Saturday, February 21, 2009

Master the game: your attitude helps, too

For any MMO game or virtual world developer, attracting sufficient numbers of paying customers is a crucial part of running their business. There has to be a critical mass of players to keep the game going, and these players also have to foot the bills. After all, these developers are in it for the money, or at least they need enough of it to stay afloat!

That'ss why game developers keep a keen eye on user retention: what percentage of new users decides to stay?. It is often difficult enough to attract new players with free trials and such, and of the few people who come to give a product a spin, even less decide to spend money and stay around. Hence the interest in any games' new player experience: if it's too difficult to master the basics of the game, user retention will be low. For example, a friend of mine decided to try out Second Life, but after bumping aimlessly into trees and other dazed newbies for about thirty minutes, he just gave up, never to return.

Linden Labs has been struggling with this for years, but apparently they are not alone. CCP, Eve Online's creator, is ramping up an expansion to Eve which will feature a completely revamped new player experience, mostly to counter Eve Online's reputation as being notoriously hard to master.

To be honest, I didn't find Eve Online that hard. I didn't have any MMORPG experience at all, so I blamed the difficulties I encountered on myself, thinking it was my problem instead of Eve Online's! Perhaps this attitude allowed me to appreciate the game more than others, who might have expected an experience similar to games they played earlier. Being a total n00b sometimes does have it advantages!

But I think it's more than that. It's also an attitude thing! It's about a new players' willingness to accept a new game as is; it's about having an open mind to the new environment and it's possibilities or problems. It's also about having a certain curiousity and persistance, which helped me overcome the first hurdles in more than one environment. Perhaps something to keep in mind, the next time you try out a new game?

Unfortunately for game developers though, they can't expect the average user to be so forgiving. Hence the need for exquisitely honed and perfectly balanced new player experiences..

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