Friday, March 19, 2021

Connections Are Better Than Explosions

When thinking about how to keep new players interested in EVE Online, inevitably someone will pull out the theory that people who lose ships are more likely to remain in the game than those who don't. We even saw CCP Rattati bring the theory up on a recent interview he did with Oz at the beginning of the month. As far as I can tell, the theory tracks back to people's takes on a presentation CCP Rise gave at Fanfest in 2015 titled "Using Science To Help Newbros". 

The segment of the presentation of interest ran from approximately 1:35 to 5:00 (the clip above should start at 1:35). Indeed, players who lost ships during their first 15 days in EVE had a higher retention rate. But correlation does not imply causation. I wish the analysis would have included whether the new players had joined a player-run corporation. Because out of all the tricks game developers can use to keep players engaged in their games, connecting players together is the most effective.

The professionals know the importance of social connections. Raph Koster, former lead designer of Ultima Online and creative director of Star Wars: Galaxies, gave the following description of the importance of players connecting to each other.
Social connections, such as teams, guilds, etc

Pro: Social groups are the primary glue in games in general. Even single-player games have huge social characteristics to them around widely shared experiences and common ground. Social ties introduce a host of extremely powerful things like mutual obligation, economic exchange, group identity, and so on (see my old talk on social mechanics for tons more). Looser connections and community can often work better than a tight-knit community.

Con: Guilds often migrate games as a whole, so you want your user tied to the community via multiple touch points that aren’t in the same guild. Social connections also bring drama, which means community management, moderation, and much more. There’s a vast amount of expertise involved in engaging in governance here, and even though this is arguably the most powerful tool in the arsenal, it’s also very challenging and causes burnout in staff on a regular basis.
My own experience tracks pretty closely with the importance of social contacts keeping me involved in games. I played World of Warcraft for 9 months back in 2005-2006, leaving shortly after I was kicked from my guild for not being able to raid. In Everquest 2, I played from 2006 to 2009, leaving a couple of months after my guild broke up due to drama.

I've completed some major MMORPGs without being in a guild. I managed to finish the Imperial Agent storyline in the original Star Wars: The Old Republic in my second attempt playing the game. The same held true with Guild Wars 2 and the personal storyline in the base version. I also required two attempts to immerse myself in Elder Scrolls Online, where I managed to finish the Morrowind expansion. But in all cases, I got to a certain point and just stopped playing.

Currently, I'm playing two games not counting my latest blog effort. I'm not logging very much into EVE because of my Black Desert Online project. But I did join EVE University within a month or two of starting EVE and was a member of Signal Cartel for a year-and-a-half. Although not currently in a corp, I'm connected to the game through all the connections I made at player meetups and conventions going back to Fanfest 2012.

The second game I'm playing is Final Fantasy XIV. I've been a member of a free company, Celestia, for around a year now. Not only does the FC have an active Discord, but has solid leadership with what in EVE we call special interest groups. We even have an intelligence channel to help people to obtain housing plots. FFXIV is a really good game, and having people around helps.

As I mentioned, I'm also playing Black Desert Online as a research project. I don't plan on sticking around due to the possibility of spending hundreds of dollars. As a result, I'm not really interacting with people. Then again, due to the need to level as much as possible by the end of the month, I don't have a lot of time to talk anyway.

Game developers have a lot of tools at their disposal and play various roles in keeping games active. But at the end of the day, establishing social connections is the best way to retain players. When I listen to game developers talk, I'm always interested to see how they deal with player groups.

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