An Obscured Opportunity: Opensim and Content Creators

Opensim is a compelling platform for virtual world development.  And some new technologies have recently popped up that could potentially make Opensim even more compelling.

Tipodean has launched a preview of their web-based viewer.  And Kitely just opened its doors for people to create on-demand Opensim installations.

Opensim continues to grow, bringing both new opportunities and new challenges.

Content Creators and Opensim – Here There Be Dragons

Opensim poses a very real challenge for content creators who are used to selling and distributing their products in Second Life.  The permissions system in Second Life offers a reasonably decent DRM solution, allowing content creators to specify exactly how their products can or cannot be shared among other people within Second Life itself.  And Linden Lab responds to DMCA takedown notices to deal with illegally copied content that slips through the cracks.

But in Opensim?  Here there be dragons.  Permissions systems can be circumvented by less reputable Opensim grid owners.  Content can flow between grids in ways that strip the original creator’s name from an object’s metadata.  And content can sometimes be found that, while appearing to be freely copyable, is actually being distributed freely without the consent of the original creator.

This situation is not too bad for folks using Opensim as a way to distribute content licensed for creative commons or public domain use.  But for content creators looking for the same DRM safety net that they currently have in Second Life, the situation with Opensim is less than optimal.

These are all technical challenges for the Opensim core developers. Over time I have no doubt we’ll see new types of DRM solutions evolving in Opensim that will put content creators more at ease.  There are also various commercial Opensim grids that have ways of implementing DRM for people selling content within their own grids (the downside being that only users of their grids can use this content).

But I think all this fear of dragons is obscuring a broad opportunity for content creators and Opensim as a whole.

How the Rest of the World deals with the Distribution of 3d Content

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring the world of 3d content development outside of Opensim.  I’ve been using Unity3d to develop virtual worlds using ReactionGrid’s web-based Jibe platform.  You can even check out my own Jibe world if you’d like to see what I’ve been building.

With Unity3d, as well as in any other professional 3d development platform, you build environments that use industry-standard mesh models.  There’s a huge amount of commercially available mesh models for folks to purchase on many different commercial websites.  If you need something, and you lack the skills to create it yourself, it’s probably out there for sale somewhere.

And almost none of it has any DRM.

All these mesh-based items for sale typically have very clear and explicit licensing agreements.  But that’s basically it.  Content creators generally rely on legal agreements to protect the use of these creations, not any kind of DRM.

Many professional and hobbyist 3d artists make a good living selling their 3d content on the web in this fashion.  It’s a business model that works.  If it wasn’t, you simply wouldn’t see so many commercial websites selling content like this.

And I personally think it’s a business model that holds a lot of potential for creators of content in Opensim.

If it’s easier and more enjoyable to buy it than to steal it, people will buy it.

The devil is in the details, of course.  You need to create systems that let people easily buy and use content.  Apple and Amazon have learned this, which is why they are very successful at selling DRM-free music.  So have very large and successful 3d content sites like Turbosquid.

The only thing worse than piracy is obscurity

Right now, I see very few people selling DRM-free content for use in Opensim.  Most content creators are probably afraid that any content they sell for use in Opensim might escape out into the wild, or even be copied illegally into Opensim from Second Life without their knowledge.  And that’s a valid concern, absolutely.

But I think the opportunity to sell content to people who want to legitimately buy it and use it in Opensim far outweighs the downside of illegal copies floating around.  Not just in terms of making money from sales that otherwise would never have happened, but also in the fact that you will be building awareness of your brand and content.

And if you discover someone has a pirated copy of your work, definitely file a DMCA takedown notice.  But consider reaching out to such people in more thoughtful and creative ways.  You might be surprised at the results.

Mind the Dragons, but don’t let them Rule you through Fear

At best, DRM helps to keep honest people honest.  If someone really wants to illegally copy 3d content, there’s no technical way to stop them.  That’s simply the technical nature of digital media.  The best way to deal with illegal copies of any kind of digital media is through effective laws and legal process.  DMCA is a step in the right direction, but the legal world still has a ways to go in catching up to the world of digital media.

If you are a content creator and are not comfortable selling any of your 3d content for Opensim use without effective DRM, then by all means don’t do it.  But don’t let your fears obscure your ability to see new opportunities.

Think about dipping your toes in the water and selling some things, or even just giving a few things away for free.  Put up a website that makes it easy for folks to buy and download your products for use in Opensim.  Publicize it.  See how much money you make and how many new customers you get.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester

If you are a content developer and are selling DRM-free content for general use in Opensim, please let me know in the comments.  I’d be happy to add a link to your website in this blog post to help raise awareness of your business.

Encouraging Exploration in Virtual Worlds: The Subtle Power of Sound (and chickens)

One of the most beautiful qualities of virtual worlds is that they are perceptually immersive.

By simulating environments that mirror reality, virtual worlds can evoke in us a surprisingly strong sense of place and space.  We feel like we’re “really there.”

But one thing that is sometimes overlooked in the design of virtual worlds is the fact that we perceive the world not just visually but also through our sense of hearing.

The ambient sound of wind and bird chatter in a forest.  The subtle creak of a wooden floor as we walk across a room.  The cracking of a fire in the distance.

Ambient and contextually relevant sounds can make any virtual world a much more immersive place.  We often don’t notice them consciously.  But when such sounds are absent, we usually feel like something is missing.

My primary interest in virtual worlds is immersive education.  Teaching through storytelling that naturally unfolds as a person explores the world around them.  Encouraging people to discover new things by creating environments that engage them.  And a big part of creating any immersive learning experience is making sure that it is perceptually immersive in as many ways as possible.

Rewarding Explorers

I’m currently spending a lot of time learning how to create multiuser virtual worlds on the web using Jibe and Unity3d.  I’ve been building out my own Jibe world and testing different ways to make it more engaging.

In my experience, the best way to encourage exploration in a virtual world is to simply reward people for exploring it.

I’ve been doing this by placing a few interesting little scenes to discover in my virtual world.  Some of them you will just stumble upon as you walk around.  But others call attention to themselves in subtle ways.

Visual cues, especially movements, are very useful ways to indicate “hey, come over here and check this out!”  But never forget the additional power of sounds.

What was that?  Did you hear something over there?

You may notice that I’ve got a lot of animals in my Jibe world.  This isn’t just because I like animals.  I’ve placed animals everywhere simply because animals both move and make sounds.  And those characteristics in a virtual world make it feel more alive.

Worlds that feel alive are worlds people love to spend time in and explore.

How to add sounds in Jibe and Unity3d

In Jibe and Unity3d, you can embed sound files in any object in the world.  These sounds sources exist in 3d, which means they can be perceived the same way we perceive sounds in the physical world.  Sounds get louder the closer you get to them.  And you hear things spatially when using stereo speakers or headphones.

You can learn all the details of how sounds work in Unity3d by checking out the Unity3d manual entry on sound. But here’s a quick crash course on how to add a basic looping sound to a specific object.

Crash Course in Sound Design: The Chicken

Chickens are awesome.  Visually, they move in very interesting ways.  And they make great sounds.  So I definitely wanted some chickens in my Jibe world.

1) Find a nice animated 3d model of a chicken.

I searched the Unity Asset Store but alas, no chickens.  However, I found a great animated chicken model for sale on the web.  I bought it, downloaded it, and placed it in my Jibe world using the Unity editor.

I made her super-sized because I wanted folks to easily see the model detail.  But my chicken lacked sounds.  Bummer.

2) Find a chicken sound.

If you’re looking for sounds that are free and Creative Commons licensed, I highly recommend checking out FreeSound.  I searched FreeSound for chicken sounds and found a nice WAV file of a chicken clucking.

Just one problem.  The sound file was too long and large.  Remember, when you are deploying a Jibe world, size matters.  The more you add to your world in the Unity editor, the slower your Jibe world will load on the web.  Remember this fact when you are adding sound files.  You’ll always want them to be as short and small as possible.

3) Edit the chicken sound.

I love Audacity.  It’s a free and open source program for recording and editing sound files.  So I opened up my chicken WAV file in Audacity and cut it down to a very short clip that looped nicely.  I also saved it in Ogg Vorbis format so it was compressed and as small as possible.

4) Get the chicken sound into my Jibe project file in Unity.

I opened up my Jibe project file in the Unity editor, went the Assets menu at the top of the screen, and chose Import New Asset.  Then I found my chicken sound on my hard drive and selected it.

You can now see the short chicken sound file sitting in my Project folder, and the details of the sound file in the Inspector window.

5) Get the chicken sound into the chicken.

I dragged the short chicken sound file from the Project folder onto the chicken model in my Scene window.  Then I viewed the new details of the chicken model in the Inspector window.

There’s the sound file in my chicken.  I turned on the loop function, and I was done.

6) Enjoy and learn more!

You can visit my chicken in my Jibe world on the web.  And if you’d like to join a community of people interested in creating virtual worlds using Jibe and Unity3d, please check out my Jibe and Unity3 Google Group.

If you are designing a virtual world, spend some time not only thinking about how it should look but also how it should sound.   Got a fire?  Make sure it has a nice crackling sound.  Building a train station?  Add ambient sounds of crowds and trains.  You’ll be giving your users a much richer experience.  And maybe you’ll learn some new tricks along the way.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Unity Asset Store

It’s important for people to identify their own talents and cultivate them whenever possible.

And likewise, it’s important for people to realize where they lack talent.

Personally, I’m terrible at 3d content creation.

I’ve tried very hard to learn various 3d modeling programs in the past, and I continue to push myself at doing my best to use them.  But I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that, aside from being able to whip up the basics, I definitely lack the artistic talent and technical prowess to create beautifully detailed 3d models from scratch.  I’ll always be a hack.

But that’s OK.  I’ve stopped worrying about it.

Because the trick is to accept one’s limitations while finding ways to work around them.

My Best Friend in Jibe: The Unity3d Asset Store

I’ve recently been learning how to use Unity3d to create my own multiuser virtual world on the web with Jibe.  And I just started using the Unity Asset Store.

The Unity Asset Store is a place to buy things you can import and use in your own Unity3d projects.  Anyone can submit items to be sold, too.

Pretty neat, right?  Well, it gets much more interesting.

The clever folks at Unity decided to integrate the Asset Store with the Unity editor.

Hello, my friend!

So while you’re busily working on your world in the editor, you can simply pull up the Asset Store from the menu, search for something, buy it, and have it immediately dropped into your project file.  And if you lose or break something you previously bought, have no fear.  The Asset Store remembers that you bought it and can send it to you again whenever you like.

Of course, anyone can find 3d models for sale or freely available on many different websites.  I do that all the time, and it works great.  But it can sometimes get complicated depending on different import settings and optimizations.  With the Unity Asset Store, I’m guaranteed everything will work in Unity3d.  And the store is right there for me to access while I’m actively building my world, at the precise moment I need new content.

“Hmm.  I need wildlife in my Jibe world.  Like rabbits.”

“Oh look, there’s one in the Asset Store.”


I get excited about technology.  But I get even more excited when I find tools that have a very positive philosophy behind them.  The Unity Asset Store is a great example of how the folks at Unity are thinking very carefully about how to best empower people who want to create engaging 3d experiences.  Connect, integrate, and build communities where everyone can best leverage their unique talents.  That’s a great philosophy in my book.

Jibe + Unity3d = Sharing your World

At ReactionGrid, we like to think we too have a very positive philosophy.  We give people the tools to create and then share their virtual worlds with others.  Being able to easily publish your vision on the web is pretty amazing, and I’m having a great time putting myself in our customers’ shoes.  Learning by doing.

Visit my Jibe world and see if you can find my fully rigged and animated mesh models of rabbits, courtesy of the Unity Asset Store.  I’ll be using them and other animal models to tell a little story over time for folks exploring my Jibe world.

Creating fun and immersive learning experiences through storytelling is something I can do pretty well.  Thankfully, I don’t need to be a 3d model expert to create engaging  experiences in Jibe.

And guess what?  Neither do you.

Join our Jibe and Unity3d Discussion Group and learn how easy it is to get started!

New Group to discuss Virtual Worlds on the Web using Unity3d and Jibe

I’ve just started a new Google Group for folks interested in creating virtual worlds on the web using Jibe and Unity3d.   You can join it here.

Unity3d is a very popular professional game development platform for creating 3d environments.  Jibe is a platform that we’ve developed at ReactionGrid to allow anyone to deploy multiuser virtual worlds on the web that are built with Unity3d.

Unity3d and Jibe have some really cool affordances for developing immersive and interactive projects, particularly for educators.  The worlds are accessible from a web browser, voice and text chat are both available, all content is based on industry-standard mesh models, and you can write scripts in C# and JavaScript.  There are also ways to integrate a Jibe world with web-based CMS /LMS systems, and future versions of Jibe will also support deployment on things like iPads and other mobile platforms.

I’m not a professional 3d content creator, and I can barely script my way out of a paper bag.  But I’ve managed to create my own Jibe world online.  Learning Jibe and Unity3d is not insanely hard.  Anyone can do it, really.

Which is precisely why I’ve started the Jibe and Unity3d Google Group.  I’ll be posting my own experiences to the group and sharing resources that I’ve found very useful.  Bring your questions and creative ideas.  Let’s build a supportive and helpful community together!

And if you’d like to listen to a presentation I recently gave at VWBPE on the educational affordances of web-based virtual worlds, Jibe and Unity3d, please take a look at this video:

Augmented Cities and Dreaming Wisely

Technology has amazing potential to help us be more human.  And with virtual worlds, we have the ability to shape our embodiment and create environments that convey a great deal of emotional bandwidth.  There are many challenges in building such worlds, and we need to view these new spaces with a fresh perspective.  But I believe the unique affordances of virtual worlds will make all of our work worth it in the end.

In the future, I see the meeting of augmented reality and virtual worlds as a key intersection.  Once we have the ability to view the world around us through “augmented reality glasses” that combine the physical and virtual in our daily lives, things will get really interesting.

And I have no doubt that such technology will eventually arrive.  It’s just a matter of time.

For a mind-blowing vision of what this future may look like, check out this video called “Augmented City.”

This brilliant video was created by Keiichi Matsuda, a designer and filmmaker who studies the implications of emerging technologies on human perception and the physical environment.  Notice how the guy in the video can shape his environment, combining virtual architecture with the physical world around him.  I love the use of the yellow hashmark lines as a visual cue for “don’t try to walk here!”  A very clever way to safely indicate borders between physical spaces and the virtual.

If you’re wondering why the video looks a little funny, that’s because it was filmed to be viewed in 3d using red/blue anaglyph glasses.  You can pick up a nice pair of them for about 5 bucks on Amazon.

Now, imagine someday being able to go to Amazon and buy a similarly cheap pair of “augmented reality glasses.”  We’re probably about 20 years away from that day, but it will happen.  The first handheld cellphone cost $3,995.  Today, you can get one that fits in your pocket for $7.

Many of us (myself included) are working on the development of virtual worlds, both the underlying technology as well as figuring out innovative ways to use them.  I think the trick for all of us working with virtual worlds right now is to not only focus on building out the technology, but to also carefully think through how they might be integrated into our daily lives.  We still have many lessons to learn on how we can best use them to improve the world and augment our ability to deeply connect with other people.

The lessons we learn today will shape tomorrow.  So we must dream wisely.

What have you learned in your work with virtual worlds?  What are your dreams of the future?

My Office Hour in your Browser

Welcome to Jibe!

We’ve been working very hard at ReactionGrid on our virtual world platform called Jibe.

Jibe is a great way to give people access to virtual worlds through a web browser, and future versions will support mobile devices and even game consoles.  You use the Unity3D editor to create environments in Jibe, and I’ve been having a lot of fun learning how to use it as well as finding cool places to get reusable 3D mesh content.

I now have my own Jibe-based virtual world online and accessible by anyone who wants to visit.  So I’m officially expanding my weekly Office Hours to include a couple new meetings each week that I’ll be hosting in my Jibe world.  See my Office Hours webpage for all the updated details.

You can visit my Jibe world even if I’m not around.  Just open it in your web browser and have fun exploring.  I’m still building it out, so please mind the mess.  I plan to add some fun games and hidden secrets in the future.  Hope to see you there!

Sitting at my workbench in Jibe. And yes, having a fire that close to my spaceship is probably a bad idea.

Special Hypergrid Adventurers Club Meeting – March 13: Exploring Hypergrid 1.5

The Hypergrid Adventurers Club has its home on the region Pathlandia on jokaydiaGRID.  That’s where we start all our meetings, and where we begin our jumps to other grids on the Hypergrid.

Our challenge right now is the fact that the Hypergrid is currently fragmented into three different protocol versions (HG 1.0, HG 1.5 i6 and HG 1.5 i7).  If you are on a grid running one of these versions of the Hypergrid protocol, you can make hypergrid jumps to other grids running the same version.  But you cannot jump between grids running different versions.

All of the grids hosted by ReactionGrid (which includes jokaydiaGRID) are currently running HG 1.0.  We’re pretty conservative about upgrading things at ReactionGrid, since the majority of our customers are educators and businesses who value stability above all else.  While many people are successfully running grids using the newer HG 1.5 i6 and HG 1.5 i7 versions, we’ve found in the past that serious bugs often only become apparent when running larger grids.  So we’re still waiting for the dust to settle before we upgrade things at ReactionGrid and the 100+ grids that we host for other people.

But in the meantime, there’s a lot of cool stuff on HG 1.5 grids that we want to explore with the Hypergrid Adventurers Club!  Fortunately, our club has pioneering members who have set up outposts on the network of HG 1.5 i6 grids.  So for our March 13 meeting, we’re going to explore two of those outposts.

What you need to do to explore HG 1.5 i6 with us on March 13

Our two meetings on Sunday, March 13 (5pm+10pm GMT) will begin on the region HyperBase42 on NeoGrid.  NeoGrid has been set up by Neo Cortex, and he is designing it as a convenient place for hypergrid explorers to begin their exploration of HG 1.5 i6 compatible grids.

If you already have an account on a HG 1.5 i6 based grid, you can reach our meeting on NeoGrid by logging in to that account and hypergrid jumping to this address:

If you don’t have an account on a HG 1.5 i6 based grid, you can sign up for a new avatar account on Hyperbase42 by going to this account creation page.  Neo has to approve each account, so be sure to register your new account as soon as possible to it will be ready for Sunday’s meetings.

Once you’ve created an account on NeoGrid, you can log directly into it using the following settings in Imprudence’s Grid Manager tool:

For the first 30 minutes of our meeting, we’ll hang out on Hyperbase42 and get a tour of all the hard work that Neo Cortex has been putting in to the space.  Then our group will make a hypergrid jump to explore Vanish Seriath’s HG 1.5 i6 compatible TGIB grid.

The home base of the Hypergrid Adventurers Club will always be the region Pathlandia on jokaydiaGRID.  But until all the different versions of the hypergrid are sorted out, we’ll occasionally have more meetings like this in the future.  Stay tuned as we adventure into the wider constellation of interconnected worlds!

And if you have any questions or need help getting set up for this special meeting, please join our HGAC Google Group and ask away.  Lots of friendly people in that group (160+), and we’re always happy to help.

Jon Brouchoud’s Prefab Full Sims for Opensim

Jon Brouchoud is an insanely talented designer of 3d spaces.  His personal website has lots of information about his work, and Jon also runs a site all about Architecture and Design in Virtual Environments.

Here’s a blurb about Jon.

“As a freelance design consultant, Jon Brouchoud has created a variety of award winning designs, 3D experiences and serious game applications in Unity3D, Second Life and OpenSim.

Jon holds a Master’s Degree in Architecture from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and draws from his architectural background to create design concepts for a wide range of client types – including education, healthcare, government, advertising, and private enterprise.”

Jon recently announced that he is selling some of his prefab full sims for Opensim at the discounted price of $60 USD.  Each full sim package is delivered as an Opensim OAR file, and Jon accepts Paypal.

If you’re looking for prefab virtual spaces with a clean design and stunning looks, you really should check these out.  Here are some examples.