trends

What Adult Can Learn from Videogames

The Tongue
They pay an average of $14-$20 per month and remain members for years at a time. Approximately 83 percent of them are male, 51 percent work full time, 36 percent are married and 22 percent already have children of their own. They are used to buying content online in a monthly subscriber-based pay structure and to get some of their business, all they want you to do is play with them.

They are the millions of videogamers playing Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) these days, according to a thorough study of nearly 40,000 respondents by Stanford University PhD Nick Yee. Perhaps for many it is finally time to move beyond the assumption that videogame buyers are all prepubescent males with no income and no social life.

Yee's findings are analyzed and dissected in full detail on his website NickYee.com in the section called The Daedalus Project. I contacted Yee to ask if any of his work included data specific to the adult paysite industry but unfortunately he replied saying only: "Thanks for the ping, but I'm not sure I have anything substantive to say with regard to the adult paysite space." However, close examination of his work does make a strong argument for significant statistical overlap between the demographic of adult paysite buyers and MMO subscribers.

The largest of the MMOs is unquestionably Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft (WoW) released in November 2004. According to a press release published on Blizzard's website, the game at that point had already attracted more than 9 million monthly subscribers. Now, just barely three full years in existence, WoW and the other MMOs on the market have a proven track record of attracting and retaining online subscribers from a very similar demographic to those surfers that the adult online industry is always seeking to entice as well.

An MMO subscriber logs into a game world and is active within it approximately 22 hours of each week, according to Yee's research. That doesn't even include time and money spent out-of-game researching tactics on websites or buying virtual gear with real dollars on sites like eBay.com, as many gamers are known to do. If you accept the notion that many gamers are hard-working people who have other things to do then the logical question is: What keeps making them want to play the same videogame for months or years in a row and how can those elements be applied to an adult paysite retention plan?

Chad Myers is one of the owners of NaughtyWorksCash.com but prior to entering the adult online industry he worked in the Q&A department of Blizzard Entertainment and is listed in the credits of its acclaimed real-time strategy game Starcraft. His time in the gaming industry has served him well in this industry as well and shares some of the insights he believes are important to both. According to Myers, "There are three primary motivators that can be easily identified among gamers: community, advancement and interactivity." XBIZ delves into an analysis of how each of them might be applied to adult online properties as well.

At their core MMOs are in fact both massive and multiplayer. They provide gamers with an opportunity at social interaction without much risk of rejection, expense or annoyance. Gamers are able to login to a game and make use of real-time chat to converse with other players. Many take the next step with third-party programs like Ventrilo to add voice chat to their gaming experience. Some newer MMO titles like Dungeons & Dragons Online went so far as to include a voice chat system within the game itself. Adult marketers have long understood the desire for community among customers. Think back to the days of 1-900 numbers and chat lines for proof of that assertion. Yet, somehow the common belief among many paysite operators today is that their members want to access adult content as a solitary experience without any social component included.

Message boards, blogs with comment boxes and chat systems — including video chat technology — are all being used by a handful of paysite operators (especially in the webcam market segment) to offer a more communal feel for members. While it may be true that most surfers want to watch a movie in private, it might surprise you how many also want to go to a chat board after seeing the movie so that they can discuss it with fellow members.

It seems surfers are just as interested in buying into a community as they are in buying into a videogame or a porn site — much the same way many adult webmasters enjoy checking in on their own online industry message board communities. The cost of operating a message board in terms of bandwidth and administration is tiny but the importance of moderating one well should not be overlooked. The real lesson is that members who believe they are part of a thriving community are less likely to cancel than members who believe nobody would notice if they disappeared.

A common statement among gamers online is "I'll log off as soon as I get my next level." Put simply, if the treadmill of advancement did not exist, most of the allure for MMOs would be lost completely. Game developers carefully craft multiple tracks of advancement for players to travel toward milestones of accomplishment. The common perception is that any time a gamer logs into a game he or she should achieve something by the time they decide to log out. An increase in game wealth, inventory, experience level or praise among other players is always just outside of reach. More importantly, the moment any accomplishment is achieved, there is a new goal immediately established to continue the cycle.

Conversely, most adult paysites give their subscribers 100 percent of their reward the moment the surfer becomes a member. The closest thing to advancement in most member's areas is a picture showing next week's update and asking members to look forward to it.

Perhaps an alternate model of "unlocking" content should be considered. A few sites like AssSmoothie.com have garnered some attention by creating a game show-like system of not knowing the outcome of a particular video until the member has watched it all the way to the end. Moderator-promoted voting threads on a members-only message board ask members to predict outcomes and debate one another's predictions, and plans are in the works for a point system to be added with member rewards for correct predictions.

Other programs like 21Sextury.com give members access to one or two of their networked sites upon signup and then allow members to choose an additional networked site to be added to their access each month that they remain a member. Instead of granting full access to 20-plus sites upon initial signup, members are able to gain greater access through retention than they would get by quitting and signing up again a few months later. Adding some way of earning additional access through effort would make that system even more powerful. Even simple contests that ask trivia questions about the movies a member watched with extra content as a reward for correct answers might be of some value. While these specific strategies may not work for your own paysite(s), the lesson is that paysite owners should at least consider the idea of adding some kind of advancement model for subscribers to enjoy.

As Myers from NaughtyWorksCash said: "If you're in a game and you can't figure out which arcane combination of buttons you need to press to 'frag' the player in front of you, your character's life won't last very long and neither will your interest in that game. Bad interface design has been the death-knell for far too many games. The same holds true for any adult site."

Videogames provide each gamer with a constant array of decisions to be made, buttons to be pushed and consequences for those actions. They also have entire departments of developers whose sole responsibility is the creation and evolution of the game interface itself. Great care and attention to detail is given to every aspect of the interface from the artistic design of a single button to the ways in which the user can adapt the interface to his or her play style. In fact, for gamers in WoW there are hundreds of third party "mods" specifically designed to allow users to alter the game interface to suit their own needs and desires.

Still the adult online industry seems to be ignoring this important motivator. Many sites hardly bother with design at all, choosing instead to use uninspired HTML-style back and next links. The attempts at interactivity by even the most progressive site owners seem limited to the inclusion of "tag this movie for later use" capabilities. Greater creativity is in order. Based on the experience of videogame developers, there is great value in making your interface "sticky." Sticky refers to the childhood desire almost everyone shares when first allowed to push the button on an elevator. A well designed interface should cause the user to want to push the buttons, to play with the content and to enjoy their interaction with it. There are a finite number of sexual positions possible; more and more the interface and presentation a site offers will directly impact its conversion ratios and retention rates.

As an example of my own company putting its money where my mouth is: One of my sites, BiReviews.com, now makes use of a Flash script designed to plot every site reviewed within its contents on a graphical Gaydar. Plans also are in the works to allow users to click on that graphic and assign their own sexuality to it so that all sites reviewed would be sorted by proximity to them.

There are millions of people who will spend more than $15 this month on an MMO subscription charged to their credit card online. Some buy multiple memberships. Many are in the same age, gender and income demographic as potential adult paysite subscribers. When one looks at the exponential growth of the MMO market and the staggering retention rates of games like WoW, doesn't it make sense to at least consider ways you might make your own paysites more playful?

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