There is Second Life in town, but it's of course not the only player here at the moment, though the most popular. At least one competitor exists, that has its roots in the academic area and has much broader goals than Second Life: Croquet.

Croquet has far more ambitious goals than Second Life ever could hope to have. To cite their website:

Croquet is a powerful open source software development environment for the creation and large-scale distributed deployment of multi-user virtual 3D applications and metaverses that are (1) persistent (2) deeply collaborative, (3) interconnected and (4) interoperable. The Croquet architecture supports synchronous communication, collaboration, resource sharing and computation among large numbers of users on multiple platforms and multiple devices.

And, in contrary to Second Life, all components of Croquet are already available as Opensource (seems like a BSD-style license to me), so anybody who wants can install a Croquet server whereever he wants.

Though SL has already a high learning curve at the beginning, Croquet has an even bigger, and the underlying concepts and principles differ very much. For example, no currency in Croquet at all, Croquet is more like kind of an in-house tool and such. Though it's competition to SL.

Well, one of the principal architects of Croquet, Julian Lombardi, wrote in his blog now an article about "Metaverse Scalability" and took Second Life as an example for old architecture, which should have been obsolete by ages and that Croquet is architecturewise far more advanced and ahead of SL.

Before Mr. Lombardi began working on Croquet he was designing ViOS, which could be viewed as one of the ancestors of Second Life.

The first of his key statements is this:

Virtual environments such as multi-user flight simulators and first-person shooters rely on many independent server sessions that are limited to a relatively few users at any one time. Massively multi-user metaverses, on the other hand, require the client to be updated as fast as things happen within the environment. This means that large-scale metaverses need a lot of horsepower in the server layer since every move and every action of every avatar must be conveyed to every client. This puts a tremendous load on a few servers for even the most trivial of interactions.

Well, that's of course true and the reason why there is a limited number of avatars per region only. But that alone is nothing new and it also depends on the game. When all stuff is being preinstalled on the hard drive and you don't have to stream inventory in, you can with ease handle 1000s to 10000s of players on one server. Many MMORPGs are able to do so.  But SL does not only stream inventory, it does also execute user scripts, therefore it needs much more computing power per avatar.

Other main statements are:

Our strategy back at ViOS, Inc. was to simply re-tune the system and put up more servers as the loads increased - hoping for the best. That approach would work well for Intranet applications that serviced relatively small numbers of clients. It even worked well for ViOS' initial user base of around 15,000 unique users. Problem was that once we had several thousand simultaneous Viosians tooling about in the landscape, they began to overload our interactivity servers, resulting in performance problems and service interruptions. Since there wasn't a lot of cash flow or investment capital during the 2001 post dot-com financial downdraft, we were unable to add servers at a rate that could meet the demand. If we had, it might have led to another few years of success for the ViOS metaverse platform - but sooner or later we would have been brought down by fundamental flaws in our approach as a bottlenecked client-server based architecture.

[...]

By contrast Second Life makes money by controlling who can create islands and how those islands are linked to each other. It also has a very similar technical architecture to that of ViOS - a vintage twentieth century client-server architecture with with single points of failure, inertia, and control. It's been interesting to watch Linden Lab's struggle with the inevitable technical problems faced by Second Life as a result of its recent popularity, constrained architecture, and non-scaling technical approach.

So... you could state Mr. Lombardi's article unter the sentence "Lessons Second Life should have learned from ViOS and why Croquet is such a much better approach." Who would have thought that...

It's interesting that he speaks of single points of failures and a non-scaling technology base. LL thinks, of course, otherwise. So, the future is going to show us who is right about that one.

And, of course, Croquet is the solution to all this problems:

The Croquet technology has been developed with these lessons in mind. It is designed to scale in support of interconnected multiverses of millions of users without the need for any dedicated server infrastructure. Croquet's architecture makes it possible to develop metaverse applications in which, anyone can freely put up content in islands of any size, interlink those islands with any number of other islands, and control access to those islands.

The problem is just that not really much use Croquet in those days. The media hype is focused on SL. So... this reminds me a little of VHS vs. Video 2000 in earlier times. Croquet as the Video 2000 and SL as VHS and we all know who had won this battle.

I think all tools in this area have their right - and need - to exist. But if Croquet can really scale will first be known when thousands of people are using it. Until then it has maybe been designed with that goal in mind (SL has been designed for 100.000 concurrent logins, too), but only a test of this technology under real usage is going to show us the truth. Period.

Well, of course there are already some adopters, like the University of British Columbia who is moving their learning group from SL on UBC island to Croquet according to this blog post. Why? The math must be simple: Croquet claims to be technology wise superior, it's full opensource, so you can get your own Croquet server without renting it. So Croquet is cheaper. It would be interesting to watch their experiences with it.

Yesterday there was a new German whitepaper called "Second Life and business in virtual worlds" released done by Pixelpark AG and Elephant Seven AG.

The content is split in roughly three parts: first an introduction about what SL is, some things about the economics and three strategies how a RW company could make its in world presence, what to expect and what not, the advantages and weaknesses of the system, and how to be succesful with an in world campagne, how to get experience and so on.

The second part consists of many case studies, like Adidas and so on, what companies wanted to do in here and  how they achieved it - or failed to do it.

The third part lists other 3d world projects, lists their attributes, advantages and disadvantages  compared to Second Life.

For short: the target audience of this whitepaper is a project leader who must decide on if to get into SL or not. It tries to be a somewhat unbiased view of the things and of course is more objective than something from Lindenlabs or the main stream press, so it's worth a read.

Well, after I finished my roundup I've found an article from last week in my feedreader run by Infoweek called "Inside Second Life's Datacenter." It showed up today at Slashdot, so... it should be already very popular now.

But there are some real interesting facts in this article I'd like to point out:

  • the monthly growth rate is about 20% at the moment. That's big!
  • The maximum possible number of concurrent online users at the moment is claimed to be at 100.000 avatars. I don't believe this number, they've got already issues when the number goes about 30.000 anytime at the moment, the grid destabilizes and becomes unreliable. But there's reliability in this unreliability, since you just need to take a look at the online users count and the rule of thumb...
  • Are you seated? Really? Better take a seat. Ok. Their goal is - no joke - to be able to support 10s of millions of simultaneous logins! Bwahaha! Sorry, better first fix the existing login count and make the system scale more well before planning such... high... numbers! *coughs*
  • Second Life consists of around 2.000 servers at the moment running on Debian Linux with MySQL. Debian... of all of the systems. Arg. Right, that's the linux distribution that constantly fails to deliver a new version at the planned timeline reliable (3 years was the worst delay ever, the now planned release of last December is still not there) and is there even more worse in this aspect than Microsoft can ever hope to be! No wonder so much are switching to Ubuntu. Besides, some of the packages are really outdated and some of their maintainers have real weird point of views. And MySQL - well, some still consider it still something of a toy database. It still needs to overcome that image and that's why always so many recommend LL to switch to Postgresql.
  • If the server side part is going to be opensourced or not is still in the discussion. Nothing new there. Many possibilities, not all include an opening of the source code.
  • They're looking for an IT guy who can help them scale their infrastructure from 2.000 servers up to 10.000 servers.
  • They're trying to make the LSL-implementation faster. That's nothing new so far, too, that's their Mono-Project. Testing of it should start in the second quarter 2007.
  • Something new about LSL: it was written in one week back then, and the Mono-Project will enable to script in other languages like Visual Basic or C#.
  • Some new measures under consideration to manage growth: limiting logins at the weekends and moving some of the Second Life experience to normal web servers (rubbish, this should be all in the client IMHO, this is Second Life, not Web 2.0), changes in the database infrastructure and the availability of tools that show you how much computing power your avatar needs, especially when it uses much attachments and such.

Some of it sounds nice, other things - 10s millions of concurrent logins - sound more like Science Fiction at the moment. 100.000 concurrent logins are supported at the moment? Well... yes, could be, but the SL experience then is going to be more like lag hell on earth I am afraid.

So the point is: they're aware of the problems, trying to fix them and planning big things for the future, but hopefully they're able to fix SL first.

It's been a while since my last blogging spree that I've posted any new article at all. So, without much foreword, some new thingies:

  • Dedric Mauriac blogged about the in world building of Packaging and Converting Essentials. Seems he really likes the place.
  • The picture that I made of the P&CE building is now used in their in world ad with permission. Nice. Perhaps I should start a career as photographer in Second Life. Then again my photo editing skills are surely not high enough, I am more a technician than anything else.
  • A change of one of the last updates that not everybody has notices comes into effect now - you can spend maximum 999.999 L$ per classified now instead of 99.999 L$ before. This means the maximum went from something like 357 US$ up to 3571 US$ per week. And there are already ads in the system where the author of it plays around 200.000 L$ per week for it, that's about 714 US-$ for the sum in real money. So these guys are either very wealthy or making much money in world already.
  • Some days ago the Second Life Herald run an article about ageplay. While normal ageplay is nothing to say against it, there's also sex ageplay in the game (child escorts/teen escorts), and this seems to has a market, too. Now how sick is this? It's even against the law in many countries. Of course, the normal ageplayers are not against the law at all, but the growth rate is amazing: 1 % per week. This means exponential growth of course and is something that cannot go on forever.
  • The next planned downtime this week brings us again no update of the primary client, while the First Look client got some of them already. Could be, that they need the whole timeslot, could be not. But they should finally take some time to fix the most annoying bugs in the main client, namely the inability at the moment to offer teleports to avatars who are not your friends and the annoying water-bug. Or they should finally setup a source repository and give some well accredited programmers from the community write-level access. Then it would have already been fixed since ages!
  • Here's another blog entry from a journalist of the Handelsblatt about SL in general. The essence of it is: Second Life is mostly an Empty Life, sex is the most driving force behind the in world economy, rw companies normally don't blend in real well and it's overhyped at great lengths. Period.
  • And now for something completely different: wannabe terrorists planned to attack a very important Internet node in London. They were captured before they could act on their plan. This still shows us: without a first life there's no second life and we should be thankful they were captured beforehand.

What's the use in running a scheduled downtime from 5 hours in under 2 hours, which looks first like great work, when then some hours later the inventory database has hiccups and issues are showing up again? I don't know.

I know Flumm Melendez since some time, comes from because she's been an avid writer to the group "SL Deutschland". The first time I saw her profile, Flumm Melendez was a female avatar, earning her money in world as an escort and with making and selling tattoos.

After some time, though, this became boring or whatever, so she started building her own club, I guess its name was "Ice cube" or something like that. I was there back then and helped her testing a door for the nudie room.

Then after a short while the avatar turned into a male, also showing for some time a RL picture of the player behind it in the profile. 27 years old, male, from Berlin, Germany. Quite a change.

Now I'm hopping to a new sim, Berlin City, and guess who's the landbaron there? Flumm Melendez, also most of it crowded with buildings and sold. Not far away from this sim is another new sim, Cologne City? Owner? Flumm Melendez. So - the real money in Second Life still is in selling and renting sims and building.

And to sum it up, there's of course also a web presence about the real estate business of Flumm Melendez: Second Earth Sims.  And here's a posting about the history of the avatar made by Flumm Melendez himself (Germany only).

If you ask me, quite an interesting career, but not too unusual in SL at all.

I've included the RSS-feed of the SLLA blog some days ago to my RSS aggregator, just because I'm curious and wanted to know this group a little better beside the media coverage they got last week.

Well, I read the article about "army rally and protest." They're claiming that they want to install a government in SL made by the people. Sounds like a nice idea at first, but I've read that about 2-3 years ago the Lindens already asked the people if they want such a thing - the answer was a big NO back then.

Two quotes from the article are:

Our demand is clear: we want a debate between SLLA and Governor Linden. Where was the openness for dialogue when First Land was taken away, or when Linden Labs started selling chunks of our world to IBM, Sony and Warner Brothers?

Why should Lindenlabs care at all? They are a business company, not the welfare, they need to make money, they even more need to make profit. They gain profit when people enter the world, or companies, it doesn't matter. Profit is necessary to continue the development of this platform.  Well, and to the first land issue - better such a reaction than no at all, I guess. The original intention of first land was being perverted by land bots and such.

From our actions at American Apparel last year to our resistance to corporate control of our AV lives, we are building a movement together! We will strike again very soon, count on it.

Why am I reminded of Monty Python right now and must think of the People's Front of Judea? Whatever.

The one who owns the technology makes the rules, plain and simple. If you are not satisfied by the rules you are free to leave the platform.  I mean, why should Lindenlabs care at all about these people? It's nice in the form that they're making free media coverage for the game, makes even more nice PR when they're willing to meet with them, but the truth is - they're usefuls idiots at the moment. Not more, not less.

Disposable pawns for the Lindens, so to speak. If they really would like to get rid of them they can do it anytime without much effort at all.

Exactly to the point of the participation of the people Prokofy Neva (...) wrote an article some time ago in his blog called "The adventure capitalists". To cite the main passage of it:

Dear Philip,

All of us who pay tier, collectively, pay Linden Lab something like $9.5-$10 million a year (I'm not sure how many total hidden/non-hidden sims there are with tier and island billing). It's as much as a venture capitalist. We're the adventure capitalists.

Could we as a group get a seat on your board? We could run elections among the 42,000 mainland landowners and the thousands of island owners (about 50,000 total perhaps?) The person who was acclaimed by assembly or voted for by direct ballot could serve on your board. At least you could consider having that seat in an advisory, non-voting capacity --though the stake is real. It's 70 percent of your revenue, correct?

The first comment on this blog entry was made by Allana Dion in that way:

Dear Wallmart CEO,

All of us who shop in your store, collectively, pay your company something like $9.5-$10 million a year (I'm not sure of the exact figures). It's as much as a venture capitalist. We're the adventure capitalists.

Could we as a group get a seat on your board? We could run elections among the 42,000 daily shoppers and the thousands of weekly shoppers (about 50,000 total perhaps?) The person who was acclaimed by assembly or voted for by direct ballot could serve on your board. At least you could consider having that seat in an advisory, non-voting capacity --though the stake is real. It's 70 percent of your revenue, correct?

She's right there. What Prokofy Neva and the SLLA want is something like this: when you're going to a bar/pub/restaurant, it is run by an innkeeper in one way or another. But they want to make rules for the innkeeper how to run it and this is not going to work. Well, they've got no right to make these rules or any kind of claim to do so. And that's why the SLLA is pointless.

I've taken the good, old Bartle-test to see what kind of player in MMORPGs I am. Ok, some of the questions don't apply to SL, of course - like killing dragons, gaining experience points - but when you carefully answer the questions, you got a real good picture about what kind of player you are.

So I am an ESAK. This means:

Based on your answers, you are ESAK.
Breakdown: Achiever 33.33%, Explorer 86.67%, Killer 13.33%, Socializer 66.67% ESAK players often see the game world as a great stage, full of things to see and people to meet. They love teaming up with people to get to the hard-to-see places, and they relish unique experiences.

Some further explanations show the four categories. The categories mean:

  • People with high Achiever scores tend to prefer collecting points, levels, treasure and accomplishments that set them apart from other players--or simply present challenges.
  • People with high Explorer scores tend to enjoy finding all of the unique areas of the world, often enjoying the immersion of the experience. Finding a place with unique monsters and seeing what those monsters do is usually more fun for an Explorer than defeating the monsters themselves.
  • People with high Killer scores prefer the player-versus-player aspect of any game more than anything offered by the environment. They often relish the adrenaline and challenge of pitting themselves against real players.
  • People with high Socializer scores enjoy interacting with other people, forming organizations, and finding cooperative solutions to the challenges within the virtual world.

Although the test is now somewhat old, the results are still a very good match. If you want to try it on your own go to this page and just answer the 30 questions. That's all, done in under 5 minutes and it's fun.

I've taken a look at the Land Auction page from Lindenlab today for closed auctions. Seems they're adding eight new regions per day at the moment, most appear at the new continent in the east, I guess.

The average prize a new region is sold for is around 3.000 US$. Now 8 regions auctioned off per day makes 24.000 US$ income per day and for the tier-fees later 1.560 US$ safely per month. Not bad, he?

And all that for a dual CPU machine which can host two regions alone.

Well, and if you convert the price into land values and the owner wants to make some profit with the region, this means high land prices. Of course.

A region has 65.336 square meters. So, you can buy 270 L$ at the moment for 1 US-$. This means already that you need to take about 12 L$ per square meter only if you want to get this investment in. Now take the tier-fees into account, too, makes around 0.80 L$ per square meter in the first month. Let's say if you want to sell the region without loss in the first month you need at least a prize from 13 L$ per square meter.

But many want to make big profits, so 13 L$ is not being seen so much on the regions, quite often you're going to see higher prices. Well, that's the reason still why land prices are high and not going down, soon, I suspect. Since it's also LL main income source they're going to milk the cow as long as its being possible and in the end we're all paying the price for it. Well, all that want to own land on the mainland.

Well, and because of missing covenants at most mainland sims, the housing can be real terrible.