A Definition for Successful Worlds

I’ve been pondering what a proper definition for a successful roleplay world would be.

Generally speaking, hardcore, high immersion, enforced rp is the jazz, or perhaps better yet classical music, of persistent worlds. It will never have the market of say something such as the usual PvE theme parks. The potential market is similar in probably size to the hardcore PvP crowd; except that RPers don’t gank each other off the server. (in fact, a well designed sandbox RP shares many design conventions as a well designed PvP world. Darkfall – without Darkfall’s community – could also have potential in the RP niche market). So our numbers are small. A successful concert pianist plays to much smaller venues than a successful emo band. This leaves hobbyist worlds and the odd enforced RP commercial MUD, such as Threshold.

One serious problem that roleplay worlds have is player concurrency. How many zombie MUDS and NWN 1/2 servers are there with nobody on? If there are not enough players on, players will log off and move elsewhere. This is a no brainer. From anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen over the years, the peak concurrency on a world with needs to be above 40 players. Notice that I said nothing about relationship to world size. We are presuming here that the world is either small, or if it is large that it has honeypot spots designed to bring the players together. Worlds with a peak concurrency less than that magic two score may remain healthy for long periods, but are susceptible to sudden mass exoduses. Oftentimes, a seemingly perfectly healthy world can become a ghost town within a few weeks. For the long term health of a world, it has to exceed Dunbar’s number by a healthy margin. If you do so, your world has multiple sub-communities and can weather one of them imploding.

It’s not actually the number of players that matters, but the number of highly networked players (HNPs) that matters. If your active playerbase is at or below Dunbar’s number, you are subject to the risk that one or more key HNPs leaves and the social anchor of the community is shattered.

But… success is not all about the size of the playerbase. A world may have the community size, but may not last. Two years ago, the NWN1 world Three Kingdoms was peaking above 40 players. It is currently empty. On paper, it had everything a world could ask for. So having enough HNPs is like having enough food to eat. It can’t guarantee that your world will thrive over the long haul, but one bout of starvation can kill it. A world that has enough highly networked players now may not have them in two years if the world has no newbie hose, or no community manager with a deft hand.

The real measure of success for a world is longevity as an active server. A server that runs for an extended period of time with an active community is a successful one. A good measure of is the amount of time that a server has operated with an active community; this means regular postings on the forums and a certainty of finding players online.

(Disclaimer! The following definition is extremely stringent. I’ll openly admit to not having a successful world under my belt. Under my caretaking, Etilica went through its death throes and I made probably every mistake possible to make things worse; except adding an DM to the GM team before properly vetting her. That one I could only helplessly watch unfold.)

Moderately Successful (2+ years) – The world operated for two years with an active community. Two years is not a long time, but the vast majority of worlds never really acquire a community beyond those who built it and some transient tenants. The usual patterns are to either to never acquire a community, or to have a lively one for a few months until a critical HNP or two leaves. Any live team who can keep a server active for two years or longer deserves a pat on the back. Some NWN2 worlds have reached the moderately successful stage, but none have yet been around long enough for the real test of time.

Outstandingly Successful (5+ years) – If your world has had a healthy and active community for this long, then you have something special. If your world was built by modding (as with the NWN series), then you have long past the point where the game’s newbie hose was shut off. While the total number of available clients that could log into your server have dramatically declined since the heydey, your community is still vibrant. If you have accustom client, then you are long past “teh shiney” phase. Several MUDS and NWN1 worlds – including some not operating anymore – had long runs with active communities. Some came close to this mark before their communities imploded. Among the early worlds that launched in late 2002; those that were still operating in late 2007 fit this category. If it launched any time before spring of 2004 and is still operating with a viable community, then you can call it an unqualified success. Planeshift is notable here as well. I’d actually give it extra marks as it is not a mod and not a text world, but a custom codebase server and client that is constantly evolving.

Legendary (10+ years) – Seriously, if you have a world that is still operating and launched before March of 1999, you are my hero! This rarified atmosphere leaves only a handful of MUDS; notably Threshold. Those that reach this point will probably pass another ten.

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About Dave

I’m a 38 year old American who has lived the past 9 years in Germany and India.
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One Response to A Definition for Successful Worlds

  1. D^t says:

    After reading Brian’s Abandoning Hope post (http://www.psychochild.org/?p=615) it made me view your post slightly differently, in a good way I think.

    Whether it’s NWN, MuD or a AAA mmorpg, I have to agree time active is a great representation of the success of a virtual world. The longer a world runs obviously the more vested time in the world a certain group of gamers has. Longer running worlds create more memories where then the world becomes sentimental or precious in the gamers eyes because it reminds them of a time in their life they’ll never return to.

    It is also incredibly hard to keep a virtual world from the pit of obscurity, and I believe as a function of time, keeping a game from obscurity increases linearly. Each passing year for example it gets harder and harder for EQ to stick around, and only does because of it’s very loyal community.

    -D^t

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