Someone once wrote a LessWrong post saying that people, individually polled, will prefer small group conversations at events – but in practice form large clumps where the majority of people are disengaged but can't coordinate to leave in chunks, probably because coordination competes for a floor contested in proportion to the group's size. (Link welcome, I can't find it.) Gathertown seems to exacerbate this because you can stack people more densely.
I have two suggestions:
- Stand your avatar off several squares to the side (while still sharing videospace) when you want to splinter (but only if enough other people will do it as well), and move out at the same time when ceil(N/4) are in that would-be splinter.
- Broadcast in the chat what topic you want to discuss for your next conversation.
- Optionally, a participant count cap?
- Optionally, people who want to leave their current group will say '+1' and follow you. This introduces contention for chat space, but lets people who are want to leave their current group avoid the problem of trekking across the event space and finding a group as big as their previous ones.
(And one tongue in cheek – Gathertown should have escalators or gusts of wind that tend to slowly scatter people, and they need to actively choose to stay with a group or conversation.)
It would be most effective if the host decided on a strategy and broadcast it to participants as the default, but if they don't it seems fine for participants to advertise that they'll be using a particular strategy to avoid this trap.