OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Games that can’t ever succeed – and how to fix them

Roleplay apocalypse

Sometimes sites pop up here and there that can’t ever do very well. They can’t achieve reasonable, realistic growth expectations, and slowly decay over time, unable to grow.

Supply and demand

Suppose that we want to eat ice cream. But, the only flavor that exists is vanilla. So lots of people eat vanilla. Now, let’s introduce more flavors – chocolate, peanut butter, mocha, etc. As a result, everyone is spread between all the flavors; only a few people now eat vanilla. In fact, perhaps there are so many choices that only one person eats pistachio chocolate, or no one at all eats vanilla lime. This is supply and demand.

That is, the number one reason your roleplay doesn’t have more players is because so many other roleplays exist. There’s nothing that you can really do about that. But you can try to make your roleplay the best it can be. It also means that if there are more roleplays of a certain genre than can be sustained, you don’t want to open another roleplay of that genre. You won’t do well, and you’ll make the situation worse for everyone else. Wait a bit, and then open your roleplay when the timing is better.

Sometimes, the staff just don’t love it enough

I understand that sometimes life really does get in the way, but I’ve always been a believer that you make time for what’s most important to you. And sometimes the site just isn’t thriving because it isn’t going fast enough. I’ve never seen a roleplay site where the norm is to reply with a week or three live on for very long. People like the idea of it, but most inspiration tends to dry up in that time.

Sometimes the admin really, really wants to make it work. In their head. But when it comes down to it, they just can’t be bothered to put in the effort. I’ve seen admins flustered at themselves for caring so much about something and then being angry that they couldn’t be bothered to write up documentation. To advertise. To post. They are essentially lying to themselves and trying to make themselves care but … they just don’t care that much. It’s simply a mere good intention, but with too little follow-through. And it shows in everything. It’s a smell in the cbox. It’s a feeling between the pixels of a skin. It’s a silence in the recent posts.

If you just don’t love your site enough, it shows. People innately smell it. On a small site, this can be fatal, as no one wants to play on a sinking ship. If you are okay with the site changing and living on without you, by all means, pass it onto new, caring staff.

Sometimes, it really is the genre

I hear “oh, that’s just the genre” thrown around as often as “oh, we’re just dying because people are busy” and both make me angry for their whimsical lack of action. But, sometimes, just sometimes, it really is the genre. Some genres really are small and obscure. Especially if they contain a lot of lore or a large universe. Sometimes the genre is so small and obscure that not conforming to the way others in the genre do it mean that you just can’t survive, period. Sometimes the competition can be so fierce that not conforming to what other sites are doing – even if these things are very bad for you – means you can’t make it. This goes back to supply and demand.

There isn’t much you can do about a trying to grow a site in a genre other people just aren’t interested in. Dulling down the lore and pre-reading can only help so much. Your only real option here is to adjust your own expectations, and tweak your own definition of success.

Sometimes, other people just aren’t interested

I’ve always thought that any site could succeed, even a site about the most boring things – say, amoebas. But, I don’t think this is true. At the end of the day, whether or not people join depends on if they’re interested in the subject. I could write the most awesome document on why amoebas are cool and why you should join my site. But if it just doesn’t interest you, you’re not going to read it. You’re not going to want to play here. And if enough people just aren’t interested, the site’s just not going to do well. It can live! But it can’t do well. I can start up the most awesome site about bicycle-riding pigeons who are couriers of the dead. But the majority of people are going to join to play with me, personally, or for the feeling of community. It will never, ever do that well. That’s the sad fact of supply and demand. I’ll attract, say, two people that are interested in it. And then I’ll loose one. Maybe gain another. But my numbers just can’t ever get much bigger because the people that are interested in it just don’t exist. This goes back mostly to the genre problem. There isn’t really a cure, all one can do is adjust their expectations of success.

A roleplay that isn’t a roleplay

If your game doesn’t look like a game to other people, they won’t join it. Sometimes this means conforming to a style of layout that agrees with other games in the genre. A word of caution: not all trends and fads are good ones. So the rule of thumb is that if you are going to adopt a new trend, but can’t figure out why or what good it would do other than trendiness, it’s probably not a good trend.

Sometimes it’s the refusal to do the right things.

Many games never get bigger because the admin is stuck on what they feel is right and good – despite everyone else telling them they need to do something else. It can even become so bad that the admin does things in such a way that they purposefully fail, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that the admin was “right” – but at the cost of the game’s health. This can be something as simple as a mismatch of the game’s genre and the right software. Or the right set-up and format for the game. Or it can be a concept that just plain old doesn’t work for a roleplay, for example, universes that require all three hundred positions to be filled in order for the game to work. It can be a refusal to advertise. Or a refusal to write with yourself to generate the activity others need to commit to your game. The solution in this scenario is rather simple : set down the pride that’s not working and do what needs to be done.

Sometimes it’s the admin

There really are cases where there’s something so bad about the admin that they just can’t attract a bigger crowd. Sometimes it’s that the person is legitimately nuts, appealing to the wrong age group, naturally abrasive, or too drama-prone. People won’t join because they can’t relate to the admin. There really isn’t an instant-fix for this, as it’s an inner problem. The best one can do is to discover their badnesses and slowly work on them. Don’t keep beating your head against the wall though, stick to being a member until it’s time to try again.


There isn’t a magical formula for why sites succeed or some fail. We only have common sense and what little statistics we can gather on our side. But if there’s any two reasons why sites don’t fail, it is because activity breeds more activity, and because people are there to have fun.

This article was written by Xexes from RPG-D, who was a judge for last year’s Flashback week competition. 

  • New Worlds Project

    Tough but fair assessment and good article. Might make it required reading for our team. 🙂