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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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!

New Podcast Interview with Philip Rosedale

Philip Rosedale

The Stayin’ Alive in Technology podcast’s most recent episode is a detailed, wide-ranging, hour-long interview with the virtual world visionary and Second Life and High Fidelity founder Philip Rosedale. The topics which Philip and his interviewer, former Linden Lab staffer Melinda Byerley, cover range from the very earliest days of Linden Lab to his thoughts about the so-called “3D web”. Have a listen:

Why Linden Lab Is Building Its Own Engine for Sansar, Instead of Using Unity or Unreal

Inara Pey has done her usual excellent job of expertly summarizing last week’s Sansar Product Meetup, where the topic of discussion was why Linden Lab decided to build their own game engine for Sansar, instead of using an off-the-shelf engine such as Unity or Unreal.

So, rather than reinvent the wheel, I am just going to point to her blogpost, and tell you to go over there and read it all. Among the Linden Lab staff present at the meeting were:

  • Richard Linden, Sansar’s Chief Architect
  • Jeff Petersen (aka Bagman Linden), Linden Lab’s Chief Technology Officer 
  • Landon McDowell, Linden Lab’s Chief Product Officer

So you can get the scoop straight from the people directly involved.

While I think the reasoning for this decision is very sound, the unfortunate fact remains that since Linden Lab is a smaller company with limited resources, feature development will tend to lag behind off-the-shelf engines like Unity and Unreal, which have bigger development teams and lots of users. However, as mentioned in Inara’s notes, backwards compatibility of user-generated content (UGC) is a key issue that needs to be addressed in any successful virtual world. I still think that Sansar is on the right track.