Of Premium perks and problems

Update, April 3rd: This article has be slightly overtaken by events. The discussion relating to SL Go as a Premium option has been negated by the fact that on April 2nd, 2015, Onlive regretfully announced their streaming services would be closing on April 30th, 2015, following the sale of their core patents to Sony Computer Entertainment America – see my report here.

On Monday, March 20th, the Lab announced A New Perk for Premium Subscribers, which saw the cap on delivery of offline IMs you can read raised from 25 to 50 if you’re a Premium account holder. 

Premium benefits are often hard to quantify in terms of value (although the "new" in the current Linden Homes ad really needs to be dropped nowadays...)

Premium benefits are often hard to quantify in terms of value (although the “new” in the current Linden Homes ad really needs to be dropped nowadays…)

While the rise in the limit did result in some amused comments in various groups about it being an early  “April Fools” joke, and some sarcastic feedback on the forums, it is at least indicative that the Lab do have Premium accounts, and the need to try to improve the offerings associated with them, on their collective minds. 

Indeed, this increase in the cap for off-line IMs had been informally mentioned at a number of the Server Beta User Group (SBUG) meetings in recent weeks, while a server-side deployment that went grid-wide in week #12 included “internal improvements for premium users”, which were described as offering the means by which the Lab might be able to offer new perks to Premium account holders in the future, should such opportunities develop.

Of course, we can argue as to whether or not such a modest change and the IM cap update deserves heralding in a blog post of its own – but how else is the Lab supposed to get the word out in a manner that will be spotted?

However, the general response perhaps indicates once again that coming up with the right balance of Premium benefits isn’t as easy as we might like to think. The problem here is that we’re such a rich and diverse group of users, that trying to find something that will have a really broad basis of appeal, and which is relatively easy to implement, isn’t so simple a proposition as may appear to be be the case. Even the ideas we ourselves put forward might be said to be of limited appeal or aren’t entirely straight-forward to implement. Thus the Lab tends to be caught in something of a cleft stick.

Gifts have been a staple part of the Premium account offering. While well-intended, and something liable to have reasonably widespread appeal when compared to other ideas, they've not really endeared themselves to users as well as might have been imagined

Gifts have been a staple part of the Premium account offering. While well-intended, and something liable to have reasonably widespread appeal when compared to other ideas, they’ve not really endeared themselves to users as well as might have been imagined

An example of the potential narrowness of appeal came up at a recent LL-led meeting in which the question of Premium benefits was raised. The responses given, which related to things like additional scripting options, special file stores, etc., undoubtedly sounded good to those making them, but, when taken as a whole, really only held appeal to a very narrow group of users, making them hard to justify as a “benefit” everyone might appreciate.

Other ideas, while sounding obvious, may suffer the same issue of appeal and bring with them problems of their own which could easily offset any potential benefit they present. Take the idea of increasing the amount of land offered as either part of a Linden Home or as free tier from 512 sq metres to 1024 sq metres. Sounds simple enough on the surface, but it belies the fact that many SL users, Premium and Basic, don’t see the appeal of either Mainland holdings or Linden Homes.

More particularly, increasing the amount of land available to Linden Homes brings with it problems of its own, as it essentially means that all of the existing LH estates would have to be rebuilt from ground up in order to both provide the additional land per unit and preserve the necessary protected land per region in order to be able to supply each home with it 117 LI – and that’s a big task, one that would include something of an increase in the overall number of LH regions to boot. It would also mean the need for those already occupying Linden Home to have to relocate, causing additional disruption the Lab may not feel happy about creating.

Increasing the parcel size for Linden Homes to 1024 square metres sounds good, but brings with it headaches of its own when you consider the amount of re-working required to make all LH estates fit with the new parcel size

Increasing the parcel size for Linden Homes to 1024 square metres sounds good, but brings with it headaches of its own when you consider the amount of re-working required to make all LH estates fit with the new parcel size

While this issues are perhaps smaller, the same goes for upping the amount of free tier offered Premium accounts from 512 sq m to 1024 sq m. Does the person currently using their 512 sq m actually have enough land around them to benefit from the increase in free tier? Will they have to move to make use of it? If they deed their land to a group, does the group have enough land from which to benefit? Then there are the necessary changes which need to be made to the billing system to account for the change.

Obviously, these are not insurmountable problems, and those relating to free Mainland tier might even be regarded as edge cases. But, the fact that they do raise questions marks over their ease of implementation and may not deliver the hoped-for levels of increased appeal do make them that much harder for the Lab to consider as potential solutions.

SL go logo

Even ideas around offering SL Go as a Premium offering, while simple in concept, are potentially less-than-simple to implement

The same is true for ideas for combining Premium accounts with other offerings – such as SL Go, as Jo Yardley  has suggested, may potentially be non-starters. While the idea sounds great in principle, it perhaps overlooks a few things.

At its most basic, it is hard to see how such an arrangement would offer a decent level of return for OnLive. As it is, it would seem the service has already gained sufficient critical mass for the company to enjoy a meaningful revenue stream from it without any such partnership; ergo, it’s hard to quantify any real gain that might be made in wrapping the service as a part of LL’s Premium membership.

More practically for both companies, however, is that the idea would seem to introduce numerous additional billing requirements which will take time and effort to implement and which, once done, might not be matched by the overall pick-up in interest SL users have in the Premium account offering. Support issues also rear their head as well. Currently, SL Go stands as a service independent of LL. Bundle it with a Premium offering, however, and users are going to expect the Lab to support it, regardless of OnLive’s own support activities, and are probably going to be unimpressed when referred elsewhere.

Thus there are a broad range of issues which would have to be addressed for such an arrangement to come about. While they may not necessarily be insurmountable, they do nevertheless call into question the overall benefits of such a partnership when compared to the overall effort in making it happen.

Premium sandboxes have proven popular among premium members for providing relatively quiet and griefer-free building locations

Premium sandboxes have proven popular among premium members for providing relatively quiet and griefer-free building locations

One idea that could have appeal is that of increasing the number of groups Premium members can join. Given the ongoing improvements being made to the entire group chat mechanism (which had previously been impacted, performance-wise, by the sheer volume of group-related “management” messages the system had to deal with), this could well be something the Lab could provide in the future.

Another idea has been that perhaps the Lab could offer a range of options users could then chose from to build their own “Premium package”. However, this again brings up the question of management and support for such a system, as well as the sticky issue of ensuring all that is offered represents equitable value across the various combinations of options users might pick.

Will Burns, far back in the mists of time (OK, February 2013), pointed to one potential for Premium accounts, and that would be to revamp them as “Professional Accounts”. He’s nipped and tucked the idea since then, but it is an interesting concept, and one that has significant logic behind it. However, it is also one I rather suspect the Lab is considering (in some form, at least) with regards to their next generation platform, rather than “retroactively” applying to SL.

Or perhaps the solution needn’t be that complicated, and we’re simply looking at the issue too hard. Maybe a simple increase in the weekly stipend back to its old level of L$500 might be enough of an enticement (money talks, as it were, despite potentials sinks), particularly if, going forward, it is part of a package of visible in-world options … such as a higher group limit, raised cap on offline IMs, etc.

In terms of the raising of the IM cap – and to bring this discussion full circle – one of the criticisms voiced directly at it is that it seems a trivial change, and should have been higher. Perhaps so, but as was pointed out to me when discussing the change, notifications have to be loaded each time you log-in, and people are really bad at clearing down their saved notifications. Thus setting the limit too high could result in some people’s log-in being impacted as the notifications file is loaded, and so it might be that the Lab is erring on the the side of caution in order to see how things go.

But be that as it may, the fact remains that the Lab are at least trying to offer more useful benefits to Premium members. It may well be that given the state of things, all they’ll ever be able to do is twiddle at the fringes in order to try to make things more attractive. If so, then hopefully as small as it is, the IM cap change will prove the be just the tip of the iceberg, and in time we will see a broader range of perks and tweaks sufficient to give us all some measure of satisfaction with Premium accounts.

5 thoughts on “Of Premium perks and problems

  1. zzpearlbottom

    Being premium since i joined and having my soul mate change form free to premium as well i can only point the 2 reasons behind the decisions, online support and acess to mainland auctions,
    So i do feel that, if the amount of m2 that one could acquire before moving up to the next tier level, on the middle of tier ranges (2048m2 for example passed to 3550m2) happened, would increase the understanding how mainland is still the best asset that Sl has.
    LL did add 13 new water sims to the south of Corsica, and even if Ebbe does not know the importance of maps or continents for the next platform, some in LL knows how they are relevant and that improving mainland will make it worth and more will want to get their little piece.

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  2. Hal Jordan

    This is an excellent start – not a trivial change at all. It will be nice not to see that nasty “messages capped” notification with every login. I always wondered who was asking for help and never got a response from me because their request went into the overflow bin. Thank you Linden Lab for this upgrade.

    For future benefits, think of the most annoying limit of Second Life, and then think how much nicer the experience would be if that limit were eased. For me, it’s annoying when people invite me to a group I want to join, but I have to check all 42 of my groups to see which one will cause the least heartache when I leave. So give the premium members 100 group slots and watch how many other people subscribe just to get that. Here are some other possible benefits, from the “Limits” wiki page – http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Limits

    – Allow the resident to change their name on the primary account, selecting the first and last name, reverting back the old name if the resident is no longer a premium member
    – Allow selectable local chat distance, from 5 to 50 meters
    – Maximum number of roles in a group created by a premium member increased from 10 to 20
    – Maximum length of a group notice in a group created by a premium member increased from 512 to 1024 characters
    – Double all of the following limits for premium members – “You can have a maximum of 10 estate managers, 500 allowed Residents, 63 allowed groups, and 500 banned Residents”
    – Increase profile numbers – About field from 510 to 1020 bytes, profile picks from 10 to 20, 1st Life info tab from 253 to 506 bytes, My Notes tab from 1022 to 2044 bytes
    – Maximum sound length increased from 10 to 30 seconds

    More and happier subscribers attracts more users and makes more money for Linden Lab. A win-win situation!

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  3. Bear Silvershade

    I don’t know… I am not a really a heavy user of SL as compared to club owners, content creators and similar types of users. But I regularly surpass the cap by a large margin, so I am not sure how much expanding the cap by 25 would help – it certainly isn’t an incentive for me.
    There are some great ideas mentioned for making premium accounts desirable. This suggestion is a bit tongue in cheek (since I know the kind of outrage it would cause) but I think there might be a simple way to increase interest in going premium: limit inventories on free accounts to, say, 10,000 items.
    Imagine the Lab announcing that and the resulting mayhem… Oh, the humanity, the hair, the shoes!

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  4. RedMokum Bravin

    As for the 1024 m2: it was mentioned as a possibility by Lindens (like Jack) back in the days when the Arbor group was still actively beautifying main land and fighting ad farms that drove the masses away from SL.
    Linden homes are not for everybody (I for example get claustrophobia in those Linden estates “littered” with prefab homes), but why not just double the prim factor where possible? Many people who have a 512m2 parcel elsewhere won’t be able to expand their parcel with an adjacent one either. On the other hand there are so many unused main land sims (completely abandoned) that they could also use the server power to finally finish Gaeta and surround it with water… just an idea.

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