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.