Premium Accounts – why bother?

I wasn’t going to comment… Honest.

But the (relatively) recent blog posting by Tom Hale (another recent Linden joinee demonstrating an unhealthly Bond fetish streak by adopting the sobriquet “T” Linden) raised the question, after a long-winded piece of marketing ploy, “But what could make a premium subscription truly premium?”

On cue, a load of suggestions followed. Some seemed quite reasonable, almost all are well-intentioned.

And all miss the one essential rejoinder Hale’s question actually deserves, which is: “Why bother?”

Leave aside the classic piece of mis-direction inherent in Hale’s blog, which like Katt’s (un)memorable first posting, comes at a time when there is a real crisis within SL (back then it was overall product stability and LL’s unwillingness to provide even the most basic comminications with users; this time it is something more endemic: a systematic loss of trust from users to Linden Lab due to the latter’s recent actions vis-a-vis OpenSpace sims). Back in April, rather than deal proactively with the core concerns of users, Katt elected to put her efforts into….obfusticating what few clear lines of communication were left from users to Lab (the blog and forums).

Similarly, when trust in LL is at an all-time low, and when many are actively engaged in looking elsewhere to continue their virtual lives, Hale’s first act is not to address the loss of trust and faith, but rather to fiddle about with premium subscriptions – the very same thing his boss, the CEO of Linden Lab, dismissed as being “immaterial to [LL’s] business, at the start of the month.

So, if premium subscriptions are “immaterial” to LL’s business – that is, they neither generate quantifiable revenue or advance any of LL’s palns for SL – then it is fair to say LL are hardly likely to devote substantial time, resources and money to “improving” them. This being the case, Hale’s question is perhaps purely rhetorical.

Frankly the best thing that could be done is to disband premium subscriptions completely. They simply are not necessary, given Kingdon’s comment. Yes, it it true that they enable people to “purchase” land from Linden Lab & ostensibly get preferential support for their land holdings (if nothing else) – but this hardly justifies having them. The fact is land holders could still get the preferential support via Concierge, etc., without the need to hold a “premium” account.

And opening out land “purchases” to the entire community could be beneficial in revitalising SL’s ailing economy – particularly after the OpenSpace farago.

Some have suggested that rather than “upping” premium accounts, LL should consider restricting free accounts. While on the surface their ideas seem to have merit, they simply don’t stack up against the facts which (in an abbreviated form) are:

  • Premium subscriptions account for less than 17% of SL’s “resident” community – a figure that is dropping month-on-month
  • The vast majority of “free” account holders are as dedicated to their time in SL as any premium account holder
  • The majority of commerce within SL is driven by non-premium account holders through their “purchase” or “rental” of land, through their consumer buying of other content: skins, shapes, hair, clothes, shoes, attachments, houses, furniture, toys, gifts, equipment, pets, transportation, etc.

Thus, to apply crippling limitations on such accounts, such as 24-hour inventory sweeps, as River Ely suggests would be grossly unfair to the majority of free account holders who use their accounts fairly and wisely – to say nothing of the overwhelming damage it would do to SL’s user base.

Certainly it would do nothing to stem the tide of campers and bots in SL as River naively suggests. Such avatars have no need of inventory, and thus would be unaffected by routine inventory sweeps.

Again, if there was a compelling reason for maintaining premium accounts, such as the income generated helping to support LL’s investment in SL and the grid, then River’s ideas might have some merit – but as we’ve heard from Mark Kingdon himself, this is simply not the case. Premium subscriptions are immaterial to Linden Lab’s business focus and revenue generation.

So it remains that the best thing that could be done with premium susbscriptions is to simply abandon them. At a stroke this would end the artificial view of a “two tier” Second Life while, with the attendant revamp of policy around land “ownership”, could do much to inject new life (and money) into SL as a whole. It would also end the ridiculous tiering of user susport (itself only introduced last year in a lame attempt to “justify” the existence of “premium” accounts).

So Tom, “T” or however you wish to be addressed, if you’re reading this – give us all a break and be the first senior manager in Linden Lab to do something sensible in an awfully long time, and just get rid of them once and for all.