Year of Living Free -- Where Did I Go Wrong?

edited March 2011 in Forum Discussion
Hi folks,

Almost two years ago I set up the 'Year of Living Free' -- a wiki and blog and (later) a forum to promote, discuss and share open/semi-open tabletop games.

My goal was to create a community for open gaming, which would combine designers and consumers passionate about openness. I imagined people sharing new open games they'd found, cooperatively designing open games and developers of open games using the YOLF wiki and forum instead of setting up their own.

Instead, YOLF has been almost entirely my own work. Two or three designers added their games to the wiki. There are a handful of discussions on the forums. There's an impressive list of open games on the wiki (252, not including supplements) but most were found by me.

So clearly I screwed up somewhere along the way. Either I overestimated interest in open gaming, or I failed to capture that interest.

I'm working on a broader, larger project now promoting everything open (except software) instead of open gaming alone. But to avoid making the same mistakes, I was hoping you good folks could tell me where I screwed up. Do you have ideas about where I went wrong?



  • edited March 2011
    Well, here are my thoughts, for whatever they're worth. It's hard to create a new community online, you never know if it's going to work or not. It's often a very spontaneous and chaotic thing.

    The RPG community is small as it is, and already broken down into various sub-groups. There are overlaps and nomads, but whatever you're going to set up is going to be just another well in a tiny village full of wells.

    Open gaming is awesome, and I love many free games. I've found your site quite useful on numerous occasions, but I don't really feel the need to participate in discussions there: I didn't even know you had a forum!

    So I think what you need for a community is a perfect storm of elements outside your control. "Open tabletop" games might indeed be too small a niche, especially since there are so many other sites already out there. Community-wise: you're not concurrent to RPGnet, RPGGeek, 1km1kt or whatever, because you're not really offering something they aren't, you're providing a collection, selection and sub-section of that. Which is awesome. It would be a bloody shame for that wiki to not exist. But it's not exactly a draw, either.

    So that's one side of the coin. The other is simply promotion, spreading the good word. Marketing, really. It can be a long and tedious process that doesn't pay off. Generating more buzz on some of the larger boards, like RPGnet or ENworld would definitely have some effect. How much of that have you going on now? Penny Arcade's forums, even, especially if you're going to venture beyond tabletop games.
  • To tell the truth, I've been to YOLF a couple of times, and I never got the impression that it's supposed to be a community. I just thought it was your website, where you promote free games you find online. There was no large banners beckoning me to join in and contribute. Maybe you should look into different website design.
  • Just like elkin, I didn't really know it was a community! I thought maybe it was more like a task force - you and a few others who'd decided to do this thing, or something.
  • I also thought that YOLF was supposed to be a resource list you had compiled. I am interested in checking out the community there though now that I know it exists.
  • Posted By: Seth DrebitkoI also thought that YOLF was supposed to be a resource list you had compiled.
    Me too! And I contributed stuff!
  • edited March 2011
    I've never heard of the site before so this is my first time looking at it. I agree with what everyone above has said so far.

    I think it's the big things holding the site back (what unique problem does it solve? For who? How do those people know about it?). But on the small end:

    - When I see "My Vision" on the first page, I immediately assume it's a personal website or if it isn't, it's driven mainly by 1 person.

    - "Year of living free" makes me think it is a temporary website.

    People usually fail a bunch of times before they find something that succeeds. At business, at game designs, at communities, at most things. If anything, this is you gaining experience to increase the chance the next thing will be a success. Or the thing after that and so on!

    Often communities are successful because (in addition to solving unique problems) they are tied to a much larger event or grow out of an existing community. En World is HUGE and grew mainly out of the introduction of D&D 3E. Story Games grew out of the Forge. Pathfinder grew out of Wizards of the Coast rejecting D&D 3E customers and the OGL. The Old School Renaissance Movement exploded when Wizards stopped selling PDFs to their older games. FATE grew out of FUDGE. The Forge grew out of the Gaming Outpost and hit when self publishing was starting to explode, selling PDFs online became popular, the cost of self publishing in general was dropping, and designers needed to band together to afford to showcase their games at places like Gen Con. Many D&D blogs became popular because they launched when 4E came out, when many D&D's articles were moved behind a paywall subscription, explained rules that were unclear (skill challenges), or offered supplementary materials (character sheets, cheat sheets, generation tools).
  • Allow me to look at the positives.
    I was pretty stoked that you included my games in your list.
    So at the very least you probably gave a couple hundred people a feel-good moment.
    It was also interesting to browse the site and see what's out there.
    In fact, in writing this, I started browsing the site again and got lost for an hour in various games.
    So, good work, sir.
  • Speaking for myself, I suspect the "I overestimated interest in open gaming" is the most likely culprit.

    I mean... this strikes me along the same lines of "Hey, I like things that are red! Lots of people like red things! There's lots of red cars, red houses, red clothes... clearly, lots of people love red things. Time for a community of people to share their love of red."

    So, yeah, I like lots of games, and I've produced some game material, and some of the games I like are open, and some of the game material I've produced is open. That hasn't really led me to an inherent interest in open games, any more than it's led me to be inherently interested in games written in English or games printed on rectangular flat pieces of paper.

    That being said, I don't know if YOLF or other initiatives are failures, because I'm not sure I understand your goal or definition of success. What are you trying to accomplish? "Creating a community" is vague enough to make me uneasy.
  • The biggest issue I have in the name. Every time I see Year Of Living Free, I think it's a reference to some sort of anti-consumerist website about growing your own vegetibles or finding freebie coupons or something like that.

    And, as said above, the Year in the title makes it sound temporary, like a 365 exercise, like the "take a photo of your kids every day for a year" thing my neighbor just finished.

    This is the first time I've opened a thread with Year Of Living Free in the title, because when I saw threads on it before, they didn't catch my attention the way something like or something like that might have.

    Looking at it right now, my first impression is that the ads are rather distracting. I know web sites cost money to host, and it's nice to try to recoup that money. Especially when your site is all about hosting free stuff. But if the ads drive away traffic, it's probably not helping. I don't know how much revenue you're getting off your ads. If it's not enough that it's currently relieving you of a significant amount of your expenses, then it's probably doing more harm than good.

    Also, some of your categories of information need explanations. I just clicked on Open Resources>Free Art License. I see a page with a link to Fire and Sword, which links me to another page on Fire and Sword. But all 4 of these are completely and totally without explanatory text on them at all. I don't know what Free Art License means. I don't have any idea what I get by looking at this game. Does this game have art in it that I can reuse if I want to? I don't know. I suppose if I open up the PDF and root around in the find print I might find an answer to that question. But I don't think I should need to go that far before I even know what it is I'm looking at.

    Also, I can't figure out what the main goals of the site are. Who is the audience and what are they supposed to find there?

    Do I go there because I want to find a free game to play? If that's the case, it would REALLY help if there were some sort of an annotation about each game that's there, so it's not just a sorted list. I would love to see a paragraph that highlights what is interesting about a game so I can find one I'm interested in more easily.

    Do I go there because I'm looking for an open system that I can write my own extensions for and make money on, like d20 games or FATE games? Cause that's a whole entirely, completely different thing. Cause then it's a commercial resource for helping folks make a commercial product and make money. And in that case, then I want to focus on communicating with others who are doing the same thing so I can ask questions. And I want a clear list of resources I can make use of.

    Do I go there because I'm looking for a place to work on free and open games (and maybe a place to host them when I'm done). Cause, again, that's different. I want resources, yes, but with a different focus. I want ideas on how to do things with zero cost other than my effort, because I'm not going to be making money on the end product. And I want assistance with helping people find my free product, so that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

    The site seems to be sort of randomly trying to do all of these things in various, unfocused ways, all under the header of open games. Plus it also has a long list of closed games - apparently just because they're ones you like, despite the fact that most are neither free nor open.
  • You don't need to do anything wrong for your online project to be a flop.
  • Posted By: SanglorianMy goal was to create a community for open gaming, which would combine designers and consumers passionate about openness. I imagined people sharing new open games they'd found, cooperatively designing open games and developers of open games using the YOLF wiki and forum instead of setting up their own.
    Creating a community is hard. You pretty much have to create a space that people want to be a part of and then ensure that they keep wanting to spent time there. If something went wrong, it might be one of those. But, like JD said, you don't have to do anything wrong for it to not work. Not working is the default, since you start with no community. Actually creating a community is the exception.
  • All things considered I would totally be interested in being part of an open game community. How would you like the owners of the open game systems to participate in the community? How would you like designers to participate? What about fans?
  • Hey folks,

    This is great feedback -- all of it. Thank you very much. I'm still digesting it, and I'll draw out some points to discuss in more detail later. This will really help for the new stuff I'm working on.
  • Count me in on those that used YOLF but didn't know there was a community. I found it pretty useful, so I don't think you have a failure in your hands, just a different thing than the one you imagined.
  • edited March 2011
    I think most people, when they create something and want to share it, have a pre-existing community they want to share it with. When I make some house rules for our local game, I post them on our private forum. When I'm talking about games in general, I'm doing it here or at or enworld, and if I want to share stuff, I'll do it there. Joining yet another forum to do it is a small but real barrier to entry, and it doesn't take many of those to keep it from happening.

    For people who are willing to put some extra effort into sharing something, technological barriers have dropped enough over the last 10-15 years that they might just make their own website or forum or wiki or sell it as a PDF, and the barrier to doing most of those things is only slightly larger than joining a new community (that they might not know about anyway).

    I had pretty much the same experience as you in 97 or 98 when I created a website to support a game I was totally excited about. I hoped a lot of people would share my enthusiasm and we'd create a fun, flourishing thing that we would all be proud of. Of course, that didn't work out, but doing it was a worthwhile learning experience for me in several ways, and I hope that even if you end up deciding YOLF has failed and you close it down, you'll likewise consider it worthwhile to have tried.
  • So I've reflected on what you've all had to say.

    You don't have to do anything wrong to fail to create a community
    It may be that fans of open gaming are such a small subset of such a small subset of the general population that a community is unsustainable. There have been a few open gaming movements and sites which have popped up (the Open Gaming Foundation being the most prominent) and then died. My new project has a broader scope -- hopefully it'll attract more people.

    Failure to make my intentions clear
    You quite rightfully pointed out that the branding suggests an individual or team project, not a community. 'Year of Living Free' is unspecific and easily confused for other agendas. My new project is called 'Living Libre' -- hopefully that avoids those problems.

    The website also doesn't invite contributions. The system of tags and categories became so complicated that only people with Wikidot proficiency could really figure it out. I'm working on a new wiki which should be more intuitive (still not as intuitive as I like).

    The website also doesn't make it clear who it's targeted at or what problems it solves. That's something I'll keep in mind for my new project, which will distinctly and explicitly target different groups.

    Advertising: Unfortunately, that advertising is the price I pay for having the wiki hosted by Wikidot. I don't get any of the profits.

    Closed and Commercial Games: You mentioned that the long list of closed, commercial games also confuses the purpose of the site. Most of the games on that list are linked to open gaming (for example, Apocalypse World uses an engine which has been used for open games; REIGN is closed but has open supplements). But I don't make that particularly clear, and I should.

    Not a complete failure
    I'm happy that I made YOLF and I learned a whole lot from it. I'll keep it up (perhaps not at that URL) and still update it. But I do want to correct the mistakes I made with YOLF in my new project, and you folks have helped me with that.

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