Who Do You Listen To?

Looking through the comments on Metareality’s articles I noticed one that is typical of people in various online communities. It seems humans have a tendency to provide their opinions for solutions to problems they have little if any knowledge about. In my experience such behavior is pretty much a universal trait of human nature, online or not.

Jo Yardley recently wrote: Noob experience revisited. Jo clearly sees problems with the new user’s introduction to Second Life™ process and is frustrated by it. Jo has some great ideas for fixing them. But, never mentions his first experience with the SL experience, just his looking at the experience as it is now from a more experienced viewpoint.

I’ll give Jo credit for trying to look at it from a new users perspective. But, that is impossible for him because he has 4 years of experience with SL. He can only IMAGINE what it might be like. How many time have we found things not to be as we imagined?

The Lindens actually hire people that play games and have never played SL and videotape them starting the SL sign up process and their first minutes in world. They get feedback reports from the people after the experience. No imagination needed.

Nor does Jo look at the various things the Lab has tried, the studies the Lab has done, the scientific papers that have been written by third parties, the interviews with successful and failed game developers, the user feedback in games like THERE.COM and numerous others that made it into game blogs… no history, no apparent research, just personal experience and opinion. That is pretty much what we humans do.

As we get to Jo’s solutions we find he believes people need instructions. What does one base that idea on? Did you know that humans are the best first-time-experience problem solvers on the planet? Well, we were. I’m not sure about some people I’ve met recently.

Society has learned we need to teach people basic skills, reading, math, history, how to research, practical skepticism, how to drive, and similar things. Society does this in schools. Colleges provide detailed expose to sciences and prior research to avoid repetition and wasted effort. It is sort of the history of science that is taught as a platform to build on. Driving is taught because it is too dangerous to students and those around them to allow learning by trail and error. With just these basic skills people have developed the world we have today. We humans are really good at figuring things out WHEN we put our mind to it.

Instruction at some levels only provides a recipe or ritual for getting a task done, making a cake. For some tasks that is fine. But, when an interface like the CHUI changes not understanding the basic ideas of chat leaves the user crippled. With understanding of chat basics a new UI is an easy problem for most to solve they don’t have to wait for someone to hand them a recipe.

How hard the UI is to learn is an amalgam of many factors. But anyone’s individual level of difficulty probably suggests how well he or she understood the concepts. When everyone has a problem with it, it is likely a design failure.

Jo has creative ways of providing instructions to new users. But… without having done research or apparently studied web marketing or the history of SL sign up he seems to have no clue of what has been tried or the problems with his suggestions.

From web marketing we know that every click and decision we require a user to make is going to knock people out of the process in significant numbers. The Holy Grail of web design is one-click-sales or one click-signup, or one-click anything.

From psychologist and engineers studying computer users we know one certain fact, people do NOT read what is on the screen when heading for a goal. You can see markets putting that fact into practice on any free download site. Somewhere on the page is the small download button you want along with a number of large download buttons in ads. Most of those ads lead to a download of some advertising adware they hope you will install in place of the download you wanted. They take advantage of human nature by understanding it.

In spite of all the distractions and obstacles there are people that buy things or find the download they wanted. These are the people that wanted something enough to persist and we have a load of studies on that point.

We also know that people tend to ONLY read/do instructions when they have to, often as a last resort. Jo provides no new insight on how to create a motivation to get people to persist through the introductory instructions (obstacles) he would place in front of them. So, I think the net result of following Jo’s suggestions would be fewer people coming into Second Life. That is opinion, but I do base it on what I know about web marketing design and what I know of that the Lab has tried.

I wrote my first blog post here about what makes MMORPG’s successful or not in May 2009: What Makes Virtual Worlds Successful. I wrote about what James Portnow wrote in: Designing a Single Sever MMORPG. A basic point of his is immediately understandable, which is people mostly do NOT enjoy doing role-play alone. Plus to enjoy role-play in groups one needs to find compatible players, so some minimum size group is needed to select from to assure success. Portnow wrote about design criteria of getting player density and population at levels that would become self-sustaining from his experience in designing games for Activision and later running Divide by Zero Games.

The Lab through testing found volunteer manned training areas and help areas were hurting player retention more than they helped. I’m not sure I agree with their conclusions, but not having the detailed numbers and data I can’t argue much with their finding that people experiencing those areas were more likely to leave SL by a significant margin. It is fact they were leaving. The ‘why’ may be debatable.

We have studies that Portnow based his thinking on and the Lab has statistical data for their conclusion. We can gather from just these two sources that the population, its density (players per meter), and the type of people in welcome areas are factors in player retention. There are some basic factors of human enjoyment and reward that motivate people to return or stay in a game that are directly related to population density and connecting with the right people.

Jo’s solutions while rational are counter to basic web marketing and the Lab’s experience and don’t address the basic factors of human nature.

If we are ever to improve player retention in Second Life, we are going to have to educate ourselves on what has been tried, what the industry knows, and what studies and data reveal. If you want to learn more about game development and what does and does not work, check out my category: Game Development and articles I’ve tagged: game development.

Before signing on to someone’s suggestions as good ideas consider the article. Is it voicing just the author’s opinion or is the author basing their suggestions on broad experience in the industry (including game design history), scientific studies and solid statistics?

If you want to voice an idea to the community or present it to the Lab hoping to improve things in Second Life, consider whether you are offering only opinion or you have the knowledge, data, and experience to be convincing.

6 thoughts on “Who Do You Listen To?

  1. Thanks for discussing my blog!

    I am a she btw, not a he ;)

    Anyway, you’re right, I tried to imagine the noob experience, simply because I’ve been here for 4 years.

    I’ve actually been here since 2007 and the new experience has changed so much and it wouldn’t make sense to write about the old system.

    My first visit was little more then running around aimlessly trying to find away off information island, not reading any signs and then spending ages afterwards trying to learn what I skipped.

    I remember how I behaved during my first visit and tried to impose my character and lack of knowledge then on the way things are for noobs today.

    BUT I have also been guiding friends into SL, being with them their first day and even minutes of their Second Life.
    Seeing first hand what they did and didn’t understand.

    Some of these people have never even played a game so they are even less experienced then our 12 year old cousins or most of the people Linden Lab hires to test their new stuff.

    I believe that you should at least try to make a system work for even the least experienced user.

    So my blog is a little more then just a random guess at what things are like for noobs.

    And as someone who has worked with countless consultancies, experts, scientists, etc, etc, I can say that to me their input in some ways is worth less than that of the least experienced user.

    I’ve also got quite a bit of relevant RL experience and in SL I’ve been running a roleplaying sim for almost 4 years where we meet a lot of new people, as some join SL just to visit my sim.

    So I’d like to think that the idea on my blog is based on some experience.

    From my personal experience and that of the noobs I’ve guided myself, it is clear that most people do want instructions, even if it is just the absolute basic ones.

    How to walk, how to use search, etc.

    My suggestion is to teach people these things by letting them find them out themselves.
    A little flash game that gives them the first bit of experience of walking around, opening a box, sitting on a chair, finding the exit, using search, etc.

    All the things I had to ask others when I fist joined SL to try and find my way of their starters island.

    Nothing (much) to read, just do things as you go along.

    I suggest that SL, like most good games, should have an offworld tutorial where you learn the basics by just trying stuff.

    The absolute basics.

    All the things my noob friends ask me when I guide them into SL for the first time.

    Just the things you need to manage, just like the basic instructions for say, making a cake.

    Has LL ever tried that?

    An interactive 3D game on the LL website where users get to experience a bit of SL basics before they even install SL?

    How is that against the basic factors of human nature?

    I think it addresses it perfectly.

    People love playing games, exploring, discovering stuff.

    In stead of reading low rezzing signs or just being thrown in at the deep end.

    Most of the starters experience’s LL created so far put noobs in the middle of a group of often more experienced people.
    Naked avatars, scary avatars, rude and loud voice chat, griefers, etc.

    You hang around there till the signs slowly rez or you run like hell as soon as you figure out how.
    I know that doesn’t hold new users in SL either.

    It is the reason I left SL when I joined it first in 2007.

    I was here for a few days then decided that it was all too complicated to work and not worth figuring out for a world that seemed so horrible.
    When I returned in 2a009, nothing had changed.

    I wanted to leave again and would have if I had not accidentally discovered how search worked and managed to teleport to a nice place.
    If I had had an experience like the I one I describe on my blog, I would not have left in 2007.

    • I wasn’t discussing your blog. I was discussing an aspect of human nature. Your article was an example of a problem we deal with in SL and RL. I cannot really discuss your writing or blog as I have only ever read the one article and comment on Metareality. Don’t take it personally.

      Sorry for the misuse of pronouns… I should have done more checking.

      In your comment you consistently exemplify the point I was making in my article. People speak from places of little to no knowledge based on personal experience to build a personal opinion then offer it as a solution. The people that know better will reject it for valid reasons. They have tried it, they have been around others that tried it, they have studied the problems and know what you have not addressed.

      While you are correct, people do need training, you don’t seem to associate that need with the individual’s desires and motivations. While I pointed that out in the article you still failed to address it in your comment. Nor do you address the mass of studies and marketing statistics that tell us your idea is the wrong approach.

      • But I do speak from certain knowledge and (other then SL) gaming experience, both as a consumer and creator.
        I also see that they actually do try things that are similar to my suggestion with certain games, as it is based on several tutorials you can experience with a lot of computer games.
        And my suggestion does create a tutorial that people will enjoy and is based on the most basic motivation; curiosity and the wish to achieve.
        I think I did address it in my comment but I feel I didn’t quite manage to explain my idea to you correctly.
        Never mind!

        Do you have any links to those studies and statistics?
        Would love to read more.

        • Wow… as best I can tell you aren’t getting it…

          Stats and studies… just use the Game Design links in the article…

  2. Friends. Friends. Friends. I never would have stuck with SL if it hadn’t been my friends from a MORPG who got tired of the game and came to SL months before I did. By then they’d learned how most everything worked and helped me over the steep learning curve. I had loads of fun and was thankful for a good start (Inspite of the fact I got griefed the first 20 minutes I was in SL. 8^/)

    So now I’m paying it forward, if any new persons ask me for help they get some, always.

    • Your’s is pretty much the process I followed. I came from Uru Live with others when UL closed.

      I too tend to help new people when they ask for help. That seems to be the best way to improve player retention. I think the Lab’s removing viewer tags because of users assaulting new players not wearing the ‘right’ tag was in line with what they had learned from user exit interviews.

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