Welcome region checklist

With some help from scripters, designers, and other hypergrid travelers, we’ve been bringing the Hyperica directory up-to-date.

As part of the process, I travel to a lot of grid welcome regions — there are about forty grids that are on the hypergrid that are already in the directory, and we’re coming across more new grids all the time.

Overall, the quality of the welcome regions has improved significantly over the past couple of years, as grid owners have had time to build nice regions.

Plus, the wide availability of free, CC-licensed content from creators like Linda Kellie makes it easy for a grid to quickly create a pleasant welcome region with fully stocked freebie stores.

What is a welcome region?

A welcome region is the region visitors go to when they log in for the first time, or teleport to the grid’s hypergrid address without providing a region name.

For example, hg.osgrid.80 goes to LBSA Plaza, yoursimspot.com:9000 goes to the YourSimSpot region, virtyou.com:11002 goes to the NineSim region.

If you don’t know what your welcome region is, check with your hosting provider or try to teleport in from another grid.

This is the 3D equivalent of your website’s home page. It is the first impression your visitors have of your grid. Make it count.

Here is a checklist of some must-have items for any welcome region.

1. Attractive landing point

When people teleport in for the first time, they’ll typically land at ground level in the exact center of the region.

This landing point should look out on the best view you’ve got. Not at the underside of a wood floor, or an empty dungeon basement, or the bottom of a lake. Okay, okay, there are grids that can make any of those work.

But, for the most part, underwater landings are accidental — the region’s designers forgot that first-time visitors won’t have landmarks saved that take them straight to their favorite locations.

It can be extremely difficult for a new visitor to figure out how to get out of a dungeon, or out of lake — especially if the designers have put structures on top of the landing point that make exiting impossible.

So make sure you teleport in and out of your welcome region, so you know where visitors land, keeping in mind that setting a different landing point for your region may not always work. Err on the safe side.

The visitors’ first view of your grid should be welcoming yet informative. There should be enough stuff there for them to know what to do, but not so much stuff that they get overwhelmed — or get tired of waiting for it to load.

2. Navigation

Visitors want to explore your grid. Make it easy for them. Put up attractive signs to other regions on the grid. These could be in the form of a teleportation board, or a single animated sign that shows a rotating gallery of the grid’s top destinations.

Think of it as the 3D equivalent of your website’s navigation menu. It should be obvious, useful, and in a logical location.

Be careful to differentiate destinations that are on the same region, on other regions of your grid, or on other grids. One possible way to do this is to use hypergates for travel to other grids, a teleportation board for travel to other regions, and street signs for teleports to your welcome region’s local freebie shop, meeting area, or land rental offices.

People tend to be more willing to do local teleports, to save themselves the trouble of walking from place to place. Once they’ve explored the welcome region, they may want to visit some of the other regions on your grid. Once they’re done, they’ll want to go on to other grids.

To make it easy for your visitors to get back to your welcome region give them a landmark, or put up signs on the other regions of your grid that take them back to the welcome region — the way that a “Home” button on a website always takes you back to the home page.

3. Freebies

Almost every grid has some freebies in its welcome region. Some go overboard, providing fully-stocked freebie stores that take a long time to load. Others go the minimalist route, putting out a single box filled with starter clothing and accessories.

A middle-of-the-road approach would be to offer a selection of starting avatars for people who created new accounts on the grid. One click, and your avatar now looks like the avatar in the picture. A large freebie store can be overwhelming to a newbie who may not yet know the way around their inventory or hasn’t yet learned how to unpack objects.

For hypergrid visitors, offer them souvenirs that are unique to your grid, such as T-shirts with your grid’s logo on them. You can also use the welcome region to showcase unique freebies from your grid’s top designers — with teleport links to their full stores for those who are inspired to see more.

FleepGrid's welcome area, FleepGrid Plaza, packs in a lot of content -- and a lot of freebies. It's beautiful, but can take a while to load.

4. Meeting area

Take a cue from OSGrid’s LBSA Plaza and make your welcome area a popular gathering spot for residents. That way, when newbies log in for the first time, or hypergrid visitors teleport in, they will see a popular, busy area and have a good impression of the grid. Plus, there will be folks around to answer questions about the grid.

Encourage folks to hang out by creating a pleasant outdoor cafe within eyeshot of the landing point, install a sitting area around a campfire, or create an overlook to a particularly inspiring scenic view.

Make sure there’s nothing that blocks the view of the people from the landing point — no trees, signs, walls, or buildings. Not everyone knows how to use a mini-map and even folks who do will often mistakenly assume that a region is empty simply because there’s no one else immediately visible.

Try and schedule at least one mentor or greeter to be around at all times — or, at least, during the popular hours for your grid. Encourage greeters to make friends with visitors — they can even make friends with folks who come in over the hypergrid — and to offer a tour of some popular grid destinations.

5. Calendar of events

Another way to demonstrate that a particular grid is busy is to post an up-to-date calendar of events. If possible, include teleport links to the events that are coming up, and offer landmarks to events that are scheduled for the future. Allow visitors to sign up for event announcements.

Now that OpenSim supports hypergrid messaging, you can let people know about happenings even if they are somewhere else out in the bigger metaverse.

6. Land rental office

Most grids offer land rentals in some form or other. Make it easy for new residents — and visitors — to give you money by putting  a land rental office on your welcome region.

If your grid only allows third-party connections, put up instructions for how people can connect their home-based regions, or which vendors offer land on your grid.

The land rental office could be a simple sign that hands out notecards, or it could be a building people can visit to find out about latest land deals, residential communities, or get tours of available properties.

A land rental office could also offer land management tools, such as allowing avatars to pay their rent, see their regions’ visitor logs and other information, request OAR uploads or downloads, or move or restart regions.

7. Keep it PG-rated

It’s never a good idea to impose nudity on your visitors when they don’t expect it. Someone might be bringing a potential corporate customer to your grid, for example — seeing full-frontal male avatar nudity in the freebie shop will leave the visitors with a bad impression of the grid.

Similarly, when you create a teleportation board to showcase the other regions on your grid, indicate if the regions are meant for adults.

Some visitors will immediately head for the adult areas, while others will immediately avoid them. Either way, they’ll know what to expect.

You can put up disclaimer text on the signs going to the adult regions: “By clicking this teleport button you affirm that you are over 18.” Or you can take it one step further and make the mature limits off-limits to everyone but age-verified local grid residents.

8. Get rid of the construction

With so many great pre-made regions now available, there’s no reason for new visitors to arrive at a construction site. Use one of the existing OARs for a temporary welcome region. Then build elsewhere, and move your finished objects — or even the entire finished region — to the welcome area when you are done.

9. Give folks a path to follow

Just like supermarkets carefully design the routes that prospective shoppers will take, you can design a route for visitors to take that shows off your welcome region to maximum advantage.

Then walk the route yourself to make sure that it’s natural to follow, and takes visitors to the destinations they most want to visit.

Two common approaches for regions are the hub-and-spoke and the heart shape.

With the hub and spoke, visitors land in the center, then can head off in a number of different directions — one way to the freebie store, another way to grid’s central gather area, another way to the land office, another way for the gallery of destinations and gates to other grids.

Visitors can find their way back to the hub by walking back on the paths they came down, or by clicking on teleporter signs.

A heart-shaped path gives folks two exits out of the landing area, that loop around. Most folks will go left, and follow the path around to the beginning.

 

Two common layouts for welcome regions.

The hub-and-spoke design is the most popular out there — second only to the “put things in random places and then have your visitors try to find them” option. Straight paths make it easy to see the destinations, and you’ll be sure that your visitors will never get lost.

If using the heart design, make sure that the default landing spot is designed to make it easy to find the start of the path. Encourage visitors to follow the paths by putting up street signs such as “This way to the freebie store.” Make it easy for people to find their way back with teleport signs.

Two more region designs.

Other options include two or four looping paths that take your visitors on a tour of the region. The more loops, the more clear signs need to be, as visitors can easily get turned around and forget the way to the center.

Stay away from grid layouts. Grids — like city streets — are easiest to navigate in real life when roads are perfectly straight and there are lots of four-way intersections. But grids are difficult to use in virtual worlds because every square in a grid is equal — making it hard to tell which destinations are most important. Real life cities put their tallest buildings in the center — but in virtual worlds, this hurts sight lines and makes flying difficult.

Whatever the layout, remember that all buildings need multiple points of entry — not just on the side the path leads to. Some visitors will prefer to fly over the region, or will try to take shortcuts, cutting across between paths. Some designers leave off the roofs on their buildings unless absolutely necessary, or putting in partial roofs, in order to allow visitors to land from the air.

If you have landscaping lining your paths, keep it phantom so visitors don’t get tangled up in the branches. If you have bridges over water — or any kinds of stairs — line them with transparent walls to keep your visitors from falling off the strairs or into the water.

10. Keep it fresh

Make people want to come back by changing things up on a regular basis.

Change the landscaping to make the seasons. Change the upcoming events calendar. Change the selection of starting avatars and souvenir freebies.

 

 

 

 

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maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • I do have to confess that I violate every single one of these tenets on the Hyperica grid. For example, I didn’t even know what my welcome region was!

    I just checked, and hg.hyperica.com:8022 goes to Hyperica Lower. I’m going to have to see if that can be changed! I can’t believe I’ve had this grid for what .. over a year? … and didn’t notice until now.

    And, though I’ve got plenty of room to build on, my main regions are all under construction all the time. There are buildings on my company region that we started building more than a year ago, and gave up on — and they’re still there, half-finished.

    And the three main hyperports — Hyperica Lower, Hyperica Central and Hyperica Upper — are barely half done!

    The hyperports are designed in a hub-and-spoke pattern — but my company’s region’s design is “plop things down anywhere”. 

    • Nothing like practicing what you preach! *laughs*

      Mind you, my grid doesn’t even have a welcome area,,, yet.

  • your number one point is so important! excellent to give it that prominence

    for your follow the path, i’d also suggest two big categories (two paths) of 1) first time in a virtual world, and 2) first time on this grid (region, etc)

    the first is obvious and it’s nice to have freebie shops with shapes and clothing and then tutorials like you mention. perhaps one of the best examples of a welcome path was the sim for the tv show The L Word. a really well thought out path of successive tutorials from how to chat and IM to editing your appearance to findiong hair and clothing

    the second is a “what to see here” thing, like a mall kiosk maybe

    funny you write this post today, i was going to do the two path post this week  =)

  • Since both Ener and you, Maria have posted articles about helping Noobs and softening the learning curve I too have just published a post about making it easier for noobs to find grids and grid owners to add their’s to the viewer list. It basically picks up on the new focus of the Kokua team.

    http://metaverse-traveller.blogspot.com/2012/01/kokua-imprudence-viewers-where-to-now.html

  • Some thoughts:
    1. Attractive, yes. But not overwhelming. Brand new users don’t even know how to move their mouse.
    2. This is the basic core of any welcome area. Get them to move around and they will start to explore on their own.
    3. I’m not certain how valuable freebies are in a welcome area. Maybe at the very end, as a sort of signal of “you’re done / you’re ready” and a thank you… but otherwise, keeping the orientation as short as possible is key to not losing users.
    4. If you can afford a greeter, maybe, but honestly? I think a meeting area is just a waste of space and a distraction from training a new user.
    5. This is smart – assuming the calendar is very simple to use. And really, if the user is logging in to your space, they probably went through a website, and the calendar should be there, instead / as well.
    6. I dunno. I think pushing users to rent land this early is a bad idea. I think that will naturally come up as users want to stay, but trying to sell them early on is a great way to make them think there is a commitment required to be there, and that’s liable to scare people off.
    7. Yes, or rather – deliver what people expect, and don’t deliver what people really would not expect.
    8. Amen.
    9. I don’t like any of the layouts that require a user to arrive back where they began. Push them along a path, and when they’re done, they’re done. The hub and spoke is the  *WORST* as it requires a user to have to consider where to go.
    10. Yup.

    I have many more thoughts on new user experience:
    1. Start it on your website. Use machinima. Explain what an avatar is and why we use them.
    2. Keep it utterly simple. In each area introduce one simple concept, like moving or saying something in chat.
    3. Reinforce lessons taught in good design. If you taught a user to touch something, make them touch things again to activate path ahead.
    4. Keep it in theme.
    5. Try it out over and over. Get it under 20 minutes, 15 if you can. Stick to the very, very basic stuff. Movement. Chat. Touching things. Sitting. Skip things like customizing avatars or inventory management – teach them that later in a more advanced learning area that can be revisited.

    • Ron —

      I think a path that eventually takes folks back to the start is the best bet for a welcome area since it allows folks to, say, go through a tutorial, then be back at the start where they can decide to, say, go to a calendar event, or visit a popular region on the grid — or select a free avatar from the freebie area.

      And since the welcome area is one where all visitors come through, if you’re going to put a land office anywhere, you should put it there — or put a link to it there. It doesn’t have to be in-your-face screaming. 

      Not everyone is going to come to a grid via the website (except for the closed commercial grids). For smaller grids in particular, discovery may occur via the hypergrid. Someone teleports in, tours the local destinations, makes a note to come back for an event… each time they do, they gain a better experience of the grid and familiarity with it, make more friends — and each time they come through the welcome area there’s a nudge that rental land is available. It takes, on average, six points of contact to make a sale — there’s no other location where you can have six points of contact with visitors other than the welcome region.

      • Instead of taking them back to an area where brand new people will be bombarded with choices, why not just end the orientation area in a spot where the calendar, additional tutorials, etc are located? I think these other items absolutely are a distraction for brand new users.

        It certainly needs to be designed in such a way that brand new users vs. people familiar with SL / OS are routed to the right path immediately. That may be as simple as having one main entrance area and two big signs that say “BRAND NEW?” and “Already know OpenSim?” and leading them in different paths. It should also be able to be done by asking that on the website and giving a different start location depending on whether they answered on the website that they are new.

        • A different starting region for newbies might be the best bet — after all, nobody needs to go through that more than once (unless they really want to). But things like calendars, big grid announcements, region showcases — people will want to see those more than once.

          I’m also very much in favor of making the welcome area a meeting spot. OSGrid’s LBSA Plaza is a prime example of this — no matter what time you show up, there are people there, hanging out. Partly this is because failed teleports and inaccessible regions often throw people to LBSA. Plus, all the hypergrid visitors come there first, as does anyone logging into OSGrid for the first time. 

          All they’ve got there are a couple of starting avatars — the bulk of the freebies are on Wright Plaza — some announcements, and lots of places for folks to sit. 

          I have my reservations about the design of the region – it’s a little grim and dark for my taste — but I come back there over and over again because of the people.

          Another nice welcome region was ReactionGrid’s Core. I don’t know if they still have it the same way or not — they’re kind of inaccessible these days because they’re running an old version of hypergrid — but it was very pleasant, and had a seating area where you could usually find at least one grid admin. So you could hang out and chat, or stop by if you had questions. They also had a very small freebie area — just enough to get folks started. 

          I strongly believe that people are the killer app of virtual worlds — and that anything that keeps people in a welcome area is a good thing for the grid.

          • “things like calendars, big grid announcements, region showcases — people will want to see those more than once.”

            I agree, and I think those should be in revisitable areas. I’d just put the initial orientation as a linear, separated area that leads *into* that meeting area. My overall point is that you can keep what you state is valuable in orientation areas, without having to rely on a cyclical layout as your suggested variations in this blog post.

            LBSA: Well, that’s certainly turning a problem into a feature, no?

            In general I love the idea of a meeting area with orientation, but only *AFTER*. It needs to be out of the way of new users. I differentiate between “orientation” and “welcome” – my thoughts on “welcome” areas are more in line with yours.

            People – the social element – is indeed the crucial part of 3-D Online Spaces.

  • We reeally need a resource for the freebies and (quality) starter avis that are usable from grid to grid so we don’t have to make another account and another avatar to go from one to another.

    Do you know of any CC licensed resources that qualify? Now that I drank the Kitely koolaid, I’d like to be able to shop at other grids and still use the stuff on my Kworlds. Is that even possible? If so, please point where!

    • I like Linda Kellie’s stuff and all the OpenSim creations downloads. I’ve also noticed that many freebie stores are now posting their license terms. Look for CC licenses. 

      Check out these locations:
      http://www.hyperica.com/2012/01/fleepgrid-plaza/ 
      http://www.hyperica.com/2011/07/welcome/ 
      http://www.hyperica.com/2011/07/freebies/ 
      http://www.hyperica.com/2012/01/astral-builds/ 
      http://www.hyperica.com/2012/01/hope/ 

      If you know of others, drop me a line!

      To take them to Kitely (until they get hypergrid working) you will need to either upload individual items (using the Imprudence viewer) or upload complete OAR files. For OARs, the best place right now is LindaKellie.com.

      She’s doing a fantastic job of making OpenSim accessible to newcomers.

      • Thanks Maria. You’re just awesome. 

        On these hyperica urls – if I go in world would I need an account for those places? How would I obtain them to upload? What prompted the post actually was I’d been catching up at HB and went to the hyperica page, and down at the end on the content page was the one german site. I signed up with osgrid, but when I logged in, it wasn’t my avi from Kitely, so I’m not entirely sure how this works. 

        • Okay — you’ve got two kinds of grids in OpenSim. You’ve got the SL-style, walled garden grids where you have to create a new avatar on each grid.

          And you have grids that are hypergrid-enabled — you create an avatar on one grid, and you can teleport out to all the other grids.

          The vast majority of OpenSim regions out there are hypergrid-enabled. So you can take your OSGrid avatar and teleport not just to other regions on OSGrid, but to GermanGrid, FrancoGrid, VirtYou, JokaydiaGrid, and dozens of others. You do this by going to Map (CTRL-M) and typing in the hypergrid address from Hyperica into the search field. It’s a lot like typing a URL into the browser’s address bar. Then click search, and teleport.

          Kitely is not yet on the hypergrid. They will be, but it’s taking them a little longer than expected to get everything into place. They’ve been working on scalability, and billing, and recently added Vivox voice. And they’re just two guys. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do — and maybe now that they’ve got billing in place, they’ll be able to hire some staff and speed up development.

          Hypergrid connectivity requires that they implement region-to-region teleports first (right now, you can only access their regions via the website) and then figure out how billing will work for hypergrid visitors!

          So if you’re looking to get content into Kitely (or into Second Life, InWorldz, Avination, or 3rd Rock Grid), you will need up either upload the XML files using the Imprudence viewer or, grids permitting, upload entire OAR files. (SL has no OAR uploads or exports, and some other closed grids restrict them.)

          If you’re using Kitely as a staging area for creating content that you want to sell or show off on the hypergrid, I recommending renting a region on OSGrid (prices aren’t as low as Kitely’s, but still a steal), or if you know your way around a router, set up a region — or ten — for free, on your own computer, and attach it to OSGrid or run it as a standalone mini-grid. 

          Nova, Dreamland, Oliveira are well-known hosting companies on OSGrid. 

          Full vendor list here: http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/opensim-hosting-providers/