The Newbie Quitting Point: A MUD Experiment

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not know, MUDs are often considered the early precursors of our modern day MMOs and exist in a distinctly more diverse variety than the branch (diku) that inspired and spawned the graphical games we play today.

There is also the common perception that MUDs are either dying fossils that few people play today, or very niche games with even tinier communities still clinging on like barnacles – an image which presumably might contribute to that decline in popularity.

A number of people just shrug and say “Oh, nobody plays a text game anymore,” which appears to be used as a handy excuse to do nothing about this state of affairs.

This is in interesting contrast to another genre of text games, the text adventures and choose-your-own-path and interactive fiction corner of the web, whose community, niche though it might be, really tries to promote the hell out of their favourite interactive medium with hobbyist websites and community competitions and active academic research and addressing usability issues with newer and different coding/programming languages and parsers and clients to enable the writing and playing of said genre across different platforms.

A friend of mine and I got into a little debate and discussion the other day about MUDs and their perceived decline.

He’s curious as to whether this is really the case or no, and is driven by this curiosity to do a little research about it.

a) Does the decline exist?

and b) if it does exist, why?

As for myself, I’m rather convinced that most MUDs are very much in decline (with perhaps a very few commercial exceptions really making an effort to market themselves and reach out to new audiences, on new platforms.)

We brainstormed up several possible contributing factors:

  • Is it the fact that most MUDs are pure text, with little to no graphics, making them immediately unappealing or inaccessible?
  • Could it be the control scheme? Typing out commands and navigating in cardinal directions is very much a DOS-like holdover.
  • Is it simply the lack of advertising and marketing, meaning that many people may not even have heard about many MUDs out there, or know how to access them, or what features they may offer over graphical MMOs?
  • Maybe it’s the archaic look of many MUD websites, which look like they were made during 1997 in the Geocities’ heyday?
  • Perhaps it’s problems with the client? These days, Windows doesn’t even come with Telnet. So scratch one mode of access. It’s usually a downloadable client – which may make some people pause – or a web browser client, which may have its own host of issues?
  • Or maybe there are so many small, hobbyist MUDs out there that the population of people who are willing to play a text-based game are all distributed among them and spread out too thinly? That they all feel they owe allegiance to only their one particular MUD and view the rest as competitors, thus presenting a disunited community face to the world?

It may very well be all of them are valid and contribute to the overall problem (though it’ll be interesting to know what the percentages are and what primarily turns many people away.)

While we don’t have access to all MUDs, and thus can’t do an overarching survey, our prior history with one MUD did give us a little insider access to an immortal/developer source, whose game logs and metrics register that on the average, 1-2 new players try this specific MUD out -every- day (a game that tends to lack heavy advertising or promotion, and yet new players do stumble across it), but just as quickly, around level 2-3, they quit, never to log back in again.

Since newbie retention is one end of the funnel that determines whether a game faces growth or decline in population (the other end is veterans dropping off from attrition,) this subject is what we’ve narrowed down to exploring for now.

My particular interest is in how similar or dissimilar this might turn out to be from factors affecting newbie retention in MMOs – we see developers scrambling to provide more guided experiences, as in GW2’s latest New Player Experience, which caused a certain hue and outcry among its veterans, or as Bashiok remarked regarding WoW’s barriers to entry, “Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a moveable camera,” suggesting the control scheme might be an aspect to consider as well.

Problem is, neither of us are exactly newbies to MUDs, especially not -this- MUD in particular, even if we did stop playing it for a long time.

What we really need are fresh perspectives and new eyes to take a quick gander around and simulate a newbie (even better if you have zero MUD experience) and then share with us the point at which you might quit.

http://www.realmsofdespair.com/play-now

My assumption is that you’ll only spend 5-30 minutes of your time at the most.

Log in, look around and explore, and at the point where you feel that you might close the client and never return, come back here and post a comment as to where that point was, and why it irked you to the point that you might quit.

No obligations. Wherever the stopping point was for you, is what we want to hear about.

You needn’t even have to make it into the game. It could be “I looked at the website and it was butt ugly, so I stopped” or “I couldn’t find one bit of useful info about wtf the game was, or how to even start playing” or whatever gut response made you give up.

Could be “the client didn’t run” or “I couldn’t get a name I wanted” or “there was too much reading I had to do” or “I got lost and didn’t know where I was” or “I didn’t even know how to navigate or move around” or “it was too overwhelming I didn’t have a clear objective as to what to do” or “I wandered somewhere and died” or “I met someone and they scared me away” or “I never even saw anyone to talk to and got bored” or “levelling up was too slow” or whatever it was for you that prompted a quit response.

Maybe you didn’t get such a response and would be perfectly okay playing the game, and/or it was simply lack of time and too many other games on the plate competing for your attention – we’d like to hear about that too.

If you can’t spare even 5 minutes of your time to play a text-based MUD, I would also like to beg one favour from you:

To leave a comment here stating why it did not seem worth your time to even try a MUD out for 5 minutes – whatever it was that ran through your mind, be it “eesh, text games, I don’t play games without graphics” or “I’m already playing X game, I don’t have time to start another” or “I don’t want to download a new client” or “this is just a sneaky way to promote and advertise this MUD and I’m not falling for it!” (full disclosure: I quit this MUD in 2004 and have zero interest in its health or lack thereof, my friend may be a little more fond of it and I’m mostly doing him a favor with this outreach to my supremely limited blog audience) or whatever it was that prevented you from even clicking on the link and cranking the client up.

This isn’t an official academic social research project of any kind, it’s mostly to sate our curiosity and get a small sample from the group of MMO players that also happen to read gaming-related blogs.

The more responses we get, the more we’ll be able to get a grasp on some of the possible issues, so your help and your time is very much appreciated!

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GW2: A Fresh Start

Probably not your average newbie...

I might be the only two-year old veteran of Guild Wars 2 that is excited about the recently announced changes to the new player experience.

Am I really the only one?

Most of the Reddit posts following the announcement are all in full-on bitch mode about how this change doesn’t affect or cater to players already at level 80, grousewhinecomplain, etc. so it’s hard to share any enthusiasm over there.

See, every so often in either Reddit or the GW2 forums, there’s always going to be this one scared newbie post about “help! I’m level X and I can’t level anymore / don’t know where to go next / getting bored shitless of these hearts.’

And these are the ones that actually bothered or dared to post, looking for help because they want to enjoy the game but don’t know how.

How many others just shut down the game and left?

Only Anet’s metrics know.

Somehow, these players aren’t connecting the dots.

I can’t fathom it personally myself, how hard pressing M and finding the next promising area to wander around in (of which, there are always at least two valid choices for each level range) could be, or what it is they’re doing exactly that’s leaving them bereft of xp.

My first character, I was just so thrilled to be standing in the GW2 world and able to -jump- that I combed every corner and talked to every NPC just because I could. I killed stuff along the way, did hearts until I got tired of systematically following them and then just went hog wild across the world instead, following the personal story through the open world, doing crafting, WvW, dungeons, the works.

Since then, I’ve been guilty of twinking up lowbies with +Power runes, food and wrenches, and those ubiquitous XP boosters and just running through packs of mobs that no one ever touches and gaining 2 levels every hour or less, never bothering with any goddamn stupid heart if I didn’t want to, so I guess my perspective is somewhat skewed by the leveling sandbox that is the open world.

Personally, I know I lost one RL friend to the leveling experience. Said friend came in after much persuasion, made an engineer, kinda halfheartedly got through Caledon Forest complaining the engineer felt weak and then I never saw him again past the start of Brisban Wildlands.

Might be he just didn’t feel like he had enough time to play an MMO, but I don’t think the leveling experience did him any favors either.

For -my- personal purposes, I’m pleased as punch to see the paragraphs:

“Players who don’t need direction can ignore this system and go exploring in any direction they want, do content in any order, and play any content they want exactly as they can currently in Guild Wars 2 as it’s available today.

There are advanced settings in the options menu for more experienced players that will allow you to change the functionality of the content direction system. You can select to disable it if you like the way the game UI functions now, or you can select “world complete” mode, which will focus only on providing direction to areas for world completion.”

That’s me. I level the explorer way, with my world at barely 41% complete before I’ve hit level 80, wondering how the hell do people run out of ways to get experience?

But somehow, they do.

I can only presume they don’t gather anything, don’t play personal story, don’t craft, don’t kill any mobs that aren’t an immediate “heart completion” task and never run into a single orange event because they’re unlucky.

So I’m really really happy that they’ll now have a developer-guided signposting experience that will give them the giant glowy arrows and immediate to-do Achiever list that these less-familiar-with-game-that-allows-exploration people seem to require.

It is, after all, an option. Different strokes for different folks.

Some people really need those warm fuzzy feelings from getting a guitar riff and trumpets blowing when they level up. Whatever helps them stick with the game and come to appreciate it more.

As long as the end result is more players playing GW2 and new blood coming in, what’s the harm?

(I can only hope that they won’t hit level 80 and become utterly confused and adrift at the perceived lack of endgame and no more signposting. But hey, WoW’s already given them an expectation of a bait-and-switch, so I guess they’ll just have to adapt to learning how to choose their own goals when they hit GW2’s endgame.

Worse come to the worse, they’ll have plenty of Living Story chapters offering a clear directed experience there too. Step 2: Pay 200 gems to unlock each! Step 1: Earn gold to afford 200 gems!)

A better extended tutorial experience that spells out systems so that lowbies coming in can learn and appreciate each nuance can only mean slightly more informed newbies when they hit max level. That’s a good thing, since they’re going to have to keep pace with practiced veterans getting older (and more burnt out or jaded) with each patch.

Hell, I’m excited to take at least one more character through the whole experience just so I can see if these new rewards are any more fun.

Maybe I’ll ditch the boring human mesmer and make a fun charr mesmer with a transmuted necro skull mask and run around confusing and tormenting all the things – new mesmer meta, yaaarrr.

Plus, a better paced Personal Story that actually gives you story chunks, rather than getting stupidly staggered out between levels where you’ve totally forgotten what happened previously by the time you’ve gone and helped some random Norn, fed feed to cows and cows to Charr, turned into random animals, fallen off some jumping puzzles, and now have got to go back to the Personal Story NPCs again.

Of course, the one worrisome casualty from this may just be key-farming. I guess those level 20 experience scrolls I’m accumulating will eventually have a use and equate to a few more keys.

Time to get a few more 20-minute runs in before the feature patch, methinks.

NBI: The Newbie Blogger Initiative is Back!

Got an opinion about games?

Taken a bunch of screenshots or have MMO stories you’d love to share?

Don’t like that your comment gets lost in a sea of inane utterings from people out to spam and troll, rather than engage in a discussion?

What you need is your very own blog!

This October, the Newbie Blogger Initiative is back for round 2!

Its goal: To create a community of game bloggers that can offer a friendly network of support and encouragement for any and all aspiring newbies who want to be part of that amorphously-defined “blogosphere.”

Throughout the month, sponsor blogs will be helping to promote the event and provide blogging advice.

They’ll be doing their best to be eyes and direct traffic to new blogs to assist in getting over that first hurdle where you proudly post something online and promptly deflate when tumbleweeds roll by and find yourself begging for even a bot to be interested in visiting…

My blog and I are happy to be living proof that the NBI works.

stats

I joined the tail end of the NBI in May, and as you can see, the first month of June was… heh.

Things have only gotten better from there.

I owe a big debt of gratitude to both Bhagpuss and Ravious, two venerable blogging veterans who somehow enjoy my writing so much they hurl traffic in my direction every chance they get.

Hugh from the MMO Melting Pot was also instrumental in sending initial visitors my way, and when MMO Gypsy Syl of the then Raging Monkeys (I still love that name!) stumbled over one of my posts, things really got rocking when I got added to her blogroll.

You know why I name names?

Forget the stats, this is the TRUE magic of the NBI.

It’s the people you meet. The exchanges you have. (Of hopefully friendly banter.)

The new blogs and wonderful writing you get to read.

All my colleagues and fellow alumni of the first NBI, I still read with avid interest and occasionally jump in with a comment – Eri / J3w3l, Ocho, Paeroka, Rakuno, to name just a few.

By starting your blog now, you get to be the class of 2013, with all the magic that happens when you have a collective to interact with.

Convinced?

If you’re a new blogger, here’s what to do:

Come by the Newbie Blogger Iniatitive forums and read this introductory post on how to get started with it all.

Then sign up, ask your questions, make your plans, read whatever surrounding resources you feel like and don’t forget to write!

For sponsors, it’s also not too late to join in the fun.

Pop by the forums to check out all the stuff planned in October, sign up as a sponsor and participate!