Game Death



  • I've been thinking a bit about this topic after a conversation about the natural lifespan of a game. By that I mean, a game starts, it trucks on for a while, and then it comes to an end. There's no real intended time frame in which this all happens because for most games their lifespan is kind unique. Some games make it less than a year before staff officially put out the call that the wrap up is coming and some games, though rare, last a decade or even longer. Most games, though, live somewhere in the middle of those two places.

    But in those cases, these are games that have a start, middle, and end. The quality of these phases are variable, though generally games with healthy/functional staff and player bases tend not to come to an abrupt end but it's been known to happen every so often.

    But this discussion isn't primarily about those games. It's more about the games that seem to be doing well or well enough and something happens. It can be a big thing that the game didn't necessarily see coming or had blinders on about and then it happens and they have no contingency in place to deal with it. Or it's a lot of small things. Staff makes a series of wrong turns in administrative decisions or game morale decisions that causes the game to start taking on water.

    And often in these cases, the game is too in the weeds or too busy defensively circling wagons to see what's really happening. And usually about the time someone with a fairly objective point of view says 'hey, what's all this water doing in here? Guys?' ... that's about five minutes before the game cracks in half and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, no Celine Dion warbling included.

    So, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a game runner and I think that also includes doing merciless health checks on your game. You have to scoop out your personal feelings and protective instincts and idea of good taste out as much as you can and set them aside and do a cold audit of what's going on, what's good and working, and what's bad and needs help and hopefully long before the game hits that premature point of watery death, no return.

    I have this idea that most games die before their time because of things they don't see as a problem or don't critically connect before its too late. It would be maybe productive to discuss these shouldn't-have-been-a-surprise-but-wellllll.... events as it may be helpful to current, former, and aspiring game runners to keep these things in mind and look out for unconsidered pitfall so games don't have to come to a shuddering halt before their time.

    A Note: The purpose of this thread isn't to trash current or former games, though some will offer up likely unvarnished critiques of things that happened that didn't go well. Imma try not to frame up anything I say as an attack but you do you boo boo.


  • Coder

    @GangOfDolls

    I've seen tons of games succeed, and die. Both under my own leadership and under others.

    There's no perfect recipe for a game. There just isn't.

    We deal with different personalities, of different nationalities, of different beliefs, of different egos, of different broken psyches, and you put that all into a bag and shake it up then pour into a mixing bowl to cook and hope it doesn't blow up.

    In the end, every MUSH, without exception, is a bit like this:

    How long the game lasts at this point is a mixture of several things. Some have a higher weight or a lower weight both on the way the game is ran, the types of players you attract and the base rules you founded the game on.

    • Set rules that you define upfront. Stick to those rules, for staff and players alike. They either apply to everyone equally or they're not a rule. If you need to change them, have it signed off by the majority of staff, and provide open and public reasons why the rule was done and what the new rule(s) are. No surprises. People loathe surprises.

    • Set up pre-defined rules of what expectations of both staff and players are. Lots of people know where I stand on the pre-determined entitlement or belief a game owes them something. If you think the game should, set that up front so people are not surprised or disappointed that what they expect and what is to be expected do not differ.

    • Select solid game mechanics and a good staffing to handle them. Make it well understood and get player involvement right out of the gate. Not only does it help players feel good that what they do helps provide direction for the game, it's a good way to test what you're building to adapt as you go. There's a reason big corps have beta testing. We should as well.

    • Burnout is a huge mess. Staff and players alike get this. We grow tired of a situation, a gaming engine, or anything else. And frankly there really is no ready solution to this. The reason? Burnout means something different to each person. The best way to deal with this is to talk to the person/staff getting burnout and see if there's an active solution to it. If one person burns out, likely others will as well eventually on similar reasons. Likewise, if you are the one getting burnout, it's generally common decency to alert the staff of why you are getting it. Again, burnout is not a bad thing, it just happens. But maybe something can be done to help solve it, if not for you, then for the next person.

    • People change. We grow up, we get old, sometimes we die. Lots of people who have mudded like me are getting close to retirement age, and we're not the spring chickens we once were. One day, we may leave entirely or not be around anymore. Shit happens. What we should do is pass on what we know to the younger generation so that they can apply what they want and so forth. Teach, learn, exchange, freely, openly, and without all the emotional baggage we tend to bring to the table. You can learn from an asshole or an enemy just like you can from a friend. Ignore the crap and take what you can from it. We're all (for the most part) adults, let's start acting like it.

    So I guess how do you make a game successful? In the end you can't. They are all, without exception, doomed to failure. Accept this, and do it anyway. Because it's fun. Because the enjoyment you see others get from your own dreams and designs tickles you, because you just like giving to others and watch those same people give to others. It's a chain reaction. And like any chain reaction, it eventually ends. But the time it is firing away is truly enjoyable. And that's why I do what I do. In the end, you have to figure out why you do what you do.

    Cheers.


  • Pitcrew

    Merciless health checks are the right kind of thinking. This doesn't just mean checking player numbers, it means checking on what players are doing. If you're wanting to run a game of supernatural horror and investigation, all the players in the world don't mean squat if those players are TSing in private rooms, y'know? Keep a tab on trends, check what the atmosphere is. Try and get ahead of the curve and see what's coming.

    I've never been on a game that has died. I've been on a lot that never really got off the ground, sure. I've left games which were going downhill, but I've never been the last one to turn off the lights.

    I think @Ashen-Shugar hits a lot of the points that I'd say ensure that a game's sense of longevity will be as healthy as possible. Set rules and explain them. Staff should be a public presence and should be prepared to explain decisions - if someone is punished, ensure people know why. Be fair and refuse to grandfather anything. Take active steps to preserve the core of the game. Ensure that the scale of the game is known. Encourage people to interact with new players and facilitate a culture where they are welcomed. Discourage cliques and public channel complaining. I'd expect staff to be custodians and shepherds as much as they are just people who keep the lights on.


  • Admin

    This post might become a rant but I hope it's a constructive one.

    For starters as others have mentioned no one thing kills games. In my experience for the most part many are simply failures to launch; early code issues (especially stability or CGen related - if it's too frustrating to create characters players move on), or an unpopular niche theme (requiring people to be familiar with an obscure novel for example).

    What I've noticed though, and it happens recurringly, is staff's inability to get their priorities straight.

    As a quite real example I've played on MU* before where I was baffled at +jobs about PrP running being downright neglected, sitting there for a week unread or even afterwards staying unsupported, while they pour their resources into creating and maintaining stuff like approved equipment lists. No game has ever died because players sit there going "well if I can't have a Smith & Wesson Model 500 because only that Magnum Taurus Model 608 is available I guess I'll just have to find another place to play!".

    Games have died because there's nothing happening and players shrug their shoulders and stop logging on there; they start off well (new, fresh MU* tend to get a lot of folks rolling there to test them out) but then they start leaking activity, and the fewer people remain the fewer opportunities exist for the remainder ones to find roleplay, so they taper off as well.

    I don't get it. Plot translates directly to activity and keeping their players active should be a top concern yet MU* get it wrong, and it makes no sense; it's so obvious to see. PrPs scale up, one person can keep 4-5 others entertained and not just while they're running scenes but afterwards too, feeding them things to do, and not that many players run them, or at least stuff more involving than meet-and-greets.

    TL;DR: If your players are bored they will leave. Games get visited by many players as they open but they won't stay unless you make sure they continue to have stuff to do.


  • Pitcrew

    @Ashen-Shugar said in Game Death:

    • Burnout is a huge mess. Staff and players alike get this. We grow tired of a situation, a gaming engine, or anything else. And frankly there really is no ready solution to this. The reason? Burnout means something different to each person. The best way to deal with this is to talk to the person/staff getting burnout and see if there's an active solution to it. If one person burns out, likely others will as well eventually on similar reasons. Likewise, if you are the one getting burnout, it's generally common decency to alert the staff of why you are getting it. Again, burnout is not a bad thing, it just happens. But maybe something can be done to help solve it, if not for you, then for the next person.

    • People change. We grow up, we get old, sometimes we die. Lots of people who have mudded like me are getting close to retirement age, and we're not the spring chickens we once were. One day, we may leave entirely or not be around anymore. Shit happens. What we should do is pass on what we know to the younger generation so that they can apply what they want and so forth. Teach, learn, exchange, freely, openly, and without all the emotional baggage we tend to bring to the table. You can learn from an asshole or an enemy just like you can from a friend. Ignore the crap and take what you can from it. We're all (for the most part) adults, let's start acting like it.

    These. These are the biggest.

    Rules in place, staff sticking strongly to policy, a clearly defined theme, all the staff meta you can throw a stick at, players inspired to run their own stories, interactive players and player groups that go outside their circles. Everything could be right ...

    But people changing and burnout is the biggest cause of game life and death.

    What happens in real life when this happens? Everyone sitting at the table to have fun says 'lets play something different', and you have Civilization night, or your favorite TCG, or someone brings a movie. All good campaigns eventually die (I ran a 10 year TT Al-Qadim game once ...).

    On a Mu* when this happens, game death. It could start with policy or theme disagreement between staff and players, it could be someone feeling the theme is just played out, it could be a new place just sounds better, really anything. The Mu* community doesn't just agree to do something else, they just leave without a word, they exchange bitter words with others sometimes, sometimes they call it a split, and everyone goes reclusive and moves to other games, sometimes bringing friends with them, sometimes going solo. Sometimes they reconnect by knowing each other as 'RL' social media friends (sometimes they meet RL and are long distance friends) or doing shout outs here and places like here.

    This leads back to the revised idea of Gateway (or old name, I know some people like that even though they settled on this forum being MSB and not using old names to refer to it).

    A Mu* that offers a system to play anything (from just dice to customizable CG such as fate/fudge, Open D6, etc.). I've said it earlier this year, my want is a place where folks can just change games or enter each others campaigns and theme worlds when it suits their fancy.

    Despite burnout and disagreements, we all go back to the same ideas for adventures. Everyone goes to the new supernatural horror place, even if its just another WoD or some similar western mythos based consept of urban dark fantasy, every 3 years a new Western place opens up (sometimes popular, sometimes a few solid regulars), every 2 years a new BSG place is out there. There is no startling new 'genre' for RPGs we haven't discovered yet, they really rehash old genre's and change the meta/fluff around.

    Instead of hoping the inspiring folks that do PrPs or don't mind storytelling for the game itself will come to the new place, why not a place they can just do their own thing, a few tools to get a new campaign or game running on the Mu*? Everyone can set up wiki or wikidot these days, is it that hard to have a campaign bboard with a link to theme website, with myriad themes running in the same box? A few rooms for a grid, that could utilize fancy TP room descs to chance rooms about as needed, or actively use creative places (we've all seen grid locations that represent an area of a city where the places were the stores and businesses and homes and such at the location).

    When someone is tired, they say I'm going to go play on so-and-so's campaign/world/area with my other char I made for that game. Or they say, we don't have a good space cowboy theme, lets make a space wild frontier theme on wiki, I'll start a campaign and build a few rooms folks can start playing in.

    Slowly Game Death is becoming more popular as we're finding it easier to leave a game we find boring or are dissatisfied with in favor of another game. We've made friends with the people we like to RP with and tend to pull them along with us. The older places manage to keep going, but not like it used to be where folks were surprised a place would close after 5 years in the early days.

    I suppose even a shared place, it all comes down to mechanics, the mechanics people will come and go, and it will make or break who wants to share it, much as it is the life/death of genres in general.


  • Pitcrew

    @Lotherio

    I've always found those two points to be closely linked, at least in my own mind. Burnout for me generally equates to a sense of wondering if I still fit in a certain place or atmosphere.

    The Gateway idea is interesting but it feels to me like it would run into the same problems that some of the more diverse multitheme places run into. That is, paralysis of choice. Or, the simple problem of certain genres of RP overtaking others. It feels like a place like that would self-select itself out of its own potential. I could play anything there, but if the big things people play are all, say, Open D6 or Anime or Whatever Thing Is Trending, it'd feel like that was what the place was about. Players who weren't interested would leave.

    I do really like the idea of a place where you have, like, a playerbit with a character roster for different campaigns and worlds, though.


  • Pitcrew

    Games die due to low IC attendance. If you log in and there are consistently only 2 people IC, or 10 and all are sitting alone, this (if it is consistent) is a sign to me that the game is dying.

    When people log into places like Fallcoast and see 100+ bits online, they see possibility. When they log in and see 4 people online, they see the opposite. Now, truth be told, someone might log in to FC and see 100+ people on, 90% of which are either in the OOC/Quiet room, are sitting alone in their 'home', or are loading down RP rooms, but that sheer # of people present, useless to you or not, inspires the idea that there is a chance you can find meaningful rp on this game.


  • Admin

    @Ghost Yeah, that's why it bugs me when people talk about numbers not mattering - sure they do. Numbers matter a very great deal.

    Having great theme and a fantastic wiki means nothing if there are 3 people online, all staff alts.



  • I can tell a hell of a good story with 3-5 people, but yeah if your goal is "a thriving game" that's probably not a good indicator.


  • Pitcrew

    @Kanye-Qwest said in Game Death:

    I can tell a hell of a good story with 3-5 people, but yeah if your goal is "a thriving game" that's probably not a good indicator.

    True, but anyone who's been at this hobby a while can know that all it takes is ONE weird person or ooc issue to smear up a group of ten. When you have hundreds of players, the concept of "okay, this person sucks, I'll rp with someone else" is a viable option. Four players tend to tell the same kinds of stories over and over again, too, and sometimes those differing perspectives keep rp from going stale. So do you want a small, close-knit game - where if you have any issue or want other storytelling styles - your only option is to leave, or a populous game with multiple opportunities if the first opportunity doesn't pan out?

    A populous, active game is attractive and shows that the game is doing well and it's worth the effort to try. Nothing sucks more than going thru chargen, falling in love with a char concept, putting energy into it, only to find out that...eh...rp happens when we can be bothered.

    When I'm shopping around for a game, I look for 3 things:

    • Number of players
    • Number of players RPing in more than a 1on1 capacity during my prime availability hours
    • Evidence that plots are being run regularly (I.e. events, event boards, active bullets surrounding in-game happenings)

    I feel a lack of these three things contributes to new players choosing to pass on a game, and thus leaving players are not replaced, which contributes to low population. Population loss is a snowball effect. Less people to rp with or plots dropped due to players leaving and no new chars/players to pick up those lost opportunities? More people leave. Faster. Game death.


  • Pitcrew

    I don't think having a large number of players is all that important though I do feel you need a minimum level to get a critical mass both to keep RP moving and fun and to provide a base for new people to add onto, while I think what number this base is might change based on opinion I know if I log onto a game and only see a small number of people on and always the same ones I will likely not join opposed to someplace else that seems more alive. In my opinion the necessary number of players is somewhere between 10 and 20 total, not necessarily logged in at once.
    Note my number is based on players not characters.


  • Pitcrew

    From what I've seen two things can kill a game: stagnation and changing too quick. Before I get into that I will say I'm a big fan of games where the story ends. I'd like a game where the game has a metaplot that has some sort of endgame from the beginning, whether it's "seasons" or a different phase, I'm a big fan of games like that.

    Changing too fast: There was a DnD game called Treyvan. It was fairly successful, had a good number of players, active plots, etc. Then one day staff announced they were changing the theme, nobody could keep their characters. Basically, it was a different game. Treyvan died.

    It changed too fast and players weren't ready for it.

    Stagnation: Wanna know what will make me log out and never return? A stagnant game. If I log in, a game has a good number of players, healthy ooc chatter, but an empty grid or I find myself paging people to rp and everybody is like "nah I'm good" goes back to idling. I'm out!

    Games can get stuck in a rut if they've been running for a while. The Mu I'm playing right now has been around for 20 years. I've seen people say it's dying or its stagnant. In a lot of ways it is, but they're changing it just enough where they're maintaining a playerbase. Story wise it's pretty much the same game though. The difference is there is a large number of stories you can tell in the setting.

    I think someone said listening to players is useful in knowing what should be added or subtracted from a game. But I'd take it a step further and look for feedback from newer players since that's what you want, newer players coming in and adding their stories. What's keeping them? What's scaring them off? What can be done to keep that balance of keeping players and adding new ones?


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