The ghost of the Premium Membership offer returns …

preimiumThe Lab has announced the latest round of the Premium Membership promotions – this one with a decidedly Halloween feel.

As usual, the offer is 50% off of membership for those upgrading, but only if they opt for the Quarterly billing plan, and the discount is applied only to the first quarter billing period. The offer begins on Wednesday the 15th of October at 08:00 am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) and expires on Monday the 3rd of November 2014 at 08:00 am Pacific Standard Time (PST).

Alongside of the membership discount, comes the Premium gift offer, which this time has a Halloween theme, which includes “jack o’lanterns, witches’ brooms and more – including a bone-shaking skeleton avatar”. The gift pack can be obtained through the Premium Gift kiosks.

I admit I’ve not picked-up my gift, as it doesn’t really appeal. This being the case, I’ll also avoid my usual grumblings about the way Premium membership is pitched, and instead say that whether or not you feel upgrading to Premium is worthwhile is purely a matter of individual choice. However, I would say that if you’re considering on the basis of “exclusive gifts” or “more privacy”, then you’re probably better off sitting down and thinking again.

Part of the Halloween 2014 Premium Gift (image va Linden Lab)
Part of the Halloween 2014 Premium Gift (image va Linden Lab)

Launched alongside the Premium Membership offer, and included in the same blog post as the Premium offer stuff, is news about the Haunted Halloween Tour, the latest offering from the Lab to feature Experience Keys. This can be accessed via the Lab’s Portal Park, and I’ve covered it in a companion article to this one.

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The further return of the Premium Membership offer and gift

On Friday July 18th, the Lab launched the latest off of its Premium Membership discount offers, together with a new Premium Membership gift.

These seem to be run around July / August each year, and also in November. As usual, the offer is 50% off of membership for those upgrading, but only if they opt for the Quarterly billing plan, and the discount is applied only to the first quarter billing period. The offer runs from 08:00 SLT / PDT on Friday July 18th 2014 through until 08:00 SLT / PDT on Monday August 4th, 2014. The usual Premium Benefits are part-and-parcel of the offer.

The Premium Membership offer banner
The Premium Membership offer banner

I’m a Premium Member; I re-upped several years ago after having been basic, and I find it moderately useful – for I time I lived exclusively in my Linden Home and didn’t find it that bad; admittedly, I managed to land on my feet with the one I had, but I did spend a fair amount of time mulling things over and settled on the exact style I wanted ahead of time and then dallied until it came around on the booking page (not all variants of the various styles are available all of the time). I was then very lucky that the first one I saw was in a location I liked – however, moving between Linden Homes is relatively simple, providing you follow some simple rules. So if the first one you are assigned doesn’t fit the bill, location-wise, it’s easy to hop around.

Even so, I’m still (as always) irked by some of the stated benefits that come with Premium, and wish the Lab would clean-up some of the wording – “More Land and Privacy?”  – how, exactly? Basic members get to enjoy both of these as well; not as cheaply, perhaps, but they can have them. I’d also like to see more thought given to the benefits in general. some of the gifts are fun … but none of them are that inspirational.

The Premium Gift pirate airship includes a premium prim count / land impact
The Premium Gift pirate airship includes a premium prim count / land impact

Which brings me to the latest Premium gift itself. The gift on offer this time is a “new interactive pirate airship, the Linden Marauder.”

Pirate, eh? All I can say is avast … land impact goes into this vessel; 502 in fact (although the physics weight is admittedly only 18-ish), so it’s not something you’ve going to want to keep rezzed out somewhere. It’ll sit a number of people – Captain (owner) at the helm, who must board first, then the “First Mate” and then passengers (or “scurvy crew”, if you prefer and keeping to the piratical theme. Flight controls are the usual : PAGE UP and PAGE DOWN to ascend / descend, LEFT ARROW and RIGHT ARROW to turn. UP ARROW and DOWN ARROW to accelerate / slow down. A nice touch is SHIFT LEFT ARROW or SHIFT RIGHT ARROW to run-out the port or starboard cannon on the gun decks and fire a broadside.

Quite a few were trying the latest Premium Gift out for size, if only briefly
Quite a few were trying the latest Premium Gift out for size, if only briefly

Handling-wise the airship is OK, firing the guns at another passing airship can be a bit of a giggle – the first time. Other than that, I don’t have anything to say on it, other than when it comes to the idea of Premium gifts and offering something of value and which is likely to be of real benefit, this kind of offering leaves two words floating inside my head: “missed” and “opportunity”

Doing a Wilbur at Orville (it’s premium gift time again)

Ah well. Looks like I was wrong. Shucks!

LL have just launched their latest Premium gift today, Thursday 14th November. That something was due today wasn’t a surprise, as they’d slipped out advanced word last month by accident. However, at the time, I thought it might be something else other than the next Premium gift.

Turns out – it is, so ho-hum on my part.

I will say, with hand-on-heart, however, that I’m not actually surprised by the nature of the gift – a biplane. I say not surprised, as the prediction curve was pretty clear over the last three gifts: boat, railcar, car (dune buggy)  – so an aeroplane rounds-out the set. So what is the latest like?

Well, it looks like something out of the great days of barnstorming in the 1920s, when surplus WWI aircraft received a second lease of life. In fact, from what cursory research I did via the web, it looks like a cross between a Spad (beloved of American pilots) and the British SE5. Sort-of. Well, to me, at least.

Me and my latest premium gift

As with all premium gift vehicles, this one follows the usual standard – get in and use it, with touching it bringing up a menu to adjust things like the colour scheme, the flight sensitivity, the controls, etc. When you up in, instructions are displayed in chat, and follow the normal layout – PAGE UP/ DOWN for throttle increase / decrease, arrow keys for nose up / down, left / right (or you can use WASD and E & C for the throttle).

Seat-of-you-pants-flying

Handling-wise, and to be brutally honest, I have to admit that I found the plane something of a mess. As there is no HUD, decreasing or increasing the throttle produces a spew of channel spam in the viewer’s chat console, which is both annoying and distracting. Further, and while this may be down to the fact I use my own camera defaults (although I don’t know why if so, as I use the same defaults to fly my other aircraft), I found it impossible to achieve stable, level flight in this plane even with the throttle reasonably set: I was either constantly climbing or descending (generally the latter – it’s as if the plane is terribly nose-heavy). Obviously, some adjustment to trim is going to be required in an old kite, but this actually grated on me in both basic and advanced sensitivity settings.

“Contact!”

The plane is a single-seater, but that doesn’t prevent friends coming along for the ride – providing they are willing to hang on. Aerobatically, the plane is OK – I threw a couple of loops and rolled it a few times, although the aforementioned habit of it constantly wanting to get back on the ground meant that it was easy to over-compensate.

“If you iz flyin liek this then yu iz doin it rong”

As with the dune buggy offering, the plane “includes” the use of a premium-only airstrip at Orville. This has been stuck on the south side of the premium sandbox group  which includes Formonsa, Amoena, and others, and which appear to have gained two additional region splitting them: Limia and Arowana. As such, there should be a lot of flying space here – but for the fact that the runway is west- east facing, with no regions either to the left or right, which makes taking off and landing something of a pain, as there is no real opportunity for a lined-up descent on the latter or decent climb-out in the former. This was reflected in the fact that on my visit, there were a number of biplanes bouncing along the region edge…

Orville: “Mind the boundary”

The lack of flying space to the east and west may also reflect the fact that there were a fair few at the strip who were not flying their new LL gift plane, but were enjoying themselves dogfighting in Warbugs (one of which I just have to get – talk about cute!). These tiny little planes had no issue with the confined space.

Warbugs at Orville!

While at Orville, I confess I took time out not to fly the new plane, but to take the Stingray out on the water once more – I tell you, I’m hooked on this vehicle!

Overall, the latest premium gift is pretty predictable; transportation appears to have been the theme for 2012’s gifts as mentioned above. It’ll be somewhat interesting to see what the theme will be for 2013. As to the biplane itself – well, like the buggy before it, it’s OK, but hardly on a par with offerings which can be had for free on the Marketplace; however, if it serves to get people who have no previously tried flying to give it a go, then it can be said to have served a decent purpose.

For my part, however, I’ll stick with my Stingray. And go get me a little Warbug. Those things look FUN!

Leaving Orville by water – taking out the Stingray. Again.

Oh, and of course, this gift comes complete with the usual “50% (on your first quarter’s payment) discount” offer. For those who are curious as to general thoughts on premium, please feel free to check out my thoughts on the matter for those considering an upgrade.

Buggy-ing about with the latest Premium gift

The latest Premium gift arrived yesterday, together with yet another push for people to up to Premium. In keeping with the transportation / vehicle theme that has marked the majority of the gifts to date (the last two being a sailboat and a railcar respectively), this quarter sees a dune buggy as the offering – so no-one can accuse LL of not trying to get people out and around SL in order to use their gifts.

As with previous gifts, the buggy is mesh, with a total LI of 58. The level of detail on it is OK, if a little basic texture-wise. It seats two, and the promotional blog post makes a big point about taking friends along for the ride, although the buggy is restricted to owner-only driving.

The Premium gift dune buggy

Driving-wise, it uses the usual controls either the WASD keys or the arrow keys. It has a “turbo” feature – doubling-clicking the W/up arrow accelerates the buggy and produces a  green glow under it, and you can use this to pull wheelies. Use the SHIFT key in combination with the A or D / left or right arrow keys, and you can produce tight hand-brake turns. The front wheels don’t turn when turning the buggy, but a particle dirty / dust effect is given off from the rear wheels when in motion.

Once seated in the vehicle, you can call-up a menu allowing you to change the colour for various parts of it: frame, seats, wheels, etc., allowing a degree of customisation. A help card can be accessed from the menu, although the vehicle really is simple enough to get to grips with without it.

As with the railcar gift from May, the notecard includes a number of places where people can go drive their new toy, although one of these is on a time-limited basis and “may disappear after the promotion period for the buggy”.

Personally, I’d actually suggest this 4-region, Premium-only area potentially represents more fun / value than the buggy itself. It offers plenty of space for people to race vehicles, fly aircraft and generally socialise. If you’re listening, LL, consider expanding it by a couple more regions rather than packing it up in the future, it’s a place where users can do what they do best – make their own fun.

The Premium-only (and possibly sort-term) 4-region driving area

Opinion

Of the three vehicle-related gifts supplied by LL to date, this is potentially the weakest in terms of appealing to established users. Anyone with any interest in vehicles is liable to have at least one sitting in their inventory already. However, for the curious / those new to SL who signed-up to Premium, then the buggy may well have appeal. Certainly, there were a fair few trying their gifts out in the 4-region driving zone. How long the appeal lasts, however, is questionable.

It’s a shame LL opted to restrict the buggy to owner driving only. Giving at least an option to set it to group access / driving would have offered the potential for people to have far more fun with friends, Premium and non-Premium alike, at any of the major race tracks and driving zones around SL.

For my part, and being a bit grouchy, the buggy is another “meh” gift; I have a beautiful car in the form of a Classic 43S GT which, while not as efficient as the buggy in terms of resource use, is actually a lot better looking and far more fun to drive – and I can share it with friends, as it has the option for “guests” to drive. It’s also available for free on the Marketplace).

The buggy (mesh) compared to my Classic 43S GT (prims and sculpts)

The major issue with this gift, again, is it’s hardly an incentive to take-up (or even maintain) Premium membership. And in that respect, if LL really do want to get more people to jump the fence from Basic to Premium, they would probably have more success overhauling the entire Premium package. Although quite how they do this without upsetting something, somewhere (and doubtless a lot of a people in the process), is something of a L$64,000 question…

“I’m a-working on the railroad….”

So, amidst all the kerfuffle around SL maintenance yesterday, an e-mail arrived announcing the next “exclusive”  gift for Premium members …. a railcar…

I’ve been ambivalent as to the nature, purpose and value of these “gifts”, and still remain so now. Sailing around Blakes Sea in the last gift was fun, I have to admit – albeit relatively short-lived (the boat hasn’t seen the light of day since; not even on the river flowing near to my Linden Home & which wends through a number of regions). I’m still very much of the opinion that there are better ways to offer incentives to get people signed-up to Premium. However, the railcar.

I’ll admit, things didn’t get off to a good start. I had issues teleporting to recommended start points, repeated crashes on arrival, and then rezzing issues for the car itself, all of which I put down to the aftermath (7 hours after the fact) to the overnight maintenance, but which nevertheless left me grumpy.

Me and my railcar … 30 seconds before my third consecutive crash after rezzing it…

The car itself is a mesh creation – as with the sailboat – with a land impact of 42. It’s the work of Silent Mole, and very well detailed. On rezzing the car will automatically snap-align to any nearby compatible tracks (or tell you none are available and where you might find some. I do recommend reading the accompanying notecard for a list of suitable locations). Up to four people can ride a car, with the owner using the UP ARROW key to start / keep the car in motion and DOWN ARROW to brake, while SHIFT-LEFT ARROW and SHIFT-RIGHT ARROW allow you to change the direction you’re facing on the car.

There are also various menu-accessible “customisation” options, which can be accessed when you’re not actually “riding” the car. These allow you to change the colour of various elements of the car, add / remove detailing, set the speed of motion, camera position, etc..

Traffic on the lines isn’t an issue – everything is phantom, although it is a little eerie having someone pass through you from behind or when coming in the other direction.

For those interested in exploring mainland regions, the car does offer a means of – dare I say it – providing a shared experience for up to four people, although the poor bugger actually “driving” the car is precluded from any conversation while the car is in motion, as they have to repeatedly tap the UP ARROW key to keep things moving. This can get tiresome, especially when lag is encountered. Making sure you flick the points as you approach them can also lead to some interesting diversions, however. Just mind the buffers; they most assuredly are not phantom.

On the fun scale, it has to be said the railcar does score – although the novelty factor may increase any initial score given. As a “Premium benefit”, however it is still pretty much sitting in the box with the rest of the offerings to date: something that is unlikely to impress many outside of those with an interest in exploring the Mainland rail networks. For the rest, and once the novelty has (possibly quickly) worn off, this is a gift liable to occupy inventory space more than it will be rezzed.

Bobbing along, bobbing along…

…on the ocean of the beautiful blue Blake Sea

Or so Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson might have started singing, had they been in receipt of the latest Premium gift from Linden Lab.

Premium gifts have been something of a sore point in some circles, with people taking LL’s promise to offer “regular” gifts as meaning “monthly” gifts – although the two do not actually equal one another. I also suggested that the next gift roll-out would be as we headed towards Christmas, so I wasn’t really that surprised when an e-mail popped-up in my inbox announcing the next gift has been released –  this time a sailing boat.

The boat appears to have been made by someone called Crazy Mole from the LDPW, with scripting (I assume) by Michael Linden. I’m not sure if putting the work “in-house”, so to speak, is to combat critics (such as myself) who have questioned the idea of LL entering into arrangements with content creators for the provision of such gifts. If so, then the approach only partially works – there’s still the question of LL effectively competing (even on a modest scale like this) with established content creators in SL in supplying popular items.

The gift itself – available through the premium vendors, comprises the boat, a sailing HUD and a number of LMs to places where you can go sail. The boat itself is a mesh creation with a physics weight of 12, a server weight of 13 and an overall land impact of 147. It’s rather nicely styled and somewhat customisable.

All at sea…

The HUD provides a compass, a roll indicator, a switch that allows you to use the sails (wind) or the boat’s engine, indicators for the wind speed (when under sail) and boat speed (when under power), and buttons that allow you to change the hull, sail, deck and furnishings textures, as well a help button and a button to minimise it, if you prefer.

Operationally, the boat is restricted to the owner for sailing – so although it is COPY, no rezzing a couple of extras to go racing with friends – but it does include additional seating poses for friends to sail with you. It also requires the HUD to be attached (centre top by default) before boarding, or you won’t be able to sail it yourself…

The HUD

Sailing is essentially a matter of using the arrow / WASD keys and setting off on your merry way. Flicking the HUD to the sail mode will unfurl your sails, and the boat will take on a healthy roll as she picks up speed, when turning, this can result in water seeping through the sides of the cockpit. When piloting the boat, you get a very nice over-the-shoulder view – although this can be blocked as the sails move. A wake effect is also produced, which phosphors nicely at night.

…and under sail….

In terms of customisation, in addition to the retexturing options outlined above (some of which are, I’d suggest, a little bland and fail to live up to their name), the boat includes individual name textures (defaulted to “Linden”) and a flag (bearing the SL logo by default) which can also be customised to suit your taste, if you have suitable textures (I couldn’t resist putting the IPD logo on the flag of my boat). Just remember that if you do this, to make your modified version the default version for rezzing purposes!

I’m still very ambivalent about LL providing gifts in this manner – there are better ways to incentivize (hateful word!) Premium accounts. That said, there is no denying the boat is fun to use – although the land impact might prevent people leaving a version rezzed at their quayside. But – if you want to give SL sailing a go, and you have a Premium account – why not collect your gift and give it a go?