Thursday, May 5, 2011

For Want Of A Nail - The Elf Clan ripples

Today something happened that spotlights some of the issues that plague Linden Lab and is quite a good example of the ripple effect a company's actions can have on the public perception of that company.


It began with a small tweet from Elf Clan, one of the oldest groups in SL, that they were closing the last EC sim - ElvenMyst - and moving it to InWorldz, where they had already migrated most of their sims. The issue is outlined in this blog post.

Basically, ElvenMyst's Eldar/Admin tried handing LL money to pay tier... and tried... and tried... filed a Support Ticket like a good elf... no answer... and finally received an email (after a week) informing him that... he needed to pay tier.

"When Peter tried to log in to Second Life... his account had been closed. He could not enter a grid for which he has paid $350 a month for the last four years-- faithfully and without missing a single payment. Linden Lab has informed him that in 30 days his entire account will be wiped... including a significant investment in inventory. "

You can read the rest yourself. What is interesting and instructive is what followed on Twitter.


Many, many voices chimes in, retweeted this tweet and adding comments. Whether or not they were past or present members of EC, many people spoke out in dismay because Elf Clan is a very old, large and respected group in Second Life. At one time they owned an astonishing array of sims, all of them incredibly crafted. Many newbies came to the Elven Lands; it was one of the first terms I searched for myself in Second Life (I mean, virtual world, elves; it just seemed natural).

Elf Clan has always been known as a newb-friendly place; I always found unpaid Mentors and Guides there; EC put on some of the most wonderful group events in SL; they were very tolerant of avatar types and people in general. EC and Wayfinder have contributed an enormous amount of time and talent to Second Life, as well as trying to help LL troubleshoot various technical problems over their years of residency. As their blog notes,
"in 2008 Elf Clan was paying Linden Lab almost $15,000 a year.

Not only has $15,000USD per year walked away to another grid (not counting Premium Membership fees), but let me assure you of something: elvenkind are a huge group of consumers. Elves buy enough clothing and an even more-amazing amount of weapons, magic wands, staffs, unicorns, bangles, particle effects, vehicles, horses, homes, trees... enough to stun several oxen. I cannot begin to guess how much income was lost from this group (and the tithe to LL of course via Marketplace).


Sure, you might write this off as just another glitch in Support. Unfortunately, this scenario can be retold countless times with countless players. For every person who says "I never had a problem with Support" there are at least as many who have had the kind of experience EC had. As was graphically-illustrated on Twitter today, EC's reach was far beyond "a couple sims of crazy RPing elves" and dynamically affected a lot more people than would at first be accounted for on some little income-graph, giving them yet one more sad and upsetting story to add to their opinion of Linden Lab's management of Second Life.

This is the type of problem I have been outlining in my Reply posts; the kind of problem that really should concern LL with all their talk of "retention" and "falling concurrency" and the rest. This isn't an isolated incident, as acknowledged on LL's own Grid Status and blog pages; the Euros have been having problems paying LL for at least a month. Other people have found themselves in the same position EC was in; unable to hand Linden Lab the money they were ready to pay and threatened with the loss of their sims, accounts and inventories.

It is this kind of cavalier inattention to user needs that is a very sore point with customers (residents). It is this kind of problem that is losing LL tier, Premium Memberships, and a lot of freakin' money. Despite all the babble coming out of LL, it really seems like they don't want our money; they don't want our participation/consumption; they don't want our presence in their world. After all, actions trump words every time.

If LL can't deal with this very real and very deep problem in management and public perception, nothing will help them. I do hope that Rod Humble, by his acknowledgement of this problem today on Twitter and his willingness to hear, will understand that this incident is not an isolated problem but reveals a much-deeper rift that is recognized by many Second Life residents, indicating a wide-area effect that is critical to the continued existence of Second Life's customer base. We are your customers and we bring through our experiences and words other customers to you.

Yes, we can put up with technical glitches; yes, problems happen. But when they happen over and over for several years, increasing with time, frustrating some of Second Life's biggest paying customers enough to have them scale back mightily on their land holdings, Marketplace ads and Premium Memberships... then the company has a very large and significant problem. It's certainly recognized by them; they publicly talk of future signups and retention...

The (forced) migration of the last Elven sim in Second Life is the small leaf that in its falling makes visible widening ripples in the deep pool that is SL. I sure hope someone at LL is paying attention; that's a whole lotta real money leaving Second Life (or already has) and adds another large weight to the opinion and calculations of other customers on whether their investment of time and money into Second Life is worthwhile, and whether they'd bring someone else into such an unstable world.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.


Wizzy Gynoid said...

you nailed it sweetcakes.

sororNishi said...

It's very good for InWorldz, and I think that the drop in costs will prove to be very good for them. Once Physx is in place it will also be (technically) better grid to be on anyway.

Elves are v cool... welcome all.

Skylar Smythe said...

Amazing post Miso. But it broke my heart to read it.

You are right.


Indigo Mertel said...

Sorry to be the devil's advocate, but I think this is one of those cases where a bit of coolness would help a great deal.

What happened to Peter has happened to me a couple of times. His account was not closed, it was automatically suspended because the payment failed. When that happens, one can't log inworld but can access the dashboard where payment can be submitted again. When the payment is made the account is re-enabled instantly.

LL is aware that there are problems with international payments. FJ Linden posted about it on the blog and apologized for any inconvenience. Of course, this is a disservice that needs to be addressed immediately but I think that a distinction is necessary between an automatic process that is not smart enough to deal with problems like these and a cavalier attitude that frankly I don't think was ever there.

Unfortunately, I think we'll see a number of teething problems while the new payment procedures are made live, mostly due to the fact that many SL users have to make large payments for tier and this doesn't bode well with Internet payment providers. Check what happened to me: when tier was due last April my regular payment by credit card failed. I checked my dashboard and found that I was given the option to pay through a new international provider, ClickAndBuy. I had to go through an elaborate registration process, but after that my payment went through. Yesterday the payment for May went through as well.

Today I receive an email by ClickAndBuy saying that my account is blocked, asking to get in touch with customer service. No explanation is provided in the email. I call and I am informed that I have to provide a color copy of my identity card, a copy of my bank balance and a copy of an utility bill! Not one piece of identity, three! Despite the fact that the payments are made through the additional security loop provided by the VISA Verified service. In 15+ years and hundreds of purchases made on the Internet, it is the first time I received such a ridiculous request.

Wayfinder Wishbringer said...

Indigo, you're correct that this was in part a technical glitch. But there was much more involved, and far more involved in making our decision. I think Miso summed up some main issues very well. Linden Lab is getting to the point more and more of the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back... and there's no telling at this point what straw will do it.

Peter had already contacted support over this issue, and his account was still suspended. Linden Lab definitely needs a better way to handle these things... such as oh, maybe someone from CS getting on the phone line and making a call... or dropping an email with a REPLYABLE response.

The details of this issue, and a good summary of what all is going on here, can be found on these two web pages:

Unknown said...

Miso, thank you for so eloquently and accurately hitting this horseshoe nail on the head, as well as bringing it to the attention of the King. Hopefully these requests will not fall on deaf ears.

Miso Susanowa said...

Wayfinder, I tried to comment on the EC Grouply site but I am not registered.

Like others, I am waiting to see what happens with the new CEO. I do admit to holding some hope because of Rod Humble's willingness to tap into Twitter and at least review; that's a huge step for most of us. True, it is a small step, but the way things have been going, it is a hopeful one.

If EC might adopt a "let's wait and see if the proof is in the pudding" attitude, as most of us are doing, maybe this long period of ennui and disenchantment with LL will prove to be merely growing pains. We're all hoping so... but that didn't stop me from registering for other grids either :)

Slan agat ^_^

Iggy O said...

And so the elves sail to the undying lands of the West.

Sad to see them leave, but the Dark Lord of Mordor drove them from the lands where we mere mortals dwell.

Unlike Lord of the Rings, however, others can join the Eldar in sailing away.

And what will Sauron do when all of his thralls flee his bungling?

Wayfinder Wishbringer said...

Elf Clan has decided to retain ElvenMyst on Second Life. This is due to many factors, not the least of which is CEO Rod Hubble stepping in, spurred on by Twitter comments and folks like Miso who laid their thoughts out here for all to read. Thank you for your support.

I think it should be obvious at this time that Linden Lab cannot continue operating in the "we say so", restrictive, abusive and incompetent manner they have for the past 8 years and expect to retain customers. This is a new day. They now have up and coming stiff competition, not only in the VR field but in other forms of computer entertainment. Profit comes from satisfied customers. Dissatisfied customers can bankrupt a company overnight. This company needs to wake up, or with out a doubt the market will wake them up in a most rude and sudden manner. They should not be waiting until a group decides to leave Second Life before they scramble to perform damage repair. The damage already exists; they should be already moving to remove the damage they've already done to their entire customer base. If they don't, they will not survive the coming competition.

Our decision and response, as well as a frank caution to Linden Lab, can be found here:

Brinda said...

Miso, you and I chatted for a long time today about this and a lot of other *stuff*. As I posted yesterday... yes, it's very cool that Rod got involved, and were I he... someone today would be reading help wanted ads. The sad thing is, WHY DID IT TAKE THE CEO to handle a clerks job. My gosh he sure as heck has better things to do. Maybe he also will have time to write and ad for "Employment opportunity clerk wanted".

Miso Susanowa said...

@Brinda: exactly... but it also shows the mark of a good CEO that he recognized a glitch and rolled up his sleeves and dug in.

TahiniSL said...

I am not a member of Elf Clan. I just heard about you all from someone in Inworldz when I signed up there in search of an alternative to Second Life. They were very, very excited at you all migrating there.

I am not a big landowner, or group owner. I am merely a person who enjoys exploring places and socializing.

Unfortunately, I am also someone very frustrated, baffled, and disillusioned by SL 'customer service'.

My issue is a small one - I could not buy Lindens. After about 5 calls speaking to rude customer service agents, and submitting a ticket. I finally found a phone agent who could help me. I simply had to log into the viewer and purchase them that way rather than through the website. I purchased 20 bucks worth, and went off to rent my first 1/4 sim homestead plot. I was so excited to get it.

The next day, I tried to log in and was banned from being able to. What!?

Another phone call where the agent VERY rudely told me I had to submit a ticket and practically hung up on me. I had to provide them my ID, for them to even begin looking at the issue. I submitted it days ago. I still have heard nothing. I don't get it at all. What did I do wrong?

I went off in search of another place and stumbled across Inworldz. Wanting to know more about your issue that I had heard about, I read your blog here.

You guys were able to get the attention of the CEO because you have a large group and presence for many years. Well done! But what about simple users like me? Do we not count? What did I do to be abused by customer service? I am not some freak or weirdo. I have had no TOS violations. I haven't argued with anyone. I don't get it.

Now, I have pretty much lost my measly 20 bucks. It is not much, but I don't like paying for something I can't use, for no apparent reason other than terrible customer service. What did I do to deserve the rudeness?

I might be a tiny, insignificant little player compared to the Elf Clan, or the big companies, and sim owners. But I am one of the people that attends events, tips people, buys items and in general contributes to making second life alive. A dead place is fun for no one.

We might just be little drops but little drops add up to oceans. I have a feeling there are many, many, little drops just like me who are fed up. Without us little drops, SL is a ship that can't sail.

Wayfinder Wishbringer said...

Tahini, I'm really sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately, such seems more the norm than the exception. What you experienced is similar to what our group went through.

Trust me in this: the age and size of our group really has little to do with whether LL pays attention or not. They ignored our support ticket too, just like yours. We've spoken with surly support people, just like you, and gotten nowhere.

I've had salespeople fall all over themselves to sell a $50 pair of shoes. We were paying LL over $13,000 a year, and that's the attitude we get? So now we're paying them $4,000... and I personally question even that.

The truth is, the only reason we're still on SL is because Rod Humble happened to see a Tweet on Twitter that we were leaving, and decided to step in (LOL, it required Twitter to catch the company's attention?). I have no delusions of grandeur. If not for that, no matter what the age or size of our group, Linden Lab would have ignored us as they ignored you. In my experience with LL, the customer come second. Or third or fourth. Somewhere down the ladder, anyway.

So even though you're "just" an individual, I can tell you our experience as a large group is pretty similar, and I consider you equally important to our group. Whether it's $20 or $20,000... investment in SL should be respected-- and customer service a whole lot more responsive (or at the very least, a whole lot less dysfunctional and abusive).

I mean really, with any other company, if you bothered to make a phone call to try to get something worked out, they'd send you to the department in charge of that, yes? Likely your problem would have been solved within an hour. In the case of SL, they bark at you to go file a support ticket-- which they'll probably get to in a few weeks or months, maybe.

Sorry you went through that. If it's any consolation, you're not alone. Not by a long shot.