The Perks of Virtual World/Social VR Premium Memberships: Are They Worth It? What Do You Get?

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:

Second Life Premium Membership (source)

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.

My familiar “red Ryan” user icon

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

My alt Moesha Heartsong, sitting on the porch of her lovely Victorian Linden Home on the continent of Bellisseria (one of the many nice perks you get with your Second Life Premium membership)

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

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

Sinespace

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.

AltspaceVR

Surprisingly, Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR doesn’t seem to offer any premium accounts (that may change in the future, though).

VRChat

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

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

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.)

ENGAGE

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!

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!