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!