The problem

The RP Repository is an online gaming site with an active forum-based community. They had determined that when a new player signed up and introduced themselves on the forums, the number of personal welcomes that they received in response significantly impacted the likelihood of a new player to become a long-term player — and a paying member!

But as their marketing campaigns began to successfully bring in ever more new members, the small number of volunteers who were welcoming and orienting them was being burned out and slowly leaving the program, and it was a rare event that a new volunteer would be gained. This meant that the number of warm welcomes being posted in response to new player introduction topics was slowly but steadily dropping; and the numbers weren’t that high to begin with. Since personal welcomes is such a key part in retaining members that advertising brings in, this translated into lost income and wasted advertising dollars.

Our task was to design an incentive program that would make more experienced players be interested in providing personal welcomes to new players, without creating a significant long-term cost associated with running the incentive program.

The solution

Given the site’s main demographic range of 15-25 year olds with an interest in online gaming and the fantasy genre, we settled on a social incentive that would feel familiar to them: The achievement badge. The final design was just a simple celtic knot icon that would be affixed to a player’s profile, for the world to see their achievements. They are automatically awarded on the last day of each month, based on the number of timely welcomes the player provided to new players.

Although it is possible to collect more than one “welcomer” achievement badge, we knew that many players wouldn’t continue providing welcomes after they had “unlocked” their first welcome badge. Therefore, we created 12 different versions of the badge.

rpr_celticknots_white rpr_celticknots_blue rpr_celticknots_fire rpr_celticknots_gold rpr_celticknots_green rpr_celticknots_neonrainbow rpr_celticknots_pastelrainbow1 rpr_celticknots_pastelrainbow2 rpr_celticknots_purple rpr_celticknots_rainbow rpr_celticknots_red rpr_celticknots_water

Each month, it is only possible to earn one of the badges. Which ones are available rotates, but the more welcomes a player provides, the more colorful the badge they receive will be. This means that a player would need to consistently offer welcomes to new players for a full year to be able to boast that they have collected the full set of welcomer achievement badges.

This creates an “elite” level of friendliness, an exclusive club for those players who are the most inclusive.

Each player’s monthly “welcomer” score is calculated automatically, and the badges are awarded and announced automatically as well. There is no need for human involvement to run the incentive program, aside from the normal moderator oversight to remove inappropriate messages that was already in effect for all forum posts. (We’ve also conducted analysis on whether encouraging all these extra forum posts resulted in an increase of posts flagged as offensive or inappropriate on the introduction forum — it didn’t!)

When the badges were introduced, we ran a launch event hyping them up. We also continue to post occasional reminders, encouragements and how-to tips in the site’s news feed to keep the badges top of mind for players.

Results

Average number of personal welcomes per new player introducing themselves, by month

The pink highlighted bar indicates the month in which our program was first introduced. It’s important to note that the program was introduced in the final week of the month, so 3/4 of that month, the incentive was not in place.

This is an improvement of 206.51%, when comparing the last 3 full months of welcomes before the introduction of the program and the following 3 full months of the program being in place.

Follow up

moaRoughly a year later, just around the time that the most devoted welcomers were finally earning their last badge in the set of 12, we introduced a fictional merchant to the site who offered an assortment of even more fantastical badges, in exchange for 3 of the original achievement badges — meaning that the new badges were even more “elite,” and carried even more social currency, and the old badges would have to be re-earned with 3 more months of consistent, timely welcomes.

Data analysis over the past two years shows that since the introduction of this incentive program, the higher average number of personal welcomes per new player continues to hold steady.

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