Last Friday's post on the need for an achievement/ranking system to reward positive Second Life activity has generated an interesting (and mostly negative) response, both in Comments and in the blogosphere. On the latter front, the top prize probably goes to Kanomi Pikajuna's brilliant, wisenheimer parody.
Despite a lot of objections, however, several salient facts remain: Even discounting MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Maple Story, the very largest open-ended, non-game virtual worlds have achievement systems: Habbo (12 million monthly users), YoVille (11 million+) Gaia Online (7 million monthly users), and so on. (Source: My GigaOM Pro analysis of the virtual world market and trends.) What's more, these worlds are growing far faster than SL. Gaia launched in 2006, for example; the downloadable (and achievement-heavy) Free Realms attracted 5 million users in a few months. Achievement/ranking systems have also proven successful in other user-created platforms: For instance, the great and extremely large consumer rating site Yelp has awards for its most prolific reviewers. (In fact, I'll go so far to say every successful, mass market Web 2.0 system or service has an achievement/ranking system of some kind.)
Why do they work so consistently?
The easy answer is that they appeal to our baser competitive nature, and a superficial desire to "win" the game. There's some truth to that. A more complex answer, in my opinion, also recognizes how achievements add tangible substance to goals we already have. Verbose Yelp reviewers want to publicize their opinions, and showcase their writing talent; achievements simply solidify those aims. We go into a virtual world with an intent to explore, recreate, and socialize, and often in the case of Second Life, to create. But in the beginning, these objectives are nebulous, and all too many times, seem to go nowhere. A system of awards would thus add coherence and structure to these pre-existing desires, while giving new users a progress ladder that gently encourages them deeper into the world, and discover what they really want.
What's the best way to implement a system like that in Second Life, without it leading to Kanomi's comedic morass? Hopefully a topic for a future post.