Linden Lab will introduce game mechanics to the new user experience, it was revealed during a keynote panel at today's SLCC with the company's lead product developers. People who create a new SL account will start seeing these game-esque features after the next couple months, Michael "Gez Linden" Gesner (an Executive Producer at Linden Lab), told me after the panel. Additional game-type features will be added over the year. This includes interactions that will resemble achievements and quests, he told me, though they may not use these specific metaphors.
This announcement was easily the most important of the panel, because the lack of a game-like structure is a key part of the confusion that causes almost all new SL users to feel frustrated and aimless, and subsequently, quit shortly after installing the client. Gesner, a veteran game developer, is one of many Lindens who've been pushing for reward systems that are proven to work in games.
"Second Life is not a game," as he said during the panel. "However... you can use game mechanics and game systems to help people become more comfortable in Second Life... we're trying to get people over that initial hurdle." This could mean, he said by example, feedback rewards such as audio cues and web profile notifications, etc. for performing basic SL interactions, like using inventory and picking up objects.
A lot of these ideas evolved during a 2.5 week period in which the Lindens built a fun-looking prototype gaming experience, which they showed off during the panel, where the user has to accomplish tasks and solve puzzles in a castle beset by lava pits, ravenous cube monsters, and automated gun turrets. While that particular game won't be part of the new user experience (though I kinda wish it would), we should see what they learned during the process make its way into SL soon.