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What Went Down

by Max Barry
Mon, 02 Apr 2012

A recap, for those who missed the April Fools frivolities, and some questions answered, for those who were here.

So every year since 2004 we've done an April Fools thing. These started out small and quirky, but escalated over the years until I could practically feel thunderclouds of disappointed players hovering overhead as April drew nearer, waiting to shower me with, "Last year's was better"s.

In 2011, under this pressure, I made a last-minute decision to do a haxx0ring stunt, and while this was very effective, it scared the bejeesus out of people, and I felt bad afterward.

So this year I was looking for something a little more fun and a little less email-generating. Our lead moderator, Reploid Productions, had the idea for the IPO, which could be a fun mini-game, where people formed alliances to gain the most shares. Everyone would start with 1 share per million population, and could trade them as they wished.

I also gave myself some shares, as a target for people to beat. I had no real idea how many would be a challenging but not unbeatable amount, but guessed 25 million.

Up went an IPO page, plus, at the last minute, a new subforum in case people wanted to talk about share trading. (Looking back, this is very much like how I added the original forum to NationStates, just in case anyone wanted to talk about their nations.) This forum filled with thousands of posts. With shares as currency, people hawked haiku, nations, art, dignity, insults, influence, ad space, and more. Lotteries and banks sprang up, as did scams, which were sometimes the same thing. There were pyramid schemes and standover merchants and many, many beggars. It was a spontaneous, concentrated eruption of inventiveness. I spent a lot of the IPO days chortling over those threads, because most of them are frickin' hilarious.

As nations pooled shares in order to reach the higher rungs of the share leaderboard, another unexpected thing happened. The leading nation—second on the list, after me—stopped being a faction-based effort, collecting shares primarily from deals and alliances, and instead started representing practically everybody. It was represented by The nationstates community, and was genuine a community-wide movement as I've seen.

For a long time, it looked like they'd make it, but in the last hour, it tapped out at a little under 20,000,000 shares, five million short of the goal. The rest of the leaderboard was full of people who had decided to hold on to their own shares, or had gone to bed. (Because for anyone in North America, it was really late. It was meant to finish an hour earlier, but I coded in the wrong time zone. Sorry about that.)

At this point, the organizers of The nationstates community reluctantly decided (via a vote) to transfer shares to the next-placed nation, in order that it, at least, would beat the target. This would be NewTexas.

Obviously, I should have just let that happen, and we all could have learned a somewhat sour yet useful lesson about the power of holding a non-negotiable swing vote in a high-stakes negotiation. But that seemed like a shame, to me, given the nature of the community effort, and how ridiculously hard the organizers had been working. So I decided to transfer my 25M shares to the community. But only at the last minute, as trading closed, so I also secretly disabled the ability of "The NationStates Community" to trade away its own shares in the meantime. This was cheating, of course. But very fun.

In the last few minutes, chaos reigned. There is a whole IRC transcript up here (the IPO ends at 04:00).

Over the thirty-something hours, 37,505 nations claimed a total of 95,407,494 shares, representing 95 trillion NationStates citizens. (It's a big world.) There were 29,448 trades, after which 14,898 nations held at least one share. The other 22,607 nations who claimed shares had given them all away. You needed 251,781 shares to make the Top 25 leaderboard, while 59,763 shares would have placed you at #100, and 11,789 at #1,000. Nine hundred and fifty-nine nations finished with exactly 1 share, for some reason.

Again, I just want to say how much fun this was. And the reason it was fun because of how madly you embraced it, so thank you to everyone who made it so. I've said it a million times before, but I really am in awe of this place sometimes. On the surface it just looks like a website.

Some people are asking if we can make this a regular thing, and I don't have an answer to that. There are a few reasons why this worked for April but wouldn't be the same if done again. But I'm going to look at how it might be possible. Because... fun.

You may now begin preparing for disappointment next April.

— Max.

by Max Barry

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