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How to kill a community in 5 easy steps

As we all know, it’s a lot easier to destroy than it is to build. This holds true for communities, as well.

The intellectuals among us, and I expect that an awful lot of gamers qualify as intellectuals, will recognize this as an example of entropy. Social entropy to be precise. This fancy term referes to the tendency of a society to experience decay. The crappy thing about social entropy is that the bigger and more complex a social organization becomes, the more susceptible to entropy it will be. This means you have to start spending a lot of time and energy just to keep things from falling apart.

How does this apply to gaming communities? We can use this theory, along with examples from the real world that we will be familiar with, to show how gaming communities fail. From there, we can figure out how to avoid these common mistakes and find ways to keep the good times rolling.

So here we go. How to kill a community in 5 easy steps.

Step 1: Stop caring

Okay, this is something of a no-brainer. When it requires constant input of energy and resources to fight entropy, it’s easy for this to wear on people. We all have a limited amount of time to devote to our hobbies, and the harder we have to work just to break even, the easier it will be to stop caring.

How do we counter this? The answer is pretty simple. Find ways to increase your emotional ties to the hobby and the people you game with.

This is something that our gaming club is currently working on, doing more activities outside the gaming realm. This can be as simple as getting together at a restaurant/pub on a Friday night and having a good time together away from the table top. This is easy, it doesn’t require a lot of planning or work on anyone’s part, and it really does reinforce social bonds and help you get to know everybody.

Step 2: Load me up

One of the biggest mistakes that leaders make is taking on too much responsibility. By taking up the leadership of any group, you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Take on too much, and you will seriously stress yourself out in a hurry. When the hobby stops being fun, we have a very serious problem.

Let’s take a quick lesson from physics this time to illustrate a point.

Pressure = Force / Surface Area

Looking at this basic formula we see that there are two ways to increase pressure, by increasing force (taking on too much responsibility) and by reducing the surface area upon which the force is applied (not having enough people to carry the load).

Delegation is a big deal when it comes to leadership. Nobody should be expected to do everything. It’s simply not fair to them, and if that person gets busy/distracted/too stressed out then everybody will suffer. If you divide the work up among a few dedicated members, then you have a lot less pressure on the leadership and somebody to fall back on if something happens to a leader (illness, going away for a few weeks/months, or whatever).

Step 3: Burn bridges

No nation is completely independent of all others. There is a lot of back and forth, as each nation will have abundances of some resources and shortages of others. Through interaction with close neighbours and distant lands, everybody has a chance to get what they need.

Obviously that’s a huge oversimplification of the world economic system, but it’s enough for our purposes. It makes it pretty easy to see that there’s a lot to be gained by working cooperatively.

Promoting each other’s events is a big part of this. Each group has influence in different areas, and so you can really get your message out a lot easier if you can work together. Many gaming stores are more than willing to let you put up flyers for events, as this doesn’t cost them anything and events give people a very convenient excuse to buy more models. Don’t be afraid to ask stores in nearby communities to put up flyers as well. Road trips are a blast, and bringing in people from all over the place will make your events a lot more interesting, not to mention more economically viable.

Burning bridges to other gaming groups doesn’t do you any good. It merely isolates you and takes away your access to shared resources. You won’t always agree on everything, but debate can be very healthy. It forces you to evaluate your position and find a way to communicate it to others. You will get feedback, you will be exposed to other people’s ideas, and you just might come up with new ideas of your own.

You don’t have to get too carried away with all this, making complex and formal agreements between clubs or anything like that. Remember, more complex social structures are more prone to decay. A bit of networking is all you need to really need, and it can be as easy as friending another group of gamers on Facebook. Many of the big events that get put on in our province right now are attended by a huge percentage of non-locals. Our events remain ambitious and well attended, and we benefit from each others’ enthusiasm and innovation. All around, that’s a pretty good deal for everyone.

Step 4: Drop your standards

One of the easiest ways to torpedo the enthusiasm of gamers is to drop your standards for the community. If you do, you’re essentially giving people a licence to suck. Many of us saw this happen when GW, in an effort to reduce the barriers to having people come out and start gaming in the shops, stopped requiring painted models on gaming nights.

Which of the following makes you want to play a game of Warhammer?

A painted army like this (Ultramarines by Marc Bass) ...

... or a bunch of bare plastic like this?

Previously, if you wanted to come game in the store you had to have your army painted to a 3 color minimum, and have something on your bases. If you are just starting out, this can be a bit of a daunting task. But man, is it ever worth it!

Traditionally, the hobby element is a huge part of what we do. We call it “the hobby” and not “the game” because we put in the effort to make our armies our own. There is hardly a more inspiring sight to a tabletop wargamer than to see a beautifully converted, based and painted army arranged on the tabletop. By comparison, seeing an army of grey plastic, half-assembled Space Marines with a Coke can proxying for a Drop Pod just makes me want to shoot myself in the face. Making the latter example a common and acceptable sight at gaming nights and/or tournaments may not be a big deal to the newcomers who are used to it, but it’s absolutely soul-crushing for many veterans who have invested hundreds of hours into painting their collection, and expect others to put in at least some fraction of that effort.

This is something that my friends at Jaded Gamercast have dealt with on their podcast. Episode 13, to be precise. To those who have never experienced their unique flavor of drunken, sarcastic rants about gaming, I highly recommend it. Just remember, they are prone to nerd rage is because they care 🙂 I greatly enjoy listening to the podcast every week while painting.

Returning to the GW vet’s night example, I totally understand the logic behind the decision: Make it easier for people who are just starting out and aren’t necessarily plugged into the community just yet. However, I think that they went too far and alienated a lot of veterans in the process. Having the flexibility to allow someone to game with a partially painted army, while encouraging and facilitating the learning process, is a great thing. But you do have to be careful about going too far and allowing people to get mired in bad habits.

Step 5: Stop running events

As I mentioned earlier, running events like tournaments or campaigns is a great way to keep people excited about the hobby. The promise of new opponents they haven’t met before, new army builds that they don’t see from their usual opponents and of course the glory of conquest will light a fire in the heart of almost any gamer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That enthusiasm means people buying more minis from the store, challenging themselves to become better generals and artists, and generally contributing to a more rich and vibrant community. Special events are truly the lifeblood of most gaming groups.

Many of my personal armies were started because I wanted something new to bring to a tournament. Almost all of my Raven Guard models were painted in a month, since I signed them up for a Grant Tournament when at that time I only had one Scout and a Razorback painted. My Warriors of Chaos were painted in 6 weeks, and the next time I took them to a tournament I added Throgg, 4 Chaos Trolls and a unit of Warriors.

Alem and Nick playing at our first Out of the Basement tournament in July 2009.

As many companies like GW have shown less interest in running events lately, as evidenced by the disappearance of Grand Tournaments and the massive reduction in the Games Day circuit, the job has fallen to the community to make these things happen. There are tons of great examples of this. Adepticon and PAX are fantastic examples of massive events set up by and for the gaming community, and I’ll give a shout out to my friends who run ConQuest events down in Calgary as well. Their Massacre on Istvaan V narrative-based two day event is actually wrapping up as I type this. I’ll be sure to see if I can get some coverage up on these and other events.

Conclusions

So, wrapping up this monstrosity of a first article, I’ll say this: Gaming groups take a sizeable amount of effort to run and it is vitally important to give people a reason to keep working at it.

Recapping the things to avoid:

  1. Killing your enthusiasm for the hobby.
  2. Putting too much stress on your leaders.
  3. Burning bridges with other groups.
  4. Giving people a licence to suck.
  5. Not giving people anything to get excited about.

Thanks for reading all of this! Moving forward, I can’t wait to see what new ideas will come forth as more gaming groups share their stories. We all have the same goal, having fun playing with our toy soldiers. Together, I’m sure we will find a bunch of excellent ways to make this as fun and easy as it sounds.

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