Encouraging Social Worlds
One of the issues many developers seem to run into again and again with a VR world that is not game-based, but is on the internet, and hoping to attract visitors, is what to do to encourage people to come in.
The big guns in the social sphere, the leviathans like Second Life, There, Moove, ActiveWorlds, the worlds that sublet parts of their world to other people, they have no problem. It's the little people that set up VR worlds from these leviathans, or independently online, with no gaming or subletting to offer, yet still like people to come in, and come back.
Many such worlds simply build fantastic 3D graphical landscapes, stretching for miles, and hope that people will wander round and look at them. With thousands of such worlds now in existence, there is only so much exploring people are willing to do before becoming bored, and if each world only offers more of the same, they will quickly stop exploring any more of them.
So, what could be done to encourage visitors into such a virtual environment, to even begin to build up a community within them, if slaying monsters and experience treadmills do not apply?
1. Points of interest 'tour' based world.
The world tracks the position of each visitor, and compares their co-ordinates to the co-ordinates of a slew of pre-recorded points that are of interest - scenic waterfalls, grand bridges, monumental builds, and secret areas. As soon as a person wanders into such an area, a message is flagged up to them, telling them the name of the area, some details about it, and some points for discovering it.
Running point totals kept at the entry point of the world for all visitors, thus encouraging competition to explore, and find more. Scores saved, and remember which places each visitor has seen.
For greater attraction and competition, split up areas into types, for example, award points for discovering waterfalls, telling the user how many waterfalls are left to find. Do the same for bridges, paths, caves, secret areas, etc.
Visitors feel engaged in the world, and are thus encouraged to explore, to compare point totals, and 'beat' other visitors.
2. Role-played environment.
Set new visitors up as lowly settlers into the environment. If it's a roman city, they are plebes just arriving. If a forest, bedraggled travellers with a few supplies. A space-based environment could have refugees, etc.
Forming the basics of a gameworld without the game, just the social interaction and no killing is very possible. Multi-user Shared Hallucinations (MUSH) have been doing it for years. Newcomers start out with almost nothing, and need to find somewhere to stay, work to do, etc. Provide resources to show people how they might be expected to behave in-world, background and history resources to allow them to connect.
For example, let's imagine a roman-themed world.
A visitor comes in for the first time, as a pleb, a homeless person newly arrived. They are assigned a tent on the outskirts of the city - akin to a modern day slum - and must use social skills and a knowledge of roman life the world provides, to interact with others, and work their social status up to bigger and better dwellings.
A role-played environment depends on people, and in order to maintain growth when few are on, issue regularly changing, interesting 'quests' for people to complete, that earn an in-world bonus or bragging right. Even their name portrayed proudly in the city square, or on the website is immensely motivational.
3. Educational questing.
Educational questing is where the world sets out to teach. Its goal is not to just give it's visitors visual information like a book however, but to actively engage them interactively within the world.
Simple questing in a pseudo-gaming environment is required. No combat, no 'familiar' gaming elements, but allow visitors to keep an inventory, pick up items and put them in it, combine items, place items from their inventory in the world, and a basic monetary or magic system.
Sticking with the Roman theme above, an example might be:
"The Emperor has requested 6 new shields made, it has fallen onto you to make them."
This would require the visitor hunting around:
Then repeating that, six times over, to collect their reward.
By that time, they know a great deal about how the Romans made shields, with lots of supplementary text around to provide ancedotal information, and they have actually learnt something.
Points scored for completing, scorecards kept for visitor-ego purposes. Quests rotated slowly, different each week say, to encourage re-visits.