In Breeding – Simulation Style!
Inbreeding: When closely related individuals mate and produce offspring, which tends to increases the number of individuals that are homozygous for a trait and increases the appearance of recessive traits.
In online roleplaying, as in life, inbreeding is a dangerous state. When your game comes to rely on the same core of individuals ideas become homogenized, energy becomes stale, and the recessive dominates. How can you identify inbreeding in your game? What can you do before it’s too late to reverse?
How to identify?
The conditions that give rise to inbreeding in a roleplaying game are straightforward: the organization, either at the in-character game level or out-of character fleet management level, relies upon the same set of people, year after year, to generate content, write the bulk of posts, host games, hold key positions, and make critical decisions.
This, however, does not always mean inbreeding is occurring. On the contrary, the case could equally be made this represents the ideal condition – a dedicated core of individuals who have worked together for years and continue to form a strong nucleus. And that would be correct, for to diagnose inbreeding in an online roleplaying game, symptoms must also be present.
Dead wood is a clear symptom of inbreeding. To have an active group of players is one thing – but when the club government is made up of old timers who no longer contribute, when the crew consists of players who are kept on the roster but hardly ever post, you have on your hands a classic case of inbreeding. Such a symptom, if left untreated, can cause all sorts of problems.
Relying on burnt out leaders has contributed to the fall of many clubs. First, work simply is not performed – and the danger of this is self evident. Without new blood added to the top, those in command lose touch with the pulse of the club, hampering their ability to make informed decisions or embrace new ideas. Just as critical, those at the lower lever feel left out and ultimately grow resentful.
Within the level of an individual game, the dynamics are similar. Old players, who were once fantastic, are kept on the rosters. Sometimes, this is just a simple nicety – an old timer is allowed to stay on, watch, and post when they have time. This becomes a problem though when a person who no longer contributes is kept in a key post. It also becomes a problem when several members of the crew are no longer contributing, but are kept around. Again, the danger is self evident – people holding up the flow of action, and resentment among those who do contribute but are not awarded for their work because their path is blocked by dead wood.
Inflation is the opposite of deadwood, but it is equally a symptom of inbreeding. Inflation is where the same person performs multiple jobs – either at the level of fleet management, within one game, or across several games within the same organization. It is true that everyone has different abilities – what is taxing for one person may be of no concern to an avid gamer who hosts several games and plays multiple characters simultaneously. Yet, over the long term, inflation sets an organization up for failure. With time, every gamer burns out or moves on, and when they do, they leave a hole to fill – but when someone filling multiple roles leaves their departure generates multiple gaps to fill. Inflation also causes lost opportunity. For every additional role taken on, for every additional character created, for every additional game hosted, someone else loses out on advancing – on having their energy and ideas come to the forefront. With several posts held by one person, it becomes that much harder for capable people to advance up the ranks, prove their merit, and introduce new ideas into the system.
Recycling is a third symptom of inbreeding, and the hardest to identify. At some point, the people running a club or game, if not careful, will begin to turn inwards. They may not yet have become dead wood, they may not have inflated and taken on multiple roles at once, but when old timers return to take on old roles, when the same old people are shuffled around to new positions, recycling could be occurring. It is not always an absolute – on a small scale, having an experienced person return, or moving one or two people to try their hands at something new is not a bad thing. However, when it’s the same group of people, with few new ones among them, its most likely recycling. If there is someone else who can do the job better, but they are rejected in favor of an old timer, its most likely recycling.
The danger with recycling is the same as with dead wood and inflation – at its heart it creates a disconnect. It is the same people, with the same ideas and attitudes; their very presence blocks the advancement of new talent.
What to do?
To combat inbreeding two things need to occur – cuts and promotions.
At some point the dead wood needs to be removed, the inflated person scaled back, and the recycled person moved on. This requires them to be cut in some fashion. This is easier said and done – each situation requires a different approach – and becomes especially hard as the person at question is most likely a respected old timer, powerful influence, or hard worker. This is where leadership becomes key to navigate the matter.
With cuts must come promotions. The great danger of inbreeding is that it locks out new talent, new energy, new ideas. Simply replacing one old timer with another won’t do – someone new has to be brought up to replace them. Again, this is easier said than done – finding the right person to fill the job could be difficult.
Yet, when replacing people, are also dangers – with inbreeding, its just not one, but several people who need to be replaced. Eliminating too many people at once and replacing them with new people can cause a shock to the system, so it is best to have a plan, to pace the replacements by replacing the most vital positions first, checking up to make sure the new person is working out, and than moving on to less vital positions.
The worst examples of dead wood should be removed first. Those who are not as bad could perhaps be talked to, given performance goals to meet, or moved to a position that will cause them to be less of an obstruction. In the long run, you’ll still want to cut all dead wood, but prioritizing will give you time to manage the situation, and also soften the blow to the dead wood by putting them on notice.
People who are inflated or recycled may not even pose an immediate concern if they are performing their jobs. In the long run, you’ll want scale back the inflated person – have them turn over one of their games to a new host, spin off administrative jobs to someone new, etc – but this can be done over the course of several months as to minimize disruption, give you time to work with the inflated person, and also identify, train, and test their replacement. The same goes for a recycled person. As an old timer they no doubt have great knowledge and are deeply invested in the club or game, and this can be put to use by working with them to teach a new generation.
Whenever cutting someone, it is best to be kind, but honest and resolute. With dead wood, they should not have much of a say in the matter – they are not performing their job. But with an inflated or recycled person, every opportunity should be taken to work with the person. Let them know the situation, be firm with your decision to ultimately scale them back, but give them options and the ability to chose what they want to give up, when they want to move on, and who would be a good replacement.
While promotions must accompany cuts, it does not always have to be one to one. In cases where inbreeding is occurring because the game or club has stretched beyond its means, cuts should not be entirely replaced. For example, a game of five people who are playing ten positions should be scaled back and employ a storyline that requires only six people, with one new person brought in. In certain cases, cuts alone will eliminating inbreeding without promotions – two games that are similar could be merged into one, with the new mixture of people most likely enough to give rise to new energy and ideas.
On the level of an organization, the same concept applies. If dead wood exists in two different functions, replace the vital one, but shut down the entire function that is not critical or does not produce. If an inflated or recycled person is running something that can be lived without, perhaps instead of trying to bring in a new person, it would just be better to close it down and bring up a new person to start a different venture that could be more successful.
How to prevent?
Inbreeding can be prevented. Dead wood exists because people stay on beyond their usefulness. This can be prevented in direct ways by having term limits, or in more subtle ways. The easiest is to just stay on top of those under your direction – know their plans and energy levels. If you know they are becoming busy elsewhere, drifting away from online roleplaying, or are running out of energy, work with them to scale back, transition them out, and work with new people to ease them into the post.
Inflation occurs because people are doing too much – so if someone is already hosting a sim, don’t promote them to host a second. If a person is the webmaster, don’t make them the head of recruiting as well. If you are a host and someone joins your game that you know is on five other games, don’t give them the central position in the story.
Recycling occurs because the idea takes hold only those who are proven can do the job. Perhaps in a pinch this is the case – the only person who can quickly fill the job is an old timer. If this occurs though, the recycled person should be told at the outset it is a temporary job – they are there to plug a hole for a few months, and work with them to train a new person to take over the job. But if its not necessary to have an old timer fill the position, instead promote a new person and utilize the old timer to serve as a mentor.
Inbreeding is common in the online roleplaying world, and it has brought stagnation and death to countless games and organizations. Luckily, it is a slow moving disease. With skill and time, it can be overcome.