Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hunts, Achievements, and Failure in Second Life

I was just over on New World Notes, reading Hamlet's post about implementing an achievement system in Second Life and all the comments that followed. It is really funny how negative some of the responses are, especially from people who are making money in Second Life. There seems to be an attitude among certain people that if you make money in Second Life, you are successful, and if you don't make money, you have failed. That is, I'm afraid, the system that is in place right now. It means that people get a lot of opportunities to fail in Second Life, and when they fail, they leave. It means that the ratio of sellers to buyers is very, very high. It means that the profit margin, even for successful merchants, is very low. It strikes me as a counter-productive attitude.

Nonetheless, people have their objections so, clearly, any achievement system in SL would have to be something you opted into, rather than something built into the architecture.

Charles2 McCaw made an extremely relevant point. He said:

"Hunts, in a way, are the next best thing to achievement systems in SL. It’s amazing to me how many people come to my shops looking for 'freebies' in these 'hunts.'

Personally, I never go on a hunt, but as a vendor I sign up for as many as I can, so that New York Couture is continuously in one sort of hunt or another.

This suggests that someone could organize an “achievement system” based on the hunt model. Like most other things it could be done entirely in world without Linden involvement. Somebody might even be able to figure out how to monetize this."

I think Charles2 is on to something with his hunt model---that's almost what I was thinking when I suggested scrapbook pages. It could be anything. Trading cards? Coins? Watermelons? It just needs to be collectible and require some effort to obtain.

I love hunts. Apparently other people love hunts, too. They are awfully, awfully popular, especially among new people who are trying to figure out what to do in world. It is a goal directed activity that does a couple of things really well: 1) It encourages people to see places they haven't seen before and 2) It puts people with a common goal into the same place at the same time, making them more likely to talk to and help each other.

Hunters are not in competition with one another. One person's success does not make it less likely that other people will succeed, and hunters who cooperate are more likely to be successful than hunters who go it alone.

It's not about bragging rights, either. It's about seeing all those hunt folders in your inventory, lined up in order, start to finish. It is satisfying, like a big to-do list with all the items checked off. That's my perspective, anyway, and I'm a Gen-X slacker, not an overscheduled, under-leisured, goal-directed Gen-Y, like my daughter. Hunts were the first thing she really _got_ in Second Life.

The only issue I have with hunts is all the freebies. That's counter-intuitive, I know, but if you complete a major grid-wide hunt, you have an inventory disaster on your hands. I have often wished that I could collect chits or coins to be turned in for a high-end prize of my choice at the end of the hunt, rather than having to slog through the hundreds of (mostly delete-able) freebies, landmarks, notecards, and ad textures. Please understand, I am not complaining about the quality of hunt prizes. Things that I would delete, other people would love. Things that I would love, other people would delete. It's about personality, not quality.

So here's how a hunt-model achievement system could work: A network of sim owners (rather than shop owners) set up a hunt, on a massive scale, bigger than anything we've seen so far, with thousands of participants. The objects are hidden well---at the end of a maze, at the end of a riddle game, after completing a class, at the bottom of the sea in a treasure chest---all in the sim's theme, all different from sim to sim. The idea is to require people to actually participate in the activity of the sim to get the object, and people should be prevented from picking up the same object more than once. This is not to say that someone couldn't get two objects from the same sim. Just that those would have to be different objects, requiring different activities. A sim owner could put up as many objects as he or should could come up with activities for.

Included with the object is a landmark to the next sim in the hunt. At the hunt headquarters, there should be a vendor that gives people a landmark to the start of the hunt. For fairness to the sim owners, THIS SHOULD BE A RANDOMIZED START LOCATION. Also at the headquarters should be a vendor that allows people to turn the (no copy/transfer) objects in for (no copy/transfer) prizes at various levels. For instance, if you have five objects to turn in, you can choose from a selection of prizes at the 5-object level. If you have three-hundred-fifty objects, you can choose from some much cooler prizes. If you accumulate seven 50-object prizes, you could trade them in for one very cool 350-object prize. The prizes should be things that cannot be bought anywhere else, unique and recognizable. The very highest level prizes should be rare and exquisite, capable of provoking lust even in seasoned avatars like myself. The hunt should be ongoing. The prizes and activities required should change.

There could even be different networks of sim owners. All the building and making sims could band together, all the gothy-dark sims, all the fantasy roleplaying sims, the entirety of Gor, so that the activities and prizes could vary with the texture of the sims involved, and people could get a real taste of the various communities in Second Life. Perhaps some of the user-created orientation sims could host headquarters vendors for their sim network. We could grab the newbies right away and get them moving around the grid, participating in events and activities, being exposed to the enormous variety of things to do and see in Second Life.

Maybe then they'll stay, and even the merchants would like that.