I've noticed a pretty common topic amongst the MMO glitterati over the last couple years: Why does Second Life get so much more press than (insert pet MMO) when they aren't even in the top 10 used virtual worlds online? It came up at a recent panel discussion I spoke on about gaming, and it came up again at an OpenCoffee. The answer may be patently obvious to some, but the MMOs have no one to blame but themselves.
By almost any measurable statistic (page views, revenue, growth rate, retention, concurrent users, peak concurrent) Second Life is at best a mid-tier virtual world. So why don't all these other worlds with better statistics get more press? Are they just suckers for big brands? Have reporters never heard of World of Warcraft? Do they just have something against games?
The reason is that numbers make for boring articles. A product has, at best, three natural major story moments (product announced, product released, product a success). However, the folks at Linden Labs understand that stories about your customers are a well you can always come back to.
For instance at Ambient we got all the requisite coverage in the tech press. So we could have just called it a day when Seth Godin wrote about us and then figured we would go back out with a shiny new press release when we sold our millionth Orb or released the next product.
But instead our message became:
- did you hear about the kid in a windowless Manhattan apartment using the Orb to track the sun?
- did you hear about the Children's Hospital using the Orb to track the wait time in the ER?
- did you hear about how Microsoft is using the Orb to broadcast the health of their builds to teams?
That got us stories like this one in Business Week, or this one in The Economist, and plenty more (I am not tooting my own horn, this particular strategy was largely David's idea). Linden did one better than us and hired a reporter to write about what customers were doing in Second Life. The story of SL became what users were doing, not what the company was up to.
The shame is that MMOs already have these stories. If you've spent any time at all in the industry you've heard, or perhaps been involved in, what we call "emergent behavior." Like the one about how the after-market value of white robes in Asheron's Call started going through the roof when people decided to marry their avatars, thus launching the desire for make-do wedding gowns. Or about how the City of Heroes players spontaneously honored Christopher Reeve in-game when he passed.
These stories are talked about constantly amongst game designers, community managers, and fans. But, with the exception of Eve Online, I can't think of many MMOs regularly touting their users behavior. You'd have to assume that the execs and PR departments of the major studios had no idea they were presiding over a social network.
This seems obvious - but reporters tell stories. If you want to get the kind of attention Second Life gets stop telling stories about your product, and start telling stories about your customers. Why don't more MMOs communicate the story to the mainstream about the compelling social spaces they have created?