Monday, July 17, 2006

Business Musings: Alt-itis or "I-bought-this-give-one-to-my-alt"

Since Linden Labs opened up the floodgates of 'no verification' free registration, its been a rather bumpy ride. Not only is there a lot of new, wonderful people, but we've also got a lot of twinks, greifers, and of course, the infamous Alts arriving onto the grid in droves. While the not so cool of the new crop deserve their own topic, the one I'm going to muse about today is the alt. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means "Alternate" as in name or account.

With the new free registration a lot of long time residents have been making them. There are a multitude of reasons. Wanting to change names, escaping stalkers, getting around bans, as banks or vaults for L$, controls for business ventures, roleplaying, privacy, and the list goes on. But as this "alt-itis" has spread through the general populace, there has been an increasing number of instances of folk demanding businesses to provide free copies of previously purchased items to alt accounts for free.

This poses some interesting questions to retailers, and especially affects those that sell no transfer items. Are we selling to the avatar? or are we selling to the person behind the screen? Should one purchase from one 'user' cover all their accounts? The universal answer seems to be largely a resounding 'NO'.

One of the biggest reasons for this is the potential for scamming. There is currently no way for a merchant to verify if an alt, is in fact, the alt of a past customer. Also, if that past customer was more than a month ago, it might be that the merchant doesn't keep records from that long ago. The alt, may not be an alt, but a friend, or perhaps someone who's never bought an item from that merchant before ever. These scammers exist, and their numbers are on the rise. (I'll probably do a scam report on them once I have sufficient information, but thats neither here nor there.)

In real life, if we want two shirts, we have to buy two shirts. Walmart will not furnish us with extra shirts because we bought a single shirt from them in the past. This principle applies with alts. Just because you bought it once with your main account, doesn't mean the retailer now has some unspoken duty or obligation to furnish your alt with all the same products. Some might be incredibly sweet and will provide such things, but it should NOT be expected.

I think its fair to assume for retailers that each account is a unique and individual identity. Just because they 'bought something on their main', does not mean that they are entitled to free product, which is basically what this boils down to. The alt is a seperate person. Retailers should also not let customers make them feel bad for this policy, as it is the only way to prevent alt scamming.

As consumers and alt owners, we must realize that if we want to have something twice, we should reasonably expect to pay for it twice, especially if it is an item of value. If you don't think you should have to pay for the same thing twice, then find something else. An alt is a good excuse to find something new and unique for that alt. You don't have to be stuck to the same things your main had. If you are very attached to those items, then you should reasonably expect to have to pay again. If the product is *that* good that you'd want it twice and priced reasonably, there is no reason to begrudge the creator their tiny fee. Realistically you are only paying something like sixty cents to the creator, although for some very expensive things this can range up to about 5$. I pay more for my lunch on a daily basis.

For retailers, this becomes a policy issue. It would be a good idea to revise your policies to include this senario as it is becoming more and more common. 'sucky' customers in these instances are also becoming more common, and can get very angry if one doesn't do what they want. However, you shouldn't feel obliged to bow to this abuse. Whatever you decide, make sure that it is clearly visible and avaliable for your customers to see and know about. Then when they show up asking for alt handouts, you can hit them over the head with the policy that was clearly displayed and avaliable.


At 6:55 PM, July 18, 2006, Blogger Jakkal Dingo said...

I hafta wonder if I'm supplying you with topics for your blog ;)

At 11:56 PM, July 18, 2006, Blogger Myst Panther said...

Heh. Well it was kind of ironic you talked to me, then I discovered a lengthy thread on the SL forums with many designers of all sorts saying the same thing. So take solstice in that you aren't alone.


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