Leaving the Best Memories of Your World
A study commissioned by researchers at Ohio State University, intended to look at consumer feelings on holidays and vacations, has an unexpected direct bearing on virtual world administration.
The study, authored by Nicole Votolato Montgomery and H. Rao Unnava, and published in the June edition of Journal of Consumer Research as "Temporal Sequence Effects: A Memory Framework", looks at the function of consumer memory over time. Specifically, how the human mind plays tricks when a mix of good and bad experiences are experienced in a string over time.
In many respects, a holiday and a short-term experience in a virtual environment are one and the same. For the first month or so, they are psychologically almost identical; both offer the opportunity to get away from it all, and be a stranger in a strange land, getting to grips with the place. A holiday of course has the added benefit that you are in it 24/7 until it ends, whereas you have to surface from a virtual world regularly, to do things such as work. However, these differences are mostly incidental.
The key is that both are a series of discrete events, perhaps unrelated, that form up together to create an experience chain, intrinsically linked in participants memories. The researchers, interested in holidays, looked to see how different chains of experiences, despite being equally balanced for good and bad occurrences, changed the remembered perception of the holiday based on the order in which they occurred.
In the study, some holidays were nothing but agro and grief from the start, then slowly got better until they were wonderful by the end. Others started out without a hitch and gradually got worse and worse. Participating subjects were interviewed at the end, and asked how likely they were to purchase a similar vacation, how much they would pay, and which events they recalled most vividly.
After the conclusion of the holiday, research subjects were interviewed, and asked to indicate whether they would pay for a similar service again. Those who had experienced a bad start and a continuation of positive improvements said they were more likely to pay again. The research showed that the consumers' minds connected with the positive improvements more than the negativity.
However, when interviewed again, a month later, the study found that regardless of the position in the event string of the bad events, those were what customers focussed on when asked to recall.
"Consumers exhibit a preference for experiences that improve over time versus worsen over time when evaluations are assessed immediately, and they prefer the reverse when evaluations are assessed following a delay," wrote the authors.
When translated to a virtual environment, it means of course that the old adage "first impressions count" is of course true. However, it also means that for a VR, where maintaining participant interaction is key, a far better gain is to be had when you start off with a mediocre - but not bad - service, and continually improve it over time, rather than going all out to impress from the start, and fizzling out like a damp squib soon afterwards.
This latter Approach is of course the one taken by many gameworlds, who continually release new patches, both paid content and free, in order to maintain interest.
Rather than focussing every resource on the player's initial impression, at the expense of later rewards, where after a given point everything starts to look repetitive or options max out and dry up, if your development team concentrates more on a series of positive improvements with level progression or time spent logged in, there is every reason to believe the participants will remember this chain of good events, and be more willing to part with more cash for more.