Should MMOs & Virtual Worlds Use Amazon AppStream? A Pioneering Developer Weighs the Pros & Cons

AppStream Virtual World MMO

Can Amazon AppStream effectively replace OnLive's SL Go? There was a lot of talk around that question recently, and I put it to Cristina Videira Lopes (aka Diva Canto), a Xerox PARC alum who's now an ICS professor at UC Irvine and a longtime innovator in virtual worlds. She deferred on whether AppStream was right to stream Second Life in particular, preferring to talk about using AppStream for commercial applications of virtual environments. (Which she uses, as it happens, for her OpenSim-based world.)

Short version? The main obstacle is cost: At the moment, AppStream costs 83 cents an hour per user, so much more expensive than SL Go. So AppStream is probably not a good fit for extended use -- but appropriate for virtual world use for shorter, business/real world/educational based applications.

Anyway, here's Diva's full breakdown:

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OpenSim Usage See Relative Monthly User Growth

InWorldz OpenSim world

OpenSim, the open source spin-off of Second Life, passed 30,000 active users last month, according to HyperGrid Business, which represents a relative growth spurt from 2012, when it was floundering with around 15,000 active users. The largest OpenSim world is InWorldz with 8,212 active users, which is not surprising, as that one is probably the most consumer-facing. Notwithstanding HyperGrid's "record-breaking month for OpenSim" language, it's still worth keeping in mind this is relative growth for OpenSim, but compared to the larger market for 3D avatar-based worlds, not so much. With 30,000 monthly OpenSim users, for instance, more people still use Second Life at any given moment than use OpenSim for an entire month. (Median daily  concurrency for Second Life is around the 40,000 range, according to Grid Survey.)

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Radegast, Light Client for SL & OpenSim, Seeking Successor

Radegast Second Life viewer

Radegast, a lightweight viewer for Second Life and OpenSim, ceased development a few months ago, as lead developer Latif Khalifa withdrew due to reported RL health reasons. "Radegast is open source," Latif noted in the departure announcement, "so if there is interest people could continue improving it." So far it seems no one has taken up the reigns, which is a shame, as it could be a good alternative for running SL applications on a low-end machine (possibly on mobile?)

Hat tip on this to Snickers Snook, who gave me some more background via Twitter:

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DX Exchange Now Open for Selling OpenSim Grid Currency

DX Exchange Open Sim

DX Exchange (a proud NWN partner) has just opened its virtual currency trading service up to OpenSim grids, starting with the Sunlight Grid (based in France). So now OpenSim grid operators can sell their currency through DX Exchange. (And if you own an OpenSim, and you're interested in using this service on your grid, drop an e-mail to support@dxexchange.com.)

For consumers, the purchase process is pretty simple:

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New OpenSim Viewer With Customizable UI for Non-SLers

Onlook open sim viewer

The OnLook viewer is a new OpenSimulator viewer lead developed by Cristina Videira Lopes, an OpenSim pioneer and Xerox PARC alum who's now an ICS professor at UC Irvine -- known as Diva Canto in the metaverse. As she announced a few weeks ago, the special thing about OnLook is it allows UI customization, so users don't have to deal with the confusing Second Life interface that OpenSim viewers are based around:

The idea here is to allow OpenSim operators to have more control over the experience that their users will have; specifically, I want to be able to design much simpler user interfaces that are more appropriate for people who have no experience with Second Life and/or may be even uncomfortable with seeing themselves as avatars. But more importantly that any specific UI, I want to be able to provide those UI specifications dynamically as the user enters the simulator, rather than being hard-coded during the viewer’s build process. This way, we can change the UI without forcing users to install new versions of the viewer. And no one needs to agree on any specific UI.

This is super important for a number of reasons:

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Developer Uses OpenSim to Create 3D Art for RL Card Game

OpenSim make RL game content

OK this is seriously cool, and a great real world application of OpenSim, the open source spinoff of Second Life: Subquark, an Australian development studio, used Sim-on-a-Stick to create 3D art for a real life card game, Mint Tin Aliens, which they developed. (As depicted above, and blogged about here.) Sim-on-a-Stick, as the name suggests, is a portable version of OpenSim, making it easy to create and transport 3D art files at an extremely low cost. (You could use Second Life for doing this, but thanks to SL's thorny IP rights, you'd have to create the 3D content on a simulator you were paying for, and make sure you had the underlying rights to the all the 3D content used in your 3D art.) For that matter, standard 3D modeling software tools come with their own high costs and licensing challenges.

This isn't a conjectural application, by the way, because this game actually already exists: "It was used for the final deck of Mint Tin Aliens and six copies of that game have already been sold," exlains Ener Hax, who did the OpenSim development.

See for yourself:

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Japanese-Themed Hosoi Ichiba Sims Leave SL for Kitely

Clarrice_cinquetti_in_virgin_island

Hosoi Ichiba, a Japanese-themed SL market which supported six very beautiful sims, has entirely left Second Life, moving to the OpenSim-based Kitely. The sims had attracted a community of some 150-200 SLers, owner Amiryu Hosoi tells me, "All very active in samurai, geisha and villagers roles", but the collapsing real world economy made it difficult for Hosoi to maintain those islands.

During its heyday, he says, "There were months Hosoi Ichiba earned about $4000 USD/month and every dime flooded back in the project... I had 5 people working for me assisting customers and helping them find what they needed." Then the bottom started to fall out:

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New Singularity Viewer Lets SL Creators Convert & Export Their Prim-Based Works to Unity 3D & Other Top Platforms

Everyone who's ever created prim-based objects in Second Life or OpenSim which are important to them (especially educators, developers, and other professionals), needs to read this blog post by ex-Linden Lab evangelist John "Pathfinder" Lester and watch the video below, both of which explain how to convert a prim-based object in Second Life or Opensim into a mesh object, and export it to your hard drive. This is seriously important for reasons he and I will explain below, but click Play below now to get the party started:

The latest update of the third party Singularity viewer (which you can download for free here) includes a killer feature which lets users export their prim-based creations from SL or OpenSim into Blender, Unity3D and other industry standard modeling applications and game engines. If it works as well as Pathfinder explains (and I have no reason to doubt that), this is a great solution for content creators who want to truly own the prim-based works they make in SL. (Instead of leaving them as data that only exists on Linden Lab's servers, which users don't own or control.)

Control isn't the only factor here, because commercial and audience viability is too -- the Unity 3D engine, for instance, has a much much larger userbase than Second Life. And for John Lester, who was Linden Lab's education evangelist, this Singularity viewer technology is a (relatively) easy way for folks like him to jump into this larger market:

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InWorldz Pays Ex-Linden Programmer Karl Stiefvater to Add Mesh Deformer (While His Crowdfunded-Code for SL Lies Dormant)

SL Mesh Deformer Qarl Linden

Once upon a time, thousands of SL users held a crowdfunder so that ex-Linden programmer Karl "Qarl Fizz" Stiefvater could create mesh deformer code for the Second Life viewer, so that mesh-based clothes would fit avatars better. He created that code last year, but last I heard, it has not been implemented into the viewer. (And as I recall, probably never will. Someone correct me if that's wrong.) Now comes this news:

The creators of Inworldz, a commercial OpenSim virtual world based in large part on open sourced Second Life code, have paid Karl themselves to add his mesh deformer to their own viewer. Here's Karl with the word on his own blog, along with the code itself.

This is ironic on many fronts:

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OpenSim Still Shows Little Meaningful User Growth

OpenSim Users

In January 2012, HyperGrid Business' Maria Korolov estimated there were 15,700 active OpenSim users. In a new post, Mr. Korolov published active user stats for the 10 most popular OpenSim grids (as at left), and they show very little growth from over the last year and a half: About 18,200 (plus maybe a few hundred more from even smaller grids). So growth of about 3,000 users in 16 months, which is so tiny as to be (as Clay Shirky once put it, describing Second Life growth) a rounding error. Speaking of Second Life, SL still gains about 400,000 new users... a month. This continues a trend of flat growth from Open Sim, for in 2009, an expert insider with the development community confirmed my estimate back then that the userbase was 15,000.

None of this is to be critical of OpenSim developer community, which have come up with some very cool and interesting applications, like sim-on-a-stick. However, this cold water needs to be thrown, and here's why:

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