Lab opts to temporarily continue Quarterly Premium plan for new sign-ups

via and © and ™Linden Lab

On May 29th, 2019, Linden Lab issued a blog post outlining a number of changes to fees charged in connection with Second Life (see Land Price Reductions, New  Premium Perks and Pricing Changes). In particular, for the purposes of this article, the Lab’s post indicated the Premium subscriptions would be increasing after June 24hth 2019 as follows:

  • Monthly subscriptions will be increasing from US $9.50 per month to US $11.99.
  • Annual subscriptions will be increasing from US $72.00 per year to US $99.00.
  • Quarterly subscriptions will be increased from US $22.50 to US $32.97.

In that blog post, it was also indicated that from both Monthly and Quarterly subscriptions would be applicable to user in EU countries, while Quarterly subscriptions would be discontinued as an option from June 24th for those upgrading to Premium after that date, but would remain available for those already subscribed to that option.

These changes, and the others announced in the Lab’s blog post have generated considerable feedback. Some of this feedback, voiced through forum discussions and via assorted blog posts (see my own Dear Ebbe II” (on the subject of Basic account changes) resulted in the Lab reversing a decision to decrease the Basic account group allowance in favour of an increase in the same allowance for Premium members (see: LL reverse planned Basic account group limits reduction).

However, on Monday, June 10th, in responding to the comments left in the forum thread on the subject of the changes, Grumpity Linden indicated the Lab were making a temporary adjustment to the planned Premium fee changes, stating that the Quarterly subscription plan will now remain available to new premium sign-ups through until the “all-new membership level for those who want to get the absolute most out of their Second Life” is officially announced. The original blog post has been updated to reflect this.

Grumpity Linden’s forum comment on the short-term continuance of the Quarterly Premium subscription plan for users upgrading to Premium

This doesn’t offer much to those still feeling aggrieved by the fee changes as a whole (although – at the risk of earning a degree of ire – such changes are going to remain inevitable if the Lab is to maintain its ability to generate revenue whilst also meeting demands to lower virtual land tier), however, it does offer those wishing to upgrade to Premium but who are uncomfortable with playing the annual fee a further option to do so, albeit at the increased rate after June 24th, 2019.

Also, as can be seen in Grumpity’s reply, the Lab will try to address matters around the fee changes through their annual Meet the Lindens sessions that form a part of the Second Life Birthday events. As always, I will endeavour to provide a summary of these sessions, with audio extracts where relevant, as soon as possible after each session.

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In case you missed it: SL Premium fees lock-in now available

via and © ™ Linden Lab

On Wednesday, May 29th, Linden Lab announced a number of changes to Second Life fees and services (see Land Price Reductions, New  Premium Perks and Pricing Changes).

In particular – for the purposes of this article at least – that blog post indicated that from Monday, June 24th, Premium subscriptions will be increasing as follows:

  • Monthly subscriptions will be increasing from US $9.50 per month to US $11.99 . This is  representative of a 26.21% increase over the course of a year (from US $114 pa to US $143.88 pa).
  • Annual subscriptions will be increasing from US $72.00 per year to US $99.00. This is representative of an increase of 37.5% pa.
  • Quarterly subscriptions will be increased from US $22.50 to US $32.97. This is representative of a 46.53% increase over the course of a year (US $90 pa to US $131.88 pa).

Further it was also indicated that after June 24th, 2019:

  • The Quarterly subscription package will be withdrawn as an upgrade option from June 24th, 2019, although Premium members already using the plan will be able to continue with it.
  • The Monthly and Quarterly subscription plans will be subject to VAT for EU residents.

In order to try to sweeten these increases (the first to Premium subscriptions in a long time), the Lab indicated that from Monday, June 3rd through until Monday, June 24th, Premium users would be able to “lock in” their current billing rate for one more cycle.

In case you missed it – as the Lab opted to update their May 29th blog post rather than make a separate announcement – the lock-in offer is now available, as highlighted by the Lab at the top of the May 29th blog post:

UPDATE: The limited-time opportunity for existing Premium members to lock in their current rates for one more billing cycle, including extending an existing monthly to use the current full year rate by upgrading now to annual is now available on the premium page. Simply renew before June 24th to extend your current Membership at the same low rate. For example, monthly members will be billed at the lower rate for one more monthly billing cycle, while annual members may renew (or monthly users may upgrade to annual) early to add one more year to your existing Membership at the current lower rate.

This means, for example, that as a Premium member on the annual billing plan, I normally have to renew towards the end of the year. However, if I take advantage of this lock in offer, I will effectively gain my 2020 membership at the current $72.00 rate (albeit paid well in advance), rather than having to pay $99.00 when my renewal falls due at the end of 2019 – I’ll only see the increase when / if I renew towards the end of 2020.

Whether you take advantage of the lock in or not is down to your personal choice and circumstance. However, should you wish to do so:

  • Go to your Second Life dashboard at secondlife.com.
  • On the left, and below your account name, click Account to display the account options drop-down, then click on Premium Membership.
  • Scroll down to the Management Membership section.
  • The lock in option will be displayed against your current membership plan (the image below shows it against Annual, as that is the plan I have).
  • Click the radio button to the left of the lock in option to activate the Proceed to Cashier button.
  • Complete the billing requirements.
Activating your Premium account billing rate lock-in

LL reverse planned Basic account group limits reduction

via and © and ™Linden Lab

Note: I’m getting to this a little late as I was caught-up on in-world projects when the news broke – so please excuse my tardiness.

On May 29th, Linden Lab issued a blog post indicating some major restructuring of fees for Premium members, for credit processing Linden Dollar amounts to fiat money and out of Second Life, and alterations to Premium and Basic account Group and IM capabilities.

In case anyone missed it, the original blog announcement is here: Land Price Reductions, New Premium Perks, and Pricing Changes and my own summary / initial thoughts on the changes are here: Linden Lab announces significant SL fee changes.

In my initial response I noted that while the Premium fee changes incur an “ouch!” factor, they are nonetheless understandable if the Lab is to meet the demand for lower virtual land tier fees and maintain its revenue flow. Of the other announced changes, the increase to credit processing fees, whilst again part of the revenue pivot, is nevertheless a hard bite to take for those generating their own income via SL, given it is the latest in a line of such increases over the last few years. However, and for many of us – Basic or Premium – the major injustice outlined in the Lab’s announcement was the cut to Basic account capabilities – namely the group allowance and the reduction in off-line IMs.

Again, as I noted in my initial blog post on the subject, and expanded upon in “Dear Ebbe II” (on the subject of Basic account changes, reducing Basic account capabilities in the manner proposed smacked of being a punitive act towards Basic account holders. This view wasn’t particularly helped by an official forum post indicating the Basic account reductions were an (ill-considered) attempt to encourage people to take out Premium subscriptions and – in the case of group allowances – an exercise in load-balancing to compensate for some of the group increase being given to Premium subscribers.

Such has been the upset that late on Friday, May 31st, the Lab openly conceded they’d made a mistake, and that the group allowance for Basic members will remain unchanged at the current limit of 42 – see: Group Limits Update: No Changes for Basic Members. However, the reduction in off-line IMs will still come into force from June 24th. So, as per the Lab’s update, From June 24th, 2019, Basic and Premium accounts group and off-line IM caps will be as follows:

Group and off-line IM capabilities as they are for Basic and Premium accounts, and as they now will be from June 24th, 2019 – the group allowance for Basic will remain unchanged

This does leave off-line IMs for Basic members reduced – although it has been suggested that planned changes to the events system might reduce the need for group messages to promote events, in which case this might help reduce part of the reliance on off-line IMs for at least some basic users (as well as possibly decreasing the reliance on groups overall in some cases). Time will tell on that; for the moment there is still understandable hurt over this reduction.

However, the fact that Linden Lab is prepared to listen and accept that they have erred on an issue should be acknowledged – and take steps to reverse that part of the decision that has caused the clearest feedback about the optics it presents – does deserve acknowledgement and a word of thanks for taking the time to listen, consider and respond.

Linden Lab announces significant SL fee changes

via and © ™ Linden Lab

Update, June 1st: Following the amount of feedback concerning the planned reduction in the Basic account group allowance, Linden Lab has amnnounced this will not now be changing on June 24th, 2019. See: Group Limits Update: No Changes for Basic Members (Linden Lab) and LL reverse planned Basic account group limits reduction (this blog).

On Wednesday, May 30th, Linden Lab announced further changes to Full private region fees, significant changes to Premium subscription fees and to credit processing fees, and changes to some Premium and Basic account capabilities.

As detailed in an official blog post, the changes can be summarised as follows:

Full Private Region Tier Change

Source: Linden Lab

The Lab notes that:

  • These fees are exclusive of VAT, where applicable, and do not apply to Skilled Gaming region.
  • Education / Non-profit (EDU/NP) discounted Full islands will be re-priced to maintain their 50% discount off the regularly priced Full island fees.

Premium Subscription Fee Increase

In the same blog post, Linden Lab have announced a re-structuring / re-pricing of Premium subscriptions as follows:

Source: Linden Lab

Notes:

  • The monthly fee increase represents an annual increase of 26.21% (from US $114 pa to US $143.88 pa).
  • The annual increase represents an annual increase of 37.5%.
  • Quarterly subscriptions are to be retired as an option for users wishing to upgrade to Premium, but will still be available to those already using this plan. The fee increase of US $22.50 to US $32.97 represents an annual increase of 46.53% a year (US $90 pa to US $131.88 pa).
  • Both monthly and quarterly subscription fees will be subject to VAT, where applicable.

With regards to these Premium subscription changes, the Lab note:

To help with the transition to the new pricing, starting June 3, we’re offering a limited-time opportunity for existing Premium members to lock in their current rates for one more billing cycle, including extending an existing monthly to use the current full year rate by upgrading now to annual. Simply renew before June 24th to extend your current Membership at the same low rate. For example, monthly members will be billed at the lower rate for one more monthly billing cycle, while annual members may renew (or monthly users may upgrade to annual) early to add one more year to your existing Membership at the current lower rate. We will update when the option becomes available on June 3rd. Until then – if you are not up for renewal already, you will not see the option to lock in your current price. Keep an eye out for updates.

Credit Processing Fee Changes

In what will be seen as a further blow to those regularly / routinely cashing-out from Second life, the blog post also announced changes to credit processing fees, to wit:

Effective June 24, the fee for processing credit transactions (i.e. paying real money into a PayPal or Skrill account) will be 5% per transaction with a minimum fee of US$3 (there is no maximum fee).  The fee is currently 2.5% per transaction. This fee change offsets increased regulatory and compliance costs to Linden Lab and is in line with our continued commitment to the long-term successful operation of Second Life.

Change to Premium and Basic Account Capabilities

In order to try to offset some of the negative feedback these changes have already cause (as per at least two forum threads, here and here on the topic), the Lab also indicated increases to a couple of perks available to Premium members, together with a decrease in the same capabilities available to Basic account holders, a per the table below.

Source: Linden Lab

Note that group membership will not be revoked for Basic members who are involved in more than 35 groups at the time this change comes into effect. However, Basic members will be unable to join new groups until they reduce their group enrolments to below the new 35 group limit.

In addition, the Lab indicate that further improvements to Premium memberships  will be announced later in the year, as will a new Premium membership level, “for those who want to get the absolute most out of their Second Life.”

Thoughts as Premium Member

As one who is a Premium Member, I’m not entirely sanguine about the pricing increase – although I appreciate that in trying to pivot revenue generation away from a reliance on virtual land fees, Linden Lab must ensure any potential shortfalls are adequately guarded against. I’m also aware that while the Premium fees increase does hurt – it is actually the first such increase I can recall for a long time.

How this effects Premium level overall remains to be seen; however, my personal feeling right now is that unless the to-be-announced Premium membership level is truly exceptional in terms of benefits and opportunities, it is going to be hard to justify making a leap to it based on the prices announced with these changes and what might be taken from them in estimating to potential cost of any new membership package.

Those who are likely to feel particularly aggrieved are those who do routinely cash-out from Second Life, given credit processing fees have seen a number of increases over the last few years. While the Basic account changes come across as punitive in nature.

Please refer to the official blog post for the full text relating to these changes.

Promoting Second Life: LL at MomoCon

Linden Lab’s booth at MomoCon 2019. Credit: Linden Lab

During a couple of his public chat sessions in 2018, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg indicated that as well as continuing with the work to enhance Second Life, introduce new technology and new capabilities, Linden Lab would also be looking at new ways that might help grow the Second Life user base, possibly through a number of different channels / approaches.

One of the more interesting of these approaches is taking place between May 23rd and 26th, 2019, as Second Life makes a début at MomoCon 2019 in Atlanta Georgia.

Defined as a “geek culture convention”, MomoCon is an annual event held in wither March or May of each year, which the official website describes as:

One of the fastest growing all ages conventions in the country. Fans of Japanese Anime, American Animation, Comics, Video Games, and Tabletop Games come together to celebrate their passion by costuming / cosplay, browsing the huge exhibitors hall, meeting celebrity voice talent, designers, and writers behind their favourite shows, games, and comics and much, much more over this 4 day event.

– Official MomoCon website

MomoCon has its roots deep within the anime community – it started life as a offshoot of Georgia Tech’s anime club, Anime O-Tekku, with the first convention, called Techwood Con, held in 2004. In 2005, it became MomoCon (“momo” being Japanese for “peaches” and Georgia being the Peach State), and the convention enjoyed rapid growth over the next few years as a free-to-attend event.

In 2012, MomoCon became a paid-to-attend event, and experienced massive growth: in 2018, for example, over 35,000 unique visitors attended the convention over its four days, with a programme encompassing anime and animation, games, comics, manga, contests, demonstrations, cosplay activities, photo shoots, screenings, concerts, robot wars, and more.

Visitors have been dropping into the booth since the conventions opened. images credit: Linden Lab

While such a venue for the presence of Second Life might initially seem a little unusual, the fact is that there is a rich and vibrant cosplay community in Second Life, some of which does encompass anime, which also has a large following among Second Life users. As such – and given the event is also about on-line activities – there is a potential for Linden Lab and Second Life to engage with people face-to-face and potentially bring new users into the fold. A further reason for appearing at MomoCon in particular is that Linden Lab have a physical presence in Atlanta, with their support centre being located there, thus making the logistics of an appearance at the convention somewhat easier.

Even so, the company’s presence at MomoCon does represent something of an experiment for Linden Lab, as their head of Second Life marketing, Brett Linden noted to me.

This is our first presence at MomoCon and it represents a new test for us to try in person outreach at themed consumer events where we feel there is potential to introduce Second Life to new audiences. As part of our presence, we are demoing Second Life to attendees with the goal of registering new users on site.

– Brett Linden, heads of Marketing for Second Life

How successful the booth might prove to be remains to be seen. Certainly, Sansar has spent a fair amount of time “on the road” over the last couple of ears, which if nothing else, can help raise brand awareness. As such, seeing Second Life out and about  – and possibly able to both garner users and / or change preconceptions is worth the time and effort. Depending on the Lab’s view of how things went, and their willingness to discuss them I hope to have a follow-up on this a little further down the road.

With thanks to Brett Linden for taking  time out for his vacation to discuss the Lab’s presence at MomoCon with me. 

April Linden blogs on the May 13th/14th downtime

The week of May 13th-17th saw a planned period of Second Life network maintenance work, as announced in the Grid Status updates.

The first tranche of this work – Monday, May 13th through Tuesday May 14th – appeared to go well, until there was a completely unexpected 4(ish) hours of downtime, which at the time caused significant upset.

On May 17th, April Linden, the Second Life Operations Manager, has provided an insightful blog post on both the work being carried out and the cause of the downtime.

This week we were doing much needed maintenance on the network that powers Second Life. The core routers that connect our data centre to the Internet were nearing their end-of-life, and needed to be upgraded to make our cloud migration more robust.

Replacing the core routers on a production system that’s in very active use is really tricky to get right. We were determined to do it correctly, so we spent over a month planning all of the things we were going to do, and in what order, including full roll-back plans at each step. We even hired a very experienced network consultant to work with us to make sure we had a really good plan in place, all with the goal of interrupting Second Life as little as we could while improving it …

Everything started out great. We got the first new core router in place and taking traffic without any impact at all to the grid. When we started working on the second core router, however, it all went wrong.

– Extract from April Linden’s blog post

In essence, a cable had to be relocated, which was expected to cause a very brief period of impact. However, things didn’t recover as anticipated, and April resumes her explanation:

After the shock had worn off we quickly decided to roll back the step that failed, but it was too late. Everyone that was logged into Second Life at the time had been logged out all at once. Concurrency across the grid fell almost instantly to zero. We decided to disable logins grid-wide and restore network connectivity to Second Life as quickly as we could.

At this point we had a quick meeting with the various stakeholders, and agreed that since we were down already, the right thing to do was to press on and figure out what happened so that we could avoid it happening again…

This is why logins were disabled for several hours. We were determined to figure out what had happened and fix the issue, because we very much did not want it to happen again. We’ve engineered our network in a way that any piece can fail without any loss of connectivity, so we needed to dig into this failure to understand exactly what happened.

– Extract from April Linden’s blog post

April Linden

In other words, while it may have been painful for those who were unceremoniously dumped from Second Life and found they could not get back in, the Lab were working with the best of intentions: trying to find out exactly why connectivity was lost within a network where such an event should not cause such a drastic breakage – and its worth noting that as per April’s blog post, even the engineers from the manufacturer of the Lab’s network equipment were perplexed by what happened.

As always, April’s blog post makes for an invaluable read in understanding some of the complexities of Second Life, and goes so far as to answer a question raised on the forums in the wake of the week’s problems: Why didn’t LL tell us exactly when this maintenance was going to happen? – in short there are bad actors in the world who could make use of publicly available announcements that give them precise information on when a network might be exposed.

If you’ve not read April’s blog posts on operational issues like this, I really cannot recommend them enough – and thanks are again offered April for providing this post. And while things might have hurt at the time, there is a silver lining to things, as she notes:

Second Life is now up and running with new core routers that are much more powerful than anything we’ve had before, and we’ve had a chance to do a lot of failure testing. It’s been a rough week, but the grid is in better shape as a result.