MMO Newbie Onboarding and SourceCred Cultivation


This is an exploration of my thoughts after reading this article (originally posted in the Discord by @rpp63) about how MMORPG communities used personal mentorship to onboard new players into their community and the game, and how that could relate to the way we handle cred-insentivized onboarding/general support behavior in our community.

Below are quotes from the article that get me thinking, and my reflections on how those concepts could be effective in SourceCred.

There will eventually be a Tl;dr section at the end.

Quotes and Reflections

I really liked Asheron’s Call and even Darkfall in terms of a newbie experience, mainly because it gave social reasons to help others out. AC provided mentors or “Patrons” experience points should they be able to convince someone to swear allegiance to them, and the easiest way to do that was to give items and advice to new players.

The easiest way to get new people engaged and sticking around was to be generous with them. To give them the tools and attention they needed to get through the learning curve and become invested in the game.

They encouraged existing players to be generous with their resources and invested with their energy by creating a reward for doing so. This is, from one perspective, what SourceCred is all about. We’re creating a tool sophisticated enough to understand the value that’s created by contributions which are as varied as humans are. Then go a step further using the tool of SourceCred to help communities shape, coordinate, and incentivize their actions around their established values.

One idea about how we could use this idea is to create “support cred” which you can only receive by supporting someone else in the project. This would be great for giving everyone the opportunity and incentive to welcome newcomers in and guide them through understanding our project. This could also have a lot of applications outside of onboarding newcomers.

However, if someone is simply looking to jump into a game as if it were a singleplayer experience, that system is going to drive a player away.

This could work for us as a feature. If you’re not coming here to collaborate, then maybe you’re not ready to be in the SC community.

…holding back content for several levels makes the grind all to obvious to genre vets. On the other hand, these “everything box” MMOs can overwhelm someone new to the genre by bombarding them with everything at once.

This is an interesting dichotomy I’m experience as I work through how to make an effective and engaging onboarding experience in the SourceCred community.

Right now, we resemble more of the “everything box MMOs” where everything is just kinda there. It’s difficult for newcomers to parse through what SourceCred is about, where it’s going, and how to get involved. The confusion frequently seems to overwhelm and frustrate all but the most invested of newcomers, which worked fine for us at first but is becoming more and more limiting to our community as we grow.

However, I know I despise clunky tutorials and patronizing intro quests. That’s not to say that tutorials and intro quests can’t be fun and effective, but it seems most games fail in this regard. Not to mention that holding back content or rewards just seems to disincentivize people from getting invested ASAP. I could see a future SourceCred onboarding experience that has bots to help you get oriented in tandem with community engagement, but doesn’t create barriers to becoming invested in the vision and starting to help realize it.

perhaps, its best to go with a level agnostic system, having stat increases based on easy to unlock achievement systems that clearly label how the achievement is unlocked and what is earned via the unlock

This reminds me of something that @DeltaFreq said in an informal meeting about creating a visual “Project Map” for SourceCred. They were speaking to the mindset of a newcomer when they said something along the lines of “What’s the one thing I can do to gain the most cred? What is the single most valuable use of my time?”

Having an accessible system that clearly communicates how a contribution is unlocked (accessible) and what’s earned for unlocking it, seems like an invaluable tool for our community right now and in the future.

[the “agnostic” system mentioned above] serves as a good way to guide players and for them to explore their options. If needed, it could be combined with quests that add in tips from the UI or guide players around town. That would allow for players to find the content they want, jump into the game more easily, and maybe even still leave room for social mentorships for those who want advice on the “feel” of certain aspects of a game.

This seems to me an interesting balance between having some structure (quests, tips from the UI) and “social mentorships” that help newcomers understand the “feel” of the game. In our community this could look like some more standardized functions (like bots or guide resources) to get a newcomer set up, but quickly (if not simultaneously) reinforce that with interpersonal interactions and relationships that help communicate those values and norms and feel which the other more standard resources cannot.

Asheron’s Call improved on that meta program by pulling the sponsorship of newbies directly into the game and brilliantly rewarded mentors with measurable in-game leadership skills and mentees with experience boosts and a built-in social hierarchy. The monarchy system transcended the 8th grade drama of MMORPG guilds and made it really easy to hook people into a mutually beneficial support structure in a way that was so much more graceful and organic than “join my guild, make guild bigger, get perks.” It worked on so many levels — as newbie tutorial, as retention glue, as altruism incentive — that I’m constantly shocked no one’s doing much to copy it.

This speaks to me of incentivizing both side of the onboarding process; newcomer and existing member.

An existing community member starts contributing to the onboarding experience of newcomers, they experience some personal growth as a leader/expert/mentor, then they receive cred/grain but also social recognition of their growth in that role and how it’s impacted the community as a whole. (Maybe something as simple as a “mentor” badge could be enough status change recognition.)

On the flip side of the interaction; the newcomer engages by asking a question or reaching for the community in some way, they then receive some interaction and guidance from existing members of the community. The newcomer finds themselves with a better understanding of concrete aspects like what’s going on in the project and how to engage with it, as well as a more abstract understanding of aspects like social norms and the vibe of the community. They also get a more tangible reward with an opportunity to immediately start earning cred for their positive engagement with the community. For example, getting cred for attending and speaking (or typing) up in a Community Call, or perhaps asking interesting questions or sharing interesting thoughts in the various channels which get cred linked emojis.

Generally I want an MMO to back off a bit when it first dumps me into a game to let me get my footing on my own timetable rather than being rushed by pop-up windows.

I do have to give WildStar credit for reworking its beginner experience to allow players to choose from one of three levels of need when starting out the game.

This is something Wendell and I talked about a fair bit in our abstractions about community structure some months ago. I love the idea of eventually having introduction experiences that are more specific to your areas of interest and your level of need. This would have a huge impact on the tutorial vs everything box issue, because you wouldn’t have to try and make one method fit every newcomer.

If someone doesn’t need much introductory content, then we want to give them the opportunity to contribute (and connect with high context contributors) as soon as they understand the community values and norms. But if someone needs a lot of explanation and guidance, we can still give them the step by step understanding that will make our community more accessible to their equally valuable perspectives (without making huge demands of people with really high context).

Although I’m [not] a huge fan of these tutorials, I believe the ones that do it best are those that attempt to wrap you up in the story of game before really concerning the player with the mechanics of the game. Everything is done in broad strokes at first…

This makes a lot of intuitive sense to me, and gives me thoughts on how we would organize our tutorial style (the more “automated” introductory portions of) onboarding to focus on explaining the “story” of SourceCred. First guide them through the origin story, the dream, the vision, (that “sexy longterm vision” as Wendell put it) and get them connected to the community first and foremost from the purpose/passion/heart place.

This could even look like a graphically beautiful introduction to the vision and dreams of SourceCred which ends in a “choose your own adventure” style multi choice for continuing to learn about SourceCred like mentioned in the quote above.

Probably the proto-version of that would be having one introductory page which contains the video from the SC interview footage, the SC manifesto, an origin story, and maybe a strategy rant. This page on the website could become the first thing we consistently funnel newcomers to for the “read up!” portion of the tutorial experience.

an interesting approach: essentially raising the character’s level so that the player has a goal or knowledge of where the progression is headed.

This again speaks to me of creating opportunities for newcomers to quickly gain (even a sort of trivial) amount of cred/grain (like Donuts on Reddit if they were more useful). Give them the chance to interact right away, earn a bit of cred/grain, and be encouraged to explore the ways you can apply that cred/grain in the tangible systems and the social community. Essentially raise their XP which is basically the understanding of how to interact with the algorithm and the community.

After wandering around pre-searing for while, I had a question on something or another and asked it in general chat. I received quite a few responses (maybe it was my youthful naivety, but I still feel like that game had a great community), but Maive messaged me privately and walked me through it, answered a couple other questions I had, and then offered to party up and show me around. Maive spent a couple hours just hanging out, telling me about some systems later in the game, and showing me neat areas around Ascalon.

While reading a book called “First, Break All the Rules” about research into effective management, engaged employees (contributors), company (community) success, and the relationships between the three; I encountered a hypothetical example of the difference between an average employee at a grocery store, and a truly engaged employee at a grocery store. (Read about Gallup’s 12Qs to learn more about what “engaged” means in this context.)

The essence of the example is that while a normal employee may tell you where in the store to find the grapefruits when you ask, a truly engaged employee will take you to the grapefruits and explain how to pick your preferred ripeness based on their system of stocking the fruits back to front. “Maive” from the quote above sounds like a mentor who feels really engaged in their community.

If we could incentivize the role of “Mentor” (or Ambassador) into it’s own form of “gaming” SourceCred (just like a Cred-Historian) then we could potentially create a group (guild? team?) of contributors who focus some portion of their energy into making sure that newcomers understand what’s going on and supporting them in their onboarding as a way of “gaming” cred.

Perhaps with a community expectation that we’re all out there “trying things” and an intuitive/explicit understanding that criticism of those ineffective contributions are in themselves useful because we’re able to identify what works, what doesn’t, and how to move forward. This could imply that even “failures” could get cred as long as it’s part of an aligned experimentation rather than a pattern of shitty behavior.

One necessity that I see with this is needing to be able to determine which mentorship contributions are valuable and which are ineffective. The more these kind of value judgements go into the realm of interpersonal relationships, the more awkward it can get and the more effective communication skills you need to have to be able to talk about it. I don’t feel like the answer should ever be “let the algorithm have complete control over it so we don’t have to feel awkward” though. Still chewing on thoughts around how to scale community skills to new communities that turn on SourceCred.

Many games try to create a new player experience that will get players up to speed, with varying levels of success…But ultimately, if you want people to play together, your entire experience hinges on two things – keeping people from quitting immediately in frustration, and having a good community that will give them people to play with, advice to help them, and a reason to stick around.

Give cred early, but also get connected early. This tells me we shouldn’t keep engagement with the community behind a tutorial or quest-wall (which I’ve personally experienced frustration about in other communities). Get them the tools/resources they need to start getting the big picture and feeling out that sexy long-term vision; but simultaneously get them on our main platform of communication so they can start having conversations, sharing ideas, and learning the social norms as they become invested in the dream.

“keeping people from quitting immediately in frustration” – this is where our tutorials need to be easy to access and grasp, as well as condensed and potent. Anything else is a fekkin’ slog to get through, and can actually create a distasteful experience for the new contributor. I imagine a tutorial should enable instead of limit.

“having a good community that will give them people to play with, advice to help them, and a reason to stick around.” – Some people will come for the vision, others for the money, but some will come for the chance to be in a healthy community full of rad humans. The person who joins solely for the community may not be very motivated by how much money it makes them or where the whole community is headed, however, the person who joins solely for their interest in making money or the vision will probably still be impacted by the quality of the community environment.

People want to have fun with their friends, they want to be supported as they explore. People want to feel connected to each other. What it feels like to connect with a community while you explore their project will impact your desire to continue with them, and your ability to bring forward valuable contributions to them.

So, in my opinion? The best newbie onboarding system is a game that encourages community at all levels, rewards teaming up across levels, and actively works to foster and support player relationships. It’s players who actually care about the health of the game and the quality of the experience. Wikis will go out of date, greeters and mentors might quit or get laid off, but ultimately, we, as players, are the best onboarding experience a company can hope for.

“community at all levels” - this just makes me think about the research around the benefits of having many different age ranges in a community. In my alternative-style school there were certain classes (most notably “Advisory”) that combined grades 6-12 and I remember it as a really useful social tool when most of my day was spent with kids in my own grade. Let contributors of different experience-level intermix with each other and share thoughts. Don’t close off large portions of the community based on their place in the hierarchy.

“but ultimately, we, as players, are the best onboarding experience a company can hope for.” - I love the idea of creating a social norm in the community that everyone is at least a little responsible (and will benefit from) helping newcomers as they join us. To shift away from the sensation that Mentorship is something only people with mentor badges engage with, and towards a model where everyone wants to be a part of that community cohesion/vibe creation (and is rewarded for it with support cred).


Wos! Awesome bunch of thoughts!

Always loved how sometimes in MMOs people would just help you for the sake of it! Great support for reflection

That’s a really cool idea. Incentivizing mentorship could become a core value prop for SourceCred. Mentorship is everything!

When you take a step back, quests in MMOs have 2 roles. They help players learn about the game. But they are also important to earn XP and become stronger. In that they are totally aligned with the goal of the MMO player. Here we’re in a different setting were the goal is not to earn XP or whatever, which might make most quests irrelevant. Here the newcomer will want to contribute to a great project to earn cred or learn to use sourcecred. Therefore MMO quests could be replaced with great SourceCred guides and tutorials depending on what the newcomer wants to do!

Yes totally. When i jump in a new community i’m just wondering how i can be useful. Most often the answer is hard to find.

For me the “feel” part has always been more important. I can understand how things work and how to add value from a short 15min conversation with an experienced community member. On the other hand i can browse forums and chats for hours before getting relevant inputs.

That’s one thing you guys have been doing well with Ambassador call. The template for the call could be made available to other community members who would do it autonomously for newcomer friends and colleagues.

Totally. Great place to start. This could be appended as a potential path of the newcomer bot?

Different types of NFTs and badges could also make sense to give contributors tangible feedback. Badges could represent different types of areas/tasks.

Could the first “quest” be a call with an existing -trained- contributor? Getting connected is super important indeed! Best way to belong and feel needed.

From my MMO experience it was a great feeling to progress through the game with someone of your age/experience. Pairing people together with someone they can really indentify to could really help get people keep going and support each other.

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