Monday, March 27, 2006

Chaos! The New Guy Syndrome

Churn, and your game. And a long, rambling bleaaaaarrrrrgh.

There's a lot of data on how churn works. In a facility, in a company, in a nation. There's not a whole lot about how it works in a game... at least, not carefully printed up. But the data is there.

With a stable group of people, you can get away with incredible efficiencies through rules that have no need for enforcement. You can make tenuous rules that are followed because of the pressure holding the team together.

As you start acquiring churn, the surface tension is broken. The pressure which keeps the team cohesive disintigrates. The higher the churn, the less pressure naturally forms. The less pressure, the less shortcuts you can take. Tenuous rules are annihilated by the waves of new arrivals, whether they be new hires, immigrants, or new players.

Obviously, the situation are complex, and the same effect can be triggered by an "economic quake", shaking the population out of their cohesion and effectively (temporarily) making them into new hires. I can talk about countries, religions, and companies: all suffer from these effects. Tenuous rules that always worked before, but they work worse every day now.

But not all high-churn organizations have this chaotic, uncontrolled environment. Fraternaties and the military, for example. These have some of the highest churn rates possible, but most of the new recruits end up being very loyal to the organization. Sure, they cause trouble both inside and outside the organization - but they are proud to be in the organization.

Cults are even more effective.


The answer is obvious to anyone who's looked into the matter - or been through the matter. When you join a high-churn system that knows what it is doing, it takes over your life and - here's the kicker - bonds you to a team made primarily of other new, confused recruits.

When you join a high-churn system that doesn't know what it's doing, it just lets you waltz in. When you get there, you don't have any particular fondness for the organization, or any particular urge to waltz down the path they have prepared for you.

The high-pressure team-ups of the military don't make people follow tenuous rules. They just make people follow solid rules with vigor. A high-churn system which survives very long learns quickly to enforce all its rules, whether with force or with peer pressure. It drops the unenforceable ones and replaces them with useful variants.

Most countries haven't done this. Some countries, like the USA, started as immigrant countries and therefore did this quite well for several centuries. Of course, we've been putting in unenforceable rules for the past century or so, and it shows as our cohesion suffers. Please note: protestors, at least here in America, aren't showing a lack of cohesion. The lack of cohesion is manifest in the parasites in the system. The people who break and abuse rules without being stopped or punished.

Now, sticky politics aside, your game is a high-churn system. I mean, duh. Even in its stable late life, your game will have a higher level of churn than any company roster.

So... how can you survive?

By learning from the most successful high-churn systems.

I'm not going to talk about the rules. I've talked about them before, and this essay isn't exactly short even without those paragraphs. So, let's talk about the one other option which games don't use:

The "take over your life and bond you with a bunch of other newbs" approach.

The military, high-aggression religions, and cults all do this. And when they do this, it turns out powerfully. The new recruits are bonded not only to the organization directly, but to other people who they only know inside the organization (and, therefore, must stay in the organization to stay with them).

The problem is, of course, that it's the pressure cooker approach. Most players don't like being pressure cooked, and are likely to simply turn off the game. Plus, pressure cooking requires at least four straight hours. What percentage of players have that available?

Is there a low-pressure pressure cooker which can be turned on and off at will? How about just setting every new joiner up with the four people to join immediately before him and the four people to join immediately after him? As primary contacts?

I'm sure there are lots of solutions. Can anyone else think of any?

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