Earlier this week, Linden Lab (in the person of Jack Linden) announced some "significant" - to phrase it politely - changes to the the pricing of Openspace regions in Second Life. For those, who don't know this product: Openspaces are regions (simulators or "sims") in Second Life which offer an area of some 65,000 sqm of virtual land. They come with a reduced performance compared to "standard" regions (only a quarter of the usual number of objects is allowed and the performance of scripted objects is lower, too). Correspondingly they have been sold at only 1/4 the cost of standard regions.
Prices raised by nearly 70%
Linden Lab now announced their intention to raise costs some 70% for this product. Not only the initial price but also the monthly running costs (so called tier). They announced their intention to implement those changes for ALL Openspace regions: for new ones and also for a few thousand regions sold in the last 4 months. No wonder, many of their customers are crying "bait and switch". As I am of an older generation myself, I can only think of the infamous "Oil for the lamps of China" (also an cheesy novel by Pearl S. Buck).
Jack Linden was citing many different reasons for the price change. The most important one being, that residents were "abusing" those regions by actually building stuff there. He insists, that Linden Lab never intended this product to be used this way and points to an obscure page on the Second Life Wiki, where it is written that these regions are intended to be designed as open sea, forests etc.
Ladies and Gentleman ... this is just plain ridiculous.
There is no widespread "abuse" of Openspace regions. Most residents are using them in a fully responsible way and exactly as Linden Lab has promoted them: "light use" regions.There is a small minority of customers who are trying to implement clubs or malls on these regions - which is NOT always a good idea. But thats a small minority.
Adding insult to injury
If Linden Lab did not intend those regions to be used for building ... one might ask, why the company has doubled the "prim capacity" for these regions just a few months ago. You don't need 3750 prims if all you can do with such a region is to create a large area of open water. Linden Lab is not being honest. They are using Openspaces exactly like that (on the new Nautilus continent, for example.) And they are adding insult to injury, as their spin doctoring is so plump that no one can believe it for long.
In addition: raising prices will never fix the problems they are purportedly experiencing with these regions. The guys which are using Openspace land "intensively" will buy smaller areas and/or use their land MORE intensely now. That's how a market-driven economy works - which always seems to come as a big surprise to Linden Lab decision makers (Oh, we have this product here, which offers a better price performance ratio for a huge part of our target group than our alternative offerings. And now they really buy it in large quantities? How could that ever happen?)
When I read the announcement I was more than a little annoyed. Not because of the new pricing structure. Actually I think an Openspace region delivers more value than 1/4 of a full prim region and should command a higher price. What it tells about a monopolist service provider selling 1000s of them and THEN raising the running costs some 70% is another issue (and has been discussed elsewhere ... )
Incompetency at the Lab in the fields of IT and macroeconomics?
What I found downright hypocritical (please forgive me, Jack) was the fact, that Jack cited "abuse" as one of the main reasons for such an unprecedented price hike. If he had said "Oh, I am so sorry, we have f***ed up again. We did not take into consideration the amount of grid traffic caused by a large number of Openspaces compared to 1/4 of that number in full prim sims ..." that would have been honest. Calling this "abuse" is insulting and utterly unfair.
We at Otherland are renting out more than 100 Openspaces. We do that since 2006 when the first ones appeared on the market. It is the perfect material for our work. The number of problems or complaints about lag or generally low performance, we experienced on this type of region (and we still use some class 4 based ones) is actually LOWER. We get more complaints for our full prim regions. This is because nearly all of land is explicitely sold for RESIDENTIAL use and used like that. On the Openspaces you will rarely find more than 3 or 4 avatars at the same time. The total script time is around (or lower than) one millisecond on most of our Openspaces.
If this constitutes "abuse", I seem to have a totally different understanding of the Englisch language than Jack.
The simple fact is: it is a plain and obvious matter of overall systems architecture of the SL Grid, that 4 Openspace regions will always need more grid resources than 1 full prim sim under similar conditions. This is not surprising and should have been known to every qualified systems architect, when the product was first announced (and then changed to 3750 prims).
As I have said, a small minority of residents is overstressing the resources of this product. But that has been the case with full prims, too, as long as I can remember - especially on mainland. If this was the cause behind the new pricing, mainland prices should have been raised 3 years ago.
It is an insult to everyone in the IT profession with a little understanding of grid architecture, to say that this is a new problem or that this constitutes a surprising and unexpected "abusive" usage pattern.
Every responsible company interested in a partnership relation with their customers (and not in a monopolistic position) would attack this issue with constraining features in the software. Not by an unprecedented price hike.
I am worried, very worried. This move shows not only that Linden Lab does not care about relations to current business partners. The idea behind this move is probably that new customers will be much more important for the company in the long run, so it doesn't matter to much to alienate their current customers. This idea might even be true, unfortunately, but it shows a business ethic, which is more than a little questionable, IMHO. This move also shows an utter lack of understanding about how a market-driven economy works with some of the most important decision makers at Linden Lab. (The "unexpected" success of the Openspace product has been no surprise to anyone in the real estate market). This show of incompetency is scary, more than a little scary.
What can be done?
I do not expect Linden Lab to get through with their intentions. In the nearly 4 years I have spend in Second Life I have never seen such a huge protest of residents. This is no storm in a tea pot. This is a revolution. Alternate solutions to the issue at hand have been discussed on the forums and on many blogs. Linden Lab could implement more severe performance limits for Openspace regions, they could add a third kind of low performance product. They could adjust pricing to actual usage patterns etc. Contrary to the statements in LL's official communication this is no rocket science. The correspending changes to the server code could easily be implemented in the 2 or 3 months until the proposed changes go into effect.
If Linden Lab does not listen to the customers which are filling their coffins (estate land is MUCH larger these days than Linden Lab's own main land), they might have to realize that they are doing themselves a great disservice. All that will happen is, that they drive those customers away to alternate platforms or to alternate grids based on the OpenSim technology. This could be the beginning of the end of Second Lifs's dominant position in the open Metaverse.
I hope that this will not happen, as I still believe in the value of a large connected virtual world as the Second Life Grid delivers today. Let's just hope, that someone at Linden Lab will see the light in the next few weeks. I have not given up hope.