I now think that most of what I suggested and hypothesized earlier regarding this topic is probably wrong.
I have had some time to consider further what I wrote here previously on the subject of forum participation, and I have been inspired by recent events to reflect upon it and reevaluate it.
The short version: Forum participation may (or may not) be a DESIRE, but it is not a NEED, nor is it necessarily a means to a significant desired goal.
(The long version…)
My entire life I have been an idealist, and whenever I have stuck to my ideals without remembering to balance them with logic and realism, I have gotten screwed, so let me balance my previous idealism with some logic and realism so no one gets screwed.
Upon rereading the first two posts in this thread, I realize I erred by conflating Runehammer the larger entity inclusive of its online player community with Runehammer the game company/publisher. This was my mistake, and I own it. I will be careful not to make it in the future, and that might lead me to proffer fewer mistaken conclusions in public.
Needs are real; desires beyond needs are merely expressions of ideals. We NEED to breathe, maintain core temperature, and ingest nutrients to live. We DO NOT NEED to be happy, even though most people desire happiness to some degree.
Let me backtrack and attempt to use some unflinching logic to make better educated guesses and fix what I wrote…
“Forum participation” sounds desirable, but it is definitely NOT necessary to the continued success of Runehammer Games. The truth is that Runehammer Games probably doesn’t NEED to have more members and more member participation—at least not here in its dedicated online community—to continue to be successful. I am not speaking for anyone, but I am guessing the Shield Wall probably reached critical mass some time ago in terms of its practical developmental utility for Runehammer Games. The key players have already been here for some time, they have been useful in the development cycle needed to establish the core system for games like ICRPG, and they can continue to serve indefinitely when the company DESIRES input, feedback, or a test bed. Conversely, each new voice, while it may hold the potential to fuel exponential growth in the dimension of the games through the contribution of a unique point of view, will inevitably have diminishing returns in terms of actual impact on any future development of products, one whisper among many. (That’s just math.)
I’m no economist, but I understand that underlying need of any for-profit company in a capitalist system is market share. As long as Runehammer Games is principally a game developer and publisher, operationally that means book sales—even though I am certain the creator/publisher has a higher philosophical goal in mind. So if time and energy spent here basking in the afterglow of discovering ICRPG were instead channeled into more direct action fueling book sales—organizing and playing the games, introducing new players to the company’s offerings, requesting Runehammer Games products in local stores, and buying copies for friends and family—Runehammer Games would be more directly served from a balance sheet perspective. In terms of these direct actions, I can say honestly that I have done my part in every one of these aspects as a humble individual working only in peripheral to this industry…
It is inevitable that more and more people are going to get excited (to one degree or another, at one pace or another) about games that Runehammer Games publishes, and it has become popular (even expected) for people to be able to pursue their interests in online spaces like this one. This is nice, but it is largely irrelevant, as it serves the community directly but not the company’s bottom line. Operationally, the underlying determination of the level of individual consumer engagement can be reduced to one simple metric: how many books did they buy?
(Other forms of visibility and buzz will surely open doors to success and profit for Runehammer Games, but such speculation is outside the scope of the point I’m attempting to make here.)
I have no doubt that the creator behind the games and groundbreaking original ideas that inspired this community will continue to reward the loyalty of his fanbase with unparalleled access and interaction for as long as it is feasible, but it is a simple reality of numbers that—behind a paywall or not—as more people join a community they place more demands upon community resource, and the creator’s time—which is finite here as well as on Patreon or Discord—is this community’s chief commodity as well as its principal draw, one that gets whittled away as it is further subdivided with each new member registration.
Sure, there is a value to the fraternity achieved by likeminded fans sharing ideas and inspiration among themselves, but that does not need to take place under company auspices. I would imagine that one-way marketing, outreach needs, and an adequate semblance of customer and fanbase interaction and support could probably be better (or at least more efficiently) served by a combination of scrums within the space of mainstream social media along with a small hardcore devotee community desiring discourse, advance information, and playtesting opportunities interacting behind a profitable paywall barrier sufficient to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high in both directions. That may not be what anybody believes they want, but I believe there is a plausible logic to such thinking—if one puts sentimentality and idealism aside.
Runehammer Games has established itself by being an independent trendsetter, not a trend follower. It does not need to continually broaden its base to pander to the capricious whims of the mainstream. Its core ruleset, ICRPG, has achieved a stage in its ongoing development cycle where it has become more important to maintain and assert what makes it unique that to pursue aspects it doesn’t already comprise.
Will ICRPG (and other Runehammer games) continue to evolve? Of course. I think its creator would get bored if he weren’t exploring new ground. But like Leonidas before him, I believe he only needs a dedicated cadre of 300 or so who will follow him without question and fight to the death, not a vast army of lesser soldiers who risk diluting the ideals for which he stands.
The Shield Wall is a beautiful metaphor, with each man standing shoulder to shoulder with his brother as a testament to the courage, honor, pledge of protection, shared beliefs, and mutual respect that unite the whole group. It’s a wonderful and inspiring ideal, but perhaps one that gets harder to live up to in reality with the addition of each new soldier.
These opinions are my own, based only upon a couple of months as part of this community, a couple of years playing ICRPG, twenty years helping market independent businesses, and over four decades playing tabletop RPGs. I could certainly still be wrong, but I think—if I am—it simply demonstrates the unnecessary complexity of operating in the very privileged world around us.
I know I will continue to buy and play Runehammer games, wish the company and its creator every success, and witness the examples of the senior members here as they continue to shape the online community they helped to build.
Hopefully, my understanding of how this community works will improve in time. Thanks to all of you here who have supported my learning so far and helped to open my eyes. Thanks also for your indulgence; I have used more than my fair share of bandwidth and will now attempt to discover and reap the benefits of constructive lurking.