Self-entertainment and the end of newbies

Sometimes, discussions after the Thinkers meetings prove to be even more interesting than the meeting itself (sorry, Extie! 🙂 ) — mostly because the group tends to become very small and we can throw around a few wild ideas to see if they stick 🙂

One of those is something that has bothered me for several years. You might remember that one of the major strategies for M Linden was how to deal with the first hour experience. From SL Viewer 2.X to Avatars United (and strangely getting rid of the Mentors because it was impossible for LL to support them…), or even planning Facebook integration, pretty much every approach was attempted to make sure that the 10,000 users that register every day don’t immediately leave. The ideas around the first hour experience have sometimes been wild, sometimes ingenious; some ideas seem to be solid and make good sense (and a few might even be implemented!); others, by contrast, seem to be utterly insane (and some of those might get implemented too!). Ideas about how that experience should actually be abound; there is really no limit to our imagination.

Nevertheless, after two years, none of the strategies implemented by Linden Lab has worked. New registrations are still at 10,000 per day and SL has crossed the mythical line of having 20 million registered avatars (and no, they’re not all alts and bots — they’re almost all real human beings, who just registered, logged in once, and gave up just a few minutes after being in-world). But they don’t stay. No matter what we do and say… they simply go away. Some last minutes, some hours, some days, a few sometimes are bold enough to stay for a whole year… but ultimately they go away.


Linden Lab critics simply point out that the ‘Lab is not good at figuring out what newbies need, and put on them all the blame. They criticise the difficulty of using SL’s viewer (specially the SL 2.X viewer, which is now the default). They say that the viewer is too “heavy” anyway, and these days people haven’t got powerful computers to run it, and expect applications to be light-weight, easily installed (preferably running from a Web page), and simple to understand. They claim that only hard-core gamers are able to have sufficient raw CPU & GPU power on their “tuned” desktops to be able to log in to SL, and they correctly point out that the SL resident population has long since been more mainstream and not really “power gamers”.

The truth, however, is that, strangely enough, you get non-gamers into SL all the time, and in spite of all their alleged difficulties, they remain in-world for a long time (measured in years, not hours or days), are very engaged in the community, and outlive most “casual” residents. Some are 80-year-old senior citizens, sometimes subject to several illnesses, with low computer literacy — and nevertheless they have been active for 2, 3, 4, 5 or more years, became fully integrated in their communities, and can use SL proficiently. I know of so many examples of 80-year-olds coming to SL 2-3 years ago and establishing themselves as musicians or performers, event hosters, or content creators that I’m really appalled at how little work I actually do in SL compared to them; only last week, someone I met in-world 4 years ago, and that I thought long lost (even in the physical sense!), has actually created a new avatar two years ago and has set up an art gallery besides opening a business selling skins and clothes to support the tier costs of the gallery. And has done so successfully for two years! He’ll be 78 in a few months.

While at the same time I have a very, very hard time convincing some of my former colleagues, allegedly with similar backgrounds to mine, all of them supposedly “power users”, to come to SL. They simply don’t “get” it. Why?

A short, informal query made to some of my friends reported the same thing: their success in bringing their own friends into SL is limited at best. Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that most of you have around 100 friends and relatively close acquaintances, and have talked to all of them about SL. At most, 1-2 of them might have joined to SL and became regular, active residents. In many cases, the number is zero. Most have tried it out, been around for a while, but quickly lost interest. Now, we would assume that all those people share some of your interests (that’s why they’re your friends), have similar backgrounds, similar education, similar computer-savvyness, and, of course, would not hesitate to add you as a friend on Facebook and log in to that every day. Nevertheless, the experience of a virtual world like SL says little to them. They just register to please you, might exchange calling cards with your avatar, and then quickly lose interest. Why?

If you have had the experience of addressing audiences and talk about SL, you’ll see that the number of people in the audience that will actually register to SL is significant — let’s say 10-30% if you’re not a bad speaker. But none — or at most 1 or 2 — will befriend you, meaning that most did not, indeed, survive the first hour experience. On the other hand, they did come to your presentation — so one would expect they would be interested in SL. So why don’t they remain active residents?

Or you might have helped people out to log in to SL and go through the first steps. Either as a mentor (a formal or informal one), or doing it in RL (among friends, colleagues, students, etc.), you might have patiently gone through the whole process of registering an avatar, going through the first steps, teaching them how to move, how to tweak their avatars, and so forth. How many come later — say, after a few days — and thank you for all your work in getting them through their first-hour experience? My own estimate is that I have helped out perhaps 1000-5000 people (of course, some just to a very small degree) in the past 6 years. Only a handful faithfully remain as active friends on my list and exchange sporadic IMs with me — and in those few cases, it’s not because they dropped out of SL, but because they are so excited having fun with SL all the time that they quickly forget about me (and I forget them). All the rest never return. Although I’m always happy to see a very few who log in to SL every couple of years or so just to see what has changed. Their veredict? “Nothing much”, which is astonishing, when you consider how SL looked in 2004 and how it does today. How can they possibly fail to notice the huge differences?

So that made me think a bit. What have all those people who abandoned SL very early after registration in common? I have no access to LL’s statistics so I don’t know; perhaps it’s easier to ask the other question instead: what have we active residents all in common?

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