The story of New Worlds Project: #3 – Launching the saga
Written by Kim Smouter, Co-Founder of New Worlds Project. Read all articles about New Worlds Project
Getting the setting right was just one of the many challenges facing our launch. We had to get the word out that we had created this setting. We wanted intrepid writers to come join us to test whether it could serve as a decent platform for collaborative writing and role-playing. We’d been working a few years towards achieving this, whilst keeping our responsibilities at Star Trek: Independence where both of us were quite key players.
There were a number of things which I feel were critical to making the launch’s success and could perhaps serve as elements to consider when doing your launch strategy – and having one is an important thing to have – Some of it, I suspect, will no longer be applicable to the cyber world of 2013, but we will cover how we’re redoing the exercise as part of New Worlds Project’s reboot much later in this series anyway.
Even in 2001, having just a forum wasn’t going to be enough
At the time, there were a number of different platforms competing to have forums hosted on their systems. I remember that during the development phase we tried a couple of these before ditching them. We made a conscious decision not to go with any of the pre-established communities and to develop something in-house that would have our mark from A to Z.
I am consistently surprised how little time and effort game-masters give to improving the first impression that candidate players, or indeed prospective audiences can have on their game. I recently asked a question at RPG-D only to be met with flabbergasted remarks or reminders that the only thing that counts is whether the content is good. I disagree, as a community, we need to work on both the look and feel of the games we curate. The eye-candy, which attracts prospective players as well as the content which, once the dazzle of the eye-candy disappears, still needs to keep the audience interested. To get us to that point that we had something for eyes, and something for the creative soul, we were armed only with Microsoft’s FrontPage WYSIWYG editor and a phpBB that we spent time match with the rest of the website’s colour scheme. Attention to detail is very important, now more than ever. Even with our limited knowledge of HTML coding at the time, we aimed to get a strong visual identity from the get-go.
Our goal was to have a website that could provide the necessary information for players to know that something cool was happening and that they best pay attention. I will readily admit that the look and feel of the website in 2003 – the Christmas colour scheme – is totally misplaced in 2013, but it certainly made a splash when we launched. It was such a bold colour choice that it also had achieved the objective of making clear to our audience that this community wasn’t another copy and paste of the Hollywood settings. One of the things I aim to cover quite extensive is our evolving relationship with our website and the critical role it played in our initial success, and the role it played in maintaining the community somewhat connected when activity grinded to a stop, and required the reboot initiative that led me to write this discussion series.
We built up that all-important hype
We did not launch until we were confident we had all the elements in place and could provide a complete experience to first comers… The site, however, was put online whilst we had enough of the base story agreed and to wet players’ appetites. We took a strategic gamble doing this, as essentially the site was a placeholder where players could get information on our creative process and how we wanted the gameplay to work. When all the elements finally did come together (the setting, the gameplay, our internal organisation structures, etc…), we didn’t do an all-out launch, we opened up the forums and offered prospective players an opportunity to participate in one test thread, one story that they could participate in. It allowed them to get introduced to us and the style we wanted to infuse into the community, and allowed them to tell us whether the setting could work. It was a beta test of sorts.
We also conducted a lot of pre-launch marketing, putting up our banners on different role-playing community and recruitment sites, getting our website linked to the directories that were so popular at the time like the Open Directory Project (anyone still remember it?), and lots of word of mouth.
Turning our inspiration into a partner and recruitment source
The great thing about our community is that the niche community played in our favour and word of mouth about New Worlds Project and the placeholder site really helped build hype about our upcoming launch. Star Trek: Independence and the other communities that we had contributed so much to were more than happy to allow us to promote our activities on their forums and sites. Because the setting was so different and unique, it meant that we were not going to be seen to be competing for the exact same audience and indeed most gamers that joined us maintained a link with their other communities because each caters and offers to a very different set of needs.
Strong visual branding
Already early on in the project, one of the important challenges facing us was to get artwork that could communicate the look and feel of the setting. We didn’t have Romulan warbirds to point to, or an Omega-class Earth Destroyer that everyone knew and so we quickly had to find visual artists willing to give us a hand (for free)… having just a series of images proved to be invaluable in getting writers’ hearts pumping and their creative energies flowing.
We also built the branding ourselves by using consistent elements in all of our communication. In 2001-2003, this was provided by Microsoft’s Publisher software and was achieving a look and feel that was more than acceptable and comparable with the best stuff that was being produced at the time. Times have evolved and the standards expected have gone up tremendously but so has the availability of amazing talent and software tools to get you there.
Be ready to put all your energy in the first few weeks
By having a single launch date, we rallied our troops and organised an IRC event to get us going in style, the launch of the website, and the forums were timed to take place at the same time. It allowed for a very successful launch indeed and I remember our problem in the first few weeks being much more about our capacity to keep up and getting all the newcomers introduced, fully signed-up, and engaged. A lot of the stories first initiated during those first weeks still remain in our archives and have survived multiple upgrades and transfers to different content management platforms.
We failed to recognise, however, the capacity required to manage the influx. We weren’t sufficiently ready to provide the support in those first few weeks despite years of planning the perfect setting. It is a recurring challenge for us – to be able to guide newcomers and give them confidence to contribute to the setting in different ways. It was something where we eventually stumbled on some years later. When we talk more about the Reboot, I’ll present the ideas that we’re going to put into action and that we will have to let time decide whether they were the right ideas to implement to deal with this.
In the next chapters, however, I’ll cover more about how we kept the excitement going, and then cover our relationship with our websites, before talking about how we organised ourselves at New Worlds.