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by The Finland SSR of Finland SSR. . 1,853 reads.

How Roleplays Die: A Detailed Explanation on the Nature of Thread Death in Portal to the Multiverse


Written and edited by

Finland SSR
December 26th, 2014 - February 12th, 2015

I. Introduction

It is no secret that if you are a participant in the NationStates forum Portal to the Multiverse (which you most probably are, since you actually bothered to view this dispatch), even more if you are a "veteran", you have seen a lot of dead threads. It is a natural thing, as nothing can last relevant forever, especially on the Internet, but it is incredibly more painful in P2TM than, say, in International Incidents. Why?

Well, the answer is simple. It is no secret that an ordinary P2TM thread, say, a character or a nation RP, takes much more time and effort to produce and lift up to the front page than in any other NationStates forum. Unlike in International Incidents or NationStates, you need to create a whole new lore, story, find interest amond the community before even starting to write it all, not just copy-paste it and call in a person you barely know through TG or simply declaring war. It is not an easy process, and it is very sad to see that your efforts were for nothing. It is also worth noting that P2TM has higher, though not official, standards for "good RPs".

However, even if you dump a good 100 hours into building your OP (Opening Post - to those not fluent in NS slang), go though almost all chat threads and roleplaying groups to recruit any possible members you can find, even with a great idea, it is almost obvious that it won't last forever. In fact, there is no correlation between writing effort and survival time, but that is a story for another day. There's a question - why? Why do roleplays die? There are a lot of variables and reasons, and we are here to analyze all of them, and also attempt to help old and new RP creators to make their roleplays last longer.

"To understand death, you must understand life" - said no philosopher ever. However, that is a clever statement, especially in the context of thread death. I should say here that I am a very big fan of RPing in general. That is why I came to NS, actually. I was once a member of other RP sites, like Dragon Ball: Ultimate Journey, and finally I found this, where I stayed. If you know me, you know that you can always find me in Portal to the Multiverse. My affection for P2TM also forced me to see the deaths of many threads (Wow, it rhymes.), and from analyzing them in detail, I can say that the first step towards the death of a thread begins when you click the "Create Thread" button.

So, to understand how a P2TM RP dies, we have to dissect it's entire existence, from the first post all the way to the bitter end. If I just started when the RP starts visibly dying, when the symptoms finally show up, it would be:
a) confusing,
b) wouldn't explain it.
So we will start from the beginning, explaining all the main stages of a RP thread's life, why it happens that way and some important stuff that influences the stage.

So let us begin.

II. Body

STEP 1. The Beginning and Early Craze

What happens? Any roleplay always starts with an idea in the mind of a person. It can be anyone, but mostly it is a person who has at least once visited Portal of the Multiverse or International Incidents. The person writes an Opening Post and posts it on the forum. Depending on which time of the day it is, he quickly starts receiving people's interest. It is very common for a new RP to get flooded by people apping and reserving (if it is a nation RP), especially if it is made by a well known person within the community. Take the recent New Imperialism reboot as an example - Alleniana's continuation of the well known AH 19th century nation RP series. It was hyped out in the Historical RP Group HQ 2, and even though being out of schedule lowered the hype a bit, within days of it's release it got thousands of posts and dozens of applications. Ironically, it sucked out the activity from the RP group, leaving it almost deserted.

Why does it happen? Similar things happen all around the world, though not with players and roleplays, but with consumers and products. A good RPer usually has a good reputation around the community, thus his posts and threads are more trusted, and thus get more attention. Similarly in the real world, customers prefer products made by well known brands, as they are trusted as reliable companies who make good products.

However, unlike in the real world, there is a separate factor here in P2TM, which comes from human psychology - most players prefer joining new threads instead of old ones with an estabilished community. There is a legitimate reason here. An old thread already has an estabilished community and history, not accepting much change in group structure (most character RPs quickly devolve into groups of characters doing their own thing). It is even more difficult in nation RPs, as the spots for characters, or in this case nations, are limited, with finite maps, usually a map of Earth. However, newly made threads do not have that problem. Aside from a basic storyline set by the OP, there is no history, no character interactions, and in the case of nation RPs, all spots are still open. It is quite reasonable.

STEP 1.1. Failed Takeoff

What happens? Probably the saddest and most cruel way for a RP to die is to never take off in the first place. You post an Opening Post, having high expectations for your RP, hoping to roleplay with others, already planning out your lines. You wait hours and hours, and... nothing. A few tags and poor apps at best. You sit there and watch as your RP dies as soon as it began... This is what I call a Failed Takeoff, and it happens commonly to new players who start a RP as soon as they come.

Why does it happen? Your roleplay was not good enough. Basically that, and thus it did not gather enough attention to go into an Early Craze. In P2TM, we all have expectations for roleplays we visit. Here is a list of possible reasons for a Failed Takeoff:
a) Your RP idea was uninteresting and/or it lacks support in the community
There are a lot people in P2TM, and each one has certain preferences in RPing. One might enjoy nation RPs, especially those set in the Middle Ages, while the other might prefer character steampunk. Some are more popular than others, and some only have a few members, and even if there are people interested in your anime futuristic nation RP, they either already have a place where to play or just did not notice it as it was quickly pushed out of the front page.
b) Your RP idea was overambitious and/or too complicated
Commonly happens with both newbies and veterans alike, though much more with the first than the other. Most people prefer simplicity - just jump in, fill the app and you're ready to go. Stats, leveling up, complicated rules or heavy restrictions make things harder to understand, and thin out the candidates for applying. If it is your first RP - do it simple, no need for complication. You can test things out later.
c) You are too new
This is for people who create a RP as soon as they find the subforum, or sometimes, as soon as they create their nation. Aside from many formattting and technical issues from not knowing the format of an OP post, your never heard name is also an issue. We may call ourselves a newbie-friendly forum, but as I said before, people prefer RPs made by people they know and have played with. Play some already made RPs before starting your own.
d) Bad grammar
Here in P2TM, we are almost all at least partly grammar nazi. What I mean is we all love good grammar, and hate bad grammar, especially in an Opening Post. That can easily turn down most of the players from joining, as to us bad grammar shows in experience and imperfection. And also, don't try to get away by screaming "DAMN AUTOCORRECT!" - you should not write the OP on your phone anyway. Use a computer instead.
e) Simply bad luck
There are tons of factors that go in the success of the beginning. For example, if an activity spike happens that exact moment as you post your thread, it can be pushed out from the first page and quickly fade away. As such, I do not recommend to start a thread on the American evening. Night is probably the way to go, as many people come in in the morning to check the new posts.

STEP 2. Interest Sweep

What happens? The Early Craze is over. The post speed, previously off the charts and hard to keep up, slows down a bit as everyone, or at least most of the people who tagged, post their apps and get accepted. The OP starts the IC thread, and everyone jumps in. The first IC story arc starts, and then... something weird happens. One by one, many people who joined either leave officially, by saying they drop out in the OOC, or just stop posting, forgetting about the RP.
This is the Interest Sweep, and it sweeps out people who were not much interested in the first place, quickly lost their interest or get busy with other RPs or real life issues but posted and app and got accepted anyway, leaving only those dedicated to RPing in the thread. It is a dangerous step to roleplays that lock after reaching a certain amount of people and nation RPs. In the first one, the OP usually does not recognize that not all players who signed up are dedicated, and thus the player base drops quickly, with no replenishing. In nation RPs, however, it is not the dropping of players that is bad, but the importance of every single player. Nation RPs usually have lots of lore and histories, with each player's history intersecting with the others. Since there is lots of diplomacy involved, a loss of a player, especially an important one, shakes the entire structure. It is hard to find a replacement, since the previous character has already made a history and the settings for his nation, which might not be acceptable for the replacer. Also, NPCing is very exploitable.
This also eliminates the chances for a tournament RP. :(

Why does it happen? I briefly covered it in the explanation of the step, but I'll say it again, albeit with more detail. Not everyone who posts an app for a RP is truly devoted for it and wants to play in it for long. Well, most people do, but there are a lot of factors that come into a person's activity. Real life issues and other RPs first come into mind. Most people here are either working or studying, and it takes away a lot of free time for posting. Other RPs also take up a lot, especially if they require constant IC posting and have a very active OOC thread, like most character RPs.
One more thing I noticed myself - if you participate in 2 or more RPs at a time, sooner or later one of them will start drawing your interest more than the others. How it works is quite hard to explain and depends on a lot of factors, but this is exactly what happened to me and Infinite Justice. I really liked it - I still like it. It was like Death of the Multiverse, and even made by the same guy (Atria), just better in every way. More freedom, better villains, better RPers, less Slender, more awards, more sex... wait what? But you get my point. During my time there, I also participated in quite a few other RPs. Martial Magic Academy, Hunger Games: Multiverse Edition, New Imperialism 2, just to name a few. But I didn't stick around for long, and was drawn back into IJ, like a drug addict or some sorts.

Maybe it's just me, but it can also be considered.

STEP 3. Status Quo

What happens? After the Interest Sweep, the remaining people, who are truly interested and dedicated, form the main base of the RP, usually a group varying from 3 to almost 15 members, but usually around 10 or so. New applications and leaves become very rare in this step. Basically, the RP goes into a "status quo" mode, going to a stable amount of dedicated RPers.

A very important and pretty much unavoidable slowdown in both IC and OOC posting happens in this step as well. Sometimes the OP may get concerned, but there should be no worries. Yet. This step might take somewhere from a few weeks to entire months.

Why does it happen? Basically, this stage happens because nothing happens. Really. That's why this is so short. The slowdown in posting is natural - it happens due to the Interest Sweep, leaving only a part of the original RPers still active.

STEP 4. Gradual Bleeding

What happens? Here we come to the real stuff you came here for. This is where it starts to get a bit... threatening. The Interest Burnout (which we'll get to in a bit) has finally caught up to the players. No matter how dedicated or interested a player is, it will burn out. It's like a fundamental law of the universe, or P2TM for that matter. And if the OP himself becomes uninterested, well, then it's like striking or shooting the heart of a man. Both are incredibly painful and are basically an instant death.

If a person burns out his interest and does not want to participate in the RP anymore, there are two ways for him to leave it - officially or inactively. If he leaves officially, or basically comes in and says "Sorry guys, I'm leaving", it creates a large shock to the others. Remember, at this point the RP has been going for weeks, maybe even months. Everyone gets connected with each other, and no matter what type of RP it is, a loss of one member can shake the entire structure. On the other hand, if you just don't go to the thread anymore and don't post, you are bogging down the posting, especially if you were important before. And the others don't know you left, so they can't just go on woth it. And if you leave during an important story arc and you are a main character, you can even kill the RP outright.
Well, it's up to you to choose your poison. Or theirs, in this case.

Why does it happen?
STEP 4.1. Interest Burn

Yup, the explanation to the step is a side-step by itself. This is very important. If Interest Burn was a person, we should put him on an electric chair for killing a majority of all the RPs on the entire subforum. What is it? Well, basically, every person who has ever apped to a RP (ever) starts out with a certain degree of interest. Think of it as temperature, or a health bar, except you don't die when it depletes. Interest is basically your desire to roleplay in the RP that you apped in. And it slowly burns out over time. Some events may change it. For example, an OOC conflict with some other RPer or, even worse, the OP itself, especially if they want you to not do something, edit the app or just hate your guts - that affects it a lot. And not in a positive way. A new story arc or some events that involve your characters a lot can increase it a bit. But eventually, it burns out.

When it all burns out, you don't want to RP in the thread anymore. That's basically it. "But what does that have to do with the explanation?", you may ask. And I, dear reader, say two words. A lot. Step 4 begins when most of the people in the thread burn out their interest reserves, or at least get close to it. Sure, there will always be people who have more interest than others, but for a RP to die, not all people have to leave. Just enough people to completely ruin the IC story for the others that stayed.
And it brings us to our last major step.

STEP 5: Last Breaths

I feel like I don't need to separate this one into two. No explanation is required for this one. This is probably the saddest moment of a RP's life. And also the last. To many, it might look like it ended prematurely, that it cut off a part of the storyline, and I have to agree. It kind of has to be that way. Unless the OP decides to close the RP and end it before or during Gradual Bleeding, pretty much the only way for it to end is in this stage. And in most RPs, there is no end planned to the events or the RP in general. Sure, the heroes might have beaten the big baddie, but the RP is not dead, so why not create a new story arc and a new villain? And it goes on, not to infinity, but until death.

I have to agree, it sounds and looks really grim and sad when you are one of the people who are still interested, but can't go forward because most of the people aren't. I've been there a lot. And it just feels very... sad. I can't really come up with anything more.

No matter how sudden it may feel like, remember - it all came from the beginning. Or don't, in fact - it will make you even more sad.

III. Conclusions

I'm sorry for making this so sad and dark. But hey, sometimes you can only learn the hard way. Because the easy way is the wimpy way. So what have we learned?

1. The main reason for RPs dying is Interest Burn - players no longer getting interested in RPing through time. That bastard is on a killing spree.
2. A RP will eventually die no matter what you do. So it's your fault that it died - you created it.
3. Don't get frightened by large amounts of people leaving in the beginning - it's normal.

Okay, it's all good, but how to make them last longer? Well, here's my advice:
1. End it. If we go by the empiric definition of "death", if you close the storyline after a few arcs, it won't die!
2. If you don't want to end it and instead make it live as long as possible, then constantly do new stuff. Quick mini-story arcs, lots of freedom, that kind of stuff. It keeps others' interest levels a bit more in check.
3. Don't try to do only one long pre-planned story arc that others must follow. It's both a bit boring and will drain interest more.
4. Try to avoid OOC conflict. If prolonged, it can even kill the RP.
5. If somebody important is not posting for a long time, TG them and ask about their interest in continuing RPing. Just in case.
6. I didn't talk about this in the body because I didn't think it will be really important, but don't bother with making reboots, unless you want to try again with a Failed Takeoff RP. They mainly just draw the people that still had interest left in the last thread. Trust me, the other RPers came and went, a reboot can almost never reach as much interest as the original. Here in P2TM, at least.
7. Don't close the apps as soon as you reach a certain amount of people, or hell, never do that at all. I never understood the concept of locking applications. You might argue that the OP wants to keep only a small group of people in the RP and controlling dozens of RPers is hard, but most of the initial players will get sweeped away by Interest Sweep, leaving a small group of players anyway. And speaking of Interest Sweep, closed RPs are very vulnerable to it. You never know if the 7 other people you have are truly dedicated or just liked the idea a bit.

So that was it. My advice and my rather long writing. I hope you like it.

The Finland SSR of Finland SSR