In honor of the 2017 Downed Dog Kicking Playoffs, I thought it might be prudent to take a look at exactly what kills a faction. As usual, I'm drawing largely from personal experience and observation, and for the sake of casting as wide a net as possible, I'm going to have to rely on generalizations rather than specific examples.
There are a number of different factors that contribute to the death of once mighty factions. Entropy comes for us all in the end, and no one can escape it in the long run. For the sake of this discussion, we're going to divide the factors that lead to a faction's death into two categories: internal and external.
Internal factors come from within the faction's own ranks. It is impossible for a large group of people in a competitive environment to agree on everything all the time. From the word go, each and every faction contains within it the seeds of its own demise. The job of an admin team is to keep them from sprouting as long as possible. From the outside looking in, internal factors might not be easily visible to the casual observer, but it's often the case that the factions that look healthiest from the outside are heavily infested with internal rot. Let's take a look at some of the more common factors.
Boredom- Let's face it, we all get bored with things from time to time. Though most people find comfort within the familiar and the routine, there's a fine line between chaos, stability and stagnation, and no one can walk it forever. Faction admin teams are expected to keep people interested, whether through faction storylines, campaigns, or even maintaining a lively OOC chat. This is a herculean task, one that consumes a tremendous amount of time and effort. Admin teams can save themselves some pain by outsourcing to their playerbase, but that carries with it its own risks. At some point, either the admin either burn out or lose interest. Unless they step down or are ousted in a timely manner, the faction's days are numbered.
Chaos- On the opposite end of the spectrum, we've got chaos. Humans like the idea of change far more than we like it in practice. Radical shifts in faction direction are almost always divisive. A skilled admin team can often steer their faction through the troubled waters that result, but without a firm hand and clear direction, the end result is pure, unmitigated chaos. Players become frustrated and either lose interest or threaten mutiny. Admin owners get tired of putting out fire after fire. After a while, the faction either explodes violently or dissolves quietly. Either way, bad feelings are common.
Poor Leadership- This, perhaps more than any other internal factor, is an absolute death sentence for a faction. You can look at most of the dead major factions on any given board and point to the exact moment when things first went to hell. That moment is when someone seizes power and has no idea what the hell they're doing with it. Or maybe they do have a clue, but lack the popular support. Even good leaders can let their faction down through inattention. Either way, whatever problems the faction already had, a bad leadership team will almost always exacerbate them. If the bad leadership is ousted quickly enough, it's possible to save the faction, but the window is so small that it almost never happens. It's also worth noting that you'll rarely see a sudden nosedive in the quality of an admin team, but rather a gradual decline as each successive team gets worse and worse as the more talented players jump ship.
Power Struggle- Often the result of poor leadership, a power struggle almost never works out in the best interest of the faction in the long run. When two strong personalities collide, people naturally take sides. This often results in the faction subdividing into cliques. Everyone might come together when an external enemy presents itself, but the rest of the time, they're too busy trying to backstab each other to really focus on the faction as a whole. When the conflict comes to a head, if one side is able to claim a decisive victory, they almost always boot the losers. While this is a great way to ensure loyalty, it can cut a faction's playerbase in half overnight. Even if they're judicious with their cuts, there's usually enough residual salt to set the stage for the next conflict. It's not uncommon to see the losing side carry that grudge to other factions, where they can work to undercut the victors from outside. Poor leaders have a tendency to create power struggles where there previously were none through paranoia. If they suspect a popular player is making a play for power, they'll often try to limit that player's influence, and their hamfisted tactics naturally cause people to rally around their target, thus creating the thing they were afraid of in the first place.
Failure- Nothing breeds success like success, but by the same token, failure has a way of becoming a habit. Now, this can be something that applies to invasions, and to be sure, there's nothing that will drive morale through the floor more quickly than a string of losses. But as often as not, failure to achieve more mundane goals will do it too. Consistently failing to complete dominions, faction storylines that fizzle out, all of these contribute to the downfall of a faction. Failure is usually the culmination of a number of different problems rather than a cause all by itself. In the majority of invasions, the losing side defeats itself. Poor coordination, OOC saltiness, and lack of motivation are far more common than overwhelming skill on the part of the opponent. Once a faction tastes defeat, unless they immediately turn around and score a decisive victory, the pattern has been set, and the chances of breaking out of it are slim.
Salt- Sometimes, factions suffocate under the weight of the salt they pile around themselves. You can usually tell within a couple of days just how salty a faction is by sticking your head in their OOC chat. They might spend all their time arguing with each other, or trashing folks not in the room behind their backs. Or maybe they spend all their time fixating on someone, be that an individual or faction, who they think has done them wrong. Excess salinity isn't necessarily a death sentence for a faction, as you'll occasionally see one that seems to thrive off of sheer spite. But once they've reached that point, it becomes very difficult to attract new members, as only those who have adapted to life in saltwater stand any chance of survival. It's possible for a faction to subsist on a core of devoted, hardcore haters who live to taste the tears of their chosen target, but that's extremely rare. More often than not, that level of saltiness just drives everyone away, and the faction falls apart.
External factors are, as one might guess from the context, pressures that come from outside the faction's ranks. Unlike internal factors, external ones are rarely powerful enough to kill a faction outright. Rather, they contribute to a faction's demise by compounding internal problems, and amplifying what might otherwise be a minor annoyance into something truly dangerous. Also, external factors are often things that a faction has no control over, and can only mitigate with extreme difficultly.
Reputation- Factions live and die by their reputation. A reputation for being fun and cooperative can ensure a steady supply of fresh recruits and RP with other factions. Most sites have a handful of players who are well regarded by nearly everyone, and everything they touch turns to gold. They're an absolute joy to work with, and even the most curmudgeonly of assholes will grudgingly admit that they like writing with them. On the flip side, a faction with a bad reputation finds it difficult to attract fresh blood, as no one likes to deal with that particular headache. They will often either end up ostracized, to the point that other factions only deal with them when absolutely necessary, or they'll find themselves as targets. Out of all the factors, reputation is the one that's most outside a faction's control. Good factions made of mostly decent writers can end up with a bad reputation simply because they made the wrong enemies. However, it's far more likely that a bad reputation results from being an unmitigated nerf herder. Whatever the case may be, once you get a reputation for powergaming or metagaming or being excessively smug, that sticks with you until the end of time.
Politics- Sometimes, you can do absolutely everything right and still get the shaft simply because you've made the wrong enemies. Maybe you're allied with a faction that's on the receiving end of a stampede, and some of that blows back on you. Maybe you've drawn attention from a hostile faction by making them look bad. Maybe you're just an easy target. Whatever the case may be, once politics have landed you in the crosshairs, your best bet is to bloody your opponent's nose early and hard. Otherwise, you'll just have to hope they get bored before defeat begins to wear your faction down.
Success- No one likes losing. Most winners are, in fact, poor losers. They didn't like getting beat, so they worked hard to get to the point where they don't have to worry about it. But, in a competitive environment, curbstomping your opponents on a regular basis has a way of making everyone hate you. People like painting perpetual winners in a negative light, if only because it makes it easier to cope with the fact that they lost. They'll come up with any excuse to avoid taking the blame for themselves. They'll accuse you of cheating, of poor sportsmanship, of kicking puppies, whatever it takes to shift the blame. And, more importantly, they'll watch for any signs of weakness. No one can win forever, and once they smell blood in the water, it's only a matter of time before the folks who sat and watched your success with hate in their eyes move in to take a bite out of you.
Sabotage- Intentional sabotage of a faction is one of those things that everyone fears despite the fact that it rarely happens. Now, for the sake of discussion, I'm not talking about the fallout of a power struggle, where someone from inside the faction gets booted and does their best to bring it down. I'm talking about people from outside a faction working to undermine it from the inside. External sabotage is rare because it's damned difficult, and it's damned dirty. It's the worst sort of meta tactic. Under the right circumstances, you can play a double agent, but unless you're working with the consent of the target faction, there are few more rapid or potent ways to become universally reviled. This is partly because it really is a super crappy thing to do. Working your way into a faction, building trust OOC, only to pull the rug out from under them at the worst possible moment is an act of base betrayal, and is an extremely grey area when it comes to most site rulesets. But the reason saboteurs are so hated and reviled is because the really good ones are often ridiulously effective. If you can gain the trust of a faction's leadership and work your way into a position of power, you can effectively cripple a faction overnight. Fortunately, the combination of heartless sociopathy, competence, and patience required to pull it off are rare indeed.
Hype Train- So, for whatever reason, you've either pissed someone off, or were just an easy target. Now, the hype train is coming your way. Unless you manage to derail it somehow, either by beating the brakes off your attackers in the opening rounds or by deflecting them onto someone else, you're in for a long, grueling campaign. Expect multiple successive invasions. If the enemy is particularly unscrupulous, expect your name to be dragged through the mud OOC as well. Being on the receiving end of a hype train will strain even the most solid of factions to the breaking point. On the flip side, if you get a hype train rolling and it gets derailed, you run the risk of blowing your faction apart. The usual frustrations from losing are amplified because everyone was expecting an easy victory, and they're all going to look for someone to blame. To follow the train analogy down the tracks a little further, you've got a boiler full of steam built up, and if you crash and burn, you get your very own version of The Wreck of the Old 97.
Now, obviously this list is far from comprehensive. Offhand I could probably list about a hundred different things that have killed factions over the years, up to and including love triangles between faction leadership teams. That said, nearly every faction that has died for whatever reason suffered from a number of these particular maladies. It's extraordinarily rare that any one will do a faction in, but where there's one, there are usually others. If you recognize any of these signs in your faction, it's probably a good idea to do what you can to mitigate them, or, if you're not in a position to do so, jump ship. You'll be a lot happier that way.
As always, my inbox and the comments section are open. And, just like always, comments that go above and beyond the call of duty in the pursuit of extreme stupidity will be deleted. Thanks for reading.