The Amazon deal: LL demonstrating they can’t see the wood for the trees?

On Friday 4th January, I was one of many who reported on the “unexpected” (given the move had apparently been made of December 10th, 2012) move to make Second Life available via Amazon following a tweet from the official Second Life account. Ciaran Laval was perhaps the first (certainly that I know of) to blog on the matter, and Tateru gave a very pithy commentary on the nature of the packages and on promoting SL as a “game”, which drew considerable commentary on Plurk as well as on her blog.

The tweet announcing the promotion / "expansion"
The tweet announcing the promotion / “expansion”

For my part, I resisted passing direct comment on the move in my original piece, in keeping with my attempts to avoid colouring any “news” items with personal bias. However, I have to say that the Amazon deal leaves me feeling that – once again – the Lab has bungled an opportunity, or at least failed to launch it fully and properly or in a manner liable to serve Second Life and themselves particularly well; although perhaps not for the reasons others have cited.

In difference to many critiquing the move, I have no problem in Amazon presenting SL as a game. Not that I’m saying I think SL is a game, I most certainly don’t, per se. I simply have no problem in Amazon presenting it as such, and for a couple of reasons:

  • Whether we like it or not, SL is largely referred to by the broader media and the more specialist (dare I say gaming media) as a “game” (even if the latter does make some attempt to sub-categorise SL in some way) – ergo, the wider perception is that SL “is a game”, whether we agree with that perception or not
  • More directly, and as Uccello Poultry comments on Tateru’s piece, the simple fact is that “game” is probably the only listing option in Amazon’s catalogue they consider to be the closest “fit” for SL – and it is a little unreasonable for us to expect them to develop a dedicated category on the basis that we find the “game” label offensive.

At the end of the day, issues over the listing category could be overcome had time been taken to give a reasonable explanation / description of the product itself. Sadly, and as demonstrated by the pages for the Viewer, the Lab has done the barest minimum required. Rather than providing insight into the platform through a mixture of text and screen shots, all we have are five bland bullet points which fail to leverage SL’s potential or appeal. The effort does, being brutally honest, leave me wondering once more if there is anyone working at the Lab who actually a) has real, hands-on marketing experience, b) is capable of writing attention-grabbing promotional material, and c) actually grasps what SL is about for themselves.

For me, this lack off effort on LL’s part is more damning than Amazon’s sin of promoting SL as a game.

Vehicle Packages: opportunity missed
Vehicle Packages: opportunity missed

Turning to the vehicle packages themselves, I have to say I don’t necessarily agree with all the criticism levelled at them – SL actually can be quite good for using some vehicles / craft, as I’ve personally discovered as result of receiving the Premium sail boat, which is one of the “vehicles” in the packs.

Again, from my perspective, the crux of the matter is that the packages are indicative of thinking at the Lab which is at worst, simply lazy, or at best, demonstrating an inability to think an idea through in terms of its potential to benefit the platform and by extension, LL’s own bottom line.

In short, in opting for the packages on offer, rather than being a little more ambitious, it would appear the Lab has missed an opportunity right from the get-go. That is to address, at least in part, the perennially thorny issue of user retention.


How much better it might have been if, rather than offering vehicles and L$, the Lab offered one or more packages based around Premium membership? For example, and entirely off the top of my head:

  • A package based on quarterly membership, and which includes:
    • Stipend (incl. the 45-day membership L$1,000 “bonus”)
    • A Linden Home with furnishing pack and textures pack
    • A choice of either a sailboat, a car or an aeroplane, depending on the package option purchased
    • Information on where to go in SL in order to fly / drive / sail
  • A package based on annual membership which includes:
    • Stipend (incl. the 45-day membership L$1,000 “bonus”)
    • A Linden Home with furnishing pack and textures pack
    • A choice of either a car and aeroplane or car and sailboat or an aeroplane and sailboat, depending on the package option purchased
    • Information on where to go in SL in order to fly / drive / sail.
Why not offer packages with retention in mind?
Why not offer packages with retention in mind?

In suggesting this I’m aware that it potentially requires a more involved technical solution to be put in place than may be the case with the current packages (for example, ensuring someone obtaining a “Premium membership package” can sign-up to SL and obtain their home without needing to make further payments or anything). However, there is no reason why having to provide such solutions should be insurmountable.

Granted there is a risk involved in people refusing to be drawn by the packages on offer, but the potential benefits would, I’d suggest, far outweigh the risks.If nothing else, it would give those paying-up more of a sense of “belonging” from the get-go, and provide them with more of an incentive to stay the course with SL, rather than presenting them with a box of trinkets which may leave them feeling a little short-changed after taking a look at what is available in-world or via the Marketplace (assuming they stick around long enough to find out…).

Of course, the Lab may actually have something along these lines planned –  in which case, I’ll be the first to say “kudos”. But frankly, such joined-up thinking still appears to be foreign to the Lab’s way of going about things, as Honour McMillan notes, albeit in a wider context. This is perhaps illustrated by the facts that:

  • While notice of the move only came via a blog post on January 4th, the packages are listed on Amazon as having been available since December 10th – with no word from LL in terms of any blog post or press release
  • While the “promotional vehicle pack” was supposedly limited to “one per customer”, LL failed to ensure they or Amazon had any mechanism in place to ensure this could be managed, with the result that when the offer was finally promoted via the LL blog, the offer had to be pulled as a result of people using any and all SL accounts in order to available themselves of the “free” $4.00 (L$1000) on offer.

As such, the apparently inability for LL to think the opportunity through and / or show any willingness to leverage it properly, even at the expense of tweaking their own systems to handle it, leaves me unable to grade the approach thus far with anything higher than an “E” for effort. It also leaves me hoping it isn’t any indication as to how things will be handled through Steam and the Steam store.

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19 thoughts on “The Amazon deal: LL demonstrating they can’t see the wood for the trees?

  1. I’m one of the people who tried to provide an informative review. At least somebody has said it’s helpful.

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  2. Presumably this initiative was developed during, and immediately following, the LL Marketing Department’s Christmas Lunch.
    Pep (screams “Discrimination!” against non-US customers)

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  3. I’ve been thinking about the vehicles. IIRC, you were less than enthusiastic about the biplane (which isn’t included in the packages). Personally, I am less than enthusiastic about the sailboat (which is). Overall, I am not sure these are good enough to be paid for in a package.
    I worry that new users especially will be disappointed when they find out what they paid for is a freebie with limited capabilities.

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    1. I don’t think the vehicle packages themselves represent value for money.

      However, my core issue with them is more in the way they fail to provide a means of LL fully leveraging any custom they might get from Amazon in a beneifical manner, as outlined in the article.

      As to the vehicles themselves, you’re right – I didn’t like the plane (although conversely, others did), nor did I like the buggy. Apologies if I wasn’t clear on that, but I didn’t feel it was relevant to the main thrust of the article, beyond pointing out that it may well be possible that some people find them useful (again as distinct from “value for money”). 🙂

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    1. Thanks Indigo

      No slight to Daniel – hence the cautious caveat. Ciaran’s was the first blog post I saw notification on (via Twitter) & they look to have been within minutes of one another.

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  4. With all the old (and recent) fiascos that i can remember, i have come to the following conclusions:

    1. LL themselves don’t know what their product is and which target group they’re after.
    2. No one in LL seems to have any experience with businesses whose bread and butter is customer retention.
    3. There seem to be too many geeks in LL and too few actual professionals; to be more exact, the feeling i get is that LL is run by geeks of pre-adulthood Jon Arbuckle calibre and that no one in there is a real adult, i.e. with mature thinking and a spine.

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    1. I believe they are all adults and all geeks but they have no idea how to market Second Life. You can have the best product in the world and it can sit on the shelf without a good marketing team it goes no where. I also agree with Pep on the *only available* in the US, huge mistake.

      They should have offered them a 3 month premuim, home and stipend as well as solid help and edu on how to use the viewer etc.

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  5. This ham-fisted marketing move really should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed, even vaguely, Linden Lab’s recent shenannigans.
    It has been long evident that no-one at Linden Lab has any clear idea about what SecondLife really is, or where it is going.
    Several senior staff have tried, two CEOs have shown their total ineptitude in that regard (M and recently Rodvik). The painful lack of marketing savvy is more worrying in a company worth several tens of million dollars. That they cannot understand their internal market and economy is bad – that their ignorance extends to the real market is apalling.
    The recent spate (another example at Pak tonight) of serious griefing, and Linden Lab’s apparent paralysis in dealing with it leave me no conclusion other than that Linden Lab are terminally inept

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    1. I’m actually broadly supportive of moves to broaden SL’s appeal – hence my previous support of the opening-out to Steam, as I can see some elements there that makes sense and which offers the potential for gaining retained users.

      This move disappoints me, as there doesn’t seem to be any real logic behind it in its present form, other than throwing something out there and hoping it sticks somehow, somewhere. In doing so, and assuming LL do have more focused plans for the link with Amazon, it tends to leave me with the feeling that (again) they’ve deployed something while it is still half-baked, with the result that were they to expand the idea later (such as being able to provide packages which encourage more interest & a better potential to gain retained users), they’ll have (again) left themselves with a sizeable hill of negativity from the public at large to overcome (negative reviews on the existing offerings, etc.).

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  6. Hi Inara… Thanks for being on this story.

    I don’t have a problem with categorizing SL as a “game” but only because there just aren’t any other reasonable categories. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some broader categories though. Also, the type of people most likely to checkout SL are people with computers capable of gaming.

    Concerning the highlighting of vehicle travel, well, as long as no one tries to ride the roads of mainland sims and stick to one sim then I suppose they can use vehicles. There are those who believe the region crossing problem has been fixed, but yesterday a group of us discovered that mainland sim crossings are no better than they were in 2007. Regardless of the reason, sim crossings are still awful. Yes, once in awhile they seem to work, but they seem to break often with the introduction of new features like Pathfinder.

    I applaud the Lab for trying to promote SL but they should do some testing with real residents using the wide variety of computers that those residents are likely to own. I acknowledge that many users have underpowered systems and that’s their problem, but many of us have gaming computers with strong video cards, fast broadband, etc. SL should work for new residents. If someone comes to SL thinking they are going to lands in their vehicles, they’ll be disappointed.

    Just my two cents.

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  7. I like the idea but there needs to be more. Having the offer just for US only is not acceptable and it should be worldwide to everyone. The offer was not thought out well by Linden Lab and the offer should extend to a week next time or something. I can’t believe the offer became unavailable on Sunday.

    I’m very disappointed and so is everyone else from the sounds of things. Linden Lab needs to listen to the customer feedback and do something about this mess for next time. 🙂

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    1. The US-centric nature of the offer is down to the way Amazon operates, sadly. There is a lot of take-away for the Lab with the way this has panned out, little of it good from the perspective of established SL users.

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  8. You say that the US-only nature of the offer was an Amazon-related issue. That being so, it merely emphasises the lack of consideration given to non-US residents (of the Real world) by the management of Linden Lab. Considering the way it has allowed what used to be a significant portion of its membership to bleed away (ie the European contingent), I have to wonder if Linden Lab is capable of thinking outside of the box that is the USA. When the going gets tough the USA has, in the past, tended to become inward-looking and insular. Is this going to happen again?

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