Second Life Player Retention Week 32

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!

What Works

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.

Learning Camera Control

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.”

Implementing

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.

13 thoughts on “Second Life Player Retention Week 32

  1. Very good post Nal, thought provoking.

    I think most people go through stages. A lot of work has gone into the first hours of one’s SL, as is appropriate. After the first day or so of basic learning things change.

    It is clear to me that the most successful path to long term retention is small groups, there really does not need to be a structure although there is usually 1 or 2 somewhat more experienced people (just to set up a group and know of a place to meet). I have no idea how to encourage this other than to do what I am now, my land has several small gathering places.

    Most people I know who have been in SL for a while are not doing what they imagined they would be doing when they started. SL is at it’s heart a fantasy world and it takes time for newbies to realize that and discover within themselves what fantasies they will find fulfilling. For some that is a house behind a tree lined street in suburbia. For others it is somewhere deep in the heart of Gor. Building or art fulfill as many dreams as sex does. The challenge for LL and the greater SL community is to give newbies the safety and guidance they need to find their own path in our many faceted world.

  2. Looking at the Pathfinding project, and how it has disrupted communities which use vehicles, I think the Lindens need to look hard at their planning before we face another upgrade to the Havok physics engine.

    1: The release channels are claimed to be about 10% of the grid, but the Magnum RC used to test pathfinding was 30% of the Blake Sea. The pattern of the test areas was also ill-judged.

    2: All water routes between Bay City and the rest of that continent were interrupted by Magnum RC sims. There was another in the ANPR channel. I only know of one competitive sailing course that was Magnum-safe.

    3: The Magnum RC, on the data I was able to find, is overwhelmingly water sims, not land.

    Given that pattern, it looks as though Pathfinding has only been tested for fish. And vehicle physics has been poorly tested for land vehicles. That’s also consistent with the bug reports still current.

    Could the Lindens have planned the testing better? Yes, I believe they could have greatly improved the quality of the testing they did, by a better choice of test regions, and by providing better information on where these regions were. What plan they had was very good for testing the irrelevant short-term problems of entering and leaving regions running different Havok versions.

    • It is not the PF that has disrupted things. It is running different Havok versions on adjacent regions.

      The information I have is that the RC’s make up about 20% of AGNI, but the RC’s constantly change. For PF there was an additional PF channel set up for the PF Beta. In that process the Lindens looked at creating a channel that covered an entire continent. If they could have done that we would never have different versions of Havok running on adjacent regions. But, some users want to be in and other excluded from the RC’s. After looking at it the Lindens decided there was no politically acceptable way to make an RC continent.

      On top of dealing with user preferences, the Lab just went though a rearrangement of regions and the servers they are assigned to.

      Last I checked PF stops at the waters edge. That Blake Sea had regions assigned PF doesn’t mean they were the only regions in the AGNI based beta. You have me wondering if you read this blog.

  3. Thank you for your very interesting blog article. I am in SL for many years now. I met tons of people and have a very long firendslist. The point is, only very few people I do frequently interact with and have long conversations with. Most people I just met at some point, had fun with them exploring or talking once of twice. With anonymity long time relationships become less likely. So maybe it is not so important to find the single best new friend, but bring people into a community of people that have the same interests. Maybe it would be an idea to ask people already at the signup process a question like “Do you like to explore?”, “Do you like to build stuff?” or “Do you like to party?”, then teleport them to a custom landing point based on their interests. There they get a HUD based tutorial like in Cloud Party, which has basic and advanced chapters which the player can work with at his own convenience, right away or later. Also I liked the idea of getting a reward when finishing the orientation, like a small plot of land, because my own land is what got me stuck in SL. That way they can build their own property, which makes them come back, because they own it and they earned it. Also I think it may be good to have public linden owned community sims that newbies go to during their orientation, since we already asked for their interests. That way they can meet people with similar interests right away and have a place where they can always come back to. Their home. A place for people that are interested in building, could for example host building classes like at builders brewery and provide a large sandbox, a place for people that like to party could have a huge club and live music. All those sims could be provided for free by the Lindens and run by residents.
    But residents could build that today on their own, right? The single biggest problem that makes newbies and oldbies frustrated most is the huge amount of bugs and problems with simple tasks like sim crossing, teleporting, and communicating via IM or groups. The best way to save and grow SL is just to make those features and system work that we already have today.

    • You have noticed that in 2011 and 2012 the major Linden effort has been fixing reported bugs and problems?

      • I read about it, but my personal experience is that I usually cannot cross more than 5 regions without crashing or getting stuck, eventhough I have the newest viewer and a very fast computer. I also notice that people send notecards instead of IMs, because IMs are capped when people are offline. And I notice that there is a Jira entry for large groups that do not load since 2009 and the Lindens just started working on it, eventhough groups are the most important tool to build communities. So the most basic features do not work in a 10 year old product. Somehow I just have the feeling the Lindens work on plenty new features and new products, but what we have does not work properly. This frustration is something that I am used to, but newbies have a much lower tollerance for that. If it does not work, they quit and never think about SL again.
        And then there is abuse reports, which nobody ever seems to read at the Lab. For 2 month now a french guy with at least 5 alts mass spams the profile feed of thousands of residents, which he gathers from my group. The Lindens never did anything. Recently somebody asked me for help with the forum and sent me a link to a website, which looked exactly like the SL log in page. He cloned it, a phishing site. He asked tons of people at SL9B. I reported that. He still did not get banned. The Lindens need to watch closer on this, because this scares newbies away.

        • Don’t trust your feelings when real data is available.

          Have you ever looked at the JIRA stats? There is data on fixes verses incoming new items.

          Your experience with phishing is regrettable. I hoped you learned something. You see AR’s as not being read. What you don’t seem to see is the flood of fake AR’s being used to harass other players. The reality of AR’s is an escalating war of tactics. With free accounts it is hard to keep trouble makers out. Plus the Lab never says what the do in response to an exploit or AR. Your in an area where they are waging a high tech war and you seem to see it as checkers.

          • Ok, I found the Stats. 30 Day Summary Second Life Viewer: 201 issues created, only 114 resolved. Second Life Service: 84 issues created, only 72 resolved. Second Life Website: 45 issues created, only 37 resolved. Now considering that some newly created issues are pretty dramatic, while some of the fixed issues are rather trivial (like changing the label on a button), this is a pretty bad performance and it supports my feeling that Second Life gets more and more buggy every day. For example since I posted my first comment a few days ago, the web profiles stopped working in 50% of all cases and the SL Marketplace produced one server error after the other (ok, the latter has been fixed already).

            • So fixing 56%, 86%, and 82% of the problems reported in a month is poor performance? And what about other areas of the JIRA where fixes exceed reported problems?

              I think you just want to think they are doing poorly.

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  5. Fantastic article!

    There has been a lot of talk about Player retention. However there seems to be less talk about what type of players that are being searched for.

    The way I think is that if the lab wants to attract more “hard core” gamers then they need to make the orientation/welcome process more like a game.

    Whereas if the lab wants to attract creators they need to make the orientation/welcome process more like a tutorial for blender or the like.

    My point being is that (as the lab has found) having a welcome/orientation island in a one setup/size fits all approach is not going to work.

    I thought the Signup api that the lab offered then depreciated was a great idea. Have different account creation websites for different types of users. Then on their first login take them to an area that this specific type of user would find interesting. Be it a shopping mall, or a NASA Sim.

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