unity that allows users to move objects, a script that sends out a global message that the object has been moved, and another script that listens for those messages and moves the objects for all connected clients.

“You would also need to define some policies and mechanisms for resolving editing conflicts,” Lin added.

Other features not supported by 3Di Cloud include avatar inventories, friend lists, offline messages, profiles, groups, voice, or in-world media. Customers that need this functionality would have to set up external databases to store this kind of information, and pass it into 3Di Cloud environments by scripting.

“We’re doing exactly this for a project in development right now,” Lin said. “3Di Cloud takes care of real-time in-world synchronization, and the Unity-based client uses information from both 3Di Cloud and also from an external information provider.”

But pulling Web pages onto in-world surfaces would be more of a challenge, he added.

“It’s currently difficult to do this properly and completely inside Unity,” he said. “It’s probably best to embed Unity within a Web page, and cause Unity to open a browser popup window that then visits Web pages in a synchronized fashion, transmitting the current URL to all other connected clients.”

Unlike previous 3Di products, which were marketed primarily to Japanese customers, 3Di is looking at a global audience for its 3Di Cloud product, Lin said, with documentation and support available in English as well as Japanese.

For companies that plan to be doing a lot of custom development, and expecting a large number of simultaneous users, 3Di Cloud may be a good fit. For companies looking for an off-the-shelf solution with a larger set of existing features, VenueGen, AvayaLive and Jibe would be better bets.

Maria Korolov