The story of New Worlds Project: #4 – Keeping the excitement going
By Kim Smouter, Co-Founder of New Worlds Project. See part 1 of the story of New Worlds Project here.
It might be worthwhile having a refresh. Chapter 1 introduced this series as a story of the up and down and hopefully up again that New Worlds Project has experienced in its 10 year history. This chapter covers what we did to keep it going and can perhaps serve as a checklist for others…
Launch was built upon gradual, step-by-step build-up
As we covered in the previous chapters, a lot of work took place before we felt comfortable enough to launch the project. We elected to get a good solid framework built up and thoroughly explored before we moved New Worlds Project out of its Alpha stage. After the Alpha stage was completed, we actually ran a limited beta stage with the people who had, through word of mouth, learned about the initiative and wanted to get involved. We actually launched a test thread where people could test out the mechanics of the game and the setting whilst Alex and I tweaked the setting further in the background to make it work. Only then did we allow launch day to happen.
But launch day was the easy part, keeping the momentum going proved to be the more difficult part, and we kept it up from 2003 to 2006-2007, before real life took over and one by one members of the Support Team pursued other activities and interests. It’s therefore useful to preface this chapter by saying, these are the things that we tried to do to keep the excitement going, but in the end they didn’t prove to be a guaranteed victory for us.
Focus on making it easy for newcomers to join
We are always keenly aware of the importance of making the site, the setting, the community accessible and welcoming to newcomers. At New Worlds, the challenge is harder due to having no pre-set audience to attract…
Why is this so important? Newcomers keep a website active, they are the ones that keep enthusiasm up across the community and bring in fresh energy, newcomers are those who will question whether the setting makes sense, and they can beta test your mechanics in a way that no other group can.
New Worlds Project through its 2003-2007 went through a number of different and evolving communications campaigns playing up the “in-character” aspects to get people hooked through the setting. In our current reboot, we’re playing up the “out-of-character” aspects to broaden out the attractiveness of the community, and also to encourage people who may not be familiar with play-by-post communities to give it a go.
To make it easier for newcomers to integrate, we designed our website to have a specific and separate section of the site to offer a step-by-step explanation to newcomers about how to join. On our current site it’s known as the Newcomer’s Centre and considerable time and energy was given to have it looked at by people who knew nothing about New Worlds Project.
I question whether we’ve always been very successful… and this is perhaps the part where I start discussing about what we are doing with this Reboot initiative that we hope will lead to a different outcome. We have realised that whereas our advertising and indeed our entire site design was built upon making the setting attractive and front and centre, in that process we feel that we may have made it more difficult than it needed to be for people to understand what we were about and how to get involved. We went considerably down the route of providing a fully immersive and in-character experience but in the process, we feel that we did not help ourselves in the process.
Give the players rallying moments
In 2003-2007, New Worlds Project operated under the principle of seasons, each year was its own season and in many ways the site’s identity and the type of people attracted to it actually followed these changes quite effectively. With each season, we focussed on a different aspect of the setting to highlight as a moderating team. We also ensured that each season had a big story at the end of the year, a finale which was open to all members and allowed them to be part of something that would be changing the setting. These finales offered the opportunity for characters to be heroes of the moment, for writers to be even more involved in shaping and designing the setting’s meta- components. A number of our finales have grown to be some of the best writing achieved at New Worlds and I know have garnered the interest of many audiences interesting taking these stories to the next step. For us, they were great ways of focussing energy and on keeping everyone hyped up about the story they were helping to create.
Keep it fresh
We will spend a lot more time on this point in another chapter, but as play-by-post communities, our websites are our port of call, they are where all our members spend the most amount of time, and our communities depend on our websites to get the resources, to get in touch with other members, etc. As such, leaving your point of call unchanged for years on end doesn’t help to keep the excitement going. Always tweak your website, ask your members for feedback about how they find the current website, and plan to continuously develop new features that can be useful for your members and can be a reason for members to come back and check out what’s new if they’ve been away.
We also have always had lots of side projects like commissioning art work, or looking at other ways to make the setting come alive and bring the eye-candy to bear.
Keep your advertising up
It is therefore critical and vital to keep your advertising up once you’ve launched your community, and to also keep the advertising fresh – to allow it to evolve it as your community evolves. Advertising is an incredibly important way to keep excitement and buzz around your community. Use developments in your setting to inspire newcomers to join the community. We often used the opportunity of the finales in order to advertise about New Worlds Project more broadly as we found that by offering a good read, we also were more likely to draw members in. We kept updating our advertisements on the various outlets available to us (at the time it was mostly website engines, directories, advertisement boards) – there are now so many additional outlets for us to play with that there’s just no excuse not to keep at least to a quarterly rotation of advertisements.
Work with other games and the broader community
New Worlds Project spent a lot of time in simply getting the word out through about the game through its involvement in community initiatives like DragonMuseNetwork which was an initiative spearheaded by Tazlure to set up a network of excellence that members of any of the constituent games could join knowing that they would be part of communities that could deliver the goods in terms of activity and outlet for creativity. We also worked with the Simming League, an affiliate network, and simply were an active participant in our community, contributing what resources we had to make the play-by-post community generally more lively, and by consequence, increasing the changes that some of that traffic came New Worlds Project’s way… many of our best players were attracted in this fashion and continue now to be leaders of the community.
So for the next chapter, I’m looking forward to talking to you a little bit more about our award-winning websites and why I hark on a lot about this in this series…