25 September 2008

Play by Post and other Games: How not to Fail

GamerDNA is a site that remade itself. It seems to be succeeding. I have seen write ups about it on major sites. It is a good site. It deserves it. Why has it succeeded? Is it the slick new skin? Maybe the shift to major MMO's determined its success. Maybe it is the awesome marketing done by the staff?

Well partially all of the above are contributors but, it is not all. It is because the site persevered through the lean times. Except for some periods when Guildcafe (the previous incarnation of the site) was down, the site owners never gave up. They listened to their members and they adapted to the member base. This meant the members stayed loyal to the site. When the staff showed dedication to improving, the members saw a reason to stick around. The site may not be the busiest, it may not be the biggest, but it has a very loyal base.

I am an editor on the RPG Gateway. The site helps RPG players and site owners promote their site. It is heavily oriented toward smaller games, but of course some of the big game publishers are represented. Every editor has at least one section of the Links section to monitor. We add sites, check existing ones to ensure they are still active and offer advice and most of fun of all vote for the Amber Quill Awards and the Gold Wyrms.

I have been doing my monthly vetting of one of my areas. I am saddened by the number of sites I have been removing due to non activity or the site owners closing down the site. I am equally discouraged by the sites requesting addition as new games and requesting a review for a Best of the Best Award. Most fall pitifully short.

So, how do you make a game succeed?

First and foremost in the RPG market STORY is important. RPG means Roleplay Game. If the story is a poor rewrite of yet another hero wins the day, forget it. You need to have characters and a world that is well thought out, a plot that holds the attention of the gamer, and game mechanics that make the whole package work. In other words you need a decent story.

Secondly, you need to listen to your players. Accept not everyone likes the same thing about a game, Accept some may not like a game at all, but listen to the faithful. SOMETHING appeals to them. They are your fans, your core, and your inspiration. Yes, gamers are fickle, but many of us are also sentimental. We will not abandon those who do not abandon us.

Play by Post sites are the perfect example. They are simplest of games, 'Let's Pretend' moved to the web. Yet, I see sites that supposedly promote writing that are run by individuals who cannot spell and seem to not know how to use a spell checking tool. Grammar is non-existent on these sites and the concept of plot is bare. Rules are non-existent or contradictory. These sites rarely last a year.

Then the opposite end of the spectrum contains the elitist sites. You must submit a sample of your writing to to be critiqued. I read one such site's administrator's notes stating they ALWAYS make the individual change something just to test to see if they will obey. Many of these sites succeed for a while, but the 500 word post minimum set by many of these takes time to craft to the standards set by the site owners, and the players begin to fall off.

The sites that seem to be successful are those that assist the players in the game. Ones that are run by literate Administrators, (or at least have one on staff) and are willing to help the players improve in their story telling. Whether the improvements be in story telling techniques or basic grammar rules, sites with staff that are willing to help and to listen are sites that gain the much needed core of loyal players. That is the first step to successful game. A player base.

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