UPDATED! Inara Pey Writes an Open Letter to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg

Inara Pey is a longtime virtual worlds blogger, who does such a stellar job of covering the various technical meetings that take place in Second Life and Sansar that I have, in the past, simply reblogged many of her comprehensive reports rather than try to emulate her tireless work. I admire Inara greatly and I consider her a model for my own blogging, so when she speaks out on a subject, I pay attention.

And she has posted an open letter to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, asking him to reconsider planned changes to Basic avatar accounts in Second Life:

Throughout the last five years, I’ve personally appreciated the efforts Linden Lab have put into trying to meet the demand for lower land tier and to make virtual land holdings in Second Life more attractive. I also understand the need to offset such reductions with increases elsewhere to ensure LL as a company mains a good revenue flow. As such, while the fee changes announced on May 29th have caused me something of an “ouch!” reaction, I can understand the motivation behind them, and will learn to live with them.

However, what I feel is ill-conceived are the proposed Basic account changes.

Although I can understand there may well be technical reasons for doing this (load balancing to enable the increases to the same capabilities that are to be offered to Premium subscribers, perhaps?), the fact remains this these reductions come across as best as being punitive and at worse entirely mean-spirited towards Basic account holders. As my friend and fellow SL user Will Burns has noted: “One increases the value of a Premium account by actually increasing the value added proposition, not forcing the issue by reducing the value added of the free account.

I would therefore urge you to re-consider this move, and allow Basic members either retain their current 42 group limit, or as a compromise (and while I appreciate this is easier said than done), seek to allow current Basic member retain the current 42 groups cap whilst restricting those joining after June 24th to a maximum of 35 groups.

I am not the first Second Life user, Premium or otherwise) to voice concerns over this move. Please do take the time to consider what is being said the changes to Basic accounts via Twitter, in the SL forums and other social platforms, and how they could stand to significantly alienate a good portion of a user base that, while they may not pay subscription fees, nevertheless pay an important role in both the economic and social fabric of Second Life, and who – like all of us engaged in the platform – want to see it continue to thrive and grow and remain a part of our lives.

And I agree 100% with what Inara has said. Let me illustrate what an absolute pain in the ass the planned reductions in groups from 42 to 35 will mean for me. Let’s say I have a Basic (i.e. non-Premium) avatar account that is already at the 42-group limit. And let’s say that Scandalize (a store with many group gifts and a group join fee) decides to have another weekend where you can join their store group for free.

Right now, all I have to do is leave one group (hopefully, one with no group join fee) and join the Scandalize group. But, after June 24th, I will have to leave eight groups (almost 20% of them) before I can join the Scandalize group. In fact, I might even have to leave groups where I already paid a join fee, and that fee is not refunded. Many people already do this intricate dance of leaving and rejoining groups in order to stay informed about events and hunts and take advantage of group gifts. Making this sort of difficult decision even more difficult is going to negatively impact millions of SL customers with Basic avatar accounts. (And please don’t bother nitpicking apart the “millions” part of that last statement. Arguing over how many active user accounts Second Life really has is not the point of this editorial.)

Now, according to Grumpity Linden:

We’re not lowering [group] limits [for non-Premium users] out of spite, groups really are quite a strain on our back end for a variety of painful historical reasons, including overloading group functionality instead of having other tools.  This subject alone is worth a novel liberally sprinkled with tears. So anyway, we don’t hate basic users, and in fact we work hard to retain our free-to-play offering as one of the most generous across many industries.

But, as I have said on the Second Life community forums:

Basic (non-Premium) account holders are feeling somewhat shafted by the reduction of groups from 42 to 35. It doesn’t matter what LL’s technical explanation is; what matters is how it LOOKS, and it looks like LL is being petty and cheap. 

This might seem like a trivial issue to many, but it’s not. Groups are a key means of communication within Second Life. Stores use them to keep in touch with their customers, events such as hunts use them to share hints and make announcements, and they are heavily used in roleplay sims to assign player roles, among many other uses.

So, I am adding my voice to Inara’s and many other SL users who have spoken out against these planned reductions in service to Basic account holders, who make up the vast majority of SL users.

UPDATE 9:45 p.m.: Well, guess what? Linden Lab has listened to us, and they have made the following announcement:

On May 29th, we made an announcement about future changes to Premium and Basic account features including plans to increase Group Memberships and offline IM limits for Premium account holders while reducing them for Basic accounts.

We’ve since heard strong and convincing feedback from many in our community about the impact of changing Group Membership limits for Basic accounts. For example, many Residents have shared how they rely heavily on Groups to stay informed about new product releases as Merchants use this feature to regularly communicate news and updates to their customers, and how much Groups are used for keeping communities active.

We hear your concerns and, as a result, Group Membership limits for Basic Residents will NOT be reduced as part of our Premium Membership changes rolling out on June 24th.

Thank you, Ebbe Altberg and the team at Linden Lab!

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The 1920s Berlin Project Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary in Second Life

One of the longest-running and most successful historical roleplay communities in Second Life is celebrating its tenth anniversary, starting today. Founder Jo Yardley (blog) and the many store owners and tenants in the 1920s Berlin sims gathered today at the Pariser Platz to drink champagne and dance!

Pariser Platz
Jo Yardley (on stage) addresses the crowd
Dancing

There’s a whole week of special events taking place (all times listed are SL Time/Pacific Time):

  • Thursday 30th May
    2pm Anniversary dance on Pariser Platz
    Performance by Sonatta Morales and DJ Myron Byron.
  • Friday 31st May
    2pm Special event at the Hotel Adlon

    Hosts Tequila Krovac, Herr Clarrington & Berlin Ladies Social Club
    With Flapperettes dance troupe performance!
  • Saturday 1st June
    Noon opening exhibit

    “Neue Sachlichkeit” art exhibit at the Bibliothek
    Host; Florian Blaisdale
    2pm Eldorado Cabaret
    Performance by Sonatta Morales and DJ Myron Byron.
  • Sunday 2nd June
    Noon opening Exhibit
    Retrospective of Adele’s work and the formal reopening of the Fotostudio
    Hostess Teruumi Simoneaux
  • 2pm Opening Biergarten
    Der Keller’s daily happy hour moves outside for the season.
  • Monday 3rd June 
    2pm Miss Berlin Pageant
    Hosts; Henry Payne & Teruumi Simoneaux
  • Tuesday 4th June 
    2pm Military parade & ceremony
    Commander; Ernst Osterham
    3pm Supporters & Long Term tenants dinner
    Special dinner at Restaurant Kranzler ONLY for supporters & long term tenants.
    Hostess Jo Yardley
  • Wednesday 5th June
    Noon; public parade
    Parade for and by Berliners, anyone can take part, but it has to be 1920s Berlin themed.
    Represent your workplace, your club, your sport your hobby, walk, use a vehicle, make a float, etc.
    We walk to Parisen Platz and when we arrive there we have a little celebration and then we start…
    Relaxed Rules day!
    After the official start we suspend our 1920s dresscode for 24 hours and everyone in SL is welcome to come explore our sim and join us in crazy going-ons.
    On this day we will also have Open House, which people can open their houses to anyone to visit.

Except for the final “relaxed rules” event, please note that a strict 1920s-era dress code is in effect for all attendees (there are free historical outfits for both male and female avatars at the entrance to the sim).

Here’s a wonderful video which really imparts the feeling of everyday life in the 1920s Berlin sims, created by Pepa Cometa:

UPDATED! Linden Lab Announces a Mix of Good News and Bad News for Second Life Users

This evening, in an official blogpost titled Land Price Reductions, New Premium Perks, and Pricing Changes, Linden Lab announced a variety of changes to Second Life, and there’s a mix of good news and bad news.

GOOD NEWS: The monthly maintenance cost of a full region is going down (but not by a lot).

BAD NEWS: The one-time setup fee for a full region remains at US$349.00. It’s still expensive to buy land from Linden Lab.

GOOD NEWS: If you are a Premium member, the number of groups you can join will be raised from 60 to 70. I have two Premium accounts and I’ve been waiting and hoping for this for a long time!

BAD NEWS: If you are not a Premium member, the number of groups you can join will be lowered from 42 to 35. If you are currently over 35 groups, group membership will not be revoked if you are over the limit, but you will need to go below the new limit before you can join new groups. Frankly, this is going to be a complete pain in the ass, especially for someone like me with alts who are all at the 42-group limit. Not impressed, Linden Lab.

BAD NEWS: The cost of a Premium membership is going up between 26 and 46 percent, depending on whether you pay monthly, quarterly, or annually:

According to the blogpost, Linden Lab is willing to extend current pricing plans by one year if you renew your Premium account between June 3rd and June 24th:

To help with the transition to the new pricing, starting June 3rd, we’re offering a limited-time opportunity for existing Premium members to lock in their current rates for one more billing cycle, including extending an existing monthly to use the current full year rate by upgrading now to annual. Simply renew before June 24th to extend your current Membership at the same low rate. For example, monthly members will be billed at the lower rate for one more monthly billing cycle, while annual members may renew (or monthly users may upgrade to annual) early to add one more year to your existing Membership at the current lower rate.

BAD NEWS: Linden Lab is actually doubling its credit processing fee, which is going to be a blow to content creators who want to cash out:

Effective June 24th, the fee for processing credit transactions (i.e. paying real money into a PayPal or Skrill account) will be 5% per transaction with a minimum fee of US$3 (there is no maximum fee).  The fee is currently 2.5% per transaction.

So in summary, Linden Lab is continuing to shift its income generation away from charging for land, and more towards charging for services. Linden Lab also announced that a new, “super-Premium” account level is coming soon:

Even more improvements to Premium Membership are coming later this year: more new Linden Home themes and options, as well as the introduction of an all-new membership level for those who want to get the absolute most out of their Second Life. Look out for updates to Events and more limit increases as well.

So there you have it.

UPDATE May 30th: Grumpity Linden has posted a point-by-point response to many of the complaints on the Second Life community forums (and other places) about these impending changes. It’s rather long, so I didn’t quote it all here (just follow the link to read it all). Of particular note, she says:

We’re not lowering [group] limits [for non-Premium users] out of spite, groups really are quite a strain on our back end for a variety of painful historical reasons, including overloading group functionality instead of having other tools.  This subject alone is worth a novel liberally sprinkled with tears. So anyway, we don’t hate basic users, and in fact we work hard to retain our free-to-play offering as one of the most generous across many industries. But yes, no big surprise, we do want to nudge active residents to become subscribers, because we think it’s a great value, and – as many have noted – we’re also running a business. But no, we’re not shutting our doors to non-premium residents. Rumors of our insanity and villainy have been slightly exaggerated.  

Fees to process credit are going up, effective June 24th.  L$ buy fees are not. Yes, this is another step in re-balancing the economy.  It’s also the right step, because the regulatory climate has evolved dramatically since SL first started out, and in order to continue to offer a platform for creators to actually make money, we have a lot of ongoing work to keep up with those regulations. Compliance is generally no fun (shh don’t tell our compliance people I said so – they’re wonderful and actually think it’s fun!) but it keeps all of us in business and the bad guys out. If we weren’t doing this work, we would literally have to stop offering the ability to process credit. 

Look, this is obviously a bitter pill.  We can’t keep slashing land prices at the rate we did last year.  We can’t raise other prices and yet keep everyone happy.  But we sincerely believe this is the best path forward – and hope you will come around too. 

P.S. we haven’t given up on Last Names either.  

Stay tuned for further news and announcements!

UPDATE May 31st: Well, guess what? Linden Lab has listened to us, and they have made the following announcement:

On May 29th, we made an announcement about future changes to Premium and Basic account features including plans to increase Group Memberships and offline IM limits for Premium account holders while reducing them for Basic accounts.

We’ve since heard strong and convincing feedback from many in our community about the impact of changing Group Membership limits for Basic accounts. For example, many Residents have shared how they rely heavily on Groups to stay informed about new product releases as Merchants use this feature to regularly communicate news and updates to their customers, and how much Groups are used for keeping communities active.

We hear your concerns and, as a result, Group Membership limits for Basic Residents will NOT be reduced as part of our Premium Membership changes rolling out on June 24th.

Thank you, Ebbe Altberg and the team at Linden Lab!

Some Observations from the First Week of Oculus Quest Sales

The Oculus Quest has now been shipping units since May 21st, 2019, for exactly one week, and I have been closely monitoring the Oculus Quest subReddit channel and other news sources to find out how things have been going.

And so far, things have been going like gangbusters! Many stores such as Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy report being completely sold out of the Quest, and some people are posting messages on the Oculus Quest subReddit, desperately searching for a location that can ship the product (or that they can drive to and pick one up) without having to wait weeks. People report making road trips of several hours to find the last store in their area that has a Quest in stock! Right now, Amazon Canada estimates delivery sometime between June 18th and July 11th if you order the model with 64GB memory today. Your best bet might be the Oculus website, which says they will ship by June 7th if you order today. So yes, you can call the launch a resounding success.

Furthermore, many of those early adopters are giving demonstrations of VR to their family, friends, and colleagues, and many of those people are instantly sold on the Oculus Quest, and go out and buy their own device. Virtual reality is one of those things that is best experienced live, and the Oculus Quest is tailor-made to give demos, since it is standalone headset, easy to transport and easy to set up. It’s also a sizable step up from the rather disappointing cellphone-based VR that is all that some people have experienced so far. The Quest is a game-changer.

In my first week, not only have I spent CDN$699 on the Oculus Quest headset with 128GB of memory, I have also spent almost CDN$100 on games and apps for the device:

I understand that Facebook is taking a 30% cut of the sales on the Oculus Store. Some people speculate that Facebook is actually selling the Quest hardware at a loss, just so they can make money on selling games and apps. The astonishing consumer uptake of the Oculus Quest will certainly attract software developers, once they realize that they have a potentially large audience to sell to. Expect a huge increase in the number of apps on the Oculus Store as the year goes on. There’s probably going to be some fantastic Black Friday sales, too! In fact, somebody has already created a website to help you pick out new apps as they are released.

So, what do I think of the Oculus Quest so far? I am absolutely enchanted. The first apps on the Oculus Store appear to be solid. Beat Saber and Dance Central promise to give me a calorie-burning workout at a time when I am already trying to lose weight via Weight Watchers. Wander uses Google Earth 360-degree photography to allow me to wander the world. (I spent some time visiting the pre-fire Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and admiring the view from the Eiffel Tower observation deck yesterday evening.) Nature Treks VR allows me to meditate in beautiful scenery. Tilt Brush (which was free for me, as I already had purchased it for the Oculus Rift) allows me to express my creative side. There’s really no downside to this. This gadget is the new iPhone, the new iPad, the new PlayStation. I’m sold.

The only real problem that I have experienced is that I simply do not have enough big, empty space in my rather small apartment to really experience the boundless freedom of the wireless Oculus Quest. Often, especially when I play Beat Saber or Dance Central, I brush my hand up against the Guardian boundary system that lights up and warns me when I get too close to walls or other physical obstacles. It’s annoying, and I want more space! I’m seriously considering completely redecorating my living room, throwing out my coffee table and some other furniture so I can create a bigger open space in which to play.

Now, I do have an obliging empty patch of grass located just outside my apartment that would do the trick for true “room-scale” VR. While Oculus does not recommend using the device outside (because you can easily damage the lenses in the Quest by direct exposure to bright sunlight), many people have reported being able to use the device around sunset outdoors without problem. (Of course, having my apartment neighbours wonder what the hell the fat man is doing as he flails around outdoors in a wireless headset and hand controllers is another problem entirely.)

So, as I predicted, the Oculus Quest is a hit, and it promises to bring many more consumers into virtual reality. And, if you’re sitting on the fence, I encourage you to demo a friend’s unit for yourself, and see what all the fuss is about.