“Coming for the Content, Staying for the Community” Started With Video Games (Or Maybe Religion?) But Will Define Media This Decade
Watching a half dozen French Resistance soldiers standing around debating whether Taco Bell is “authentic” teaches you some things. First, that most people have no idea what real Mexican food tastes like. Second, that community is the most powerful retention mechanism available to game developers, because you see, these “soldiers” were players in an online WWII multiplayer simulation. While the chance to shoot some virtual Nazis was likely the original motivation to sign-up, it was the presence of other people which brought them back each day (and bill their credit card $12.95 each month). As I looked around for more examples of this I found that the introduction of connectivity to gaming (hello internet!) had really emphasized how much play was about community. Whether the MMORPG guilds hanging out between dungeon raids, or casual sites like Yahoo Games where the checkers, backgammon, and so on were really just something to do while you text chatted, there were numerous examples of people talking more and more about how the game was a ‘third place’ for them.
Working on the virtual world Second Life at the time I had the proverbial “front row seat” to what online interaction could look like down in the future. It was, or rather is, a fully user-constructed shared virtual world. Think Minecraft but like 100x less successful! Although to be fair, (i) Second Life is still around and profitable and (ii) many of the design choices we made were quite influential on later products. Anyhow, we over-indexed on the community and left the content largely up to the inhabitant which was only appealing to a limited number of passionate users (about half a million). I spent about three years as part of that team and the notion of “staying for the community” lodged itself deep in my cranial matter. Then my time working on AdSense and YouTube for nearly a decade gave me other vantage points from which to see where eyeballs and dollars traveled in media.