If It’s Not Growing, It’s Shrinking: Nurturing The Game

Last store championship season, I had a chat with a game store owner. He said he wasn’t crash hot on Netrunner at the moment. Said it was hard to move packs. Said it seemed like it was coming to the end of its life cycle.

I don’t know if that last part is even close to true but it scared me. I don’t want Netrunner to ever disappear. It’s the most enjoyable game I’ve ever played and most of you reading this would agree. There’s also no good reason why Netrunner shouldn’t have a player base twice, thrice, four times the size! But let’s set the bar low. Imagine your local active player count increasing by 50%. Imagine what that’d do for the number of SCs, the cool new decks in your meta, the scale of events. Just by bringing inactive/players back into the fold, some areas can double their player count.

Personally, I haven’t been seeing a steady stream of new players into the local nights. Some new players, sure, but on the whole, the trend seems to be that we’re treading water at best. It’s comfortable, to think that if we do nothing more than we are right now, we’ll have enough people for the game to function, for a local meta.  But the idea that our community is holding even is dangerous.

It doesn’t make anyone pro-active in organising, or more vocal. It doesn’t increase our active player count. It doesn’t help us guarantee that Netrunner stays around for a really long time. So consider this a call to action.

Here are some ideas and tools to invigorate your city:

BE VISIBLE AT THE FIRST POINT OF PURCHASE

To help with this, consider printing out a “Hey New Players!” poster and giving it to your local game store. There’s an InDesign template you can download here.

Every person that sells the Netrunner core set should ideally direct new players to the local online organisation hub. On the other hand, it should also be players asking store owners and their staff to do this.

The initiative lies with us to make this happen because:

  • it shows store owners that our community is active
  • they’re probably busy and we’re making their lives easier (so they’ll maybe actually give it a shot)
  • we know what the best place to get in touch with our people is

We benefit by being able to welcome new players into the fold and ensure a positive experience. Stores benefit from people sticking with the game for longer and, therefore, buying more Netrunner stuff (which is, understandably, what determines the health of the game in FFG’s eyes too).

CENTRALISE THE CONVERSATION

…in a Facebook group! Reddit, Stimhack slack, Netrunner Dorks and Twitter have some great conversation but being one new player in a city looking for a game is hard in channels with so much traffic. Having a local scene group helps everyone be heard.

Also, the events function and pinned posts are great for organising.

Actually, to be fair, having an Australian channel on the Stimhack slack has been great. Where you organise doesn’t matter, just so long as every player, new or old, goes to the same place to find out what’s going on.

Discussing counter-strategies for popular decks makes competition less stressful and more accessible for everyone. Netrunner players, less than anyone else I know, hide the contents of their decks, or refuse to help their opponents understand how to defeat them after the game is done. This is AWESOME. By all means bring your secret tech along to the big event, but starting the building process in public stimulates the imaginations of everyone listening.

I’m in a large, active and private Netrunner chat. We realised a few months ago that we were organising to play amongst our friends without reaching out to other people. The problem there being that to the hundreds of people in the Melbourne Netrunner group it might look like the game had died down for a while when the regular meet-ups were still on and people were actually fired up about new cards.

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GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER

Netrunner is like sports. It is possible to talk about Netrunner practically forever. There are so many cards and strategies  and a constantly evolving meta… So if you want to have a conversation with someone in the scene, it’s always possible.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (plz FFG, give us the Berg ICE).

What makes people keep hanging around other people is the feeling like they actually care about them to any positive degree. This is the difference between being strangers on the street and something more. So ask each other about how your day is, how you’ve been, what’s on for the weekend – the usual small talk. We’re all into the same stuff so usually this precipitates into geek outs about the latest cyberpunk film trailer or tabletop games or… rice cookers. My playgroup’s chat is littered with music, food and MMA. It’s the best.

You don’t have to try to be full-on friends (as adults, maintaining quality friendships can be hard). You don’t even have to put in a lot of social energy. Just that baseline continuity when meeting up with each other, and asking about each other’s wellbeing, goes a long way.

It can also mean that when one of you steamrolls the other in a particularly tough game, the rolled person doesn’t feel burned out by half an hour of bad times. It’s a small miracle I came back to the game after  getting Power Shutdown/Accelerated Diagnostics-ed by the *very* loud and self-congratulatory janklord at one of my first meetups. It was an un-interactive experience. It was harsh. So was he. But then I immediately played some other people to whom I still lost but shared some good banter with.

I wasn’t close to anyone’s skill level… but more Netrunner practice with free banter seemed like a good deal.

Relationships are the cornerstone of retention in any scenario. Be friendly and everyone will have a better time.

SPARK THE INTEREST OF HIBERNATING PLAYERS

This one’s kinda tricky. People stop playing for all sorts of reasons. Some of those reasons are pretty good. Some of them aren’t.

We need to help inactive players know that the game’s still being played, still going strong and that they’re still welcome. What that looks like, I don’t know. Maybe it’s being ready to hype the game when it’s good. Flashpoint Cycle has been phenomenal! Maybe it’s organising a bigger than usual event and asking everyone to reach out to people who haven’t played in a while.

The 1.1.1.1 format is ideal for bringing players back into the fold. The restrictions make older card sets more competitive and it gives an incentive to buy that one hot new datapack (here’s looking at you Blood Money). Terminal Directive looks great for this too.

If you have any other suggestions, I’m all ears. Nailing this has huge potential for invigorating a scene.

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A WEEKLY CASUALS NIGHT

When Museum Of History nonsense and Bio-lock were rampant in the Mumbad cycle, casuals kept me playing Netrunner. If you don’t like the top tier competition, casual tier competition still scratches the itch.

We spend a lot of time talking crap with each other. Usually people duck out for a meal at some point, or a drink. People are often content to watch games.  It’s good.  It’s chill.  Some good behaviour I’ve noticed from the casuals crew includes:

  • helping opponents if they seem stressed out in a situation
  • helping them understand the matchup and lines of play afterwards (if they want it)
  • chatting about lots of random stuff
  • letting new people know we’re happy to see them
  • always being happy to play with learners
  • using casual nights to try new stuff – playing new cards is fun

ORGANISE REGULAR, HIGHLY COMPETITIVE (AND FRIENDLY) EVENTS – hard mode

Having an event on the horizon where people feel like they’re really testing their mettle keeps that high-tier competitive mindset alive. You know it’s a strong event if people are prepping for it like they might for a store championships.

Based purely on personal experience, I play more and am more engaged with the community the most if there’s a competition I care about coming up.

This could be a big GNK with a little extra prize support. Good Games Melbourne did one where they gave away a copy of Worlds Of Android and got a strong turnout. Our local drafters are often treated to the custom playmats of photoshop genius Matt West. I remember practising for a month out of a 1.1.1.1 tournament.  Likewise for The Winning Agenda’s team tournament. They also drew me into the game initially with a local Weekly League they ran.

This doesn’t necessarily mean weekly either, though I know GNKs are still great for some stores, and that kind of regular prize support keeps a regular stream of players coming through the doors. The big events need to be there to punctuate the calendar year-round and excite those people who might have to travel a long way to play.

OTHER THOUGHTS

These suggestions won’t be ideal or tenable for everyone, and doing a lot of these things requires going out of your way and being pretty organised. Please take the broad strokes and do whatever works for your current and potential crew.

Good luck and have fun XD

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. lukevanryn says:

    Quality Post Eric! While Games Lab’s !!scorching!! Store Champs were a little too hot to be comfortable, it did leave me hyped to update my Cube for some more drafting post-Quorum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha oooooh! I appreciate how keen you are on the draft mechanics. Will people be gossiping soon about a new Brandon Cube?

      Like

      1. lukevanryn says:

        Totally. I’m keen to do one post-SC season, and maybe one before then if I can squeeze it in. Convos will be had on FB and Slack.

        Like

  2. Tim says:

    Great article mate! I’m a previous player who’s interested in starting to play again, but I’m nervous about investing when people seem to be so down about the state of the game. Do you reckon there’s a strong enough community around Melbourne?

    Like

    1. Hey Tim! Yeah, for sure – there’s a strong enough core contingent in Melbourne that there’ll be games to be had for years yet amongst us. I wrote this more concerned about potential rather than current decline and since this article’s been circulated, a few old faces have come back into the fold too. I’m optimistic though I’ve gotta ask – why did you stop playing for a while?

      Let us know on Facebook if you’re coming in to Games Lab on a Thursday and we’ll bring some extra decks so you can try out the new stuff 😉 The last data pack cycle has been fun and spicy and Terminal Directive looks awesome =D

      Like

      1. Tim says:

        Thanks for replying Eric! I’ll be sure to stop in on a Thursday some time 🙂 I stopped playing because no one in my friendship group was interested in the game, and after playing mtg heavily for years/having a few poor experiences with other players, I was a bit nervous about putting myself out there in a community again. But thanks for the warm welcome, I’ll be sure to stop by the game lab some time soon!

        Like

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