Where Empire Avenue Succeeds (and Fails) As a Community Site

by Mack Collier

A little over a week ago I finally caved and joined the Empire Avenue bandwagon.  The site is similar to a stock market, in that the idea is that you ‘invest’ in others by buying and selling shares in them.  As is always the case, I am trying to look at each of the Shiny Objects that the social media fishbowl goes gaga over through the lens of ‘is there any real reason for most businesses to be here?’

In short, there’s not a lot of real business value to be had for the average company on EA.  It’s a game and distraction, no more, no less.  Sure, it’s possible to get some networking value there, but then again you can still get networking value on Identica if you want to bad enough.

But if you accept that EA is little more than a game and competition, it can be fun.  And it was for me.  After a day or so of wondering what in the hell I was supposed to be doing, I noticed that my EA ‘score’ was going up.  People were ‘investing’ in me constantly!  Soon I was at 20 points.  Then 30, then 35, 40, and 50!  I was gaining 5 or so points a day, and I saw that my ‘net wealth’ was up to a few hundred thousand Eaves (the EA ‘currency’).

Then on Saturday, something happened.  My EA score barely moved all day.  Few investments came in.  I shrugged it off, hey it’s just a bad day.  Then Sunday, the same thing.  What the hell was going on?!?  I wasn’t doing anything different (that I could tell), and yet suddenly it was as if someone turned off the faucet.  My score stopped going up, and no one wanted to invest in me anymore, it seemed.

Then yesterday, another flat day.  And that’s when it happened: I realized that Empire Avenue sucked.  Funny how when my score was going up several points every day (even though I never was sure why it was happening), I thought EA was awesome.  Then when my score flatlined, the site sucked and I needed to stop wasting my time on such a silly game.

There’s a really important lesson here if you want to emulate EA and create a competition-based community site.  You need to teach me how to win.  Throughout the last week, I was pretty much on my own in trying to figure out how to ‘win’ at EA, or even figuring out what ‘winning’ looked like.  I got little to no advice from the site, even through searching.  The best advice I got was from a few long-time EA members like @AdrielHampton.

But the bottom line is that my EA score started to suck, and I didn’t know why, so I assume then that Empire Avenue sucks!  (Because I am an irrational human being, remember? ;))

Here’s what should have happened:

1 – Empire Avenue should have made it painfully obvious to me on signup how to ‘win’ and what the object of the game was.

2 – EA should have helped me understand how specific activities are tied to my quest to ‘winning’ the game.  I was able to add my Twitter and YouTube and Facebook accounts to my EA account, but I’m not sure what impact it made.  My Facebook and YouTube scores are still stuck at 1, but I don’t know how to change that.  I should know, and EA should tell me.

3 – When my score started to plateau over the last few days, that should have triggered a way for EA to explain to me what I need to do to get my daily gain back up where it was.  I have no idea why my daily gains started flatlining, but EA should make sure that I do know.

4 – Interaction with other EA members should be a BIG part of ‘winning’.  Or maybe it is and EA never told me about it.

 

The bottom line is that for me, EA is a semi-fun distraction that I am losing interest in because I feel like I still haven’t crossed the Suck Threshold.  If you’ve tried out Empire Avenue, what do you think?  What am I doing wrong?

{ 18 comments }

EvolveTom May 3, 2011 at 8:29 am

Hey Mack… thanks for the post :). All of the stuff you mentioned is stuff we’re working on — not sure if I’ve talked to you specifically, but ultimately this little rush of users caught us off-guard, in the middle of all sorts of improvements. We have a tiny team (three people in dev), and everyone has to chip in with support issues, account verifications, SM outreach, etc… and between all that we’re trying to streamline and improve the site. We’re getting there :).

1 – Empire Avenue should have made it painfully obvious to me on signup how to ‘win’ and what the object of the game was.

- We do have a “How to Win” section that’s linked on the home page. (http://www.empireavenue.com/support/howtowin) — though this does need to be re-worked, as we stopped talking about Empire Avenue as an “influence” measurement a looooong time ago. But still, the basics are there.

2 – EA should have helped me understand how specific activities are tied to my quest to ‘winning’ the game. I was able to add my Twitter and YouTube and Facebook accounts to my EA account, but I’m not sure what impact it made. My Facebook and YouTube scores are still stuck at 1, but I don’t know how to change that. I should know, and EA should tell me.

- Click on them :). But yeah, again, something we’re working on. We’ll introduce core concepts more gradually, helping you to understand what you need to do.

3 – When my score started to plateau over the last few days, that should have triggered a way for EA to explain to me what I need to do to get my daily gain back up where it was. I have no idea why my daily gains started flatlining, but EA should make sure that I do know.

- Yep, also something we need to add. On a basic level, your share price will level out like that because all of your scores have been calculated (takes about a week) but also because investments in you have slowed — when you’re a hot new stock, it’s natural that people will buy you at a more rapid pace; at that point, the networking part of the site really kicks in… engage people (by investing in them) and they may invest back. But yes, more to explain :)

4 – Interaction with other EA members should be a BIG part of ‘winning’. Or maybe it is and EA never told me about it.

- Well… of course it is :). You want people to invest in you… where you generate that activity is up to you, but doing so on Empire Avenue is probably the easiest way to ensure that someone else is actually going to invest. You can use the site without actually using the platform — i.e. just connect your accounts and engage with people on those other networks, and come back to check out metrics and such… but yeah, the fastest way to make your share price rise is to get people to invest in you. That market layer is what makes Empire Avenue something entirely different from other, purely numbers-driven measurements.

kennethlim May 3, 2011 at 9:23 am

Mack, I’m feeling you, and today I shared my thoughts on Empire Avenue as well: http://www.kennethlim.net/empire-avenue-the-echo-chamber-of-commerce/To respond to your point of #winning, I suppose the folks at Empire Avenue haven’t figured out what winning should be.

I take it that they’re gathering data now to determine where the “ceiling” is. Other social analytics tools use a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 100. With a stock market-esque environment, the sky is the limit, which makes it hard to evaluate what’s good and what’s bad.

I hope that at one point Empire Avenue is able to guide us in understanding its mechanics, because for now (and you’re right), it can become a quick turn-off for people.

EvolveTom May 3, 2011 at 9:31 am

@kennethlim Hey Kenneth, thanks for also taking the time, and I don’t want to hijack Mack’s post here :). However, we absolutely know what #winning is in this case, as I mention in the reply below. We don’t really WANT a “ceiling” because, well, the sky IS the limit when it comes to engagement and activity online. Our algorithms, however, ensure that no single person can really run away atop the leaderboards; again, it’s more about engagement than it is about having the most followers or whatever.

To some extent I think it’s a problem with perception of our share price… we’re not trying to create some singular score to say whether you’re worth talking to or influential or not. We have most of the info available — there’s the FAQ and the How To Win page I mentioned in my comment below, as well as a “What’s the point?” page. These are on the left-hand side of the page you see when you login. Perhaps we need to make them a bit more obvious. But yes, we’re also working on some more tutorial-type stuff and generally making it clear what you should be doing and how to use the platform more effectively.

corecorina May 3, 2011 at 11:38 am

Well said…. I think of EA the way I think of Monopoly; insightful, maybe… but it’s all monopoly money in the end.

jasonyormark May 3, 2011 at 11:42 am

Excellent post Mack, and you took the words right out of my mouth. I have been experiencing the same exact feelings. I was a bit drawn in as well for the first week, but I’m not entirely sure if my interest will last. I don’t have the time to spend hours on the site, and it seems to me that 10-20 minutes a day on the site isn’t going to be enough to make a significant difference. Of course I understand the more time you spend on the site, the more likely you can “win”, but I’d like to see that my everyday social interactions on other platforms are heavily impacted on my social worth on EA and it doesn’t really appear that is the case as much as the time you actually spend on the EA site.

Great start by those folks though and I can imagine they are getting hammered with all the new users. Probably just need to be a little patient as they get through the growing pains.

Rick_Now May 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Mack – A lot of the things you felt, I felt too. And a lot of the answers I’d tell you Tom already has. What’s made a difference for me is investing time in the site. The actual buying and selling makes up a very small part of my time on the site. The [X] Bar chat is invaluable. Joining #socialempire or Team Zen has made a huge difference.

One big issue EA is facing right now is that while a small group of people are very helpful, a seemingly larger group are like your worst spamming nightmare. I think the community will self-correct for those things in time.

I really believe the EA team needs more time. There are tons of unexplored opportunities with this platform right now, I think it’s worth keeping an eye on for a while.

MackCollier May 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm

@EvolveTom Tom thanks for chiming in. Looks like you’re already thinking about most of these points and I hear you on getting swamped due to sudden growth. I’ll give EA a while to see how they handle the growing pains. Good luck!

MackCollier May 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

@EvolveTom @kennethlim Tom, definitely think you need to make it all more obvious. I found the How to Win page by searching, and I clicked on my scores on all my social media sites, and still don’t understand most of it. I have no idea how my Twitter activity, for example, influences my Twitter score. For example, I always have a huge uptick in Twitter activity on Sundays because of #Blogchat, but didn’t really see much/any movement in my Twitter score yesterday or last Monday.

But I’ll keep an eye on EA and see what happens!

MackCollier May 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm

@jasonyormark that is the thing, it seems if you want to REALLY win at EA (either having best score or most wealth) then you have to invest HOURS on the site. I can’t do that, and I see a lot of people dropping out for the same reason.

I’ll stick with it for a while, but if it turns out that I’ll have to start investing a couple of hours a day to keep my scores up, then I guess EA will have to go the way of Plurk for me ;)

MackCollier May 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm

@Rick_Now I think the time investment is the sticking point for me. How much time do I need to invest there to ‘win’. If it turns out that I need to spend 30 mins a day there, ok fine, I am doing that now. But if I need to up my investment to 2-3 hours a day, then I can’t do it. We’ll see, I’ll stick with EA for a while, as you say, they need some time to get it all straightened out.

EvolveTom May 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm

@MackCollier @jasonyormark Nah, honestly, you’d only need to be crazy active if you want your share price to keep rising at crazy rates :). I’ve had my Empire Avenue account for a year — yes, I work there, so take this with a grain of salt — and I actually only spend about 30 minutes on it per day, if that. Even so, it lets me connect with new people I didn’t know about, and then I can hop on Twitter or Facebook or whatever to engage them. My share price isn’t skyrocketing or anything — just a gradual climb, which is a result of stuff I’m doing on other networks… getting more twitter followers, getting comments on FB, connecting with new people on LinkedIn, etc.

EvolveTom May 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm

@MackCollier @kennethlim Okay, yeah… so ultimately, your activity isn’t going to always have an immediate effect — our Market Makers analyze data on a daily and sometimes weekly basis (or longer… I’m no mathematician, and it’s all kind of weird to me :)… but the point is that just being more active today doesn’t necessarily mean your share price will go up tomorrow… hell, if you’re crrrrazy active today and then do nothing tomorrow, it may be perceived as a dip in engagement and the Twitter portion may drop a bit. Again, though, totally agree that we have work to do to make it all more obvious. Appreciate the constructive criticism.

ScottSchablow May 4, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Great post Mack, ditto on the whole thing (which is nice to know the experience is somewhat universal). This type of game is where the statements of “it doesn’t matter how many followers you have” fall flat. Frankly since each of my social networks have less than 10,000 friends/contacts I’m inclined to not even try such things. Of course I can’t resist the shiny new object for a day or two. But when new users consistently blow past you in hours after you’ve been on for weeks or months the futility of it all is too apparent to ignore. I’m going to go dust off my old monopoly board, any body want to join me?

Lisa Gerber May 7, 2011 at 8:07 am

Wow. that is such a great point. I mean we all want to WIN, so help us! make it easier! I’ve had the same experience with Foursquare – it starts to lose it’s cache when you aren’t winning as many points and badges.

In fact, it’s basic tenet when playing or training dogs – you have to let them win occasionally or they give up. hmmm…..

MackCollier May 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm

@Lisa Gerber Exactly Lisa! There should be a bit of a curve, but with EA, it looked like I was winning at first (even though I didn’t know why) and now this week I am losing, and I still don’t know why. My score has flatlined this week and I have probably spent a total of an hour there all week. Last week I was probably spending an hour a day there.

Oh well, on to the next shiny object I guess :)

Liz Pullen July 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

How many people did you invest in Mack? Because if you don’t reciprocate and buy shares from those people who invested in you, there is no reason for them to hold on to your shares when you price starts to fall (and everyone’s price falls, even the most successful players). EA is about fostering relationships as you invest in each other. If someone doesn’t share their wealth and invest back in the community, you will see their stock price plummet.

There are hundreds of Empire Avenue communities on the website, on Facebook or on fan websites that could have given you some basic advice on different ways you might play the game (and different people have different goals & philosophies on how to do it). But it sounds like you didn’t want to put much time into it. That’s okay, we all are limited in the amount of time we can devote to social media.

I think the mistake was that your share price initially rose so fast, it didn’t grow organically, slowly over time. Your stock was inflated in value and so a dip was inevitable. Success in other forms of social media like blogs or Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean your EA stock will be valued on Empire Avenue. Like anything else, you have to put work into it and I guess you either didn’t have the desire or the knowledge of how to try to win back the confidence of your shareholders. You might be correct that the EA FAQs need to be expanded beyond what exists right now.

All I know is that, for me, Empire Avenue right now is like Twitter in 2008. It’s not something new & shiny (it’s been around more than a year), people are meeting, connecting & helping each other both on and off the website. I’m sorry you had such a poor experience.

Liz Pullen July 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm

@MackCollier @jasonyormark Well, then the question should be can you still get value from a site without REALLY winning.

I mean, you don’t expect to have the most followers on Twitter or the most read blog, why expect to be at the very top of the Leaderboard on EA? That is not a realistic goal for 99.999% of the players. So, the game itself is enjoyable, the people you discover and connect with. There are tons of little rewards (“achievements”) that are given to you along the way that act as little gold stars to encourage you. Your share price starts to dip, you tell your friends, “I need help!” and they come by to purchase shares and give you the boost to put you back into the positive area. And along the way, you celebrate the milestones you and other people achieve. And I’d call that winning.

Kuneo Koei November 22, 2013 at 8:48 am

Well,

When this was pitched at us, the guy said, “Like the Stock Market” but not really. We can’t do fun things like buy people out, hostile takeovers, extract threshold and modification margins etc., etc.

There is some value in getting interaction to your outside materials/interests but nothing that is truly what we’d consider, “Of gaming mechanics”.

The Empire Avenue guy feels inclined to defend his stuff but, you can’t really defend anything at this point. Everyone is trying to get others to be more social with their wares and that is about it.

It is more like one of those Rewards sites than anything.

We’re fairly serious when it comes to our business/operations type stuff so we’ve taken advantage of the interaction aspect.

Who knows?

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