Getting Players to Actually Play

As I’ve been contemplating new game ideas, some of my admin buddies and I have been lamenting a common theme in MUs these days: players who don’t seem that interested in actually playing. I think there are several factors at play here, but I’m interested in what other folks think - and also whether there’s anything to be done about it.

Time and Friends

The MU population on the whole has gotten older, and many folks have less free time than they once did. It’s only natural that they want to maximize the enjoyment of those limited hours. The MU interface makes it difficult to run scenes in parallel, so often people will idle in the OOC lounge waiting to see if someone specific logs in. It could be an IC relationship they wish to further, an OOC pal they’ve been looking forward to playing with, or someone they need to snag a scene with to push a plot along.

How can we incentivize people to RP outside their circles?

Passivity

Let’s face it - we live in a culture where we expect fun to be provided to us on a silver platter. On-demand binge-watching, MMO quest-givers, a GM-run tabletop RPG… many players come to MUs with the expectation that they should just log on and be entertained. They’ll show up to a scheduled event with the promise of something fun, but they won’t go out of their way to follow up on plot breadcrumbs, generate their own plots, or even orchestrate RP with other players.

How can we incentivize people to be more proactive and involved?

Metaplot

Many players want to achieve; to bask in the spotlight of the game’s metaplot. But metaplots often mirror the central stories in books, movies and tabletop RPGs - defeating the big bad, saving the town, taking over the political house, etc. These types of stories are, at their core, suited to a limited cast of characters. They just don’t scale well to the dozens of people you’ll find on most MUSHes. Invariably, people will be left out in the cold and get disgruntled.

How can we build better metaplots?

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Definitely one of those who has been complaining about players not being proactive. It really feels like back “in the old days,” even as recently as 6-7 years ago, players would run things themselves, or give their characters reasons to get involved in other things that were going on, and now it feels like they sit back and wait for ways to get involved.

On The Eighth Sea, I even put together a huge list of about 20 plot hooks that players could follow up on, as well as a list of 4-5 “Quick Missions” that were suggestions for sidequest-like scenes that had stats pre-prepared and storylines sketched out. I had 3 people respond to plot hooks, most with vague “I would like to get involved in this” rather than any specific plans. One person besides myself used a Quick Mission.

With that complaining out of the way, I think that you’re asking some really good questions… I don’t know that I have any really good solutions (or even ideas).

Incentivizing people to RP outside of their circles.
Arx has a good method with randomscene, but that really only works when you provide XP for RP (although fractional Luck could be provided for this as well, I just don’t know that it’s enough of a carrot). If you have players who chased metaplot, I think that providing clues to different circles and OOCly letting everyone know who has clues might work. They would have to come up with their own IC reasons to contact people, but knowing who they should be working to might help.

I think that having proxy characters, or Handle characters, or allowing/encouraging spoofing of one alt with the other is a good way to encourage parallel scenes (and hence providing more opportunities to RP outside of “the one person you’re waiting for”). I don’t remember how we did it on The 100 (Grey2? Grey_Alt? Grey_Clone? Something like that), but that seemed to work well for allowing a character to be in multiple scenes at once.

Passivity
This one is my real buggaboo. I hate it, it frustrates the hell out of me, and I don’t much know how to fix it. I think it’s a culture thing, where if you can create the right culture on your game and provide things for people to chase, they’ll go out and chase them, but I don’t know if MU* culture as a whole has been trained into passivity too much for that to work. On The Eighth Sea I tried specifically calling out players who had done this and providing them with Luck rewards, but… no one else seemed to step up. It felt like there were about 4-6 proactive players who dragged most everyone else along with them, and even they had to be reminded to follow up on breadcrumbs after plots.

Along the lines of the culture, it might be good for plotrunners to do an OOC wrap-up comment at the end of a plot, reminding people about the plotlines left dangling and letting them know how to follow after them. It totally, absolutely should not be necessary, but it might help…

Metaplot
I think going back to the previous two points, that the best way to encourage participation in the metaplot by the most people is to reward those who make their own fun (and fun for others) with spotlights within the metaplot. Have a player who did research on the big bad? Let them show their expertise and have it give a tangible benefit (even a +1 attack or defense is enough to make sure other players know that they helped out). Have a player who gathered other characters together? Make them the leader of a group.

On a way to appeal to more players, I think it’s important to make metaplot-critical missions that aren’t hack-and-slash. Maybe the PCs are working in a command center directing troops and the battle itself is only on-screen through reports to them? Or maybe the critical scene is a random-ass patrol running into an enemy leader and people of all “levels” getting a chance to try a diplomatic solution?

This is where I think it’s critical to have enemies that can be reasoned with and talked to… if the only way to interact with the enemies is to shoot them, then combat is all that matters.

I also think that it can be useful to have scenes “happening at the same time,” even if they’re separated by a day or two, and to have those scenes appeal to different people. If the objective is the punch a hole through enemy lines to take out the enemy leadership, you can have the first plot be coordinating forces to get the enemy where you want them (high-ranking leadership types), the second plot be actually breaking through enemy lines (general-purpose combatants, maybe new players, facing down against “standard” enemies), the third plot be taking on the enemy leader’s bodyguards (specialist combatants, dinos, facing down against “elite” enemies), and the fourth plot talking the enemy leader into a ceasefire (diplomatic folks). The critical part of this is to make sure that the players (and characters, but mostly the players) know that their part of the mission was only possible due to the actions of other PCs on the previous plots. If you can tweak the subsequent plots based on the results of the earlier plots, so much the better.

ETA: I would like to suggest two methods of discussion for this: mechanical solutions (new code, tools, wiki posts, etc) and cultural solutions (methods for Staff to communicate with players, mood-setters, etc). Of course, I mixed them in my post above, but… eh.

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One of the things we’re experimenting with is trying to use luck rather than XP as the carrot. In order to do this, we’ve expanded the ways luck can be used. Some of it is inspired by way’s I’ve seen DND’s inspiration used, some of it is straight up Faraday’s, but sort of broken down into more concrete bits. Some of it is specific to our system.

So for example, we’re going to try out a policy where the character can die if they spend 3 rounds KO’d without either treatment or spending a luck point. There will be a few mechanical things people will be able to spend luck to buy, in addition to plot stuff. There are also some things we’ll let people ‘pool’ their luck to get (up to a point), such as major plot breaks or a stupid move by an enemy.

Basically we want a lot of ways to use luck, and we want to encourage a culture where people use it a LOT (so that people want to earn it a lot). We’ve also slightly upped the number of luck you can bank at a time in hopes that people won’t freak out about using up their luck and not having more.

We’ve then added ways to earn luck, including GMing scenes and running plots, descing or building rooms, and building thematic content. I think we’ll have a bit of an interesting time finding the balance between earning luck and spending luck, but I’m really interested to see how it ends up.

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Not a criticism (want to put that straight out there right away), but it seems to me that PCs almost never spent more than 1 round KOed; usually they give someone a round to try to rally/treat them, and then spend a Luck point if they have it but were trying to save it. We actually went with a rule on The 100 (and Fifth World before that) where if no one attacked the NPC that knocked a PC down, the NPC could choose to coup de grace the downed PC next turn.

Totally interested in seeing what ideas you come up with for methods to spend Luck.

In my experience, Luck fluctuates wildly in its value based on playerbase and activity. If the game is small or the character is not particularly active, Luck is incredibly valuable to them, and is usually hoarded. On the other hand, if the game is large and the character active, they really only have to make their Luck last for a week and then it entirely refreshes due to the cookies they received. I think I agree that boosting Luck Max by 1-2 points is the right move if you want to make it used more often, although unless the game is large/active and there are lots of Luck points rolling in, it might also just encourage hoarding and then spending in a massive blow-out in a big scene. The added ways to earn Luck are definitely a good idea there (although I agree with you on the tricky balance)

Yeah, the luck point economy is definitely an interesting thing to balance. You may actually want to tune down the number you get from cookies if you’re going to make them more useful. The whole reason luck points are used by cookies (over XP for instance) is because they aren’t that useful. This avoids putting a lot of emphasis on cookies and keeps them the fun fluffy reward system they were intended to be. Otherwise you run into people getting bent out of shape by people who forget to cookie and cookie-circles and whatnot just to build up points.

Yeah, all good points. When we open, we’re going to do an alpha with known players in part to try to smooth out some of these issues. I think it’s very possible that the 3 round KO may be too conservative, but it’s hard to really know until you put it to test in the setting. That said, the point isn’t to have people bleed out and die - it’s to make them spend their Luck, so that it becomes something people want to gain rather than something they ignore.

I’ll keep the cookie-tweaking in mind. We have a number of other, staff-driven ways to earn Luck on top of cookies, which I hope will help avoid that, but it’s a good point to watch for.

As for spending luck, in addition to gaining modifiers on rolls, being able to re-roll, and buying plot breaks*, you can also use them to reduce the time spent learning a thing* (not Action Skills - this is a separate thing that will revolve around discovering previously unknown knowledge), use them to get some specially-crafted story outside of planned metaplot* (at GM/staff’s discretion), use them to create a particular type of single-use item*, use them to get modifiers on rolls for special ‘loot’, and use them to stumble on thematic history information (the theme is based a lot in discovery of ancient things).

The ones marked with asterisks are things that people can pool their Luck to get, which I think might be a fun twist.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the possibilities, but we’ll see how they shake out in play. Any time you try to incentivize, there’s also the possibility of things getting unpleasantly competitive or people getting upset about not being able to earn as fast as other people. It’s possible we’ll scrap the whole thing, but I think it will be an interesting experiment. I’ll probably watch people’s Luck numbers really closely for a couple of months to see how the earn/spend balance is working.

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FWIW, like @Roadspike I’ve actually seen the opposite on nearly every FS3 game I’ve played on (not only ones I’ve run). It’s tough to get people to stay KO’ed for even one turn, because nobody wants to sit around twiddling their thumbs for a round when they’ve got a luck point to burn. Unless they’re low on luck, they’ll just immediately hero.

Still - it’ll be interesting to see how it works out. Luck points have always been able to be used for special effects at the GM’s discretion (sort of ‘get out of jail free’ plot points and stuff), so it’ll be fun to see how that works in a more codified system.

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Sounds like y’all have a good handle on things. Testing is totally the best way to figure out if something really works, and kinda fun to do (for weirdos like me).

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It’s so funny how wildly experiences vary! The one game I ran using FS3, I bet I only saw Luck used once. People generally forgot it existed, I think. I’m sure some of this comes down to GMing style and what sort of game you’re running, too. Ours wasn’t as combat heavy as something like BSU, where I think it’d be more of a thing.

However it works out, I do REALLY like the ability to have a secondary function to incentize contributing to the game that doesn’t automatically make those who can RP more, etc, jump leaps and bounds above others when it comes to XP.

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I do think it really depends on the game. On Sweetwater, luck points were used almost never. If you were badly hurt enough to get knocked out (which was rare to begin with), most players were like… “Uh… yeah… I think I’m just gonna lay here now.” Whereas on 100 and the BSG games the medics were more like: “FFS hold still so I can heal you!” “No I got this!” :slight_smile:

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Having recently returned to MUs in general, the passivity drives me a little crazy.

I’m a tabletop GM. I’ve been doing it for 30-odd years and I’m pretty good at it. But I think that has limited relevance to MUs for a lot of reasons, the primary one being that people who get together in real life to sit down and game are there to work together and have an emotional investment in one another, OOCly. This tends to make them more invested in the game and more proactive in terms of having their characters work together.

I’ve tried STing a few times in a few places over the last year and the level of apathy is staggering among players. And in the vast majority of the cases where a player really did buy into the PrP and did things like research, investigation and other background/leg work, they decided to keep that information to themselves, rather than aid the group. Even when there was absolutely no benefit to their characters for doing so.

I am seriously thinking of making my first MU invitation-only, just to foster that sense of camaraderie and shared investment, and thus player activity. But that sacrifices one of the great things about MUs, which is the exciting randomness and new directions that different players and their characters bring to the stories.

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At the risk of committing serious necromancy here; Argentus’ experience mirrors my own. I’ve been tabletop GMing since 1985 and finding a group of players online who will put in the same team effort and dedication is -hard-. Almost as hard as recruiting new players to begin with.

I’ve asked myself a couple of times whether it’s just that the stories I tell aren’t really interesting enough. But I honestly don’t think that that is the problem; before I had to stop going to rpg conventions due to chronic illness I had no problems filling out groups – I even sold copies of my game modules. I’ve never had a problem keeping players around a table on their toes. I’ve never had a problem getting players because honestly, wave a set of dice and people come running – free entertainmentz!

So why is it so much harder to get players on a mush, and keep them excited? Ares has, hands down, the best interface and structure I’ve yet to see for it. Not only is the web portal super accessible and makes coordination across time zones easy, it even has a simple yet functional skill- and combat system. It’s easy to learn, and players can pretty much jump right in.

It’s almost as if you expect players to do anything -themselves- they often just… can’t. Do I have to write my own character background? Actually think about how to get into scenes and how to contribute? What do you mean, I can’t just hit ‘find group’ in some ‘raid finder’ interface and then go on bot mode while my game client plays the game for me?

Anyhow, putting necromancy to a purpose here: How do you fix the apathy problem on your game, and where do you find players? We have a small core group of really fantastic people, but we have had SO MANY just in three months who pop in, get started on character creation, set up their skills, get approved and then… Well, then we never hear from them again. They don’t get rejected or ignored; they never actually enter the game and get on grid to get approached in the first place.

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I think years and years of the debate is it a game vs is it a writing collaborative have worn on folks, the writes have moved on to write books, gaming seems to have won out more these days. It its not a game with lots of events and gaming ran by one or two ‘STs’ where folks only need click, show up, make a few options and let it play out, interest is lost fast.

Its the era of the idle game app too. Idle games is a cover I think for saying strategy game, so most ‘strategy’ apps these days are just idle games. By Idle game I mean there are a number of choices to make and that effects success or not in the game, but really by the end of the game, everyone has the same build (idle city, the same power sources, mega residentials, etc. and producing the same outputs - idle dinosaur, everyone has the same predators and prey going for maximum effect).

So the gaming vs writing (which it never needed to be one vs the other) with gaming taking the lead seems to have set the stage, if its not easy to ‘game’ folks move along. Completely my opinion, but I’ve seen great RP friends move on to forum RP and/or just writing and self publishing their own things. And folks complain if things are too slow these days (I don’t have time to wait for big poses). The dinos that don’t want to wait anymore I feel, in part are sort of killing off new interest, forgetting the things they liked most of all in mush (it was easy to find RP, unlike waiting for days on a forum to set up potential rp then one pose every day or two). Now its popular to arrange scenes instead of sporadic grid RP. People make fun of social random grid RP even.

Just opinion, no solutions sorry. I think I’m approaching my next project as community building for story telling writers, not traditional MUSH folk.

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Interestingly, I’m the other way around. I am a writer who came to mushes to find easy writing exercises and not always write the same stories. XD

The problem with being a writer is that churning out somewhere between 60k and 120k words for a novel is a very lonely job. I love my job but, I am alone with that book for maybe 9-10 months. This is where a communal game provides both an opportunity to practise by writing something I don’t usually, and to be blunt, social interaction.

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I do agree with @Dumnagul that the debate between game vs writing is age-old. I’ve always seen it as a scale and not an either/or, but everyone has their own take.

In terms of what “wins” I guess it depends on how you look at it. I’ve seen more lightly-coded story games than I do game-focused ones over the past few years. So in terms of volume, there’s definitely still a “market” for the story side. But in terms of popularity, the more game-focused ones do have larger playerbases.

And FWIW, I see a lack of initiative and engagement just as much on games like Storium as MUs, and those do have a dedicated narrator. It’s just discouraging.

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@LBHeuschkel, I’m with you, I’m here more to write, I enjoy using system (game/dice) more for random elements and seeing how it turns out (chance cubes) rather than trying to build some statistical win out of my character sheet. Then again, I like trait systems where I could randomly have my character act cruel or merciful depending on how the dice role. @Faraday was more succinct in what I was trying to say, game-focused seems more popular.

I’m starting to think Forum focused in some manner could help. I don’t mean Forum-style rp (and Ares already has private scenes that players pose once/twice a day already, I think its a good transition between it all). I mean if I go to Sailor Moon forum, its as fans of Sailor Moon, we might have threads talking about episodes, manga, graphical novels, fan stuff, then an area for RP. I think genre/theme focus may be the way I go and sticking with the same theme I always come back to.

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Indeed, that is the power of Ares, and it’s certainly how it gets used a lot on our Discworld-themed game. Players across time zones often run longer scenes where people pose when they have time – I do scenes with someone on the other side of the planet, for instance, where we both may pose just once or twice in a day, but the poses may be 500-800 words each. In other words, might as well have been forum based RP for all intents and purposes.

The power of a mush game is that you get the choice, though – to do that, or to meet people on the grid. As always with a more forum-oriented approach there is a very large risk of inbreeding, of ending up writing only with the same 1-3 people. That’s what the grid is good for – you get jolted out of your routines, you meet new people, you get challenged in ways you didn’t see coming.

Provided, of course, that you can find anyone on the grid. Which is probably the biggest challenge for small mushes – and one I for one would love to hear ideas on how to resolve. I am on the grid most of the time and I know for a fact that a lot of players never make it that far – they literally get stuck in chargen and never actually enter the game. Yet they were interested enough to get that far, so what goes wrong?