Will free land destroy grids?
There will probably a winnowing out of grids that continue to charge for residential land without offering enough additional perceived value.
But the end result will, I believe, a net benefit for OpenSim.
More money for content creators
Retail consumers have only so much money to spend on virtual activities. Every dollar spent on keeping a server running when nobody is using that region is a dollar not spent on content — clothing, accessories, furniture, buildings, virtual pets, club cover charges, and games.
Paying for unused servers is a tax on the growth of OpenSim — like sales taxes, or high oil prices.
Money spent on unused servers is money lost. And usually there are a few layers of resellers on top of that physical server — the OpenSim hosting company running OpenSim, the grid managers running the grid, and the land developer subdividing the land. They all take their cut for doing something unproductive.
That same money could instead be diverted to events, content, performers and other products and services that add value instead of just wasting energy.
With more money flowing to content producers, OpenSim grids will be better places to visit.
A sticky benefit for grid residents
If a resident has a free region, and has spent time, effort and money decorating it, that resident has an investment in the grid.
More than that, they have an investment in OpenSim — and something immediate to do when they get to the grid.
Consider a typical starting scenario — on a welcoming, user friendly grid:
Greeter: Hello! Welcome to Best Fun Ever Grid! Are you new? Can I help you with anything?
Newbie: I’m new. What am I supposed to do here?
Greeter: You can get some clothes in our freebie store.
Newbie: Uh huh.
Greeter: Then you can join one of our many wonderful communities! We have vampires, elves, cowboys, robots, furries, aliens…
Newbie gets some landmarks. Visits a couple of places. Doesn’t talk to anyone interesting. Leaves and never comes back again.
Now the same experience with a grid offering free land:
Greeter: Hello! Welcome to Best Fun Ever Grid! You look new! Why don’t you follow me to your new home….
Newbie: Um.. okay.
Greeter: We give everyone a free island here.
Greeter: The island will go away when you’re gone from it for over 15 minutes. But all you have to do is click on “Teleport Home” and it will be right here again. Meanwhile, if you look around, you can see by these islands next to you that some of your neighbors are home. Would you like me to to introduce you? You can fly out and visit them, right out over the open water, or take a boat. There’s a little dinghy tied up at your dock, but there are bigger boats available for sale at our sailing shops.
Newbie: So this is my house?
Greeter: Yes, it’s a freebie starter house. We have several shops on the mainland where you can get different houses — many are also free. You can also get furniture and landscaping.
Newbie: Can I have a store here?
Greeter: I’m sorry, but the land is zoned residential, so payments aren’t enabled. In any case, people can only visit while you are here. But you can rent store space on the mainland — we have a very busy shopping district. The landmarks are all in your inventory. Do you need help using it?
Newbie: No, that’s okay. Can I change the landscape?
Greeter: I’m sorry, but the free regions don’t support terraforming. If you like, you can upgrade to premium regions at any time, and you will have a choice of landscapes — or create your own. You will also be able to have more objects and scripts on your region.
By giving new residents a place to put their stuff, a place to create, a place to make unique and show off to others, a grid can set itself apart from others and really make an impact on new visitors.
It’s easy to walk away from a grid when you’re a casual user, not owning land, just the clothes in your inventory. It’s harder to walk away from a place you start thinking of as your virtual home.