Back in March this year, Second Life was closing in on Everquest in terms of peak popularity. Everquest itself peaked at approximately 90,000 concurrent users during its most popular period and Second Life came within a whisker of that at 88,199.
Since then, though, Second Life's user-concurrency (as you can see in the chart above, covering the last two years) has been slowly declining.
The decline is attributed to Linden Lab's actions against some types of bots (automated clients) used to artificially boost traffic rather than to provide useful functions or facilities – though we haven't seen any noticeable decline in the presence of these bots on the grid. Of course, Everquest had its share of bots as well.
It isn't surprising that Linden Lab thinks that retention needs a shot in the arm, and has been reviewing orientation processes with a view to boosting them (though apparently so far the only new orientation processes that we are aware of are targeted at enterprise users).
If increasing new-user retention is such a focus, you might wonder why Linden Lab has chosen this time to cut the mentor program and the access of volunteer helpers to the orientation areas. There only seems to be one theory that really fits the facts.
During the course of the year, Linden Lab engaged in some extensive A/B testing on orientation, measuring retention of new users (according to some criteria only known to itself), both with and without the presence of volunteer mentors in the orientation areas. After that testing was completed, mentor access to the orientation areas was cut with the disbanding of the group.
The only scenario that seems to make sense is that retention after orientation was better without the volunteers, than with them – at least according to whatever measurements the Lab uses.
Oblique statements by Linden Lab staff seem to indicate that the number of new users who pass successfully through orientation onto the main Second Life grid are between ten percent and one-tenth of one percent. Regardless of which end of that scale the true number really is, new user retention could certainly stand considerable improvement.
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