Tigerlily Koi, Delora Starbrook, and I had a discussion one day in the Designers in Seclusion group after I had received an advertisement which is normally sent to new players on SL. (I had created an alt for RFyre business.) We stormed Blue Linden's office hours to express our concerns. ("Stormed" is a heavy word. Our three little avatars showed up and brought up the topic. Blue asked us to send an email, which you read below.)
We agreed what was most alarming was the tacit approval Linden Lab gave to promoting free things to new players. As I had written in a blog last October, I think Linden Lab needs to do away with suggesting to new players that life in SL is free. It's a cultural cue (and yes, T Linden, there IS a culture in SL, just as corporations have cultures and groups have cultures) that imprints on players the moment they enter, and they chase after the "free" experience on everyone else's dime and time (including Linden Lab's).
Here is the ad in question, marked up as sent to Blue.
Thanks for letting us come to your office hours this afternoon and bring up our concerns about an ad we had seen that had been sent out to new users.
I am attaching the ad with mark ups so you can discuss the points made with whomever has to see it.
We are concerned with the ad as it discourages users in SL from believing that they have to pay for content in SL. We understand the reasoning behind it, but we believe it ultimately encourages a culture in which content is devalued rather than valued. We would rather see you teach new users how to register to purchase Linden right off the bat. We would rather see, if anything at all, a suggestion that “gifts,” rather than “freebies,” are available to new users.
Underlying all this is a general concern among most content creators about “freebies” in SL. We believe neither Linden Lab nor content creators in SL benefit from the “freebie culture” that has become so predominant. By talking about “freebies,” by making them a main focus on the first pages new users see, you are devaluing the work of content creators and ultimately, the value of Second Life.
Freebies are just that. They are content that is provided without exchange of the Linden currency to be put into people's inventories. We understand the prevailing argument about freebies—that for new users they allow them choice in defining their look and help teach them the mechanisms of customizing their avatar. For those first few days, it's a boon to Linden Lab to have freebies exist—they entice users into one of the experiences of Second Life that is so fun—the customization of one's visual and aural experience in world. They teach users that their Second Life is their own and push them to continue in world.
The problem we have is that some users never get past this point, and an ad like yours doesn't help. Content creators have seen a glut of “freebies” in-world and that has had direct economic impact on them. This causes downward pressure on content pricing and also forces creators to devote time to making items to give out for free just to entice customers to see their other content, hampering their ability to spend their time profitably. This kind of time expenditure for content creators can't last. Eventually, designers who were providing high-end content will flee to other opportunities and other worlds as downward pressure on the pricing of their content continues going on. Ultimately, you'll have a large portion of the creators that provide income and quality content for SL gone.
What that will mean for Linden Lab is a hit on your bottom line. Content creators who currently keep sims for selling their goods (and additional sims on which to do their building and work in-world) will stop being able to pay tiers. Free content creators will not buy sims because they have no income to purchase them and they will not exchange Linden because they have no income to exchange out. And no one will be exchanging money in because, well, everything is free! (Except for uploads, of course.)
We can't imagine the glut of free content is great for Linden Lab anyway. As individual inventories fill up with “free stuff”—a lot of it less than ideal—landmarks, useless textures, 20 colors of the same multi-prim piece, scripts, etc., your asset servers will fill up. While you want users to have choice, we are sure you don't want them to have their inventories up to 100,000 items of junk. Additionally, every click for a freebie is a click—and another tax on your system. Each transaction seems microscopic, but it has to add up. We also can't imagine you want the XStreetSL databases full of such things.
We, as content producers, all have experience with freebies. We tried using them to build interest and traffic for our businesses. Our metrics show us that they do not generate sales for us or for our associates. When we have given out freebies on our sim or at other sims, we have never seen an appreciable increase in sales during the giveaway or after. We see a spike in traffic but not in sales. However, we feel pressured to offer them in order to simply break through the noise of all the other items being offered. They take as much time to make as content on which we put a price but they give us little in return.
What we concluded is that the audience that typically looks for freebies is not the demographic that brings money into Second Life. If we are looking for a promotion for getting money-spending customers to see our products, this is not it.
Most importantly, our philosophy is that time spent producing content of the level that most residents enjoy is worth some compensation. We are real people spending substantial real time on content. Second Life has given us the opportunity to be compensated for our time and skills, and Linden Lab in turn receives a portion of that compensation every time we pay tier, move money in or out of the system, or upload textures. Offering “freebies” devalues those skills and time for us. It sets into the customer culture a belief that this work should be free. And it furthers the notion that replicating content and redistributing it (called “intellectual property theft” by some) is condonable. In the end, it will set into the minds of consumers the idea that what Linden Lab offers should also be free.
We realize that Linden Lab is a private enterprise; our success is yours and yours is ours. We also realize that the push for a “free” Internet is part of a greater culture that pervades the entire grid. Certainly Amazon.com, for example, offers free content. However, they don't offer it on their splash page nor do they offer it without a certain amount of diligent user awareness. We know that virtual goods is a multi-billion dollar industry with much more potential. Linden Lab has told us this. How would you deny us all this little piece of the pie? How would you cut yourselves off at the legs by letting your new users think life in Second Life is a no-cost proposition?
We want Linden Lab to succeed. We want you to retain new users. However, we want these to be spending users. Rethink your ads and your marketing approach. Consider what you're really selling and sell it well. Cut us all in on the deal so we can help make Linden Lab grow.
from Designers in Seclusion
P.S. A few days after this letter was sent, my account received another email with this graphic:
This is what we like to see!
Quick note: I do not think LL issued this ad because of my letter. However, Blue did email me that day to something more along the lines of, "Is this what you meant?" I do not attribute this ad to this letter. But I DO feel they heard.