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Old 01-26-2008, 05:13 PM   #1
Tezcatlipoca
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How not to be still-born

Ok, so here's the deal. I've got quite a bit of mudding experience, as well as administration and mud-development experience. I'm a programmer by profession, an artist in heart and enough of a perfectionist to get frustrated with what I don't have.

I've worked at many levels on quite a few muds in the past before I took a hiatus for a few years. After playing/working on other people's muds, I came to a point where I was frustrated with the lack of flexibility in game-play (as a player and administrator), lack of consistency and ease of use in building, and lack of modern designs standards, flexibility and languages in the code-bases I worked on. So, I decided the best way to deal with it was to give my own ideas a shot, as many have done before me.

In the past, on at least two separate occasions, I've attempted to start a MUD project from scratch. The first time was completely from scratch, with two other dedicated programmers. We got a lot done before the project faltered because of diminishing work from the other members, leading to diminished interest, feeding back into less work being done until things ground to a halt. We tried again, looking externally for others to bring things together again. Once again, things faltered. We had no website, no forums, a server that was intermittently breaking, a code-base on the verge of being able to be "played," but not playable enough to interest anyone for more than a brief "ok, that could be interesting. Good luck!" Those we did get on board were very encouraging people, but they were hard won, and were probably brought on too early.

So finally, coming back to it with fresh determination I decided I'd go about it the right way. I've learned a lot, and I won't bother trying to list that information. But instead, here's what I do have:
-Forums ready to go
-A hardware server of my own ready to be configured for server hosting, source hosting, and website hosting.
-A code-base with many many hours of labor put into it that's ready to be expanded upon
-Design and game-world ideas that simply need discussion and detailing before they can be implemented.

That comes down to the initial question, that I pose to those that both have failed, and more importantly those who haven't.

How do I keep from being still born again? I have my own theories of course, but I'd rather not pay attention to those given where it has got me in the past. The most important resource I lack right now is dedicated individuals willing to put some elbow grease into it. One of the biggest problems plaguing the previous attempts were that I found I was the only programmer really doing anything. But finding those people that could and would help is much more difficult than some give credit for. Those still willing to assist either have no skills that are useful, except for testing and telling me what they do or don't like, or no time to devote.

I think many potential mud-start-ups struggle with these problems. No doubt there's no "answer" but every discussion helps I think. So for myself specifically, and others generally, how do people think we should go about solving these problems and becomming more successful?
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Old 01-26-2008, 05:58 PM   #2
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Re: How not to be still-born

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How do I keep from being still born again? I have my own theories of course, but I'd rather not pay attention to those given where it has got me in the past. The most important resource I lack right now is dedicated individuals willing to put some elbow grease into it. One of the biggest problems plaguing the previous attempts were that I found I was the only programmer really doing anything. But finding those people that could and would help is much more difficult than some give credit for. Those still willing to assist either have no skills that are useful, except for testing and telling me what they do or don't like, or no time to devote.
You know, there's no way around it really. In general you can either do everything yourself, or get a team together. You have outlined the pitfalls of the latter in the OP. An alternative to the former is to do everything yourself but get some help at key points from 'temporary' developers -- so you don't have to stress out about whether they're 'on the team' or 'off the team' or 'with it 100%'. They're just doing that one small part for the game and maybe will do something else in the future.

Making a good mud takes a lot of time. A really easy example is God Wars II -- officially still in beta right? You can read KaVir's progress journal at their forums and it goes back five years.

Maybe your scope is too big at the moment. People underestimate how long even a small game will take. So perhaps you could consider making a small game, a 'niche mud', before doing your dream super MMO project.
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Old 01-26-2008, 06:09 PM   #3
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Re: How not to be still-born

Grumble, I had this nice long reply typed out... and then X froze on me right before I hit post...

The gist of what I was going to say is that I know how you feel, I've been working on a project "in secret" without forums or anything for about a year. It's hard, but the best way I've found to keep motivated is to try and keep your teammates motivated. For me, having others around, even if they aren't too productive, is helpful as I enjoy seeing others using what I spent so long working on. Forums can be a great help, we should open ours soon, for yourself and others to stay motivated. Don't under estimate the power of a "Oh cool" reply to a feature you posted about.

And the main thing, don't do all the "fun" stuff first. When you're motivated knock out that boring mail system(or whatever projects you need to do that you really aren't interested in) and save those fun projects for the days you just can't seem to get motivated. Set realistic goals for each day you work and stick to it. I know that I live for that feeling of having completed something, second only to the joy of seeing others enjoying my work, and the best way to keep that feeling is to always complete something each day, even if it's just a small piece of a larger project.

Good luck, and keep us all updated on how things go... I'm sure you'll get plenty of encouragement from others here.
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Old 01-27-2008, 07:42 AM   #4
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Re: How not to be still-born

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Making a good mud takes a lot of time. A really easy example is God Wars II -- officially still in beta right? You can read KaVir's progress journal at their forums and it goes back five years.
You'll notice, however, that there are a fair few gaps in the first year of development, as it was a real struggle to keep myself motivated (particularly as interest from the rest of the team waned, leaving me doing more and more of the work myself).

At the beginning of the second year, I invited players to a closed beta test, and their participation and feedback made it far easier to keep motivated. My concern with making the mud public was that people would try the mud and discount it forever based on an early version - but the invite-only solution seemed to work pretty well, revealed a lot of issues that would have required a lot more work to fix later on down the line, and gave me the drive I needed to start pushing development forward once more.

After a few months, the closed beta testers lost interest (which was fair enough, as there wasn't much to do), so I create a separate spin-off game (with a different name) from the same engine - with no classes, advancement, mobs, or explorable world, it only took me about a week to create. The resulting pure PK mud felt like a far more complete game, and was able to maintain a small playerbase, which was enough to keep me motivated until the real game was sufficiently fleshed out that I could go into open beta.
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Old 01-27-2008, 01:13 PM   #5
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Re: How not to be still-born

It sounds like we've all had some similar issues then in the people department. I find that I doubt my ability to "go it alone" simply because, as some of you mentioned, you need other's interest to help motivate. I'm the same way. But finding those people is no small task. I've got a handful of people that are more than willing to help, if they could. The problem is, they really can't until a certain stage, because they have no programming skills, database-design experience, web-design skills, building/writing experience, or other things that would be useful to the project at this stage in its unplayable state.

Beyond the motivation factor, the time requirements of the project more or less calculate out to being years in development (possibly even at this point) if I try to do it alone given how much free-time I have left over after those basic human necessities (profession, family, food, sleep).

So I more or less find that others, even just a couple of others, is necessary. Beyond that, just the value that is brought with multiple imaginations on the task is worthwhile. But I have yet to find a *good* way of actually interesting people or recruiting people to my cause; people with these abilities are obviously a premium. That's why I'm hoping that discussion through forums, a website to send people to for some information (even if basic and filled with holes, and definitely poorly designed since that's not my forte), and a server ready to present what's been done so far will help. Even then, I still have to get them to look, and I'm not quite sure how.
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Old 01-27-2008, 02:07 PM   #6
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Re: How not to be still-born

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That's why I'm hoping that discussion through forums, a website to send people to for some information (even if basic and filled with holes, and definitely poorly designed since that's not my forte), and a server ready to present what's been done so far will help. Even then, I still have to get them to look, and I'm not quite sure how.
I guess I'm still not clear on what the problem is. You have forums, you obviously have some beginning sketch of how you want your game to play. Just push the bird out of the nest. Start designing, programming, recruiting -- get cracking dude!

Seriously, I understand what KaVir is saying about the pitfalls of a game or vision that's half-baked. Maybe you could work on distilling what you want into a short pitch that you could use to get other people excited about the project.
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Old 01-28-2008, 10:46 AM   #7
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Re: How not to be still-born

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I think many potential mud-start-ups struggle with these problems. No doubt there's no "answer" but every discussion helps I think. So for myself specifically, and others generally, how do people think we should go about solving these problems and becomming more successful?
Success is an often elusive concept. As in any business, you must define what to you is success and find the path to reach your definitions. You can mimic a successful business model to some degree, but that is not a promise to success. The staff at NW gets at least one programmer a week asking to be on the team or to help them create their own game. It is similar to someone walking into Mcdonalds and asking how to make a successful hamburger joint. While the manager could give you the exact business model to do it, it is unlikely your hamburger stand would ever match their success.

So. What to do to have fun and be excited? Do what is fun and exciting for you and surely you will find players that are of a like mind.
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Old 01-28-2008, 06:36 PM   #8
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Re: How not to be still-born

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Success is an often elusive concept. As in any business, you must define what to you is success and find the path to reach your definitions. You can mimic a successful business model to some degree, but that is not a promise to success. The staff at NW gets at least one programmer a week asking to be on the team or to help them create their own game. It is similar to someone walking into Mcdonalds and asking how to make a successful hamburger joint. While the manager could give you the exact business model to do it, it is unlikely your hamburger stand would ever match their success.

So. What to do to have fun and be excited? Do what is fun and exciting for you and surely you will find players that are of a like mind.
I see what you're saying, certainly. What I define as success is much different than what you do, given that your project is at a completely different point. My definition of success currently (it will certainly change as things move along) is that it manages to get to the point where players can play and have fun on it consistently. My definition requires that I manage to convince at least one or two other people (the more the merrier up to a point) to join with me on the project (how, is the main point of the discussion), so that development can continue at a consistent rate that is rapid enough to allow those players to come on before I'm old and gray(er). Yours might instead include a minor clause that is to try and keep people from asking for positions because it's annoying, or at least find some easy way to filter them out so that only the ones that can provide some measure of quality work that can improve your project get through.

However, I disagree with your example because I think it's a bit misleading (beyond the point that I think it's also a bit exaggerated). I'm not asking people how they stay in business once they have a large productive place, nor am I asking how they're *currently* continuing to be "successful" in their present state. I'm asking how they managed to successfully *start* and not fail. This would be the equivalent--in an equally exaggerated example--of the would-be entrepreneurial burger fellow not walking up to a manager of a single McDonalds location and asking how McDonalds operates and how he can apply that to his much less significant burger stand, but instead this fellow successfully contacting the *original* owner and creator of McDonalds, and asking him or her how he or she got *started*, which more than likely was from an origin quite similar to this fellow's own.

From some of the responses I'm guessing as originally posted that there isn't any “true” set of answers, although the feed-back so far has been helpful. But I think the question kind of grinds down to, in a "The Beginning" situation, where does one go to find those with the abilities to assist on a project, and then how does one convince others to assist on that project they previously never heard of and/or did not care about. This leads into one of your other points I think Newworld. While those people are obviously out there (you mentioned you get at least one a week, even if we can't gauge their actual capacity), I have no idea where to find them, or when I do how to convince them that it's in their interests to come on board, since as you pointed out, I don't have a large established and already successful Mud.
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Old 01-29-2008, 02:24 AM   #9
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Re: How not to be still-born

I wish I had the answer on how to attract and keep dedicated people, Tezcatlipoca - for you and me both. But I guess I don't think there is such an answer.

A few years ago (ok, maybe more like 4 or so ... who's counting? ) I decided to take the same journey you are describing. And for a time, I tried advertising for help. I wrote up my ideas about the game - put it into words, and had a few people proof-read it. But I never got very far after posting the ads. It seemed that the few who responded and had the skills, lost the interest in it as quickly or faster than I did. And instead of being able to motivate each other through the rough times - we all lost interest and they just left over time.

I have had the experience of starting two other businesses in the past, so I started comparing my start-up game situation to that of a fledgling business (which has also been done in this thread). And I came up with a theory:

The problem I think, lies in the fact that (at least for MOST of us) creating a game is a hobby. Even those of us that want or wanted to turn our games into a profit-generating business, we have other jobs and responsibilities. Our games usually end up taking a much lower spot on our obligations and to-do lists. Which is natural because we don't have funding and it's not paying the bills! But because it truly is a hobby, we can't really treat it as a business using a business model: bring in partners or employees, divy up the work, and pound it out. Because to me, people participate in hobbies usually out of a desire and with a motivation to have fun.

(In this context, I am strictly talking about non-competitive hobbies. When competition is involved, people will often continue the activity long after the "fun" is gone and is really nothing more than frustration.)

I personally believe that "having fun" is THE main reason a person has a hobby: gaming, fishing, gardening, programming, collecting, etc. It's what they have fun doing, which is purely an internal motivator. So while it's "fun" they will continue the activity, and when it's not they stop. Think of the people that stop gaming - it's no longer fun to them and they usually take up something else to do. I know some people might say "work can/should be fun too", but let's be honest - it really isn't the main reason most of us go to work. If you believe some polls, most people don't enjoy work. Instead, we go to work because it affords us a lifestyle - it pays the bills. And at work, we are surrounded by like minded people; people who are there usually understanding what the job is and what's expected of them - all the while knowing that to get that paycheck, they have to (sometimes) do their job! So, having fun or not, the paycheck becomes an external motivator.

Which is how things get done even when their hearts aren't into it. So after all that babbling, to me the problem with attracting and keeping motivated people is that creating a game is usually a hobby, an activity in which people WANT to be involved in, and that's easy to loose interest in. For most of us creating a game is not a job - which people continue doing simply because they get a check.

Which leaves me personally feeling that it is almost impossible to attract like-minded individuals to be long-term "partners" in a hobbyist venture. A problem compounded when approached as a business and where "success" for the hobby is almost certainly defined using similar measures as a business: large customer base, satisfied customers, etc.
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Old 01-29-2008, 04:44 AM   #10
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Re: How not to be still-born

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It is similar to someone walking into Mcdonalds and asking how to make a successful hamburger joint. While the manager could give you the exact business model to do it, it is unlikely your hamburger stand would ever match their success.
Not to nitpick, but McDonalds is a franchise. The manager would be the equivalent of someone running a stock mud based on a successful codebase - something that's considerably easier than creating your own from scratch.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the part of development I found hardest was reaching the point where there was something playable, because only then could I bring players on board to give feedback and help provide the motivation I needed to carry on developing the game. But if you start out with a stock mud then you already have a fully tested and playable game from day 1, built upon the success of others, and can immediately start advertising for players.
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Old 01-29-2008, 06:34 AM   #11
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Re: How not to be still-born

I'm working on a new version of Armageddon, and it can be hard to find the motivation to logon regularly to build it. Some things I've found that help are:
* Build with a team you trust. Now this can be hard most of the time, but it has been a big boon being able to work with people I've worked with before.
* Regularly provide updates for each other. This can help get you excited as you see what other great stuff people are working on. Working in a vacuum doesn't give you diminishing rewards, however seeing what other people are doing is a reward itself as it doesn't seem as daunting.
* Regularly provide updates to players. Its discouraging when the players don't like what you do, but well worth it for the times they do like what you do. Also if the players don't like something, then its worth considering changing it. It might be a bad idea to change it, but its worth considering.
* If you need a break, take it. But tell people you'll be dissapearing and for how long. Then when the time is up if you need more of a break, force yourself to logon and say you're going for more of a break. Having to justify it each time makes it easier to just start building again.
* If one particular area is bringing you down, set it aside and work on another area.


That's my experience anyway.

A way some writers solve the problem of motivation is quite simple: Set aside 2 hours of your day that can be done at the same time every day. Then sit down and do nothing but code/build for those 2 hours for your mud. Either you'll sit there for 2 hours staring at a blank screen. Or you'll code.

If after a couple of months your still staring at a blank screen every time, perhaps making a mud isn't for you
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Old 01-29-2008, 01:23 PM   #12
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Re: How not to be still-born

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As I mentioned in my previous post, the part of development I found hardest was reaching the point where there was something playable, because only then could I bring players on board to give feedback and help provide the motivation I needed to carry on developing the game.
I'll definitely second that. I opened Achaea in '97 before it really should have been for exactly that reason. I was just tired of working by myself without the motivating feedback that players give.
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Old 01-29-2008, 07:53 PM   #13
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Re: How not to be still-born

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I'll definitely second that. I opened Achaea in '97 before it really should have been for exactly that reason. I was just tired of working by myself without the motivating feedback that players give.
--matt
I agree, there's a need to attract players to (a) get feedback/motivation, and (b) attract co-authors. In turn, the co-authors (a) provide feedback/motivation, and (b) their new content attracts players. Positive feedback loop.

Except I don't quite agree with "motivating feedback from players"... How about any feedback? Most players (97%-99%) don't provide feedback, which (to me) is more morale-destroying than "It sux" Emails. At least then I can improve the game when I find out why "It sux". With no feedback, I have no clue.

Random (biased) comment that someone else made about starting with an existing codebase (good) with existing content (bad) - If you use pre-existing content then (a) you're less likely to attract players who have already seen it, and (b) it says something negative about your commitment/creativity to potential co-authors when you're starting out with no new content.

And tying this into another thread (I'm biased), if you add graphics, you're more likely to get more players, BUT you make it more difficult for yourself and your co-authors. (Most importantly, you probably scare off a lot of potential co-authors.)
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Old 01-30-2008, 01:53 PM   #14
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Re: How not to be still-born

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I agree, there's a need to attract players to (a) get feedback/motivation, and (b) attract co-authors. In turn, the co-authors (a) provide feedback/motivation, and (b) their new content attracts players. Positive feedback loop.

Except I don't quite agree with "motivating feedback from players"... How about any feedback? Most players (97%-99%) don't provide feedback, which (to me) is more morale-destroying than "It sux" Emails. At least then I can improve the game when I find out why "It sux". With no feedback, I have no clue.
In a small game it should be pretty easy to get feedback from players. Just talk to them! If you've only got a couple hundred players you shouldn't have a problem talking to literally every heavy player now and then. Include them in your early development decisions and they'll fall all over themselves to talk to you about their impressions, ideas, etc.

--matt
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Old 01-30-2008, 06:56 PM   #15
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Re: How not to be still-born

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In a small game it should be pretty easy to get feedback from players. Just talk to them! If you've only got a couple hundred players you shouldn't have a problem talking to literally every heavy player now and then. Include them in your early development decisions and they'll fall all over themselves to talk to you about their impressions, ideas, etc.

--matt
I've been thinking about that, and even implemented a feature that E-mails me when a player logs on or is created. IF the player supplied a [real] E-mail, I can then E-mail them and find out what they thought. E-mail isn't required, so I only expect to be able to contact around 25% of the players. (Yes, I also have MUD-mail, but players that didn't enjoy their experience don't log back on to read their MUD-mail.)

However, I haven't actually done anything with this feature because I've been concerned about being seen as annoying to players that tried the game. With your postiive comments about soliticing feedback, I'll give it a try now though.

PS - I also tried standing around the world and telling players that I'd answer questions, but some of them thought I was a NPC. I didn't think my NPC's were that good. :-) (Or maybe I'm that bad at conversations.)
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Old 01-30-2008, 07:16 PM   #16
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Re: How not to be still-born

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I've been thinking about that, and even implemented a feature that E-mails me when a player logs on or is created. IF the player supplied a [real] E-mail, I can then E-mail them and find out what they thought. E-mail isn't required, so I only expect to be able to contact around 25% of the players. (Yes, I also have MUD-mail, but players that didn't enjoy their experience don't log back on to read their MUD-mail.)

However, I haven't actually done anything with this feature because I've been concerned about being seen as annoying to players that tried the game. With your postiive comments about soliticing feedback, I'll give it a try now though.

PS - I also tried standing around the world and telling players that I'd answer questions, but some of them thought I was a NPC. I didn't think my NPC's were that good. :-) (Or maybe I'm that bad at conversations.)
I spent most of my time getting feedback by talking with players in-world, in real-time. In general I found they really enjoyed the feeling that they were talking to the person making the decisions and that that person was actually listening to what they were saying.

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Old 01-31-2008, 01:13 AM   #17
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Re: How not to be still-born

Yeah, I think you want to get away from focus group style Q & A or strict 'game talk', and just engage in conversation. Then stuff will naturally come out of that unprompted. Some people will only start talking once they feel they know you a little (others don't have that social barrier, of course... )
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Old 01-31-2008, 05:33 AM   #18
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Re: How not to be still-born

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I spent most of my time getting feedback by talking with players in-world, in real-time.
Although I certainly get a lot of feedback from real-time conversations, I'd say it's probably secondary to the amount I receive from posts made to the forums. People were invited to join the discussions on the forums many months before the first closed beta test, so I think many of them got into the idea of using them as a primary form of feedback, and that mindset has been passed on to later generations of players.

The advantage of discussing ideas on the forums is that every player has the chance to have their say, not just those who happen to be online at the time - and that is very helpful in getting a balanced view (or as one of my players recently phrased it in response to a complaint about class balance, "Originally posted by Scissors: I think Rock is too strong. It should be toned down. Paper is fine."). Having a permanent record of every suggestion also reduces the amount of repetition, as if something has been proposed before I can simply point the player to the earlier thread.

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In general I found they really enjoyed the feeling that they were talking to the person making the decisions and that that person was actually listening to what they were saying.
I'd certainly agree with that. Many players are hesitant at first, but with a little encouragement they can be a real goldmine of ideas (some of my coolest features were originally proposed by players). I think it's also very important not to simply shoot down ideas you don't like, but to explain to the player exactly what you don't like about those ideas (even if it's as simple as "That really doesn't fit with my vision of the mud") - I've seen muds actually ridicule player suggestions before, and they're really shooting themselves in the foot, because their players just learn to keep their mouths shut.
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Old 01-31-2008, 03:17 PM   #19
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Re: How not to be still-born

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Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
Although I certainly get a lot of feedback from real-time conversations, I'd say it's probably secondary to the amount I receive from posts made to the forums.
I agree. I much prefer our forums for discussions. A lot of our modifications came directly from player input on the game forums. Forums can also help reinforce the "community factor" by allowing players to discuss IC/OOC issues.
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Old 01-31-2008, 04:49 PM   #20
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Re: How not to be still-born

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Originally Posted by Mabus View Post
I agree. I much prefer our forums for discussions. A lot of our modifications came directly from player input on the game forums. Forums can also help reinforce the "community factor" by allowing players to discuss IC/OOC issues.
No reason you have to stay IC in an in-world meeting. Also, while I agree that at the beginning you can probably expect most of your players to use your forums, you will end up missing out on many/most players if/as you get larger. By definition everyone who plays the game is in-game at some time or another, but past a certain size the majority of players don't use the forums. (It's less than 10% on games like WoW, though by that size you're long past being able to have real conversations with any meaningful percentage of the pbase.)

In any case, the important thing is just that you're reaching an representative cross-section of your players (or basically all of them if you're small), whether that's via in-game, forums, IRC, or going and visiting them one by one in person.
--matt
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