I reflect a bit on my recollection of being a new player, indeed I have blogged about it a bit. The goal of this recollection is to try to keep myself open to the experience that new players are having with Realms so that I can try to keep useful ideas floating to the surface for new player attraction and retention.
I think it’s important to separate them because getting people in the door means nothing if we can’t keep them and keeping 100% of a very low attraction does little to help the overall situation. Of course both attraction and retention are two-fold, attracting new players versus re-enticing older players and retaining new players versus retaining the existing player base.
Attraction is a matter of advertising I think. Traditionally I’ve felt the best method of advertising is word of mouth. If your friend plays and helps you get up to speed then you’re likely to give it a go. This is how I was recruited into the Realms of Despair by Daltorak so many years ago. For this to be effective as a primary strategy there needs to be a critical mass of players and at present I believe we are probably below that threshold but it’s still a very good way of introducing new players. Are you involved in role playing website? Are there people there who might enjoy Realms RP? Perhaps you have some friends who are big fans of retro gaming, does their interest extend into text based games?
We certainly need to get the word out among the people who are already interested in muds as well, that is why voting on The Mud Connector and Top Mud Sites is so very important. We’ve languished around 25th for some time and recently we’ve beaten our way back into the top 20, but that’s not good enough. I think that we’ll need to keep pushing for the top 10 before this will become a good source of new players, but again every little bit helps.
There has been a great deal of posting happening on the Facebook Realms of Despair group. I think this is lighting a bit of a fire under some old players to come back in and check things out again. An important question is why did they leave originally? I think that topic could fill a few blog posts, but I do think it’s important that we listen to them. Not everything can be addressed but perhaps things that didn’t make sense 5 or 8 years ago would make sense now.
So what about retention? It used to be that the first stopping place of a true new player would be a guild. I always thought that leaving them on their own until level 15 or even 20 was a little tough. It’s the first little while when you need the most help. Of course when channels were active and there were lots of NC online that helped to balance things quite a lot. I am hopeful that the new guild builds will give a good home to new players again. I also hope that the entry level is set somewhere to maximize the feeling of belonging and help.
New players are quite welcome in Arete but it is certainly not the order’s goal to replace guilds as a first stop for new players. Not only do guilds offer a place that is more specialized towards learning a particular class but in principle there would be more people of similar level who you can join in leveling. Nonetheless I think a sense of community and home for new players is important in helping with retention. Everyone who answers questions or even says hello on channels is helping that sense of community.
I’ve seen a great deal of comments about “don’t level too fast” or “enjoy the adventure” but the fact is that when you don’t have an avatar, your goal is to get an avatar. Your whole climb up the ladder is about entering the land of yellow spam and never having to eat, drink or sleep again. *eg* I agree that there are a lot of interesting areas out for lower level players but I don’t think they get visited unless there’s a reason to go there. If a new player is told there’s a piece of equipment that will help their leveling they’ll go there. Unfortunately like Diablo, by the time you can get the equipment sometimes you no longer need it. Still everyone’s going to do things differently. The introduction of lowbie quests have been fairly well done I think there’s room to keep growing along these lines.
What about avatar engagement? The classic problem. There is no end game for Realms… the goals are what you set for yourself. In an age of many players online, you have your choice of runs to attend to help you dress an army of characters. This is something every player, new and old, can contribute to improving. It is frustrating trying to get a critical mass of players together to go topple the next mob. A system that scales mobs attacks and defenses by the number of characters in a room or an area could help this. Any mob that is a tank switcher would need hardly any modification to it’s attack style and any mob that locks onto a single tank while the hitters beat it to death is probably due for an upgrade anyway. So now a single player could reasonably go fight a wider range of mobiles. It shouldn’t be easy. You should be able to be insane and go one on one with Danbala and have a shot to win. It shouldn’t be easy. It should be a bit easier with multiple people to encourage the social aspect. Hey can’t we just take multi checks off things and get to the same place? Maybe. Multi checks do help restrain some of the really over the top behavior that we’ve seen over the years and by keeping things solo we still support the idea that a new player has an equal shot at things. Yes, better equipment will help a veteran, but that’s the privilege that you earn for playing. The Falcon’s Quest is something I think is extremely well done, it gives something that is genuinely worthwhile to your character. More things like this would help.
Fully automated quest system? No… I think that’s overreaching, the quest council does a good job being creative. Let’s untie their hands and give them a little more ability to give out cool prizes. Glory is helpful but unique quest prizes are very nice too.
One of the biggest comments I’ve heard is that our areas are static and that stifles the ability of players to feel like they’re interacting with the game. This is true and valid, from my point of view. There is little interaction between areas because of the structure of objects and area files. You have to be trusted to a certain level before you can figure out the numbers to use to make areas interact with one another and you create couplings that can break if one area changes out of lock step with the other. With modern source control these text files can easily be tracked and dependencies maintained.
I say more interactivity and some source code help in allowing minor edits to an area. When working on the Guild of Spirit I realized how stupid it is that the garden will be lush and green even when Realms tells me it’s snowing. I would have to write another room with the winter description and a program to silently trans everything and everyone in the room to the winter room and then open and close passages so the exits would still work. It’s quite doable. I may even try to put some of this sort of thing into an area. Who would want to do this for more than a few rooms however? I think a high level of interactivity with some sort of overarching story within Realms can help.
Oh well, this is getting long in the tooth. I’d love to hear from anyone reading this with your ideas on how we can make Realms better.