SL Go has officially gone. The service ceased functioning on Friday, May 1st, after some considerable speculation on exactly when the service would stop.
As most, if not all, SL Go users are aware, notice that the service – along with OnLive’s other cloud services – would be coming to an end was given early in April, after OnLive decided to sell its portfolio of patents to Sony Computer Entertainment America. Way this came about is explained in a blog post from OnLive’s main investor (and former Chairman), Gary Lauder, and I also covered the reasons in a blog post of my own.
While it has originally be thought that SL Go would be popular as a means of access Second Life from tablets and while on the move in the physical world, it actually turned out that the service gained significant traction among those users accessing Second Life (and OpenSim, with the arrival of Firestorm as a supported viewer within SL Go), from low specification computers and laptop, as it enabled people to enjoy the full graphical richness of Second Life in a manner that would otherwise be beyond the capabilities of their hardware, and with few significant issues.
So what now for those people?
At the moment, the most likely alternative on the horizon is Bright Canopy, which will allow users to access Second Life and OpenSim through a conventional web browser. Again, as many people who have used SL Go know, Bright Canopy is currently undergoing beta testing, and it is hoped that a broader, invitation-only pre-launch testing phases will be starting soon, with a formal launch to follow thereafter.
Like SL Go from OnLive, it is important to recognise that Bright Canopy is not endorsed by Linden Lab, but is effectively a third-party viewer service. As it is also being streamed (via Amazon G2 servers initially), there will obviously be a cost involved in using it, and prices have yet to be confirmed. Also, the service is likely to take time to grow – initially, it will be run using Amazon’s servers in the USA, although the plan is to leverage other data centres as time progresses (Bright Canopy is facilitated by Frame, who already use Amazon’s data centres on both the west and east coasts of the USA, plus Ireland, Australia, Singapore and Japan).
Those interested in learning more about Bright Canopy can sign-up for news on the official launch via the website, and and learn more about the service via the Bright Canopy blog.
In the meantime, and once again – as an SL go user myself, particularly when my main PC was in hospital for an extended period earlier this year, my thanks once again to Dennis, Jeff, Shae, Jersey, Robby and everyone else at OnLive involved in SL Go – including Jane Anderson in the US and Mark Bevan here in the UK – for striving to make it an outstanding service.
In the interests of disclosure, I am involved in providing support to Bright Canopy and in helping to administer the Bright Canopy blog. However, I am not officially involved in the management and operation of the company itself.
My original ruminations on Amazon AppStream have led to a couple of people giving the service a go. Nabadon’s Izumi has tried the service with the OnLook viewer and OS Grid, and Bill Glover has given feedback through his blog on using AppStream with Firestorm connecting to Second Life.
However, as several people have said, AppStream isn’t the only way to go – there are other options. One of these is Frame, which uses Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure cloud services. In fact, it was Frame’s founder, Nikola Bozinovic, who suggested people look at the service as s potential means of accessing SL and similar grids via the cloud through a comment he left on this blog. He also provided a link to a demonstration he his have said up using the official viewer, together with an invitation to try it out.
I don’t want to get blogged-down about what Frame is, but the infographic below should give the basics – suffice it to say here that it allows you to stream Windows and web apps, using a number of locations around the world, to a range of devices. It also provides a number of different use levels: Personal, Education, Business, and Platform. You can also find out more about it here.
The key point with Frame is that it potentially offers two approaches to accessing Second Life and other grids via the cloud:
As a do-it-yourself option, where you can sign-up for a Personal account, upload your choice of viewer and run it yourself when needed
As a packaged service similar to SL Go – which is how Bill Glover is approaching things through his Bright Canopy project, which has a demo up-and-running using Firestorm, and those interested can sign-up to find out about the work and try the demo version.
Nikola extended an invitation to me to try the Personal account / “do-it-yourself” option for myself, which I was happy to do as a proof-of-concept attempt, and this article is primarily focused on doing that, and providing some short-form feedback. As Bill is working on the packaged service option, I’m not touching too much on that at this point in time.
Getting Started On your Own With Frame
Once this has been done, the Launchpad is displayed. This is the normal starting point for Frame operations, and is used to manage the applications you’re running on the service (two are provided by default). This may take a short time to load the first time.
Adding a Viewer to your Frame Account
click on the chevron next to the Frame logo in the top left corner of the screen and select Manage Windows Apps.
A list of your installed applications is displayed (Tableau Public and Google Earth are provided by default).
Click on Add New Windows App … under the list.
Your virtual desktop will launch. Use the Chrome browser in the desktop to navigate to and download the Windows installer for your preferred viewer OR, if you have the EXE on your computer, use the Upload button (arrow in a circle) button in the lower right corner of the desktop screen to upload it.
Run the installer as if you were installing the viewer on your PC.
Once the viewer has installed, Frame will ask you if you wish to “on-board” it – confirm this, and accept the ToS – having read them, obviously! 😉 ).
When the “on-board” process has finished (it takes about 15 seconds), go to the gear icon in the lower left of your virtual desktop and DISCONNECT.This returns you to your Launchpad
Activate the viewer by toggling the “switch” to the right of it so it turns blue (shown above). This adds the viewer (and any other app you activate) to your Frame dashboard.
Click on Applications at the top of the screen to go to your dashboard. Double click the displayed viewer icon to launch the viewer.
While it may sound long-winded, the entire process of setting-up an application like this can be done in just a few minutes.
Update, Saturday April 11th: Bill Glover, who has also shown a keen interest in the possibility of using Amazon AppStream, has been carrying out his own experiments with Firestorm and Second Life. He notes of his experience:
I set-up a stream with the Firestorm and was able to use it from both a Chromebook and an Android phone. It was really very responsive over a hotel wifi network, but there are many caveats.
It works, but it’s expensive and nowhere near being useful for just casually streaming SL without some custom client development and viewer integration.
You can read his initial thoughts on things over on his blog.
On Wednesday, April 8th, and following the announcement that the SL Go service is to be discontinued, I speculated on how the Lab (or indeed, someone else) might offer up an alternative to fill the void left once SL Go ceases at the end of the month.
After looking at various alternatives (including Highwind’s GDN – Highwinds being one of LL’s CDN providers), a conversation with Dennis Harper pointed me towards Amazon AppStream, and the more I read, the more it seemed to be a viable option, and hence it became the focus of my article.
As a result, Nebadon Izumi (Michael Emory Cerquoni) sat down to see just how easy (or not) to get something up and running, albeit using OS Grid and the OnLook viewer, and reported some success.
What made me think to try was your article. “You get 20 hours of free streaming per month with Basic Amazon AWS account (required to access the AppStream service), then its 83 cents per hour. I also tried this on my Android Tablet, but while the graphics were beautiful, input is a problem, and the viewer will need overlay controls like SL Go, which will require development.
– Nebadon discussing using Appstream for Second Life with me
Once he had his account created, Nebadon was able to install the viewer and use the supplied web browser to obtain and install the VS C++ 2010 re-distributable packages he needed in order to run the Singularity-based OnLook viewer, “you can go anywhere on the web and download any software you need to make your application run,” he noted to me. “Once I had these and the viewer installed, it took about 20-30 minutes for the viewer to deploy, and I got a set of instructions on how people can connect to it.” The whole process took him, he estimates, about 2 hours.
This is obviously a long way short of providing a full-blown service, and anyone wishing to use Amazon AppStream as the basis for a streaming solution for their grid who obviously have to dig a lot deep into issues of cost and pricing, payment mechanisms, potential demand, management, scaling, and so on; it also has yet to be tried with a viewer connecting to SL. Nevertheless, as a trial exercise, Nebadon’s work at least shows that the viewer can be streamed relatively easily using AppStream, and that’s a good place to start.
On Thursday, April 2nd, it was announced that SL Go, the streaming service for accessing SL provided by OnLive, is to shut-down on April 30th alongside OnLive’s other consumer services. The reason for this is because OnLive has sold the IP and patents associated with the services to Sony Computer Entertainment.
Since the news broke, there have been numerous calls made for Sony to maintain SL Go as a service, including an on-line petition. However, as painful as it is, all such calls and petitions to Sony are unlikely to succeed, as I explained in a recent blog post.
In that article, I also considered whether or not the Lab might invest time and effort in offering something that might fill the void. At the time, I thought the answer to this would most likely be “no”, as the Lab seem to have enough on its plate already with Second Life and its next generation platform.
But the more I think about it, the more I feel that the Lab should endeavour to offer some kind of “SL Go replacement”.
Obviously, there are issues involved in providing such a service beyond the physical provisioning. Anything which requires some form of external hosting is going to incur costs, for example. However, the flip side to this is it’s fair to say the SL Go has demonstrated that if users believe they are getting a beneficial service, they are willing to pay for it, providing the price is not prohibitively high.
Certainly, there are a wide range of potential benefits to be had from such an endeavour, particularly if implemented through something like Amazon AppStream:
It offers an easily scaled means by which the Lab could provide an “SL streaming service” to users on low-end hardware and those on mobile devices – something long demanded by SL users
It could provide the means by which SL could be accessed through web browsers – again, a long-desired means of attracting new users to the platform who might otherwise be put off by having to download and install the viewer
It obviously means that those SL users on low-end systems can enjoy the full graphical richness of SL in the manner LL would like to see all users experience it
It could help those preferring to run older operating systems – such as Windows XP – to continue accessing SL even after they might otherwise be unable to even install the viewer
It might even help the Lab map and test options which might be beneficial for their nascent next generation platform.
While developing such a service might not necessarily be easy, the Lab isn’t entirely without any experience in this area. As I and many others have pointed out, in 2010 they did experimenting with streaming the viewer, using the Japanese company Gaikai (coincidentally purchased by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2012), which delivered the viewer to web browsers, as shown in the video below. If there is anything remaining of this work at the Lab, it might possible to put it to work through something like Amazon AppStream.
That said, there is a lot for the Lab to consider in attempting to fill the forthcoming void that will be left by SL Go. And while I would not be at all surprised to learn they are already doing so, they might still require some encouragement to take things beyond just considering options. Something which might encourage them, or at least demonstrate to them that there really could be a worthwhile demand for such a service, could be for users to politely speak up.
One way to do this might be to add your name to the existing petition – I would hope someone at the Lab is keeping an eye on it.
Another could well be to leave a positive and polite comment on the subject following this article, as (and all ego aside) I do know eyes at the Lab pass over this blog (just as they do many others).
There is no guarantee that Lab will move to provide some kind of “SL Go replacement”, but on the other hand, as someone once said, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Since the announcement that OnLive’s gaming services are to shut down at the end of April, there has been understandable upset from within the SL community (and from some OpenSim users as well, given Firestorm on SL Go can be used to access OpenSim grids).
Following the news, there were a plethora of requests made to Sony on social media that they continue to provision SL Go as a service and an on-line petition was started in the hope of achieving the same end. Unfortunately, these requests and the petition overlook one thing.
As OnLive made clear in their statements on the future of their gaming services, and as I attempted to point to in my original article on this news, Sony didn’t actually acquire OnLive’s services. They took the opportunity to purchase the IP and 140 patents the company held relating to cloud gaming and other “assets” (which would most likely appear to be the additional 135 patents related to cloud gaming OnLive had pending), without actually buying OnLive’s services. So technically, there’s nothing for them to “continue” to offer SL Go users.
What’s more, as Dennis Harper, the SL Go Product Manager at OnLive, made clear in these pages, taking the IP and patents is akin to taking the heart and lungs of OnLive’s services; without them, a service like SL Go cannot easily be continued by someone else. At least, not without money changing hands and someone having the infrastructure by which they can deliver the service.
So, are Sony the Big Evil for doing this? did they gobble OnLive’s patents to stifle competition? Is this, as was dramatically stated in some quarters as the news broke, some kind of first shot in a forthcoming “VR battle” between corporations? Well …. No.
The truth is that OnLive put itself on the market.
That this is the case can be found in another post on the company’s blog entitled, A Bright Future for Cloud Gaming At Sony. As well as containing useful historical information, the post underlines the specific issues the company’s management had been forced to face:
Since 2012, the company has dramatically improved its technology and business models such that all of its 5 services are gross margin positive, ranging from 43% to 86% margin … The company also was able to achieve conversion rates from free trial to paid of between 64-78% for its services. Despite these positive metrics, the lifetime value (TLV) of a subscriber was still less than the cost to acquire subscribers (CPA), but they were converging. While we knew we could not get to break-even on our own, we believed that there were many large companies who would be able to get there.
In other words, in order to get to a break-even point, OnLive’s management felt the company needed to be offered-up for acquisition, albeit hopefully as a going concern.
Perhaps the first fully public hint that this was the case may have actually come in a blog post issued a couple of days ahead of Sony deal being announced. Of course, by the time the post appeared, the deal was undoubtedly cut and dried; nevertheless, The 2015 Case for Cloud Gaming and OnLive, could almost read as the company laying out its stall in order to attract a suitable investor / acquirer.
Unfortunately, despite all the positive indicators they could show, the Cloud Gaming hype cycle had bitten hard; no-one OnLive approached was willing to take them on as a going concern. Not even the fact that Nvidia had indicated the worst was behind the sector, and that OnLive itself was helping to push the technology up the Slope of Enlightenment, could encourage anyone to acquire the company outright. Thus the deal with Sony for the IP and patents sale was agreed.
Why didn’t Sony acquire OnLive as a whole? Because they already have their own cloud gaming service, PlayStation Now, which came out of a 12-month beta programme in January 2015. The OnLive patents understandably offer more value when put to work within PlayStation Now than Sony would be liable to find in buying-out OnLive as a whole, so they didn’t bother.
Interestingly, and entirely coincidentally, PlayStation Now has its own link to Second Life. It is built on the back of Gaikai, a Japanese streaming game provider acquired by Sony in 2012. Gaikai is the company Linden Lab worked with in an attempt to provide the means of streaming Second Life to web browser, a service which underwent a limited beta run in 2010, as the video below demonstrates.
But to draw things to a close; however “unjust” it might appear, all of this means that SL Go cannot really be saved. The patents which enabled it to function are gone, and the services upon which it runs are closing down. The only real options are for someone else to come along and offer a similar service of their own, or for LL to work with a partner to provide such as services, as they once attempted with Gaikai.
Both would seem unlikely; in the case of the former, SL perhaps represents too small a community of users to be worth catering for (and remember, SL Go came about in part as a result of rather unique circumstances). And while I tend to lean towards LL having an interest in cloud-based streaming, I don’t think that interest is with regards to Second Life, so I can’t see them getting directly involved in trying to provide a streaming solution for SL access. If nothing else, they’ve likely got enough on their plate already.
SL Go was a great and brave experiment. It is a shame that its days are drawing to a close; but OnLive, through their services as a whole, have proven what might be achieved. In that respect, they are right when they proclaim that cloud gaming has a bright future.
Update, Friday, April 3rd: An on-line petition has been started to try to persuade Sony to keep SL Go running as a service. In all honesty, the likelihood of this succeeding is less than slim, but if you would like to add your name to the petition, it can be found here.
On Thursday, April 2nd, it was announced that the SL Go streaming service supplied by OnLive has been discontinued.
The move is part of a wider shut-down of services that will take place on Thursday, April 30th, following a decision by the company to sell its portfolio of patents to Sony Computer Entertainment America.
It is with great sadness we must announce that OnLive’s SL Go service will be coming to an end. Sony is acquiring important parts of OnLive, and their plans don’t include a continuation of the SL Go service. However, your service should continue uninterrupted until April 30, 2015. No further subscription fees will be charged, and you can continue to enjoy SL Go on all of your devices until that date.
In our year of SL Go service, we have become quite close to the Second Life® community. Thanks to your patronage and constructive feedback, SL Go became one of OnLive’s most successful services. We know how important SL Go is for many of you, and it saddens us to bring the service to a close. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to you for being a part of “SL Go by OnLive” and wish you all the best.
With warmest regards,
Everyone at OnLive
In a personal address sent out to those with whom he’s been in contact with over the course of the last year or more, OnLive’s Product Manager for SL Go Dennis Harper – someone whom I’ve come to regard as a friend both in-world and through our communications outside of the platform – said:
To my good friends and partners in Second Life,
It breaks my heart to tell you that OnLive (OL2, Inc) has been acquired and will be closing down the game service, including SL Go. The official press release is attached.
SL Go Island will continue to exist for a while, but we have removed the Pay with L$ feature.
The OnLive and SL Go services will continue to operate in full capacity until April 30. All services will be free to anyone who has or creates an account. All prices for the service have been set to $0.00, including SL Go.
On a personal note; you all have been so supportive of SL Go. You have my heartfelt thanks for all you have done. I have made some good friends in SL and it greatly saddens me that this project is ending. You all have accepted us n00bs into your community and mentored us on what Second Life really is. I have learned so much! My sincere thanks to all of you.
This is and unfortunate end, not just for SL Go, but also for everyone at OnLive, a company which had come through a lot to provide a unique on-line gaming service and which has tried to enter a very unique environment with SL Go, and has done so by providing a very successful approach to providing access to Second Life (and OpenSim) to people while on the move through their delivery to Android and iPad devices, and to those using older, lower-specification hardware.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be somewhat closely involved in SL Go, initially being offered the opportunity to help beta the product, and then in helping to report on and promote the service, and (hopefully) provide OnLive, through Dennis and his team with useful feedback, support and advice.
As such, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer Dennis, Jeff, Shae, Jersey, Robby and everyone else at OnLive involved in SL Go – including Jane Anderson in the US and Mark Bevan here in the UK, my thanks and my heartfelt best wishes for the future. I do, however hope that we’ll continue to able to see one another in-world, at the very least.
In writing about the situation, in Ars Technica (linked to at the top of this article and in the links section below), Kyle Orland notes:
Looking back, it seems OnLive was just a little bit too far ahead of the curve, both in terms of market readiness and the Internet infrastructure necessary for streaming games. As low-latency bandwidth continues to become cheaper and more accessible around the world, it seems likely someone will nail the correct combination of business model, game selection, and easy-to-use interface to become the industry’s answer to Netflix. That company will owe a debt to OnLive for getting the ball rolling and proving that streaming gaming was something that was worth trying in the first place.