This past year has been full of questions for the OpenSim community. Who are we? Where are we going? Is the platform even worth it?
The OpenSimulator software dates back to January 2007, according to the official history of the project. The open source virtual world software was meant to be a more accessible and flexible version of Second Life, and it was designed to use the same communication protocols as those that Second Life servers used to communicate with Second Life viewers.
Although the server code was written from scratch, it didn’t include its own viewer — instead, it piggy-backed on Second Life-compatible viewers. This was both a blessing — since it accelerated development and made OpenSim very familiar to those who were already using Second Life – and a curse. The dependence on Second Life-compatible viewers locked OpenSim into Second Life’s development path, an issue which raised its head again this year.
Despite the uncertainty about OpenSim’s future, readers were more optimistic about its fate than they were last year.
And, according to the latest reader sentiment survey, 94 percent plan to spend at least as much time in OpenSim next year as they did last year — of those, more than half said that they planned to increase the time they spent in OpenSim, and a third said that they planned to be much more active.
OSgrid, OpenSim’s oldest and largest grid, turned twelve years old this past summer.
The hypergrid celebrated its eleventh anniversary this year.
And Hypergrid Business turned ten.
Like our readers, I have also been wondering about OpenSim’s future.
In 2018, I had been considering shutting down the publication altogether, since it didn’t look like OpenSim was going to be the foundation for the hyperconnected virtual reality metaverse I had been hoping for. Meanwhile, the bulk of the traffic on the site was coming from articles related to VR headsets, and I wasn’t interested in becoming a gadget review blogger.
This year, however, I rediscovered something that I was very much interested in — fiction writing.
Plus, I discovered that when I wasn’t covering OpenSim, I missed it. I missed the community and the creativity made possible by the platform.
Over the past ten years, 3 million unique readers have visited the site, and more than 200 contributed articles or opinion columns. And although growth has leveled off for the publication — just as it seems to have leveled off for OpenSim itself — the community is still very large, and very active.
For a science fiction writer interested in virtual reality, this user base is a treasure that needs to be protected at all costs.
And I will do that, to the best of my ability.
So, just like my readers, I also plan to spend more time in OpenSim this year.
OpenSim server-side updates
The OpenSim platform has two main parts.
The first is the server software, OpenSimulator, which is used to run the grids and the regions. The server code is where the physics engine lives, and the scripting engine. It keeps track of user inventories and region map coordinates and the 3D models of all the individual pieces of content found on the grids.
This year, OpenSim developers released an update to the code with several usability improvements.
In addition, other members of the OpenSim community did their own work on the platform as well.
Mobius Grid worked on making display name functionality more usable.
Mobius also made other improvements, grid owner Roy Corr told Hypergrid Business. They included abuse reports, support for terms of service, and Second Life-style region restart n0tifications.
“If you ever are curious on our progress here is the link to our repo,” he added. “Any time we add something new it’s in the readme.”
Grids also worked on improving their own code. Kitely, for example, rolled out their new private grid functionality. While this particular function is proprietary to Kitely itself, they’ve also contributed code to the community, as well — more than 270 different contributions total.
As of its latest stats, Kitely Market delivers over 32,000 items to more than 373 grids.
Viewers make steps forward, steps back
The long-awaited browser-based viewer for OpenSim still hasn’t materialized, but we have seen progress, of a sort, towards an OpenSim-specific viewer for OpenSim.
Firestorm is most popular third-party viewer out there for Second Life, and is also the most popular OpenSim viewer.
Since the viewer base is overwhelmingly in Second Life, and there’s a shortage of developers who can support the OpenSim platform, Firestorm has been going back and forth on OpenSim support this year.
It all started in July, when Firestorm announced they were forking the OpenSim viewer away from the Second Life viewer.
The OpenSim community was split about whether this was a good thing or not.
Anyway, it was all a moot point — Firestorm developers couldn’t support two different viewers, anyway.
But other developers have been working on OpenSim-specific viewers, including Dayturn.
While Dayturn was all about adding features, IMA’s new simplified SceneGate viewer was all about making things easier for newcomers.
Tag takes closed grid crown from InWorldz
The hypergrid continued its march to global OpenSim domination.
More than 93 percent of all active OpenSim users are on hypergrid-enabled grids, as are 97 percent of all regions. In addition, more than 80 percent of all content on the Kitely Market, for example, is exportable, meaning that is can be purchased by residents of nearly any grid, or taken to other grids via hypergrid teleport. In fact, exportable content has accounted for all the growth on the Kitely Market over the past four years, as the number non-exportable items has barely budged.
The only non-hypergrid grid of any size, InWorldz, had closed down in 2018, and its last attempt to survive, Islandz, shut down early this year.
Instead, another grid, Tag, stepped up as the new king of closed grids. Although its user base is a fraction of what InWorldz had at its peak, it still had nearly four times the active users of its closest competitor, DreamNation.
Plus, it’s the only grid other than Kitely with an online marketplace, though its market only serves its own residents.
Tag continued to cement its lead over the course of this year and reported growth in its marketplace, as well.
However, while many merchants embrace hypergrid deliveries, and reputable grid owners crack down on the sale of stolen items on their world, copyright protection continued to be an issue in OpenSim.
The problem isn’t unique to OpenSim, of course — most stolen content actually originates in Second Life, and is distributed there at a much larger scale than in OpenSim.
For creators, dealing with stolen content in OpenSim is often a waste of time. Instead of filing take down notices on a single grid, as with Second Life, they now have to learn the take down procedures on more than 300 different grids. Plus, given the relatively small size of the OpenSim user base, most probably feel that they aren’t losing enough money to worry about it. And if they don’t sell in OpenSim, they’re not actually losing any sales at all.
The biggest victims of stolen content, in fact, aren’t the original Second Life creators but those creators who do come to OpenSim. They wind up having to deal with not only the potential of seeing their own content stolen, but having to deal with the competition of free, stolen, brand-name content from Second Life.
When those creators get discouraged and give up on OpenSim, the entire community suffers.
This year, OpenSim grid owners have begun to organize and address the problem at its root, by identifying grid owners providing safe havens to content thieves and cutting off hypergrid access to those grids.
Here at Hypergrid Business, we’ve de-listed one of the biggest offenders from the monthly stats reports and active grid lists.
Google Plus shuts down
Unfortunately, while the OpenSim community was coming together to protect content creators, it was also split apart by the loss of one of the most popular social media platforms, Google Plus.
Unlike Facebook, Google Plus did not require real names. It also made it easy to share announcements with the public, and with specific Google Plus groups. It was also easy to stay on top of OpenSim news, by following individual groups and getting updates via email.
After Google Plus shut down in April, the OpenSim community splintered. Many alternatives, including MeWe and Discord, did not allow sharing with the public. Announcements would only be seen by existing group members, and couldn’t be easily shared with non-members, or via Twitter or other channels.
Facebook, meanwhile, has been plagued by privacy scandals — and by its penchant for deleting the accounts opened on behalf of Second Life and OpenSim avatars.
Despite these issues, Facebook has become the dominant channel for publicizing OpenSim events, simply because its the only platform accessible to the public.
The other major player on the scene is OpenSimWorld, where people can not only post descriptions of hypergrid destinations but also post event announcements. They also have a Twitter feed to make it easier to keep up with what’s going on.
The year in VR
OpenSim users are split as to how important virtual reality is to the future of OpenSim.
Part of the problem is that the underlying technology is designed to work on display screens, where uneven frame rates aren’t a significant problem. In VR, however, uneven frame rates or lag make the user feel that something is wrong with their eyesight. Maybe they were poisoned, and need to throw up?
Making your users nauseous is not a big selling point for a platform.
Consumer-oriented VR platforms, in general, have struggled to gain traction this year, plagued by immature technology, lack of content, and no clear killer applications. (Well, other than porn.)
Chief among them, High Fidelity, founded by original Second Life creator Philip Rosedale.
By the end of 2019, High Fidelity threw in the towel.
Despite that, some developers have been plugging away at VR support.
Should OpenSim be retro-fitted to work in VR? Should we port content and communities to some new platform, still to be created?
Or will Facebook, Apple, and Google carve up the virtual future among themselves, leaving the metaverse in private hands until such as an open alternative emerges once again? If it ever does.