By Kim Smouter, Co-Founder of New Worlds Project. See part 1 of the story of New Worlds Project here.
When I began writing this story, I didn’t want to just write about what I thought we had done to make New Worlds Project a unique endeavour but I also wanted to reflect on what had made the project fail so that others can see the signs and help prevent the demise of their play-by-post projects. I don’t think there was any one cause of failure but I think it’s the combination of these which proved to be our downfall. It’s still very much in the back of my mind that our Reboot might very well fail to meet our objectives, but we’re putting everything we have into it and I hope that we will succeed in building up a community from the ashes.
Finding the right balance with real life
I think if there is one thing which explains the downfall of New Worlds Project v1.0, it would have to be that the core site admins were unable to find the right balance with real life. Alex and myself were quite young when we started New Worlds and as we completed the academic cycle, and began focussing on our careers, significant others, and other interests, it proved really difficult to also give the time the site needed to be maintain. All admins I think will know this, keeping a site going takes an incredible amount of time. I am hopeful that time management will be better this time around, although keeping the Reboot Campaign has proven quite challenging in coexistence with a demanding job. Keeping a good eye on time management, and allowing for an hour a day seems to me to be quite adviseable to make sure the project keeps on going.
Recruiting, welcoming, and integrating new members
I’ve mentioned this a number of times in my articles, any community, every community needs a steady flow of new incoming members to replace outgoing retirees and also to invigorate the community with new ideas. Recruitment is a time-consuming effort and it requires having community leaders with good connections to the rest of the community to make a real difference. But it isn’t something you ever should stop doing as it’s difficult to become known but easy to be forgotten.
Welcoming new members appropriately is key, and I think, at New Worlds Project, we were unable to develop a smooth process to welcome and hand-hold new members to feel like they could integrate, contribute their ideas. From a complicated setting, to at-the-time, a fairly intransigent approach to continuity – I don’t think, we made joining New Worlds Project as easy as it could have been. That’s not to say that the community weren’t welcoming, friendly, etc.. it’s just that a close one-to-one approach was always lacking even if the intention was there.
Decay in the admin team…
Another aspect which I think explains the downfall was a real mismatch in the levels of responsibilities within the Admin Team. We operated on a two-tier system involving what we called Administrative Operations Manager and New Worlds Community Leaders. The idea was that the real back-end stuff would be led by the Administrative Operations Managers (welcoming new members, membership rewards, the website, external relations, promotional activities, etc…) and the New Worlds Community Leaders would focus on keeping the forums, heart of the community, alive and kicking with lots of stories to join in with, etc. In theory fairly sound, but I don’t think the delegation was as good as it could have been, and because things weren’t being done, it increasingly fell back upon the shoulders of a few people to handle a workload that was too much for such a small team to handle.
Additionally, we didn’t have a real strategy for recruitment, performance review, regular meetings, etc.. so as time went on and the people fulfilling these roles became less and less involved, there was no rotation of people despite there being a need for that.
Spreading our resources too thin
In our attempts to deal with the persistent problems of recruitment and retention of new members, we tried a whole bunch of initiative that contributed to our limited resources being spread quite thin across the board. It meant that we had a lot of different projects going on, not receiving the attention and vigour needed to solicit continued interest from members. We also had a way of approaching the gameplay that involved the admin team incredibly with members unable/unwilling to move forward without admin input. This isn’t a huge problem when the admins have the time and energy for it, but when you factor in changes in priorities of the admins, or time restrictions, this can prove a fatal combination. I’d like to think we’re going to be approaching things a little differently this time around, focusing community resources and activities in a limited number of places to better manage limited resources and achieve economies of scale.
The setting, the site… everything was complicated
Having been effectively away from my own community for a few years, and having a job where communication has to be simple, understood by people from many different backgrounds and perspectives has made me completely rethink how we sell and communicate the New Worlds community and what we do. When we were hard at it in the mid-2000s, we wanted to offer a fully immersive experience, completely in-character – which is great if you already know the setting, but for those outside of the community it only makes discovering, understanding, and participating in the community that much harder. In v2.0, we’re looking at tackling this problem through improved resources, tutorials, walk-throughs, and a complete rethink of how we present ourselves.
The spark was lost…
Like many projects, over time, the whole energy that was sucked up with keeping everything going and maintaining a high level of service proved very draining that as the years went by, the site became more of a chore than a hobby. It became more laboured to contribute to the stories, the site seemed an endless to do list… it just had stopped being fun. The admins and the NWCLs both started to take their distance from the site and the community suffered for it. Intermittent effort to bring energy back failed as the sparks just didn’t recreate the fire. At the same time, the community did continue sputtering on without the guidance of the AOMs for a year, year and half – attesting that the magic that we had created 10 years ago could still drive people to dream things up and contribute.
It’s never completely dead
We never shut down the site, nor declare it dead… as I think inside all of us in the admin team, we knew there were still places we wanted to take this Project. I think the cool down is going to prove to be a very good thing for New Worlds and the lessons that we have taken from this, I feel, will make New Worlds a better, more welcoming, more newbie friendly place. In the new 4 chapters or so, I’ll cover the different steps we’re planning to take to bring back to life our community, and building something even better than the original New Worlds play-by-post game.