Designing for virtual visitors

In the last couple of weeks we’ve been traveling all over the hypergrid, here at Hypergrid Business, as preparation for the launch of our Hypergrid Worlds directory of hypergrid destinations.

And we’ve been shocked — shocked! — to find that many region owners aren’t following basic design principles. We’ve been landing under water, underneath buildings, or far from where the action is on a region.

Many region owners lay out their designs on a blank square, putting their buildings and landscaping where they make aesthetic sense to them. Then they save key locations into their landmarks, and hand out those landmarks to friends and other potential visitors. As a result, they don’t get to see what the region looks like to someone who just typed the region name into a map, or teleported in via a hypergrid address.

The default landing point for a region is the exact center, on ground level. This means that if you have a lake in the center, your visitors will land at the bottom of the lake. If you have a building in the center that has a basement, your visitors will land in the basement.

To change the default landing point on a region:

  • Go to the “About Land” menu from inside your viewer (Hippo, Meerkat, and Impudence — or your Second Life viewer). Click on the “Options” tab.
  • Change the “Teleport Routing” to your new landing point, and click on “Set.”
  • Check that it works by teleporting in to your region by using its name, and hypergrid teleporting in to its hypergrid address.

Once you’ve established a landing point on your region, whether the default central landing point, or somewhere else, plan the route your visitors are likely to take through your region.

According to research from Wharton, shoppers prefer to travel through stores by going right after walking in, then going around the store in a counter-clockwise circle, ducking in to aisles and back out again when they need something. By offering a clear travel path, region owners can make it easy for visitors to follow their natural instincts — and see more of the region as a result.

A few other navigation best practices:

  • Some visitors will fly over a region to get a good overview of what’s there before landing near an interesting building. Make it easy to walk into a building from any direction if at all possible. If not, offer plenty of visual cues to help people find the front entrance, such as hedges around the back and sides of a building. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing the group you’re supposed to meet waiting for you on the other side of a pane of glass, and not being able to get in. (Not everybody knows the sit-to-teleport trick.)
  • Signs at the entrance and at key points in the region are a great way to help people find where they’re going. Consider adding a “click to teleport” button on the signs, to save your travelers some walking time. A map of your region showing points of interest can also be helpful to your visitors.
  • Standard hypergrid navigation metaphors haven’t evolved yet. On a Web site, people expect to find links to internal pages on the top menu bar of a site, and links to external sites under a “Blogroll” heading or in blue, underlined text inside articles and posts. We don’t have these conventions yet in virtual worlds, but it is common to see clickable sign posts for internal teleports within a region or group of connected regions, and blue “Stargate”-style hypergates for hypergrid teleports to other worlds.
  • The idea of virtual worlds is very new, so most people are still learning to navigate. In addition, connections can be slow and laggy. As a result, many visitors may have problems with stairs, doorways, corners and other environmental challenges. Use transparent guidewalls and ramps to help steer people into and up stairways, through doorways, and out of corners. Just don’t forget they’re there when you move things around.
  • Flowers, bushes and trees are pretty, but pose a hazard to pedestrians who might get trapped in the branches. Set landscaping features to phantom to allow people to walk through them with ease, or put invisible walls around them to keep your visitors off the grass. Bridges and streams also add visual interest at the cost of navigational challenges. Click-to-teleport signs can help people who are having trouble with their navigation controls, while retaining the beauty of the landscape.
    Main entry point to ReacionGrid.
    Main entry point to ReacionGrid.

    while retaining the beauty of the landscape.

  • Reconsider steps, walls, and ceilings. To maximize the number of visitors entering an area, consider open-air markets that allow people to easily fly in. Steps can also pose challenges for visitors. If possible, eliminate steps and curbs altogether, or line them with invisible ramps so that your visitors don’t stumble or get trapped.
  • In some situations, you might want to make access more difficult, not less. For example, a shop keeper will want to make it as easy as possible for folks to drop in. But if you’re running a business conference, you don’t want people to come flying into the middle of sessions. You can block flight or teleports inside a region, put ceilings on all conference rooms, and force your visitors to come in through a central registration area, and ask late-comers to take seats in the back of the room to avoid disrupting proceedings. This will also avoid the nightmare of seeing your boss teleport into the middle of a meeting naked, and having to stare at his bare body while his clothing loads.
  • The build-in browser landmarks don’t currently support hypergrid addresses. If you have hypergrid visitors, make it easy for them to find you again by giving them notecards with travel instructions.
  • If there’s a road, your visitors will see an open invitation to follow it — and may feel disappointed when they find nothing there. Take a cue from real-world developers and contractors and put an “Under Construction” sign on entrances to destinations that haven’t been built yet. Travelers might still show up out of curiosity, but at least they won’t feel let down when they find an unfinished build.
  • Finally, keep everything current. Take down signs for events that occurred in the past. Update sign posts and maps when you move buildings around.
Maria Korolov