Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest!

Everyone has to be a new user at some point. The process, it seems, is hard on everyone. ourWorld uses a guest system for brand new users. Before you have even saved your character or chosen a name, you are a guest. Your name is simply "guestXXXXX" and you can roam around, chat, and play games. Many of the complex interactions are prohibited, for an assortment of practical reasons, but you can certainly get the gist of the game. Because we don't know how old guests are, they are also limited to the chat filter reserved for players under 13 years old, just in case.

Guests, however, have become somewhat controversial. They can be difficult, rude, annoying, and generally unpleasant. In some cases guests are existing players who want to be jerks without tarnishing the reputation of their normal identity. Many established players want nothing to do with them, and as a rule avoid the public places where guests spend most of their time. This means that guests only get to socialize with other guests. Even the well intentioned majority of players are subjected to (possibly) the worst social experience the game has to offer in a small percentage of highly concentrated anonymous bad actors.

We've discussed a number of possible solutions. Here's a sample:
  • Guest Island, a guest only location where new guests appear. Guests must register to leave Guest Island. That doesn't really solve the problem, it just insulated existing members from it.
  • Muting Guests - If you want to talk, Pick a name and save your character. This we're trying out. We're concerned that it will have too strong a negative impact on full registration. (I'm in favor of it, though.)
  • Limiting where Guests can travel. - Like Guest Island, but open to all players. The Boardwalk in ourWorld is already Guest-central, so this wouldn't be a huge change. This might be a good idea, provided the location we choose is dynamic enough to hold their interest.
All of these things narrow the Guest Experience, which seems like a bad thing, but its not. First, we want you to register, and its really easy. Requiring registration before getting the full free experience isn't too much to ask. Most sites require registration before you get in at all. Also, too much experience for a first-time can be overwhelming. ourWorld's complexity overwhelms a lot of new players. They stand there on the virtual street surrounded by choices having no idea what to do.

From a idealistic standpoint, I want a guest experience that is so clear and engaging, that guests don't have time or desire to be jerks. Players tend to be less abrasive once they've earned even the smallest quantity of social capital. I wonder if there's a way to provide that right out of the gate?


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