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.
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.