image virtual worlds second Life or Opensim
OpenSim,  Second Life,  Snoots Dwagon

OpenSim versus Second Life? Not Really

Sometimes we read on various forums or blogs: comments, discussions, debates or even verbal wars comparing Second Life to OpenSim (OpenSim is short for OpenSimulator). We often find comments from emotionally upset people, openly attacking one grid or another as being “better” or “worse”.

But are such comments, debates and wars actually warranted? Is this a matter of Second Life versus OpenSim…or is something greater than either involved? It’s not that there isn’t anything to complain about on Second Life or OpenSim. I won’t spend time here addressing the multitudinous problems of both systems, for neither system is lacking in issues, some of them major ones. There are those who complain of Linden Lab’s corporate greed and shifting policies, and those who complain of OpenSim’s multiple physics and script engines and seemingly random development. Such complaints wouldn’t be wrong.  But I’m not here to address these issues, nor the thousands of others that we all know exist on virtual worlds; just look at the bug lists some time.

The issue I discuss here is that of pitting Second Life and OpenSim against one another…when in truth they are different products designed to appeal to different people…with a significant crossover factor.This is not immediately obvious since both systems are practically identical. But aside from visible similarities, are these two products intended for the same audiences? Are they really identical? More importantly, are they ‘competitors”…or something more? The answers are complex.

Different Community Styles

Second Life is primarily an economy / land-driven environment.  Because of the excessively high price of land, people often band together in communities called “groups” both to pool their funds to pay for those expensive lands…and to accomplish the goals of that group. It may be to support charities such as Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society, to run dance and music clubs, shopping malls and other businesses, role playing groups, or just to have fun like the tinies at Raglan Shire. The Second Life environment by its very nature forces people into smaller-land-area communities, which has the enviable side effect of tending to make those communities larger and more active. In truth there is only one Second Life, one physics engine, one script engine, and anyone belonging to Second Life lives within the structure of that singular grid. It is a “concentrated” virtual grid.

OpenSim on the other hand is a vast community of individual grids—at last count numbering over 8,000 and growing.  Some of these are “commercial grids” that like Second Life charge for land—though at a far more affordable price.  Some have a limited economy. These commercial grids run in different ways according to the business plans of the owners. Commercial grids usually do not offer land and inventory personal backups, but they do offer land at very reasonable prices. Those lands are usually larger than Second Life, far less expensive, and offer more “prims” (or LI—Land Impact) than Second Life. The commercial grid owners can be more generous, because their overhead is far lower and they don’t have clamouring stockholders to answer to.

Unlike Second Life, OpenSim is no single grid, no single physics engine, no single script engine, no single ToS. OpenSim is highly diverse, wide-spread, and largely unorganized. Concentrated, goal-oriented groups are few and far between. Large groups—numbering in the thousands of members—are non-existent. The largest commercial grids on OpenSim each have an active population smaller than many of the large groups on Second Life—yet the total active population of OpenSim is significantly larger than Second Life’s. OpenSim is a very different environment…which makes it a similar but very different product.

VARs or Single Regions?

There will always be comparisons between Second Life and OpenSim. On OpenSim it is very common to find VARs…the equivalent area of multiple regions (sims) forming one region. Instead of charging $250 a month for a small 256x256m chunk of virtual land…OpenSim regularly offers 2×2 VARs (512x512m regions with no sim-crossing lines) for $20 to $40 a month (depending on user needs). 4×4 VARs (1024x1024m—a 16-region equivalent) are popular as well. Clearly this is very attractive to creators, builders, and those who simply want their own large lands without breaking the bank.  Comparatively, Second Life charges (currently) $250 for a single 256x256m region. Obviously, OpenSim is a different product designed to appeal to a different market.

Pay a Fortune to a Closed Grid—Or Run Your Own Grid?

OpenSim offers—if the user chooses it and has the means—the ability to run your own grid-server (which can be as simple as setting up a small laptop in your home). This permits individuals to create their own grids, establish their own communities—and have 100% control over the lands, contents of those lands, and even their inventory—all of which can be backed up to an external hard drive or the Cloud. The average cost of such a grid is the equipment itself, the Internet, which one already has, and electricity. For my own server I purchased a nearly-new business laptop (fast i-5 processor) for $300 and plugged it into my router. I run two 5×5 VARS (25 region equivalent each) called Elvensong and Frankensteinboth attached to OSgrid… an experimental grid collective).  In high-sky Elvensong I run a second world called Replicant Citya large, popular science fiction city / tourist attraction. The monthly cost of running my own server and 50+ “regions”of land is about $5 in electricity to keep the laptop going 24/7.  (And of course, replacing the equipment when it goes bad, which I’ve had to do a couple of times. Still, far cheaper than a year of one Second Life region.)

Content Theft and Creation—A Touchy Issue

Two very common claims coming from Second Life users is that “OpenSim is all content theft” or the equally false “No new content is created on OpenSim”. In reality nothing could be further from the truth.

It is true that content theft is widespread—but such exists on both OpenSim and Second Life alike. Content theft existed long before OpenSim was a twinkle of an idea…and it existed on Second Life. This was a result of two things:  1) It is very difficult if not nearly impossible to stop content theft—at least, so we’re told, 2) Linden Lab itself has publicly refused to ban “copybotting”, stating—correctly—that it has legitimate uses. What uses? Backing up your own creations to your personal hard drive for one. This is a feature that should have been added to Second Life from the very beginning—or forbidden at TOS level, one of the two. Neither is the case, so third-party copy devices have been created—and even sold on Second Life Marketplace—to handle this very real need. Why is it a need? Because Second Life on occasion destroys inventory…or causes object perms to go bad…or in some other fashion damages creations beyond fixing. In such instance it is good to have a backup of that creation on a local drive so it can be imported back into the system. This reality was recognized with the advent of the Firestorm viewer, which includes very limited functions for backing up personal creations to a local drive.

As far as the charge that nothing new is created on OpenSim…in reality a significant amount of what is found on Second Life originated on OpenSim. Because of expensive Second Life upload fees, creators have long used OpenSim as a testing ground for their creations, then moved them to Second Life once the creation was proved and finished. Further, Opensim has its own online market. Kitely Market is strictly policed by very conscientious management.  Only original creations are allowed on that market– and there are thousands of offerings on that market.

In addition, people create things on OpenSim for the sheer joy of creating. It is a builder’s paradise. When I joined OpenSim, Second Life had build distance limits of 30 meters and 256 prims. Even today Second Life’s link limit is 60 meters and the same 256 prims. OpenSim has no link limits, either in prim count or distance. As a result I own a spaceship that a friend and I built that is 1,000 prims, 105 meters long of pure detail—being linked as one object, flies like a dream instead of a multi-object, lag-scripted tin can in a tornado.

For years Second Life had a prim size limit of 10 meters. Even today that limit is 60 meters. OpenSim allows prims as large as 128 meters, 256 meters or larger (depending on grid parameters).  This allows for some incredibly majestic creations that are simply not possible on Second Life (very limited “”megaprims” aside). On OpenSim one can create an “enclosure globe” for an entire city, providing an amazing environmental capsule. I use one such “star globe” to surround my scifi themed Replicant City. In fact, Replicant City is an excellent example, since the entire city was created on OpenSim over a period of 12 years (from mid-2010 to mid-2022).  There is no lack of original creations on OpenSim.

So this controversy is a non-controversy. Content theft exists EVERYWHERE, on both Second Life and OpenSim. It is all but unstoppable. It is a reality of virtual life. There is certainly plenty of original content that is regularly created on OpenSim.  Such arguments are presentations of biased, opinionated people—not a battle of Second Life versus OpenSim. In truth, OpenSim has provided many of the creations currently available on Second Life. It is a symbiotic relationship that benefits Second Life, not an adversarial one.

OpenSim: A Lack of Community

The “cheap land and open grids” reality of OpenSim has its own pros and cons. On Second Life land is so expensive that people very often form a group just to be able to afford a small plot for a home.  But with OpenSim, when one can purchase an entire region or four (or 16, or 64) for the same price as a small plot of Second Life land, people have a greater tendency to just buy their own land and join groups only for specific interest. On OpenSim there is no financial need to either form or join a group.

On the one hand (as mentioned above), Opensim is a creator’s paradise. Builders love OpenSim, both for the huge amounts of land and prims, as well as the expanded building tools which aren’t available on Second Life. They also love being able to back up their creations to their hard drives (or if they own their own server or micro-grid, their entire inventory).  Those who aren’t builders are often “landscape designers”, creating entire worlds / cities / lands / communities from existing creations they have purchased or picked up as freebies, which are very common on OpenSim. The results can be quite impressive.

And that’s the downside of OpenSim, unlike Second Life, OpenSim tends to be a large collection of very small and private communities—or even individuals—instead of large groups of very active members. There is no denying that Second Life is far more social than OpenSim, more productive, more goal-oriented. The reason is simple: it is not divided among thousands of individual grid owners.

It’s not that there is no community or events on OpenSim. There are some terrific communities, and some fun events.  But there’s no denying: when it comes to community and events, Second Life rules the roost. OpenSim is a more laid-back, spread-out, personal-space environment.

The Hypergrid

OpenSim does have one thing Second Life doesn’t: the Hypergrid.  This is an instant-transport “virtual highway” that allows one to jump from grid to grid almost as easily as one teleports on Second Life. So although the grids are divided they are also joined via the Hypergrid. This is a very nice convenience if one wishes to attend events or visit friends across multiple grids. One would almost wish Second Life would join the Hypergrid—but to do that Linden Lab would have to recognize and legitimize OpenSim, and there are admitted security issues created by the Hypergrid. (Second Life is a “closed” grid; OpenSim is aptly named.)

As a result, if one looks more closely into this—we do not really find a situation of Second Life versus Opensim.  We find instead it’s a matter of Second Life and OpenSim. The reality is that a large number of OpenSim members are self-admitted “grid hoppers”; they own their own land or grid on OpenSim where they create to their heart’s content…and then go to Second Life to attend events and party.  There’s nothing wrong with doing so.

The Educational Community

OpenSim has been of special interest to the educational community. At one time Linden Lab made another severe mistake of cancelling their land discount for educational communities. Again it was a matter of the company misunderstanding the resolve of their clients; instead of staying and paying the higher price for land, educators closed not only regions but entire projects. Realizing they could now run their own servers or even own their own grids, many of those educational institutions moved to OpenSim. Again this is not a matter of Second Life versus OpenSim; it’s a matter of Linden Lab making yet another very. bad. mistake.—and losing valuable customers to OpenSim. Linden Lab was very slow to learn. Unwilling to recognize the popularity of OpenSim, it would be years before Linden Lab began courting the education community again. But by that time those communities already owned their own grids over which they had total control; what need did they have to return to a far more costly and inhibiting alternative?

Current Status

There are some individuals who hate Linden Lab and Second Life, and such is understandable based on their experiences. Alternately there are Second Life members who regularly badmouth, harass and slander OpenSim on the forums, seeing it as “competition” to Second Life (which admittedly, it is). Yet there is no denying that after all these years Linden Lab still desposits millions each month in the bank and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Likewise OpenSim continues to grow and gain in popularity.

So if Second Life continues to be profitable, and OpenSim continues to grow…where is the concern? Why the animosity?

OpenSim helped keep people in the virtual environment…and those people still visit Second Life regularly.

In truth, if not for OpenSim likely thousands of people would have left virtual life altogether and sought out other recreation and social activities. OpenSim helped keep people in the virtual environment…and those people still visit Second Life regularly.

Second Life is a group and community grid. It is extremely active, despite the high cost of land.  That cost of land practically forces people into strongly-forged group communities.  To meet tier costs those groups regularly host events and rent land. This makes Second Life a very strong, condensed system with very loyal users. Some groups number in the thousands. The downside: there’s a considerable amount of drama and stress…largely caused by the competition of groups vying for members in order to pay those high tier costs.

OpenSim is almost a polar opposite. OpenSim is large and widespread, consisting of thousands of individual communties. Lands are inexpensive and easy to own, so condensed, high-impact groups aren’t necessary to meet tier. Groups have no need to compete with one another for members. There are fewer events, and those events tend to be smaller than Second Life events. The largest commercial grids on OpenSim have a smaller total population than some of the larger groups on Second Life. There’s really no comparison if one looks closely at the social structure and environment. They are different products.

I visit music festivals and dances on both OpenSim and Second Life.  I play in a virtual band on Second Life called  Keeba and the Tiny Maniacs…but I also host music events on OpenSim. I have by the graces of the owners of Sendalonde Community Library on DigiWorldz opened Rascal Flats, a 2 1/2 region “tiny town” with free homes, free avatars, and lots of things for tinies to do. But I also regularly visit the long-standing Raglan Shire group on Second Life. I wouldn’t miss their Talent Show, Wootstock, or Medieval Month (I recently scored second place in their archery contest…then got severely stabbed and lanced in their arena and Jousting tournament. Them tinies is vishus). For me it’s not a matter of OpenSim versus Second Life; it’s a matter of Opensim and Second Life…the best of both worlds.

And I am totally fine with that.  😀

Links of Interest

Second LIfe

Hypergridbusiness: OpenSim Grids List

OpenSimulator (WikiPedia article)