Gamificationing

Little people with letters on themI think I’ve figured out why I so often disagree with Hamlet Au‘s opinions about how Second Life should change. As I speculate here, I think Hamlet is talking as an investor or a business consultant, saying what he thinks will improve new-user signups, or retention, or profitability in general; whereas I’m talking as a resident, saying what I think would make the world a better place to be a resident in, for people who are at least to some extent like me. Of course the world has to continue to exist :) in order to be a good place to reside, so I am somewhat concerned with profitability, but it’s not primary.

So for instance when Blue Mars decided to give up development of the actual virtual world, in favor of an “is my AV hot or not?” app for cellphones, that may have been a great decision in terms of bottom line, but presumably was not great news for those who enjoyed the actual virtual world.

And when Hamlet praises the new “Rank” system on the Second Life official forums, and hopes that it will soon have an equivalent inworld, I think he means that he believes (based on his knowledge of similar systems in places like the 2.5D Habbo Hotel (“Habbos Like: army cool diceplaya elite police force financier football friends fun funny habbo habbo government job justin bieber lol love music nypd pays police white house”)), that this would increase new-user retention, concurrency, profits, etc; but when I say I think it would be an awful idea, it’s because I have a really hard time imagining how such a thing would actually improve my experience of the world, aside from any profitability impacts it might have.

I remember when I briefly tried “vSide” awhile back, there was some system of “Creds” or something, based on something like a ranking system or achievements or friends or money spent or something, and various items that I might have wanted to buy were only available if you had enough “Creds”, and I didn’t. And this turned me off, and was one of the reasons I stopped going there; one thing I don’t want a virtual world telling me is that I Am Not Good Enough!

On the other hand I do appreciate the value of a constant little stream of validation in any activity. So maybe it would be possible to imagine some sort of “Gamification” of SL that would, rather than telling you that you are currently Not Good Enough to get some particular item or upload some particular kind of content, instead give you little attaboys, little blips of praise or accomplishment. Might be worth thinking about.

World of Warcraft has (at least) two almost entirely separate reward and rank systems, one of which I think is completely inappropriate for SL, and one of which might actually be interesting.

The inappropriate one is the obvious one: every character has a level, and the most obvious driving force behind the entire game is leveling up. You level up very very fast at the beginning, which provides a steady stream of little rewards to start with, while you’re still perhaps finding out what-all there is to do in the game. Low-level characters can only go to low-level places, and use low-level items, and fight low-level monsters. A high-level character can kill a low-level character of the other faction with a single blow.

Importantly, it’s a ranking system among characters (“toons”), but not among players; in general each player is expected to have a number of toons, and the level 15 druid that you’re talking to is quite likely just the latest toon of someone who also has two or ten level 85 characters of other classes and races.

And this would all be completely inappropriate for Second Life. SL isn’t about some ubiquitous overarching story that everyone is taking part in, some set of predefined ladders that everyone goes up and that everyone is interested in. It’s not about creating a character, leveling it up one of the available ladders, improving one’s gear, and then starting a new character with different abilities, to climb a slightly different ladder. SL can be this, if you get into one of the RP systems, but that’s entirely up to the player; it’s not baked in. And it shouldn’t be; changing SL to be that way would be like making it into an “is my AV hot or not?” app for cellphones, or for that matter into a sales platform for dishwashers. It might be profitable, but I (and I think most residents) would lose all interest.

On the other hand, WoW also has the more recently-added “Achievements” system. Achievements are things that you do outside of the level system, and that get you at most little decorative rewards, like a new title to display over your head, or a pet that will follow you around but doesn’t actually do anything in the game. And the vast majority of achievements don’t even do that; it’s just another achievement that you’ve achieved, the game makes a cool little noise and informs anyone standing nearby and anyone in your guild who happens to be logged in at the time, but that’s it. There’s a “compare achievements” mechanism that you can use to compare your achievements with those of anyone nearby, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of anyone using it.

Could we have a similar system in SL? Maybe. It wouldn’t be like the thing on the forums at all, with every person having one single rank-like title (“Honored Resident”, “Member”, “Advisor”, gak); instead there’d just be alot of checkboxes that you could either ignore entirely, or work more or less hard on getting them checked off. Having checked off alot of them would not get you any special powers on the forums or in the world. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough; tying them to special powers leads to cheating and hacks and drama and destruction.

There could be a bunch of very easy checkboxes, so that new residents get a nice welcoming stream of validation messages when they start out. And it should be easy to ignore those checkboxes you never intend to check off; someone who has no interest in combat games should not be constantly prodded by the viewer because they have not yet checked off the “kill or be killed in a combat game” box. (I really hate the thing on Facebook or wherever it is that’s always reminding me that I’ve provided only 47% of the intimate personal information that they’d like me to reveal; that’s all I ever intend to provide, thank you very much!)

So what would be some fun checkboxes? I’m sure people are making lists like this all over the SL web even as I type. :) Maybe:

  • Find the Friends List panel
  • Find the IM and Group IM panels
  • Say something in open chat
  • Walk!
  • Fly
  • Teleport
  • Find the world map
  • Teleport to somewhere on the world map
  • Receive an IM
  • Send an IM
  • Offer friendship to someone
  • Be offered friendship by someone
  • Buy something / spend Lindens
  • Sell something / receive Lindens
  • Rez a cube
  • Change the texture of something in Edit mode
  • Create a new piece of clothing / body part / notecard…
  • Join a group
  • Create a group
  • Take a snapshot

And so on and so on. :) Most of those are newborn sorts of things; I think I’ve done all of them but “create a group”.

We could argue that once someone’s been inworld for awhile, they will have found other sources of validation and fun besides the little achievements. On the other hand it’s easy to imagine the occasional olderbie achievement: “Rez your 500’th cube” or “delete your 10,000th thing from inventory” or “make your 100th friend”. Even “own an entire sim”. How about “be hired by Linden Lab”? :)

I dunno. I think I can convince myself that these things might be fun, and might increase new-user retention some. On the other hand I’m not sure, given all of the things that might be fun and might increase new-user retention, if this is anywhere near the top of the list. (Get sim-border-crossings working first, ffs!)

:)

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