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Denise ([staff profile] denise) wrote in [site community profile] dw_biz2012-02-13 03:45 pm

feature design brainstorming: icon add-ons

We said last month that [staff profile] mark's next big project is going to be icon add-on packs to let people buy more icon slots if they want, and this week he and I have been brainstorming ideas to make it work in the quickest, easiest, and most usable fashion. This is what we're currently thinking the system will look like, for you guys to mull over and point out all the things we've no doubt forgotten to think about. ;)

Goal: To let people buy as many icon slots as they want (up to whatever limit we impose for overall performance reasons), as simply and easily as possible.

We started out with the idea that this should be something the user can decide (how many slots you want), not sold in pre-specified numbers of icon packs that stack on top of each other. We kicked around a few ideas for a while of how to make that work (such as paying per icon slot per month, etc), but everything we tried to come up with got really confusing very quickly: we would have had to track a lot of different things, and explaining pro-rating to people is really hard, and it would've been really hard to add more icons later if you decided you didn't have enough.

So, our current working theory: we will charge you up front for each icon slot you want to add, and paying for another icon slot will give you that slot permanently, for whenever you have a paid account. (We have a vague idea of what each slot will cost, but it's not set in stone yet, so I don't want to commit to anything; I'll use the variable $amount while I'm explaining, in order to avoid making any promises.) If your paid account expires, you'll go back to the number of icons a free account gets; if you renew your paid account, you'll go back up to the paid account icons + your add-ons.

It's probably easiest to talk through some practical examples of common scenarios, so everyone's on the same page: let's say that I have a premium paid account, so I have 250 icons. I want 270 icons. I pay $amount to permanently buy those 20 icons; my icon slots go from 250 to 270. In a year, my premium paid time is about to expire, so I renew it for another year; I only have to pay the $50 to renew the premium paid time, and my icon slots stays at 270, not the 250 a premium paid account usually gets, because I bought those 20 icons permanently.

Next year, my premium paid account expires (back down to 15 icons, curses!), and I'm kind of low on cash, so I decide to renew it as a regular paid account ($35 for the year; 100 icons), not a premium paid account. But! I previously bought those 20 extra icon slots. Those still exist, but they're applied to the paid account icon limit (100 icons), not the premium paid account icon limit (250 icons): I'd have the 100 icon slots a paid account usually gets, plus the 20 I permanently bought, for 120 icons.

After a few months, though, I decide I can't live with only 120 icons, and I decide to buy some more. I pay $amount to permanently buy another 50 icon slots. My new icon count is now 170: the 100 for a paid account, the 20 I previously bought, and the 50 I just bought.

When account renewal comes around, I decide I miss the premium paid account benefits, so I renew as premium paid ($50 for the year; 250 icons). I now have the 250 icon slots that come standard with a premium paid account, plus the 20 I bought a long time ago, plus the 50 I bought recently, for a total of 320 icons.

So, you're only buying the icon slots once, and they last forever -- but, you have to have a paid account to access them. (This is to avoid people buying just icon slots, which is bad for us from a business standpoint based on how we set our account limits. For an explanation of why you won't be able to just buy icons without a paid account, see two old mailing list messages I wrote back when we were in development: #1, which explains why you can't buy paid features a-la-carte, and #2, which specifically gets into icons.)

We'll be pricing icon slots based on the cost to support them over time, so you'd pay more up-front than you would in a yearly, expiring type deal. You'll never have to pay again, though, so it will be cheaper in the long run.

What if you want to switch to using a different account, though, the way we know roleplayers like to do? You'd be stuck paying the up-front cost over and over again for each account, which would not be very fair! So, instead we make it possible for you to switch icon slots from account to account.

Let's say I have two accounts, [profile] x and [profile] y. [profile] x is a premium paid account (250 icons) and I bought 50 extra icon slots for it over time (total of 300 icons). [profile] y is a paid account (100 icons). I decide I want to stop using [profile] x and switch to using [profile] y instead: I can go to the icon slot mover tool and say "switch my extra icon slots", and move the 50 extra slots from [profile] x to [profile] y. Now [profile] x has 250 icon slots (the standard with the premium paid account), and [profile] y has 150 icon slots (the standard 100 with the paid account + my 50 extra slots that I bought).

(We may charge a small amount to move icon slots from one account to another, especially if it's been a while since you bought them, like the way we charge for a rename token. But we haven't decided that yet; it will depend on what the numbers look like when we diagram the costs of all this out more fully.)

There will be a limit on how many slots you can buy at first -- this is because the system isn't very optimized for large numbers of icons, either for resource usage or for the user interface of displaying and selecting large numbers of icons. (We can fix that over time, and we will! But that will take time, and we'd rather release the feature with a lower limit now than wait. Whatever limit we pick when we release it will almost certainly be raised later once we can do the work.) It's also possible that we might have two limits, and charge $amount for each slot up to limit #1, and $amount*2 for each slot from limit #1 to limit #2, but that, too, will be up in the air until we can really plot out the technical and business details of this way of doing things.

So, if this is all still up in the air, why am I posting about it now? Simple: We know that we can't know everything about how people use their accounts and how people want to use their icons. So, consider this the open invitation to pick holes in this plan: what kind of usage are we forgetting to think about/account for? What problems do you see?

(Also, because I know a lot of people are really sweet about worrying what this will mean for us-as-a-business: we already did all the back-of-the-envelope feasability tests, and this should remain feasable over time. We're gambling that the cost of disk space, bandwidth, and processor power will continue to go down over time the way it's been going, historically, so the pay-once model for icons should work fine for us -- and because it will be tied to paid accounts we won't be promising future services without any additional income the way we would for seed accounts.)
opusculus: Higurashi's Rika and Hanyuu are adorable and innocent and totally safe (Innocuous adorableness)

[personal profile] opusculus 2012-02-13 09:56 pm (UTC)(link)
I like this a lot, personally. Even when I was buying the add-on packages for icons for LJ I never quite bothered understanding it, and this suits perfectly how I actually go through my accounts.

My big question from this is how will you be able to split up icon slots when you transfer accounts? Say you're an RPer, and you had 10 characters, and you got a new job and dropped down to 4 for a bit because you just didn't have time, and then when you started adjusting to the new job you went back to 6 or so and want to redivide some of the ones you sent to the four accounts when you dropped. Or, for that matter, say you've played this character for years, know exactly what icons you need and you need forty extra and you have 60 extra, and you have this shiny new just apped character who needs all the icons. How flexibly could you divide them among your accounts?
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[personal profile] kyrielle 2012-02-13 10:07 pm (UTC)(link)
I can see that being a headache for someone who consolidates and then regrets it, but I also see the advantage to not letting someone shove bits here and pieces there. If partial transfers are allowed, maybe only two options - "all extra slots" or "block of X" where X is an acceptable (business-wise) number. For example, if X ended up being 20, someone with 10 extra slots would have to transfer them all - but someone with 25 could transfer 20, then transfer the other 5 somewhere else (or keep them there). Someone with 80 could transfer 20 off and keep the other 60, or send batches of 20 to four separate accounts.

...I'm actually just musing about ways to keep it simple if it's done, and not suggesting it should be or shouldn't be done, by the way. I cannot imagine a future in which I need more icons than this account can have. *wry*
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[personal profile] opusculus 2012-02-13 10:22 pm (UTC)(link)
That makes sense! I'd expect complete granularity or all at once for the sake of simplicity, and complete granularity just strikes me as an invitation to constantly max out the icons based on who they're playing today for some RPers. A mild ongoing cost for the way some RPers prefer to play sounds more reasonable to me.

[personal profile] primal_laughter 2012-02-14 05:29 am (UTC)(link)
This worries me. Because basically it'd mean that if at some point I had two accounts with extra icon slots, and then I decided I only needed one for a while, but then wanted to go back to two, I wouldn't be able to do that! Which makes the whole iconslot-transfer system extremely inflexible and clunky - basically I'd probably never transfer iconslots from multiple accounts into one account, because I'd be too worried about not being able to go back to having two accounts, but then if I ended up only using the one account for years on end, which I very well might, I wouldn't feel like I was getting value for my money.

I'm not sure if there's a practical solution with respect to coding for it. Financially, I think having a fee for icon transfer, or only allowing each slot to be transferred a few times a year, or a combination of the two, would be all right, and should cut down on people transferring icon slots really frequently.

The ability to transfer icon slots in a genuinely useful manner is a major issue for me. Other than that, I think it's a very good idea (though I didn't have an issue with LJ's system either).

Also, I think you guys are AWESOME for explaining all this in advance. In particular, thank you so much for those two emails you linked to explain why you won't let people buy just icon slots! For the first time in my life this makes sense to me. :D
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[personal profile] nonny 2012-02-14 09:55 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I agree with this. While I don't ever see myself using more than one account, if I did, a restriction like this would really trigger my anxiety about transferring. I agree that some kind of fee would be a good solution here, because people aren't likely to pay unless they're really serious about it.
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[personal profile] triadruid 2012-02-14 07:39 pm (UTC)(link)
It would seem to me that being able to move 'all the slots' at once would be computationally cheap, and thus in the core programming. Being able to split them up might involve a one-time rebalancing fee (subject to business model, etc etc).
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[personal profile] xwingace 2012-02-14 05:30 am (UTC)(link)
Another user musing along: In the situation described by
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Another user musing along: In the situation described by <user="opusculus">, the icon packs were first bought as separate packs. Would allowing them to be transferred in the original quantities of those packs be difficult to implement? That doesn't punish people who want to consolidate, but at least partially averts the problem.

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[personal profile] pauamma 2012-03-18 07:20 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm not designing or implementing the feature, so I may be talking outta my ass, but I think doing that would completely take away the "easy to implement and document" benefits Mark mentioned upcomment.