Virtual Islands Pricey, Too

Second Life raises the cost for land, upsetting many members.
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It will now cost you more to purchase your own digital island paradise in the limitless Second Life world, raising questions about how a company should apply real life rules in the virtual realm.

For the uninitiated, Second Life is a massive multiplayer online world, akin to

Electronic Arts'

(ERTS)

The Sims

. Players explore an endless, sprawling 3-D virtual world in which their Internet avatars live, interact, purchase land, set up shop and even (possibly) make money.

Property is the one resource that is controlled by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, the creator of SL. While businesses are earning revenue by selling fabricated goods or advertising in the virtual world, Linden's main source of income in SL is from the sale of space on their computer servers.

On Oct. 29, Linden Lab wrote in its blog that "due to ongoing investments in developing and maintaining the underlying technology of Second Life, Linden Lab is increasing prices for new private island sales."

Linden Lab said that the one-time purchase cost of a private island would rise to $1,675 from $1,250. In addition, owners would be assessed a monthly land maintenance fee of $295, up from $195.

In other words, new subscribers would face an annual cost, including the one-time island purchase fee, of $5,215. That means new "land" owners will pay $1,625, or 45.2%, more per year than previous subscribers.

SL residents or business owners who want to set up a homestead in SL also are required to pay $9.95 a month for a premium membership.

Transactions related to land have boosted the virtual economy in the SL world, which Linden Lab oversees with its LindeX tracker. As of 10 a.m. EST Friday, a total of 1.23 million users were registered in SL, and those people exchanged $567,084 worth of virtual world goods and services over the last 24 hours.

But as one can imagine, longtime users didn't welcome the news with open arms. In the comments section of the Linden Second Life blog, residents vented their frustrations.

"What were you thinking, Linden Lab? You don't seem to realize that you are talking about real money here and, sooner or later, what you're doing will ruin you, either legally or simply in the lost trust of your residents."

"This will turn SL from being a well rounded cultural experience to an experience very much driven by commercial (malls, casinos, etc) interests."

"My theory is that Linden Lab just wants to attract huge corporations, since they are only ones who will be able to afford such high tier fees."

"I guess I just can't see the entire picture of how this will actually help Linden Lab. I think less people now will actually purchase islands, which overall will equal less money."

"Just when I'm on the verge of turning a tiny little profit, after investing THOUSANDS OF REAL DOLLARS HERE -- despite the irresponsible actions of your staff in stabilizing the platform, you decide to kill the economy."

"You keep making it harder and harder to earn the in-game currency to cover tier or at least mitigate it ... you've cut stipends, you've cut developer incentives. The only people who can make money are the very successful clothing or scripted object designers, which is a tiny percentage of the population. You are slowly making it impossible for people to justify creating content for you."

Following an onslaught of more than 500 similar comments from SL residents, Linden Lab responded by pushing back the date of the price hike.

"After listening to the community, we recognize that we did not give you enough time to react to the pricing changes. As a result, we are extending our old pricing for orders placed through the land store until November 15th."

Originally, SL planned to have the new pricing take effect as soon as the company ran out of a limited amount inventory it set aside at the old price. Now, any order placed before Nov. 15 will be at the old price.

The blog post concluded by thanking every resident for the "passionate feedback."

Linden Lab did not respond to requests from

TheStreet.com

for additional comment.

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.