Two Play-By-Post Voices [29 Dec 04]
After thinking about different ways to play online, I went looking for some insights into play-by-post RPGs, and I was lucky to nab two veteran game masters who offered their thoughts.
The Gericko is the Campaign DM of The Wold, an online third edition Dungeons and Dragons community that evolved from his 1985 face-to-face gaming group. He was kind enough to answer a few questions:
How many people are active posters?
As of this morning, there are 97 active members of our gaming community.
What do you think are the characteristics of a successful online play-by-post RPG site?
I think that they are the same as for a successful local group. You need great gaming, as well as meaningful social interaction. Everything we set up for our site aims to achieve these two goals. There are many details that add to the fun of both which I could speak to at some length, but that's it in a copper piece.
How have you continued to remain popular and successful for years?
I don't know how popular we are. Pretty much our posting demographics show that we have very few lurkers on the site. We are successful for several reasons. First, we began with a very loyal core of local players which had spread out across the country and the world. They, for the most part, helped us overcome the first hurdle of becoming a permanent site rather than the usual fly-by-night campaign. We looked at things from the beginning that we wanted to be a permanent presence. Then, we began to find that those of like minds tended to gravitate to us. We kept a "grown-up" attitude about things and that brought us to the attention of the more mature player. In fact, we make this point strongly when we recruit through pbem.com.
What other successful play-by-post sites are you aware of?
There are some sites that offer boards for individuals to operate their games in. They let you join and then you can run your game there. However, I am not aware of any others that offer a permanent campaign setting and multiple permanent games within that setting.
What have been your biggest challenges?
There are two challenges over the history of the site that have been difficult at times. First, there is the recruitment of quality volunteers to help out. There is absolutely no way I could run 14 games, manage nearly 100 players, write the modules, and develop the campaign. So I foster loyalty and volunteerism. I ask that players give back to the site, just as players in a local game would help out in a local campaign. I guess over a third of our membership are actively involved in giving back to the Wold. We have 16 active DMs. Each game has an Assistant DM to sub in when the DM gets busy with real life. We run an in-character store to centralize shopping which involves half a dozen staffers. There is a development board called the Black Genie Center where any member can develop new material for the campaign. They can make anything from a new magic item to designing a new Prestige Class. Other similar boards help meet the needs of a growing community. So there is a lot of administrative type work to organize all of this so that it runs well without a lot of day to day management on my part. Second, there is the challenge of communication. Since we communicate with words, it is easy to misinterpret the emotions behind those words. Throw in about 100 people from all over the world (4 continents at present), and you have the potential for disagreement, misunderstanding, unfortunate phrasings, etc. All D&D players know that we take our hobby of choice very seriously. We have strong opinions. Varying styles of play. To put it simply, where there are 100 people, there are 100 viewpoints. So we all have had to increase our mastery with the medium of written communication.
What are you most proud of?
Besides knowing you? Ok, enough pretending to suck up to the blogger. Honestly, I'm most proud of the quality of person who has been attracted to join our community. We have amazing members. first class computer programmers, magazine editors, TSR employees, novel editors, emergency room doctors, TEACHERS, corporate bosses, students, college professors, IT experts, forest rangers, stay at home mothers (whom I respect greatly), and lest I forget -- our resident grandmother. The people make the site. Having the love and respect from such people is overwhelming to me. Many have become more than online friends. They are personal friends. I honestly believe I could show up on their doorstep unannounced and be welcome in many of their homes. Let me cap this off by saying that in 2001 about 20 of us gathered in Dallas to meet in person and game for 4 days. We playfully called it Woldcon 2002. Now, they want to gather again. This time we will gather in Wichita Falls, Texas, which is where I live and where the Wold originated. It appears that we may have over 30 people attending Woldcon 2005, which is nearly a third of all the members. And one is coming from London to attend! That humbles a person. I hope we don't let them down.
Tanja de Bie is co-founder of Tazlure, a diceless moderated play-by-post game. I asked her the same questions, and she used them as a springboard to say this:
Tazlure has between 200 and 250 active players (this fluctuates) and
prunes its memberships list ever month. Total registration list averages
I think core elements of Tazlure that made it big are:
1. The friendly community
2. High quality content, frequently renewed
3. Demanding high quality writing and gaming in moderators *and* players, making it a challenge as well as a pleasure to read
4. Marketing -- you need to continually find new players to cover for the inevitable turnover rate. Stop advertising and you'll start a downward spiral.
5. Dedicated attention of a Web master. Your tech expert needs to be able to solve problems within 24 hours, instead of falling into a procrastination trap.
Have a look at http://www.tazlure.nl/generalinfo.php?record=13 for our strategical partners and at www.pbp-gamer.org for the general community. Those are sites I would recommend. There are other large games of course.
Challenges have been plentiful. To pull off an entirely new site (we went from tazlure.com to tazlure.nl) was incredible hard work for instance, but very rewarding as we implemented much wished for changes, such as the automated character sheet. Because it meant a goodbye to ezboard it also meant expansion of the game, as many role players will not consider such a board, preferring sites with their own boards, free of pop-ups or difficult entry procedures.
Another big issue has been to maintain our ethical standards, both in friendliness towards each other (we've dealt with our fair share of cyberpolitics) and in our art policy (no ripped off art in avatars). While we've dealt with some ugly discussions, overall I think because we stuck to our point many people in the community still respect Tazlure.
I am proud of the fact that Tazlure is a joy to so many people and that we've not had to compromise much on our ideals, though we are inherently practical in closing and opening areas, for instance.
Thanks to both Tanja and the Gericko for their thoughtful comments. Full disclosure: I've played in both of these worlds, so I admit to some bias. But I think it is key that they both mentioned some common themes: creativity and originality, effective recruitment, and people who are devoted to the game. I think those go a long way toward explaining the success of these sites.