Originally published from December 18 to 23rd, 2003, here.
Inasmuch as my assignment as "embedded reporter" is to document the emergence of Second Life's in-world community, I try to stay as separate as humanly possible from the day-to-day business decisions of Linden Lab. (As I acknowledged in a recent Salon interview about in-world reporting, my position sort of puts me in the tenuous role of small town newspaper publisher in a company town. What I write is indeed journalism, but it's journalism that will sometimes be influenced by the outlook of the company that underwrites its publication.) But the Lindens' recent decision to alter the subscriber pricing system that will launch on December 22nd is so radical, and so widely discussed-- even outside the Second Life community-- I decided it was important enough to ask some direct questions about what it was, and what it might mean for the world.
And that meant taking some time to talk with Philip Linden, AKA Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab. I met his spiky-haired avatar by the shore of a Prelude island, where new residents learn the interface, and make the first attempt at creating their own online personas. What follows over the next few days are some excerpts taken from a larger interview recently made available to Newsletter subscribers, with some clarifications for non-resident readers.
Hamlet Linden: In a nutshell, please explain the new pricing structure.
Philip Linden: Well... as with many things SL, it's hard to cram into a smallish nutshell. But I'll try my best.
We are lowering the monthly price to $9.95 from $14.95, and we are adding an ability to have a more limited basic account which has a one-time $9.95 fee with no monthly fee.
Also, there will be additional fees according to the amount of land you own.
And, perhaps most significantly, a program where Linden Lab pays real money to our most successful in-world residents.
HL: And why is Linden Lab doing this?
PL: We are doing this for a bunch of reasons, most of them taken from listening and watching stuff going on in-world. We want Second Life to be as owned by its residents as it possibly can be, and also to evolve as quickly as possible.
We saw a pricing model that didn't fit everyone very well; some people wanting to just get an account and hang around once in a while, check out new stuff, and then on the other hand, people that are becoming the bedrock of SL, wanting to own and do and expand more than is possible with the existing tax economy.
So we tried to create a bunch of different ways to buy [into] Second Life, that fit those models. A simple one-time price for the folks who just want to check in on us once in a while, and ways for really involved users to control more of the world and actually make money.
HL: Give me a concrete example of how this plan will benefit the average resident.
PL: OK. So if you are someone who owns a little land, goes to events, occasionally buys stuff, etc, Second Life will get cheaper for you ($9.95 versus $14.95), and will also get much easier to use.
You won't get a tax bill anymore! (Oh did I mention yet we were killing all the taxes?) So that is a rather important point, maybe I can elaborate a bit.
We are turning off all object and land taxes, as well as 'rez' costs when you bring things out of your inventory. ["Rez" is SL-jargon for instantiating an object into the world. "Taxes" are automatic deductions of in-world "Linden Dollars" from the resident's account, based on how much land and objects they own.]
BUT we are keeping a basic stipend/grant, so folks will still get [Linden] money weekly.
We are going to limit objects by the size of the land parcel they are on. For things like attachments or vehicles, everyone will get a sort of 'traveling budget' that allows them to always have this stuff. So if you leave things on land you don't own, it will work like public objects work today; they will eventually just go back into your inventory. Land parcels will have little meters to show you how full they are with primitives.
So much, much simpler. And frankly, pretty well suggested/explored by many of our residents. Not like something we really had to invent ourselves!
HL: How will this plan affect the day-to-day experience of Second Life for the majority of users?
PL: If one could comically talk of the Second Life "middle class" (which I think is a somewhat different lot than most middle classes), I'd say very little will change. For about the same price, you can probably own about the same amount of land, there will be no tax bills to bother you, and you'll be able to build and play in about the same way as before.
For most folks in Second Life (we have the data), the changes will lower their costs to use SL. So mostly it will be an improvement in the removal of the taxes.
HL: Is the company in trouble, that you're doing something so radical?
PL: [Laughing] No way! We just think the way we are currently charging for Second Life isn't serving the really committed members of the population well at all, and is also putting the brakes on quicker adoption by a broader audience who doesn't yet know what SL is all about.
How many of us have thought, "Man if more people know about Second Life, they'd love it." Well, lower entry level prices will help a lot with that. Deciding to pay $15/month for something you don't yet understand is a tough thing to do. And I think making SL simpler wouldn't be the right way to go. Better to just have plans that can get newbies in the door and get them to see what we have to offer.
So no, we're not in trouble at all. In fact, last couple months have seen our fastest growth since Beta/launch.