The Newb Effort

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4 years 9 months ago #29 by Deadsun
The Newb Effort was created by Deadsun
This is a post I wrote over a year ago for the other zone sysops when I thought there was a good chance at uniting them to try and create a place that we could help retain new players. None of the zones do that now - TW used to in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, the major sysops couldn't agree on how it was going to be run, and the effort didn't happen (yet).

The post was reposted by Red_X on the TW forums a while back, so it's been public, but I thought I would repost it here for anyone to see and reference. It is long - I did not write it as a PR effort, but as a full throttle backgrounder for what I think is needed to get new players to stay in the game. To me, the effort is not dead. There are still many possibilities to start retaining newbs again.

--hallu

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The Newb Effort

To reverse the trend of the downward spiraling Subspace population, we must create a situation where new players can immediately have FUN and want to discover the depth of our classic and beloved game. How can we do this?

I. Declining Population

Subspace has been losing population for several years now instead of growing. Why?

Failure to retain new players. We get many new players coming in every day but almost none of them stay. Why?

ALL zones are now inhabited exclusively by multi-year vets, so a newb (meaning a *actual* brand new player) goes 1-10 (over and over), and as any sane human would, leaves. Did this always happen? Why is it different than in years past?

Yes. There is no "newb" zone now. In the beginning, everyone was a newb. Alpha was an _enforced by points_ newb zone. Chaos was enforced by points intermediate zone. Later, TW was the newb zone from about 2000-2005-ish, when it had a population of about 600. Since then, TW has gradually transitioned to what I call a "mature club." This is a common pattern -- I've seen it happen in more than one sports club irl. Chaos has been a "mature club" for many years now.

Why do we lose close to 100% of newbs? The problem stems from a lack of separation of skill levels. Once players are 3 skill levels apart in playing ability, NEITHER player will have fun (unless they are in a noncompetitive, teacher-student relationship). These two players in a situation that is supposed to be competitive, the lower player loses constantly (and doesn't really understand why; not enough experience/knowledge), and the upper player wins easily; too easily. In a "mature club" the new player is driven out, and the older, veteran players stay. The vets say they want new players, but their (understandable/rational) behavior drives them away. In the longer run, the vets will sporadically leave also, creating a slowly spiraling downward population where the club slowly dies, or asymtotes down to some static, low activity level. This is where we find ourselves with SS today.

And this is why I say advertising won't help us atm. Any new players coming in will go into the existing zones and die repeatedly to vets and leave. Some vets even relish killing the newbs over and over and driving them out. Before we start to advertise in earnest, we need a place for newbs to go and have fun.

II. Retaining New Players

How can we retain these new players? And when I say new players, I mean *brand* new. If the person has been there a week and/or is playing regularly, they are not new; they are intermediate; they are already captured. We need to focus only on the actual new players; capturing them, and getting them to the point where they can start to compete in the easiest arenas.

In any video game, you get about 1-5 minutes to capture a player. Usually within 1 minute the player is either having fun, or wants to leave.

I've tried a number of things to get players to stick it out in Chaos until they are competitive (which is approx 2-3 months of daily play; 1 month for the exceptionally talented - historically Chaos only gets players who 'graduate' from other zones). I've tried spending hours with a new player over a series of days, showing them the skills, getting them to understand energy management, etc. Doesn't work. I can get a very few to stick around for a week or three, but that's it. Most still leave within 5 mins after dying a few times.

I've thought extensively about a handicapping system for chaos/svs. I have some very interesting/cool ideas, but every handicapping system I've seen irl has sucked and can be gamed -- and I think we have even more challenges making one work within an anonymous video game. My handicapping system is more suited to a new zone, not to a legacy SVS zone.

Several of the zones already have a "newb arena" of one sort or another. All failures... This is not an easy thing to 'get right' -- a newb does not want to read text, or just fly aimlessly around. They want to get in and play, understand what's going on, and feel in control.

The only thing I've seen work is for a new player to be brought in by a friend who holds their hand for those dozens of playing hours while they learn. But that is extremely rare. I tried to revive this team oriented behavior by recreating squad stats and Reset Winners in Chaos hoping that would spur squad leaders and members to recruit and train people. Hasn't happened in 1.5 yrs -- not nearly enough anyway.

The solution is for the club operators (the sysops) to enforce a separation of skill levels -- at first at least. Allow the vet players to be teachers if they want (most don't, really). How can we do this?

We need an Alpha again. A zone/arena where newbs are _forced_ to go at first, so they can:
1) play other similarly skilled newbs (only!)
2) get training from helpful vets
3) have fun, feel powerful and in control immediately!

III. Why Do Newbs Stay?

What do newbs want when they come in?

1) They want to have FUN, feel in control, and ideally, powerful
2) They want to understand the basics of what's going on; it's ok to die if they understand why it happened
3) They want to "win" which usually means "kill someone" early on. If they can't win, they should feel like they could if they play a little better -- AND they understand what the 'little better' means.

IV. How to Give Newbs this Fun

How can we supply this?

Side note: Vets understandably don't recall what it's like when they first entered the game. It is absolutely overwhelming for newbs -- explosions, the chat, walls, bombs, ships flying around, the spam, the bewildering array of icons and controls.... What's important?!?!? Energy? wtf is that? 90% of the time, newbs won't talk to me _at all_ which is mostly because they don't even realize someone is trying to talk to them -- what is green text anyway?!?!?

We need to make sure that only a minimal set of 'important stuff' (aka the stuff they want to do) is assailing the newb when they first come in. A relatively empty/quiet arena is an advantage here.

There are a number of ways to go here, and we need user testing (I'm big on actual data, not what ppl imagine new players will do) to see what works best. One way is to have a series of arenas with tasks to help the newb learn the minimal basic skill set. Another way is to have it all within one arena (can it be separated sufficiently?) We'll need to do some creative thinking and testing here to find what works for most newbs. Again, actual interaction/play is CRITICAL. Reading or listening to a vet describe what to do is not good enough. They need to start 'doing stuff' right away (#1 2 and 3 above).

V. SS Skill Set

What is the minimum SS skill set?

Here is a task analysis of the ss skill set. Please comment about it -- I'm sure it can be improved.

1) Where am I? Identify your own ship. Put all newbs in the wb at first
2) How to fly? Arrow keys
3) How to start to control flight? Pick up greens or flags or fly through openings.
--this marks the first minute -- newb should have picked stuff up within the first minute

4) What is a wall? What happens when I hit it? e.g. Navigate some passage.
--some players will be happy to fly around and get a feel for controls at this point. But many will not. They will want to start to try and kill stuff.

5) How do I shoot? ctrl to fire bullets; tab for bombs;
--now a player could go against another new player, or a bot, or a sacrificial lamb of some sort.

6) Why did I die? The concept of energy management.
--here is a critical juncture in the learning process. In one shot kill zones, the answer is obvious because the game design has been simplified. In the more advanced zones, where it takes concerted dmg to kill someone, it is not so obvious, but completely critical. The answer is actually the same -- your energy went below 0.

I've had some success training newbs in this by giving them energy view in a dueling box. Then having them shoot and watch their energy go down. Then close bomb a wall and see what happens to their energy (critical for zones with prox bombs). Then shoot another player and watch their energy go down until they die.

I'd like to give newbs energy view at this point, but we have to make sure that wiley vets can't abuse this to get energy view in a 'real' arena inside the hosting zone.

7) How do I kill? Energy management again.
--If we deal with #5 well, this is a non-factor -- they already know the answer. At this point conveying to them that vets are _very_ good at this, is important. This helps the newb understand why they died but the vet did not.

At this point, the newb is fully ready for combat against similarly skilled players. They may wish to return to the basics to figure things out further; ask questions of the vet/teachers. Have them do many duels now.

Side note: We want the vet/teachers to have prestige; certainly within the newb arena, but also within SS. Other vets should be thanking them for their time. Maybe giving them the title of Sensei? Ideas here? :)

8) How to repel? shift ctrl
--this is the most powerful, and powerful-feeling toy going.

Now, we're post Newb.1, and into Newb.2 - if they are still around, they are having some fun and can be captured as long as they're not dumped into the 'deep end of the pool' for a while.

9) What is the square in the lower right? Radar.
--how to get the bigger picture. At this point the question of screen resolution comes up. The Sensei should help them get the best resolution (bigger is better in general).

10) How to attach/turret? F7
--this is a critical thing to learn early. It gives the newb a sense of team, and can help a new player learn how to aim and shoot, and conserve energy without worrying about flying.

That is the minimal set. Now I'll list the remainder of abilities/toys in approximate order of importance (def needs improvement):

11) Thors

12) Rockets -- powerful!

13) Bursts

14) Portals

15) Antiwarp

16) Greening -- maybe this should come earlier.

17) ?status -- relate it back to greening

18) Cloaking

19) Xradar

20) Bricks

21) Bouncing Bullets

22) Prox

23) Flags -- remember that newbs won't be up to flagging for a while, so this can come later.

24) Bounty

25) Decoys

26) Concept of bomb and bullet levels

27) Balls and passing; Goal scoring.

That about covers the entirety of SVS sans bot cmds. I am not trying to address in-game tactics (yet).

VI. How do the Newbs get to the Right Place?

How can we get the newbs to the Newb-Only arena?

Every zone will need a bot to identify new players, and quickly (~5-10 seconds) *sendto them to the newb arena.

How does the bot NOT send vet players there?

Several things can be done to not send vets there:
1) If the nick has never been seen before by the bot (or is marked as a Newb in the DB), they might be a new player.
2) The bot will have a command: !vet which will prevent the bot from sending the new player, and permanently mark that name as a vet. Vets will learn this command very quickly.
3) If the player does a ?go quickly, they must be a vet -- mark them as such.
4) If the nick has >50 hrs usage, they are a vet.
5) If the player belongs to a squad, they are a vet.

#2 above is the ultimate fall back for vets to not be bothered.

What happens if a vet goes to the Newb-Only arena? A bot there should do similar tests to those above to prevent malicious vets from chasing off newbs. If a player comes in, and immediately starts fighting and killing the other newbs, they are a vet. Spec them. The Sensei's should be able to ID vets from their play and *spec them and such.

VII. Newb Arena Staffing and Location

All SS zones should try to provide Sensei's to staff the newb-only arena. We do not want this to be a single zone effort. I view this as an SS-wide effort that can help us all. I do not want to own this, or be in sole charge of it. I will do what I can to help get it off the ground, but I think it absolutely needs a person completely dedicated to this effort (which I cannot do -- I have too many other irons in the fire).

It makes the most sense to me to house this inside TW. I understand some people's reluctance to do that, but TW is under new management, and I think is more open minded about the health of the game in general. To me, if I see 600 ppl in TW again, I'm going to be seeing 100+ in Chaos again too. I don't want people having a zero-sum mindset about this effort (i.e. your zone gains a player, means my zone loses a player -- a negative and false way to view most of the world's systems). We must all agree and be sure that it is not just a training area for TW play alone. If we can all get hooked up on the arena sharing system, then it doesn't really matter where the newb-only zone is hosted. All active arenas will be easily, and equally accessible.

VIII. Promotion and Advertising

Once we have the newb-only arena up and going and having some success, we can start to advertise and have it make a difference -- the new players that come in will have a much greater likelihood of having fun and sticking around.

I see this being the precursor, and also dovetailing with the SSBR effort, which is one version of the PR side to revive the game.

IX. Conclusion

Ok that is the core of the idea. I'm sure there are many improvements and refinements we can make. Perhaps some of this unworkable. I've probably forgotten some major items.

My sole concern is to get more ppl playing this great game in all its myriad forms. Thanks for participating. Open for comments!!!

--hallu

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