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From 2006/2007 to 2009/2010 Second Life’s new-user experience was ‘gamified’ (no, I’m not keen on the word). That is, game-like reward-systems and mechanics were used to get people over the initial orientation hurdle.

That failed. Various attempts at updating it didn’t work very well. Eventually the system was abandoned entirely, as Linden Lab’s A/B testing determined that new Second Life users were statistically significantly better off if you just dumped them at a random infohub to fend for themselves without any orientation or assistance.

According to New World Notes, the Lab is making another stab at returning to the ‘gamified’ (no, still not liking the word), model for the new-user experience.

It’s possible that it could still work, after such a resounding failure. The old system largely suffered from four major issues:

Firstly, a failure to maintain it. Once set in place, the system rapidly diverged from the operation of both the viewer and of Second Life itself, losing relevance. Within just months it had become obsolete.

Secondly, and no less important, was reliability. Scripted systems simply failed. You couldn’t set a script running on an Orientation Island or Help Island and expect it to still be working a week later, unless the sim crashed and restarted. Just 72 hours was pushing it. Even a simple “Hello, Avatar” touch-script could and would fail within a few days, and the more complex the script, the more unreliable it became in the strange configurations of the Orientation/Help Islands.

Thirdly, learning was contextless insofar as the broader schema of Second Life went. You were rewarded for tasks and accomplishments without context – as such, you were unlikely to remember how to do any of it when the time finally came to do it ‘for reals’ (as the cool kids say). The lack of framework surrounding the tasks also turned many people, whose background involved actual gaming, off entirely.

Lastly, the rewards were of negligible value or relevance in any practical context. You got an achievement – of a sort – for completing a task, a message of congratulations, and a thrilling little sound. Hooray! How can anyone resist that?

Frankly, most of the orientation success stories from that period were those who mostly or entirely bypassed the process.

This is not to say that it can’t work – but that any return to the ‘gamification’ (still not feeling it) of the Second Life new user experience has to take into account the problems and obstacles of the previous efforts.

However, please, spare us from an Achievements system.

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