Bright Canopy, the new streaming service, which allows users on low-end computers to access both Second Life and OpenSim has announced it will officially launch on Saturday, August 29th at a single monthly subscription price, which for the first 90 days (at least) will be $17.00 a month.
The service, which was established by SL users Bill Glover and his wife, Jeri (known in-world as Chaos Priestman and Beth Robbani respectively in-world), arose directly as a result of the May 2015 closure of the SL Go streaming service provided by former on-line streaming games supplier, OnLive. What’s more, and on a personal note, I’m pleased to be able to say that this blog had a hand in bringing things about – although my involvement as a beta user hasn’t been as extensive as I’d hoped.
As a result of the cessation of SL Go as a result of OnLive’s decision to sell, I ruminated on the potential of the Lab running a streamed SL service through Amazon AppSstream. This caught Bill’s eye and imagination, prompting him to comment:
Let’s just do it ourselves! You really got me thinking. I’d can launch a service right now if I get enough folks for Beta.
Things further progressed when I wrote about Nebadon Izumi’s work in getting the viewer and OpenSim delivered over AppStream. My article prompted Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO of Frame, a cloud-based service focused on delivering Windows applications to users, to suggest his service could be used to deliver Second Life through the cloud.
Bill and Nikola quickly got their heads together, and within 24 hours, they had their own proof-of-concept running, delivering the official SL viewer over Frame via Amazon.
Not long after that, and with the support of SL and OpenSim users, a small alpha test commenced, which expanded to an invite-only pre-launch beta, which again in turn gradually opened its doors wider and wider as time as progressed and issues dealt with.
While operating as independent companies, the synergy between Frame and Bright Canopy has been impressive, with the former working hard to ensure the latter can provide a scalable, robust service, as Bill has worked to ensure the viewer behaves itself when streamed and can support the services users expect – notably voice.
“Frame is excited to provide infrastructure support to make projects like Bright Canopy scale globally,” Nikola stated during the official launch announcement. “Bill has captured the imagination and the energy of the Second Life community. We’ve been impressed by the cooperative and open approach of the Bright Canopy team.”
One of the core benefits of running with Frame, is the company has an established track record in delivering Windows applications over cloud services (indeed, in June 2015, Frame closed a further US $10 million round of funding, such is the scope of interest in their approach). This means they have the technical expertise to be able to help Bright Canopy scale over time, and to offer the kind of delivery speeds users expect (local network vagaries allowing). The company already has a global presence itself, notably utilising Amazon’s backbone, with points of presence across the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.
Initially, Bright Canopy ran using only Frame’s presence in California. Even so, and for many in the USA and Europe, results were impressive. Later, Dublin was added to the mix, offering greatly reduced latency to beta users in Europe. With the launch on August 29th, Bright Canopy will additionally leverage Frame’s presence on the US East Coast to again enhance the service.
The new monthly pricing plan, which will completely replace the hourly plan used during the beta period, has initially been set at US $17.00 a month for the first 90 days. However, Bright Canopy warn that this may be subject to increase – although they hope very much to avoid this.
The problem here is that Bright Canopy is currently being provisioned via Amazon’s Spot Instances. Normally, these are the most cost-effective way to deliver a service, but they have lately been subject to an insane bidding war, resulting in massive price spikes.
This means that Bright Canopy need to watch the situation very carefully, as Bill explained in the launch announcement:
Our early bird price is going to be an experiment for 90 days. If you’ve been following the blog, you know we’ve seen price fluctuations on the back-end, and we still need to watch actual usage of the service. $17 is a sustainable price if the instance costs return to their typical, historical values. It is not a sustainable price with the current spike in instance price. We may need to get creative with how we split instances, or we may need to raise prices. We intend to remain transparent as always and will keep you posted. Our goal is to continue to maintain a sustainable, affordable service.
If a price increase is required, it will be announced when Bright Canopy have had an opportunity to assess the best way forward, and with sufficient time for users to determine how they’d like to proceed.
Commenting on this to me as we chatted about the upcoming launch, Bill said, “If we have to raise rates we will do everything we can to give people their money’s worth. And it may be that we can keep people who are already signed-up at the original rate and only charge it to new sign-ups, but I can’t promise that yet.”
And for those who might feel that even US $17.00 a month is a little pricey compared to OnLive’s US $9.95 offering, here’s a couple of points to remember: both Frame and Amazon incur overheads that Bright Canopy must meet in order to operate, and these have to be factored into costs in order for the business to be viable. More to the point, OnLive may well have offered SL Go at US $9.95 a month alongside their flagship CloudLift service for gamers – but this price point wasn’t enough to allow the company to generate the revenues it needed to remain viable.
During the alpha and beta testing periods, Chrome was the preferred browser for access Bright Canopy. I asked Bill if this will still be the case as things move towards a launch. “Chrome is still preferred,” he said. “Safari and Firestorm work but they don’t have sound yet – we’re working on that. iOS native and other native platforms are coming.”
With the ability to download snapshots to services like Dropbox, full voice support (currently on Chrome, as noted), and the ability for users to save logs and preferences (the latter currently Firestorm only, although the official viewer will soon offer the means to save and load graphics presets), Bright Canopy already offers several advantages over the SL Go service which may well be attractive to users – and have proven popular during the beta.
“Second Life offers incredible immersive experiences,” Bill stated in launch announcement. “You can literally do anything; that’s why Second Life offers everything from historical recreations, to adventure and role-play, to those very practical uses in healthcare, science, education and training. But without the raw processing power to handle the graphics, people can miss out on enjoying the incredible visual richness in the platform. Bright Canopy gives them the means to enjoy Second Life at its highest graphics settings through their web browser.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Bright Canopy, you can register your interest via their website, and keep abreast of things on their blog.