Out of consumer error – insert more consumers

Source: Journal Of Virtual Worlds Research Vol. 1. No. 2. ISSN: 1941-8477  November 2008

“Consumer Behaviour in Virtual Worlds”

The “New” Virtual Consumer: Exploring the Experiences of New Users

By Lyle R. Wetsch, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Faculty of Business Administration, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

In essence, Lyle Wetsch’s idea is that there are insufficient numbers of people already participating in virtual worlds, so businesses need to attract new users into these worlds, to “effectively recruit real world consumers into the virtual world and retain them through positive interactions.” Whether or not this should be the goal, or whether the goal should be to study the existing populations of virtual worlds and make the advertising and other offerings more attractive to them, is somewhat of a moot point. What is more important here is that there are new users entering these digital environments, and that we need to understand their grievances and positive experiences, in order to know how best to tailor consumer experiences for them.

40 undergraduate business students and 10 MBA graduate students spent 12 weeks in Second Life becoming acclimatised to that environment, all having entered as first-time users. Through blog entries, online discussion groups and interviews of these students, information about new user experiences was gleaned. Wetsch feels that this information is able to “guide suggestions for improving the experience of new virtual consumers in order to create long-term consumer relationships with an organization’s virtual presence.”

Second Life is one of the prime candidates being considered as a potential advertising base for real world consumers. It is one of few virtual worlds with the capabilities required for business endeavours – user-created content and user-to-user transactions.

In summary: section by section

Research Problem: We need to reduce churn – this is where users register, but fail to continue to use the product – by coming to understand the new user experience better.

Theoretical Framework: Research done on text-based chat environments. This seems inadequate – users interact with other users, but are more likely to interact with their environment, unless a business has provided a staff member to interact with at their build.

Methodology: “Student comments and discussions provided insight into the mind of the new entrant to the virtual world in real-time as they experienced it, commenting on their blogs at the time the incidents occurred to enhance the
accurate recall of events.”

Findings:

  • Technical Requirements: Many students were disappointed with the lack of capability to run Second Life that their computers demonstrated. Both the students and the researchers compared Second Life graphics and overall quality of response to other “gaming” environments, not taking into account that those other environments, using game-like graphics, can store much of their data locally, rather than having to make continual updates, as happens with Second Life.
  • Graphics: Those students able to access the digital environment easily were for the most part impressed with the graphical quality of Second Life.
  • Avatar control: Interestingly, this group of students seems to have had quite a lot of difficulty with avatar control, particularly those with prior gaming experience, who found the different controls to be disorienting. Time and practice seemed to fix the problem.
  • Griefers: “Griefing was experienced by less than 10% of the students.” However, those affected by it seemed most upset and put out by it.
  • Variety of experiences: Many of the students expressed great disappointment with the Search function, especially when comparing it with Google’s performance.
  • Lack of people/interactions: The students had quite a lot of trouble finding other users to interact with. Even when they were able to find groups of users conversing, often the other people would not talk to them. This brought about feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Building is not enough: A lack of effort is recognised by users, and will have a decidedly negative impact on them as consumers.

Conclusions and Implications

“The key is the INTERACTION. Without the interaction, there are better channels to present the information.”

  • Expectation Management: Users are more likely to be forgiving if you let them know what they are getting and why they are getting it – if you have a good, rational explanation for, for example, the technical requirements for your product being so steep, people tend to be more forgiving.
  • Ease of use: Improve the new user experience by making the environment easier to interact with. Provide useful tools and expectation management.
  • Interaction: Make it interactive. If there are no users to interact with, consumers need some other sort of interaction to keep them engaged.

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