Gordon Luk has, post-SXsW posted some well illustrated examples of avatars and the types of available customisation that can be done in various MMORPGs and social media sites.
Luk is looking at the differences between ‘explicitly controlled’ and ‘implicitly controlled’ customisations. The former being those that are created by the user/player (initial picture, autobiography) and the latter being those that are generated or altered by the game engine itself. What he is interested in is how social media applications can learn from game environments,
avatars can play a large role in improving participation in games and social media, and can arguably go a long way into transforming one into the other. Building these layers into a community system can definitely result in game dynamics, and I’d bet that it would improve network engagement.
From using Last.fm a lot there it becomes apparent that part of the pleasure and stickiness of the site lies in the ‘implicitly controlled’ customisations. In Last.fm these are the automatically logged track and album charts that generate as you play and ‘scrobble’ music into their system (game), and the ‘neighbours’, ‘radio stations’ and ‘recommendations’ the system generates as a result. Through pleasure and stickiness comes an investment from the user in continuing to maintain their (in this case musical) identity on the site.
One of the things I am looking forward to in San Francisco at Museums and the Web this year is hearing how museums are encouraging stickiness and user investment in their proposed and in some cases, already developed, post 2.0 era websites. I expect it isn’t always going to be a ‘build it and they will come’ situation unless museums can get the ‘stickiness’ factor right with their target audiences. This is where I can see great merit in Jim Spadaccini and others work with smaller museums and non-profits, choosing to harness already existing, and already ‘sticky’ social media rather than try to develop their own (competing) ones.
Fundamentally the question is “why does someone spend so much time in a game world customising their avatar?”. And, “how can we get them to do that on our site as well?”