Expectations are a mercurial thing that can affect first impressions, long term enjoyment, and general attitude towards something. There are numerous words of wisdom and marketing slogans based on the nature of expectations with one of the most famous being-“Expect the worst and you’ll always be happy when surprised”. In general, one can assume that the closer an expectation is to reality or the lower the expectation is to reality the happier a person will be with what they find. This leads us into managing expectations of prospective players and long term players. In both cases, the idea is to provide a preview or expectation that is as close to what they will experience as possible. For the purpose of prospective players, they need to know what they are getting into. In the case of long-term players, they need consistency and a sense of assurance things will operate in a stable manner.
The first thing to expand on is what happens when expectations aren’t managed? Why can’t you just put up your website, have a forum, and let people experience your game? I direct you towards two overhyped games which did not meet expectations in the least: Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines. Both games had very eager, idealistic fans ready to play them people who looked forward to what they expected to be an engaging experience with great graphics. What they got was below their expectations and that led to some of the worst reviewed games in history that also double as case studies for what not to do when promoting a game. This wasn’t just a case of a bad pair of games instead this was a case of promising pearls and giving them a white sandstone. Now you may be thinking text-based games don’t have this kind of hype problem they don’t have this level of expectation to which I would say you are right. Text-based games are not often overhyped but they do often provide incongruent representations of what gameplay and staff interactions will be like. The simplest example of this would be claiming to have 50+ players average and only peaking at 35 players during primetime. While this is a minor example the little things can add up to a dissatisfying experience.
Now that we’ve established that missing managing expectations can be bad it’s time to discuss what managing expectations entail. We’ll begin with prospective players that are just finding your game for the first time and have only word of mouth or promotional material on the webpage to go off of.
* Keep an up to date website / promotional material
* Provide easy to find rules and logs of roleplay
* Do not require registration to read your forums
* Maintain a newbie guide by staff or player writers
These four steps will help ensure that prospective players have a firm understanding of what they are getting into but each one seems like common sense so let us go into the nitty gritty. Keeping an up to date website and promotional material means that significant changes to your game world or significant events should be cataloged on a timeline that players can view to get an idea of what events are happening. You should include a spoiler free summary of current IC atmosphere in promotional material so characters know what they’re getting into. These practices will help keep players from being blindsided by making a character based on your website and creating in the middle of a civil war where their concept has fundamental differences compared to the web documentation. It also allows prospective players to intentionally make that civil war concept if your promotional material is discussing it and promoting it as an ongoing event within your game.
The second step pertaining to easily found rules and logs of roleplay are also vital. The rules portion is obvious in that you want players who understand the rules to play because moderating them is not an enjoyable experience. The roleplay logs are the ones a lot of people question, but it remains vital. Roleplay is very broad you have the code equals roleplay crowd, forum roleplay, purple prose roleplay, the hybrid of code equals roleplay and purple prose. Suffice to say you want to inform your player about what kind of roleplay is most common on your game or which roleplay style is expected of characters within the game. Differences in roleplay preference to the norm within a game are often one of the first missed expectations a prospective player will experience so best nip it in the bud early. The roleplay log doesn’t have to be of actual roleplay but can be a crafted example by the staff as long as it is representative of real roleplay.
In recent years there have been some trends with game forums to require registration to read the full board or even have a character in-game to gain access. Some staff has claimed this is to ensure that negativity on their forums does not dissuade new players from trying their game. That is more or less the definition of mismanaging expectations. If your forums have an “attitude” or an “image” problem then that is something you want to be upfront about and use as an opportunity to show your steady hand at the administration for new players to see that you can be a patient and fair administrator. If they join the game and find out it has player and staff relations issues after the fact they may just end up leaving due to wanting to avoid drama.
The last step to managing the expectations of prospective players is an accurate newbie guide. This should provide realistic guidance on what kind of play someone can expect with certain character concepts. If your setting is harsh and survivalist but that isn’t a common RP theme that players actually experience then be up front. Say that there are few representations of grimy pickpockets and that the standard social class is X at a minimum. You could then encourage them to try a flavor character more in keeping with documentation. This may seem counter-intuitive, why inform newbies that there are gaps in your setting and character roleplay? Because if they fall into this gap they are going to feel like your game is lying to them about the game world. If they want to play a poor disenfranchised pickpocket but people are offering them places to live, money, and clean clothes within a week of playing unless they overtly turn them down that is not the experience they want and you need to let them know that it is coming. In addition to a realistic assessment of roleplay, a character can expect you will likely want to include some mechanics in your newbie guides such as finding places to sleep, social customs, standard equipment to expect, and some information on the city or surrounding area. This is really game specific but I think the idea is conveyed that you want to be blunt and honest with your newbie guide reader.
Long term players are often easier to manage than prospective players because they know the shape of the game and what to expect. When it comes to managing their expectations you need to be realistic about what you are telling them. If you say that staff is impartial and fair you need to be aware of any complaints about impartial staff and have answers for why these are not issues or they are outlier cases. If you say players can change the world you need to allow them to change the world or provide guidance about what things they can change or can’t change. If you claim the core theme of your game is horror or mystery you need to ensure that when staff is roleplaying they are pushing that theme and that design updates link into that theme. The worst thing you can do with a long term player does one thing and say another or try and pretend something isn’t the way it is. I know that it can be tempting to claim that the long term player doesn’t understand something or they don’t see how the game is exactly how you say it is but you need to avoid this trap. A game is what players experience and your job as an administration is to follow through on what experiences you promised them. To meet their expectations as one might say.
Now I know this is a large topic and I have provided little in the way of cited sources or in-depth explanation in this article. That is because this article is intended to launch a discussion on this by the community and evolve over time. All of the articles will be like this. So please join us on the community boards and chime in on whether you think this article is accurate, what it missed, what it got wrong, or what it got right.