All that’s old is new again …

I reflect a bit on my recollection of being a new player, indeed I have blogged about it a bit.  The goal of this recollection is to try to keep myself open to the experience that new players are having with Realms so that I can try to keep useful ideas floating to the surface for new player attraction and retention.

I think it’s important to separate them because getting people in the door means nothing if we can’t keep them and keeping 100% of a very low attraction does little to help the overall situation.  Of course both attraction and retention are two-fold, attracting new players versus re-enticing older players and retaining new players versus retaining the existing player base.

Attraction is a matter of advertising I think.  Traditionally I’ve felt the best method of advertising is word of mouth.  If your friend plays and helps you get up to speed then you’re likely to give it a go.  This is how I was recruited into the Realms of Despair by Daltorak so many years ago.  For this to be effective as a primary strategy there needs to be a critical mass of players and at present I believe we are probably below that threshold but it’s still a very good way of introducing new players.  Are you involved in role playing website?  Are there people there who might enjoy Realms RP?  Perhaps you have some friends who are big fans of retro gaming, does their interest extend into text based games?

We certainly need to get the word out among the people who are already interested in muds as well, that is why voting on The Mud Connector and Top Mud Sites is so very important.  We’ve languished around 25th for some time and recently we’ve beaten our way back into the top 20, but that’s not good enough.  I think that we’ll need to keep pushing for the top 10 before this will become a good source of new players, but again every little bit helps.

There has been a great deal of posting happening on the Facebook Realms of Despair group.  I think this is lighting a bit of a fire under some old players to come back in and check things out again.  An important question is why did they leave originally?  I think that topic could fill a few blog posts, but I do think it’s important that we listen to them.  Not everything can be addressed but perhaps things that didn’t make sense 5 or 8 years ago would make sense now.

So what about retention?  It used to be that the first stopping place of a true new player would be a guild.  I always thought that leaving them on their own until level 15 or even 20 was a little tough.  It’s the first little while when you need the most help.  Of course when channels were active and there were lots of NC online that helped to balance things quite a lot.  I am hopeful that the new guild builds will give a good home to new players again.  I also hope that the entry level is set somewhere to maximize the feeling of belonging and help.

New players are quite welcome in Arete but it is certainly not the order’s goal to replace guilds as a first stop for new players.  Not only do guilds offer a place that is more specialized towards learning a particular class but in principle there would be more people of similar level who you can join in leveling.  Nonetheless I think a sense of community and home for new players is important in helping with retention.  Everyone who answers questions or even says hello on channels is helping that sense of community.

I’ve seen a great deal of comments about “don’t level too fast” or “enjoy the adventure” but the fact is that when you don’t have an avatar, your goal is to get an avatar.  Your whole climb up the ladder is about entering the land of yellow spam and never having to eat, drink or sleep again. *eg*  I agree that there are a lot of interesting areas out for lower level players but I don’t think they get visited unless there’s a reason to go there.  If a new player is told there’s a piece of equipment that will help their leveling they’ll go there.  Unfortunately like Diablo, by the time you can get the equipment sometimes you no longer need it.  Still everyone’s going to do things differently.  The introduction of lowbie quests have been fairly well done I think there’s room to keep growing along these lines.

What about avatar engagement?  The classic problem.  There is no end game for Realms… the goals are what you set for yourself.  In an age of many players online, you have your choice of runs to attend to help you dress an army of characters.  This is something every player, new and old, can contribute to improving.  It is frustrating trying to get a critical mass of players together to go topple the next mob.  A system that scales mobs attacks and defenses by the number of characters in a room or an area could help this.  Any mob that is a tank switcher would need hardly any modification to it’s attack style and any mob that locks onto a single tank while the hitters beat it to death is probably due for an upgrade anyway.  So now a single player could reasonably go fight a wider range of mobiles.  It shouldn’t be easy.  You should be able to be insane and go one on one with Danbala and have a shot to win.  It shouldn’t be easy.  It should be a bit easier with multiple people to encourage the social aspect.  Hey can’t we just take multi checks off things and get to the same place?  Maybe.  Multi checks do help restrain some of the really over the top behavior that we’ve seen over the years and by keeping things solo we still support the idea that a new player has an equal shot at things.  Yes, better equipment will help a veteran, but that’s the privilege that you earn for playing.  The Falcon’s Quest is something I think is extremely well done, it gives something that is genuinely worthwhile to your character.  More things like this would help.

Fully automated quest system?  No… I think that’s overreaching, the quest council does a good job being creative.  Let’s untie their hands and give them a little more ability to give out cool prizes.  Glory is helpful but unique quest prizes are very nice too.

One of the biggest comments I’ve heard is that our areas are static and that stifles the ability of players to feel like they’re interacting with the game.  This is true and valid, from my point of view.  There is little interaction between areas because of the structure of objects and area files.  You have to be trusted to a certain level before you can figure out the numbers to use to make areas interact with one another and you create couplings that can break if one area changes out of lock step with the other.  With modern source control these text files can easily be tracked and dependencies maintained.

I say more interactivity and some source code help in allowing minor edits to an area.  When working on the Guild of Spirit I realized how stupid it is that the garden will be lush and green even when Realms tells me it’s snowing.  I would have to write another room with the winter description and a program to silently trans everything and everyone in the room to the winter room and then open and close passages so the exits would still work.  It’s quite doable.  I may even try to put some of this sort of thing into an area.  Who would want to do this for more than a few rooms however?  I think a high level of interactivity with some sort of overarching story within Realms can help.


Oh well, this is getting long in the tooth.  I’d love to hear from anyone reading this with your ideas on how we can make Realms better.


Starting points …

One conversation that I seem to have regularly enough to be noteworthy is summed up in the question “how do we attract people to the Realms of Despair?”, and to be fair, it’s a good question to be asking.

Certainly doing things like voting on TopMuds for the Realms helps to promote the game to people who are already interested in muds.  It strikes me though, that many of these users already have their favorite game and may shop around a little but barring some falling out, probably won’t switch.  I justify this by saying that I have tried maybe 2 other muds over the years and never stuck around long, I always come back to Realms.

I think that the java client on the website is a great way to open the door for more users to join.  I would like to work at expanding the capabilities of this client, I saw a web based client last week that strongly resembled some of the Mushclient GUI plugins that are officially supported by Realms and was really impressed by how well it worked.  There’s obviously a lot missing too, triggers and automapping most notably, but it was a good thought.

Ultimately though I think back to how I started.  I am a technically oriented person who enjoys role playing adventure games.  I was weaned on the Commodore 64 SSI Dungeons and Dragons games like Pool of Radiance or Champions of Krynn before exploding into things like the Might and Magic games and spin offs or into things like Diablo.  I did not find the Realms of Despair, they were introduced to me by Daltorak who had been playing for some time.  In turn I found Darrek playing, having migrated from BBSing (both Darrek and I ran systems in Hamilton, Ontario … Weasel’s Domain and Aces High respectively).

So plain, simple, word of mouth advertising.

When I arrived in the Realms I was impressed with the amount of helpful players around, willing to help me out.  Newbie Councillors, Immortals and many others helped me through the first few levels until I joined up with the  Guild of Rangers where I stayed and learned a lot about the game.  Since the guild was tuned to my class I never felt I had to have a second character (right away) to continue learning the game.  Eventually I did level more characters to be more efficient or to reach even further, but it was the guild runs that got me hooked and made me want to level more characters.

I hope the new guild reformation will help a new generation of Realms players have the same experience.

Given the success of the Lord of the Rings movies I would suggest that this genre has a wide ranging appeal.  Technological savvy has never been higher, in general, so long as the approach is straight forward.  I don’t even think that the text based nature is unappealing if we can make use of the technology at our disposal to present it in an appealing manner like the HUD style web interface I mentioned.

These things fail if we don’t continue to work on making the Realms a friendly space for all.  Join Newbie Council, answer questions on chat, trans a recall scroll … sure these are obvious.  Less obvious things like writing an article for the Cry, setting up a Realms fan page and posting some run notes or sharing your thoughts also go a long way towards showing a vibrant, active community worth joining.