Home > Game Development, Jointhesaga.com, OtherSpace > Rebuilding the Sand Castles

Rebuilding the Sand Castles

It started, simply enough, with a question: What might be a draw for veterans of OtherSpace to return?

I thought about Saga Point rewards, but that just smacks everyone who has stuck with the MUSH through thick and thin right in the face.

Handing out special Action Cards occurred to me, but that’s just something else worth Saga Points and, again, would insult everyone else.

So, then I started getting away from thinking about what I should use for bribery and instead I pondered: What drove them away in the first place?

For some, it was life. People get older. They get out of school, they get married, they start families, and participating on a MUSH becomes (rightfully) a diminishing priority. There’s probably no getting those players back, but at least they provide fond memories.

For some, it just wasn’t a good match in the long term. Personalities and egos clashed. For all considered, it’s probably best that we’ve gone our separate ways.

But many left because, ironically, things changed. In a game universe where we our biggest selling point was a dynamic universe where we always tried to shake up the status quo, it turns out that maybe this was – if not a mistake from a creative storytelling point of view, then it was a miscalculation from a player loyalty perspective.

We lost a lot of players when we took the rather daring step of throwing the entire MUSH together aboard Sanctuary in 1999, just a year after opening the MUSH. Back then, though, we could afford to lose them, because text-based games were still plentiful and the overall MU* playerbase was still vital and vibrant. We didn’t face threats from behemoths like World of Warcraft yet.

Back in the day, we had enough players to support not just one, but multiple games: OtherSpace, Chiaroscuro, Star Wars: Reach of the Empire, Necromundus, and even an OtherSpace spinoff, Millennium. Over time, though, I had to make some choices – not always popular – to focus on fewer and fewer games. That meant closing games that on their own had been fun for those who played. It deprived players of their creations. Not unlike Lucy yanking the football from in front of Charlie Brown at the last second. I think it’d be foolish for me to deny that, long-term, this was a mistake. Why? Because I quickly found myself concocting methods for players from all but ROE to transfer their characters into the new universe on OtherSpace.

Speaking of the new universe on OtherSpace, we lost another batch of players a couple of years ago when we made the transition from “normalspace” to Hiverspace. We left behind more than a decade of game history, a scattering of well-documented worlds, and popular races for people to play in favor of a clean slate where I wanted people to share in the fun of building the new universe. We put everyone on Comorro Station in a sort of Sanctuary Redux as we slowly began to grow the Hiverspace grid. This, in an age when graphical MMORPGs dominate and the MU* crowd is virtually stagnant, if not in steep decline. I hesitate to say that it was a disastrous decision, but it’s really hard to deny that when our busiest nights see 30 people online and most of them are idling in the OOC area.

So, once I cut through all the mental hemming and hawing, what I realize is that many people leave because I kicked their sand castles. Again, this is something that was a major selling point for the game, it was an edgy and interesting approach, but…it was totally wrong for the climate, like wearing a wifebeater T-shirt on Everest. They didn’t come to OtherSpace, Necromundus, or Chiaroscuro to face the choice of having their character cease to exist or to now exist in a theme that they didn’t want.

How do I go about attracting those players to return, if they’re not lost for good? Give them back their sand castles. For OtherSpace and Chiaroscuro players, this is a relatively easy thing for me to do. Thematically, we’ve established that Chiaroscuro took place in the same multiverse as OtherSpace, and we are open to infinite universes that can be interconnected (eventually) by rifts that players may discover once the space system is finished. All I have to do is build the Fastheld grid again and Chiaroscuro can exist again. For OtherSpace, the work’s a bit more involved, but I’m starting with the most popular play locations – Tomin Kora and Ungstir, followed as soon as possible by Demaria.

I’ve heard from some who suggest that this is a mistake. I’m not new to making mistakes. I fully admit this. Their reasoning is that adding these new worlds will somehow bloat the grid and disperse roleplaying opportunities. That’s not crazy talk. I’ve made the same argument myself, repeatedly. And yet, what we’ve found during Sanctuary and now during the Comorro years, when we concentrate everyone into a central roleplaying hub, people mostly hang out in the OOC area, or on their ships if they are IC at all.

I’m not a big fan of cliques, but the stark truth of it is: Cliques are made up of groups of people, they’re generally active, they’re competitive, and they’re self-promotional. I can envision cliques of old Chiaroscuro players returning to their world of Fastheld, isolated from what’s going on in Hiverspace, and just doing their thing – generating RP activities, logs, and their own news reports. That can have the effect of drawing new players to the game if people are looking for a fantasy world as opposed to space opera.

However, I don’t think it’s enough for me to just rebuild these worlds. It’s not that simple. The reconstruction has to come with a promise. So, here goes: Once these worlds are rebuilt, they will remain until such time as we call it quits with the entire MUSH. I won’t blow up your planets. I won’t tear down your castles. I won’t make you choose to leave one world behind in favor of another. If I show up to entertain, it will be for short-term amusement, not long-term sundering.

Ultimately, this may not work. The veterans we’ve lost may be lost forever, and nothing I do or say may convince them to return. I’m willing to give it a shot, though. I hope they are too.

  1. Jeff Ryan
    April 6, 2011 at 9:49 am

    I honestly tried to roll with the punches. I really did. My big emotional investment was Jeff, obviously. And when it was announced that OtherSpace was closing in favor of the new millenium spinoff, I decided to end Jeff’s story before that happened. He deserved better than to be left hanging. I wasn’t suicidal with him, but that last mission. I just /knew/ it was the end. I went in guns blazing giving him the send off he deserved. And it was applauded and used by Wes as more or less the signal-event in the launch of the Final Arc.

    And I was happy and started planning my next character, made a deal to help build the new world in exchange for Sam having a ‘special’ story, that sorta tied OtherSpace, Necromundus and Millenium together.

    And then it was announced OtherSpace wouldn’t be closing at all. A few players made the transit to Millenium, but most tried Millenium and then returned to OtherSpace Far Star. In the end the playerbase couldn’t support two games or there wasn’t enough interest in the stillborn Millenium. I think and always felt the mistake in Millenium was the reversal of the decision to close OS: Original. Instead we got a year or more of OS Classic before the sandcastles were kicked.

    At the time I returned to Millenium for the relaunch morale was at an alltime low. I practically had to herd the surviving players onto Tharsis and run a miniplot into getting them into the new OtherSpace relaunch.

    And to be honest that sorta took the last of my energy. The playerbases never seemed to meld, we lacked a background, we lacked history, we were scared to do things because we weren’t sure what the theme was. And I, I lacked Jeff.

    There were times I’d get bursts of energy but my love of Sam was never as profound as my love for a character that I’d invested a lot of time and energy in and who deep in his soul knew what he was about. But I’d killed him. Because we were closing the game.


    • April 6, 2011 at 10:03 am

      Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t pull that final trigger on classic OS, but I can sympathize with how it affected you.

      If it’s any consolation (probably not, but maybe), Jeff Ryan could easily exist again in the current incarnation of OS, as we’ve got plenty of parallel universes to yank him from.

      Totally understand if the energy’s gone, though. You wouldn’t be the first to have moved on, and I don’t begrudge it one bit. It was always a pleasure having you involved on OtherSpace!

  2. Jeff Ryan
    April 6, 2011 at 10:17 am

    I was tempted during my last attempt at playing Sam, I saw the mechanisms are or were in place. But no… He had his run and it was glorious 🙂 I’ve never regretted killing him off, but that was probably what tied me to OS, THAT story. And it was told.

    And I was lucky to get to tell and close it in a way that made sense. I did feel a bit cheated though when the reasons behind that particular closure then and there turned out to be what they were. There’s a definite bitter-sweet sensation when I think on how it played out.

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