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The Newb Effort
This is a post I wrote over a year ago for the other zone sysops when I thought there was a good chance at uniting them to try and create a place that we could help retain new players. None of the zones do that now - TW used to in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, the major sysops couldn't agree on how it was going to be run, and the effort didn't happen (yet).

The post was reposted by Red_X on the TW forums a while back, so it's been public, but I thought I would repost it here for anyone to see and reference. It is long - I did not write it as a PR effort, but as a full throttle backgrounder for what I think is needed to get new players to stay in the game. To me, the effort is not dead. There are still many possibilities to start retaining newbs again.



The Newb Effort

To reverse the trend of the downward spiraling Subspace population, we must create a situation where new players can immediately have FUN and want to discover the depth of our classic and beloved game. How can we do this?

I. Declining Population

Subspace has been losing population for several years now instead of growing. Why?

Failure to retain new players. We get many new players coming in every day but almost none of them stay. Why?

ALL zones are now inhabited exclusively by multi-year vets, so a newb (meaning a *actual* brand new player) goes 1-10 (over and over), and as any sane human would, leaves. Did this always happen? Why is it different than in years past?

Yes. There is no "newb" zone now. In the beginning, everyone was a newb. Alpha was an _enforced by points_ newb zone. Chaos was enforced by points intermediate zone. Later, TW was the newb zone from about 2000-2005-ish, when it had a population of about 600. Since then, TW has gradually transitioned to what I call a "mature club." This is a common pattern -- I've seen it happen in more than one sports club irl. Chaos has been a "mature club" for many years now.

Why do we lose close to 100% of newbs? The problem stems from a lack of separation of skill levels. Once players are 3 skill levels apart in playing ability, NEITHER player will have fun (unless they are in a noncompetitive, teacher-student relationship). These two players in a situation that is supposed to be competitive, the lower player loses constantly (and doesn't really understand why; not enough experience/knowledge), and the upper player wins easily; too easily. In a "mature club" the new player is driven out, and the older, veteran players stay. The vets say they want new players, but their (understandable/rational) behavior drives them away. In the longer run, the vets will sporadically leave also, creating a slowly spiraling downward population where the club slowly dies, or asymtotes down to some static, low activity level. This is where we find ourselves with SS today.

And this is why I say advertising won't help us atm. Any new players coming in will go into the existing zones and die repeatedly to vets and leave. Some vets even relish killing the newbs over and over and driving them out. Before we start to advertise in earnest, we need a place for newbs to go and have fun.

II. Retaining New Players

How can we retain these new players? And when I say new players, I mean *brand* new. If the person has been there a week and/or is playing regularly, they are not new; they are intermediate; they are already captured. We need to focus only on the actual new players; capturing them, and getting them to the point where they can start to compete in the easiest arenas.

In any video game, you get about 1-5 minutes to capture a player. Usually within 1 minute the player is either having fun, or wants to leave.

I've tried a number of things to get players to stick it out in Chaos until they are competitive (which is approx 2-3 months of daily play; 1 month for the exceptionally talented - historically Chaos only gets players who 'graduate' from other zones). I've tried spending hours with a new player over a series of days, showing them the skills, getting them to understand energy management, etc. Doesn't work. I can get a very few to stick around for a week or three, but that's it. Most still leave within 5 mins after dying a few times.

I've thought extensively about a handicapping system for chaos/svs. I have some very interesting/cool ideas, but every handicapping system I've seen irl has sucked and can be gamed -- and I think we have even more challenges making one work within an anonymous video game. My handicapping system is more suited to a new zone, not to a legacy SVS zone.

Several of the zones already have a "newb arena" of one sort or another. All failures... This is not an easy thing to 'get right' -- a newb does not want to read text, or just fly aimlessly around. They want to get in and play, understand what's going on, and feel in control.

The only thing I've seen work is for a new player to be brought in by a friend who holds their hand for those dozens of playing hours while they learn. But that is extremely rare. I tried to revive this team oriented behavior by recreating squad stats and Reset Winners in Chaos hoping that would spur squad leaders and members to recruit and train people. Hasn't happened in 1.5 yrs -- not nearly enough anyway.

The solution is for the club operators (the sysops) to enforce a separation of skill levels -- at first at least. Allow the vet players to be teachers if they want (most don't, really). How can we do this?

We need an Alpha again. A zone/arena where newbs are _forced_ to go at first, so they can:
1) play other similarly skilled newbs (only!)
2) get training from helpful vets
3) have fun, feel powerful and in control immediately!

III. Why Do Newbs Stay?

What do newbs want when they come in?

1) They want to have FUN, feel in control, and ideally, powerful
2) They want to understand the basics of what's going on; it's ok to die if they understand why it happened
3) They want to "win" which usually means "kill someone" early on. If they can't win, they should feel like they could if they play a little better -- AND they understand what the 'little better' means.

IV. How to Give Newbs this Fun

How can we supply this?

Side note: Vets understandably don't recall what it's like when they first entered the game. It is absolutely overwhelming for newbs -- explosions, the chat, walls, bombs, ships flying around, the spam, the bewildering array of icons and controls.... What's important?!?!? Energy? wtf is that? 90% of the time, newbs won't talk to me _at all_ which is mostly because they don't even realize someone is trying to talk to them -- what is green text anyway?!?!?

We need to make sure that only a minimal set of 'important stuff' (aka the stuff they want to do) is assailing the newb when they first come in. A relatively empty/quiet arena is an advantage here.

There are a number of ways to go here, and we need user testing (I'm big on actual data, not what ppl imagine new players will do) to see what works best. One way is to have a series of arenas with tasks to help the newb learn the minimal basic skill set. Another way is to have it all within one arena (can it be separated sufficiently?) We'll need to do some creative thinking and testing here to find what works for most newbs. Again, actual interaction/play is CRITICAL. Reading or listening to a vet describe what to do is not good enough. They need to start 'doing stuff' right away (#1 2 and 3 above).

V. SS Skill Set

What is the minimum SS skill set?

Here is a task analysis of the ss skill set. Please comment about it -- I'm sure it can be improved.

1) Where am I? Identify your own ship. Put all newbs in the wb at first
2) How to fly? Arrow keys
3) How to start to control flight? Pick up greens or flags or fly through openings.
--this marks the first minute -- newb should have picked stuff up within the first minute

4) What is a wall? What happens when I hit it? e.g. Navigate some passage.
--some players will be happy to fly around and get a feel for controls at this point. But many will not. They will want to start to try and kill stuff.

5) How do I shoot? ctrl to fire bullets; tab for bombs;
--now a player could go against another new player, or a bot, or a sacrificial lamb of some sort.

6) Why did I die? The concept of energy management.
--here is a critical juncture in the learning process. In one shot kill zones, the answer is obvious because the game design has been simplified. In the more advanced zones, where it takes concerted dmg to kill someone, it is not so obvious, but completely critical. The answer is actually the same -- your energy went below 0.

I've had some success training newbs in this by giving them energy view in a dueling box. Then having them shoot and watch their energy go down. Then close bomb a wall and see what happens to their energy (critical for zones with prox bombs). Then shoot another player and watch their energy go down until they die.

I'd like to give newbs energy view at this point, but we have to make sure that wiley vets can't abuse this to get energy view in a 'real' arena inside the hosting zone.

7) How do I kill? Energy management again.
--If we deal with #5 well, this is a non-factor -- they already know the answer. At this point conveying to them that vets are _very_ good at this, is important. This helps the newb understand why they died but the vet did not.

At this point, the newb is fully ready for combat against similarly skilled players. They may wish to return to the basics to figure things out further; ask questions of the vet/teachers. Have them do many duels now.

Side note: We want the vet/teachers to have prestige; certainly within the newb arena, but also within SS. Other vets should be thanking them for their time. Maybe giving them the title of Sensei? Ideas here? :)

8) How to repel? shift ctrl
--this is the most powerful, and powerful-feeling toy going.

Now, we're post Newb.1, and into Newb.2 - if they are still around, they are having some fun and can be captured as long as they're not dumped into the 'deep end of the pool' for a while.

9) What is the square in the lower right? Radar.
--how to get the bigger picture. At this point the question of screen resolution comes up. The Sensei should help them get the best resolution (bigger is better in general).

10) How to attach/turret? F7
--this is a critical thing to learn early. It gives the newb a sense of team, and can help a new player learn how to aim and shoot, and conserve energy without worrying about flying.

That is the minimal set. Now I'll list the remainder of abilities/toys in approximate order of importance (def needs improvement):

11) Thors

12) Rockets -- powerful!

13) Bursts

14) Portals

15) Antiwarp

16) Greening -- maybe this should come earlier.

17) ?status -- relate it back to greening

18) Cloaking

19) Xradar

20) Bricks

21) Bouncing Bullets

22) Prox

23) Flags -- remember that newbs won't be up to flagging for a while, so this can come later.

24) Bounty

25) Decoys

26) Concept of bomb and bullet levels

27) Balls and passing; Goal scoring.

That about covers the entirety of SVS sans bot cmds. I am not trying to address in-game tactics (yet).

VI. How do the Newbs get to the Right Place?

How can we get the newbs to the Newb-Only arena?

Every zone will need a bot to identify new players, and quickly (~5-10 seconds) *sendto them to the newb arena.

How does the bot NOT send vet players there?

Several things can be done to not send vets there:
1) If the nick has never been seen before by the bot (or is marked as a Newb in the DB), they might be a new player.
2) The bot will have a command: !vet which will prevent the bot from sending the new player, and permanently mark that name as a vet. Vets will learn this command very quickly.
3) If the player does a ?go quickly, they must be a vet -- mark them as such.
4) If the nick has >50 hrs usage, they are a vet.
5) If the player belongs to a squad, they are a vet.

#2 above is the ultimate fall back for vets to not be bothered.

What happens if a vet goes to the Newb-Only arena? A bot there should do similar tests to those above to prevent malicious vets from chasing off newbs. If a player comes in, and immediately starts fighting and killing the other newbs, they are a vet. Spec them. The Sensei's should be able to ID vets from their play and *spec them and such.

VII. Newb Arena Staffing and Location

All SS zones should try to provide Sensei's to staff the newb-only arena. We do not want this to be a single zone effort. I view this as an SS-wide effort that can help us all. I do not want to own this, or be in sole charge of it. I will do what I can to help get it off the ground, but I think it absolutely needs a person completely dedicated to this effort (which I cannot do -- I have too many other irons in the fire).

It makes the most sense to me to house this inside TW. I understand some people's reluctance to do that, but TW is under new management, and I think is more open minded about the health of the game in general. To me, if I see 600 ppl in TW again, I'm going to be seeing 100+ in Chaos again too. I don't want people having a zero-sum mindset about this effort (i.e. your zone gains a player, means my zone loses a player -- a negative and false way to view most of the world's systems). We must all agree and be sure that it is not just a training area for TW play alone. If we can all get hooked up on the arena sharing system, then it doesn't really matter where the newb-only zone is hosted. All active arenas will be easily, and equally accessible.

VIII. Promotion and Advertising

Once we have the newb-only arena up and going and having some success, we can start to advertise and have it make a difference -- the new players that come in will have a much greater likelihood of having fun and sticking around.

I see this being the precursor, and also dovetailing with the SSBR effort, which is one version of the PR side to revive the game.

IX. Conclusion

Ok that is the core of the idea. I'm sure there are many improvements and refinements we can make. Perhaps some of this unworkable. I've probably forgotten some major items.

My sole concern is to get more ppl playing this great game in all its myriad forms. Thanks for participating. Open for comments!!!

I had started writing a module for asss, and advanced team organizer, rather than just take the players that enter a put them on a team, to evaluate the entire arena before a game started and organize them into what the module thought would be the most even teams. Taking stats or w:l k:d and general exp and usage data from each player and pairing them with equal opponents.


I think the system you are trying to implement is far too complicated for far too few people.


The main thing is that there are too many vets, and far too many people that harass on pick on the new players for lack of skill.

Quote:We need an Alpha again.



Just some of my humble input (if I can remember anything)...


In the days that alpha served it's original purpose, there were 300 people and 4 pub arenas. The original, original alpha had no real sysop or staff. There was one admin who was responsible for (on a business professional-ish level) a number of the SVS zones, including chaos and others. We asked for 3 of us to be granted sysop access in alpha, and that sysop was glad to hand it to us and he took more and more of a backseat role in all the zones overall. Eventually all the server and ownership issues and crap all happened and we found ourselves with no formal ties to anyone or any other zone, aside from the friends and acquaintances along the way. We mostly followed chaos and was hosted wherever they were, as well as DZ and some others others... this is how the community was originally partitioned. Later on, TW was started and hogged all the players and newbs because the action level was higher and the gameplay was stupidly easy and straightforward... the learning curve consisted of how long it took for you to memorize the map. Point being, the SS community has always been a rag-tag group of hosts and admins and websites, AND their vets. That's really the only reason the game is around now.


So, onto a new alpha... it needs to be about the players, not the gameplay or learning curve. The reason that players stick with the game is due to their overall experience, and different people want different things, but what ALL players want chat. Chit-chat. Why have so many people stayed around in spec? Why did the players with 8000ms pings from australia stick around? One thing that alpha had, was that there was always a player or 10 willing to shout out help to people and be 100% newb friendly, like a welcoming squad.


We had talked in the past about using bots to create training scenarios, and advancing through a training course, as a subarena function. This game's simplicity and capability is just nuts, and that's what a lot of others got hooked on. A lot of people want to contribute content and man hours to help a cause. People wanted to learn and share back then, and they want it now, too.


Vets or no vets, that never mattered as a newb. It just gave you goals over a longer period of time, a list of players to beat up and dominate.
I think the solution is Richard's redesign of SS, where he has the ability to code in the kinds of changes the game needs. Such as, a tiered playing system to separate players by skill levels. I haven't seen Richard mention this, but he would have the ability to add new content and therefore reduce the skill gap through evolving game dynamics. The 10,000 hour warbird vet is countered by the 10 hour newb exploiting a new technique in a new ship that people are still learning to use. As it is, the SS game has several critical design flaws (stemming from its age) that need to be addressed by a developer.


I realized I didn't add a suggestion on how to help, which is not very helpful. So, here goes: Split map solution. Or map within a map, however you choose to think about it.


If the map was split into 2 sections, considering the size, it should be possible, you can effectively separate vets from newbs, but consolidate the population and improve chat. You have a newb side and vet side, maybe the maps are copies side by side, or similar but different maps, or maybe very different entirely. This way new players can observe vets, talk with vets, but play against newbs. The vets would be able to moderate the newb side of the map (they are already in the zone playing) but won't be able to fight the newbs. How to implement this would be the challenge, given the limits of the existing client. 

hall, I disagree with you on this:


"<span style="color:rgb(40,40,40);font-family:helvetica, arial, sans-serif;">1) They want to have FUN, feel in control, and ideally, powerful"</span>


<span style="color:rgb(40,40,40);font-family:helvetica, arial, sans-serif;">Newbies should not feel powerful, that is the main reason that causes anyone to quit</span>

<span style="color:rgb(40,40,40);font-family:helvetica, arial, sans-serif;">a good too early in my opinion. The only reason that makes me continue playing</span>

<span style="color:rgb(40,40,40);font-family:helvetica, arial, sans-serif;">addictive games is that I can kill most but some players are just too damn good.</span>

<span>That state gives you the fun you require and the passion to be best.</span>


<span>If you simply, as a newbie, become powerful the game is no longer interesting as</span>

<span>there is no where to aspire to.</span>



<span>"</span>V. SS Skill Set"


In DSB we used to have a period message that tells newbies they can use ?help

if they use help they can immediately have a conversation with an operator.

When I started (in like 2005), it was 'trial by fire' that either you sink or swim.  That made me feel like when i did win a fight, i felt like i really did something.. because of this, i think 'coddling' or 'babying' is the absolute wrong answer.


Further, at this stage in the game, i think we should be more vet oriented, if we being the community of cold blooded killers i think we are, we should hold on to the players we have, so 'dumbing things down' could destroy the population we currently have.


-just a concern

Bargeld, eris and Gruntster the 3 amigos Smile I remember those days Barg.

WTF Get off my lawn!
FYI, lightbender was kind enough to drive a newb and myself the other night.  Even after the close bomb team kills.  At least Alpha's community is receptive to new players in Chaos.  Another driver jumped ship on us.

Hallu, I think this is a marvellous idea. It's also quite a logical one too. A new zone with this input would be a great way to attract a number of fresh meat to the game.

Don't get me wrong, it's not going to make the zones have 4 public arena's each, but it could definitely bring a few. I for one, actually waited around 2006-2008 for something like this to happen, and that was before the game had completely declined to the level it is at right now.

A lot of people reading would be thinking, but who would want to play in a new, dead zone? One option would be to organise an event type of thing perhaps once a week, and obviously advertise it where need be. If we can get 20 people into Powerball on a Sunday, it should be quite manageable to get a decent amount of players into a new zone, as long as it has variety and can engage people.

Step 1: Start a poll

Step 2: If the poll succeeds, and a zone is started, create the zone solely out of what the players want (via suggestions board)

Step 3: Organise for a weekly bash n' brawl in the zones public arena, with new things like powerball's and bases (I suggest making the map size generally smaller than what Chaos is, per say.)

It will take time, and obviously it's not a 100% success rate, but I definitely think it would be worth a try.

And of course, I don't believe making the game "handicapped" or easier to technically speaking, play... would do much justice, as I do consider this game and always have to be one of the most competitive and skill requiring games there is. If it were made today, it would be considered a MOBA and with things like 4v4 League, an e-sport.


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