In recent weeks Linden Labs have been making a concerted effort to beef up the their package of perks for premium accounts. It seems they’ve finally come to the realisation that the occasional Premium only, high LI, poor quality ‘gift’ and exclusive sandboxes, (coincidentally, one of the few places you could ever hope to rez some of those gifts), just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to providing inducements to shell out our hard earned cash. The only real benefit to going premium in recent years has been the offer of a Linden home – I lived in one for a short while, and whilst it was very nice, it did feel a bit weird (like one of those communities of offenders/old folks/weirdos you see on Louis Theroux programmes!), and it who didn’t allow me anywhere near enough freedom to express myself.
However things are definitely changing, and we may find that in the future going Premium becomes a very attractive proposition; but will it be attractive enough to convince the vast swathes of free members that they should change?
I speak as one of those who have yet to succumb to the allure of fully paid up membership – I’ve always been perfectly happy with a free account and although in I’ve periodically considered whether to upgrade, I’ve never been able to justify the extra expense for the few benefits it would bring. Perhaps I’m fortunate that I’ve found land at an extremely good price, with an estate manager that I trust implicitly – I really wouldn’t be any better off paying premium and using my land allowance. I don’t want a Linden home, as I’ve already mentioned – I’ve been able to try that option, thanks to the generosity of a good friend, and it wasn’t for me. Sandboxes and gifts I can find elsewhere, and I’m really not interested in extra group slots – I haven’t filled the ones I’ve already got. I don’t know if I’m anything like the ‘typical’ free account holder, but whether I am or not, I have a feeling that a considerable number of the free accounts out there are going to prove to be as tough to convince to upgrade as I am.
Part of the problem facing the Lab lies in the lack of limitations that free account holders have… factoring new limitations in, years down the line, is very much a case of closing the stable door after the horse has disappeared over the distant horizon long ago. Adding features that everyone has managed to get by without, and will continue to do so in the future, simply isn’t going to do the trick. If having 60 group slots is huge deal to you, there’s a possibility it might prompt you to reconsider Premium, but we’ve survived with 42 for a while now, and an extra 18 slots, is hardly going to rock our virtual world. The same goes for Premium sandboxes – there are other sandboxes we can use; Linden Homes? Well, for the cost of upgrading we could get a decent plot of land and build whatever we want on there… there really is little that’s going to convince us.
Most will find what I say next to be somewhat distasteful, but it’s a tried and tested model the world over, used by companies of every type, and it works. If the Lab really want to convince people to go Premium, then Premium has to have a whole load of exclusive bells and whistles that ordinary members just can’t access. Instead, you give them teasers, little glimpses of what they could have, provided they pay; like those porn websites that give you a ‘tour’ of some heavily-censored content, but if you want in, you have to pay for the privilege.
Now, if the Lab were to apply this thinking to SL, or whatever successor Project Sansar will produce, they really could be on to a winner – us freeloaders are going to hate it, but I bet it would work. Effectively, it means building a world with artificial limitations that can only be unlocked by paying for Premium: For example, imagine if basic SL limited you to just 15 hours a month inworld, but Premium was unlimited? What if friend lists, LMs, inventory contents and draw distance were all capped at fixed ceilings for basic members, but completely unlocked for Premium? And, what if only Premium members could have alts? With those sort of constraints, Premium would look an awful lot more attractive, even though it would mean paying up.
Personally, I’m not sure how I’d feel about that – I doubt we’d ever see the Lab do anything along those lines with SL, although I do think they’ll start adding some Premium features in future that may be worth having. However the next generation SL is another matter altogether and those of us who’ve got by without digging into our pockets so far, might be faced with no alternative in the brave new virtual world.
However, that’s all still to come; in the meantime, I suggest we enjoy it whilst it’s free, and hope that the Lab make the same mistakes with monetising the new one, as they have with SL!
The best things in life are free
But you can give then to the birds and bees
I need money (that’s what I want)
Barrett Strong – Money (that’s What I Want)