Identifying Major Issues



  • This isn't about how to spot things as staff.

    It's a general question to people involved in the hobby presently:

    • What do you consider to be a major issue in the hobby as it exists today?
    • Why do you think it's an issue?
    • Do you have any ideas that you think would help resolve it?


  • (Sorta an example, I guess.)

    Issue: unspoken social norms.

    Most games have them: the things you just don't do because we all know they're foul play, or generally inappropriate. It's generally because we were told at some point a million years ago, or just never thought to do it in the first place.

    TR's old 'barging' rule is a good example of this one to me (though it wasn't unspoken, it was part of game policy). This is something we are all generally familiar with in the category of 'things you shouldn't have to tell people' on many games -- but others have coded locks and heavily coded environments where you can pick locks/etc. via the code and gain access to a space IC.

    It becomes a lot muddier at that point: which thing is the 'norm'? Answer: depends on the game, but people coming from either general environment is going to likely be surprised the first time they run into the opposite social norm.

    I think we need to be clearer about these things however and whenever possible. (Sometimes, this is going to require an explanation, especially if the understanding of the 'why' behind the norm is not immediately obvious, or if there are different standards in otherwise similar game environments.)

    Why it's important: unspoken rules are a pretty big hurdle for newcomers to the hobby, or even folks transitioning to a new game environment. (Look at all the people who are MUX players here who relate to absolutely everything in WoD terms by default for a parallel example of the potential pitfalls to this 'default assumption' thinking when discussing any policy or practice or system for any kind of game.) There are plenty of roleplayers on the internet, but every community of them has their own norms. Making them more readily learned, understood, and accessible is something that, I feel, can help players who are old hats at roleplay but may be new to M* to adapt quickly and avoid potential pitfalls that might cause them to be ostracized otherwise (with the assumption that 'how do you not realize <unspoken thing>!').


  • Creator

    It's difficult to identify problems across the hobby as a whole, because I find most problems to be game specific. But lemme see...

    1. Unwillingness to remove problem players or take steps to give them a limited number of "strikes" or anything. While this certainly would probably have gotten me booted off some games in the past, I think it's a huge mistake to allow one or two players to continue poor behavior to the detriment of the rest of the game. There has to at the very least be an effort at changing behavior.

    The reasons people don't usually do this is because often staff can't handle the emotional stress of removing players, or because there are friendships they don't want to damage. Weighing personal feelings against the emotional health of the game as a whole is difficult, and there's no easy answer for that, because staff aren't robots. However, I consider this to be a serious problem.

    1. Lack of foresight and proper planning. When people open games without really thinking them through or considering the implications of various elements of their games. I've said this before, but decisions like if you have a combat system, your policies, how you handle plot running, if you have a metaplot or not, all of these things affect the quality of your playerbase in various ways. Not necessarily always in black in white "good and Bad' terms, but you can craft a game to appeal to and attract a target audience. A lot of people think that the theme is enough to do that, but it's not.

    2. Quality control. Different from above, a lot of games don't make sure they're fully polished before opening. First impressions can impact if people are going to actually even login to your game. You have a player look at an unfinished wiki, and how long do you think it'll be before they come back to check when it is finished and has the necessary information and polish? Or opening a game without the core aspects of your game in place. I also think that PB policies need to be a thing in more games.

    This isn't to say that you can't open a game in beta, but this is to say that you need to make sure that your presentation is complete before you do that. Having low player retention and negative word of mouth in an open beta is definitely going to have an impact on your game by the time it's actually finished.

    1. Lack of outside advertising is also a problem, I feel. People usually only advertise within the hobby, and this is a huge mistake. It's something I still consider to be one of the largest reasons that the hobby's influx of new players, while it exists, is slower than it could be. Walling ourselves off from the surface world of RP is something that someone needs to take proactive steps to prove is a mistake (I intend to attempt that when I open my game).

    2. Lack of confidence. While being humble and not a complete goddamned madman is important, it's equally important to be confident. If you aren't passionate in your project and you're easily discouraged by other people's criticisms (rather than taking them with a grain of salt and considering what you can constructively do with the criticisms), then you should probably not bother opening a game, in my opinion. Like, sure, we all doubt ourselves, and it's good to fight through that doubt, but if you're ready to abandon your entire project at the slightest negative opinion or someone saying it won't work, you won't be able to take that project as far as it can go.

    If I listened to people, my highly successful Momoiro Clover Z wiki wouldn't exist. Back in 2012, people in the idol fandom said "but the company only has like two groups, they don't need an entire wiki! And they're not well known enough!" Well, I predicted their rise to power and that their company would create more groups, and made the wiki anyway. Now I have people thank me for its existence because it used to be the only English source for information about the group that was anywhere near up to date, and it is now considered an essential source of information within the idol community.

    http://momoirocloverz.wikia.com/wiki/Momoiro_Clover_Z_Wiki

    Don't let your dreams be dreams. - A Great Man


  • Creator

    Jesus, that was unintentionally incredibly well-formatted. I didn't even know numbers indented things.


  • Pitcrew

    Not much to add at this time beyond wholesale agreement with @HelloProject's 1 and 3 points.

    It feels like there's been a shift from staff as people who keep the game running smoothly to just people who keep the game running. People who are basically responsible for keeping the hardware online and preventing code from crashing things. It feels very rare to see staff drive the game in a direction or proactively discuss issues and/or discipline problem players.

    At least with this one, I think one of the best things HellMOO had was a public bboard called Crime and Punishment. HellMOO was pretty liberal at handing out temp bans. If someone was just being a bit too much of a dick and not listening to staff? They get a day or two off. If they abused game systems? A week or two. Did they keep doing it? Longer. Did they actively try to bring the game down or make the game inhospitable to people? Don't come back.

    A big part of this was a few points.

    • Bans were not seen as permanent.
    • Player culture understood bans as a disciplinary measure, not a 'stay the fuck out' measure.
    • *cnp board kept things transparent: player name, what they did, logged evidence of it, duration of the ban and which staff member handled it.
    • Staff had a vision and a drive and were quite involved in keeping things running smoothly, listening to concerns, implementing fixes and being as fair as possible. This led to respect, which generally prevented people from forming whineship groups if someone got punished. For example, if someone found an exploit and reported it, they might generally get to keep what they earned from it -- with a stern warning. But if it was found that you were exploiting and didn't report it, or shared it around? Well, then, you'd be looking at probably a day or two away.

    Surprise surprise, most people played by the rules.

    Running a game is more than keeping the server on.


  • Coder

    @HelloProject said in Identifying Major Issues:

    Lack of outside advertising is also a problem, I feel. People usually only advertise within the hobby, and this is a huge mistake.

    I agree, but that segues into my biggest problem with the hobby: It's intimidating as heck to someone who isn't already immersed in it. Command-line text prompts. No graphics. Bizarre and unspoken social conventions. The huge difference in experience between one game and another. The general impatience shown towards newbies. Even if you posted an ad on some other RPG forum - I shudder to think what it would be like for someone from one of those worlds to try and play here without a mentor really holding their hand for the first few months.


  • Admin

    I'll avoid going my usual route of saying the hobby's in a slow, steady decline due to the telnet-based protocol it's been burdened with, and deal with "the hobby" exactly as it stands today.

    So!

    What do you consider to be a major issue in the hobby as it exists today?

    I'd say the biggest problem, and I include myself as part of it, is we're reluctant to try something new.

    Sometimes that just means we have a plethora of MU* which aren't any good; that's not a bad thing on its own since they're offered freely, but it lowers the bar. With every new sandbox game basically cloned from the last one - down to the policies and procedures but with some cosmetic HRs which are basically pet peeves of its runners - the standards are just a little bit down, players' expectations of what we can do with the medium are just a bit less.

    But they get players anyway because they are familiar and offer the same shit we already know how to do; I'm definitely a culprit here. I don't wanna learn new systems, I don't like it, so at times I've settled for things I knew were subpar, whose staff had no enthusiasm for the material or creativity to invest in their work, and there was no pride about the result. There was no passion in it; it was just some code running over a code with a grid - there you go kids, we're done here.

    Why do you think it's an issue?

    Because new projects, ambitious ones, fail way more often than not. Obviously that was always going to be the case - novelty comes hand in hand with risk after all - but I've known developers who couldn't even find enough collaborators to begin working on something. Many interesting ideas are failures to launch, usually for the lack of a pocket coder to do some customization although that's not the only reason... and going through all this, investing tons of hours and sweat into the gruelling process making a new MU* is only to see 10 players on at launch can be heartbreaking.

    So some pretty cool things might be aborted in favor of yet another $city of Darkness. I don't think this is an issue, I think it is the issue. We're at the point we have almost nothing to lose by innovating and perhaps a lot to gain as a hobby, yet we aren't doing it.

    Do you have any ideas that you think would help resolve it?

    I think it'd need to start with coders. Most of the time that's the main roadblock; there are damn few available, but unless you have some guys to at least mentor new ones games die on the conceptional stage. Either a potential game-runner is already networked or they are not, and in the latter case things are very tricky.

    There is also no structure about it. If you don't already have a crew how do you start a game? Make a thread here (and be told by twenty people why it won't possibly work but hey, you go ahead and try and waste your time), which gets derailed three posts into it with stories about that one MU* five years ago and that guy, what was his name? How do you recruit help? How do you actually have a proper brainstorming conversation which stays on topic and which yields some interesting ideas that can maturate into actual systems? There's no roadmap - no successful game-runner has actually put this shit together to document the path to actually making their own MUSH a reality back in the day so new ones could learn from their mistakes.

    Ideas are a dime a dozen. That's the easy part. Turning them into games is fucking hard work and there's almost nothing out there - other than on a purely technical level (that does exist, courtesy of many hard-working folk) - that can help make cool new games a reality.


  • Politics

    @Arkandel said in Identifying Major Issues:

    I'd say the biggest problem, and I include myself as part of it, is we're reluctant to try something new.

    Speak for yourself, bucko. Otherwise, I concur.

    Many interesting ideas are failures to launch, usually for the lack of a pocket coder to do some customization although that's not the only reason... and going through all this, investing tons of hours and sweat into the gruelling process making a new MU* is only to see 10 players on at launch can be heartbreaking.

    In my case, I'm the only one working on my project. @Thenomain has looked at it and offered suggestions, but I'm toiling in the paper mine. Building and describing a system from the ground up is a slow grind of love, not a quickie.

    I think it'd need to start with coders.

    I think you'll find that the known coders that frequent here are pleased to assist once you pique their interest and agree on a step-by-step plan to execute.

    Ideas are a dime a dozen. That's the easy part.

    You think so?

    Getting a game started may be easy: there's a lot of available code out there and people knowledgeable in how to implement the code.

    But seeing a good idea through properly is not easy at all. @Faraday has spent years with her code and system. @Thenomain has spent years developing his code. @SunnyJ has been very meticulous with Fallen World. Fate's Harvest took 2 years to pull together. I can't even imagine how long it took for whoever to code SW:DoD or SW:FoH.

    If I had an issue with games these days, it is that they are rushed. A Beta open is to detect bugs, not to open a game and add content, ideas, rules, history, etc. to it. My main project has been in development for 4 years, but that has been accelerated recently.


  • Admin

    @Ganymede said in Identifying Major Issues:

    Ideas are a dime a dozen. That's the easy part.

    You think so?

    I do! Especially when the issue itself means more ground-breaking ideas are less easy to catch on (and get help) than tried-and-true ones. I'd have a lot more trouble recruiting for a futuristic AI-robot-uprising-versus-magic-wielding-humans game than I would for a more generic L&L fantasy kingdom under attack by a reawakened ancient evil - the latter is just an easier sell.

    But yes, ideas are easy (but don't take my word for it - take Neil Gaiman's maybe?) especially when compared to the actual effort it takes to realize them. Conceiving the scope of your game versus writing it down in enough detail that others can pick it up, narrowing it down to recruit others, figuring out where players will fit, breaking down the system you'll want for what it's supposed to do, getting it coded of course... it's a considerable endeavor - as you know very well.

    Coming up with the original inspiration pales in comparison.

    But seeing a good idea through properly is not easy at all. @Faraday has spent years with her code and system. @Thenomain has spent years developing his code. @SunnyJ has been very meticulous with Fallen World. Fate's Harvest took 2 years to pull together. I can't even imagine how long it took for whoever to code SW:DoD or SW:FoH.

    Yeah, it sounds like we're agreeing fully. In fact I don't know how anyone could debate this matter - making games is hard, man!

    If I had an issue with games these days, it is that they are rushed. A Beta open is to detect bugs, not to open a game and add content, ideas, rules, history, etc. to it. My main project has been in development for 4 years, but that has been accelerated recently.

    My issue isn't with the kinds of games that try and fail, it's with ones which are clearly uninspired, and only exist because their creator(s) 'wanted to run a MU*'. Or - worse - wanted to do a specific MUSH 'better', so basically they cloned everything and just changed the parts they didn't like. I just really hate sandbox games in general, but when they are combined with a lack of inspiration I feel they can collectively lower the bar for everyone.


  • Creator

    @faraday said in Identifying Major Issues:

    I agree, but that segues into my biggest problem with the hobby: It's intimidating as heck to someone who isn't already immersed in it. Command-line text prompts. No graphics. Bizarre and unspoken social conventions. The huge difference in experience between one game and another. The general impatience shown towards newbies. Even if you posted an ad on some other RPG forum - I shudder to think what it would be like for someone from one of those worlds to try and play here without a mentor really holding their hand for the first few months.

    I actually agree with this. These are problems I want to address when I make my game, making it a game that is easily approached by newbies, possibly with a layer of abstraction that can be removed like training wheels. But either way, that's just something else for the design document.


  • Pitcrew

    Players' need to be spoon-fed. Here's where I get out the rocking chair and my false teeth, but I remember a time when we as players came up with an idea, maybe ran it past staff and maybe didn't, and then just ran it for our friends. Or we went out and sought out Staff to follow up on hooks that they'd left in their last event. Or we did something other than sit around RPing in bars, complaining about BaRP, and waiting for the next chance to shoot/stab bad guys. Now I can't even get players to follow up on hooks shoved in their frickin' mouths (this may be my fault for coming up with bad hooks, or being a lot more subtle than I think I'm being, but I think this problem is pretty endemic and not just me).

    @Ganymede said in Identifying Major Issues:

    I can't even imagine how long it took for whoever to code SW:DoD or SW:FoH.

    Dahan (also known as Gizka way back when). As I understand it, he created the code for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (the MUSH, not the video game, and it's been used on about a dozen Star Wars MUSHes since). He's awesome. Just wanted him to get proper props.


  • Coder

    If I had the minimal time and interest, I would open a game with a base system code and leave the players to it. (I have three base concepts that can do this.) However, the only people I've known to successfully do this are writers, and willing to use the game itself as a canvas to write a part of a story and let other people write their part and let it snowball.

    Who cares about system if people are playing with it? System can only influence people so far, and god knows that people will put up with it if they see other people doing the same.

    --

    Edit, because the above post happened when I was writing this one.

    Players do not need to be spoon fed. Players need to be comfortable in their agency, and we especially in the WoD realm have been beating that agency out of them for decades. Partially because people need to play the game in front of them, partially because we got concerned with people getting rewards. Look at most WoD games struggling with PrPs. First we said that the player must build their own fun from the ground up, then we said that they can't do it without extreme vetting. And that's ignoring the bitchy behavior of manipulative and controlling staff.

    Players know exactly what they want, they just don't know when they are going to step on some hyperactive staffer's indignant power-trip.

    Players don't need to be spoon fed, we just turned all their fun to Mush.


  • Creator

    @Seraphim73 said in Identifying Major Issues:

    Now I can't even get players to follow up on hooks shoved in their frickin' mouths (this may be my fault for coming up with bad hooks, or being a lot more subtle than I think I'm being, but I think this problem is pretty endemic and not just me).

    I'm not sure if this is a hobby wide problem, but goddamn I sure do experience it enough for it to be a gigantic peeve.

    edit: Not because Thenomain posted as I was writing, but because I'm a lazy millennial who didn't read.

    Players do not need to be spoon fed. Players need to be comfortable in their agency, and we especially in the WoD realm have been beating that agency out of them for decades. Partially because people need to play the game in front of them, partially because we got concerned with people getting rewards. Look at most WoD games struggling with PrPs. First we said that the player must build their own fun from the ground up, then we said that they can't do it without extreme vetting. And that's ignoring the bitchy behavior of manipulative and controlling staff.

    Players know exactly what they want, they just don't know when they are going to step on some hyperactive staffer's indignant power-trip.

    These are actually good points that I will keep in mind for the future.


  • Coder

    @Thenomain said in Identifying Major Issues:

    Players don't need to be spoon fed, we just turned all their fun to Mush.

    I have to disagree. My experience mirrors @Seraphim73's. While there are absolutely players willing to run their own stuff (and I love them), they are the minority. There are also a lot of players who are gunshy about participating in PrPs. My last few games have all but begged players to run PrPs and empowered them to do a lot, but the number of people actually doing so is tiny.



  • Even in my table top game there's only one player of the seven that I run a game for that is consistently interested in following up with RP hooks, the rest just kind of stare blankly until another encounter happens. Or they make combat monsters that are incapable of finding clues, which is equally frustrating.

    Things have gone a lot more smoothly when I just railroad them to whatever. I've even started making CHOO-ChOO noises when I do it. I've come to the conclusion that most people just want to hang out, have a few laughs, and roll dice a few times a month. Gone are the jr high/highschool days where you could play every day after school and put together intricate plots.


  • Admin

    @faraday said in Identifying Major Issues:

    There are also a lot of players who are gunshy about participating in PrPs. My last few games have all but begged players to run PrPs and empowered them to do a lot, but the number of people actually doing so is tiny.

    What I've found is that this greatly depends on the distribution channel.

    For instance let's take Arx, a very well populated game, just to exclude the factor of whether the game itself is active or not. I ran open public PrPs ("if you walk into the bar at 20:00 there'll be something happening"), invite-only PrPs (@mail Joe,Bob,Jane="hey, if you come to the House study at 20:00 there'll be something happening") and also 'gated' PrPs ("there will be something happening at the city harbor at midnight if you have an IC reason to be there, @mail me so I know how to include you").

    The first type was packed. People came in and RPed anything, from engaging what I was giving them to playing with others already engaged, to just doing their own thing completely.

    The second type had okay results only when I also 'advertised' it over channels and communicated with people directly else participation was unreliable. I had considerably more interest, too, when I was running stuff tied to staff metaplot as well as players preferred the extra value for their time.

    The third type is basically a no-go. Unless I'm dealing with specific people I know, if a scene requires any kind of buy-in it's really hard to find people willing to invest a few minutes to figure out why their characters would be eligible for it, offer requests or additional details or... anything, really.

    TL;DR - the least effort it takes for people the more likely it is they'll join your stories. Plan accordingly.



  • @Arkandel said in Identifying Major Issues:

    The third type is basically a no-go. Unless I'm dealing with specific people I know, if a scene requires any kind of buy-in it's really hard to find people willing to invest a few minutes to figure out why their characters would be eligible for it, offer requests or additional details or... anything, really.

    Gonna admit. On a game like Arx where there's so little knowledge of other players OOC and trust is a bit difficult to build due to how the game's structured? I wouldn't have responded to the third option, either. Not that way that post describes it, at least. Other two, sure!


  • Admin

    @Three-Eyed-Crow Sure, although I can't quite say why it'd be the case. Giving the ST some idea of the circumstances that might lead or enable your character to join the story seems pretty reasonable to me.

    The kick-off of a new story arc from scratch is often the hardest part. After the PCs have bought in IC it's much easier, but bringing the band together in the first place is often a pain in the ass, and can involve some liberal amounts of handwaving to get it done. I don't think "well, I'll be at the harbor because my character likes the sound of the water and long solitary walks in the dark" or "well, she's stalking rich guys to rob at knife-point" is too much to ask just to help that poor ST out. :)



  • @Arkandel
    It reads a little like a potential 'Gotcha!' And while I'd trust those on smaller games and there are plenty of players on Arx itself I'd be cool with it from? I have encountered some people on Arx where just...Nope. That includes strangers, unfortunately. So this might be a cultural thing as much as anything else.


  • Coder

    @HelloProject said:
    The reasons people don't usually do this is because often staff can't handle the emotional stress of removing players, or because there are friendships they don't want to damage. Weighing personal feelings against the emotional health of the game as a whole is difficult, and there's no easy answer for that, because staff aren't robots. However, I consider this to be a serious problem.

    I want to say here that I think that a lot of games are friend-boxes, not run like a business like many of the playerbase would prefer. I think that most every game out there is run but a tight-knit group that have a core group of players that either fuel the game, built the game, or have been friends with the owners/staff for a long time.

    Couple this with the tightness of the MU* community (come on, we aren't thousands and thousands of players), you swim in a small pond when you MUSH. Piss this person off here, they will retaliate there. You sometimes have no idea (unless you know them well from someplace like MUSoapbox) who you are burning the bridge with.



  • @Arkandel said in Identifying Major Issues:

    How do you actually have a proper brainstorming conversation which stays on topic and which yields some interesting ideas that can maturate into actual systems?

    We saw how this went when I tried it, so... yeah.

    Some of the problems there, though, are things I did observe in that thread (and many others about game-building):

    • The Wish List Dogpile: The personal thing <player> wants everywhere is how this all must be, the end. It doesn't matter if it doesn't fit the theme, system, or intended community environment, it doesn't matter if it's the absolute antithesis of the game someone is trying to create, it won't get dropped and becomes an enormous derail. People creating games are, yes, offering you a chance to roleplay out certain fantasy scenarios within the scope of the game world they're making. That latter part is relevant, because no place is an appropriate home for every idea or every fantasy scenario or wish list item and people need to get better about respecting that on the whole. There are different ways to attempt to enforce this -- world-building-wise (Arx is a good example of this) or policy-wise (many WoD games with restricted subject lists are a good example of this), and many places use a combination of both to a greater or lesser degree -- and instead of arguing about it, there's a point at which it's a case of suck it up and deal. I don't agree with the levels of contortions Arx is going through to avoid prostitute characters on grid in terms of justification in part because I think it's entirely within their rights to simply say: sure, it exists in the world <in this form that is very different from the modern real world>, but we don't want it on screen, and we don't want prostitute PCs. And I think people should leave it the hell alone at that point.

    • The Jaded Chicken Little: Seen it all, nothing works, everything's doomed. Acts like they know what you're doing more than you do and flails on that front instead of addressing anything that resembles reality. Yeah, these people can frankly just fuck themselves; there's nothing useful you're going to learn from them other than 'avoid that person, they have less than zero objectivity, and cannot perceive basic solid facts'. All you can learn is that they don't learn, aren't interested in learning anything, and these people are fine to write off as a loss in terms of productive contribution.

    • The Racers: Why isn't it done yet? @Ganymede nails it: good things take time to properly develop. It is not going to happen yesterday, or in a week, and rushing through results in a product that doesn't have much of a chance of surviving in the long term. If you don't care about that, game on. If you do, you still have the frustration of investing time with no rewards over a long timeline, and that in itself can become incredibly discouraging and frustrating.

    Ideas are a dime a dozen. That's the easy part. Turning them into games is fucking hard work and there's almost nothing out there - other than on a purely technical level (that does exist, courtesy of many hard-working folk) - that can help make cool new games a reality.

    This is less true than you might think. Pipe dreams are a dime a dozen. Cohesive ideas are not. Not even every cohesive idea is going to work, but ideas that aren't are already playing catch-up and planting the seeds for inevitable problems down the line. Maybe some people have means and ideas for handling those, but most don't, because the 'make it cohesive' step is entirely ignored and as a result, the problems that come from internally inconsistent themes/settings/systems are not something they're necessarily preparing for or aware are coming; this leaves them ill-prepared on a variety of fronts when it comes to handling the matter in a productive or efficient way.

    Everything needs to work together: themes, settings, policy, code. This isn't just work, it's an extraordinary amount of planning and intentional design before a single word of IC/OOC support data or line of code is written.

    People have long made a habit of approaching games as either the grudgewank described various places around the forum, or as the equivalent of the old Judy Garland/Andy Rooney musicals: "Hey guys, let's put on a show in the barn to save Uncle Tommy's farm! The whole town will come!" There's a reason that approach is charming in feel-good Hallmark Channel fiction, but it's grossly divorced from reality, as any actual theater geek can tell you. Even high school theater on a shoestring budget has more planning and development than that.


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