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An Analysis of Original Quests on SV (Draft, under discussion and revision)

Discussion in 'Forum News and Staff Communication' started by Cetashwayo, Feb 25, 2016.

  1. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    So, in the past @LordSquishy has expressed that if he could he would ban all fanfiction and make SV primarily a forum focused on original fiction, whether it's quests or stories or roleplaying or whatever.

    Obviously this isn't feasible in any way shape or form for a multitude of reasons.

    Statistics of Original Quests

    Note: This analysis of statistics is mostly outdated and inaccurate. Read it mostly for context. When I'm done talking about all its problem I'll go back and revise it. See Author's Notes for details.


    But it is possible that we could encourage original fiction in other ways. Although fanfiction is extremely popular on both SV and its parent site, not to mention QQ, original fiction is present. To give statistics for quests, there are currently 78 quests marked original out of 3,227 total quests. Of course, some of these threads are duplicates or spliced over some Spacebattles (about 200) and not every single original quest is represented. However, all in all original quests are about 2.5% of the total, that could probably rise to 4-5% if we include all original quests together. By comparison, 2/30 of the front page quests are original, so 6.6%. 8 out of 150 top quests are original, bringing the number to 5.3%. So judging simply by prefixed quests, original quests have an outsized popularity. Post-author's note: Not true. Better statistics are in the following post.

    However, this popularity is not nearly large enough to be significant. Why? Even assuming that the tagged quests are the majority of all original quests, which considering that I tagged about 70 quests in the last 10-15 pages as original is unlikely, it's only a discrepancy between the amount of total original quests and the most popular original quests of +1-2%, which is not a very high discrepancy. All it tells us is that you are able to have a very popular original quest, which while useful in terms of telling us that original quests don't have repellent fields that prevent anyone from caring about it, doesn't give us much information about how to help other original quests. Post-author's note: Again, statistics bear out a different picture.

    Another important point is that these quests are "unique" in the way that they are presented- it generally requires an outsized effort to provide for these original quests to rise.

    Let us consider the eight most popular original quests in order of popularity.

    The Hateful Eight

    1. Into the Amber Age by @Academia Nut.
    Into the Amber Age is a quest made by one of the most popular authors on SV. It's set in a mythical neolithic type spiritual land. This man is such a brand that he makes 200$ a month off his Patron just making quests, I'm not joking. He has used Age of Strife, a WH40K empire-builder type quest set in...the age of Strife, to create a very large userbase. His greatest strengths are complicated mechanics, brand loyalty, and rapid posting, as well as the fact he makes 200$ a month off quests. Into the Amber Age continues the trend started by AoS for very rapid updates combined with huge user discussions. Post-Author's note: Although correct around the edges, ignores the low-mechanic start that Amber Age had as well as other factors for player interest.

    2. Battle Action Harem Highschool Side Character Quest by @Avalanche. BAAHSQ is a quest that attempts to...hmm, I don't like using the word deconstruct, but it certainly tries to twist around and criticize a lot of the cliches and tropes around harems. It's focused on Anna Sanchez, who Avalanche expends a great deal of effort into making cute and traumatized. I'm being blunt here, but I'm focused more on appeal than quality of these quests. The setting is very much like most mecha settings, strange aliens, a variety of team-mates, it's a highschool battle academy setting. What is the appeal? Avalanche's updates are slow, but each is about 13,000 words, and Anna Sanchez is designed to be likeable and cute. Even in universe she's a meme, and this is exploited extremely by the userbase. Avalanche probably isn't the best writer ever, but he's a veryskilled writer in making the userbase care about Anna and write dozens of omakes. I'm not kidding. There are an absurd amount. So what are BAAHSQ's strengths? It has a dedicated userbase, it won the award that catapulted it to sticky status for several months and gave it extra views, and it has huge updates that mean that people feel it's worth it to stick around for the months it takes for Avalanche to update. Post Author's Note: No problems yet.

    3. Terrene Spire by @Dexexe1234. Terrene Spire is a special quest, and not just because Squishy decided to sticky it much to the fury of people used to seeing unoriginal stuff on the front page of quests ( :V ). Terrene is an art quest par-excellence, with animated images and text that feels straight out of a video game. Putting aside the fact that Squishy stickied it or complaints about it, since you could argue many, why is Terrene Spire successful? It is simply a very unique quest in a way that is very accessible to the average person. I'm going to talk more about why art quests have a much greater rate of original settings than text quests later, but to put it simply, art is a medium where there are no blanks to be filled because you see them on the screen. Combine this with the video-game format and impressive art and it's obvious why Spire is so popular. Post-Author's Note: Terrene's popularity is most attributable to the sticky, by far. That is an incredibly important thing to remember.

    4. A Hedge Maze Is You by @Chandagnac. What the fuck is this quest? I really didn't know so I took a look. I won't exaggerate when I say that Hedge Maze is odd. It's literally you're a fucking hedge maze. More specifically, you're the spirit of a hedge maze, and it's your job to make people lose themselves in you so you can steal their souls. You know, the usual. What the hell is this thing and why is it popular? The secret answer is mechanics. This quest has mechanics up its hedge-shaped arse. They're everywhere, I'd say you can even lose yourself in them. Combine this with an amusingly odd setting where you are literally a hedge maze spirit, and you get a very easy recipe for success. It's easy to fuck this up, but if you know what you're doing, the quest builds its own userbase without you even trying. Mechanics provide tangible things for users to discuss, and humor adds levity to what would otherwise be arguments about power levels for a sentient labyrinth. It's a very structured quest, and this is why it ultimately succeeds, by binding players and trapping them in its leafy mess of mechanics and quests and other NPC gods and so on. It appeals to a particular sort of quest-goer. Post-Author's Note: Quite inaccurate- interview with QM and some regulars can clear up misconceptions.

    5. The Gardens of Enoch by @Rihaku. Imagine Amazon. Think about it how it obsessively calculates metrics and maximizes profit and productivity through carefully calibrated slave driving of its employees. You now have an image of Terrascape Academy. Combine a complicated magic system with an academy quest and EXTREME DEPTHS OF CHARACTER CUSTOMIZATION THAT IS CAREFULLY CALIBRATED and you get Terrascape Academy. This is a quest with XP! And Magic systems! And so on! When you carefully structure the outcomes of your quest so that it becomes somewhat like a tabletop roleplaying game or a videogame then you can move past the disadvantages of original quests by exploiting the primal urge of users to minmax and get them invested in a way that doesn't require great writing on characters. If BAAHSQ is charactersploitation on a grand scale, than Gardens of Enoch is minmaxing users. Not to mention that likes and posts give mechanical bonuses and these are needed to survive. As we'll discuss in the next example, this is one of the most potent ways to increase user involvement. It's pure skinner box. Combine this with passable to good writing and you get a powerful combo. (Note: Enoch is now number #3, but was #5 when I wrote this). (Significant revision needed, analysis is unfair and assigns the wrong conclusions.) Post-Author's Note: More specifically, does not take into account Rihaku's brand and other possibilities. Tempera also raised comparisons to Battle Harem.

    6. Magna Graecia by @Cetashwayo. I have to be honest that I fully planned this quest as a trap. One of the things that I set out to do with MG, besides quenching my itch for a historical setting, was to apply things I had learnt in nation games about maximizing user interest to quests. Also psychology but I'm obliged to tell you I didn't for reasons of ethics boards. MG is set in 5th century Italy as Greek colonists. How the fuck is this popular? The answer is that I grabbed many mechanics from Total War, then combined it with player bonuses for in-character posting and rapid updates. When you also take graphics things like the faction icons, also grubbed in spirit from Total War, and the map, then what you get is players playing text total war. It even had battles where you could see the tactical view and decide each phase. If you like total war, you'll like MG, and in time I was able to phase out some of the total war mechanics and skinner-box stuff in favor of more historical focus while keeping players. Other stuff like characters and writing, though something to keep in mind, were additionals, rather than what originally grabbed players to the quest. Once the userbase was established, and rapid updates (2 a day!) ensured that players were kept interested, I could effectively guarantee a dedicated userbase that could come back after a several month hiatus and give me like 45 likes for the first post back. That, Ford, is how I got people to make my granary management simulator popular :V Post Author's Note: Self-aggrandizing. Doesn't take into account real player interest into the quest.

    7. A Slime Quest by @AnonymousRabbit. This is a bit of an odd quest, but follows a similar winning formula to Hedge Maze . By creating complex, quantifiable mechanics, and pairing them with an odd premise, specifically being a slime, Rabbit is able to entice viewers through a combination of character quantifiability, power levels, and oddball humor. Extra points are given for the use of a slime as a sort of cutey patooty character-thing. Post Author's note: Poor analysis.

    8. Magic Knight Quest by @PrinceArjuna. You're a Japanese boy in a fantasy world where the twist is that every single fucking mechanic is quantifiable and you have so many customization options oh my lord and god almighty who art in heaven. Did I mention this is a harem quest? The Japanese version, not the Ottoman version, sadly we will not be seeing Kosem Sultanu manipulating the court of Tokpaki anytime soon in quests. The "Harem" in the title is just one draw, though. Look at the quest's first page and you'll understand that the massive amount of sheer quantifiable statistics boggles the mind and attracts quest-goers naturally. Post-Author's note: No comments yet. Unknown about whether this is borne out- probably not.

    So that's a review of the top eight most popular original quests. Let's now discuss what we've learnt from this general overview. (When this review was written, these were the eight most popular. This has since shifted considerably.)

    Discussion

    Mechanics are King, Mechanics for Mechanics are Emperor


    Every single one of these quests except for Terrene Spire and BAAHSQ has mechanics as the central attraction of the original quest. For some of these quests, this matters more than others. Generally, mechanics alone are not sufficient to appeal to people, but they are quite obviously the framework upon which the quest resides. It is interesting to examine which quests rely on them more for appeal than others. If I may submit a judgement, Magic Knight Quest is the most mechanic-intensive. Both Slime Quest and Hedge Maze use the draw of a loopy or strange premise to hook users into a very customized and quantifiable situation where everything is well-defined. Post-Author's Note: While hook of slime and Hedge Maze are important, worldbuilding and other parts of the quest are also important. Consider that for future revision.

    Generally, these quests rise above the norm of the empire-builder or generic fantasy quest because they are able to produce passable writing, characters, or settings in addition to those complicated mechanics. If nothing else, Amber Age has a very unique setting for an SV quest, and Academia's brand loyalty is clear. Post-Author's Note: Overall, a weak paragraph, target for revision and talk about the weakness of mechanics.

    Praise the Skinner Box and it will give you pellets

    Many of these quests have some sort of mechanic that pushes users to invest themselves and contribute. Although the most obvious and obnoxious example is Rihaku's Terrascape Academy, which would make BF Skinner proud if perhaps somewhat ethically concerned, Magna Graecia and Into the Amber Age have both utilized these mechanics to a heavy degree. What's interesting is that while the most obvious aspects of the skinner box are purely mechanistic things like -10 to civil disorder if you give me a laconic speech or +3 exp if you write an omake, "soft" skinner boxes also exist which are purely emotional. The fact that Avalanche essentially gives equal hearing to all omakes, puts them on the first page, and actively encourages them is an essential part of why people are so willing to do them. This creates a feedback loop where there's a culture of omake, and people will produce them at a stupendous pace. Avalanche has in effect outsourced a large percentage of enjoyment in the quest to user effort. BAAHSQ is a self-serve quest. Post-Author's Note: No comments on this yet, skinner's box should not be taken to heart as some sort of magic vote-giver. Revision needed.

    In Magna Graecia, beyond simply giving mechanical rewards, I would actively mention users (with a greek name of course) in the update, making their discussion seems like it matters even if they lose the vote. Once, for example, someone suggested something that was brought up in the in-game democratic assembly and affected the course of history even if that was just an idle suggestion. If the GM is paying attention, so will the readers. This isn't a new thing, of course, and a prominent example is in Firnangzen's extremely popular PMMM fan-quest, where user discussion and votes can affect the intensity to which the main character commits to a decision. A close vote may result in a more reluctant application of the voted action. It's a way to incoporate voter feedback and prevent the always-lingering problems for QMs- how do you please the voters who lost the vote? Post-Author's Note: Interview quest-goers, focus on contrast between Fan and Original Quests. What do Original Quests bring to the table?

    Art Quests have greater freedom and the Context Establishment Problem

    Art is a unique modifier that allows for things to shift decisively away from the norm. Terrene Spire is an unusual quest. It's unusual in the art, it's unusual at least at first in the setting (I haven't read far enough to identify if it gets very derivative), it's unusual in the general format. This allows us to deal with a question that is quite obvious- why are art quests predominantly original, and text quests predominantly fanworks? The answer lies in context. Art provides an essential context that is much harder to convey in a text quest. With art, you can supplement the lack of reader awareness of the setting with eye candy. People can get invested because they are visual animals who like pretty pictures. The better the art, the more likely people are to get interested. Terrene Spire also has the added advantage that Bromeliad, our other main artist-extraordinaire does not, in that it's specifically designed like a CYOA video game and is intentionally reminiscent of those types of mouse-click exploration games. Combine with animation and Squishy's exposure of it, and Terrene is able to rise to a much greater height. One must also mind that Brom's art quest is a combination of art and text, while Terrene integrates everything, even its text, into the art, playing out more like a comic or a video game. Post-Author's Note: Why is this so? Is the sample size too small? Probably.

    But the overall point here to be made, of course, is that art quests can stand on their art before the user is invested in the setting. By comparison, original quests must stand on their writing, which tends to be not only a much harder medium to hold the modern reader's attention, but also an objectively weaker one in the serial format. Users must invest more time in a written update than they do in a drawn one for about the same amount of information. Fanfiction is what corrects the imbalance of the serial format for written works, by providing background context. By utterly removing the need for even basic setting of the stage, the fanfic writers can jump right to interactions of canon characters and the like. Post-Author's Note: Overall, not as many problems here. Focus on consumer side of questing.

    Look at for example Game of Thrones, which is an impressively good platform for every kind of quest imaginable. Dynasty quests are a natural thing to expect, because the setting spends such a large amount of time giving a platform for that sort of thing that authors just can't help it. Post-Author's Note: Focus on some examples- list fifty most popular fanfiction quests and count their canon material to see which ones are most popular.

    However, there are many ways for original quests to fix this problem. I've already explained the skinner box and the power of mechanical quantification, and now we have to jump the third reason why. Before we go there, let me clarify; the contextual establishment problem, as the issue I've describes where it takes more effort on the reader's part to get the same amount of context from a written work as compared to an artistic work, is the most serious for serial, mechanic-low quests. This is probably the most likely explanation as to why even works that should be extremely popular, like Ford's Seven Sisters (although I'll note it's the 11th most popular original quest of tagged original quests at 50,000 views) or even quests that should get more views than they do (Marca Estrella, which has less activity than even some bad worm quests despite comparatively much higher quality, Into the Black) do not. As serial mechanic-low original quests, they are the most vulnerable demographic of quests to the contextual establishment problem. Post-Author's Note: No problems here voiced as of yet.

    Original Quests aren't that Original

    There's a pattern that has been formed here, of course, and that's that the original quests I've listed, the eight highest, are not all that original. They are all generally twists on some formula, but in terms of pure originality they can be quite derivative. Terrene Spire is an exception again because its art allows it to avoid the contextual establishment problem entirely. Post-Author's Note: Okay.

    So I've described quests that rely on heavy mechanics (Magical Knight, Amber Age, Enoch, Hedge Maze, etc) and I've described quests that use skinner boxes (Amber Age, Magna Graecia, Enoch as the prime example above all the others). So what's the really odd one out that doesn't seem to stick to this formula? It's BAAHSQ. Battle Harem Anime has character customization, it has mechanics, but these aren't the focus. So why is it so popular? Post-Author's Note: Besides having a strong fanbase to begin with and being stickied for months.

    The answer is that in order to solve the contextual establishment problem, rather than using canon awareness, BAAHSQ uses genre awareness. If I had to describe BAAHSQ in the least flattering terms, you're a cute PTSD girl in a generic future academy fighting with giant mechs against an anime alien faceless enemy. These are terms that arecommon to the robot-fighting anime genre. The tropes that are included in BAAHSQ are ones that most people have active understanding of. One of the side characters, for instance, she likes to hit her love interest and it's supposed to be played like a joke in the animes where it occurs. Oh, so she's a tsundere. By quantifying characters in terms of tropes, people can feel like they know them innately without knowing them at all. Post-Author's Note: No problems pointed out as of yet.

    Basically, what BAASHQ does is introduce us to a setting that is basically derivative. You are able to visualize pretty much everything, understand everything, because thelanguage is mecha robot anime. Avalanche plays with those roles a lot, but he is able to, whether consciously or unconsciously, inform his audience of certain descriptive codings that tell them everything they need to know about this setting- it's a mecha setting. With that established, effort placed into fleshing out the world can focus purely on character interaction and on emphasizing Anna, who is a well-designed trope herself, she's a cold and serious girl with a dark past. In effect, she's a woobie. This is not meant to be a negative characterization, but an observation- that is, Avalanche is signalling that we should feel sorry for Anna by showing her actions, and because he never tells us to feel sorry, but shows us, it's an effective thing. Once again, he makes up for a lack of canon awareness by genre or trope awareness. People fit the character into a box, that box has pre-defined feelings that they generally have towards characters of that type. It's sympathy in a box. Post-Author's note: Is this unfair? You decide.

    Now let us skip back to talk about originality in general. All of these quests aren't that original in terms of pure setting or mechanic originality. Many of them take from other settings- Academia Nut's own system is something people would probably be familiar with if they played Age of Strife, and because of brand loyalty, many of his readers for the Amber Age did. Magna Graecia started players off with total war mechanics that was innately familiar, in a historical setting that people have some vague idea about even if they're probably embarrassingly wrong about the details. Gardens of Enoch is a magic academy, and that conjures up obvious immediate associations. Hedge Maze, Slime, and Magic Knight all have their frameworks in somewhat familiar and comfortable fantasy settings and support so much of themselves through mechanics that the unfamiliar becomes a mechanic, not a concept, and is thus easy to understand in terms of numbers rather than in terms of wondering how it works in practice. Post-Author's Note: But what to do original quests bring to the table? Why would you read one? Beyond just "I want to support original quests."

    Conclusion

    What does this tell us about original quests? There are both good sides and bad sides. The good is that original quests can clearly thrive in an environment dominated by worm/PMMM/whatever. The good is also that a somewhat niche quest like Magna Graecia, which has an absurd focus on historical detail in a small part of the world, is able to sustain huge popularity. I'm genuinely happy about that, because I try to make MG as much an educational as well as an enjoyable quest. Most of these quests have high user involvement and can sometimes have more fanatical fanbases- BAAHSQ was able to win User's Choice over A Dragon of the North, a Skyrim/ASOIF crossover, after all. Original quests can even provide a source of actual revenue, as Amber Age demonstrates. Post-Author's Note: Any problems here?

    Furthermore, what I've described for quests in terms of mechanics and skinner boxes is applicable to all quests. What this means is that original quests can use basic principles of popularity for quests and apply them to themselves- popularity, even immense popularity, is not out of the reach of people who know how to play users and make them involved. A strong grasp of what makes good mechanics combined with a lot of effort into keeping users involved and interested is more than enough to avoid the general disability of original quests as described in the context establishment problem. Post-Author's Note: But Mechanics can be deibilitating to user enjoyment. How do I into a complex mathematical equation? Your eyes could glaze over. Again, what to do OQs bring to the tab;e?

    There's also bad news here, though. The flipside of the power of mechanics and skinner boxes is that QMs that refuse to do this, or QMs who want to focus on a serial, low-mechanic original quest (SLMOQs, this will be on the test) will be disproportionately affected by the context establishment problem. They will have to work much harder to get views. Even stickying your quest and making a pop-up directing users to it might not be enough because they might not want to read 2,000 words of a story they know nothing about even if it's well written. Post-Author's Note: But they'd be willing to read 2,000 words of a compelling OP even if it's original. Are SLMOQs just generally shit? Some counter-examples exist, others fulfill the trend.

    It's not a surmountable problem. Fundamentally, a SLMOQ will always have this problem. The reason for it is fairly simple; you must work much harder to convince me to give a shit about your setting than about a setting I already give a shit about. To put it in another terms, a serial low-mechanic fanon quest will generally, though not always, have more people interested than a SLMOQ even if the difference in quality is in terms of orders of magnitude. It is possible for quests with skinner boxes, genre awareness and mechanics to be at the same level as a popular fanon quest, but the problem remains- it will always be harder for the majority of original quests, and in general the most popular original quests will by comparison have a lot more effort put into them than their fanon competitors. This does not mean they're better, or higher quality, but the effort ratio to popularity is higher. After all, even the most derivative setting is starting from a far lower point than an established work. Post-Author's Note: So, as Firnagzen notes, what can OQs bring to the table?

    In conclusion, the answer is basically that the only way we are going to be able to get people to get interested in SLMOQ, which is generally the demographic that I believe Squishy wants to target, is to alleviate and remove the barriers to entry. Some of these barriers can't be removed, but others, like visibility, are more in our power. By using staff picks for original quests that we want to sticky (this needs to be an institution to prevent users from bitching), a specific user's choice award for original quests that's different than the fanon choice award, and adding more original quest prefixes (I mean in terms of adding more quests with the prefix, not adding more types of original quest prefixes) we can eliminate some of the simplest barriers of entry for the normal user to get interested in your quest. Another possibility is an Original Quest Writers' guild, or something less fancy but similarly functional, where more popular original quest writers give shout-outs either in-thread, in their profile, or somewhere else where it will be visible to original quests they like. A simple thing from Academia Nut saying 'I really like this quest as an aside, check it out' is an extremely powerful thing. To say nothing of Rihaku threatening to kill the MC if people don't read Lord Squishy's Into the Black and give it at least 15 likes per update. (lol) Post-Author's Note: Jab at Rihaku aside, will this actually work? How can OQs become popular in their own right? What is there to sell? Why read one and not a fanon work.

    I open the floor now to the userbase at large. My analysis of these eight quests besides BAAHSQ, MG, Terrene Spire and Amber Age are all cursory. I mostly looked at the first page and a few others for answers towards popularity, and as such what people can add is extremely helpful. In addition, what would also be extremely helpful is what people can add in terms of other quests, and other suggestions as to how to maximize the visibility of Original Quests. Post-Author's Note: I mean I literally admit here it was cursory :V Still, it doesn't excuse poor analysis.

    None of this, of course, has touched on the question of how to increase the proportional amount of original quests. The frank answer is that if you build it they will come; there is a strong disincentive towards starting an original quest right now because it will in general get less views than a comparative fan quest. If you equalize this difference, then you will likely see a lot more original quests, and in this case government incentives seem obvious.



    Post-Author's Note: This is a good start, but it's not nearly enough. Where can we go from here? What do you want in an original quest, if you want original quests? Why do you read quests? What draws you in? What did you dislike most of this essay? At a certain point, what is the comparison between a fanfic quest and an original quest? Share your thoughts.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2016
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  2. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    Revisions and Better Quest Statistics

    When I first wrote "Analysis of Original Quests on SV", my methodology was admittedly quite poor. I had taken an extremely conservative estimate of the whole breadth of original quests on Sufficient Velocity, with the quest prefix only accounting for what I thought at the time was about half or two-thirds of all original quests. However, today I made a comprehensive effort to prefix and tag every single original quest on Sufficient Velocity. Although a number have likely fallen through the gaps, this is a much more likely accurate number. The findings are far less optimistic than the original ones, though I had some suspicious this was the case even when I originally wrote it.

    First of all, original quests actually make almost exactly 10% of all quests, with give or take 300 original quests to about 3000 quests in total. This is a good thing for the simple fact that it shows that quests have a larger pool of authors than I suspected.

    The problems, however, are much more gaping. Recall that I originally noted that original quests constituted 8 out of 150, or 5.3%, of the 150 most viewed quests. At the time I took this as optimistic, with quests being proportional or over-represented among the most popular quests. However, now the figures look far worse. Instead of a similar proportion of popular original quests to the overall amount of original quests, original quests are 50% under-represented among the most popular quests. When you remove Amber Age and Battle Harem Quest, which are both outliers with massively higher view-counts than the other 6, then the number is even more lop-sided. Without outliers, original quests are 60% under-represented among the most popular quests.

    This is a problem, but what exactly skews the ratio?

    Stillborn Original Quests

    45 out of prefixed original quests do not make it past their first page. That is 15%.

    169 of all prefixed original quests are less than five pages. However, some of these are active, which is important to note. 139 of these quests have had no posts in the last month and can be declared dead or at the very least on hiatus (most of these have not had posts for months). 46% of all original quests do not make it to the fifth page.

    Out of context, these numbers mean nothing, though. Is this a disproportionately high number, or is it similar for non-original quest?

    No, it is not. About 301 of all threads in the quest section do not make it past one page. However, it is important to note that some of these are original quests without a prefix, and a significant amount are sourcethreads and informational appendices to longer-running quests. This could be as much as 20-30% of all one-page non-original quest threads.

    By comparison, the number of sourcebook threads for original quests is fairly low because many original quests do not use a large amount of mechanics. Without taking these into account, 11.1% of all non-quest threads do not leave the first page. Assuming that 30% of these are sourcethreads, then the number of quests that are not original that do not pass the first page are about 8%.

    Note that I could very well be low-balling the estimate of source-threads; it's hard to tell without better data that is better to reach, and there is also the possibility of some original quests that have not been tagged. But this only further confirms the trend- original quests are more likely, on average, to die within the first page.

    How about not reaching the fifth page? 558 of all threads that are not marked original in the quest forum do not reach the fifth page but do pass the first page. Of these, however, many are actually currently active, and there is also the active 30% of those that do not pass the first page that are sourcethreads. We are not going to take activity into account because you don't pay me anything, but we can take the estimated 90 source-threads.

    20.6% of all non-original quest threads are less than five pages but more than one page. Adding on those that are, we get the number of 31.8%. Removing sourcethreads, we get 29.4% of all quests not reaching the fifth page. This does not taking into account threads that are less than five pages but are active.

    Assuming similar activity levels to original quests (it is likely higher based on the trends we have observed) then ~18% of these quests are active. If 18% of these quests are active (about 138 threads out of 769) then 24.1% of all non-original quests do not reach the fifth page.

    This is a stark difference. It is quite significant, and seems to stay stable; ~53% more original quests than non-original quests die on the first page, and ~47% more original quests die before they reach the fifth page than non-original quests. A similar trend can be seen at the highest levels. That is, Original quests are half as represented as they should be in the top 150 most popular quest threads considering the amount of them.

    Trends in Original Quest Popularity

    Let's take the 30 most popular original quests and plot them on a graph. Why? Fuck you.

    Figures 1.1 and 1.2
    [​IMG]

    What can we learn from this? Especially after the outliers are removed, original quests seem to proceed in steps. Quests 1-2 are grouped, quests 3-6 are grouped, quest 7 is a bit of an outlier, quests 8-12 are grouped (for the second graph, add +2 for absolute quest values to count the outliers).

    What about the trends for the thirty most popular quests overall, discounting original quests? (so in this case, amber age and Battle Harem).

    Figure 2.1 and 2.2

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The outlier in this case is Firnangzen's PMMM quest.

    What can we learn from this data? You decide! Partially because I'm tired and partially because it's hard to come to conclusions. The graphs don't actually seem outwardly different; the only thing are the outliers of Battle Harem and Amber Age which are dramatically greater in terms of how they influence the graph than Firnangzen's PMMM quest. Obviously the data cannot be used for much else than the shape, really, because the smaller amount of original quests means that it's hard to form conclusions. You'd need about 10 times more data for non-original quests, and I'm not interested in doing that if it's not for money.

    Remarks on Methodology and Conclusions

    To be frank, my methodology was pretty bad. It was shit to begin with, and it's gotten better, but it's still bad. The reason is that for many parts, estimates are used in order to determine things which are incredibly difficult to manually collect. What would make my job easier? For starters, the ability to filter out for certain prefixes would be great. Another thing would be the ability to combine several functions of organization at once. I'd like to see what quests are below five pages and have not been posted in for a month. These sorts of things would be purely for analysis of data- they wouldn't help the average user that much. In any case, my figures are very rough and should be taken with a pinch of salt. In general, you should assume about a ~5-10% margin of error for the major figures (amount of quests both original and non- which have not passed the first page and reached the five page) which could render these results less significant, but still significant.

    Now let's talk about what this tells us. From the very beginning to the very end, there is a systematic bias against original quests. Wow, what a conclusion. Couldn't have figured that out, dang. However, the more important thing is that ~61% of all original quests fall through the cracks and do not reach their fifth page. By comparison, about ~24.1% of all non-original quests do not reach the fifth page. This is a painful and glaring difference. This is the great gap that original quests must breach.

    Well. Maybe. However, we have to consider why this is, and it can't be all popularity. Although it's quite clear that original quests do not at all compare in popularity to non-original threads even on a proportional basis, there are deeper reasons. Making an original world takes time and careful planning. Many people have neither. I want to note especially that even though we do want to foster original quests, not all original quests are good. Some are really bad and it shows why they died on their first page. However, even with that in mind, the amount that die tells me that it's not a simple matter of bad planning. Half-baked ideas can be developed through the story, and this is less bad in quests than in user fiction because quests can't plot ahead too much anyhow. I know that I actively shift around details of my world even if I have a vague idea of where we're going.

    New original quests need support. The support that they need is three-fold. They need writing support. There needs to be guides out there for the enterprising quester- people need to know where to start. Often people have ~1-2 or even three or four quests that die quickly because they have no idea what to do. I didn't know what to when I started out. Writing tips can be extremely helpful. How do you write good decisions? How do you plot things out when your voters can change things? How do you develop the background world in an original quest? How do you optimize the amount of players you get without turning your quest into a skinner box? How do you turn your quest into a skinner box? All of these would be instrumental to a new quester and would improve the quality of both original and fanwork quests if they are written well and are visible to anyone who needs them. This type of support would be essential to SLMOQs, or Serial Low Mechanic Original Quests, and low mechanic quests in general.

    They also need mechanical support. Every single bloody quest has its own mechanics and ruleset. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it isn't. It would be extremely useful if for certain types of quests, there were rulesets or basic things that could be adapted to anything you want, rather like GURPS. This isn't exactly an easy thing, though. It would help if people who have experience in this like @open_sketch, @Eukie, and others who have played around with rulesets either in the quest subforum or more generally. Some quests for example use a "CK2" system which vaguely adapts from Crusader Kings 2, but there is no standard for this. Ideally, what we want are mechanical standards that provide frameworks rather than overall guidelines. However, this is nearly impossible to do well. Education may be better than making an entire ruleset. Guides can also assist in this, to teach new QMs the best way to use mechanics in your quests. Natural selection will weed out quests that are all mechanics and no fun anyways, of course, but the last thing we want is a massive bubble of shitty mechanical quests that teach beginners that it's the only thing there is. Mechanical support is more useful for some quests than others- this is the kind of thing that can greatly help empire-builder quests.

    Finally, they need visibility support. Original quests need people to read them or they will die. A recommendation can bolster a fledgling quest- original quests especially can suffer from author demoralization due to low visibility. This is where all of the recommended types of visibility support can kick in. Things like popular original quest authors reaching out and recommending original quest authors who aren't doing as well, staff picks, rotational staff stickies of particularly unique quests (perhaps keep them stickied for a week and then swap them out! That alone would bring huge views. One sticky a week would prevent over-saturation). In addition to the stickies, you could also have a more general staff pick thread. Things that might not be worth a sticky but you'd like to plug anyways. Who knows! That kind of thing would also be hugely helpful depending on where it was. A link to the thread, and a staff rec of the fic would be hugely powerful. I have already tagged every single original quest I could find, and the shiny prefix is also quite useful.

    The only question here would of course be who decides what a staff pick is. I dunno! It might be the directors, because a voting process would be pretty cumbersome. I think that taken together, these things would help at every single level of quest development. Mechanical support can help for quests that want to focus heavily on mechanics, writing can help for everything but especially for low-mechanic quests, and visibility is the most obvious and powerful leverage that the staff possess in order to promote original quests.

    I therefore propose that we name this system of original quest improvement the Trillium Path for Creative Blooming. By my projections, original quest output will increase 3000% if we accept this plan. In order to implement it, I need about 40$ a day in my paypal, please send to Lagos, Nigeria.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
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  3. Zephyrus

    Zephyrus Endlessly Tilting Windmills

    Location:
    Kentucky
    I don't even do Quests but I found this informative.

    I'm not sure why you have all this time on your hands but I'm sure the questers appreciate it! :V

    Have a like, sir. You deserve many for your hard work.
     
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  4. Sayle

    Sayle

    Location:
    Atalantë
    This actually hit on some points that I consider very insightful (and inciteful?) to what make quests popular. I am filled with determination to integrate a skinner box into all my quests! From now on every like on an update will act as a modifier to the dice rolls in - ow - ow! Cetashwayo, stop hitting me!
     
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  5. On heavy mechanics being effective...I think that's one of the problems actually, mechanics are a great way to get people hooked, but without being obscured or simplified at least initially, by good looking bait, nobody's going to bite down on the big scary hook.

    Amber Age makes one example. Initial updates were fairly mechanics light. You had enough resources to take one action, maybe two, then it scales up gradually as the PC grows in power and picks up more options, until the present day, where there's only about 3-4 people who actually know the mechanics enough to write an effective turn vote(and about as many who THINK they got this, but make major mistakes/assumptions/oversights)....which actually helps at that sheer number of participants, because instead of trying to make sense of a dozen voices, you only need to pick between a handful, sometimes two.

    At the same time, that also makes it fragile. Take out the four most prolific posters in the thread due to RL emergencies and I dare say it's going to be most of a day before someone tries to figure out what the heck is going on.

    It's a case of one, but you see the same thing happen a lot with other quests with complex votes or mechanics, where a small number of people manage creating the vote blocks based on prevailing thread opinions, whether fanfiction or original. Usually these people were there from the start, or at least, before the complexity exploded, and picked up the mechanics gradually.

    People faced with a wall of mechanics from the start on the other hand, tend to stand around awkwardly waiting for someone to make the first move. :V
     
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  6. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    Note: I am pretty unhappy about my overview of Enoch so I will be modifying it quite a bit.
     
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  7. Namer

    Namer Under scarlet skies

    That's an incredible analysis. Kudos to you.

    I do wonder exactly what it is that draws questers towards mechanics-based quests in the first place. Is it the feeling of 'hard numbers going up' over a obscure progression of story that has an undefined ending? Is it an obsession over "I want this character to level up his swordfighting to 100/Legendary", to get that feeling of achievement? Or just the idea behind it, that mechanics and dice make the story unpredictable to a level the QM can't predict? That if you're voting on a story with simple options, chances are the QM's already determined where each option leads, but when you introduce mechanics and dice suddenly nobody has an idea (except for vague directions) of where the plot is going.

    I'm not certain if you should've used Terrence Spire in your statistics. For one, it's probably the most unique quest on the forum: pretty much the only 'Art' Quest we have. Second: it's got personally recced by Squishy and instantly got a massive boom in viewership: something few other quests have enjoyed.

    Finally, I can look at my own quest and definitively tell why it's viewership was much lower than I expected (particularly considering my other quest's my first and it's doing pretty well) (damnit, Cetash, why do you have to remind me and make me feel guilty?). It hit the second and third snags you've mentioned Original Quests hitting (it doesn't hit the first because I actually stopped writing it for a different reason, which is just accentuated by the lack of popularity).

    Still, now I know what to do and not do.
     
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  8. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    I note this, actually. Battle Harem also was stickied for months. However, my analysis of art quests (there are other art quests, look at Brom's!) also extends to tgchan which is almost all art quests.

    I'm actually kind of miffed about some of my original analysis- it's very broad strokes, too general and too specific in some places, and tends to assign too much power to mechanics and skinner boxes over other aspects. But I'm keeping it anyways because it's okay as it is. I'll write another revision to add some more info.

    Specifically, this revision will focus on

    1) update speed (something mentioned but not given its own category)
    2) the role of choice (good choices increase turnout, talking about the problem of quests that shouldn't be quests)
    3) consistency (both writing consistency and perseverance)
    4) easing players in and hooks (e.g the hook of hedge maze is you're literally a maze, hook of battle harem is you're a side character in a harem anime...)
    5) other factors

    I think that genre awareness, mechanics, and skinner boxes are important but they were somewhat over-emphasized in the original essay, and it's telling that in the second essay I barely mentioned them, focusing instead on pure numbers.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
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  9. Salbazier

    Salbazier ....

    That's explains a lot.
    You, you evil. I want to play more boat-crushing. :(
    ... not for me.

    edit: It occured to me that you have gone from writing essay about the wars of raiding horse-archers into writing essay about the chaotic battlefield of quest-goers.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
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  10. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    See this:

    I think I do a disservice to good writing and good hooks. All the mechanics in the world can't save a badly thought out quest.

    Naval stuff is cool! I will keep naval battles to some extent. It's fun stuff!
     
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  11. FBH

    FBH Write drunk. Edit Hungover

    Mechanics is also a problem depending on what type of quest you want to run.

    I don't really think Marca Estrella would work with strong mechanics, or at least, I'm not sure what they'd be.
     
  12. There's the space voudou quest (Sevis Loa) that's pretty art though.
     
  13. Private Lee O'Malley

    Private Lee O'Malley Head Puns = -10 to Next Roll Councillor

    Location:
    Japan
    Can't say much but other than that I appreciate your work. Keep it up!

    (Maybe mention how ads help too? Or hell sticky this thread to the quest page.)
     
  14. An element of it is the illusion of control and direction granted by the mechanics. You feel like you know how things work, how you can plan for the long term and the mid term, so it's easier to get invested into shaping the mechanics in a particular direction to a quantifiable goal.

    Unlike looser goals, BECAUSE it's relatively rigid and predictable, groups of people find it easier to share goals, and work together for it, so they get hooked and invested into yelling at all the people with the obviously inferior goals as they get progress towards the goal(provided you don't actually give it to them anyway), they rage and delight at the turns and whimsies of the dice frustrating them JUST enough to make them try harder.
     
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  15. Something to note, is that Enoch isn't an outlier. At least for Rihaku. All of his quests run like this.

    He has a high level of technical writing and is good at overcoming the context gorge. Add in that he's turned the skinner box into a goddamn art form, and you get a very active playerbase following him from quest to quest.
     
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  16. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
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  17. I wouldn't be surprised if this was at least partially explained by the existence of snippet/discussion threads for established fandoms. If you have the start of an idea in an established 'verse, you can post it there - and those sequences of snippets that start getting steam often spin off into their own threads. In contrast, if you want to write in an original universe, there aren't any "incubator" threads which conveniently separate the good from the bad even before anything is posted.

    I'm not at all certain of your conclusion here. Honestly, I'd expect if you took random data and ordered it, you'd see the same sort of "separation" strictly by chance.
     
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  18. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    I honestly have no idea what the data means here. I wanted to take some graphs because they're cool as heck and admitted as much. :V

    I think the quantitative gap between some of the groups is based on random chance rather than any significant thing.

    Original - Original Quest Community Exchange

    I just posted one with the same thoughts!
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
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  19. Namer

    Namer Under scarlet skies

    True, but Battle Harem was already a well known quest with a particularly huge and dedicated fanbase (which allowed it to win the contest and get stickied). But on a thorough reread, I get your point.
     
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  20. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    I think it's important to keep in mind that

    1. In the questing community, SV, SB and QQ are outliers
    2. Some of the most popular quests ever, like of all time are art quests
    3. Art quests have a fairly high volume across many different forums (MSPFA and TGchan for the most notable examples) and are predominantly original.

    Ergo, art quests are predominantly original.
     
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  21. vali

    vali

    Location:
    A Library
    Interesting analysis, although I think you should have focused more on the context establishment issue rather than how to use mechanics as a skinner box. Established worlds come pre-packaged with allies, antagonists, and plot hooks that are familiar to the reader, and advertise the sort of content one can expect them to contain. This is a huge advantage that is not easily overcome.

    The very, very best skinner-box style quest, in my opinion, is Hyposoc's Polyhistor quest on QQ. There, if you write an omake, he doesn't just give you xp. He lets you vote on what you want, something like;

    (User) may choose one of the following bonuses:
    [ ] +1d5 Max Willpower
    [ ] 25% chance to learn Dakka
    [ ] 50% chance to gain MOAR DAKKA
    [ ] 1% chance to learn Enough Dakka

    The result is that writing omakes becomes actual gambling, ESPECIALLY since you have no idea what sort of skill "Enough Dakka" might result in. Multiple users attested that they were writing omakes just because they wanted to see what the skills Hyposoc offered would do. It also means that Hyposoc could tempt people with really, really good omake rewards, but stick them behind a 1% chance of success, with the result that the quest remained balanced. He even offered meta-omake bonuses that improved your omake rewards to posters whose omakes he felt were consistently high-quality. I would highly recommend that all quest authors consider using something like this system.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
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  22. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    I totally agree. I think that Skinner's ghost came back to haunt me- behaviorism is a very attractive theory because of how much it purports to explain.
     
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  23. vali

    vali

    Location:
    A Library
    My current solution to the context establishment problem is to use original characters in established worlds. So my current quest is set in the Exalted tabletop setting, which gives me all the advantages of an established world. But all the characters are original, the majority of the nations the players can expect to interact with are original, many of the magical powers on offer are original, and I've thrown out the rulebook Exalted uses to resolve conflicts and substituted my own. The result is a hybrid that I personally feel is both original enough to suit my need for novelty, while still retaining enough familiar elements to hook in readers.

    In my past work, I mashed two familiar settings together in a crossover, and contrasted the two settings against each other in order to bring familiar setting elements into new light. Both Exalted and Naruto are inspired by Wuxia, meaning they contain magical ninjas with superpowers, which allowed me to substitute various abilities, antagonists and setting elements from either setting into the resulting crossover. So the various charka beasts in Naruto were replaced with Yozi's, and bloodline abilities became dragon-blooded caste abilities, and so on and so forth. The idea was originally inspired by the way rap artists sample each other. By taking the familiar, and then setting it into a new context, you can create something that is more than the sum of its parts.

    Of course, the above two example will not help you in instituting new policies for encouraging original work. They're just examples of how I, as a hobbyist author, have attempted to have my cake and eat it too. Because I have written original works, multiple novels of 100k words, and literally no one made it past chapter 10. I'm serious; the site I was posting to showed the viewcount, and not a single person made it to chapter 11. To be fair, that was a decade ago, and I sucked at writing. But still. Context Establishment is huge.
     
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  24. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Location:
    Across the Horizon
    I actually haven't even touched on the issues of original fiction, though as I understand there's a comprehensive survey in the works there. Whatever the problems of original quests, original fiction has it way worse. The most successful original fiction work that has been stickied for almost a year has about 9,000 views. This is lower than even mid-level original quests.
     
  25. Ralson

    Ralson Horrible Cat

    If it wasn't for Homestuck, I'd say SB/SV/QQ have gotten big enough to stop being outliers due to sheer volume. I talk about tgchan a lot because I like the place, warts and all, and because it has unique properties useful for comparison, but SV has a much larger user base.

    Homestuck, of course, bestrides the world like a colossus in terms of popularity, bigger than everything else put together many times over, and we petty men walk under its huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable threads. It also stopped being a quest early on, so I'm not sure if it's inside our scope. (Also, Andrew Hussie is some kind of insane genius and you can't plan around those :V) Homestuck also throws off the averages because it spawned a lot of fan art quests. More than literally any other thing. I have a few theories why.


    One aspect of art quests that I think you miss is that originality is tied into the act of creation. It's not just a technique you can use to convey ides.

    Wow, that sounded pretentious. Let me start over.

    Hey, you know what's hard? Character design. Characters in visual media need to be designed or redesigned to fit the medium. Illustrations have different requirements from comics which have different requirements from animation. When you need to draw something over and over, you need to optimize it, and that's when you have professional animators. When you are instead Some Guy With A Tablet, you need to plan around your limitations. Do you have any idea how much harder it is to draw a space marine than it is to write 'space marine'?

    When I type 'space marine,' you know what I'm talking about. Even if you don't, you can google that shit. I've packed a lot of meaning into a few key presses. You're piggybacking off a wealth of material which has filled the reader with semantic meaning.

    If you're drawing, though, it stops being a benefit. Suddenly, all that semantic meaning becomes standards for you to meet. If you're running a comedy, you can just doodle an angryfaced helmet and huge shoulders and megaman feet and you're good to go. If you aren't, then you want to draw your space marines as legit as possible, which is a huge fucking pain in the ass because they have details everywhere, and the details don't follow the way your hand wants to draw them because you didn't make them up.

    But you know what you did make up? Stuff you made up. :V

    It's tough to get good (or even "good") at drawing without getting in touch with your personal sense of aesthetics. By the time you're ready to draw the same space marine twice, I can pretty much guarantee you've got alternative ideas in mind.


    edit: The majority of non-original art quests I've seen have been based on other art quests, or similar web-original properties. Most of these have been about Homestuck, but even disregarding those, it holds true. It's weird, but makes sense, if you think about it:
    -The character designs are already suitable for quest art, by necessity
    -The setting and tropes are compatible with quest mechanics, by necessity
    -You read a quest and go "oh man, if I was running this, I'd do it like X and Y," so you just go ahead and do it
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
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