Thursday, January 17, 2013

What's Wrong With NERO?

I figured since I still have this outlet, that I can use this to express my distaste with what's going on at NERO, and the reason why NERO is having such a hard time.

And surprisingly, it's not Joe.  He might be a catalyst for what happened.  But the problem is with the NERO player culture.

Yes, the players.

NERO has been running, in some form or another, since 1986.  That's 27 years. Let's talk about things that happened in 1986.

- Ferris Bueler's Day Off hits Theatres
- Falco's "Amadeus" hit the music scene, and Run DMC introduced white kids to Rap music with their hit "Walk This Way", available on cassette!
- Compaq releases the FIRST 386-based PC
- Bethesta Softworks (makers of video games) was created.
- Phones were attached to walls

Now look where we are today.

- Ferris Bueler's Day Off is considered a classic.
- What the hell's a cassette?  We operate on DVDs and devices that are smaller than a cassette, yet are capable of storing thousands of songs and playing them at the same time, with no fear of skipping!
- Our computers have 4 cores and literally more than 10,000 times the processing speed and memory of their 386 breatheren
- Bethesda has come out with Duke Nukem Forever (named because it felt like it took forever, after the original game's 1991 release), and has moved on to complete other projects as well.
- Cell phones allow people to stream movies, navigate roads, talk and text a number of people, and are fairly ubiquitous at this point.

Simply put, we do not live in a world governed by the same rules we had in 1986.

Now, it's not as if we're playing the same game as we used to.  There have been some changes to NERO since it's formal debut in 1989, including things like base 5, memory after death, and obliterates that aren't quite as obliterate-y.

But functionally, this game operates very close to the way it's always operated.  All changes to the game have been band-aids on a system that is extremely old.  There are studies out there regarding mental capacity that didn't exist back then.  There are lots of other LARPs that have succeeded and failed since that time, with plenty of lessons to be learned.  Stuff we could all learn from.

But we don't learn anything, because we, as a culture, aren't interested in learning anything.  NERO suffered for a long time based on a couple of things, but it can probably be boiled down to this simple analogy.

Everyone is a victim.

We've grown into a culture where everyone's got a right to have a say in everything, and compromise is completely out of the question.  Joe has done a lot to drive away talent helping the game, but so have the chapter owners and the players who belittle literally hundreds of hours of work without even reading the changes.  And we're somehow fine with people who are downright rude, as long as they're only being rude to national staff.

People say it a lot, but I don't think they really understand the implications of this statement.  NERO is a game.  Have you ever played a game and changed the rules in an attempt to make it more fun?  And when you found out that the new rules weren't as fun, did it somehow ruin the original game for you?

But we can'd to that to NERO.  Our culture HATES change.  Even if someone wants to try something, they must be taking something away from you.  Better kick and scream as hard as we can.  We have some players that will go so far as they can't even be bothered to platest something.  What kind of macho bullshit is that?  That's like a kid saying "I like swiss cheese, but I refuse to try cheddar because I can tell it's awful."

I'll also point out that it's a game that probably isn't doing too well, if the rumors regarding the economic state of national is to be believed.  Yes we keep talking about the success of the game, because individual chapters may experience some limited success.  But have you ever thought about how much of that success can be attributed to the mechanics of NERO?  Probably very little.  Successful chapters have friendly staff, tell good stories, and try and give players what they want.

But I think the culture is even worse that one might expect.  I think this culture has a need to be a victim.  This is the same culture that has been screaming about getting 9th edition rules out for over 10 years, and then when it finally came out, complained that things changed.

Our culture insists that Joe is somehow trying to destroy the game.  As misguided as Joe may be, I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to run the game into the ground.  But this culture needs to be the victim. OH WOE IS YOU.  If it was really that bad, then why are you or your chapter leaving national and playing/running your own game?  There's plenty of games out there that are as successful as NERO.

I am fully convinced that NERO isn't going to succeed (re: grow) because of this ridiculous culture.  You don't actually want it to grow.  You want to be able to claim the victim card.  You want your word to mean something, even if you didn't actually do any investigation into what other LARPs are around, what worked for them, and what didn't work for them.  You like to hold onto your ideas, and rather than looking at things in a rational way and try something different in order to stop the game from hemorrhaging players, you insist that you run a good game and that is somehow tied to these archaic mechanics that are sorely outdated.

So I'll leave you with this parting message.

Dearest Nero Culture, you're a fucking disgrace.  Do us all a favor and get your act together.


21 comments:

  1. Outstanding post, Bill. In my opinion you are right on all counts.

    ~Patrick

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  2. Best line: "This is the same culture that has been screaming about getting 9th edition rules out for over 10 years, and then when it finally came out, complained that things changed."

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  3. I appreciate this rant--while I may not entirely agree with all of it. I wish a lot more people would at the very least take a step back and be more civil about the whole thing.

    There are peaceful ways of delivering an opinion--and I don't think it includes name calling or hateful Joe V memes.

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  4. I agree that most of the resistance to changes to the NERO system from the players and owners is silly and immature. However, I fault ownership much more than you do. The reaction to game changes in NERO are the same silly immature reactions you see in any game system with a large online customer base. Anyone with familiarity with the online communities of MMO's for instance knows that every proposed change provokes the same sort of reaction. You are ruining the game! I'm going to quit, and so is my 200 person guild!

    Successful companies manage that process, however. And ultimately they make whatever changes are necessary to benefit the game. And the players suck it up, move on, and make a fuss all over again when the next round of changes are proposed.

    NERO's failure in a large part stems from the National organizations inability to manage the process of change. That stems from multiple failures to manage pretty much anything. It can't recruit and retain quality staff. Enthusiastic project leads and spokespeople routinely become frustrated and quit and start badmouthing the organization. The relationship between National and chapter owners is awful. When changes are proposed they are often badly communicated, and poorly written and organized. And as often as not as soon as players and owners start howling about how bad they are they quietly disappear and never get implemented.

    I recognize that the environment for change in NERO is absolutely abysmal at the moment. And I recognize that vocal online player culture is acting pretty badly. But I see no real point in blaming them. Ultimately it is the National organizations responsibility to develop improvements to the game, get them explained to the public, and most importantly follow through on getting them in place. Even if every player is screaming they will quit if you do.

    George

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  5. I totally saw (and continue to see, from a long way on the outside) the same kind of institutional resistance to change in other LARP organizations like One World by Night and The Camarilla (or whatever they made them re-name it).

    Sorry to hear that it has gotten the best of you!

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    1. I totally agree. Your rant against Nero culture applies to the American larp culture at large. I come from an Amtgard background, and they have always resisted change. A splinter group, HFS, left so they could change and develop their game on their own terms, but once they got started they were more change averse than the group they left. No one wants to try other games and sees those who do as outsiders or uncommitted. I appreciate people feeling personally invested in the games they play, but if being invested keeps one from exploring other games and styles there's something wrong.

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  6. To add a little more, I suppose it is like those guys who are still playing 2nd ed. D&D, and one of the aforementioned WoD orgs: despite a now ten year old "reset" of the rules system and setting, players continue to hold on to "grandfathered" characters and powers (character options and powers that are barred to new players by organizational mandate).

    Any sort of institution that builds up a power base will eventually develop a literally "conservative" (i.e. change resistant) faction, who will tend to find it in their interest to resist any change that upsets the status quo. This status quo is both invested character power, but also the sort of power that rules familiarity and OOC setting/world knowledge provides. Many players feel as though a LARP is a "defined benefit" system, not a "defined contribution system": regardless of their input, they expect a certain output.

    While opposite to my personal political and economic beliefs, I think LARP works better be modeled more like a "defined contribution" contract: you can expect to invest time, treasure, etc. in playing your character, but what you're really playing for is the experience to play your character at a point in time, not, not as some future investment in higher level power.

    Part of where this conflicts with the historic culture of LARP, especially level-based and "slow build" style LARPs (NERO, Wastelands, Exiles, OWbN, probably others) is that the game can be so challenging, un-fun, and dispiriting at the low levels (especially when surrounded with radically outsized power levels of said long-standing or grandfathered characters) that the only reason to be playing the game can seem to be attaining those higher power levels (essentially, the defined benefit-like rules construct of said games).

    My point? Break the cycle. If that means breaking out of those type of game cultures to do it, than kudos to you for taking that step.

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  7. I've never played NERO but I can see a lot of the same issues in the LARP organization I'm a member of. It's ridiculous and going to bring a lot of good things to an end.

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  8. I had this article shared with me today and ended up sending it out to some staffers of the org I'm part of myself.

    Great read and it's a strong indicator that you're right when I can see the same culture impact to a seperate org.

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  9. You make an excellent point. I think the problem might stem a bit farther that just NERO. This could be the major thing that's holding back LARPs in the US.

    In other parts of the world, I get the feeling that people are more groovy, focused on having a good time and not as afraid of change. In the US, people will kick and scream at the very thought of something changing. This prevents growth and creates caustic environments that drive players away.

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  10. Again, I disagree, though this time with a bit less authority since I know most European LARP's through reputation alone. But from what I've observed the ones we typically point to such as Mythodea are highly professional businesses. If the European players are cooler, more laid back and content to just have a good time at their events then I don't think it is because they are any more or less accepting of change. The difference is the people in their game in charge of change (ownership, staff, etc) do their job efficiently and professionally.

    I firmly believe that the biggest factor that has led to the recently over the top crazy revolt of NERO players is the fact the game has been so mismanaged and unmanaged for so long that the inmates are now running the asylum. Ownership had so poisoned it's relationship with both chapters owners and players that neither trust National ownership to act in their best interest and they reflexively resist any change suggested. And now National has decided the way to reverse this is the further empower the players by encouraging comment and feedback on all the proposed changes, which has made the situation worse by strengthening the idea that rules changes should be only occur at the pleasure of the mob rule of message board loudmouths.

    Though we may disagree as to the precise source or balance of blame in the particular situation, I do agree that it is a big reason LARP is being held back in the US. Even the best run LARPs in the US (that I know) are typically amateur affairs run mainly be volunteers. For some reason we can't seem to get over the hump and grow to the point where things become large scale and professional. It seems like every time something in the US LARP scene gets big what happens is some subset decides they can do it better and they break off and try to do their own thing. So instead of consolidation we end up with endless Balkanization, and tons of smallish LARPs in the 20-100 player range.

    George

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    1. Hey George!

      I can only speak for my experiences of a tiny portion of german larp (Conquest of Mythodea = COM / Drachenfest = DF / EpicEmpires = EE).
      Rules change in the systems I play every year. I suppose that is because after game evaluation plays a big part in the culture of these systems. And while the events are proffessionally (whatever that means) organised they all rely on hundreds of volunteers and player efforts to create a better event. e.g. the many impressive gatehouses at DF are bought, built and maintained by players, the great costumes of the Undead Flesh at COM are made by the NPC in a private effort and so on...

      Then again focus is on roleplaying your power. If you suck at that - well, good luck in convincing someone you are a capable knight/mage/leader/king/anything. The focus is not so much the grabbing of experience points or other rewards for players. Many great players rather play farmers, beggars, scribes, servants and other 'simple folks' than anything normally seen as 'important'. What is a King without a court, liegemen and guards, but a lonely man? And ambience events (no combat, except maybe duells or a tournament) play an important role in campaigns and are excellent for developing deeper bonds among the characters and players.

      And more importantly many players don't care about rules and play by a philospophy that is called DKWDDK (translation: You can do what you can play believably) combined with the local fighting rules (armor points plus life points). Epic Empires an event 1000+ players operates solely with the DKWDDK rules. The damage rules says: think how a larger weapon will hurt you more and how arrow penetrates all armor except maybe combined chainmail and plate armor, armor only protects your body where you are wearing one, don't forget to repair your armor, wear a helmet for your protection. It doesn't list any specific damage points nor armor points.

      Most play a combination of DKWDDK and some _very basic_ (compared to what I saw on the NERO page. Have they never heard about the KISS-principle?) rules for combat, alchemy, magic and sieges. That also means that no one needs to call out the damage of weapons. If one reads the rules one knows the damage a weapon makes. In fact if you do that you disturb the immersion and gameplay, you'll be known as a 'pappnase' and a GM will probably pull you out of game and lecture you on disrupting the gameplay. ;)

      Anyway, I came here surfing the net and not to preach... I don't know much about US larp.

      I wish you all the best of luck in creating a game that will enhance your roleplaying experience with a team that is dedicated to the game.

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  11. We don't get past the 100 or so limit anymore because we've pretty much been "built" by acrimonious splits for 20+ years.

    If you read the history of US LARPs, it's a series of "And then this game split off from X LARP", over and over again. NERO's the biggest "parent" by that measure, but I've seen cases where there's even games where the "parent" is a game that split from a game from another game that had the NERO tag on it.

    (Locally, that's NERO-NJ -> LAIRE -> four+ different LARPs, many of which are still going- and occasional fragments from -those-.)

    I'm one of those rare birds that's gone overseas and played both NERO and Mythodea. The difference is stunning, to the point where I'd point every NERO player that can afford the trip to take a "pilgrimage" overseas just to see what's possible when people run a competent game. They can manage a game for a week straight with thousands where we consider a tenth of that stressing an organization. The average teenager on their first costume is showing up looking as good as the average full-time player at a US LARP. Why?

    Higher standards and no excuses. The few rare games in the US that hold to this have extraordinary results. And if you say "it's because they're huge", I'd point you at the folks I know in UK LARPs that manage similar levels of quality in games that are 100-300ish people.

    Until US LARP sheds the idea that it's a slightly fancier Dagohrir or Amtgard boffer-war, we're going to be stuck in the LARP Stone Age for good.

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  12. Well, I can't disagree that the player culture is part of the problem, but YOU are the type of player that IS the problem. Loud-mouthed, angry players that don't get things their way, until they badger Valenti or other NERO higher-ups into changing the rules that made skill useful, into rules that make people with more real-world money and in-game goodies, rule all. The problem is that NERO does NOT operate the way it did, but I wouldn't expect a stuff gathering power gamer apologist to understand that their world experience isn't everyone's. The rules HAVE changed for the worse and min-maxing has become the way of things. "Gimmie gimmie" is what these stick jocks want, not an adventure. You want to make positive changes in NERO, take away Joe's cocaine, and maybe he'll stop getting rid of waylay, or spell-caster's usefulness. His constant depletion of chapter variants and chapter rights, forcing all NERO chapters into a cookie-cutter format that he hope to sell to WoC, has turned a once great game into a chore that people do because they feel obligated to their friends. All that being said, NERO, with all it's flaws, is still the best game going...for now.

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  13. Dude, are you high? So I'm not really sure if you're pro or anti NERO. I have no idea what you're trying to say. Are you saying that I'm to blame? Because I wrote a blog, that has been totally pro all LARP culture, and stated my opinion about a player group that I feel is dragging the game down? Because I didn't immediately freak out and blame everything on Joe?

    Don't get me wrong, Joe totally owes me an apology, and I don't think he's a particularly good businessman. A few of these changes were major (perm death, buying build), but in the long run, it wasn't and isn't going to end the game. But everyone gets so angry when anything changes, good or bad!

    8th Edition wasn't the same as 3rd Edition. Just like 9th isn't 8th, and the new game isn't the old. Games evolve. And people stop playing games because they're not having fun, and sometimes that's system related, and sometimes it's the culture. I know people who stopped playing NERO because of the PLAYERS, not because of anything Joe did.

    So, yeah, your attitude is actually the kind of attitude I was talking about. You play a certain game, and when something changes what are into, you freak out and go aggressive on anything and everything.

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  14. Hahahaha CHANGE IS THE PROBLEM. Come on man, lets keep it in perspective here, we are talking about a game. A game that has had the same basic ruleset for 10 years. Change was needed, some of the change was good, some was not so good but being afraid of all change is silly. Also I am a stick jock and I don't really whine about a whole lot. I show up to an event, I hit some stuff with foam and then I go home. Why am I a bad person for stuff questing? Why do I need an apologist? Is my game style less valid than your flurby mc flurbiton style?

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  15. i'm saying you have blamed the wrong people and put forth an argument that is based in fiction. The problem is national, and it's willingness to change the rules to benefit their friends, rather than the players as a whole. The problem is the "good 'old boys club" mentality, and the current changes to the game rules have been bad.

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  16. I made an argument based on "fiction?". In an opinion piece saying players attitudes are negative and adverse to change. Well, if you have proof to contradict that, I'd like to hear it.

    National churns through it's staff primarily through inaction. As a staff member, my biggest hurdle was the chapter owners, who all had a different image of the game and refused to compromise.

    And which changes exactly were added to benefit friends of national?

    Apart from random spouts of jargon, you haven't actually said anything. And this kind of fervent attack against anything national has caused a lot of good people to leave staff. The same staff that used to wrangle Joe.

    So, yeah. Your mentality is pretty much the problem.

    -Bill

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  17. I'll just put this in. You cannot fix the problem when the top of the pyramid is the source. You can hold it in check, but eventually...he'll get his way. He owns the place. It'll just take more steps to get where he wants the game, because there's folks that will encourage him to do so in the name of progress.

    Or someone else steps in and builds something better than what he's "put together" from what's mostly the efforts of the franchise holders. With the acrimonious disharmony of dozens of divorced or orphaned games scattered over the US from NERO's habits, I doubt anyone truly will.

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