Second Life (which I still consider to be the perfect model of the mature, fully-evolved virtual world that the companies creating the newer social VR platforms would be wise to study) has two levels of membership: Basic (free), and Premium. How Premium membership in Second Life works: for US$99 a year (or $32.97 quarterly, or $11.99 monthly), you get a set of benefits and perks over free, Basic user accounts:
VRChat is another platform that decided to offer a comparably-priced paid premium membership level last December, called VRChat Plus (which I first wrote about here). Now, upon first reading of the perks such a membership would offer me (see below), I was less than impressed (probably because I have been spoiled by all the goodies Second Life Premium memberships offer me in comparison).
Among the (relatively) small number of features for VRChat Plus users is the ability to set a user icon to display in a circle next to your user name:
But in conversation with Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye last night via Zoom, he raised a point that I had hitherto failed to consider, Given my well-documented, one-man, scorched-earth campaign against Facebook and Oculus for, among other things, forcing Oculus headset users to get Facebook accounts and their toxic advertising-based business model which scrapes and strip-mines users’ personal data, why would I not support an alternative way for VRChat to earn a profit?
I stopped to think of what VRChat would be like with Facebook-like advertising, and I positively shuddered in revulsion. So this evening, I pulled out my credit card and ponied up for a VRChat Plus membership (US$99.99), so I now have the familiar “red Ryan” logo displayed next to my username in world (which has sort of become an icon for my brand, as I use it everywhere else, too). If it helps other users in VRChat recognize who I am, then I think it’s worthwhile.
So, I have decided to do a quick survey of the major social VR and virtual world platforms, and find out whether or not they offer a paid premium service, and if so, what you get for your money.
Second Life Premium membership (currently priced at US$99 a year) offers you the following benefits:
- A weekly L$300 stipend (basically enough to buy a nice outfit or pair of shoes for your avatar every week)
- A L$1,000 sign-up bonus for first-time Premium users (can only be used once)
- Priority entry when regions/sims are full of avatars (in other words, if a Basic user and a Premium user both try to get into a packed sim at the same time, the Premium user gets priority; this comes in handy at crowded shopping events, and I have made use of this perk often!)
- A 1024m² virtual land allotment for use towards a nice starter Linden Home or a parcel on the Second Life mainland; this is another benefit I do take advantage of!
- Expanded live-chat customer support (which I have used on occasion!)
- Premium virtual gifts (frankly, kinda useless to me)
- Exclusive access to Premium areas and experiences (such as building sandboxes)
- Increased cap on missed IMs (which I never use)
- Increased group membership limits (I make use of my groups ALL THE TIME! A freebie fashionista can NEVER have too many free group slots for store groups, freebie groups, etc. Basic accounts have 42 group slots, but Premium has 70;)
- Voice morphing (never used it, myself; most SL users never use voice, anyways)
- UPDATE 11:36 p.m.: Animesh (animated mesh) creator Medhue tells me that SL Premium members can attach two animesh items (e.g. pets such as Medhue’s delightful animesh cihuahua), while Basic members can only attach one.
Basically, I have three Premium accounts, with two lovely Linden Homes between them (which I think is the major benefit of a Premium membership). More group space and priority access to overcrowded sims are also perks I tend to use a lot.
Sansar offers three levels of premium subscriptions (unchanged from when Linden lab owned the platform), which give you:
- A 45-day free trial of the Marvelous Designer software (used to create avatar clothing in Sansar)
- Purchase discounts on Marvelous Designer for when you do decide to buy it
- An increase in the number of Sansar worlds you can create (frankly, I’m not sure most people bother beyond the free Basic account, which lets you create up to 25 worlds)
- Expedited user support options
The Unity-based Sinespace virtual world/social VR platform, created by Sine Wave Entertainment, offers a truly overwhelming number of Premium levels to choose from:
Premium users can create larger regions/worlds, have a larger number of regions active at one time, and get priority support and user-created content processing and approval, among other benefits.
Surprisingly, Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR doesn’t seem to offer any premium accounts (that may change in the future, though).
VRChat Plus offers you the following perks (with more promised soon):
- A nameplate icon: With VRChat+, you can personalize your nameplate with an icon you create! Snap a pic in VRChat or upload your own image on our website.
- You can send a picture with an invitation to a friend to join you at your location
- Free slots for up to 100 favourite avatars (as opposed to 25 for basic users)
- “A limited edition VRCat Badge to display on your profile” (Really? Really?!??)
- A higher trust ranking in VRChat’s Safety and Trust System
As I said up top, this list is a bit sparse, especially compared to what Second Life offers (and yes, you can be an anime girl in SL, just as easily as you can in VRChat!), but of course, there’s zero VR support in Second Life.
Rec Room offers something called Rec Room Plus at US$7.99 a month, which includes the following benefits:
- You get 6000 tokens (r6000) monthly, delivered in installments of r1500 per week
- One four-star gift box per week
- A 10% discount in Rec Room stores that accept tokens
- Exclusive access to the RR+ section of the item store
- 100 saved outfit slots
- The ability to sell premium inventions/keys for tokens
NeosVR uses Patreon levels to hand out perks to various levels of paying users (more info). For example, at my current “Blade Runner” level ($6 per month), I get:
- Access to private channels on the official Discord Server
- Patreon supporter badge in Neos
- Early access to Linux builds
- Early Access to Patreon only content (exclusive experiences, work in progress experiences before they’re public)
- A Neos Mini account with 25 GB of storage
- Your name in the stars! (your name will appear in the sky in the Neos hub)
- 30 Neos Credits (NCR) monthly, accumulates
(Note that there is an even less expensive level, the “Agent Smith” level, at just $1 a month. Please check out the NeosVR Patreon page for more details.)
The ENGAGE educational/corporate/conference social VR platform offers a free, “lite” version, and a premium, “plus” version for €4.99 a month, which gives you space to save your presentations, among other benefits. (They also offer enterprise and educational rates on request.)
Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space)
Of course, the various blockchain-based virtual worlds sell everything using whatever cryptocurrencies they support (for example, a custom, non-randomly-generated avatar username in Decentraland will set you back 100 MANA, Decentraland’s in-world cryptocurrency (which is about US$36 at current exchange rates). It’s just a completely different model than the “freemium” ones offered above.
Thanks to Kent Bye for giving me the idea for this blogpost!