Here are the facts:
OtherSpace gets maybe 20-30 new visitors logging on to check out the game during an average month. Of those, maybe five stick around to give it a chance. Of those, we’re lucky if one really commits long-term to the character they’ve created.
From a promotional standpoint, this can be fairly demoralizing, especially when we have gone to great lengths to make the game so damned easy to join.
So, it occurred to me, maybe I’ve been thinking about it all wrong. Maybe ease of entry is the problem. People run through the simplified character creation in-game, usually without reading the material, just to make it onto the grid and disconnect before anyone can interact with them. Maybe the simplicity of the process puts forward a message like “Hey, you can join. Or not. It’s no big deal. Whatever.” And that sounds like the wrong message to me.
Maybe the message needs to be: “We’re concerned about quality. We’re looking for commitment. We don’t want just anybody running around the place. We’re exclusive. But we want to make sure you feel at home too.”
If we turn things to a new perspective, then those five people who give OtherSpace a real chance each month are the basis for us to say, for purposes of discussion, that we’ve got five open new player slots each month. We could set up a web-based character tutorial, have newbies read through it, and then submit an application via email at its conclusion. If a player’s application is approved, we set them up for entry into the game and close one of the available slots for that month. If we’re lucky enough to get six people interested during a month, then we start a waiting list. With that, perhaps we manage to turn a perceived weakness into an actual strength.
It’s not just a matter of being exclusive, though. I also want more of a hand in the character creation and player introduction process. I don’t want to miss a chance to communicate with potential new players – and an email application allows fairly rapid response.
One key to player retention has to be the main website for the games. Currently, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it fails to do the job of hooking new players and providing them with easy-access information. Even my worst-designed sites for JTS at least had promo/newbie material in one place, a distinct and separate forum, and a Wiki for collaborative lore-gathering.
The site as it is now runs on a robust Drupal engine that’s versatile and handy IF you know how to use it and IF you’re willing to create an account to register for it. It’s rather telling, though, that I see more activity from players on my personal blog here in a day – no registration required – than I’ve seen on the main site during the past week.
So, I’m putting up this poll to see what other folks recommend. I vowed not to screw too much with the website again, but if it’s broken, then I need to fix it. Share your thoughts!
Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of new people join OtherSpace. They create characters, move through the application process, get approval for the grid, and some stick around for a very long time.
Most don’t, though. That’s the hard truth.
Here’s a glimpse of our activity on OtherSpace during the past year:
* 289 characters active in the past 365 days.
* 129 characters active in the past 30 days.
* 70 characters active in the past 7 days.
* 41 characters active in the past 24 hours.
Now, that’s not bad for a text-based original-theme space opera MUSH: We’re falling into a niche that’s far more exclusive than most MMORPGs. However, it’s still pretty dismal. Not “lock the doors, turn out the lights, and fasten the shutters” dismal. Just “what aren’t we doing well enough and how can we improve” dismal.
Some retention failure can be explained by the ease of our character creation system. Years back, you couldn’t get on the grid without answering 20 questions and submitting a biography that was no shorter than 500 words. So, people who made a character *committed* to the process, *invested* effort on the front end, and felt more connected to the character. Now, you can walk through a handful of rooms in the chargen area and step onto the grid within just a couple of minutes. Writing a biography gets you the RP Points that you’ll want to spend on your character’s +sheet, and these days we only require 250 words. We made it simpler to make the games more appealing, with a lower barrier of entry. But that lowered barrier comes with a price: If you don’t have to do much to get the character, you’re not terribly motivated to *keep* the character. But at least they gave the game a chance, right?
Where else might we be falling short? How can we do more to connect with players, build their commitment to the game, and foster a sense of belonging that keeps them coming back?
I’m currently pondering the idea of a veteran rewards system, which would have various thresholds. If you’ve been active on OtherSpace for X amount of time, you’re eligible to get Y goodies. We might also do something with specific recruiting rewards. Catering to a player’s love of free stuff, maybe we can win an exchange of dedication and participation.