The day the DR General Forums Died.

About two years ago the Dystopia Rising network did away with our national public rules forum server. For those that were around back to when the forums existed, memories of either dread or remorse of their loss fills the memories. Some people bemoan the fact that the national forums were taken away and others whisper “thank god” that they don’t exist any longer.

So why did we get rid of the forums? There were a number of reasons that I don’t think a lot of people would think. Since I think there is at least enough interest, I’m going to take a few minutes to put together a snapshot of the more generalized thought processes that went into the decision to remove the forums. So, not presented in any sort of order (and definitely not intended to give any degree of scale of importance) I present to you the reason public forums suck and needed to die.

1)      Your local Directors were being cut out of the loop with the old forums. The fact is that there are very few “rules changes” that happen on national level. What actually normally happens is that roughly once a month or maybe two times every three months, one of the Directors raises a question based on how they heard a skill was being used at another game. The Directors talk and then the initial intent behind how the rule was designed is put out there by either Jeff or Myself. In the instance that it is coordination based it comes from either Ashley or Jeff. In either case, Jeff handles most of those questions.

So, when a Director asks that question, suddenly all of the Directors pick up the book and reread the description of how a rule works. For most people absolutely nothing would change, but in some instances a Director would read a rule again and go “Oh damn, we been running this wrong” and the Director then adjusts their game to the shared network standard. Most players shake that see a change shake their fist at “National” and curse and spit for roughly 48 hours, but then shortly after the Director and all of the games are closer to running on a standardized set of rules.

The old Forums setup made it so that Directors had to read dozens of posts in the instance that one of them might introduce something that they were doing differently… and often times things were missed. As the network got larger the number of fluff posts increased and it became more difficult to get all of the Directors (and with that all of the chapters) close to being on the same page.

2)      Over 80% of the questions asked were created by less than 5% of the total community. One of the greatest things about data management software is that you can see post counts and total post saturation by area. What we found in the last year of running the national forum was that the vast majority of all of the questions that came in, and commentary on rules questions, and opinions on rules calls came from less than 25 people. If I remember correctly the exact number was that 78% of all non-director rules posts came from 23 people in the network. There were so many questions being asked by such a small portion of the community that we had players who signed up to help answer questions, Directors, and full time staff from National handling the questions that came in and it felt overwhelming with a team of like… 30 people. And many of the questions that were asked were based on hypothetical unique scenarios that combined two to three different variables that hadn’t ever come into play.

Now I love both the role-play focus and gameist minded focused player. I personally have spent a number of years taking classes, teaching classes, and engaging other professionals in the field in discussion relating to game design.  It’s something I love shooting the shit about with friends or at game designer conventions. However, I have to make a choice. I can either spend my time TALKING about games and explaining to every person who wants to chat my thought process or I can actually MAKE GAMES.

But even taking that personal investment aspect out of the equation, the Dystopia Rising network isn't a game design medium. It is a community and event based network that provides to its audience. It's sort of the difference between a car hobbiest website and a car companies website. It wasn't the right medium for players who enjoy dissecting, discussing, and debating rule design theories.

As an aside, there is an entire forum in the Home of LARP pages that is set up for people to use it for just that. It’s lonely and under used. If you love rule and design discussion, pop your head in there and start something up. 

3)      The technology didn’t support our needs. So here is the real deal that should be reason enough. Most standalone Forum applications are digital dog shit. They crash regularly if used at high volumes, they are not supported by the companies that release them, and they have the same level of security as wet paper stretched over a door frame.

“But Michael, X number of games use forums for the community now!”. Funny response to that: the software that Home of LARP uses is the same source engine that most of the forums that game systems use. It’s a wonderful engine base called “SocialEngine” that is adaptable to host website, forums, and other multi-media plugins. The software is supported with regular updates, has higher adaptability for functionality, and offers better security.

Right now Home of LARP is actually hosting a series of Directors Boards for the Franchise Owners of Dystopia Rising, a public medium space for Chronos game discussion, newly created boards for the American Freeform events hosted by Imagine Nation, and has the ability to host any number of categories and sub-boards. The system is actually designed that any game (not just ones we run) that gets a premier account can have public forums hosted by Home of LARP in the forum tab. Or, if they chose to use the option otherwise, they can have private boards created where only their staff members would have access to the boards.

5)      Viability for future support. Something that is public knowledge but not openly known is that the Dystopia Rising network only gets 7% of the income that comes in at your local games plus a yearly federal fee. That 7% pays for marketing, insurance, accountants, lawyers, hosting costs, development, and payroll. If we were to expand national to the point where we had enough paying participants to centralize most of the direct player support for the franchise, that 7% would have to go up probably closer to a 15%-20% cut.

That degree of an increase would be a death stroke for a number of smaller games where property rental and operation costs eat up a large portion of the gross income. To counter-act that sort of a percent being taken out from the local chapters prices across the network would probably have to go up by an additional $10-$15 a person. We reached a point where we could not provide more without it costing more to the players. Fighting to keep the prices lower for our events is a primary focus for National, and realistically we could not continue to invest in supporting the majority of the community support on national level instead of it being handled on the local chapter level.