I recently came back to a MMORPG I abandoned –that’s to say, I used to play– about two years ago. During my prolonged vacation, a lot of new features and content were implemented. Several of them were worth the dimes, while some others were kind of pointless (imho), but all in all they brought a lot of changes and things to explore, especially for someone that’s been away for that long. As a result, I’ve been having fun… temporarily (I know I’ll get bored quite soon). One of the introductions is a loyalty rewards program that grants bonuses to addicted –sorry, I mean loyal– players. The longer you stay, the better the compensations. The game is f2p now (free to play, for those that are not familiar with the jargon, meaning you don’t have to pay a subscription anymore), but if your… fervor extends far beyond the Moon’s orbit, you can still pay the sub, which entitles you to a patron status for even more extra prizes and discounts on the cash shop –the thingy that replaced the ancient subscribo system and is, with all probability, generating a lot more income that the old subs did. The game is still doing quite well judging by, first, the number of players still around (though that may be due to a recent update); second, the number of servers still online, and third, by the loyal players with patron status that seem to be happy with what they get in return.
In a way, we should think the SL premium membership is on par with that MMORPG’s subscription plan. Generally, most SLifers agree the weekly stipend is a nice “reward”, while the yearly payment plan is considered as the best deal of the three available (the other two being monthly or quarterly subs). Some even find the Linden home a wonderful choice in land acquisition, probably because the neighborhoods are surely less of a mess compared to the classic fuglyness of mainland. The rest of the benefits are less appealing, though. For instance, I’ve never visited or had any need for the exclusive sandboxes since becoming a premium member a year ago, nor have I found the live chat with customer support that useful –because the guy at the other end of the communication channel usually knows less than you do about SL mechanics anyway. Maybe for someone running a business they are great, let’s be fair.
From another side, SL rewards are static. While prizes in said MMORPG are more exciting, of increasing quality or value according to the player’s progression, in SL you win nothing for being a longtime loyal member. Actually, oftentimes it’s just the opposite: people start feeling the world is crumbling down, and shortly thereafter are of the opinion that they’ve been paying too much for what they’re getting, in practical terms. That is, in one word, discouraging.
Aside from the weekly stipend, the most notable “benefit” premium membership brings is the right to own land on the so-called mainland. To its favor, I have to highlight that Linden’s continents are the largest continuous landmass in SL, making that a big plus for adventurers of the air, land and sea. No private estate can compare to that. Ok, what else? Well, if you opt to buy land in the mainland, you can skip the administration fee applied to privately owned regions, and pay the rent directly to the Lab. That translates in a few –sometimes insignificant– savings (if any at all, actually), but the drawback on that deal –and one of the reasons behind private estates’ success– is the eternal state of disarray of Linden-managed lands. My guess is that the Lab’s work force consist purely of coders and a few business administrators that know –and care– nothing about public policy planning. Consequently, “their world” is such a melancholic mess that most people with a pinch of aesthetics avoid those regions at any cost. I even heard one time that “eyesore” and “indigestion” were coined in Second Life, but to be honest I’m not sure about that assumption. Yet, while experts elucidate if that’s true or not, the expansiveness of abandoned land keeps growing and chaos dominates mostly everything that remains occupied. When it’s not a kingdom of aberrant privacy screens, it’s the abusive barricade tape-like ban lines, or any other atrocity some masterminds erect –I guess– to a priori honor those that collapse of fright at their unavoidable sight.
Well, I digress… The point is, I think land ownership is one of the key factors to go premium (at least it was for me). On the other hand, a lot of Linden land gets abandoned because the neighborhoods don’t stand to even average community standards and hence they can’t keep or attract residents due to the colossal oddities around them.
For the great majority of SL residents, keeping land in SL gets too costly in both the short and long runs. Nevertheless, the consensus dictates LL can’t lower the tier costs because that’s where the money keeping the company afloat comes from (paying the bills, the employment roster, and some execs’ vacation plans). To that I add: it simply can’t because it needs that income to actually subsidize all that inhospitable abandoned land wasting resources. I mean, how can the Lab justify a desert that generates no income? Why doesn’t it look for more practical ways to repopulate all that emptiness or put it to good use?
Personally, I would be quite happy if a land bonus were implemented on regular accounts, maybe adorning it with a loyalty twist. I say “regular accounts” because there has always been a 10% land bonus for groups. Yes: if a person deeds his or her tier rights or buys land to a group, that group is entitled to an extra 10% over the total amount of land it holds. How does it work? In practical terms, if I’m paying a land use fee of US$25.00 a month, I can own up to 4096 sq.m. of mainland over the 512 sq.m. every premium account gets for free by default. That is, my land ownership limit is 4608 sq.m. Yet, if I deed all that land to a group, for the same US$25.00 a month the group can own 5069 sq.m. instead (4608 sq.m. plus the 10% bonus). Yep, I pay, but I don’t receive the credit, so to speak.
For years, people have “exploited” that advantage to get more for their money, with LL’s unofficial consent (and silly me has refrained from benefiting from it– roll eyes). What they do is create several alts, make them all premium, create a group, deed their land quota to that group, and get 10% more land –and yes, plus the weekly stipend of each account. Maybe it sounds too expensive, paying subscriptions for the alts and all, but it actually amounts to some significant savings. Do the math and see for yourself.
In summary, the more alts you have, the better the benefits (?). Strange, but it seems that’s the way things has been working since forever. And my question is: Why? Why can’t regular –single– accounts get similar benefits and savings? Of course, LL can track alts, no one is fooling anybody here; it allows it. So what’s the point of this group land bonus policy? To inflate the number of actual users? To what avail?
An “attractive” way to remedy that… shortcoming, from my point of view, is to emulate the loyalty plan used in some MMORPGs today and reward long-time customers with a land bonus depending on the time they have owned land, applicable to mainland holdings exclusively (that’s what I’d do if I were them). Some private estates already give similar bonuses to their customers this way. Well, they don’t give extra land, but lower your rent a little bit as time goes by (that’s another option LL could think about).
Like the tier quotas (officially known as land use fees): they have to go too. If I pay US$25.00 a month for 4096 sq.m. of land and I want or need some extra 512 sq.m. (that may be some US$5.00 only, using LL’s initial fee over the free 512 sq. m. as an example), why can’t I pay for that small parcel, and instead the Lab makes me pay for the next tier level in full, which is 8192 sq.m. and a whopping US$40.00 monthly? This is why people resort to alts: They pay US$72.00 a year (or $6.00 a month) for the account, and get the needed 512 sq.m. for free, plus the 300L weekly stipend –don’t forget it. Yes, this is a simplistic example, but you get the idea. If you don’t, read this [go]. This next thread also has some useful information [go].
Owning land should be made more appealing than it is now: if there’s fewer people buying Linden land, and there’s a lot of abandoned land everywhere, let’s not waste those precious resources. Put them to good use. Let people pay for any amount of land they wish: abolish the fixed land use fees. Then, impulse some kind of land ownership bonus: for X sq.m. you own, you’re entitled to X bonus of extra land depending on how long –in months or years– you have held that much land, no matter if it’s deeded to a group or not. The longer you own Linden land, the higher the bonus.
Another idea: The premium free land allotment should be increased from 512 sq.m. to 1024 sq.m. Surely that could encourage more premium subscriptions. Ok, ok. I may be asking for too much. Wishful thinking…
Note: In the picture, a work in progress, but in the absence of any image at all, it’ll have to do. Sorry…