Erik Bethke of Go Pets Live gave the standout presentation of day one of the Worlds In Motion Summit at GDC. He talked about applying game dynamics as a panacea for operators of virtual worlds.
From my notes:
1. Use points and leveling up to get people to do ANYTHING. (similar perspective to Amy Jo Kim‘s application of game dynamics to social media). Bethke noted the “completion bar” on Linked In and how it got him to complete his profile by spamming his friends for testimonials; the first time he had ever spammed his friends for anything. He said that he was mad that he couldn’t “solo LinkedIn”, but it still was effective in getting him to do the “group quest” of gathering testimonials.
2. “Quests” (especially those given by marked NPCs) are an established gameplay mechanic that can be broadly applicable. They work because they give people something to do when they first show up (and thereafter). This “Goal Interface” design is more important than User Interface design because it provides a framework of “what to do” that distinguishes games. “Transaction based” goals (ie measureable goals) are the best goals/quests. (see #1 above)
3. “Crafting” (turning less valuable resources into more valuable resources) is another established gameplay mechanic that can be broadly applicable. Players will engage endlessly in a series of many micro goals of attainment for self gain.
4. Free to play can mean casual (to start) but if you want to get paid, you have to focus on the hard core. They are the ones who will shell out real dollars for digital goods. There must be a satisfying hardcore experience even for casual and social games. Not only are they the sources of your revenue, they are also evangelists, and beacons on the horizon for new players. If you’re missing hard core, you’re missing deep fun. [THIS WAS A LIGHTBULB MOMENT FOR ME].
5. Even for a social virtual world, adding functionality for all four Bartle player types (not just socializers, but also achievers, explorers and killers) increased time spent in game. [ALSO A LIGHTBULB MOMENT.]
Bethke noted that it took Go Pets a while to identify who their hard core players were (measure everything and take a scientific approach to testing hypothesis to discover this), and what distinguished them from other players, but when they figured it out, they put in directed content to create more such players and were able to double ARPU. In the US and Japan his ARPU for paying users is $20/month.
More coverage of his presentation at Worlds In Motion.