LL offer discounted regions to educational and non-profit organisations on the QT

secondlifeFollowing my piece on the general status of Second Life, some of the comments revolved around educational discounts for regions – or rather, the ending of them in 2010. Many credit the abolishment of the discounts with the loss of hundreds (I’m not entirely convinced on the “thousands” element) of regions from the grid since that time.

It now appears that the Lab is quietly trying to reverse matters by extending a 50% discount to selected educational and non-profit organisations.

The news comes via Hamlet Au, with a natty little scoop on the offer he gained after being e-mailed on the matter. The originator of the e-mail informed Hamlet that he’d been offered a full region for $1,770 USD for a year or $3,540 USD for two years, for use by his organisation. The new prompted Hamlet to drop Peter Gray, LL’s spokesman, an e-mail on the matter. Hamlet comments:

“I’m not able to share numbers,” Gray e-mailed me, “but can confirm that we’ve extended this special offer to a targeted number of educational and non-profit institutions that have recently left Second Life.” The next question is how many institutions they’re offering this to, but there, he is mum. Furthermore, there’s no way for former sim owners of this variety to request this discount:

“There isn’t currently a way to apply for this; it’s a special offer we’re extending directly to some nonprofit and educational institutions as part of our customer win-back efforts,” as Gray puts it.

Deep Think East - one of the regions operated by the UK's Open University, one of the educational organisations which still operates within Second Life
Deep Think East – one of the regions operated by the UK’s Open University, one of the educational organisations which still operates within Second Life

While not privy to the exact arrangements specified in the offer, I assume that as one or two-year discounts are specified, the caveat to it is that the discount only applies to a full up-front payment of said fees.

Like Hamlet, I’m also a little dubious that the offer will be taken-up by everyone who has departed Second Life – although it is interesting to now that LL are apparently targeting organisations which have “recently left” SL, and therefore have yet to put down roots elsewhere. As Hamlet rightly points out, a lot of people got somewhat burnt when the Lab announced they were discontinuing discounts for educational bodies and non-profits, and there has been a good degree of bad feeling since. There’s also the fact that over the past couple of years OpenSim has become a more than credible – and potentially a lower-cost – solution for educational needs.

It is probable that the move might be seen is some quarters of one of “desperation” on LL’s part in order to reverse the decline in the number of privately-held regions. However, given the limited and closed nature of the offer, such views may not be entirely valid – Second Life isn’t anywhere close to balancing on the edge of disaster just yet – although it would be interesting to know what did prompt the move.

In the meantime Hamlet has requested the any organisations or individuals who have been in receipt of the offer drop an comment onto his post on the news.

With thanks to Hamlet Au.

34 thoughts on “LL offer discounted regions to educational and non-profit organisations on the QT

    1. It’ll be interesting to see if we ever hear a) what the take-up was; b) if the offer is extended elsewhere; c) if those educational organisations still active in SL have been given some form of offer to encourage them to stay as well. Although doubtful we will directly in the the case of (a) and (b), and (c) is most probably in the “unlikely” category.

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  1. Amazing. LL is actually rolling back one of their disastrous previous decisions? Probably too late but at least the thought is there – that tier changes might win more customers.

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    1. It would be interesting to see how many of the “recently departed”, so to speak, do take-up the offer.

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  2. I do wonder if the discount is on offer to those institutions and organisations that actually stayed too …

    I’m not sure that Open Sim really is an alternative, except for those possessed of a keen pioneering spirit. The conveniences of Second Life are significant for someone who wants to utilise a virtual world as a space rather than as a tool.

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    1. Not sure I agree.

      There’s not little available in SL by way of convenience or tools which can be used in learning that isn’t available in OpenSim (MOAP being a possible exception – but how really useful is that?). There are a number of OpenSim grids with a primary focus on education, and larger organisations have the option of potentially hosting their own OpenSim environments in-house (allowing for suitable IT support) and in a relatively secure environment.

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      1. Miscellaneous points:
        OpenSim has MOAP and it can be useful although it has issues as in SL. Although there is less content available in OpenSim it is otherwise far more flexible and cost-effective from a teacher’s perspective.

        I suspect that LL’s interest relates to the hype around MOOCs.

        At the peak there were more than 800 educational institutions in SL so “thousands of sims” is a realistic possibility given that many had multiple regions. How many remain is a moot point but a cursory examination of the map of the edu archipelago shows extensive gaps and few if any newcomers to plug them.

        What LL did damage by their actions in 2010 was the credibility engendered by the networking that took place between educators and which is now a shadow of its former self. The loss of critical mass and departure of key players, both institutions and individuals, had a negative effect that platform improvements have failed to nullify.

        Although l am happy on Kitely and cannot envisage a return even in the unlikely event of an invitation/discount, I bear the current LL management no ill-will — the few that remain from those days presumably acted in what they believed were the best interests of the company at the time. It must have been traumatic for all concerned.

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        1. Thanks for the MOAP clarification, Graham – I’d honestly lost track of the status of things there.

          Totally agree on the credibility gap issue – which again is why I can see why LL are extending the offer to those who have only recently departed: they went through the damaging period and stayed with SL up until the recent past, and so may not be influenced in their decision-making by what happened in 2010 – plus, as Ciaran rightly points out, they likely still have the budget available to potentially re-invest, as it were, in SL.

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  3. At risk of sounding a sour note, it’s not immediately clear to me why RL educational institutions are more deserving of a discount on tier than are — for example — in-world education providers like Builders Brewery or The Particle Lab, or why they’re more deserving of a discount than are some of the very attractive sims you profile in this blog.

    I am sure that a month’s tier constitutes a considerably smaller fraction of most colleges’ monthly income than it is a fraction of the monthly income of most residents.

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    1. You have no argument from me – but this edges the discussion away from “discount” into the realm of “tier cuts”, which aren’t something that – despite the imaginings of some commentators – Linden Lab can actually realistically sustain at this point in time. Then the question also becomes, where does on draw the line? I don’t think there is an easy answer, all round.

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      1. I’m no great fan of tier discounts in this context and your previous articles have certainly persuaded me that LL would be reckless to cut tier across the board before they’ve established an alternative income stream. I’m rather concerned, in fact, in case this exercise reduces LL’s income if educational institutions who’ve stuck with SL start asking for discounts, too — thus making am overall tier reduction less, rather than more, likely. I suppose LL must have considered this, though.

        If there is any spare money knocking about, at the moment, I would far rather it were used for hiring extra staff on short-term contracts to complete some half-finished projects, such as getting the mesh deformer through QA, which is apparently what’s holding it up. My point was, though, that if LL is determined to give out discounts on tier to a small group of land-owners, I can think of several candidates who benefit residents in general more obviously than do colleges as a group.

        I still have bitter memories of the debacle when they introduced Zindra and the Adult Content policy in an attempt to make SL more attractive to these hoards of — imaginary, as it transpired — educational and business users who were supposedly going to flock to SL if only Adult Content was hidden away I thought it was a step in the right direction when Rodvik seemed to make it clear he was abandoning past failed attempts to make SL a business and educational platform, and position it more clearly as an entertainment platform, and I really hope this doesn’t signal a change of course.

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        1. I’m not entirely sure there is a clear roadmap / policy for SL’s future direction outside of the techincal aspects of the platform’s development we’re seeing at the moment.

          With regards to the mesh deformer, I have to admit that I wonder if the real problem is not so much a lack of available staff, but rather whether those at the top actually see it as mattering enough to sanction resources being assigned to the project.

          Let’s face it, at SLCC-2011, Charlar pointed to the fact that he was hoping to see at least one more “significant” update to Mesh. Then, in October, we got Rod Humble pretty much dismissing mesh as “job done”, evoking a mental image of him walking away from the project dusting his hands and muttering, “Sorted.” Shortly thereafter, Charlar was reassigned (briefly) to the Adult User Group prior to receiving a further reassignment out of the door.

          True, Oz has done a lot to ensure that Qarl’s code (and updates to it such as those from Darien Caldwell) is at least integrated into a project viewer repository (and full kudoes to him for doing so). But if senior management aren’t interested in investing further resources to the project, staff availability ceases to be an issue. As with so much in LL, only time will tell on this; but it is hard not to be pessimistic given the way this particular matter continues to drag along.

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    2. The cost of a sim in SL per year pales into insignificance compared to the Microsoft Campus Agreement and Hardware rollouts, All this really highlights is that the tier is too damn high across the board.

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    3. I wouldn’t be so sure as you 🙂 (at least in many cases I’m personally aware of). The issue is not being “a fraction of most colleges’ monthly income” but “a fraction of the budget they have for projects using virtual worlds”, which is a completely different story.

      Nevertheless, you’re right regarding in-world education providers. However, they have an easy way out: just register as a non-profit and see if LL grants them the discount, too. In the days when the discount was in place, I was aware of many groups and communities, which were much less focused on “making money in SL” but in placing projects related to community, arts, and education, which went that route: they incorporated as non-profits and enjoyed the tier discount.

      If LL is willing to accept that kind of thing again, this would be rather good news!

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  4. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and I’ll also agree with Innula; LL needs to offer the same discount to the in-world education providers like the Builders Brewery and The Particle Lab, as these providers help budding content creators get started, and also hone their skills – and without content creators, the virtual economy cannot exist.

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    1. yes, to me the real loss wasn’t just some very cool virtual university campuses but education in the broad sense and specifically the sort of in world education meant to engage residents. BB could certainly use a break, and surely the Particle Lab has earned its keep for good.

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      1. I know I’m going to cause the ire of the followers of the misanthropic political faction known as neoliberalism, but the abolition of subsidies (which are, in neoliberal/Randroid speak, are the prime form of Evil) often causes far greater harm than good. More often than not, the consequences are downright disastrous.

        Case in point: the abolition of discounts for educational and non-profit organizations. It was an extremely ill-advised decision that should never have been made in the first place. It caused (perhaps irreparable, judging by the way the media are known to behave) harm to the image of both SL and LL, with the mass exodus of so many virtual campuses. Anyone with any kind of business sense would immediately recognize the prestige-enhancing potential of having virtual university campuses in-world; Anyone with any kind of business sense would see the potential of educational sims for changing laymen’s perception of SL.

        Let’s face it, there are decisions made by LL that harmed SL’s image and we all know how important, sales-wise, image is.

        Also, to elaborate on what I said earlier, I’ll move again from the in-world presence of RL universities to SL-specific institutions like the old (defunct now?) TUi (does anyone remember it?) or the Particle Laboratory or the Builders’ Brewery. SL’s virtual economy is driven by the creation and sale of virtual goods. Residents cannot be assumed to have prior knowledge of how to use viewer-based in-world tools (the build floater) or in-world building aids (such as Mesh Studio, Prim Finder, Prim Generator or Sculpt Studio, to name but a few), or LSL, the in-world scripting language. And they can most certainly not be assumed to have prior experience with 3D graphics applications (Blender may be free, but its learning curve is rather steep for those who haven’t had any prior contact with such applications – as for proprietary applications, their cost can be extremely high). It makes sense that LL needs institutions that will teach users how to create the virtual goods whose sale drives SL’s economy. I know I might be labelled a socialist (at best), but I think LL should offer generous discounts (at least 75%) to all educational and non-profit organizations (not just the ones that left the virtual world) and I think they should outright subsidise and fund in-world institutions that train users on how to become content creators.

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  5. The problem is that once an education institution cuts something like SL from their budget, trying to get funding back for such a venture is difficult. I would imagine this is why LL are targetting the recently departed, they are more likely to be able to make a budgetary argument for a reduced cost to stay, rather than those who are longer departed, whereby budgets have changed already.

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  6. I’m the admin of a 5 region university presence in SL and due to budget constraints and the hard hit of the price ‘doubling’ these regions are languishing without ongoing funding. I’m sure that some of the users could be convinced to stay and make a case for ongoing tier at the reduced rate *if we were offered this discount*. Fingers crossed. It’d be sad to see a continuing decline in SL regions from edu/non profit organisations.

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    1. What’s the benefit to SL users as a whole of your university’s presence in SL, Sandbox Overlord? I don’t mean the question to be offensive, and your university may well offer all sorts of benefits and facilities to SL. Or it might be that, while the only people directly to benefit are your university’s students and staff, there’s an indirect benefit from having people in SL who wouldn’t otherwise be here.

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      1. Hi innula, no offence taken at all 🙂 My thought on this is the benefit to SL as a whole is to increase the userbase. Like a lot of computing/software companies & web services trying to get a foot into education, if you get people’s imaginations while they’re learning there is great follow-through to them using these tools once they’re outside the educational setting.

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  7. As often, Linden Lab behave in a very unprofessional way.
    In the french speaking community I have seen numerous non-profit groups disappear with the end of the discount, help and mentor groups for exemple. This is why I say SL is dying. My SL is dying. Slowly, but dying anyway. Even Linden Lab seems to hang to SL only waiting for another product to bring enough money.
    Meanwhile, the Opensim scene is thriving, with people believing in it, working for it, lot’s of creation… and even drama, as in SL when I came in ! (circa 2006-2007) ^_^

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  8. Non-profits to Second Life: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

    Wary of locked-up content data stuck in SL’s walled garden: “Don’t step in the same hole twice.”

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  9. I think it is wonderful that LL is reversing a bad decision. I really do.

    At the same time, I find it disappointing that Linden Lab is giving the discount only to a handpicked set. They are not extending the offer to others who have demonstrated ongoing commitment to SL like Builder’s Brewery which is a vital and wonderful group. I find it weird that communication about the policy change comes from a blogger rather than from Linden Lab itself.

    Inconsistent policy that favors special people? Check.
    Disregard for loyal customers who are paying full price? Check.
    Terrible communication strategy? Check.

    The entire scenario is so predictable. It is more sad than funny at this point.

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    1. Innula raises the same point vis-a-vis Builder’s Brewery et al. I emphasise, but also, as noted in reply to Innula, can see it from LL’s perspective. If you start down that road, where does it end? Pretty soon you’re wandering into the realm of “tier cuts”, something which – like it or not, LL are ill-equipped revenue-wise, to sustain. Then there is the inevitable clamour about FIC, etc., with arguments running something like:

      “So? Builder’s Brewery may provide a service, but content creators keep the SL economy going, why shouldn’t they get a discount for putting up stores and keeping user-to-user transactions (which LL value at $600 million USD per year) going?…”

      and:

      “So, content creators may help move the economy, but private estates cater to the majority of users’ home needs, and provide a means where they can put down roots and use the goods content creators make – and many actually provide commercial regions for content creators to put up stores, so why shouldn’t all of them get a discount, rather than a select few (Atlas programme)?”

      …and so on.

      Ciaran raises the valid point that those educational / non-profits who have most recently left SL are also those most likely to still have the budget which can be used to make a return to SL. Also, as I’ve mentioned, these are also the organisations more likely to be more forgiving of LL for the 2010 policy change, simply because they did weather the storm for so long. Plus, those organisations which left a good while ago and wished to continue using virtual environments have likely long-since put down roots elsewhere. So it actually makes sense for LL to focus the offer.

      Which is not to say they couldn’t extended the reach of the offer in the future where other educational / non-profit organisations are concerned (such as through some form of referral scheme). Granted, LL will always have a huge trust issue to overcome, but at least the door is somewhat open.

      In terms of the communications policy, I can actually emphasise with LL making the offer on the QT; it is a limited offer, it is at the discretion of the Lab, and as such, a mainstream announcement would only result in a potentially huge and negative backlash. Of course, the flip side to this is that had LL been more open and forthcoming with their users in terms of corporate-driven communcations over the past three or so years, rather than effectively eroding them away, much of any potential clamour following a more public announcement of the move might have been muted, and more postive feedback received. So yes, still a black mark on the communications front.

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  10. Well now..talk about closing the barn door after most of your stable of horses have long since bolted for the pastures of Open Sim / Kitely / Sim on a stick etc. Good that the Lab are offering a discount to the non profits / educators, but the cynic in me thinks this has more to do with improving product credibility rather than altruism.

    I’ll be following your blog updates on this with interest. 🙂

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    1. Not sure I’ll be able to offer much in the way of updates. As Hamlet states in breaking the news, LL are being pretty closed-mouthed on matters. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to have a gentle poke via e-mail next week :).

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