Tuesday, July 28, 2015

So You Wanna Start a Corp (Part III)

This is perhaps the most philosophical post of this series.  Please bear with me.


Let's start with the end:  What Kills a Corporation?

In my experience, one of the biggest Corp killers isn’t drama.  It’s burnout and apathy.

So here’s a scenario.  You find yourself running a Corp.  You have great officers, and you go off and recruit your first group of players.  You’re near your target login amount each night, some informal grouping is going on, and people are generally pretty happy.   Then a few weeks go by, and you notice that over several evenings your logins are down.  The next night a few people leave to be in a different Corp with their friends.  Within a week or three, it’s just you one other guy, and he’s AFK.

What happened?

By its very nature, building a corp from ground zero is about finding the right group of players who are all at the “same place” in the game and all interested in the same type of stuff.  It’s only natural that their enthusiasm and interests will begin to wane at about the same time.  Now, every player will have peaks and valleys in their interests and availability.  But when a good chunk of your Corp hits a valley at the same time, that’s bad news.

Players are a fickle bunch (hereby dubbed Rule #57), and with a noticeable dip in activity, you'll also risk shedding remaining active players to your competition.  And thus begins a feedback loop that can kill a corp pretty quickly.

So let's talk about one potential cause - the burnout and fade phenomenon.

Each player has a cyclical activity curve.  People find the game, get into it, and before they know it they're infatuated with the game.  Then something happens - they suffer a setback, or reach a goal, or consume the content they were most interested in - and they gradually become less active.  Unless something else captures their attention and reignite the fire, they'll eventually disappear from the game and unsub.

For lifers like me, the curve has peaks and valleys with time, but eventually I'll come around again and will go through a period of intense activity followed by days/weeks/months of relative inactivity.
Here's point #1:  This “burnout and fade” time line will be unique to each player – some might be weeks, others might take months — but it is a predictable curve.  Your challenge as Corp Leader of a small startup is to keep the momentum going so that when the first few players' activity curve wanes, the whole Corp doesn’t disintegrate.

This sounds like a silly example, but I've had it happen to me … twice.  One of the stories goes like this:  when the Wrath expansion hit WoW, we recruited a decent amount of players in a very short amount of time.  All of those players were in the same content at the same time and life was pretty good for a few weeks.  Guild chat was hopping, good things were happening, and life in the guild was very intense.  But, the group we recruited all consumed/finished the available content at about the same rate but then hit the same burnout/slowdown within days of each other and it created a feedback loop that almost derailed the guild before it got started.  We lost quite a few players, but luckily we were able to catch it in time.

In EVE terms, the simple comparison would be the idea of grabbing a bunch of newbros direct from the rookie channel and experience the same cycle.  They are going to be excited about their skills and new ships and getting out and doing new things, but if they are all consuming the same content at about the same rate, then many are going to hit the slowdown and burnout at maybe the same time.

Oh look I made some graphs:

Narrow Player Curves, little/no Reinforcement

Wider Player Curves with some Positive Reinforcement

In the first graph, Player 1 (Blue) hits his peak first, but nothing keeps him at max interest and he begins to wane quickly.

If I had drawn this differently, Player 4 (green) may have never hit the max of the curve before leaving.

The second graph is very similar, but look closely.  More players spend more time at max interest for a much longer period of time.  In this example, I'm trying to depict some positive reinforcement and corp synergy (however your particular corp defines that).  Player 1 hits the max and STAYS there.  Player 2 hits the max and STAYS there too.  This is your goal -- keeping players engaged and active and forming a positive feedback loop that keeps players at max interest for longer.

Hopefully behind these 4 players, you've got another wave of players 5, 6, 7, 8 coming up and ready to smash everyone back to max engagement again.

Fighting Turnover

1. Accept that you are going to lose players; you need "net growth" not "zero loss."

It's going to happen, and it'll happen more than you think.  Do not stop recruiting and recruit faster than your losses for a net growth situation.  If you hit your desired login targets, then by all means slow down.   But don’t stop.

Going back to the graphs for a second (sorry), ideally you would have several “waves” of players at different parts of their ingame lives.  Some will be on the upswing of the activity curve, and some will be on the downside.

Apathy seems to be contagious sometimes, and a few nights of lower than usual activity at the wrong time can trigger a mass migration to another Corp (rule #57 - Players are Fickle).  If you have a constant stream of players “cresting the wave” so to speak, it will be easier to maintain momentum.  To do this, you need to keep a steady inflow of players to your organization all at different points of their personal interest curves.

Note:  As your Corp ages, you will hopefully gather around yourself a core group of “lifers” that are committed to you and your Corp.  Having this core group of long term members will take the peaks and valleys out of your membership curves.

2. Selective Recruiting

You will probably have higher retention if you recruit the RIGHT players to begin with (duh).  Agree to the criteria with your officers and get more focused in your applicants.

Let's set the security/spy issue aside for a second.  Even without the concern for alt spies, I am very much in favor of having recruiting standards and a recruiting process.

The recruiting process shouldn't be agonizingly long, but shouldn't be instantaneous either.  Your goal should be to weed out the transients and tourists, and actually make the candidate invest some time and thought into why they want to join you.

In general, if the candidate is proud of his achievement of being invited to join, he's going to start off his membership with a higher sense of pride.  And when your corporate identity has value, that's a good feedback loop to have.

3. Delegate to your officers.

We’ll talk later about your command structure (officer roster) but the preview is that the Corp must not come to a grinding halt if one player chooses not to log in.  Single point failures are bad.  Events need to happen, ranks and permissions need managed, and noobs need to be helped.  This means that authority needs to be shared, and duties need to overlap.  If your player base feels abandoned by their Corp management, they will find reasons (valid ones!) to go elsewhere.

4.  Understand that your officers (and YOU!) will be subject to the same burnout curve.

Officers will sometimes feel a higher level of commitment to a group and will deny and hide that they’re struggling until they run off a cliff.  I am not immune to this; you likely aren't either.  Sometimes we'd rather pretend like work is busy than admit we're off playing Hearthstone/Minecraft, or whatever.

Encourage your officers to talk about the good and the bad that they see in the group (constructive criticism, not massive bitchfests), and allow them to recharge their batteries when they need to.

And likewise, go recharge YOUR batteries when you need to.

5.  Lastly, talk to other Corp leaders out there.  

EVE is a competitive game, so this may seem daunting, but my experience is that Corp CEOs like talking with their brethren and it's usually a pretty easy conversation.  Especially if you're sharing an operating environment, you would be surprised at how much Corp to Corp drama can be avoided if you have an open channel to the other leader before the drama bomb hits.

We once had a veteran player defect from a larger group and come to us.  He basically came forward and said "Hey, I just quit XYZ, can I join you guys?"  We'd been running together for a long time, he was a great player, so of course I scooped him up.

By coincidence, I had been talking to the other group’s leader for several months, and we had a pretty open discussion about the defection.  Instead of being the guy that “stole away” his best player, I was a friend to chat with to figure out what went wrong.  The other leader made no fuss at me that the player left him, and likewise I made no fuss when he got recruited back to his original corp after they worked it out.  Life is too short for such nonsense.

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