Linden Lab changes Openspace (and for the better)

Linden Lab announced several changes to Openspace sims in Second Life causing a bit of an uproar in the Second Life community.  Unlike many people I think that these changes are for the best. The changes in the new policy can help land owners, and recreate larger mainland communities. Before I delve into my thoughts of these changes, lets revisit what exactly is a Openspace sim.

What are Openspace Sims

Openspace Sims were introduced by Linden Lab in September 2006 as areas designated for ‘light use’. Initially I assumed these sims would be used to as a way to connect a community of sims together or provide additional scenery (such as a beach or a forest) without having to utilize much of their main sims resources.

The ‘light use’ designation for these sims made sense. 1 Openspace sim used 1/4 of a CPU core; a quad core server, the sort of servers Linden Lab uses, supports 16 Openspace sims.  Comparing Openspace sims to regular sims, 1 Openspace sim is a 1/4 of a regular sim, as each one which was tethered to a CPU Core (thus 4 regular sims on a quad core server.)

What occurred in the marketplace

Estate owners had different plans as to utilize Openspace sims and used them as rental spaces, homes, and stores. In the past I’ve been offered rental space on a Openspace sim, but I’ve always felt I was being hoodwinked.  The premise of more land and prims on a server that was a 1/4 of a sim at the same cost of a regular sim never made any sense to me. While there are some benefits (such as cost and privacy), they never outweighed the stability of residing on a regular sim.  This with Linden Lab lack of performance support on Openspace sims solidified my view. As stated on the Second Life Support Center:

It is therefore important to understand what these regions are. They are provided for light use only, not for building, living in, renting as homes or use for events. As a stretch of open water for boating or a scenic wooded area they are fine, but we do not advise more serious use than this and will not respond to performance issues reported should you not use them in this way.

However, from a business standpoint Openspace sims became an easy way to offset a rise in costs to Class 5 servers when they were introduced. I’m sure there were also abuses (as hinted through Jack’s blog post); I can imagine someone being ripped off thinking they were renting a regular sim but received an Openspace sim.

Why the new policy is a good thing

Jack Linden mentioned some of the ramifications of excessive Openspace sim use:

The overuse of Openspaces has also put additional strain on some of our network and database infrastructure at a much higher ratio than is reflected in the current pricing. So higher traffic to and from the servers along with heavier demands on the asset server, both of which impact the overall experience people have inworld.

While a budding business person may benefit from having a store on an Openspace sim, the customer does not if they are suffering from poor simulator performance. Think about it, a store with vendors, items, textures causes some server load, multiplied by the amount of avatars on the sim and this load increases. Include the load of scripts in the store, and the textures, objects and scripts an avatar is wearing at any given time; a sim has to help process a lot of these things. All of this occurs on a system a fourth of the processing power of a regular sim. If a great deal of load is created by all of these factors on a regular sim; it is further worsened on an Openspace sim. This causes major performance issues, a server that begins to buckle, and a upset customer who has had a horrible shopping experience in your store.

The same could be said for homeowners. A single home on an Openspace sim could be great for someone who wants privacy and great scenery. However the home, plus the scripts in the home could provide a horrible experience.

Openspace sims being used for homeowners, and stores is a bad thing; it hurts those whom rent regular sims and those on the mainland.  The rise in Openspace sims creates less of a push for mainland and regular sim rentals forcing business people to change their business model for cheaper Openspace spaces or forcing people out of the rental market because they are unable to compete.

Many people liked Openspace sims for their estate level privacy tools, but there are still many privacy issues yet to be addressed on the mainland.  If more people are not on mainland sims, privacy issue gets tucked underneath other issues.

There is also the comment that the mainland is “ugly” and chaotic. If more people are not on the mainland then the issues that plague it are never brought to the forefront.

If the same sort of community building that was poured into Openspace sims can occur on the mainland there would be more powerful communities, such as Luskwood or Indigo. The problems that plague mainland could be brought even further to the forefront and there could be full mainland sims with a community of stores, or rentals.

Some people will be hurt however

There are some people who do suffer from the rise of the Openspace costs. I believe most of this suffering will be mitigated elsewhere. While there will be challenges, I don’t think communities are going to disappear due to these changes.

I generally do not subscribe to the fanatic doom and gloom responses that changes in these policies evoke. Changes in these polices force estate owners and land renters to revisit their business practices. In the long term this may be beneficial to the Second Life community as a while.

20 thoughts on “Linden Lab changes Openspace (and for the better)

  1. Pingback: Linden Lab has it’s business model ass backwards | VintFalken.com

  2. Hello Nexeus,
    I have to respectfully disagree. I have had (in Dreamland) a low-prim 1/2 sim for a long time now. At the time, it was the perfect compromise between cost, prim allocation, and privacy.

    Not having seen the operations costs for LL, I can’t speak to the proper balance of servers/sims/users, but I think they’re missing the point that there’s a loud outpouring of customer sentiment that indicates that their classic sim pricing is perhaps not serving the non-enterprise customer base, and that there’s a volume opportunity assuming certain economies of scale from an ops perspective.

    I’ve worked in the ISP business, so I understand how difficult it can be to project provisioning requirements and forecast customer need without either oversubscribing inappropriately or overbuilding. That’s part of being professional, you take your best shot and try to serve your customers.

    It’s interesting. I wonder what the unintended consequence of this will be vis a vis support and user interest in the opensim-compatible grids that I see springing up?

  3. @August, these are two different issues. The change in the Openspace sim policy and the possibility that the pricing structure for current simulators don’t work may be related but not the same issue. Is purchasing a sim an expensive task, yes, could Linden Lab make it more affordable or flexible, possibly. The problem is your sim does not reside on a computer, but on the grid as a whole, when your sim restarts, that computer which is holding several other sims does not restart, instead it gets restarted and allocated to another computer throughout the grid (as how I understand how this works).

    It’s more then operation costs, but architecture.

  4. @Cathereine Your right, could have the price increase been announced at a less sensitive time, possible if the price increases were going into effect immediately. The market may rebound completely by January.

  5. While I understand that LL may have underestimated the use of such sims it is now blaming the end user for their mistake. It is on LL to create tools/stats to allow users to build within the limits they prescribe.

    I think raising the price should have been done only after attempting to connect with the people they say are abusing the posted limits.

    While the author may not mind an almost doubling of the fees many educators and non-profits who struggled with approval boards to get their virtual world ideas launched now face that same board again with a need to double pricing for no reason that can be found in writing from LL clearly.

    What is a water space? Why can’t you fill it with all the prims you are allowed? Perhaps a limit on scripting or concurrent visitors would have saved LL enough money to avoid this additional cost. I am a huge fan of Second Life and LL but this move, especially punishing non-profits, leaves me very uneasy.

  6. Pingback: Linden Lab Raising Tier on Openspace Property « Around the Grid

  7. I’ll just post my thoughts here in the same form I did on the forum…

    All this talk of OS sims intended use is little more then subterfuge.

    Well before LL engineered the rush to purchase OS sims by doubling the prim count, allowing them to be purchased singly (on demand), lowering the price (making them feasable for individual purchase). allowing them to be placed anywhere on the grid instead of tied to an estate (Privacy!)… well before any of that, the primary use of OS sims with 1875 prims on them was… guess what? residential.

    Linden labs knew it, of course. Everyone did. Remember all the ads for 64k low prim sims? 1875 prims on 64ksqm was fetching between $96 and $105 – every ad boasting your own private paradise. Could anyone have missed it? LL certainly didnt. Seeing this use of the open space sims LL took the extraordinary step of… clamping down?

    No… they doubled the prim count. They automated their purchase. They made them the most sought after product in SL history. What are the chances they thought everyone wanted an island full of water out in the middle of nowhere?

    That move singlehandedly drove the land market into the wastebin.

    So why would they be doing this now, after having engineered this mess in the first place? As somebody up there said… “follow the money”.

    Awhile back they devalued full prim sims by 40% and made all the changes to OS sims for one reason. to increase thier income from tiers. But they did it in a very deliberate way.

    First they doubled the prims on OS sims – seemingly just a “gift” at the time. The effect was to increase the value of OS sims overnight. Alot of people bought alot of OS sims at $415 or so thinking they had just doubled in value with no additional cost, that was the bait. OS purchase tickets went through the roof for a couple months. For awhile island deliverys were taking 3 weeks and there were hundreds in queue to be delivered at any given time (yep I bought a few).

    Net effect for LL was all those increased fees and tiers. and beyond the fees for OS sims were the fees to convert full prim sims to OS sims, since these new sims effectively killed the market for residential propery on them.

    Then, as soon as the queue dried up and the rush was over, *boom*. Lets lower the price of full prim sims by 40% and lower the price of OS sims to $250, that was the switch. An obviously calculated timing. It was almost certainly already on the drawing board while they were pumping them out at the higher prices. And of course the new land store was almost ready now, so… new land rush.

    In the meantime OpenSim had been getting a foothold and the writing was on the wall for Private Islands. Inside LL of course they had known this all along. They were/are selling something they know will be worthless soon enough.

    Several months later now and the glut has all but killed the rental market, of course they arent selling OS sims anymore, what does that mean to LL? Oops, no new fees coming in, gotta do something about that.

    So now this… increase the fees for OS sims, under the guise of course that that will resolve the “abusive usage” they so readily engineered into them. And whats the net effect going to be?

    Private Islands that they just spent all this time pumping out to us for $millions are worthless. Those that dont abandon them will have to pay more fees to convert them back to full sims. Those that do abandon them? Well their tenants will have to live someplace…

    Oh! Nautilus just opened up (again with the auspicious timing)! Why, alll those homeless tenants can go bid on 1k plots for $300!

    This has been about one thing from the beginning. LL knows it will lose the Private Island business as soon as the grids are up and interconnecting. In the end it will be SL and their mainland. So now we have the new “clean up the mainland” initiative. And now we have Nautilus. And to capture their market before the grids open up they need to kill off the existing landowners and get their tenants buying mainland.

    Read between the lines. None of this is about community or even about infrastructure and load. Its about LL’s bottom line and how they can protect it into the future. No amount of pleading for fairness will have much of an effect, and if they introduce any amount of redress it will come with a fee, just like last time, Free Islands! (just pay the tier!)

    They are done with us (Private Island Landowners), they have nearly picked our pockets clean. Now they just need to steal our tenants and push us off the cliff. The only question left is… where to build the cliff? No worries, they will have a nice new continent for it just as soon as the homeless masses are hungry for mainland again :P

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  9. Pingback: Can we haz Open Space? «

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  12. Dear Nexeus,

    as one of the other commenters said: I have to respectfully disagree.

    It is very, very, very hard for me to believe that this price explosion is happening because someone at Linden Lab was “surprised” about how residents are using the Openspaces and how this will effect overall load on the grid. Calling this usage “abusive” is adding insult to injury.

    We at Otherland are renting out more than 100 Openspaces. Most of them are part of our sub-continent. Some are free floating. Half a dozen are used as spacers/buffers. We do that since 2006 when the first ones appeared on the market. It is the perfect material for our work. The number of problems or complaints about lag or generally low performance we experienced on this type of region (and we still use some class 4 based ones) is actually LOWER. We get more complaints (in relation to customer numbers) for our full prim regions. This is because nearly all of land is explicitely sold for RESIDENTIAL use and used like that. On the Openspaces you will rarely find more than 3 or 4 avatars at the same time. The total script time is around (or lower than) one millisecond on most of our Openspaces.

    Some people – you among them – might not like the idea of Openspaces to be used as more than “buffers” between “real” regions. I have heard that opinion before. Usually from people who like to build and script a lot. Yes, if that is what you like to do in SL, an Openspace provides less performance and more L$ per prim.

    Other people like to surround themselves with a beautiful landscape. For them, land on an Openspace is perfect. We have many, many happy customers who buy this kind of land exactly for this purpose.

    Jack Lindens statement – and pointing to an obscure Knowledge Base article, that those regions were never intended to be used for more than water and forests seems at least to be a little hypocritical to me. One might ask, as others did, why Linden Lab doubled the prim capacity of Openspaces a few months ago if they intended them to be used as open water, forests, or deserts ;-) You can create a LOT of waves or rocks with 3750 prims …

    Openspaces where a fine and rather popular product within our estate already before the latest changes. When those changes happened, demand soared. (NOT surprisingly.) Another thing happened, too: before the changes all Openspaces where connected to larger estates. In our case (with the Otherland Covenant) that made sure, people did NOT build clubs or malls there. I guess it was similar with many others of the better-managed estates. But with the relaxed rules about Openspace placement came a flood of single, isolated regions. Most of them where still used residential purposes. Some became cheap malls and clubs (anyone surprised here?).

    So, the usage patterns, which Jack Linden described as “abusive”, did appear exactly because of a set of design and rule changes, which Linden Lab introduced half a year ago – which made this product especially attractive to this kind of usage patterns. Interesting, isn’t it?

    Please do not get me wrong: I don’t think, that a higher price for Openspaces is not justified. Contrary to your assessment (which is fine for your preferences and needs), I do consider an Openspace region to be more valuable than 1/4 full prim region. What I find questionable is selling a few thousand items of a product first and then announcing a price hike of 60% to 70% for the running costs. Honi soit qui mal y pense …

    To me this smells more like milking the market and not protecting the user experience (like Jack and M liked to phrase it). If they misjudged the resource demands of Openspaces they should admit it. If they want more many to prepare for bad times or an IPO, they should admit it. But accusing customers of “abusing” a product, when the majority of them does not put more load on those regions than on Linden Lab’s own Openspaces is insulting and bad style.

    If “performance” would be the true cause for the price hike, there would be other solutions available, which would not destroy a lot of existing communities.

  13. ADDENDUM

    Small correction:
    Openspaces were not “introduced in September 2006″. We bought our first ones in April or May of 2006 and we sell land on this type of region since June 2006. Linden Lab themselves introduced this product a few months earlier with a 4 sim cluster, which was used for a scripted sailing environment. (One might mention, that scripted vehicles do not actually constitute “light use” for a sim …)

    As mentioned, there were never more performance problems with this type of land (some on Class 4 servers) in a timespan of more than 2 years, than on full prim servers. We hat three or four cases, where the customers had issues with script performance. These issues were solved with refunds or relocations. And there never was a case where a customer bought such land “accidentally” under the impression that he bought full prim land as you implied in your post.

    Another small correction regarding “to offset a rise in costs to Class 5 servers when they were introduced”: When Class 5 servers were introduced, they were sold at the same price as Class 4 servers. Class 4 servers were discontinued later and the prices for new servers were raised – implying that the new prices were caused by better performing Class 5 servers. ;-) This is at least debatable as the cost of hardware and bandwidth fell substantially between the time Class 4 was introduced and Class 5 appeared on the market.

    I understand the need for Linden Lab to improve its bottom line. I feel this need, too, especially after the Lab nearly killed the real estate market in 2008. But this should be communicated honestly, without trying to sell a business decision as being for “the greater good” and without insulting customers.

  14. @Dana I’ve been reading and keeping up with a lot of the after coverage of the opensim situation, and along with your comments I would like to clarify some things:
    1) There’s a misconception that Linden Lab never announced it for light use, but when they introduced the product in September 21st, on the blog initially as a 4 cluster light use sim, they made it clear then that it was intended for light use.
    2) I cannot verify how your purchased your sims or if they were openspace sim or a regular sim that you used to mimic as an openspace. There’s not a conversation I’m going to get into here. Based on the facts available to the public, they were introduced as a product in September 2006 as a general public as for sim clusters only.
    3) I have no problem, as mentioned above, for sims being used as buffers. That’s determined as light use. However, if you read my post I indicate that when used as rental spaces for homes and stores that generate more system strain and that becomes a problem in my opinion.

    If you do the math, imagine the amount of lag and system strain that items can have on a regular sim that runs on 1 CPU core. Now imagine that running on a system that has a 4th of that, and you can see where the problem begins.

    I feel that while many have become creative in their use of OS (and using it for things that it was not intended for) and while OS was given more resources (such as more prims), it was silly not to think that a price increase in the added use was to follow.

  15. Dear Nexeus,

    please do not try to misunderstand me. I never said, that 4 Openspaces do NOT cause a greater load on the Grid than one standard region in a comparable situation. Actually, any systems architect with a minimum of experience and only a rough understanding of the grid’s architecture can tell you that.

    What I am saying is:
    (1) This is not a “surprise”
    (2) When LL changed the specs for Opensims earlier this year and lowered the prices the big surge in demand for them was not a “surprise”
    (3) Residents using them for residential purposes was not a “surprise” – but established standard in 2007 already
    (4) Offering 3750 prims on such a region does not actually emphasize a use as empty “buffer” – or does it? ;-)
    (5) Removing the requirement, that an Openspace has to be connected to at least one other sim, does not actually emphasize a use as empty “buffer” – or does it? ;-)

    I leave it as an exercise to the reader, what might be the reason for the Lab to initiate a price raise of 66% – 150% for a product which obviously is in great demand. Let’s be reasonable: if it was Linden Lab’s intention to “protect Second Life/The Grid” from the ebil Openspace abusers – which REALLY IS a nice spin – there would be many technical ways to limit their load on the system. I am not sure, if you know LSL, but if not, ask someone who does and you will see, there are already a lot of “throttling limits” build into servers …

    Or, let me ask you a rhetorical question: Do you really believe, that the OPEC is trying to save the environment, when they raise prices on crude oil? ;-)

    p.s.: Its not really essential, when Openspaces were introduced on the grid. But please believe me that they do appear on my invoices from Linden Lab in the Spring of 2006; I checked :=) Even before that date, there were Openspaces for special projects (yesterday there was a protest regatta on Santa Barbara,Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and Santa Catalina. This cluster of 4 Openspace appeared on the grid even earlier …) You can easily verify this by searching the old forums. This information is available to the public. :=)

    Please forgive me. I don’t say this, to win a senseless argument. What I want to emphasize is:

    Openspaces are NOT a new product. Linden Lab has a lot of experience with them. They knew for a long time, how people are using them, when they invited people to use them even more intensely half a year ago by improving specs and lowering prices.

  16. I guess I am out of step with the majority of commentators on this issue and while I don’t think the policy change was handled effectively or fairly, I also suspect there is an element of hypocrisy emanating from some of the folks who are complaining; more specifically, the land owners who are renting out plots. It was made fairly explicit that openspace sims were NOT to be used for renting out, yet I am seeing post after post from people who start off by saying things like “my renters…” or “my landlord…” Neither of these relationships should exist! I have had some folks tell me that Linden Lab allowed the use of OS for rentals but have yet to have someone direct me to documentation that says LL allowed it.

    What irritates me is how the land barons are playing the role of innocent victim, yet they have been making a profit over the past few months by buying cheap land and then using it to generate income. I have NOT heard any of these folks offering to refund their rents to residents who are now being evicted. In fact, I suspect they are probably directing all the blame at LL rather than take any responsibility for breaking the rules in the first place.

    I could, of course, be wrong. Maybe I have missed some vital documentation that allowed folks to buy cheap land and rent it. Maybe the original blog that said, explicitly, “…not for building, living in, renting as homes” was wrong. I’d love to hear from anyone where I can find contrary information. In the mean time, I liken the land barons to the Wall Street banks, who after using sub-prime mortgages now want a bail out in the form of reduced fees for their OS sims.

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