Let's start with the obvious question: Why did it fail? At the highest level, it failed because Ms. Lady and I wound up falling for the game. That meant that instead of treating all of our characters as disposable, we elevated them to their normal status of importance, and thus some of the vigor went out of the project almost instantly. This, for the record, is why I say that the project both failed and did so in the best way possible. I'm not going to complain about finding out that I actually enjoyed this game and the characters therein.
However, this was not the sole reason the project failed. A big part of that was simply that we didn't have enough time.
The initial timespan for the RIFT project was a month. That certainly seemed like enough time to tell an interesting story, and perhaps if we had a dozen people all walking in at the same time, it would have worked... but even then it might not have. The story developed, but about a month in, we're finally approaching the fun part, especially with some of Kawena's recent actions. Character interplay takes a while to really sink in, and in this case, asking for it to all come together in a month was too much too fast.
Even if we'd been free to make huge changes to our characters, we didn't have the time to work up to that, not unless we had dived in with a planned arc ahead of time, and then it would have ceased to be roleplaying and started being mildly interactive theater. Maybe two months would work... but maybe not.
Another mixed blessing was choosing to use no imported characters. Ms. Lady and I have a lot of stock characters, as I mentioned before, and some of these characters have very well-worn interactions. Part of the fun we've had in Star Wars: The Old Republic has been turning these characters and their relationships into a very different configuration, with the same core traits but very altered circumstances. I wanted us to cut the cord for this project, both to inspire more creativity and to avoid a sense of not wanting to kill one beloved character or another.
The upside was that we accomplished those goals. The downside, however, was that we didn't have years of emotional investment in these characters. There's minimal investment needed to set up a familiar conflict between familiar characters, but new characters are going to pull in very different directions, not to mention that we've had to feel out a new cast step by step, which is not an unpleasant process but is nevertheless a difficult one.
Oh, and we've had to learn the game as we went, which was another layer of complication. Admittedly, the learning curve is pretty shallow, since it's basically World of Warcraft with some better design choices and a few licks of paint, but there are still new concepts and elements that require adaptation. The system familiarity helped, but it didn't fix everything.
Last, and probably least, is the simple fact that it's hard to make huge changes to a character layout without the whole thing starting to feel like a soap opera. It's not that we couldn't have our characters end each night with a Shocking Revelation, but eventually, the repeated application loses shock value. It would have made the story go nice and quickly, but it would have felt silly in other ways.
So while we weren't doing well with the whole falling for the game thing, problems would have existed anyway. Ultimately, it just didn't quite work.
Could this sort of project work? Probably, but I'm not certain. You'd definitely need to have more people involved from the start and quite possibly have a conclusion or a timetable leading up to something. Even then, I find myself thinking that a month is just too little time to really build up a new cast of characters and get invested. It's a good amount of time to see whether you want to keep playing an MMO, but it's not enough time to really start and stop roleplaying. Luckily, there are a lot of MMOs out there that are free-to-play, like nearly all of them, so you aren't quite that limited in your timespan.
But ultimately, the RIFT project ended in failure. It's probably a better failure than the desired success, but fail is fail. Hope you enjoyed the ride along the way! If you did -- or didn't -- feel free to tell me in the comments below or by mail to email@example.com. Next week, it's time to discuss how to break into roleplaying if you've never tried it before.
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.