25 January 2008

Fear of change and it's impact upon playerbases

Ok so, We all know about fear of change. People fear change. Why is that do you suppose? I heard the phrase yet again today as an admin was discussing plans for changes on his mud. The discussion was taking place with maybe 4 or 5 players and those who were speaking were supporting the change. There was one small voice of dissent. Not even dissent really, more questioning through how would this work, why are you considering this, what about players that want xyz.
Yep you guessed it the dissenter was myself. Sometimes I play devil's advocate, sometimes I truly question why, sometimes I don't like the idea myself. However the issue I wish to bring up is not so much the change as the reactions to the voices against it.
Once upon a time a long, long time ago a group of people got together and decided to make a game that could be played online. This produced a whole genre of games collectively called MUDs. Let's ignore engines, graphics, etc and call all of the MUDs for the sake of this discussion. (Yes that includes things like WoW and most ESPECIALLY things like WoW) Now this group of people made a system and played it and everything was happy and sunshiney because they were all friends. Then the OTHERS came.

This happens in any MUD, one person or group starts it and invites their friends to test it and play. If the MUD is good then these tend to become the first core of players They in turn bring friends who join in, these become the second core. Rinse and repeat to form a MUD's playerbase. The type of MUD does not matter, The genre does not matter. For any successful open to the public game this is how they tend to grow.

Now gamers tend to be fickle by nature. Star Wars may be in today and Shadowrun tomorrow, next week it may be Dragonworld, who knows but one thing is sure. Players like change as long as it makes the game fun. They hate it if it limits their ability to enjoy the game. The problem is the larger the playerbase, the more different definitions of fun you have.

The secondary problem is that for each generation of player, if you will, there are those who stayed with game for a different aspect. Here is an example; the MUD I play the most and have played the longest is very old - over 20 years. The engine has gone through many changes. One of the changes implemented before my time dealt with the class system.

The old system was - you joined a guild (let's say you are a fighter) You learned all you could there or all you wished. Fighters as everyone knows value strength, so it cost few points to train your strength there. But brain, something which most system fighters have little, costs a lot. So, after a character got all you wanted it to from Fighters Guild, you would quit the guild and then join a new one to learn new skills. Thing is you could never return to that guild so you had to get all you wanted from it.

This method worked fine - for a while. But then people got bored. There were still many players, but the old ones had few challenges. New ones however were just learning the system. So when the MUD Admin decided to change to an engine that used a 3 guild path system (Yes, I am cutting out a ton of stuff here ) Some players thought it a great idea. Some probably SAID they thought it was a great idea because they are the usual sycophants one gets around any Admin type. Some said the idea was lousy, some said nothing at the time.

The change was implemented. The Mud lost some first and second core players, but kept quite a few. Thing is they also gained some new players. Well the first change didn't work so well or maybe it did, and some just became noisy about what they did not like while others stayed quiet and played the game they loved. But Admins know only what they hear, so more changes went in and more and more. Most of the old core left. Most of the second core left. Eventually the mud went from 30 players at a time to 10.

It happens. Now there is a new crop of players. Most of us are used to the NEW way of character development. Honestly, I like it because it takes less time to build my character and it allows changes in guilds to occur and for me to benefit (or sometimes lose out) because of the fact I am still a member of all 3 guilds. If the admins add a new weapon skill, I can learn it. Yes it happens because new areas added to the MUD frequently add new weapons, same with spells etc. Some do not like it. Most of those who did not left. Some noisily, most just faded away.
That is the nature of gamers most of us tend to just leave and go find a new game. One we like. Maybe one that is in the current popular genre.

Let us examine this same phenomena with RPG based MUDS. There is another layer if you will added to the mix. This is the layer of player interaction affecting the playerbase. They tend to develop initially in the same way, a core group that invites others that brings in others. Some players are skilled at RP, some are not. Sometimes new players have totally different ideas than the storylines than a group has followed in the past. Some are good some are bad. One never knows until one has tried them out.

If one gets the chance. Because you see each new player changes the MUD a little with their characters. On an RPG MUD they bring their own storylines, their own character quirks, and most of all the own player's perceptions of what the MUD is. Sometimes, not knowing the old way is beneficial, sometimes not.

So when an admin starts talking about changing the whole system it sometimes frightens off the new players who have just started liking it. Sometimes they have ideas. But the thing is they are new players, not part of the sycophantic group nor part of the 'inner circle' the primary core has most likely become. The group with the highest level of boredom. So when a new player makes a suggestion it is frequently met with a united front of the old players shooting it down. This usually manages to make the new player feel like an outsider. Comments like "WE like it as it is, WE think it should be this way, WE all agree," Serve only to push the new players away from the main core. If the attitude toward the new players is sufficiently off putting then they will most likely go elsewhere feeling that they are not welcome or wanted.

Think about it. If you were in a group that you had joined recently and everyone was standing around discussing what color to paint their meeting room. The old members wanted it blue because it had always been blue. Some of the old members secretly want it green, but figure if the president of the clube says blue then blue it is anything to stay in good graces. Some say nothing, they really want it purple or pink or yellow, but they figure there is no use saying anything because anything they say will be ignored anyway, then you as a newer member say "I like beige."
The core group turns and says "It doesn't matter what YOU think WE like blue." Now to the old members the core issue is the color. To the new member the issue is not the color but the vehemence and disdain with which their opinion is treated. The obvious drawing of lines of us and them and the new member has just been called one of THEM, nor referred to as one of us. Since the club is voluntary, would YOU stay in an environment where people treated you as if you had no valuable input? Would you remain in a place that is afraid of you not for any reason other than you may bring a change to their comfortable and boring interactions. Would you remain where you are not wanted, where you are 'not one of us?' Next time you wonder why the playerbase is so small, look at how you and the rest of players treat new players. The answer may lie there.