OngoingWorlds blog

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


Barriers to entry

Barrier to entry

I recently saw an article on Gnome Stew about the barriers to entry in roleplay games, and how you should really avoid them, it prompted me to post a discussion on RPG-Directory about other people’s experiences and opinions about what are barriers to entry, and how to remove them.

Here’s Xexes‘ response:

Reading the information materials

Some sites are particularly reading heavy, especially world-building sites that can accumulate years worth of knowledge and contributions. But the recent trend is to let the player peruse what they want to and to only require them to read what’s really needed.

Knowing the genre

I’m just going to say it – some genres you really can’t get without reading/watching the series. But there’s been more wikis than ever and more sites building their own slimmed down wikis to help with this

Learning the game mechanics

Some sites are mechanics heavy and it can take hours or even days to flesh out a full application. But, a lot of sites have been getting better about using the tools already available to them. For example, D&D sites let players use D&D character generators that does most of the stat work for them

Learning the game’s software

Switching to a new software is scary! There usually isn’t a lot of help here – sometimes there might be a guide or two on how to use a particular feature. But the software learning curve largely remains as a speed-hump on purpose, to weed out less dedicated or less intelligent players. Software-savvy plays an unspoken part in removing would-be writers who can’t cope with the delivery methodologies.

Application cycle

The application cycle is a barrier to entry that is erected on purpose. The first purpose is to check that the would-be writer has the capacity to follow directions on their own. This is to remove players who are lazy and usually undedicated. The second is to check that the character fits the setting – roleplays don’t usually want Anakin Sky Walker in their My Little Pony game. The third, covert purpose is to double-check that the writer meshes well with the existing community. Roleplay is a collaborative effort, and not everyone can get along well.

Finding the game itself

Finding the game is also a barrier to entry. For some roleplays, their advertising is purposely only put in certain places, and usually to attract certain players, for any purpose from genre or maturity. For other games, you’d only hear about the game if who you are matches what the game is looking for, whether by personal invitation or word of moth. Generally we call these “private” roleplays.


Roleplays are designed to implictly attract the kind of people who will like the setting and the community already present. In fact, it’s so implicit that elements of the game can repel would-be joiners who wouldn’t be a good match. Aesthetics is a good example, and many sites have unknowingly decorated themselves in font sizes and contrast levels to attract players of a certain age by appealing (or not appealing) to eyesight. Pretty clever! The professionalism of the images and colors of the roleplay are a demographics banner to who is present there. The way the roleplay is set up, to even the wording and writing styles of the documents present are all meant to convey what kind of community lives there. The general idea is that a player reads the wildlife precautions for themselves and decides whether or not their natural predators live there or will be a problem. This is another purposeful barrier, and a very subliminal one.

User RookRollsDice then weighs in with these opinions:

It is true that barriers to entry can be a big turn off in your potential player base and that it is wise to minimize them as best you can through design.

It is impossible though to completely remove them, in my experience. There is no way to reduce the barrier height to zero.

These hurdles which are completely insignificant to (I would say) the majority of people on this site could be insurmountable for others.

You may scoff at the list, as being too obvious however they’re all based on real experiences I’ve had or at least had to consider in the past in a different field.

Communication: You can read this, those who cannot could not play or would have great difficulty playing. The communication barrier comes in many different flavours.

Language and Literacy: How accommodating is the game to people of a foreign language low level of literacy. I’ve often though these games would be a fantastic way to learn a new language from an intermediate level or to expand upon fluency and vocabulary. The latter is actually the reason I play.

How do you minimize it: Be open, choose to be the mentor rather than wallowing in elitism. Be real, everybody started somewhere and everybody makes mistakes. Open a proof-reading section of the board and reward players for helping each other out. In addition to encouraging group play, reward solo play in the form of writing exercises using the borrowed setting and characters. Encourage people to use mechanical aids such as word-processors.

Vision impairment: Our technology transmits our language as light. People can sometimes have difficulty perceiving or distinguishing the light, or the language. Since communication is so vital to the medium, I feel it should always be goal number one.

As the platform evolves we gain additional control over how we communicate, this is used by groups and individuals to change how things are displayed.

How do you minimize it: Design. Anybody making the transition from HTML to CSS will tell you that it’s important to free the content from it’s frame. As a game’s designer you’re aim is to make a beautiful, functional theme. Keep in mind though the difference between a designer and an artist. A designer must put function first. Anything less than a functionality first design goal means you’re off track. That’s not to say design should not be artistic, there are many examples of fantastic design which I also perceive as beautiful.

And then there’s the player based design.

A post which is relatively free to mark-up is easily transmuted into other forms. However allowing additional mark up allows players to add their own spin and themes to their post… it puts design decisions back in the hands of the players. While I like what I can do with such mark-up, on the whole I believe most places would be better without it.

I may choose what I perceive to be the best font in the best colour for clarity on the background, but I may have chosen poorly when a new colour scheme is introduced. Or for a colour-blind player. My mark-up may not work in other browsers or may break the body of my post for text to voice software. I may perceive it as beautiful, and may not realize that I am raising the barrier for somebody else.

And finally, Xexes adds this:


In China, everything is made for mobile devices and for desktop devices. There isn’t this debate over which is better, everything has a mobile version, period. So many of our roleplay skins and fancy gadgets are stuck in the mindframe that everyone is using a desktop. It’s like we’ve all agreed to be ignorant of mobile users for the sake of pretty eyecandy. And all you hear from mobile users is that they don’t care about the pretties, they’d much rather have a fast, simple, low-bandwidth site to use on their phone – function before form. So, a lot of roleplay sites just aren’t accessible by mobile users, so aren’t viable at all, period.

I too think this mobile is a REALLY important one, which is why I made sure works as well as possible on mobile devices. If you’d like to get involved in this discussion you’ll find it here.

Top image is a 3D model I made. I’ve put some others up for download on Turbosquid.