Last week, Linden Lab announced that Second Life Premium members would now be able to join a maximum of 60 in-world groups (up from 42, which is where it remains for residents with free membership), which marks the first change in group allowance since 2011.
60 groups may seem extravagant to some, but it’s a very welcome increase for those who like to join brand/designer customer groups; follow DJs, musicians or performing/visual artists; receive updates from favorite venues; and so on. Once you start peeking through the sheer number of groups found in search results, it becomes apparent that group slots are a hot commodity and many SL members would be thrilled to receive an upgrade. I myself was delighted to see that the number had been raised to 42 – from 25 – in my absence, and then amazed at how quickly those spots filled up!
When I mentioned this change in my recent Weekly Peek post, I cheekily remarked that this was a brilliant move by LL as I was sorely in need of group spots and otherwise did not have plans to upgrade my membership. And sure enough, the tactic worked: two days later, I became a Premium member. Well played, Linden Lab! Well played.
Second Life Premium Account Features & Benefits
For those who may be new to the virtual world, here’s a quick rundown of the benefits that come with Premium membership (current as of June 2015):
❖ L$300 weekly stipend deposited into your Second Life account, which may be spent on a huge variety of digital goods. (Check out my Second Life Marketplace Search Tricks post for tips on browsing SL’s online marketplace!)
❖ A free Linden Lab home OR the ability to own up to 512 square meters of Mainland.
❖ Access to Premium sandboxes, which are generally much quieter and less trafficked than Second Life’s free public sandboxes.
❖ Improved support, including live chat.
❖ Exclusive activities, events and gifts at various times throughout the year.
❖ A bonus of L$1000, provided that your Premium membership remains active for 45 consecutive days after sign-up.
❖ Finally, as mentioned above, Premium subscribers receive 18 additional spots (60 total) for in-world group membership. This may eventually be rolled out to residents with free accounts as well, but presently it’s a perk reserved for those with paid memberships.
Second Life Premium Membership Cost
There are three price options for members upgrading to a Premium account:
❖ $9.95 USD, charged monthly
❖ $22.50 USD, charged quarterly (every 3 months)
❖ $72.00 USD, charged annually (once per year)
New Second Life members may view the monthly membership as the most prudent option, but long-time residents would likely prefer and recommend the annual subscription. And for good reason: the annual membership saves residents 40% on the cost of a Premium account – a significant savings. Further, when you factor in the amount of in-world currency that you’ll receive as a weekly stipend, that equates to L$15,600 over the course of a year. At the current average exchange rate of about L$248 per $1.00 USD, that’s nearly $63.00 worth of Linden dollars.
Presuming that you would have been interested in putting that much RL currency into SL over the course of a year (and there are certainly those who may spend that amount on Linden dollars within the course of a month, or even weekly), the effective cost of Premium membership when billed annually is about $9.00 more per year than the cost of the in-world currency, or just 75 cents more per month.
I’ve read some forum threads and comments where people take issue with that rationalization, saying that one doesn’t necessarily need to spend that much money on Second Life currency, so it shouldn’t be factored into the equation. But the Second Life economy is its own unique entity, much like the way “cash shops” work in Massively Multiplayer Online games. An item in Second Life that may cost dozens, if not hundreds, of dollars in the real world may cost less than the equivalent of $1.00 in the virtual world – sometimes far less. As a result, any money you opt to invest in digital goods will typically go much farther. So while they’re right: one doesn’t need to spend money in Second Life, there are many who do so out of the pleasure and value they find within the items and services offered on the grid.
Value in a Virtual World
Only you can decide, based on the benefits shared above, if a Premium account has value for you. But if I may share my own perspective:
I signed up for an annual Premium membership because I love (and genuinely could make use of) the extra group allowance, and receiving a L$300 weekly stipend is a wonderful bonus. I’ve been rocking my 2nd Second Life “hobo-style”, as I like to say, meaning that I don’t have a permanent residence on the grid and I only put the bare minimum ($2.50 USD) of real world currency in, just to give myself the ability to make small purchases if I desire to. I have enjoyed, and could easily continue to enjoy, my Second Life experience without upgrading my account or spending additional funds.
This is one of the fundamental ways that Second Life differs from MMO games, which are often “gated” (meaning you can only progress so far without paying for upgrades or additional content), or that have a non-optional subscription cost built right in. A core understanding that you’ll often hear repeated like a well-meaning mantra at places like the Official SL Forums and the Second Life subreddit is that “Second life is not a game”. Some may even get whipped up into a passionate fervor explaining this point to newcomers who understandably, if inaccurately, look upon SL as a more socially-focused MMO, or a multiplayer version of The Sims.
I think the best phrase that describes Second Life is “virtual world”, but even that can be confusing for some, so this is what I would tell someone who perhaps has a background in MMO gaming or is unclear of what SL has to offer that sets it apart:
“Massively Multiplayer Online style games can – and do – exist within Second Life. But the true Second Life experience does not exist within a MMO.”
There are MMOs that have tried to emulate Second Life, such as The Sims Online (which shut down in 2008) or Wurm Online (which still exists but has a high learning curve a and disappointingly small user base). But in my opinion, no MMO offers the richness and diversity of what one can experience in Second Life. That’s why informative articles about SL like the recent one in Atlas Obscura are so vital. They highlight one wholly unique aspect of our virtual world, while acknowledging that one user’s experience is just a small slice of a much larger, ever-evolving whole.
Initially, I had not planned to spend additional funds on or within Second Life. However, after a month of experiencing the incredible generosity of designers and creators who offer free and low cost items as gifts and incentives for SL’s residents, as well as appreciating Linden Lab’s continued commitment to this platform (soon to be celebrating its 12th birthday), I really wanted to give back.
To Linden Lab, I happily offer my $72 annual membership fee, and to the designers whose work I admire so much, I’ve transferred all of the L$ left on my old account – about $30 worth of Lindens – over to my new account, so I’ve some funds to spend at their respective stores. It’s not a great deal of money, so I’ll be transitioning from a “freebie-maven” to a “frugalista” in the manner of my friends from blogs like FabFree and Free*Style. But it still gives me something meaningful that I can offer in appreciation to those who enrich Second Life with their creations.
Is Second Life Premium Worth It?
From my perspective, Second Life Premium accounts are very much worth their nominal fees, given all that members receive in return. I may not plan to spend much time in a Linden home, or have need for LL’s live chat, or find a lot of interest in their exclusive gifts or activities. But I’ve supported MMO gaming companies like Blizzard and Trion in the past with my membership dues, and Linden Lab’s platform offers so much more in return.
The virtual world isn’t for everyone; it will not meet every interest, desire, or preference. But it’s the right fit for me and for many, many others. Second Life’s members are its soul and lifeblood, and whatever we can do to keep it thriving, it’s a small price to pay for all the enjoyment it brings. :)