Second Life Player Retention Week 32

This is a long article. I think it may shape your thinking about Second Life™ and change how you deal with events in SL. So, I hope you read it and consider the concepts. Because while everyone has their ideas about Second Life™, ranging from; what it is to what it will become, what the Lab is thinking, planning, and doing… some basic paradigms have changed and few seem to have noticed.

The Inspiring Orientation – Learn to Fly

One area of thinking about Second Life important to a considerable number of users is what will retain more visitors, converting them to long term users, residents if you will. If you take a simplistic approach to things an answer and/or solution to player retention problems is likely to elude you forever, as humans as a whole are anything but simplistic.

When it comes to ‘company’ direction we have been able to listen to a SLCC (SL Community Conference) speech by the CEO and know something about the direction the Lab’s management was taking. It looks like that is not going to happen this year. We may get some announcement this month to take the place of SLCC, but I would not count on it. Now it looks like more and more of the activity in and planning for SL is moving into the hands of SL users. So, what the community is thinking is more important and where we will likely have to look more often to see what is next.

Player Retention

From the thread, If You Were a Linden, over on SLUniverse, we know that top management is still interested in how to improve player retention. I suspect it is a primary concern of management. If we read Darrius Gothly’s: Social Community, Human Beings and the Internet, which is about SL, we get ideas about how ‘community’ is the hope for SL and better player retention. I’ll get to my own thoughts on that later.

One of Darrius’ key ideas to improve community is the return to First and Last Names. (See: SVC-7125 – Bring Back Last Name Options!  – the largest JIRA ever. Please add your thoughts there.) For me this idea and the whole name… debacle… reveals one of the key blind spots of the corporate analytical mind. Data was collected by the Lab on how many people entered the sign up process and how many completed it. The numbers were not good. So the sign up process was changed to require the least possible effort to complete sign up. The last name field was likely eliminated to save one entry field and user decision. There is a huge amount of study on what is needed to get people to sign up on web sites and least possible effort and fewest possible decisions are a major components of what works. So, this change is not trivial. If sign up were all there were to the issue, it would have been a good decision. Whatever it was in the sign up process that changed, removal of last names resulted in one less entry and one less decision as part of the change. The numbers got significantly better after the change. So, the change to single-names is gets credit, justified or not.

I call it a blind spot because while the rate of completed sign ups verses sign up dropouts improved; there was no way to see the long term effect on users while the idea was in the corporate mind. More sign ups must be better, the end. Corporate thinking, insight, and analysis seem to have stopped there. As far as I can see, no historical analysis has been done a year and something later to see if single-name users remain in SL longer than two-name users. Do single-name users stay for the average 2 years? Two-name users do. We have that historical data from Metaverse Business. Since SL is shrinking, single-name users probably do not. But, we don’t have the data to know. I think such information and trends are the corporate blind spot. Single-name users have not yet been around for two years. So, direct comparison for the same time frame as two-name users is not possible. But, we could still earn from an analysis of the time period we have. However, management may never relate the longevity and naming stats. It may remain hidden in the blur of factors influencing player retention.

New Users

Darrius well explains the problems new users face in terms of community or more simply; finding their friends. Basically it is impossible. Darrius thinks that needs to be solved. I disagree regarding finding existing friends. Many of us want to experiment in ways we feel are socially unacceptable to our friends. In some cases a friend finding our experimental avatar is like a closet LGBT oriented person being outed before they are ready.  Our freedom is highly dependent on our privacy.

I do think that new people need a better way of finding the people with similar and activities in which they are interested.

Action

One of the points I think Darrius misses is conceptual. He and I see several of the things expressed in his article differently. For this subject the one that matters is the idea that the Lab’s management needs to realize things and change what they are building for the community. I see that as a major misunderstanding of what is happening with Second Life and the Lab’s direction.

Since Rod’s arrival as CEO we have seen communication between the Lab’s staff and users change. SLCC is gone. Office hours are now User Groups. The number of Linden led ‘user groups’ is decreasing. The Adult Content UG is for all intents dead. We have seen user groups lead by users/residents/developers form and work with Linden Liaisons.

Consider. Some years ago the rage in game development was user created content. I have no doubt SL contributed a major part of the ‘proof of concept’ to that thinking. After all SL is mostly user created content. Most games now have a way for users to add content, to mod the game. But, what if you could get the user community to build the game’s infrastructure as well? That is infrastructure as in; the game’s user interface. Who knows it better than the users? As in; how things like inventory, groups, chat, and other aspects of the game work.

With content the game company does not have to create or figure out what the users may like, the content is created by the users and they make what they want. It is the shift way from central planning to freedom of expression. We have seen how those choices have played out in RL economies and politics and the success of those ideas were mirrored in the gaming worlds. Lots of things work better when more minds are free to experiment.

For the company to make money they have to provide something. In the Lab’s case, they are working to provide the ‘shinies’ that require considerable time, knowledge, effort, and cutting edge tech to develop. They are turning over the user side of development to users. The Lab does not really care what you want to build, just what you need to build it. As long as lots of people are building and using stuff in SL the Lab is good.

While Darrius has the idea the Lab is building the wrong things and should focus on building community, I think it is obvious the Lab has turned that community thing over to us.

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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