Friday, October 31, 2008

Ethelbert Airport

Ethelbert Airport, originally uploaded by seredwoollahra.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An airplane passes overhead

It's a poor quality snapshot, but it was a such a fitting scene! While visiting a replica of a WWII Japanese warship, an airplane from the same era passed overhead. This could have been a real picture from those days.

"Different levels of usage.."

Today the Lindens posted an update concerning the openspace sim price hike. A quote:

"It is clear that some Openspaces are being used as they were intended originally, so we recognise that there are different levels of usage that we need to account for."

That is exactly what I intended when I suggested some sort of 'pay per prim' tier: a way to factor in load and/or usage into the tier to be paid for a given sim. The need for something like this seems to be acknowledged in this quote; I'm curious as to what Linden Labs will come up with.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

alternative openspace solution: pay per prim?

In my daily job, I am a systems analyst, working on a large financial transactions system. This system has a billing mechanism, that counts certain enduser actions, and creates billing information based on those. I.e. you download an account statement, you pay a small fee.

I was wondering about alternative solutions for the openspace situation. Obviously Linden Labs has a problem with certain uses of them and therefore decided to change prices and policies for all openspace sims. The problem is of course that lots of these are used just the way they were once intended (i.e. open spaces, low prim count), and these are punished as well.

Couldn't Linden Labs create a billing system for openspace sims, similar to the way billing is done in my financial transactions sytem? One of the indicators of sim usage is the number of prims: high on prims probably means higher overall system load as well.

Linden Labs obviously has ways of tracking the number of prims on a given simulator. They would have to devise a tier system for number of used prims per sim and attach a billing mechanism to it. LL could bill the 'prim tier' for the new month based on the number of prims you had on the simulator at a given date the previous month, for instance. This 'punishes' those who overuse openspace sims, but leaves room for the genuine, intended use.

Complicated? Perhaps, yes. But its certainly more honest than what's being done right now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The new rentals at Promissa

Two of the new rentals in Promissa, seen from the Shipwreck Island - which itself is located in Timandra. Tropical Beach Rentals did a good job again, especially these two are located perfectly. I'd say good as the parcels across the Shipwreck Island in Timandra, as a matter of fact.

After last weeks' discussions on profitability and the rental business, I've been giving it more attention over the weekend. And with some result, I might add! Now that the last parcels are up for rent, and a few other small changes, I can now break even - which wasn't even possible earlier. Whether it will happen often, remains doubtful, given that I'd need more than 90% occupancy to get there. But, as of now, it's no longer officially impossible to achieve profitability :)

In order to achieve profitability earlier, I think one needs way more land than I currently own. I've been doing some math, and it seems that with double the tier I now have, I could be profitable at around 75%-80% occupancy, perhaps a bit earlier. But even then we're talking at most double digit amounts of US Dollars that could be earned, and you'd have to invest hundreds of them to get there. I don't think I'm going to do that anytime soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Twinity update

This week was a good week for mirrorworld Twinity.

First Metaversum, Twinity's creators, announced the Singapore government is going to sponsor the virtual replica of the city inside Twinity. Good news of course, this is not some VC operation injecting cash in exchange for shares; this is a solid investment.

The second bit of good news is that the Twinity user base has grown to over 50.000, after only a couple of weeks in public beta. As these two bits of news became public short after another, it is not likely that this number is already affected by the Singapore announcement. This means that the userbase will probably get another injection, from Asiatic users, when that region learns of Singapore's involvement in Twinity.

As for me, I check back in Twinity every now and then. I feel it's coming together nicely, it all operates much smoother these days, even though it's clearly still beta. But glitches happen in any computer environment, beta or not, and I had a curious one in Twinity. After logging in earlier this week, I couldn't see any avatars, not even myself! After clearing the cache and reinstalling, I got hands and heads; after another relog, I got avatars once again.

Where am I?

Hands and heads:

Here we are again!

It's a nice sequence of screenshots in itself, but they show another thing: these days there are more avatars on the Berlin landing point than I have ever seen previously in Twinity. The screenshot only shows a few, there were much more! It's getting busier there, and that's a good thing. People sometimes complain about empty sites in Second Life, and I had the same feeling when wandering alone through an alpha version of Berlin, a couple of months ago. I was the only guy there! That's a lot less likely to happen these days, and Twinity could profit from that, as it adds to the positive flow and momentum. Next up: London, another city that's supposed to become available in Twinity. I'm guessing it will be 2009 before we get to see it, but who knows..

(not) making money

While thinking about buying the Promissa parcel I blogged about, I stumbled upon this blog item by Prokofy Neva, about the profitability of rentals in Second Life. It seems it's hard to take a decent return on investment in the rentals business, mostly due to tier fees and other, associated costs.

I know I am not making a profit off my rentals, currently. For one, I wasn't using the available space in my land tier, meaning I paid Linden Labs a monthly fee for the right to own land which I didn't have. Unused space in a land tier an investment with zero return! Right now, after buying the Promissa parcel, my tier is used for all but 363 meters, meaning I'm finally (mostly) getting what I pay for.

Occupancy is the defining factor in profitability for rentals. If I have 100% occupancy in a given month, I am a few US Dollars short of breaking even. The chances of this happening, however, are very small; usually occupancy for my parcels is somewhere between 35 and 100%, hovering around 80% on average, meaning this whole business costs me a couple of US dollars each month.

In truth, if I could keep all the proceeds of my parcels myself, I could break even at 80% occupancy. But, part of the rental fee goes to Tropical Beach Rentals, Zena Silverstar's team, who take care of my parcels. They do an excellent job, I couldn't handle this land without them; they deserve their part of the cake.

That doesn't mean I'm not going to try to break even. I'll have to take a look at the rental prices, for instance. Some of the parcels are on an excellent spot. For instance the parcels in the snapshot at the top of this post: the parcel at the bottom is the new one I bought in Promissa and my parcels in Timandra are to the left. All of these are bordering at Linden owned waterways and have a really nice view of Shipwreck Island in the middle, realised there by Tropical Beach Rentals just for this purpose. And in Fortimus, I created Fortimus Harbour specifically to guarantee tenants a good spot and access to water. Perhaps those parcels could yield more rent in the future.

Also, maybe I need to do something about publicity: get occupancy up by advertising here or there. That's something I haven't paid any attention to, so far.

So why am I effectively paying money to be in the SL land business? Well.. Second Life is a game, isn't it? Part of the fun in SL for me, is the role playing element, which I do in the land business. I am enjoying myself, tenants get a nice place to stay, while paying the biggest part of the bill. I'm fine with that.


As I blogged back in june, I own a couple of parcels in Timandra and Fortimus, which are up for rent. The ever excellent Zena Silverstar and her team of Tropical Beach Rentals manage my parcels, so there's not much for me to do except check up on the parcels every now and then.

Last week I noticed a parcel across my land in Timandra was up for sale. It's a square island on Linden owned waterways, in the Promissa region. The problem is, if I wouldn't buy that parcel, I don't know who will. You never know what a new neighbour will put up there, it might ruin the view from your parcels!

Plus, Tropical Beach Rentals created a nice 'shipwreck island' there, solely to provide tenants with a nice view - similar to the Fortimus Harbour I created for the Fortimus rentals. The parcel up for sale has a perfect view on Shipwreck Island, so it's only logical to keep it 'in the family' as it were.

Therefore I decided to buy it. Besides, it nicely used the space left in my tier; I now have only 363 meters left before growing to the next tier. Which I, to be honest, am not planning to do!

As per usual, I leave it up to Zena Silverstar and Tropical Beach Rentals to do something nice with the parcel. These should be a couple of really nice spots!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Virtual Dom, Cologne

Virtual Dom, Cologne, originally uploaded by seredwoollahra.

It's not only China that rebuilds cultural heritage in a virtual world; before the Virtual Forbidden City, there were similar projects in Second Life! This is the Dom church, from the German city of Cologne (Köln). You'll never see it from this perspective in real life :-)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clarke and the credit crunch

A while ago I mentioned reading up on Arthur C. Clarke's works, and that many of his science fiction writings are still relevant today, sometimes decades after they were first published. This weekend, while on a short holiday, I bought another one of his volumes: Rama II, the sequel to the well known book "Rendezvous with Rama". Rama II was written in cooperation with Gentry Lee and published in 1989.

Rama II recounts how, after the first encounter with Rama in the 22th century, mankind turns to massive self gratification and self indulgence as a result of that event. People party like it's 1999, loaned money is recklessly spent on consumer goods, and it seems there's no end to economic growth. But there's serious flaws in the underlying economy, and soon warnings are heard to limit credit and balance budgets. These calls are not heeded and on one single day, three large global banks announce insolvency due to the huge amounts of bad loans on their balance sheets. As a result, stock markets all over the world crash, and when people attempt to dump their stocks en masse, the losses worsen to unprecedented lows. The result is a deep global recession that will, essentially, bring modern civilisation to it's knees. A period of unemployment, hunger, worldwide religious and political turmoil follows, resulting in a chaos that's essentially undoing mankinds' progress of several hundreds of years.

Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it? When I first read this, it really hit me: we haven't seen the "turmoil and chaos" bit, and I sure hope we don't have to, but the rest fairly accurately describes what's been going on recently.

The difference between 2008 and Rama II so far, is that in Rama II politicians are unable to intervene in a meaningful way. We've obviously seen a lot of government intervention lately, but we don't know yet whether that will turn out to be successful or not. Speaking for the Dutch market, it seems that on the short term the government interventions have worked, but this crisis isn't finished yet. We'll have to wait and see. I just hope we'll be spared the turmoil-and-chaos phase that Rama II so accurately describes..

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Virtual Forbidden City: examine a copy

One of the cool things about the Virtual Forbidden City is the "examine a copy" feature, available in the information popup windows.

In the Virtual Forbidden City, information on objects (buildings, statues for instance) is available in popup windows, which can be triggered by clicking on said objects. The popup window provides written information and sometimes real world photos, but also a button that says "examine a copy". If you press it, a slowly revolving scale model of the object appears in the window. I've been using this function a couple of times to get a better view of a building or statue, and it really gives you a much better idea of the design, the layout or the proportions of it. You can also zoom in, rotate or move the camera to get a better view of a certain detail, or to view the object from any angle you want, including from below. Definitely not possible in the real Forbidden City :-)

Virtual Forbidden City - Throne at the Hall of Supreme Harmony

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Virtual Forbidden City: imperial dinner

I've spent some time in the Virtual Forbidden City, and I really like it so far. Anyone with a general interest in history or culture should pay a visit!
More information is here: Virtual Forbidden City".

For anyone who cares to post a screenshot to Flickr, I have created a Flickr group for the Virtual Forbidden City. It can be found here:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Virtual Forbidden City

IBM's Almaden Island was one of the first places in Second Life I visited. Wandering around, I noticed a billboard apparently advertising a Second Life rebuild of the Forbidden City, China's imperial palaces in Beijing. Amazed, I tried to visit the place, but unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to. Even now, quite some time later, this sign is still up there, even though I've never heard of someone actually visiting it!

But it seems IBM is involved in more than one virtual rendering of the Forbidden City. In cooperation with The Palace Museum, the current inhabitants of the Forbidden City, they have published the Virtual Forbidden City. It is an IBM Corporate Citizenship project, intended to "provide the means for a worldwide audience to celebrate and explore Chinese culture and history."

It's a 200 MB download, and it runs in a window. You can just visit as a guest or register and become part of the community. I'm not sure what the added value of a community is for such an environment, but I registered anyway, to see what it can bring. As for visiting the city, I'm still at the gate as you can see below. Tonight I hope to explore more of the interior of the Virtual Forbidden City!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Metaplace beta

A long time ago, I applied to particpate in the Metaplace alpha. I never really heard much from it anymore, but to my suprise I received an invite to join in, a couple of days ago. Here we go again: after Twinity, Google Lively, Just Leap In and OpenSim, here's Metaplace, brought to you by Areae, a venture capital backed company, presided over by Raph Koster.

Not a world
Metaplace, by the way, isn't a virtual world, it's a platform. Their goal is to do away with separate client installs for individual, separate, disconnected virtual worlds. Instead, they envisage an infrastructure of tailor made virtual worlds, interconnected if so desired, built on Metaplace technology and accessible through the browser.

Browser based worlds
This begins to sound familiar, doesn't it? Just Leap In more or less offers the same, and Google Lively also shares some of these properties. The difference is that both Google Lively and JLI require a separate plugin installation, while Metaplace uses Flash, something most endusers already have in their browser. Another difference between Lively,JLI and Metaplace is that Metaplace does not just provide a 'room' but an infrastructure. It has developers' tools, code, APIs and the like. In this regard it is much richer than JLI and Google Lively. More like Second Life, actually.

Competing with Linden Labs, OpenSim
If Metaplace wants to become the platform of choice for virtual (social or game) worlds on the internet, they'll have to compete with Linden Labs and OpenSim. On their own, Linden Labs can't really win this battle; Second Life is just one big virtual world amongst others. But with OpenSim and, more specifically, the Open Grid beta that's going on, the Linden Labs client technology suddenly becomes a much more viable platform choice. Anyone can install or create OpenSim worlds, and use the Second Life viewer - or open source flavors of it - to access them. The technology being built and tested in the Open Grid beta ties it all together: Second Life, other Linden Labs owned sims, OpenSim based worlds, all accessible from the same rich and tested client.

Graphics, UI
I am, currently, very busy with real life stuff, so I am not done exploring Metaplace yet - not by a longshot. But I must say, the graphics and UI are, currently, still underwhelming. I haven't found a way to change the camera point of view, for instance. And running on full screen, it definitely looks like some of the PC games my kids play, like Rollercoaster Tycoon. But hey, it's beta..