Linden Homes – whither next?

At the end last week, Linden Lab started putting out a survey aimed at Premium Members on the subject of Linden Homes. This is in all likelihood the follow-up to a comment made by Vogt Linden at SLCC 2011 that the Lab would be looking at Linden Homes, wherein he noted that – and without going into specifics – the scheme had been good for user retention, but had grown somewhat stale, and that as such LL would be looking at how to refresh the offering.

my Linden Home

The survey is a good first step, and in keeping with recent moves by Linden Lab to seek feedback from the community (such as with overhauling inventory). The survey itself is a multi-page affair, largely with multiple choice responses in the form of radio button (either / or) and check boxes (multiple responses). It takes a couple of minutes to complete, and it by-and-large asks pertinent questions on Linden Homes and the wider matter of Premium benefits (which you are asked to individually rank in terms of personal importance to you, the options for each benefit running from Very Important to Not Important, with Neutral as the middle ground).

There is also an opportunity to provide more specific feedback to the Lab at the end of the survey in the form of two free format text boxes in which Linden Home owners are encouraged to give detailed feedback and thoughts / suggestions.

In some respects, Linden Homes straddle a difficult divide. On the one hand they offer a quantifiable benefit for new users that encourages them to take out Premium membership and helps guarantee they remain engaged with SL as a result of the “investment”. On the other, there is a risk that they impact on the overall land rental / housing market, particularly for those who gear their business model specifically at smaller land holdings and what might be termed “starter homes” in SL. How big an impact this actually is itself hard to quantify – at least for those of us not engaged in that specific market segment.

Certainly, it is probably fair to say that Linden Homes, as currently implemented, haven’t worked entirely as originally intended – when launched, LL did see them as a means of getting people “onto” the property ladder, with the aim of people then moving on to “bigger” things land-wise as their needs grew. I’m not entirely convinced this has been the case – and the desire to revamp the offering would suggest that LL feel the same way.

The problem is, of course, how do they improve the offering, without running the risk of being seen as “further” eating-in to the rental market as a whole (if this is indeed an issue)? Making Linden Homes more attractive through larger prim allocations, larger land footfalls, etc., does run the risk of drawing people away from renting elsewhere – and I suspect that LL are fully aware of this risk, as the survey suggests some possible enhancements in other areas:

  • The ability to build more complex objects
  • Decorate a home more elaborately
  • Have more control over the Linden Home land parcel
  • Replacing the Linden Home with a personal build
  • More community events and social opportunities
  • Tutorials such as building & scripting
  • Land market expansion opportunities.

Of these, the last three strike me as the most flexible of options if harder to practically implement, although the first three are liable to be potentially the more popular among respondents. Land market expansion I would see as a useful element to add, simply to try to help stimulate the “upward” movement of those coming into Linden Homes that LL originally hoped would be the case – although I admit, I’m somewhat stumped as to how this could be practically achieved.

Community and social events might also work – the Linden Homes are billed as “communities”, but the truth of the matter is, “community” plays a very minor role. Most Linden Home regions have the same issue as everywhere else – large tracks of land, few people. Were LL to be more pro-active in stimulating regional events it  might encourage a greater feeling of “community” – although that is admittedly a big might, and one very hard to measure in terms of overall benefit / success compared with the amount of effort required to get things organised (or in even encouraging residents to take up the challenge).

As it stands, the Linden Homes regions do have “community centres” that largely seem to be devoid of traffic and simply going to waste – so attempting to put these to better use might be worthwhile. As might opening them to advertising by in-world businesses and estates, which itself has two potential benefits: money raised from the use of vendor boards could be put towards the cost of monthly (or whatever) entertainments, it demonstrates practically that LL are working more “with” rental estates rather than in “competition” with them.

A further idea might be for LL to simply reduce the volume of Linden Homes per region (or offer more in the way of regions devoted to parkland and / or water), and offer Linden Home residents greater opportunities of using such “rural” sims – such as allowing them to rez their own boats to go sailing or explore the waterways, or vehicles / horses to explore parkland and country tracks – perhaps even supply rez-on-demand facilities for home owners to use.

These are entirely off-the-top-of-my-head ideas which may or may not be practical. I’ve tried to give full and detailed feedback to LL on Linden Homes via the survey, complete with a range of thoughts and ideas. I’d encourage any of you yet to receive the survey / yet to respond to it to do the same. That LL are seeking feedback is to be applauded, even if (like me) you don’t use your Linden Home that routinely or as your primary place of residence in SL and / or see little reason to change things.