Ask Ryan: We Want to Leave Second Life—But Where Do We Go?

Do you have a question about the ever-evolving metaverse of social VR platforms and virtual worlds? Ask Ryan!


Maribeth asks:

Hi Ryan! My name is Maribeth. I am trying to use virtual worlds to help diabetes patients and others with chronic disease/chronic stress. My colleague and I are thinking about jumping ship from Second Life and it’s really confusing to know which way to turn. Your blog is so amazing! I’d love to pick your brain. I really respect your deep and vast knowledge on the topic. If you’re at all open to chatting, please let me know. Thanks!

—Maribeth.

Ooh boy, did you ever come to the right place to ask this great question! 😉

I’d love to schedule a time to chat, Maribeth. In fact, I even offer social VR/virtual world consulting services via my Patreon (at the Platinum patron level at US$25 per month, a price which I recently lowered).

My Patreon page

But, instead of charging you $25.00, Maribeth, I’ll let you pick my brains for free this time, provided we do it publicly on the RyanSchultz.com blog…after all, I am the Freebie Queen of Second Life, plus quite a few other platforms, to boot! 😉

And, in this case, I have an easy answer for you. If you are getting tired of Second Life and are looking for something similar to replace it with, but with all the latest bells and whistles (like a webcam-based avatar facial animator), may I recommend Sinespace?

The Sinespace homepage

Like Second Life, setting up an account on Sinespace is free. (Of course, also like Second Life, to get the richest experience, you will need to buy some Gold, the in-world currency, via your credit card, although Sinespace does have a second, promotional currency called Silver, of which you get a generous 30,000 to start yourself off on the right foot!)

Sinespace is based on Unity, which is a cross-platform game engine used to develop both three-dimensional and two-dimensional video games and simulations. This is a different approach from Linden Lab’s Second Life, which built and maintains its own engine from scratch (which means, at the ripe old age of 17, it is getting a bit long in the teeth). This also allows Sinespace to take advantage of the work that is done by countless other Unity developers on other Unity-based apps and games, such as the extremely cool Archimatix tool, which allows you to automagically resize highly complex mesh items in-world (which puts the rather simple move, rotate and stretch in-world building tools in Second Life to shame!).

Even better, male and female avatar fashions are designed to fit EVERY male and female avatar body, respectively. You don’t have to check to see if apparel or footwear are designed for a specific brand of mesh body, like you have to do in Second Life (e.g. Maitreya Lara, Belleza Freya, Slink Physique, Belleza Jake, Signature GIanni, etc.). Also, you don’t have to fuss with a HUD to make parts of your avatar body invisible under apparel; the clothing fits perfectly, and it adjusts if you make any changes to the body sliders! Another advantage of basing Sinespace on Unity.

Oh, and did I mention that Sinespace has working in-world cloth physics on skirts and dresses? Check out the videos to see it in action here and here! And Sinespace supports both desktop users, and users in virtual reality headsets! There’s also a web browser-based client. You can even run Sinespace on your mobile device!

Oh, and also, while Second Life struggles with lag when over 50 avatars are in a single sim, Sinespace has already demonstrated that its worlds can handle up to ten times as many avatars (the latest record achieved in testing, Adam tells me, is 499 avatars in a single region). And those regions can be mind-bogglingly large, too, not just restricted to 512 square metres. In fact, Adam tells me that the largest Sinespace region to date is a staggering 8 km by 8 km in size, with an 8 km vertical space! Think of what you could do with all that virtual real estate!

Simply put, Sinespace is Second Life on steroids.

Here are all the blogposts I have written about Sinespace. In fact, I am such a fan of what Adam Frisby and his team at Sine Wave Entertainment have created, that I even became an embedded reporter for the platform! But even if I weren’t getting paid to blog about Sinespace, I would still recommend that you check out Sinespace if you are looking for a new home to replace the venerable (and still popular) Second Life.

And you needn’t worry that Sinespace will go poof! if the company should suddenly fold; Sine Wave Entertainment is a healthy company with a stellar, well-connected board of directors. In fact, the company has been raking in the profits during the coronavirus pandemic, serving many new corporate, conference, and educational clients with Breakroom, a version of Sinespace developed for just such a market.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also delayed Sine Wave Entertainment’s plans for an splashy official launch of Sinespace, complete with a advertising blitz, until 2021. Trust me when I say this: Sinespace is going to attract a lot more attention from SL folks (and other quarters) next year. And if Second Life should ever stumble in future, Sinespace is perfectly positioned to welcome the refugees. In fact, many SL content creators have already set up shop in Sinespace, such as Abramelin Wolfe of Abranimations.

However, if you are loath to work your way up a new learning curve, may I suggest you investigate the incredible myriad of OpenSim-based virtual worlds? (Ironically, Adam Frisby of Sine Wave Entertainment was one of the founding developers for OpenSim, before he started his new company and focused on Sinespace and Breakroom.) Much of what you already know about Second Life can be directly transferable to OpenSim, and the prices for things such as land rentals are often significantly cheaper.

In fact, instead of renting sims from an established OpenSim grid, you might want to consider setting up and running your own grid! Everything you need to know is in the OpenSimulator wiki. And for the latest news and information about OpenSim, nobody can beat Maria Korolov’s Hypergrid Business blog, which maintains a list of active OpenSim grids.

Another advantage of Hypergrid-enabled OpenSim worlds is that you can even take your avatar from one grid to another! However, one disadvantage of OpenSim is that platforms tend to rise and fall with alarming regularity, so stability is an issue (witness the sad saga of InWorldz/Islandz for an example of what can happen). Also, the network effect means that no single OpenSim grid will ever rival Second Life for its sheer reach and (relatively) massive audience.

So, the executive summary of my answer is: if you don’t want to work your way up a new learning curve, go with OpenSim; otherwise, go with Sinespace.

OpenSim Community Conference on December 14th-15th, 2019

The 2019 OpenSim Community Conference is happening this weekend. Hypergrid Business reports:

OSCC19 features over 60 speakers leading presentations, workshops, panel sessions, music, and social events across the diversity of the OpenSimulator user base… Attending the conference event is free, but those wishing to financially support the conference can still sponsor or participate in our Crowdfunder Campaign when registering. Participants in the Crowdfunding Campaign will receive a variety of thank you gifts depending upon their level of participation, including conference VIP seating, and the ability to have a virtual expo booth at the event. Your conference sponsorship or crowdfunder contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law for US residents.

Here’s a complete schedule of events. See you there!

OpenSim Virtual World Provider Kitely Plans to Run a Grid Based on High Fidelity’s Open-Source Code, Even as HiFi Pivots Away from the Consumer Market

Maria Korolov of the Hypergrid Business website reports, in an article on High Fidelity’s pivot away from consumers towards the business market, that OpenSim provider Kitely is planning to launch a new grid based on High Fidelity’s open-source software:

Those communities that have already begun planning a migration to High Fidelity may be out of luck. Kitely, for example, has long had a strategy of being a multi-platform company, with High Fidelity part of their long-term road map. How will Rosedale’s news affect their plans?

It won’t, said Ilan Tochner, Kitely’s co-founder and CEO… “Our service doesn’t use High Fidelity’s grid services, we use our own proprietary systems for that,” he told Hypergrid Business. “So, as long as High Fidelity Inc remains committed to continue open sourcing their platform codebase we see no reason to switch to using something else.”

That will change if they decide to stop open development, he added. “Then we’ll evaluate whether High Fidelity remains a viable option moving forward,” he said. “We’re building our proprietary services with that contingency in mind.”

In response to a comment questioning this strategy, Ilan replied:

The High Fidelity open-source project has a lot of potential. We don’t judge it based on the default UI High Fidelity offers or how well High Fidelity Inc. managed a VR-focused consumer service while the demand for such a service was close to non-existent. [The] UI can be improved, we’re pursuing a different target demographic, and our company manages customer relations differently than High Fidelity Inc. does.

We still believe in the High Fidelity open-source project because it handles many of the hard engineering challenges that must be overcome to provide a good distributed multi-user VR experience. OpenSim is a lot more mature and includes many crucial components that are required for providing consumer virtual worlds. Most of those components are still missing from High Fidelity, but High Fidelity already has many VR-related capabilities that OpenSim currently lacks.

That said, most of the proprietary components we’re developing for our High Fidelity-based offering aren’t High Fidelity specific and could be used with our OpenSim-based Organizations offering as well. In other words, most of our R&D is invested in developing differentiating features for our own services and not on building platform-specific functionality for any of the virtual world options we provide.

You might not be aware that Kitely has already contributed a fair bit of code to the open-source High Fidelity project, which anybody can contribute to. There is a possiblity that Kitely may choose to branch off from the existing open-source code at some point in the future, especially if HiFi decides to go in a direction that doesn’t meet their needs.

Kitely is not the only company looking at providing services based on High Fidelity’s code. In March 2019, former High Fidelity staff member Caitlyn Meeks founded Tivoli Cloud VR, a company focused on providing supplemental services for virtual worlds based on the High Fidelity software, in response to High Fidelity’s recent announcements (here and here).

Thank you to Theanine for the news tip!

Art Galleries in Social VR and Virtual Worlds: An Overview

Virtual worlds are natural homes for art galleries. Artists can design galleries and installations and reach whole new audiences using the various metaverse platforms. In this blogpost, I am going to provide an overview of art galleries in various social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

Second Life

Second Life has long been home to dozens of virtual galleries and exhibit spaces. You could easily spend the better part of a week just visiting galleries! In fact, there is an Art Galleries of Second Life website and even an in-world HUD you can pick up at any participating gallery, which allows you to teleport from gallery to gallery in-world! I have spent many an enjoyable hour doing exactly that.

MissDrag at the Fractal Insanity Art Gallery in Second Life

In addition to the Art Galleries of Second Life HUD, there is also the Arts section of the Second Life Destination Guide to explore, as well as sims with dozens of small art galleries, such as the Virtual Hotel Chelsea and the Windlight Art Gallery sim.

The Virtual Hotel Chelsea

OpenSim

Like Second Life, OpenSim is home to many virtual art galleries. The best way to find them is to use OpenSimWorld’s excellent directory service.

Parc Des Arts, FrancoGrid (OpenSim)

Occupy White Walls

Of course, no discussion of virtual art galleries would be complete without a mention of Occupy White Walls! This is a virtual world focusing on art gallery building and art collection curation, which already has many fans. I can recommend it highly. It’s great fun!

Sansar

Sansar is already home to many art galleries. The best way to find them is simply to search the Sansar Atlas on keywords like “art” or “gallery“.

The Urban Art Experience in Sansar

High Fidelity

One of the problems with High Fidelity is that, while there is a listing of domains sorted in order of popularity on their website and in their tablet UI, it is not possible to do a keyword search for “art” or “gallery” as you can in Sansar or Second Life. This makes it difficult to find art galleries and installations in HiFi. There are a few art installations I have blogged about, such as White Moth, a High Fidelity domain created by the well-known Second Life artists Bryn Oh and Cica Ghost

White Moth

VRChat

VRChat is also home to many art galleries and exhibits, including several curated by Godfrey Meyer III (a.k.a. GM3). Your best bet is to do a keyword search for “art” or “gallery” under the World tab in your pop-up user menu.

Blogs

Another way to find art exhibits in many different social VR/virtual worlds is to follow blogs. One good one to follow is Travel AgentM83, who covers interesting locations (including art) on a multitude of platforms.

What about you? What art discoveries have you made while exploring the metaverse? Please feel free to leave a comment, thanks!