To introduce (someone) means
to bring in for the first time and also
to cause to be acquainted. In other words, a good introduction is twofold: welcoming and accustoming. Using a Las Vegas-like hotel resort metaphor, welcoming newcomers is the reception desk's job, while accustoming, pleasing or securing the loyalty of clients is the spa, restaurant or other activities' role.
WoW has been the first MMOG to reach more than 10 million subscribers, presumably reaching new market segments. If the MMOG industry as a whole wants to keep reaching new segments and become the media of the 21st century, then new players' integration should be the main focus point. A college student recently told me that he believed the success of any MMOG depends on the first five hours of play. Although I do not disagree, I have not found any professional source confirming or infirming that. "Easy to learn but difficult to master" is a well-known game design quality, but MMOG also have to provide a spotless QoS. Even though perfect QoS is not yet a standard, this article does not focus on QoS but rather on some social (and eventually game design) issues during newcomers' introductions.
New players continually join the game. This flow of customers consists of solo players, who know no one in the virtual world, as well as groups of players, who knew each other before starting the game. I think the Uru Diaspora players mentioned by Celia Pearce fit into the second category. They cause an increase in the flow of newcomers and have to be welcomed as a group, not as distinct individuals. This is crucial for the game design of low-level zones: both solo players and group of players must be satisfied. There is an apparent contradiction: fast and easy leveling structures exist for solo players, but very few low-level group activities exist for people who already knew each other beforehand.
The problem can be seen from a different angle. IRL, introduction acts are mostly done by third party (friends, colleagues) that helps you get into the circle. For instance:
- in the blogosphere: guest posts.
- in the musical community: small groups playing for the opening acts of more famous musicians.
- in the musical community within a city: Some young saxophonists told me they had to join "the musician mafia cloud" to find musician jobs/opportunities in their area, otherwise they would not be able to open the doors by themselves
- in the research community: publishing in journals is the principal activity, but one has to find an advisor in one's area to know where to publish, get a Ph D and gain credibility. Most of the time, only fifth year students happen to figure in peer-reviews.
As for groups in MMOG, there is no such introduction process: a player groups with another, they have the quest done and split. Selective guilds have to set up their own website and check for applicants through this website and until now, I have not seen any IG interface that fosters meetings between guildless players and guild recruiters. Although capital cities such as Stormwind in WoW, Prontera in RO or Coronet in SWG gather all kinds of players in the same place, they are mostly used for trading or services, not for welcomings.
Accustoming and pleasing
In 2004, Shannon Appelcline explained that the average player stays for approximately 18 months. She defined
critical mass as the minimum number of players simultaneously online that is required to make the game fun. She also coined
user plateaus, which are other threshold of the number of players. The first user plateau is the critical mass. When a plateau is reached, the community size stagnates, and the game designer must come up with new ideas to keep the players interested and get past this threshold.