Interesting article over on the Evil One's site today, called Retaining Players in Online Games. One part in particular stood out to me:
"The research by Nicholas Yee is older and based on Everquest, but there is still some interesting reading in The Virtual Skinner Box. Yee makes some interesting points about how players can be drawn in by making life easy at the start of a game. Players are given instant rewards - like easy combat, quest completion, and upgrades - to keep their attention and reinforce the feeling that playing the game is a positive experience. To explain the title of his text: Skinner is known in psychology for stating that the frequency of an action is linked directly to whether the behaviour is rewarded or punished. Rewards are more likely to cause a repeated action, so if players feel rewarded by playing a game, they are more likely to come back and play some more. This is a model that is easy to see in MMOs - when you start out, everything is easy to kill and it’s easy to hit a new level. As the player progresses, it takes longer to complete quests, becomes harder to make kills, and more experience points are needed to gain a new level."
I'm the wrong person to ask when it comes to Tutorials and Manuals. I never do them and I have yet to read a Manual on anything. I don't read "Idiot's Guides" and I rarely bother with studying manuals. I will often refer to a manual, or keep the Quick Reference Chart handy, but that is about it. I'm much more of a sit down and do it kinda guy.
And even though my Newbie days are well behind me, I can still recall the utter horror of that first day in Eve. This was before I was told the "Right-Click Everything" rule of Eve UI design. I was determined to make my ship fly to the exit gate in Todaki and so, like any other space adventure explorer person would, I simply pointed my ship at the gate and started flying there. This is when I discovered the wonders of the m/s speed of my ship. Huh. I hate math, but that doesn't mean I'm not a super-genius and can do calculations in my head. At first glance I quickly realized that at my current speed, it would take me several days to fly to the nearest gate. My first thought was, this Eve game is boring as shit! My next thought was, I am seriously missing some important information.
At that point I signed up for the Tutorials and went thru about three of them before I felt I had a good handle on things. I still don't remember if the tutorials showed me how to warp, or if that came from another player. I do remember saving some tourists or scientists or someone.
The scary part for me, when I think back to those first days, is how close I was to quitting. Again, my Eve play at the time I started is probably not typical. I was starting Eve to play with my Son. We were both were going thru a rather horrible divorce and Eve seemed like a good place to spend some time together. He'd already been playing for a week or so, so I was determined to see things thru to the bitter end. If it hadn't been for that kind of personal motivation, I honestly don't think I'd have given the game the time it needs to sink in.
And I'm Rixx. How scary is that? I mean seriously, if Eve can be said to have a head cheerleader, that would have to me wouldn't it? And be sure to never EVER call me that btw. Not that there is anything wrong with male cheerleaders.
The new player experience within the first few days of logging in has gotten better since I started. I know this because I have created a few alts over the years and once even allowed myself to make it thru the tutorials, just so I could experience them for myself. I do like to know things first hand.
Saying it is better doesn't mean it's good. So how do we fix it?
1. All Rookie systems are Sanctuaries. No one can enter these Systems. Only those born in them can stay.
2. The first three days are Sanctuary Days. A new player can opt-out of the Sanctuary Program, but those first three days are designed to introduce the new player to Eve.
3. Instead of dropping you into the Hangar and asking you to run the Tutorials, Eve has an Immersion Program for first timers that leads them by the hand thru the basics. This can also be opted-out of, but think of it as a Tour of Eve UI. 10-15mins of hand-holding. This is your Captains Quarters, this is your Hangar - here is how it is organized, here is how the UI works in space, this is you in your Pod, did you know you need to right-click everything? Etc.
4. Graduation Certification. If you complete the Sanctuary Program you receive a certification of graduation and are allowed to leave the system. There should be a ceremony attached, perhaps fireworks outside the station? Upon graduation Eve opens up the chat channels for you and the universe is now open to you. Perhaps graduation triggers some other type of events, but I'd need to think about that some more.
That's it. Automatic 1000% better first days experience. Not hard to implement. Doesn't require tremendous resources or changing much about New Eden at all. Heck if CCP needs help with the Immersion Program I'd be happy to volunteer to write and design it with them.
I'm willing to do whatever I can to help retain more players.
I mean it.