Update: The Chamber of Commerce group mentioned in this article has been shut down, according to a source.
Merchants on the closed, commercial InWorldz grid are concerned about perceived drop in users and commercial activity, and worry that the grid owners are no longer committed to the success of the grid.
“I am in InWorldz where I have a shop and we have seen a drastic decline in sales and residents,” one merchant told Hypergrid Business.
The merchant requested anonymity. “If Elenia [grid owner Beth Reischl] doesn’t like what any of us report, then she could ban us from the grid because she has done that in the past,” the merchant said.
Residents have also complained on social media that the founders haven’t been paying attention to their concerns. Of the top managers, owner Reischl moved to Panama and founder and CTO David Daeschler has mostly moved on to other projects.
According to the owners, there was too much drama in the forums and moderation would have been too expensive.
“Our forums have literally cost us thousands of dollars in customers,” Reischl said in a forum post in 2015.
Staff developer Jim Tarber followed up with a very confusing statement about why InWorldz doesn’t need to have a public discussion forum.
“It’s not InWorldz’ core business, we are not a social network like Facebook, we’re a software development organization providing an online service,” he wrote.
Some residents found other channels to express themselves.
“One of the best things about InWorldz was the fact that it was so easy to talk to the founders on the forum and they actually listened to us and gave us feedback — it made InWorldz feel like a community,” wrote resident Shannara Llewellyn this past November in a comment on its support forum at ZenDesk. “This is just one more step to making InWorldz like Second Life, where Linden Lab doesn’t care about its residents.”
Last month, in a response, Reischl seemed to blame the residents for the grid’s communication issues.
“There was a time I adored logging into the grid, and doing things,” she posted last month. “At one point though, I had to start using an alt, because the moment I logged in, all I got were support requests. Then I’d see issues as an alt, and want to help and couldn’t, so I finally abandoned that idea… I once had someone call me seven times in a row at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I am NOT awake at 5 am on a Sunday morning, or any morning for that matter.”
And when it comes to merchants worried about falling usage rates, she again seemed to put them blame on them, this time in an iNewz video.
“A lot of times merchants think that we’re supposed to bring them traffic,” she said. “It’s not what we do. That’s not part of our job.”
Instead, Reischl said that merchants should work harder on their marketing. For example, they should get involved in events, do more networking, create a profile, and use the third-party InWorldz Marketplace and paid search classifieds and the InWorldz Explorers HUD, InWorldz groups including the InWorldz Welcome Group, the new directory that was scheduled to launch in December, and use social media.
“When you have somebody who says, well, I don’t know how to sell my stuff, I’m not getting traffic … you can hopefully push them over to this video
and say hey, why don’t you go watch this and take some of what they say and see if it applies,” she said.
She also defended the grid’s decision to close down the classified ads section on its forums.
“The classifieds being closed down, the forum’s themselves, it was becoming a really big ball of unworkable tension for us,” she said.
This advice didn’t go over well.
“We tried to ask her questions, such as, ‘what is she doing to keep merchants in InWorldz or bring back those who have left’,” one merchant told Hypergrid Business. “Her response was snarky — she said it’s not her job to keep merchants — or anyone — in InWorldz… if it’s not her job, then she must not really care if the grid dies or not.”
Merchants organize to save grid commerce
To help promote in-world commercial activity, and to collectively advocate on behalf of their interests, merchants have formed the InWorldz Chamber of Commerce last fall and have since held events and met with grid leadership.
“The InWorldz Chamber of Commerce wants to support the founders in mutual efforts to keep the grid alive and vibrant,” Esparanza Freese, the director of the chamber told Hypergrid Business. “Our motto is ‘Stronger Together’.”
But Freese added that she, too, was concerned with what she heard from Reischl.
“She said it was not her job to keep merchants or residents in InWorldz,” Freese told Hypergrid Business.
The chamber now has 150 members.
One of the issues the members are concerned about is the lack of mesh bodies, and there have been efforts made to get mesh body developers to come to InWorldz, but they haven’t been successful.
Merchants also say that the technical side of the grid has been problematic. The January edition of iNewz is expected to touch on technical issues.
Freese said that merchants can join the chamber by clicking on a chamber logo board if they see it displayed in a shop.
“It contains a group joiner script,” she said. They can also search groups for “Chamber of Commerce” and click to join.
They can also ask one of the three current board member to add them to the group.
“We will add new board members in the near future and have a system to rotate on and off the Board of Directors just as in a real chamber of commerce,” she said.
In addition to holding events and helping members to grow their businesses, the chamber will also try to promote InWorldz commerce to merchants and creators outside the grid.
But merchants say that there’s not much they can do without the grid owners.
“We can do nothing much to save the grid without the support of the founders and in particular, Elenia, who is rarely ever on the grid herself,” said one merchant.
Does the grid need saving? It is still one of the largest and most successful OpenSim grids and, according to the last available numbers, the grid with the most active users.
However, there are some warning signs.
Late last spring, InWorldz stopped publishing its region and active user statistics after a several months of declining numbers.
The number of regions on the grid is important because land rentals are a key revenue source for the grid. In March of 2017, the grid reported 1,288 regions — the lowest land area since June of 2015.
The number of active users is the most important statistics for merchants — it shows the total number of residents that logged into the grid at least once.
Last March, the grid reported 5,276 unique 30-day logins, the lowest number since February of 2012.
As with the land area, the numbers began dropping quickly last winter.
But InWorldz has continued to report one statistic — the total number of registered users on the grid.
Users rarely delete their accounts. Even those who leave the grid tend to keep their avatars, just in case they need to come back for something. As a result, registered user counts tend to increase on every grid.
However, the size of that increase is interesting.
For the past twelve months, the number of new registrations has been declining. In December, the grid reported 176,981 total users, an increase of 1,026 over the previous month. That was the lowest increase since 2010.
Historically, InWorldz has been the grid that brings in the most new users to OpenSim. But over the last couple of years, it has been eclipsed by Kitely.
Kitely is another commercial grid, and, like InWorldz, also has a strong economy and merchant community. However, the Kitely Market isn’t limited to just Kitely — it currently delivers to a total of 240 OpenSim grids, and three quarters of the content listed on its marketplace is exportable.
Kitely has only a fraction of InWorldz active users, however.
But other grids have also been gaining on InWorldz in active users. OSgrid, for example, had more than 4,200 actives last month. And the hypergrid as a whole, which is increasingly feeling like one, big interconnected grid, had more than 33,000 actives.
Meanwhile, all OpenSim grids, not just InWorldz, face existential questions this year.
While OpenSim’s overall numbers have been improving, the pace of growth has been very slow.
Will OpenSim continue to be a viable platform, tied as it is to an obsolete, ten-year-old technology, without a web viewer in sight? While some grids launched with the goal of serving a small number of people, others have been hoping for wider adoption of the technology. As hopes of mass adoption fade, will more and more users and creators turn to the increasing number of new platforms, many of them natively built for virtual reality?
It’s a question that every grid owner, resident, and creator is now facing.