My experience within SL is that it is not too dissimilar from our RL. SL is a unique, valuable resource, and it has the potential to inspire a whole new crop of wonders. There aren’t very many large virtual communities where all residents can participate in content creation, with few barriers to entry, in something approaching a free market, using whatever tools one can press into service. By spending only a modest effort demonstrating the diverse applicability and resident-driven potential of this platform to new users, more people may take interest and inspiration. These people, in turn, tend to form (and retain!) whole new subcultures for us to enjoy.
There are many ways to help people have a positive first experience with SL. We hope that -io- will be one them!
Now I’ll get into my opinions and takes on some of what you have read. If you read my blog often, you probably know I want to know people’s opinions, but I go more deeply and want to know why they think what they do. Unfortunately too many people do not know why they think what they think and leave me wondering IF they think.
Coming from the Myst world I have been considering game design and player retention issues for 4 years. Myst has way worse player retention problem than SL. But, it has the reputation of being the game that would not die, I think it was the first to earn the title.
In reading interviews and scholarly studies about game development to try to figure out why Uru Live could not retain players I’ve come across one specific study of Second Life that I think is the primary key to player retention for any online game: Chun-Yuen Teng’s and Lada A. Adamic’s published paper: Longevity in Second Life. It is referenced on Lada Adamic’s page on her web site. In the study they say, “Rather than looking at initial interactions, we aim to predict which users are likely to leave, and base our predictions on the structure, intensity, and profitability of a user’s activity.”
They went through and looked at as many measurable metrics of life in Second Life as available. Those metrics were compared to the longevity of players to find the part of their experience that was unique to players that stayed the longest.
These studies use the scientific method to sort out our preconceptions and assumptions to replace them with facts, objective data, and knowledge.
For anyone looking at improving player retention in SL or for that matter in their region, this is the most helpful reading you can do. The information is a foundation layer for anyone considering Darrius’ thoughts on community and the -io- Team’s Orientation builds.
A study by Backstrom et al. (2006) shows the factors needed to predict who will join a community. SL’s challenge is not in getting people to join, it is in keeping them. A big part of that study is in how to get friends connected in game, which Darrius is on about. I think easily connecting with existing RL friend is not an applicable idea for SL, where users relish anonymity.
A study by Panciera, Halfaker, and Terveen 2009 correlates the user’s first experience as to whether they continue. It is in this area that -io- is striving to make a significant difference.
We know that a number of factors influence player retention. We also know that not everyone is captivated by the same things. The Teng & Alamic study shows that in a broad sense and for a majority of all people the factors influencing player retention comes down to player interaction and how many friends one makes. Or as the author’s simplified it: the more chat conversations and partners one has the more likely they are to stay in SL.
They also find that commercial transactions are predictive of who stays and leaves. While not as strong a correlation as chat, it is significant. Those engaging in transactions, buying or selling, stay longer. They found it makes little or no difference if one is a creator or consumer, which seemed bit odd to me. But, it is hard to argue with stats. When I read their additional idea which they term ‘intensity of interactions’, which in English means the number of transactions, that made it easier to fit their ideas and metrics with my experience that creators stay longer. It is revealing that it is not whether you are a creator or not that makes the difference. One could say it is whether you are a successful creator that has lots of transactions and interactions that makes the difference. Studying the facts and data tends to make us think and clarifies our thinking.
The study concludes: “…by far it is interaction with others, whether friends or strangers, that correlated most with long user life.”
Knowing what makes a difference and even the most significant difference for player retention still leaves us figuring out how to implement it in a given scenario.
Arrehn looks at custom viewers as enabling groups or individuals with unusual draw to directly reach out to their non-SL audience and draw them in. You might know Arrehn got the Firestorm viewer started and helped guide it to maturity. Now that it’s mature he has stepped back, in order to focus on improving -io- and re-envisioning what a new kind of SL client might look like in a larger world. This could be a coordinated way to bring users in that already have a motivation and a specific interest.
How does one get strangers interacting beyond a single interest, or simply just interacting? I think most can agree that is really a matter of who the people are and what their personality is like. A shy person needs special handling. A gregarious person will do fine with little handling and likely be frustrated by too much help. Again, it is a matter of balance rather than a simplistic easy solution, which keeps ‘player retention’ as more of an art than a scientific solution.
The -io- Team feels it is important to retain the player long enough for them to ‘experience’ SL and find reasons to stay and spend the effort to learn the viewer. I think it is rational to conclude without motivation to learn to use the viewer it is unlikely a new user will last long enough to make friends.
Our best example is likely Facebook. I have a load of people on Facebook that I’ve classed as acquaintances because they were ‘Friended’ to help with the games I used to play. I needed their help and they mine. They are mostly total strangers. Not lots of communication with most. Some in combat games I got to know from planning strategy and moved to my actual friends list. I actually stayed in those ‘combat’ games longer and suspect the interaction with other people played a part. They created a way to get me interacting with others.