My suggestion that Linden Lab experiment with charging Second Life users for excess inventory provoked a pretty interesting discussion last week, most of it negative to the idea, so it's worth a follow-up to explain why I still think it would (and should) work in greater detail. There's roughly 400,000 active Second Life users who buy and spend Linden Dollars, so if, say, 300,000 started paying $1 a month for their inventory, that would translate to $3,600,000 extra annual Second Life revenue for Linden Lab. And as I said in last week's post, Linden staffers have seriously considered charging users for inventory back in my time; as sim owners (the company's main revenue source) continue to drop away, it's fairly likely they'll start thinking about trying that inventory pricing proposal again. However, there's ways to do it that have a better chance to work -- and some objections to the proposal that are worth thinking about too:
It should be very low cost. This is why I suggested USD$1 or L$250 a month as a price point, a quite bearable cost for power shoppers. As reader Alazarin Mobius pointed out, "SL's shopaholics with their bloated inventories are already spending a small fortune on their SL experience."
It should exempt already well-monetized SLers. Premium subscriber? Boom, unlimited inventory for you. You too, land owner. Buy more than $8 worth of Linden Dollars a month? You can keep your bigass inventory for free. (And I like this last idea quite a bit, since it would incent users to buy at least $8 in Second Life a month.)
It should be rolled out after releasing improved inventory management tools, and help subsidize further improvements to the inventory UI. No point punishing people for having large inventories when the inventory management UI is so horrible and difficult to use. So before charging longtime users, create some basic tools to make inventory culling much less of a headache, and iterate over time. (I'd personally love a way to delete all inventory accessed only once or not at all with a single click.)
It should be matched (if successful) by land tier decreases. Land owners are paying exorbitant rates for owning small amounts of virtual real estate, which subsidizes the rest of the userbase to own large amounts of virtual items, but who pay nothing to own them. However, it's impossible for Linden Lab to decrease tier without replacing the revenue they'll inevitably lose from a tier price cut. So let's spread out the costs of running (and profiting from) Second Life more evenly among the userbase.
That in mind, let's look at four objections to this pricing structure, which are easily addressed:
It will be evaded by the use of multiple alt accounts. Yes, it's likely that some users, rather than paying $1 a month, will spread their inventory out among several alternate accounts. My guess is this will be fairly rare, since it's so time consuming, and since inventory items are so intrinsic to avatar identity. However, there's an easy solution to this: Charge users who own alts with excessive inventory a premium fee too.
It punishes content creators and consumers. Linden Lab's best consumers -- land owners -- are already being punished, so to speak, by high land tier which effectively subsidizes virtual object content creators and consumers. So better to think of charging for inventory not as a punishment, but as I said, a fairer distribution of costs among users.
It will cause people to leave Second Life. This is the recurring threat any change to Second Life engenders, but here's the thing (which I'll talk about in more detail): Historically, Second Life policy, viewer, and pricing changes have not generally caused a decrease in usage -- only a change in user behavior. So while it's quite possible charging for inventory would cause some user backlash, it's unlikely these users would simply leave SL. Past behavior suggests they'll just figure out ways of staying in SL without incurring the inventory cost. If that happens (and it's unlikely), it's still easy enough for Linden Lab to drop the inventory charge as a failed experiment.
I don't like it, and therefore it will fail. I just wrote a whole post about that one. But it's interesting how passionate many readers get against the idea of having to pay a very minimal fee for owning thousands and thousands of objects. But I think the heart of this passion is fueled by a categorical misunderstanding:
At heart, Second Life objects are not actually objects, but data. On servers. That are owned by Linden Lab. Which are now largely paid for by the minority of users who own land in Second Life. Which is not actually land, but also data on Linden Lab's servers. But because this fact is often forgotten, asking everyone who actively uses SL to pay their fair share of data usage is prone to provoke passion. And while no one likes having to pay for something that used to be free, surely there's something everyone reading this dislikes even more: A Second Life that cannot sustain itself beyond the next year or two. Which is where this categorical misunderstanding is leading us.
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