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Thinking About: Exclusivity

Here are the facts:

OtherSpace gets maybe 20-30 new visitors logging on to check out the game during an average month. Of those, maybe five stick around to give it a chance. Of those, we’re lucky if one really commits long-term to the character they’ve created.

From a promotional standpoint, this can be fairly demoralizing, especially when we have gone to great lengths to make the game so damned easy to join.

So, it occurred to me, maybe I’ve been thinking about it all wrong. Maybe ease of entry is the problem. People run through the simplified character creation in-game, usually without reading the material, just to make it onto the grid and disconnect before anyone can interact with them. Maybe the simplicity of the process puts forward a message like “Hey, you can join. Or not. It’s no big deal. Whatever.” And that sounds like the wrong message to me.

Maybe the message needs to be: “We’re concerned about quality. We’re looking for commitment. We don’t want just anybody running around the place. We’re exclusive. But we want to make sure you feel at home too.”

If we turn things to a new perspective, then those five people who give OtherSpace a real chance each month are the basis for us to say, for purposes of discussion, that we’ve got five open new player slots each month. We could set up a web-based character tutorial, have newbies read through it, and then submit an application via email at its conclusion. If a player’s application is approved, we set them up for entry into the game and close one of the available slots for that month. If we’re lucky enough to get six people interested during a month, then we start a waiting list. With that, perhaps we manage to turn a perceived weakness into an actual strength.

It’s not just a matter of being exclusive, though. I also want more of a hand in the character creation and player introduction process. I don’t want to miss a chance to communicate with potential new players – and an email application allows fairly rapid response.

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  1. Rarrisaurus
    January 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Well, your philosophy on Chia was that the character creation / app’ approval system actually made people invest time into what they were creating, which then forged an attachment to that character.

    It was something I embraced with RarGen and kept going up until we closed Chia down. The product of that attitude can be seen today with all the good that the ChiaPets do on OtherSpace, I think. 🙂

  2. Sergeytov
    January 30, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Waiting lists? Seriously? I’d rather have high turnover than give off the perception we’re a snobfest, which is what would happen with a MU* waiting list.

    Over the years, there’s been flip-flopping between ‘easy to join’ and ‘more difficult to join.’ Perhaps it’s a good idea to consider intermediary measures first, like simply locking out the final exit to Comorro until approval. Commitment to making a bio is good, trying to claim your highly niched chatroom with gizmos is ‘super exclusive’ just smells of trouble.

    Unless the issue is that staff is just so swamped with crummy apps that something must be done, we’d be better served by making the standards higher, not some arbitrary limit.

    • January 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

      There’s no fun in “thinking about” intermediary measures. I’m thinking toward an extreme and then weighing the pros and cons. Thing is, we are pretty snobby, whether we like to admit it or not. The question is whether or not it’s better to embrace it.

  3. Rar
    January 30, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I’m going to be boldly overconfident and state that RarGen 2.0 was perhaps the best CharGen that JTS has ever had – based entirely on the feedback that I got from it from people who are now over on OS making the place great, and from those who came over from OS to make a new character back in the day.

    I’ll also add a bit of confidence on my own part there, because… you know, I’m a tyrant and stuff.

    I do not think that OtherSpace would suffer from having something akin to RarGen 2.0 right now. It pretty much combined everything that Brody mentioned in his post into an in-game tutorial which detailed every step of the process.

    Some people didn’t like it. Those people were the ones who didn’t get beyond picking a gender and class, usually. Nothing of value was lost from that. Our ChiaPet logic was that if they couldn’t stand to read twelve rooms of text before hitting the game, they were going to fsking FREAK when confronted with the prospect of reading a few thousand more on top of character descriptions and dialogue.

    If they couldn’t handle a few lines of text, they were going to epic fail at playing a text-based game.

    I think Sergey has a point about the character slots, however. I don’t like that idea. You’re not going to promote the message of “Your Worlds. Your Stories.” with a disclaimer of “(Limited to 5 People Per Month)”.

    A good application should be its own merit, really. You don’t want to exclude NewGirl #6 who has a fantastic biography because NewDude #5 just beat her to the punch with something that barely scraped by. Man, forget that.

    But I do think a return to application approvals – and sticking with them – is a good move.

    From what I understand of JTS, and from what feedback I get from the people I talk to who do still play OS, people LIKE that we care about grammar and spelling and players taking the game seriously. People LIKE that we praise people who use English to its fullest capacity while shunning those who don’t understand what the Shift key is for, or that think “sure” has an ‘h’ in it.

    The Internet (2.0) is saturated with l337, txtpek, and lolcat, and JTS has always been a haven away from that. The slogan that we used for MU*Wiki – “Games For People Who Can Read” – pretty much derived from the JTS spirit, and it needs to go back to that because, damn it, it’s a pretty special thing to have.

    You’ve seen what passed for “real RP” on WoW. You know what I’m talking about here. Even at its best, “RP” on WoW is no RP on OtherSpace. Not even close.

    True enough, however, is the notion that we’re pretty snobby. We are. We’re elistist and proud of it. You can dress it up all you like, but at the heart of it all we’re a bunch of grammatical fanatics, armed with the latest prose that fires the deadliest of verbs. We WANT to be. We’re PROUD of it.

    That’s not saying that we’re a bunch of exclusive snobs, however. We’ve never been a clique. We’ve embraced the worst of the worst and turned them into dedicated and decent players. If they WANT to join the club, we usually give them membership and a chance. If they don’t want to put the effort in… well, screw it, no loss.

    But perhaps that’s where JTS is going wrong right now: giving membership to people who won’t show up, and forcing the existing players to suffer those who are just connecting to screw around for a while.

    There’s nothing wrong with setting the bar high – that’s how quality is forged. If you want numbers, then open the gates wider. If you want players, then… I think you need a bouncer at the door to make sure you’re actually letting people who intend to contribute something inside.

    As a final thought, one should also consider the existing players who have to endure whatever may come through those doors, as well as where the MUSH will be a year from now.

    Stuff you already know, but you’re making plans. “Thinking about” perhaps someday maybe considering what you might do isn’t going to do anyone any good. 😀

    • January 30, 2010 at 9:53 pm

      Yeah, I’m less interested in the quota/cap idea and more in the web-based application concept.

    • Anonymous
      February 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      I politely disagree.

      See, I think you are a bunch of exclusive snobs, and you are (and have always been) a clique. At least as far as my perception as a player, this is something that I’ve always hated about OS, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I never liked Chia.

      This sort of mindset simply breaks down into One-True-Way-Ism, the belief that there’s exactly one right way to roleplay and that everybody should do things the same way – which, in almost all cases, is ‘the way which I happen to like’. And that’s a load of crap.

      Look, I do it too. There’s some people – it’s fairly common on fantasy-type games, like Chia – who enjoy long and wordy, elaborate writing. That’s the sort of writing I, personally, dismiss as purple prose and wouldn’t be caught dead writing. It is really easy for me to fall into a mindset where I am critical of players who do it that way (anyone can vomit run on sentences with multiple adjectives, there’s no special merit in long paragraphs of dialogue, etc). And when I do that, I have to remind myself (or have someone else remind me) to knock it off, because /different people like different things/.

      I have always been a vocal supporter of quick chargen, of short bios, and of making it easy to get into play. That’s not just because I think it’s easier on new players, that’s because I, personally, like to make new alts and I find it an obnoxious chore. You can pretend that makes me less of a roleplayer if you want, I think that anybody who’s played with my characters can testify otherwise. I simply don’t find biographies contribute to my enjoyment – in RPG jargon I am a Design-In-Play sort of guy and writing a biography is Design-At-Start.

      There’s plenty of bad players who can write out a long, detailed biography – I will refrain from posting examples in a public setting – but it’s easy for someone to write 10 pages about how their character’s tragic childhood led to them becoming a specops ninja, or whatever. And there’s plenty of good players, like me, who will start with a one-sentence summary of the character and then build up everything else as we go along.

      The division of ‘Good Player’ from ‘Bad Player’ is completely orthagonal to the division between ‘Likes Backstory’ and ‘Doesn’t Like Backstory’, or the division between ‘Method Actor’ and ‘Director Stance’, or any of the other totally arbitrary distinctions in style and preference.

      Within a theme like Otherspace we have room for a wide variety of different concepts. If people made more of an effort to reach out and compromise and coexist with people who have different likes and dislikes, instead of deciding that they must be no good because they’re Not Like Me, we would have more luck in keeping players interested.

      . . .

      So.

      If anything Otherspace needs *more* easy of entry. The sort of people who are interested in playing Otherspace are, by and large, people who are already interested in text-based games. What’s being missed here is that there is more to creating a character than simply going through the mechanical process of chargen.

      Sure, right now I can log in with a new PC, breeze through the chargen area, and get on the grid simply enough. But that’s never been the problem, in my experience. Where I see new players struggling is in the phase of figuring out what they *want* to play, what the setting is like, what sort of options are available, what sort of things there are to do, and what details they need to know. Because the universe is defined by what’s established in roleplaying, the vast majority of small details are passed from player to player by word-of-mouth and not easily available otherwise.

      Talking about having a web-based tutorial and application process? That’s not really ‘exclusive’, if anything it makes the game more easily accessible by providing a user-friendly introduction to the game. I’ve certainly thought at times that I’d find it easier to play a web-based game than one based on the ancient MUD/MUSH architecture.

      The last paragraph has some merit, too. If you do take a more active role in developing a new character, it could help the player to overcome that confusion that comes with a completely new game world. Of course, the rifted humans are already supposed to help with that, but more wouldn’t hurt.

  4. Rar
    January 31, 2010 at 12:55 am

    In Soviet Russia, quota/cap idea and more in the web-based application concept is less interested in YOU!

  5. February 9, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I think that the waiting list would be no bueno, but a more easily visible ‘handbook’ or something accessible from the main page–before players log into the game–would be nice. I have to admit, after playing a game like Achaea I was turned off from your game after I checked it out and virtually found myself playing.

    I think the ease of character creation is outstanding, but a VERY visible “New Players Start Here” link to attractively formatted information on the game would be a boon, I think.

    • February 9, 2010 at 10:17 am

      Yep. We’ve had a Survivor’s Guide in the past. We’ll have one again. I’m also working on a web-based “adventure” that will lead players through a tutorial that’s a little more fun and informative than just roaming from room to room on the MUSH.

  6. Anonymous
    February 24, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Anonymous :And there’s plenty of good players, like me, who will start with a one-sentence summary of the character and then build up everything else as we go along.

    There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, it seems.

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