Monday, 28 May 2012

Building Role Play Across The Hypergrid

Fabulous 1001 Nights in OSgrid is a beautiful build and a trip to visit it is well worth the time. Within the city is a bizaar where you can get freebie themed clothes and accessories so the owner has put a lot of though into it. Presently they are looking for a Sultan to run the RPG and promote it - any takers?

Much of what has been written about the open Metaverse gives the impression that there has never been very much user traffic going to the Opensim grids it is made up of and this minimizes the impact they might be having. Most accounts only look at traffic in a few grids - generally the bigger ones of course - but when you take a broader view and look at the many small grids and standalone's out their a much bigger picture emerges and, thus, the impact the Opensim grids are having becomes more significant.

We are already seeing a small explosion of grids and standalone's coming on line. Each new start-up has one or several owners so we can count those as likely regulars online. Seventy HG enabled grids is probably double that number in traffic - about 140. Add next some friends of the owners who may visit and even stay to take part and you can double or even treble that number again. I think even that would be a low number as most people have quite a lot of friends and, dare I add, supporters? Certainly, some grids are the work of long established gaming and role play communities within Second Life and that is precisely the back ground I am come from so I can talk about it from some experience. Communities like mine generally have quite a lot of regular players in SL and it is not too hard to persuade them to register and try the open Metaverse out since they have a place - your place - to get acquainted. If just five or ten of those seventy startup's have established role play gamers to call on then you can add a lot more to the traffic. So, just on a guesstimate, the hypergrid connected mini-grids must collectively stand at around 500 active residents at least and probably a lot more.

Pirate raid on a port in Second Life leads to the capture of the local Pasha and the RP spills over into OSgrid. It could end up anywhere on the hypergrid. A portal region in OSgrid leading to a standalone mega sailing region representing the Caribbean sea or perhaps even the Mediterranean sea and the Barbary coast of North Africa in 1775. And finally back to SL. Never has there been such a great opportunity to expand role play in virtual worlds and reduce costs.
I can, of course, just sift through all the welcome screens checking the stats as shown on my new Teapot viewer at peek and off-peek times and add up all the current online traffic but it's a bit of a chore (I've done it in the past). Anyway, just taking the figure worked out above you get 3 X 140 = 420 which, alone, is greater than any single grid has achieved to date. Now go on adding the casual visitors, the serious travelers and the visiting gamers and role players that have been invited like I have been doing in recent months. The numbers then start to climb. Yes, they are all out there and using hypergrid teleporting to hop from one grid to another. I've even started to call it the hidden Metaverse which I wrote about recently here because that traffic is hardly accounted for. Hopefully though the viewer developer, Armin Weatherwax will give us more ready access to those hidden grids as revealed by the new grid listing functions in Teapot viewer or Kokua and their metrics will start to be better known. Certainly, this is something I have been pushing for over the last two years.

Role play at its best! Here we learn the old Pasha is
on the run in OSgrid but where? And who is behind this raid?
Not all but a sizable number of the start-up's are hypergrid enabled and while a fair few are pitching for the rental market in competition with other grids we are now starting to see grids that do have something specific in mind rather than come-rent-from-me-social-hangout  type of grid. The social/commercial grids like InWorldz and Avination all promote themselves as both hosts and providers of services including currency and economy. Residents are encouraged to build themed regions too which is the basic Second Life model - Your World, Your Imagination. However, the open Metaverse is really a very different animal than Linden Labs grid. Second Life is and always will be a closed grid both for protection from copyright theft and basically to keep the user base firmly rooted in their commercial realm. It's a monopoly and those Opensim grids that use the same model are doing so for the same reasons.

Armin Weatherwax is developing a new viewer grid list function to add, seek out and find more grids. It's now only a matter of time when HG2 and functions like this really start make the Metaverse a truly open and connected market.

There are thousands of ideas for startup's to try and I can think of a 1001 role play ideas right off the top of my head for building a grid that people will want to visit and I think eventually hypergrid will see a huge number of these small standalone's that offer any number of themes starting up. Moreover, the owners will be promoting their venue on the net, in SL, blogging and where ever they can. The more doing it the more people that will be entering the HG connected worlds and traveling about. It's only a matter of time now before the volume is turned up and the market explodes. This is what makes the Opensim Metaverse a very different animal from Second Life and, while I have come to accept there will be commercial closed grids on the open Metaverse, in time, I am convinced they will be dwarfed by the growth of themed startup's just as sure as AOL was dwarfed by the Internet.

Here, the port of Moresh in OSgrid serves as a welcome area for role players into pirate role play and sailing. Themed freebies are found in the local bazaar and a water front tavern offers good ale, help and information. The ship at dock is actually a hyergate portal offering a number of destinations in the network. Just select, board the ship and be teleported there.
The RPG theme, Gor is still quite big in Second Life. It has declined from its high point around about 2009 along with other RPG's as the players have left SL for other MMORPGs on the Internet but it could easily grow as big on the open Metaverse too if enough role players venture over and spend time there. Hypergrid fits perfectly with the Gorean modus operandi because in SL these groups constantly raid each other and engage in slave stealing and trading (all as role play). It would also suit other genre like the Ancient Empires network of regions that collaborate sending war parties to each other's sims and engage in epic battles. Same can be said for many others too including the many pirate sailings sims such as Fairwinds, Ocean Realms and Antiquity. Add to that a raft of other themes from Furries to Steampunk and the potential is huge. Opensim grids are becoming better known in Second Life all the time. I belong to one of the Opensim groups in SL and when I'm there I find the group chat is often alive with people asking for help and advice. And, as sure as you like there will be people around to answer - I sometimes do myself. Grid owners can promote their own game in SL via the Opensim group and other groups they belong to. If they have role play regions already like I do then you have every reason to make the most of it to promote your new world.

Here Lani Global's Dune region in OSgrid offers plenty of free Sci-fi related content. Lani is also the central region of a cluster of other Sci-fi regions which, together, form an association. Presently, they enjoy the highest traffic in OSgrid.

There are problems with Opensim of course. It still suffers weaknesses compared to Second Life especially in the area of physics but in other areas it is way ahead. New people have to face all this and get their heads round it so it's really important that those running mini grids can explain things and ease the visitor's concerns while promoting what they have to offer. Having a good stock of freebies on hand at the Welcome regions is very important too and, presently, this is where you see a serious shortage of clothing that would be expected for the particular theme being promoted. Lani Global in OSgrid has got all the right ideas when it comes to creating what a role play theme needs so a leaf can be taken from her book and grid owners must make or find the kind of things that fit the theme of their game even if it is just enough to get a bunch of avatars dressed up in period clothing. You can give LM's to other suitable stores all over OSgrid and the Metaverse. There is plenty of free stuff around but it's still hard to find all the kind of things you might need for a particular role play game.  And given that role players tend to be very imaginative they also make serious demands for highly detailed clothing and accessories. Some grids like Inworldz and Avination do have some class designers with outlets in their respective grids but presently they are both closed worlds although there is the possibility that at least Avination will open up to Hypergrid once HG2 arrives (expected this summer) and content security improves. I also think some of the others that are presently closed will reconsider it once they see the growth in the traffic it spawns. I guess though as business opportunity increases many of the top designers will turn their gaze to Hypergrid worlds with a renewed interest.
City of Alsium - Roman Role play in OSgrid is set to open soon.

Most role players will go where their friends are and it needs small dedicated groups of players in a particular theme to put in the time to do authentic builds that look good to the eye and make people believe this is an interesting place to spend some time role playing. Visitors wont join a role play game just on the strength of what they see though no matter how good the build. They need to be persuaded to stay and  immerse themselves in the role play and that takes time and effort. Someone must be there. Preferably more than one person needs to be there day in and day out, all hours to welcome and help visitors. Ideally, there should also be some role play taking place so that visitors can look in on it and judge for themselves. Serious role players don't just jump in so you have to remember that. Lookers will say they will come back but usually don't. Serious players might not say too much to start and visit a few times looking around to gauge the RP if there is any so all the more reason to try to keep some activity going near the welcome area if you can.

One way is to build a tavern or bar near the welcome area with a serving maid or dancer to help create atmosphere. Hell, even an NPC dancer and a real avatar can do that. It doesn't take that much really but it does take up someone's time. Like the Internet the Metaverse is 24/7 opening hours. Grids that close for the night or are left unattended can not expect to succeed - even in Second Life players are spoiled for choice so you have to make what you offer look better than the competition. If someone arrives at an empty Welcome region without anyone to actually welcome them then that is probably going to be a brief and easily forgettable experience for them. Constantly changing things leads to confusion for your less regular visitors, and moving the regions about too often just leads to frustration. Even worse is letting visitors land in the sea or under the floor of a building. That is just like, what kind of grid is this?!

Experimenting with airship flyers for possible inclusion of Steampunk elements to the Farworldz grid. Here again gird operators pursuing role play themes need to consider vehicles and scripted combat meters, all of which play a huge part in Second Life role play.

Now, considering HG2 when it arrives, I do actually think Avination could do very well out of it if they open up and we have every reason to believe they will since Melanie Thielker - owner of Avination and an Opensim core developer working with Crista Lopes on HG2 - has gone on record saying they would once the content secruity is improved. If this happens then Avination's vendors will be a serious attraction especially those selling role play goods. The sheer lack of high quality content available to role players is a serious disincentive to joining the open Metaverse as I have already pointed out and Avination could be well placed with very little competition from other grids to take advantage of the opening. There are designers producing highly detailed clothes for role players but you can't expect them to give away all their long hours of work for free and this is where Avination is well fitted to the commercial aspect of the open Metaverse. For small startup's that focus on individual themes then they should be making content or sourcing it for their players anyway to help fill the present gaps. There is lots of good stuff out there though and much of it is free but to gain serious traffic I think we have to start to match some of the fine creations that  Second Life vendors can offer. Low cost sims, great builds and endless land mass alone are not enough - in fact huge areas of empty land just look bad unless it's sea for sailing.  Second Life residents have huge inventories they enjoy. If they can't get some of the same quality content in the open grids when they arrive then I doubt many will stay. That has already been proved to be the case.

News from Kitely Virtual, the cloud-based grid with easy start-up sims at low cost, is they will open up too once HG2 arrives, and to be sure of that they are even working on their own security measures that will further enhance things since Kitely does contribute a lot of code back to core Opensim. Kitely also has plans to introduce Kitley currency and this will certainly provide yet another strong outlet that vendors can have confidence in. I think that between Kitely and Avination as well as some of the smaller but up and coming grids we might just find that the supply of role play related and themed content has a good chance of improving provided they do actually open up to Hypergrid and allow content to go to other grids. In any event my view is that whatever HG2 does I think it is about time that creators had a direct say in what leaves a grid through the permissions system and this seems to be what Kitely is aiming for.

Avination main welcome region today. Clean and pleasant with commercial shops before you and not a freebie in sight. I might add I never met anyone to greet me either and I was left with a sense of it being cold and lacking any community. But I do know Avination has a community but the grid has suffer a big drop in traffic since last year when it went right to the top of the pack for users. Since then it has declined steadily but it still has many of its vendors and a really well developed platform software with easy border crossings and many in house features. It also has its own combat meter.
Above I did some informed guesswork on the true size of the open Metaverse which left out the closed commercial grids. I was concerned only with Hypergrid connected worlds and if you follow Hypergrid Business grid list metrics you can't fail to notice all the new grids coming on line. It's true that it remains difficult to estimate the true size of Metaverse traffic and the way opensim reads this data means that a traveler visiting many grids will register as traffic in each which does distort the figures somewhat and is a diminishing factor but I don't believe it is enough to cast much doubt on my conclusions because all along I have really been under estimating if anything. Fact remains that collectively, the hypergrid enabled grids do form a cluster that attracts more traffic than any single commercial grid does or could ever hope to and it is my view that in the future it will expand into a huge market. At the center is likely to be OSgrid as a HUB with many portal regions that invite travel to a host of small educational and themed role play grids. Kitely, Avination and other startup commercial grids will all be part of it too if they open up. But, crucially, traffic will be shared right across the open Metaverse and it will have that special quality that helped Second Life to grow, lots of small startup grids each building their own worlds. That is the beauty of the Opensim Metaverse, it truly is our world, our imagination from the open source software base on which we build and up.

Formally of Second Life, Darkrose Castle is home to Prince Gabriel of
 Darkrose, the last in a long line. Opening soon in OSgrid this a roleplaying
sim of dark conspiracy and gothic Vampires with an emphasis on storytelling.
If we rely on anyone it certainly is not the overpowering corporate power of a monopoly like Linden Labs unless we chose to join a closed grid that is based on the SL model. There are many contributers to the Opensim Metaverse in so many ways and this is all part of what makes Opensim so different from Second Life. Indeed, I would venture to say it has the potential, if it hasn't been realized already, to be a more creative platform all together.
One of the many city regions of Gor in Second Life. OSgrid has some Gor regions
but links need to be established for exchange RP and raids from SL to OS and HG
and back. Role players in general and Goreans in particular could help to open up
the Metaverse making their Second Life part of a truly global community.

In Second Life there are a whole bunch of regions dedicated to ancient empire building and epic battles. They
interact with each other in Second Life so why not expand to OSgrid and take advantage of lower costs? Here
we show the Athenian Empire of SL but there are many more from Persia to Rome and right across the ancient world.
In the cities you find the training grounds and tournament arenas plus the day to day events that shape the
virtual lives and culture of the Elite, the warriors, the citizens and their slaves.