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Recruiting: The Lifeblood of Role Playing

Fish joining others in another goldfish bowl

No single factor plays a greater role in determining the success of a sim or club than recruiting.  Indeed, a robust recruitment program can cover a multitude of other failures.  Average story?  No problem.  Mediocre characters?  Still no problem.  Plain looking site?  Again, no problem!  Can’t recruit?  The clock is ticking.  You can lead a wildly successful game if you can simply recruit new players.  As new talent arrives, those other relatively minor problems will take care of themselves in time.  But if you can’t get people to join, your sim will eventually close up shop like so many have done over the years.

Sadly, many leaders in our community today undervalue recruiting efforts.  And when they do recruit, a lot of times it’s simply asking existing role players to join their games.  That’s inbreeding, by the way, not recruiting.  Then they wonder why their organizations falter and eventually fail.  Here’s the thing:  There’s no magic to recruiting new players.  It’s actually really, really easy.  It takes patience and dedication, yes, but the basic concepts of successfully getting people to join your game are remarkably simple.  I’m going to tell you exactly how to recruit more players than you’ll ever need.  And the best part of it is that *anyone* can do it.  Club leaders:  An effective recruiter is more valuable than anyone else on your staff.  Believe it.

Why am I qualified to write about this?  I don’t have an exact count, but I’ve recruited hundreds of new players into simming and online role playing over the years.  During my two stints in the Independence Fleet admiralty, I sponsored the launch of 21 brand new games, most of which began with many players (sometimes entire crews) totally new to simming and online role playing.  In addition, I recruited for dozens of others sims that existed in Independence Fleet.  During my time as the fleet’s Commander-in-Chief, the club grew from six to 14 sims in a little over a year.  During my run as her Chief of Fleet Operations from September 2010 to January 2012, the club grew from two to 16 sims.  If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to build and grow role playing.

February 2000

I learned everything I needed to know about recruiting when I was first recruited myself nearly 16 years ago by my future friend, mentor, and rival, James D. West.  I’m not saying that singular event taught me everything there is to know about recruiting, but it was all that I needed to know to be successful.  Here’s how it happened:

I was on AOL late one night and saw an email pop up from someone whom I didn’t know.  I opened the email.  The author said that he saw “Star Trek” in my profile and wanted to know if I was interested in joining the USS Sunfire, a role play by email game.  He said he was the XO and then explained a little more about how the whole thing worked.  I was intrigued and I immediately added the guy to my buddy list.  He happened to still be online so I sent him an IM.  We talked a little bit about Star Trek, the Sunfire, and a few other related things.  By the end of that conversation, not only had I joined, but I had also signed up one of my friends, unbeknownst to him.  I clicked on the link to the Sunfire’s Angelfire website, which looked pretty cool!  The rest is history.

So what can we learn from this tale?

1. Look professional

Although it happened at the end of the story, I did eventually take a look at the Sunfire’s website, and it looked great.  Let me qualify that: it looked great for an Angelfire site of February 2000.  While the standards have obviously changed since then, the principles remain the same.  A website should be simple, easy to navigate, and free of spelling and grammatical errors.

The biggest mistake leaders make here is that they try to put everything into their site.  The result is a complicated labyrinth of information that no one else cares about.  If the information does’t directly pertain to the sim, it doesn’t belong on the site. Otherwise it’ll just get in the way.  Everything should point the visitor toward joining.  Think about the look and feel of Apple products and the Apple store.  That’s what new players want to see.  Remember, professional doesn’t have to be flashy.  Simple is better!  Finally, proofread your material.  Since what we do can also be called collaborative creative writing, we should at least show some competency with the writing part.

2. Remove barriers to entry

One of the worst mistakes hosts make today is that they just plain ole’ make it difficult to join their games!  Nobody wants to go through a laundry list of laborious rules, a six page application, and then finally a 500-word sample post!  Imagine seeing such a thing if you’ve never simmed before.  No thank you!  This entire article is only 1,300 words and it took me a few weeks to put together.

The common response to this is that the sample post will weed out inferior players in favor of more committed ones.  That sounds great, but there’s no evidence that it actually works out that way.  I’d rather have five or six potential great players join than have none of them join to wait for that perfect application.  Further, I can find no correlation between the intricacy of a person’s application and their performance in-game.  Let’s put these myths to bed already!  Rule lists and applications are necessary, yes.  But make them as short and to the point as possible.  The fewer the rules, the better.  The shorter the application, the better.  And for Pete’s sake, no sample post.  Ever.

The Doctor saying "Come with me"

3. Go out and ask (interested) people!

Okay, so you have a professional looking website and you’ve removed unnecessary barriers to joining your game.  How do you actually get new people to sign up?  It’s simple:  Go out and ask them.  During the old AOL days, I would search for users who had both Star Trek and creative writing in their profiles.  I would then send them an email telling them 1) why I’m emailing them specifically, 2) a little bit about my sim, and 3) why they should join.  The shorter the invitation email, the better.  It’s got to jump off of the screen at them.  Make it fun–share your passion with them!

AOL may not be what it once was, but we now have Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other online communities.  I never had a problem finding fresh players in the early 2000s on AOL or in the 2010s on the newer social networks.  Here’s how: Find people who post about your game’s setting (e.g., Star Trek, Dr. Who, Star Wars, etc.)–these posts can be comments, pictures, or even likes!  You’re looking for anything that indicates that they might have an interest in your game if they only knew about it.  Then… simply ask them to join.  Use the 1-2-3 model from my AOL days.

As mentioned earlier, I never kept accurate recruiting records so it’s impossible to come up with good yield rates.  If I were to hazard I guess, I’d say that about 5-10% of the people I contacted ended up joining a game.  Then about a third of those who joined would become committed players.  It’s a simple numbers game.  The more people you ask, the more you’ll get to join.  But don’t feel like you have to do it all in one day.  Try inviting 10 people a day for a month and you’ll have a constant stream of rookie role players in no time at all.

There’s no royal road to recruiting (sorry, Euclid).  You have to role up your sleeves and do the work.  But you *can* do it!

  • crimsyn

    “No single factor plays a greater role in determining the success of a sim or club than recruiting”

    I actually disagree a little. Recruitment is important and necessary, but I think player retention and development is just as, if not more important, than recruiting. If you have a boring, inactive simm, you might get people joining, but they’re going to quit as fast as they join. You need to keep activity up, keep the story moving, and most importantly, write with your new players! A good ad campaign can only go so far in selling a bad product.

    I’ve been experimenting lately with a “player mentorship program” on my simm, which is basically a buddy system to ensure that new players can get involved in the story and integrated into the simm. I think it’s been successful, though it could be formalized a little more.

    In short, I’d rather recruit two people who stay for a long time than recruit five people and have four of them quit in a matter of weeks.

    • Charles Star

      I suppose that’s the alternative philosophy. 🙂 I’m more in the mold of letting players develop organically (see http://www.ongoingworlds.com/blog/2014/03/what-is-open-role-playing/ ) through informal mentoring and guidance, though a robust player development program would certainly have its advantages, as you’ve pointed out. I see recruiting as more important since it’s something that will not happen if you don’t take action. Players will develop in time, even if there isn’t a formal program.

      Anyway, perhaps you could write an article on player retention and development? It sounds like you know what you’re talking about and have a good system in place.

  • Hiker

    Excellent points, Mr. Starr. Having simmed for more than 20 years myself this couldn’t be more on the mark. I’m going to try some of your techniques with my simm.

    • Charles Star

      Thanks, Hiker. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only old guy around these parts! What clubs/games have you been in? And where do you sim now?

  • Nick T.

    You make it sound easy, Charles. I’m going to pass the information to my host. Were in desperate need of new people, maybe this can help.

  • Neil K

    I have recruited writers like this for years and this article sums all up very good. This is a good lesson for all CO’s and Recruiting officer’s.

  • Capt. Qui’keth

    This article is rubbish because it’s not that easy to recruit new members. The only way to recruit is with banner exchanges, paid advertizing and banners in PBEM websites. Even that’s not easy because there are not as many new people any more. Way to use rose color glasses. Try again dude.

  • Aoibhe Ní Shúilleabháin

    Thanks for the tips!
    I’ve been RPing since 1999, and have watched many games close down since those heady days.
    I help run one now, myself (www.startrekengage.com).
    It’s a year and a half old at this stage, but we’re up to four ships already, with very healthy-sized crews.
    With luck, your suggestions will help us expand even more this year.
    I appreciate them. 🙂

  • Chas

    I was never good at recruiting, so I have no comments on the specific tatics suggested. But it’s absolutly true a game or a club must always engage in recruiting. Sure, you can get and sustain a core of a few great players, but ultimately even great players move on, and in the interim, you always need to find and replenish the secondary players who stay on for a few months to a year, tops.

  • Charles Star

    Thank you to everyone for the great comments! I didn’t put it in the article, but I’ve also tried a few methods outside of the internet with moderate success. The most interesting of which was posting flyers on college campuses. Good luck to all and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or new ideas (star [dot] idf [at] gmail [dot] com). Enjoy the weekend!

  • So one question, outside of this site, where can one put up a “We Want You” recruiting poster up?

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