Pebbles and Boulders
Anything but silence.
That's what you want when you're running a MU* with a story arc format.
It doesn't always have to be the resounding cheer of adoring fans. It shouldn't always be the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the oppressed "victims" in your playerbase.
But it should always be *something*.
Silence numbs you as a storyteller. The lack of feedback, positive or negative, means you might as well be keeping a manuscript stuck in a drawer for all the creative value it has.
Silence deadens the MU* as a community and a gaming environment. If nothing's happening, a player has no reason to invest time, energy, and loyalty to your game. And I don't care what genre your roleplaying game inhabits, you need *noise* of some kind to keep propelling the overall story forward and to keep players coming back for more.
I love to hear players complain when they go away for a day, come back, and find out something major has happened in their absence. It's a little demented, I suppose, but true. Their lamentation signifies better than I ever could how vital it is that a roleplaying game environment take on a life of its own through a synergistic collaboration between players and staff storytellers.
The danger, of course, is that a certain segment of the MU*ing population resists change and prefers comfort and stability of theme. In a game that doesn't rely on storytelling, but instead offers plenty of code-enhanced activities to keep people online and busy, that's great. But button-pushing doesn't keep people coming back to MU*s that focus on telling stories. *Stories* keep people coming back. And what good is a story that's just like the last story, or does nothing to change the environment your players inhabit, even in some small way? They've been there and done that, after all.
And when I talk about change, I'm not saying you have to turn the world on its head every single time you craft an outline for a story arc. It's often just as effective to change some small facet of your world.
If you craft a story in which small changes happen, you don't get as much reaction or feedback, but you still accomplish the goal of telling a story and propelling your environment in its evolution. It's a pebble in a big pond.
But those big-impact arcs - those are like dropping a boulder in a bathtub sometimes.
I'll draw some examples from the work I've done at OtherSpace in the past year.
The twelfth story arc was one of those "major" arcs, in which two ancient races wound up wiping each other out - forcing the inhabitants of the universe to stop relying on the trademark OtherSpace drives, which had been a staple of the MUSH since it opened on 1998. That was a particularly "loud" arc, as it generated all kinds of reactions - mostly favorable, but certainly some negative because people didn't want to adjust to a new kind of spaceflight.
Less noisy was Arc XIII, which focused primarily on the voyages of the VES Minerva as she explored new alien universes beyond a nexus of gateways. With such a tight focus, the challenge was in providing other activities in the "normal" universe to keep things interesting, and other staffers helped pick up my slack in that regard.
The new arc, our fourteenth, is another one of those "noisy" arcs. The storyline, which sees an alternate reality wave sweeping outward from a once-dead Earth and threatening to encompass and affect the rest of the galaxy, debuted only a week or so ago at this writing and players and staffers alike are chattering on the channels and in-play about the possible explanations and likely ramifications.
In some ways, that sort of chatter - especially the out-of-character kind - can get annoying. Imagine you're Stephen King, writing a novel, and your readers get to zip instant feedback at you immediately after you write the first chapter, asking what the hell you're thinking, how could this possibly work, and when are you going to explain it all? But in other ways, it's gratifying.
If players care about the world they're dwelling in, it means you've done your job: Hooked them in; made them take it a little more seriously than "just a game." The challenge then is to nudge them toward asking those OOC questions in a more IC manner.
Don't worry too much about jostling or overturning the apple cart. Always remember that silence and stagnation are what can bring about the death knell for your storytelling environment.
In your MU*, keep the decibels rising, whether it's a mumble, a dull roar, or a resounding shout.
Do something. Advance your story.
Wes Platt is the creator of OtherSpace and developer of Star Wars: Reach of the Empire and Star Trek: The Lost Missions (www.jointhesaga.com). He's the editor of Online Escapes (www.onlineescapes.net). And he's the moderator of the Top MUD Sites roleplaying forum.