One of the questions posed to me when I guest Skyped into the Transmedia Vancouver Meetup regarded demographics and participation rates (i.e., is the traditional 90/9/1 rule still applicable in shared story worlds?). The next day I saw an article questioning this ratio, and I sent it to several ARG veterans and designers to get their thoughts on what they have seen over the past several years from the experiences they have designed.
What became clear is that unless you are crystal clear about what you want to measure (and how) before you launch any experience, the downstream metrics will likely be muddled. And – not unsurprisingly – we haven’t hit on concrete standards for defining the various kinds of engagement we see in transmedia/ARG/participatory experiences.
Here’s some of the responses I received (and big thanks to everyone who answered my query!):
“I think it depends on how high the barrier of entry is to the project.
I recently worked on a project where the registrant:unique visitor ratio was 5%:95%. User-created content was 10% of the afore-mentioned 5%. But the barrier to entry was somewhat high, requiring registration in order to submit content. So that project, instead of 90/9/1, was more like 94.5/5/.05.
On a campaign where people can play in the space they already inhabit, I imagine that numbers could indeed reach those spoken about in the article.”
“Barrier to entry is definitely a factor – not that I have any specific hard data to give you (though I may be able to dig around and see what I can find). But I do think that it goes both ways. For example, a game with an extremely high barrier to entry will likely have a much smaller but heavily engaged audience – because once they cross the barrier they’re ready to participate.
It also depends on the nature of the project and how clearly it comes across. A lot of ARGs suffer because they are intentionally obscure. You may get a lot of people that come and take a peek but when they can’t figure out wtf is going on, they disappear. By contrast, I worked on a project that was very explicit from the outside – all marketing materials pointing to it stated clearly what one could expect (a treasure hunt, puzzles, geocaching, really cool prize). It had a very high rate of participation because people came to it wanting to participate.
That said, I’m inclined to believe that there where the nature of the project really comes into play is with the difference between commenters & creators… though, with ARGs, some could argue that commenters are creators ;)”
“The best resource for publicly available ARG statistics is Christy Dena’s pages on domestic and international campaign metrics.
Campfire released some of their participation statistics from Maester’s Path (along with the goals set).
[Jan and I exchanged several emails, and after summarizing her responses, she confirmed I accurately captured her sentiments below]
Jan is increasingly using a different design approach that explicitly targets demographic subsets, rendering the idea of a “lurker” participant as irrelevant. Every person touching the experience does so through a design of planned awareness.
Ultimately, under this design approach, the participation numbers will be whatever you want them to be, depending on how your designed the experience and how you defined your audience before you launch the experience.
To sum: the participatory rate is whatever you design for.
“Participation stats seem to be the most controversial topic in Transmedia for two reasons.
The first is double-dipping.
When someone watches your television show AND visits your website, they are counted each time. It’s near impossible to ‘prove’ that it’s the same person without some identifier, and the same thing goes for doubling up on Twitter followers vs Facebook Likes, etc. Some people use rampant double-dipping to boost numbers when numbers are the only thing that matter. I’ve even heard of designers pushing to add platforms specifically to get the doubling-up effect.
The second is depth of engagement.
So many times the numbers trafficked are ‘visits’ since there are no other standard definitions for ‘player’ or ‘participant’. I’ve struggled to make sure all my reports give qualitative analysis of this area, but when comparing projects to each other, qualitative loses out to hard numbers. For those you end up in the lowest-common denominator where your competing with the ‘impressions’ a freaking billboard on the highway gets. Very tough to measure overall engagement in a way that makes sense outside the profession.
The talks that I’ve given discuss the ‘tiered system’ that I’ve observed over the years. Traditional web metrics would suggest a linear curve from earliest engagement to deepest, but I’ve found that it isn’t the case. People self-select to push ahead to the next category and eventually hit a wall where they won’t cross. The 90-9-1 stuff is still relevant to me in that many projects just have a natural 10% crossover rate to the next stage. If you promote a website on television, it’s fair to guess that 10% will remember the URL and visit it. If you ask for a login to see more, you’ll get 10% that will login. BUT what I’ve also seen is that the quality of the design of these transitions can affect these stats. I’ve had some projects see up to 20% crossover what I’d call a ‘transmedia barrier’ – I’ve even seen A/B testing shift between 5% and 15% which is a great boon to iterative design and analytics, but horrible when it comes to saying it’s a 90-9-1 hard and fast rule.
The issue really only comes up in design and one business-related question: “Why wouldn’t I just market to the 90% and forget about the high demands of this 1%?”
I know you probably need some numbers though to make this point. I’m afraid many of my past ARGs aren’t under my control so I’m not even sure if I could GET at the numbers. From what I saw anecdotally, the concept of designing specifically for audiences on both sides of a barrier makes for a more successful project. If you make it fun for the people who don’t want to register, and then you make it fun for the people who do want to register – then everyone has fun. Sounds ridiculous to say it that way, but that’s how I’ve thought about it.”