First of all, what is the mentorship program? To me, it is the first meaningful social interaction that many players experience after joining the game. Ideally, the tutorial provides entry to the game, while mentors provide entry to society. After the initial "do this, do that," you have another player there to guide you through discovering our world and how to interact with it. Eventually, you outgrow the training wheels and refine your knowledge on your own through additional study (the guide) and support (your kingdom, chats, forum, etc.) Perhaps you remain friends (or at least in contact) with your mentor, but the role of mentor dissipates and you advance your skill independently such that you could be mentor to others. My objective is to establish a deeper understanding of this mentor/mentee relationship so we can reforge it in a way that avoids the difficulties we currently observe.
Mentorship inherently lives a transient life. Classical thought on the concept of mentorship would consider a long term relationship meant to raise the mentee's abilities to the level of the mentor's, but this is not the case in PK. Here, people new to the environment can rapidly gain everything needed to develop a powerful existence within the realm, even without the initial help of another player. The mentor's role is thus often reduced to an introductory answering service, even, in many cases, when the mentor otherwise aims to provide extensive guidance to new players. On the other hand, some players prefer learning through exactly such conversation and direction, but their mentors' efforts and expectations are off the mark. This common disparity between how one learns and how he or she is taught prevails inside the game as much as outside it.
In terms of the game, what does it mean to be a mentor? There is no specific correct answer, because this can vary from one mentee to the next. As such, we can only assume a general directive of the mentor role: to bridge the gap between the point where mentees can or choose to reach on their own and the point where they can shed their noob status. Some new players will go the full distance with little or no help; others will only advance as far as someone else can lead them. It is the mentor's responsibility to discern the needs of the mentee and handle them accordingly to achieve success on both sides. This is more complex than whether or not someone needs help; all the elements of people skills influence the outcome of these interactions. As such, mentors must be up to the task, but more on that later.
As important as mentors understanding their role: what does it mean to be a mentee? Generally, a new player is unlikely to wonder objectively about their meaningfulness to others in the game. To the noobs, PK has something they want (hopefully), and the collective goal of others (the tutorial, mentors, the guide, and, at least in concept, help chat) is to teach them as efficiently as possible how to get what they want. Each new player has the potential to do great things and become a driving force somewhere in the game world. However, because most noobs don't inherently understand their role in terms of that potential, their role is effectively a role-seeker. Their goal is to set goals. The basic role of mentees is that of students, of course, but of more than the simple how-to; theirs is also the question of purpose. In my opinion, a question like "How do I put a gem on my sword?" does less for player retention than "Where can I make friends and influence people?" Mentors can help mentees to know the grander questions.
So, what are the problems? Overall, I think the problem with the problems is apathy. Mentors have gotten used to the difficulties and have grown to overlook them. For example:
I have long since stopped sending new Mentees a welcome msg on their first day on the game... why? Because I know 99% of them will play until their gold runs out and never play again. I sticky the 'new mentee' msg and check every couple of days to see whether they have played the game again since they started, if they have I will send them a msg then.
Here, the OP has interpreted a perceptually uncontrollable player retention problem. However, rather than addressing the problem and exploring solutions (or continuing to explore, if he did previously), he has resorted to a circumvention tactic (and justification) that simply alleviates the concern for the problem. Many mentors I have spoken with in game have similar passive tactics of their own. The problem is not forgotten, but is designated with an apathetic attitude, rendering the problem unresolved and unaddressed. This therefore implies mentors lack a sense of importance for the mentorship program that might drive them to develop solutions to its problems (at least on the front end). (Btw, no offense meant to OP; you know I and others feel your pain.)
There are a number of particular gripes with mentees and mentors I think we've all heard many times. While listing them is slightly at odds with my objective, they are certainly on the mind and worth understanding. Rather than trying to solve these issues as they exist, I want to work toward a more favorable overall implementation that avoids them in the first place. Perhaps such an implementation is not very different than our existing one, but that's what I'd like to figure out. In any case, these are the top five issues in terms of how often I hear them:
"My mentees never respond to me."
There were a number of great welcome message ideas here, but there will always be players who simply will not engage other players. While ultimately the choice of the mentee to respond or not, there is probably room to better influence new players to communicate with their mentors, be it through the tutorial, automated messages, or involvement on the mentors' part.
"My mentor never responded to me."
This should never happen, but it obviously does. Forgiving the various extenuating circumstances that may prevent it, if you join the mentor program, you must appreciate the importance of your position concerning new players. Even with the high accessibility of messaging other players, the prospect of new people for your party, and the deliberation of becoming a mentor, some mentees are ignored by the first person meant to care for them. They feel abandoned and, therefore, often abandon the game.
"I don't get new mentees very often, if at all."
I've heard a number of theories, but no official clarification explaining how mentees are assigned. I feel that a person earnestly trying to help noobs as their mentor should not go wanting. Be it a better assignment procedure, reassignment options, or even just knowing how it works in order to meet the requirements, mentors need more support to be more successful. Or is the rate of new account creation too low to effectively make use of all mentors?
"My mentees always quit within days."
Like the first response issue, there will always be those who won't latch on. However, it sounds like most mentees of most mentors follow suit. In part, I believe this touches on people skills as well as teacher skills. Obviously, PK isn't for everybody, but I think many more would stay if someone else made them feel wanted here. Mentors need decent people skills to initiate and maintain such beneficial communication. This is generally learned over time through natural development of one's social maturity and experience. Teaching skills, however, are not so automatic. A single person, even trying many different interaction tactics and reusing "good" ones, can still fail more often than not. The fortunate similarity between both skills is they can be learned and their successes repeated.
Who are the most successful mentors and what are they doing? Can we analyze stats on which players have the highest percentage of active mentees? Let's get these people involved, or at least try to understand what they are doing right, then incorporate what works into the program. Effectively, we can crowdsource mentorship advancements. Relevant TED talk: Ken Robinson, April 2013. In essence, a successful feedback and review system can greatly increase member retention.
"I get bad reviews, but have never deserved them."
Another area with a lack of control, but with more painful sting as there is an achievement attached to it. Maybe a noob clicks the wrong spot (I don't remember getting the survey for my mentor, so I'm not sure how it works), or the player brings a malicious playstyle, or maybe your enemy's multi/alt does it deliberately (the most painful sting this could inflict, I imagine). Ideally, you should only get the reviews you deserve, good or bad. However, as mistakes and malice exist without recourse, we have a problem. (If there is indeed some recourse for bad reviews, I'd like to hear about it, as I haven't yet.)
What should the mentorship program look like to fulfill its intended purpose and give it the distinction it deserves? Currently, there are three components or stages: assignment, interaction, and review. Regardless of any changes to the program, I think this breakdown will remain. Obviously, there needs to be some way to connect mentees with mentors, their interaction is the meat and potatoes, and, so long as the badge exists, there must be some way to activate point gains. Perhaps these components can be meshed together in part or whole, but the separate processes can always be investigated individually. I'm not offering any particular solutions yet; I'm still just trying to generate discussion points on which to develop solutions later.
Anyone can choose to be a mentor. As it bears repeating: yes, ANYONE. There is no selection process. As for mentor/mentee pairing, I have come to assume it is randomized with some location based influence. Some of the questions that come to mind:
- How are mentees assigned, and should that change?
- Should there be more or less character development or game instruction before assignment? In other words, would mentors be more successful being connected with mentees sooner or later in the mentees' careers?
- Can we involve some amount of quality control (more useful than bad reviews = ban) that can still maintain fairness and balance in quantity? Specifically, make sure good mentors are getting qualified mentees, while avoiding new or "lesser" (but legitimate) mentors getting shafted.
- How might we qualify or evaluate new players for effective placement as mentees? Is there anything we can learn and employ from online dating services? (...without being so invasive, of course. And, yes, I'm serious. Matching like-minded people in a learning environment does wonders for the process.)
And then, a question that probably has room for deeper discussion on its own: Who should be mentors? Should there be a selection process to validate legitimate intent? There is a scenario that plays in the back of my mind all the time when I'm on the app store for an update. I imagine a new player finishing the tutorial with a good impression, then turning tail when her mentor profanely reveals himself a hatemongering racist. Though an extreme example that has likely not occurred, I think you get the idea. I don't know how prevalent "illegitimate" mentors are within the community, but the sentiments of abandoned and ignored mentees suggest the amount is non-zero.
Once you receive a mentee, the game instructs you to message them. If you don't, you're told again until you do. That's it. I don't see this as a problem necessarily, but there are things to be said about the additional conversational barriers encountered in non-face-to-face interaction. Not everyone brings good people skills, so mentors and mentees alike could use some guidance in making the initiation and progression of that first conversation successful. Sure, a mentor respecting his position could educate himself in many ways for conversational skill development, but the mentee can't know what to expect. Along with other implications of social education, we also realize the aspects of human psychology (on which I am not a qualified authority, and so only mention anecdotally).
I've read and heard from a lot of current and former mentors about their tactics for the first contact. It seemed the most common evolution was from a cheery and explanatory greeting to single words. The success rate went unchanged, so the incentive to put forth more effort was lost. I must admit that my own first message to new mentees has become a simple "Hi!" When quantity over quality proves an equally or more lucrative direction, it is difficult to justify manufacturing quality so early in the (attempted) relationship. The mentees' primer for the first interaction is "Our game has other players. One of them is coming to talk to you now." I wonder if this sufficiently prepares each among the range of personalities brought to the game on install.
In hand with deriving good concepts of the mentorship program overall is the shape of the relationships inherent to its function. We know when the relationship begins, but when does it end? I doubt that any player who sticks around long enough to [insert game achievement here] would still use their mentor as intended. And yet, we each have a permanent list of previous mentees. Understanding the actual length of the mentoring relationship may help reveal other intricacies of how it reaches the graduation stage. We could find answers to the question "What specific interactions advance the mentee's career toward independence." Once discovering those, we can work our way back to the initiation of the interaction with a much better idea of what works and what doesn't, in terms of kicking things off successfully.
In the event that you get a mentee, he stays for the survey, and he responds favorably, you get points to the badge. If he responds unfavorably, or not at all, you get nothing. If you get enough negative reviews, you are permanently kicked from the program and can no longer gain badge points. As far as I know, this is the full extent of the review process, which is why I therefore consider it the most important discussion point and biggest current problem with the mentorship program. Not only must it be true to the objectives of mentorship, but the potential data collected here can greatly influence the refinement of every other aspect of the program.
Comparing mentorship to the concepts of successful feedback and review systems, it's easy to find the faults. The way mentor reviews exist, the teacher is evaluated exclusively by the students. Other teachers, administrators, peers, and other students carry zero systematic influence on the exaltation or removal of that teacher. Even worse, the review, which can dramatically and directly alter the teacher's experience within the school, is but a minimalistic q&a. There is no feedback to grant opportunity for the teacher or community to learn from successes or failures. Worst of all, there exists the chance for honest, hard-working teachers to lose their teacher status, regardless of their efforts, and with no recourse (as far as I know). The mistakes of those employing trial and error are systematically unforgivable, and are, in all probability, repeated among the community. Another relevant TED talk: Tim Harford, July 2011.
Let me better exemplify a faulty review system. TeacherA accepts huge numbers of new students and tries his best to give each one an individual fully devoted effort. He begets many successful students, some who become teachers themselves. He becomes a shining example to those close enough to know how well he's doing. He earns and exceeds the illustrious "great teacher" achievement. Unfortunately, he's not sure exactly what methods earned him the title, so he can't effectively help anyone else learn how to do so. There is no oversight or knowledge collection built into the teaching system, so other teachers are want to improve their skills in light of TeacherA's success (of which most other teachers are unaware to begin with). And the reviews from students are not more than "kthanksbye." In short, the teaching community benefits neither from the success of the few who are great nor the collective reviews from those it teaches. And, to top it off, a few bad apples can put an end to any of their careers.
Players will ultimately decide for themselves whether to keep playing. Continuing the list of qualified experts I am not: I'm also no business strategist (just a humble forum-goer, it seems). However, I do often contemplate the dynamics of player retention, at least from the perspective of this happy customer and single-point mentor.
I'm sure PB often asks itself about what things turn new players on and keep them around. I then ask, where does the mentor program fit in? My ideal scenario includes mentorship as the icing on the cake. "I want a mobile MMO. This Parallel Kingdom seems to run pretty well. Ooo, a tutorial; I don't need to spend as much effort learning the game as playing it. Cool, I can build my house where my real one is. Haha, look at that purple spaghetti monster and green alien! A mentor? Sweet! I won't have to dig through guide pages so much. Dude, that guy's got cake on his head! Want!"
If not already, should mentorship be a player retention strategy? What kinds of improvements would yield the greatest returns? We know PK is doing well and growing, which likely implies a successful amount of "How to Play." But how inclusive is mentorship? Can we make it more? Can we make it regarded with excellence? Some veteran players want to help noobs, some noobs want the help of veterans, and everyone wants their badge. Player retention is obviously important for mentorship; mentorship should be equally important for player retention.
So, there's my ramble. I hope it's coherent. Now rereading, I can see that my attitude and candor were inconsistent across discussion points. Hopefully, that doesn't translate to any unintended subtext. But, anyway...