I like impartial numbers. Their meaning is not always clear. But, they allow us to form our opinion on some unbiased information. It is up to us to be intellectually honest and consider all sides of our opinions. We hopefully get a rational perspective and keep our opinions within a real context. Is OpenSim replacing Second Life? Is Second Life doomed or about grow or just stagnate?
Yesterday, the 15th, Hypergrid Business published the article titled: OpenSim grids break records for regions; users. Sounds awesome. Of course it is a headline and I expect some hype. They published the following graph in the article to show the data they considered.
The total number of regions in all the grids is 16,959. This is about half the number of regions as Second Life, which is roughly 32,000. OSGrid is the largest single grid with 6,671. ScienceSim is next with 1,810. The stair-stepped saw tooth is from periodic data clean up. People add regions and eventually let them die. Every so often the grid owners clean up the data and registrations. The steps should be getting smaller as clean ups are becoming automated and more frequent.
OSGrid and I think ScienceSim now have Hypergrid connection. So, lumping all the OpenSim grids together is not as unfair a comparison as it may first seem. With a Hypergrid connection I can travel from OSGrid to ScienceSim just as I would teleport from one region of SL to another. My avatar keeps its appearance and my inventory travels along with me. There are some limits and bumps but basically that is the idea of Hypergrid. Not all the grids have a Hypergrid connection, so the total is something less than 16k. But, basically the OpenSim grids are becoming interconnected.
The article contains information on growth rates. The two fast growing grids are OSGrid and ScienceSim. These grids allow one to run a grid on their home computer and connect it to the grid for free, well donation based. Others offer connection based on monthly hosting fees and they provide servers for the SIM to run in. Very much like hosting for web sites.
We are seeing a price sensitivity affecting growth and retention rates. Avination and InWorldz both charge $60 per region. Both have currencies and are off the Hypergrid, like Second Life. Compare that to Second Life at $300 per region plus setup.
As Maria points out in the article Kitely is a commercial cloud based sim hosting company, which is growing quickly. The easy setup and low costs seem to be attractive to educators. The grid has no region-to-region teleport, voice, or economy. Those will come later. The low cost and ease of setup seem to overcome the lack of features. That gives us some clue as to what is important in virtual worlds. Also, it has a Facebook connection, which is apparently getting it recognition and new users.
All the indicators are OpenSim grids are growing and reaching new peaks of use.
How is Second Life doing? Second Life is big and has a market for vendors. The graph below shows Second Life in decline long term, about the last two and half years. The graph ends mid July 2011. For a little more than a year it seems to have bottomed out. Concurrency is flat. There may yet be an up tick this month but that won’t tell us much.
I tried to get links in the caption to each of the grids and its author’s site. But, this new WP 3.2 keeps stripping the links out of the caption, which sucks. See: Dwell On it Statistics
For years Second Life has had a great signup rate. The recent changes to the web site and the signup process have changed the rate. We see a significant change in the rate since the web site changed.
Previous to May the rate was about 10,000 per day. Now the rate is between 16,000 and 17,000 per day. That is a 60 to 70% increase. Significant.
On an empirical sense the number of concurrent users seems up, at least to me. The SL Viewer now hides the number of concurrent users, well… it doesn’t show a current logged in number. I choose to think the Lab was embarrassed and took the concurrency number off. But, TPV’s still show the number. I think it seems to be climbing, but that could be a wishful bias.
However, the graph below does not show an increase in the number of concurrent users. This has to be a concern for the Lab’s management.
Metaverse’s chart in their web site allows you to hover the mouse and get numeric values. Concurrency is showing just a slight average increase. The peak concurrency continues to decline. The minimum concurrency continues to increase.
See: Metaverse Business
The number of regions in Second Life is pretty much flat with a bit of downward trend. Metaverse’s graphs show the region counts. You can see regions are closing and opening with closing slightly more than openings.
Obviously the numbers show OpenSim grids are growing. If we consider all the grids together there is growth in virtual worlds like Second Life. The growth is nothing like what we see in social networks. I can make the argument that OpenSim is growing from people moving from SL to OpenSim. I think SL is somewhat the doorway to virtual worlds, at least in the OpenSim/SL style of worlds.
I think Linden Lab’s management has to be concerned with the lack of growth in SL. I suspect the great and wonderful new features coming to Second Life are things the management thinks will retain more users and give them more reasons to log in.
I see the addition of mesh as being multipurpose. It will improve the look of SL, ala Blue Mars. However, mesh gives professional modelers the tools they are used to having in other game worlds. So, just as Microsoft provided information and low cost tools for building software for Windows, so too will mesh provide better capabilities for building in SL. As professionals come into SL what can be done and what creativity will bring should boost SL’s appeal and usefulness.
Another aspect of SL is virtual world marketing. In clothes and fashion not only do we want to be able see a product, we want to know how it will look on us. How will this top look with this skirt? With these shoes? Many of these questions can be answered in a medium like a virtual world.
It is nice to think of us setting at our home computer trying on virtual clothes and then ordering the corresponding real life item on the net. I am sure that will happen. When I can’t sleep I can try on shoes at 3 o’clock in the morning until I doze off.
But, what about having the virtual world in our smart phone? Imagine having the store we are standing in deliver a virtual copy of a dress, top, or shoes to the phone. We can then have our avatar dawn the item and we can pull the belt and accessories from our inventory/closet and see how the outfit works. We would do this while we are in the store. If it does work, we could immediately head for a dressing room to check fit… what am I thinking? Of course my virtual butt is just as small as my avatar’s… obviously there is no need to check fit. Yeah… that will work… not.
With the addition of social networking we could also get the outfit together and get our girl friends’ opinions. With an APP sending an image or their logging into SL they could see what I’m seeing. Plus they would never have to know if we listened to them or not, as would be the problem of going shopping with a friend iRL, which is good and bad. We could buy or not without friendship pressure. A sale or hot new item could quickly go viral. How about this new Meeroos t-shirt?
Unfortunately I think management believes attempting to make SL more of a social network is the solution to user retention. But, just making another social network is not likely the answer. I like Google+ because it appears Google is providing a user interface that uses more smart phone touch style user interface features and is much more visually oriented. It provides an easier way to do things I want to do. It provides an easier way to make groups and communicate.
I don’t see the Lab or TPV Dev’s using new technology in the viewer interface. Will they? We don’t know.
I don’t see the Lab giving me more things I want to do or need to do or even ways to help with what I do now.
What appears to be the case is virtual worlds are stalled. Until we figure out how to make them more useful, handy, and entertaining, I think they will remain stalled. We’ll see what bright ideas they have at SLCC.