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.

Avatars in the Boardroom – A Presentation at Tuck School of Business

I recently visited Tuck School of Business and gave a lecture on virtual worlds.

You can read all about it on the ReactionGrid blog.



Hypergrid Adventurers Club meet #31+32: A Message in a Bottle for StaminaGrid

For this Sunday meeting, we made a couple very special excursions on the Hypergrid.

Instead of discovering strange new worlds and interesting new creations, we found an empty and vacant place.

So we left a message in a bottle.

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The next 4 meetings of the Hypergrid Adventurers Club will be hosted by Vanish Seriath

I’ll be offline for a week starting Jan 12.  So I won’t be around to host the next four meetings of the Hypergrid Adventurers Club.

But the show must go on!

Vanish Seriath frequently attends our club meetings, and he has graciously offered to lead the next three meetings.

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New Mailing List for the Hypergrid Adventurers Club

Our Hypergrid Adventurers Club continues to grow.  At our last meeting we set a new record by having people from 5 completely different grids attending our club via Hypergrid connections.  We typically have about 20 people attending our big Sunday meetings. And we’re even expanding our collaborative efforts to other grids.

In addition to our weekly inworld meetings, we stay in touch with each other via this blog, our #HGAC hashtag on Twitter, and our IRC channel.

It’s always good to have different options for communicating.  And it’s especially important to use the right tool for the right job.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to create a Google Groups mailing list for the Club.  This will allow us to have more detailed ongoing discussions.  I also hope this new list will allow us to talk about broader topics such as education and the exploration of all kinds of different virtual worlds.

I’ve had very good success with mailing lists in the past.  They’re a great way to help a growing community evolve.

And boy, we are growing!

Take care,
-John “Pathfinder” Lester


Hypergrid Adventurers Club meet #26: Visiting VWERGrid (Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable)

For today’s meeting, we visited VWERGrid, the new home of the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable community.

On November 11th, 2010, the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable announced the opening of their second virtual home on their own Opensim grid called VWERGrid.  Today we traveled to VWERGrid and had a chance to speak with AJ Kelton, the founder of the VWER.

Read on for a full transcript and many photos of our adventure.

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My Prediction for Virtual Worlds in 2011

At the end of each calendar year, it’s common for people to offer up their predictions for the new year ahead.

Such predictions are fun to make and fun to read.  Since I mostly swim in the waters of online communities and virtual worlds, most of the predictions I come across have to do with the future of technology.

I have a prediction for the coming year.  And while my prediction involves the technology landscape of virtual worlds, what I predict will happen actually has nothing to do with technology.

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Hypergrid Adventurers Club meet #23: Exploring Nuclear Research at CERN

For today’s meeting, we explored the region CERN on New World Grid.

In real life, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research.  The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors.  Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

The region CERN on New World Grid features detailed recreations of real life architecture at CERN as well self-guided tours of models of particle accelerators.

Read on for a full transcript and many photos of our adventure.

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Encouraging Exploration: Tales of Telehubs and Hypergrid Hops

We all have a desire to explore.  It’s in our nature as human beings to seek out novel things, both the conceptual and the physical.  To be human is to be an explorer.

Virtual worlds give us an opportunity to explore and discover new environments filled with new people.  And given the malleable nature of virtual worlds, we can design these environments in ways to specifically encourage exploration.

But trying to encourage people to explore by design is tricky.  Read on for some thoughts and examples.

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Let’s Build and Share Lists of Hypergrid Addresses

“Can we really go anywhere?”

“You name it.  If it’s down here.”

Read on to learn how you can easily find the Hypergrid Address of any region on ReactionGrid’s public grid, and how you can share your own list if you have one.

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