OpenSim vs Second Life vs Minecraft

Hamlet in an article on New World Notes titled OpenSim Gaining Regions… But Not Gaining Many Users makes a point about user numbers for OpenSim. They are apparently decreasing while the region count is increasing.

OpenSim vs Second Life vs Minecraft

It is hard to know what is happening with user numbers in Second Life. From my empirical experience I would say they are growing because I meet so many new people now, but it is hard to find real numbers to back up that opinion. What I do think is coming clear is the nature of OpenSim and the reasons for the popularity of Second Life.


I have nine regions in OSGrid, an OpenSim world. I’ve had them for over year. In that time I’ve had probably 50 visitors, more or less. I have a count if I would bother to look it up.

As I write this there are 125 users in world now and about 3,300+ have logged in in the last 30 days.

That doesn’t really matter to me because I have those regions for myself. My regions are a place for me to build, create, and test things. If someone comes by to see what’s there, great and if not, OK.

I don’t sell things in OSGrid. I do have stuff I give away. Things I plan to sell in Second Life are secured, mostly meaning I don’t leave a copy in the region.

Once sold or given away I have no control over them. The problem of protecting things is impossible if they are shared or sold. Its bad enough if I just have them out in my region.

Since I run a SIM I know I can bring something to my region, rez it, make a backup of the region, bring that backup up in an offline SIM and use a viewer modified for content export to export it. I can do anything I want because in the offline SIM I have control of the asset database and can change permissions at will. So, I don’t even have to use hacked viewer.

Selling in OpenSim worlds is a problem for most of us. The currency systems are often shaky or shady. They have been difficult to set up. In my opinion it is impossible to know if you have the system secure. So, if you want to sell things, you have to move your regions to a commercial hosting company and hope they know what they are doing. It feels risky to most of us.

The result of all this is most OpenSim users are land owners and creators. There are almost no residents, no customers, no explorers that are not land owners. OpenSim is for those that want to create and cannot or will not pay the cost to be in Second Life. That effectively turns OpenSim into another preview or beta grid for Second Life.

Second Life

Second Life has the customers, explorers, artists, creators, and merchants.

While it is debatable whether content in Second Life is secure, it is more secure than in the OpenSim worlds. Most importantly it is perceived as more secure by most SL users.

The currency system is run by Linden Lab and region/land owners are not burdened with setting up and securing a financial system. That worry of whether it is secure is not on the land or shop owner. It is obviously in the Lab’s interest to make it secure and keep it working. Whether it is a real or a false sense of security is mostly a matter of opinion, but since the majority of SL users are using it, it is obviously a workable system.


It is hard to know who is leading in development of virtual worlds. As to what is working and being used there is no doubt it is Second Life. But, OpenSim has areas of virtual world development where they are leading. One area is the Hypergrid.

If you don’t know, the Hypergrid is a grid of grids, meaning I can travel from OSGrid to In-Worldz to Avination to … I don’t know whether Avination and In-Worldz participate in the Hypergrid, but OSGrid does. This means I can log into OSGrid, put on my best clubbing outfit, and go party in another participating grid. I can teleport there. I don’t have to log out and in. When I get there I will still have my shape and clothes.

Second Life and IBM were developing the technology up until a year or two ago. One may conclude they could not see a way to protect IP rights and get a currency system working that could be kept secure. Since it was probably going to endanger their current system they dropped the Hypergrid idea. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back.

Several of the features in use in OpenSim are coming to Second Life. We talk about those things as the tools used to build Linden Realms. Both OpenSim and Second Life are making usable NPC’s (Non-Player-Characters) and improving the NPC’s navigation and Artificial Intelligence.

Both have mesh.

But in many ways OpenSim plays catch-up as the Lab blazes a path with viewer and server development. Physics in Second life and OpenSim is about walking and bumping into things. In most of the OpenSim worlds I’ve been in walking is a problem. The physics sucks.

Second Life uses Havok, a third party software, to provide physics. OpenSim uses ODE or Bullet to provide physics, both open source projects. The polish in Havok and the improved performance is blatantly obvious. I use ODE in my regions.

In SL I look for the best female wiggle …er… walk. In OpenSim I fall to my knees and stumble continuously when walking on terrain. Any walk there looks silly.

The pace of development in open source is slow… painfully slow. In Second Life it is moving at an amazing pace. That is the difference between using volunteer programmers and paid programmers or said another way part time verse full time programmers. The time on a problem has an effect on the code written. There are lots of debatable aspects to that I won’t get into.

The Future

The future for both OpenSim and Second Life is up to their creators. If they can figure out how to appeal to people and provide something they want to use, they will grow.

I think the popularity of Minecraft shows the potential. In November Minecraft’s Statistics Will Crush Your Mind was published. It has some amazing stats.

  • 241,920,000 logins per month
  • 1,000 logins per hour
  • 4000 logins per second after 1.0 launch
  • 2,000,000,000 files download by the launcher
  • 11,000 skin downloads (in game) per second

Minecraft is a creative game. People love it. That is obvious from the stats. They make stuff out of cubes and by chipping away at cubes. Second Life has way better cubes. We can do more with the cubes we have. So, why aren’t people beating down the door to Second Life? Lots of speculation on that…

The stats for SL sign ups show lots of people are interested. They don’t stay. There are studies on what keeps people in SL and why people leave. If OpenSim and Second Life developers can create a MineLife and consider the studies and other game development knowledge in its design, they could capture a significant market share.

I think if some viewer development team split off the user interface, redesigned it and used the various API’s used to create limited access regions/games using the Second Life engines and asset servers then they could build a Minecraft knock-off. Is this the other creative products Linden Lab is considering?

It could explain why the viewer development team is in seclusion and why the new Flexibile User Interface popped out as a surprise. The Lab wants to get there first and capture the initial share of users. Then some free market type viewer developer types will start to compete. After all… if current SL users won’t pay for the Kirsten viewer but people around the world will pay US$20 for Mincraft (that turns into something like 4,685,109 purchases or $40 million) some smart implementation of a simple builder game for SL where people could get their money back might sell for US$50…

There are possibilities.

10 thoughts on “OpenSim vs Second Life vs Minecraft

    • I am.

      I’m not surprised that you often do not meet people while exploring. There are more regions than people. While OpenSim regions have lots going for them, social activity is rather limited, which is why I say it is for creative types that want to own land and build.

      I seldom have my regions online lately. I’m in Blender making models… well, trying. Its more learning than making. I only start the regions and put them online when I have something to test. You can follow some of the Myst-Uru group that is building in OSGrid at Devokan Trust.

  1. Nalates —

    Hamlet Au used two data points to support his point of view — Hippo usage stats from 2009 and this month’s active users totals, which, this month, didn’t include InWorldz or New World Grid since those two grids didn’t report them. since InWorldz is the most active grid out there, this really threw the numbers off this month.

    So he was not only comparing apples and oranges, but picking the worst possible month to compare them — the same comparison made a month ago would have looked 5,000 people better.

    But even that is putting aside the point that NOBODY knows how many users OpenSim has because there’s no way to track them — the viewers don’t track them, doesn’t track them. Only a few big social grids track their users — not the hundreds of thousands of private school, company and personal grids. And those are growing at a furious pace, with thousands of downloads of the popular Diva Distro and Sim-on-a-Stick, which are both used to create mini-grids. Plus there are dozens of OpenSim vendors out there setting up large corporate grids and school grids for people. ReactionGrid, one of those vendors, says they’re running “hundreds” of OpenSim grids.

    So the number of grids is growing fast. The number of active public social grids has tripled since I started keeping track. And the number of active users on those social grids is growing. And region counts are just exploding — getting set to pass SL’s private regions.

    So I’d say that OpenSim is doing OK. Not Minecraft okay. But pretty good for a platform that nobody knows about and nobody can figure out how to use!

    • Your point is well taken. Your graphs in a recent article show the upward trend over several years. So, you are correct there is a growth trend. However, 2011’s growth was impressive but so was the following drop in users. Now growth seems to have flattened. It will be 3 to 4 more months until I can see whether the several year trend line you drew is continuing.

      Drawing trend lines to make predictions is not particularly accurate. I’ll also point out that if one uses a two month period for a basis of trend direction change we see that what is happening in the numbers is very much undecided. Prediction seldom works well.

      Possible Trends

      I noticed that last year’s trend is very much as Hamlet describes. Through most of 2011 OpenSim grids lost users.

      The last year’s trend in OpenSim regions very much appears to be a duplicate of SL’s from the last several years. I think that suggests several things.

      As OpenSim is doing OK, so too is SL. Neither are Minecraft ok, as you so aptly said. The change in demographics and user habits is making it hard to know what is actually happening in SL with any accuracy.

      Your point about a lack of data for OpenSim is also well taken. But, what we do have suggests what is happening. You have looked at it and taken it in a positive way. When I look at what numbers we do have I see them differently. I see a trend that may have broken in 2011 or 2011 may be an aberration and the mulit-year trend will continue. I just don’t know.

      I think that operators of grids and regions pay attention to their stats. That none of them are bragging or making them public suggests they are not overly proud of them.

      OSGrid makes their numbers available on the home page. I always find it interesting that they have more regions than logged in or even recently logged in users.

  2. I think that should probably be “hundred or thousands”. OpenSim advocate I may be, but I see little evidence of universities, businesses, etc adopting at the “hundreds of thousands” level.

    I think RG said they were running “hundreds of virtual worlds” — which was an odd phrase to use in some ways. I certainly know of one academic with a multi-region private grid hosted there but it’s unfortunate that the rest choose to remain hidden.

    OpenSim has a whole raft of things currently missing from SL (region modules, C#, OSSL functions, OAR and IAR files, simonastick, forced teleports, NPCs) but depends on LL for most of the viewer code. Imprudence is on something of a hiatus but that’s OK — I get grid access, mesh, MOAP, FUI, etc from Dolphin.

    Bullet and to some extent vehicles are still a work-in-progress afaik but I don’t in any case recognise the problems your avatar has in walking.

    • You make several good points and I agree OpenSim has many features not in SL.

      I see the walking problem in all the regions I visit. If it were just my regions, I would assume I have something mis-configured. I suppose that could be something in my computer or connection. I’ve asked but, I’ll ask more often. It may be me.

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