Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Commentary: Linden Lab's Surprise Price Hikes and Group Limit Cuts

Individual Lindens can be quite friendly and helpful. The moles I've run into at the SLB grounds, they've been very cheerful and reasonable. But when it comes to Linden Lab, older residents often have mixed opinions. We're grateful of course for their creating the virtual world, and admire the effort the first Lindens put into getting it going. But it seems once they became a big success, they began to change. They've kept the virtual world upgraded, with additions such as Windlight, Mesh, Animesh, and more. But they've also made a number of questionable moves over the years, a number of which got people wondering about their motivations and how interested they were in listening to the concerns of their customers: us.

While some residents were grumbling about the Lab moving Second Life's data over to Amazon Cloud servers, which they complained were leading to a number of glitches such as the teleport disconnects this spring, in general, the attitude about Linden Lab this year has been mostly positive. The new Linden Homes proved to be highly popular, and were almost certainly the big reason for the number of Premium accounts going up this year. Considering that more than 700 added were snapped up in less than half an hour after they were made available, all the Lab had to do was to offer more to further encourage residents to go Premium. Instead, they made the decision to raise the cost to residents for Premium accounts, in addition to doubling the fees to cash out Linden dollars.

As one person on the forums put it, this was bad timing by the Lindens. Being done so soon after their latest release of Linden Homes, it made the Lab look more than a little greedy. Plus being done just as Second Life's more active residents, such as it's media, were getting ready for two of it's biggest events of the year, the Relay Weekend and the Second Life Birthday, this became the latest "May/June Surprise" that the Lab has pulled. One wonders if they decided to make their move now so with everything else going on, it might not be noticed as much.

Talking and listening to the residents, while sims may be cheaper, with Premium going up so much the smaller landowners won't see a benefit. With cashout fees doubling, some content creators have been complaining this will hurt already small bottom lines. "Why are you punishing people that help keep SL more interesting, LL? ... the less I make here, the less time I can devote to creation in Second Life."

Of the Lab saying they would cut the group limit of basic accounts, the residents didn't buy the explanation of more groups per resident taxing the system. Some of the largest complaints came not from run-of-the-mill basic account residents, but by merchants, club owners, DJs, and content creators, saying they relied on people joining their groups to help advertise their events and products, and Linden Lab's move would throw a monkey wrench in how they did business.

Needless to say, the calling off of Linden Lab's planed basic account group limit cut was a sigh of relief to many. Still, people wondered why the Lab wanted to do that to begin with. Indeed since the Lindens cancelled that part of their plans, I've had people ask me if the Lindens never seriously intended to carry it out, but that was part of a strategy to satisfy the residents by ditching what would be the most disliked part of the announcement. One recalls their ordering all third-party virtual currency exchange businesses to close down operations in May 2013, and two weeks later after numerous and vocal complaints doing a partial reversal of their decision by allowing them to sell Linden dollars, but not cash them out (two years later, they would order them to shut down again, this time for good).

Going back to the account price and cashing out fee hikes, if Linden Lab was already poised to make some more money with people getting Premium to get one of the popular Linden Homes, why raise prices? Indeed I've been hearing various people saying they won't renew their Premium status. So while Linden Lab may be getting a little more money as a result of this move, the amount from Premium accounts will be significantly shorter than the 37% hike. Of raising the cashout fee, Jo Yardley of The Berlin Project pointed out some people just might bypass Linden dollars alltogether on some Second Life transactions, "If cashing out keeps getting more expensive, people might just start asking tenants, customers or clients to start paying them directly via Paypal."

Yes, we understand the Lab is trying to make land more affordable and reduce the "tax burden" on landowners. But as a Premium account is necessary to directly own land in the first place, how does jacking up the price by almost 40% benefit those who own only one to a few sims? Maybe a hike of five to ten percent now would have been understandable. But this kind of increase plus the doubling of the cashout fee just after how successful your Linden Homes have been just reminds us longtime residents why we are so wary of the Lab.

As this is the time that the Newser reflects on it's anniversary, yours truly can't help but look back at some of the parting words of our predecessor paper's editor Dana Vanmoer, "One thing I would hope for the future of SL is that the Lindens go back and realise what they are destroying with their policies. The sheer creativity, communication and international impact somewhere like Secondlife can be is being eaten away by the Lindens stupidly ignoring the content creators with their ill thought out policies which help no-one except their own pockets." Nine years later, it seems we are still dealing with policies that could have been thought out better.

Linden Lab, we're grateful for this virtual world, but how can we put much trust in you if you continue making moves like this time and time again?

Bixyl Shuftan
Second Life Newser


  1. Thank you Bixyl for your throughout post. I was having a hard time keeping up with the changes.

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  3. I've been one of very few residents who routinely helps out both the Lindens and the third party viewer devs with bug reports and problem solving on SL. There's been talk for years about how group size and group numbers have been problematic. Whether people believe it or not, the facts remain the same. Group membership, particularly very large groups really weigh down the SL system. That's also why they limited viewing group members / roles to groups with <5000 members. Same problems, different approach on a solution.

    Balancing Public Relations with Technical Solutions is not easy. It's one of the hardest things with doing anything 'on the internet' in this era~ people can always construct a narrative that has conspiracy and ill intentions, marked with corporate greed and personal gain for~ well~ pretty much any situation really. That being said, I also condemned the notion of cutting basic groups, and I'm glad they listened.

    I also feel a bit compelled to point out that with regard to "small land owners" a year ago they literally doubled their parcel sizes for FREE. How was that forgotten so quickly? I get that people remember bad things more readily and that Loss Aversion is a human propensity ~ but, I really wish it wasn't.

    Also also~ random addendum, the reason there was teleport failures was literally related to the linux version that the servers were running on. Not, as your article suggests, things being moved to the Cloud. Sounds silly, but that's what it was. So the issue was basically an unforeseen consequence of some other software developer that changed a thing that SL uses to exist~ and that caused teleports in SL to change behavior.

    The parting words of your post seems to indicate that you believe that the Lindens of old were less greedy somehow~ and that the new ones are putting the screws to the residents just 'cause they can. The fact of the matter is SL is a dinosaur, an aging behemoth. It's made it this far, due to some very good design choices by those early Lindens you revere, but it also is struggling due to some very poor ones that did not age well. Solving these issues may not always have the most socially expedient solutions, and I may not always agree with them. But I'd rather they try than we all get a "June surprise" of Linden Lab closing it's doors and the Second Life we all know and love becoming a footnote of the history of the Internet.

  4. You are not required to be a premium member to own a private region in Second Life. You do have to pay the setup fees or transfer fees in the case where one resident sells a private region to another, and monthly maintenance directly to LL.