Fun, surprises and crowds can increase visits

Want people to come to your grid or region more frequently? Consider this advice from psychologist Susan Weinschenk — Want To Change a Habit? Use Fun, Surprise, and a Crowd.

Let’s say that you are the owner of a grid, and you want your users to make visiting your grid a regular habit. Frequent visitors are more likely to spend money with grid merchants, and more likely to rent land from you, the grid owner — whether directly or from resellers who rent large areas, subdivide and improve them. Either way, more money in your pocket.

But this applies to non-profit grids, as well. Educational grids would benefit from having students put more time into their educational projects. Charity grids would be able to raise more funds. Art-focused grids would be able to expose more people to more artists.

Fun

Your grid is probably full of fun activities for your visitors. But they’re scattered around the grid. Chances are, your welcome area shows little — or no — evidence of this fun stuff going on.

Maybe you’re trying to be fair. You don’t want to promote one region at the expense of the rest. Or maybe it’s just too much work to keep up with what’s going on with the grid when you’re running around putting out fires. Or maybe the information about upcoming events is already up on the website, or in the newsletter.

But it’s a mistake to assume that people remember what they read a few days ago, or that they can still find the link to the region.

Yes, it’s important to promote events through grid calendars, newsletters, websites, blogs, and social media. (You are doing all those, right?) But it’s also important to let new visitors get to the events quickly.

New Year Eve party on OSGrid. (Photo by Key Gruin.)

Your welcome area should have clear and obvious promotional materials pointing people to events that are happening right then, or which are about to start. Billboards with teleport links. Video screens showing promotional footage of the event — or even live feeds of the event.

Better yet, if the logistics permit, put the event right on the welcome region itself, or at least a teaser to the event. For example, if it’s the opening night of a new museum installation, put up a small representative display and a teleporter. For a fashion show, an NPC (bot) model wearing a sample outfit can personally invite visitors to come attend the show.  If there’s an ongoing game or contest, a leaderboard could display the current standings, and invite visitors to come watch in person.

Surprise

Don’t be afraid to change things up. In fact, insist on it.

People will stop by more often just to check in on what the latest changes are.

The changes don’t need to be dramatic, and certain basic functionality should always be in the same place, so people know where to find it. For example, if you have a land rental office on your welcome region — and I strongly believe that every grid should — then it should stay in the same location, to make it easy for your users to find it when they’re ready to rent land.

Websites, for example, frequently change the articles on their home pages, while keeping the navigation menus in place. This allows regular visitors to be able to find their way around the site easily, while still providing them with new content whenever they visit.

Similarly, stores will regularly change the products displayed in the windows and near the entrance, as well as at the ends of aisles, while keeping the general organization of their products the same. Visitors are enticed to come in by the new displays, but if they want to stock up on the staples, they always know exactly where to find them.

Here are some ways for grid owners to add elements of surprise to their welcome regions:

  • Change the decor to match the season, as in the OSGrid New Year’s Eve party pictured above. You can change the ground textures, the plants and other landscaping elements, or add seasonal decorations. You can even change the exterior textures on roads or buildings to match a particular mood or celebrate an event. Remember to save everything for reuse later, to save yourself time and money down the road.
  • Special displays. Just as stores have areas set aside to promote new seasonal products or special deals, your welcome area can have areas set aside to promote events, on-grid merchants, or popular destinations. You can ask the merchants or event organizers to contribute the content for these displays, to reduce the work load on the grid management.
  • Billboards. If your users all have the latest viewers, use media-on-a-prim to pull in content from the Web. You can show funny videos, promotional materials for events, slide shows of popular in-world destinations, or anything else you can imagine. It’s a quick and cheap way to add new and surprising content to your welcome area. But even if your users don’t have the latest viewers doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the Web — OpenSim has a function to display Web images on a prim surface. It’s called Dynamic Textures, and you can use it to show images from a Website or a Flickr album or a Google Drawing.
  • Dynamic Textures can also be used to put text or graphics on a prim, so that you could, for example, put  up a welcome message greeting visitors by name, or post details of ongoing events that you pull from a Website or a Google Spreadsheet or a Twitter feed.
  • Give away door prizes. Have an NPC (bot) or mentor give away a prize to, say, every tenth visitor. These could be freebies, coupons for in-world stores, passes to exclusive events, collectible items, or anything else of potential value or amusement to your users. Just remember that rewards become addictive if they are irregular, so don’t schedule your door prizes for every Monday — your users will come to expect them, and only show up on that day — and will be disappointed if there are no prizes one Monday and will stop coming. Instead, keep the schedule irregular to keep your visitors coming back more often.

Crowds

Humans are naturally social beings, and we’re inclined to do what everyone else is doing. If everyone else is jumping off a cliff, it must be because the water down there is particularly cool and refreshing. If everyone is lining up to get on the plane, it must be getting ready to take off. If everyone is lining up to go to one club, and not the other, the first club must be the cool place to go.

Making a welcome area a fun and surprising place is one way to ensure a steady flow of visitors, which will help create a crowd. Another mechanism is to automatically route people to the welcome area when teleports fail. For example, everyone eventually winds up on OSGrid’s LBSA Plaza for one reason or another — it’s the default landing region. Another way is to have either paid or volunteer mentors always present to greet and help visitors.

Crowds are self-reinforcing. Once your residents get used to the idea that there’s always someone around if they stop by the welcome region, they’re more likely to go there if they feel like socializing with other people.

Some grids see the welcome area as a processing station for newbies, with the goal of getting them dressed, oriented, and on to more interesting destinations as quickly as possible. I believe this is a mistake. The best way to get people interested in a new grid is for them to see existing residents having fun. A welcome area with nothing but a freebie store, a bulletin board showing how to use the arrows to move around, and a single mentor is not the most welcoming of areas.

Instead, I would recommend making the welcome area a friendly hangout spot. Put a cafe there, and invite musicians to perform live. It may take extra server capacity, but it would be worth it. It would help the grid put its best face first. After all a store wouldn’t hide its latest, greatest merchandise in the back, and a website wouldn’t bury breaking news on a hard-to-find inside page.

This is especially important if your grid is on the hypergrid and you have an easy hypergrid address. For example, teleporting to “hg.osgrid.org:80” brings you right to LBSA Plaza. Okay, maybe “easy hypergrid address” is a bit of an oxymoron right now. But, in time — one hopes — hypergrid addresses will, in fact, get easier, and people will simply be able to type in the grid’s name to get there.

An alternative to having an actual crowd at the welcome area is to show streaming video of actual, live crowds currently on some other region on the grid. For users with early viewers, instead of live video, you can also post live snapshots from the event — just make sure to take the displays down once the event is over and the destination area is empty.

However, the “crowd” tactic needs to be approached with care. For example, grid or land owners might be tempted to start using bots to create a false impression of popularity — which will leave visitors disappointed and distrustful when they show up to find no real people there.

 

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 like hidden things also like a hidden pool in the water tower or abandoned fallout shelter

  • Ironically, I don’t do any of this on the Hyperica grid… but I hope I will start this fall.

    Well, except for the Hypergrid Entrepreneur Group meetings — those were always on the Hyperica welcome region. Though we don’t really have one “welcome” region — just three different terminals, for upper, middle, and lower locations.

    Basically, the design of the Hyperica grid sucks. Oh, and I can’t wait for the 4096 bug to get fixed so I can have just one terminal!

  • Very useful article! Naturally, crowds in a OS-SL means 12-30 persons sharing the same physical space. Also this article could be adapted to land owners I think, almost a rule is see empty sims traveling by HG. Kind regards!

    • I think for the purposes of this discussion even three or four people would count as a “crowd” — especially considering that most welcome regions have fewer people than that.

  • Eros Deus

    This is excellent advice – takes notes 😀

  • Annabelle_Fanshaw

    I have a question. Given the relative ease with which you can make NPCs for your sim, would it be considered to be a positive experience, in general, to visit a sim that had NPCs there to be “background actors”? For instance, suppose you wanted to do a market place, and made and animated 10 or so NPCs to be vendors, all calling out to you as you pass by. Perhaps you could add a couple of urchins to follow the new visitors around for a while. Or you made a nightclub that had NPCs as the host and bartender, possibly even the DJ. Positive experience or negative?
    Thanks for any and all insights and comments to this- Best, A

    • I think if its clear that the NPCs are NPCs it would add to the experience, not subtract from it. The problem arises when people feel that they are tricked, and what they thought was real people turn out to actually be bots.

      I remember a place once where a freebie store had a bunch of NPCs modeling underwear and swimsuits.

      I think NPCs can play a big role in making us subconsciously feel more comfortable with a place. Deserted places feel creepy and scary to our reptilian hindbrains. A place populated — even if we know it’s just NPCs — feels more alive and safer.

      Similarly, we all have an instinctive aversion to walking into a place filled with strangers. If we’re going someplace new, we’re much happier if a friend of ours is already there and can introduce us around. (Maybe this is one reason why chain restaurants are popular — they feel familiar even if we’re there for the first time.) Maybe a grid could make this easier by providing an automated greeter bot that has access to your grid profile, and can be easily programmedto take messages for the region owner, to tell you about upcoming events, or to walk you to the most popular destination in the region.