This is not about Chaos; I'm actively trying to avoid even thinking about Chaos. This is drawing from whole other sets of experience.
We've all dabbled in play-by-post (PbP) forum RP off Chaos, in this setting or that. Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Zelda, Redwall -- the play-by-post world is huge. The vast majority of it, though, is made up of boards that just plain fail to get off the ground. Often, that's because people try to draw from their existing friend bases, and they and their existing friend bases generally have other things to do (like RP on Chaos). That's natural, that's normal, there's nothing really wrong with that, and that's not what I'm pondering right now.
See, I've watched a LOT of boards rise and fall in the last thirteen years, and not all of those failures were because Chaos was out there drawing people back in to the largest and most dynamic PbP RP site I've ever seen. A lot of those failures were because of other factors. If any of you have forum-running aspirations, buckle up. These are the land mines. Well, no, I should say obstacles -- most of these things aren't deliberately harmful or directly associated with drama. What they generally do is sap interest until a board bleeds out, or puts it in the shade until it just goes away, not with a bang but a whimper.
- Character approval and faction membership approval
Generally, unless there's an existing link already, like through mutual friends, a forum has one
chance to hook a new member. Character approval and faction membership approval kill that dead. Say I go to join a new forum that looks interesting. I love the graphics, I love the setting, I love the ruleset, whatever. I make my character, I want to start RPing right away. Instead I have to come back in two hours or two days to check if a staffer has approved my character. Then maybe I have to do the same to get into a faction, or maybe I have to change something in my bio. 'But we're just a small community -- we'll get to you right away! We know you, we'll stamp you right away!' Yeah, maybe that cuts days to hours, or maybe you actually will stamp me right away, but what about every other potential board member that's been put off by your character approval process? People who don't have the benefit of the board owners' Skype handle? They just plain won't join, and the board will die.
- Arbitrary standards vs rules written in blood
'I want my board just so. I think extinct/rare species X makes sense, but not extinct/rare species Y. Why? Because I like it that way. No, they don't have any practical advantage over each other, one's not more powerful than the other, why do you ask?' Classic example: an Elder Scrolls board with elves. Elder Scrolls has like fifteen kinds of extinct or rare elves, and incautious staff can just plain set an arbitrary standard from the get-go. Not only isn't that fair to some players, it projects the impression of an arbitrary, high-handed staff. Immensely off-putting. If you're going to ban things, ban them because they got abused.
Staff accounts with the usernames of gods. Problems with this: The impression that no matter what you as a member do, you'll never be allowed to talk back or gain a position of responsibility. 'Oh, if we make you staff, you can just create your own account with a god name!' No. For one thing, it's about a perception of intrinsic rather than acquired elitism. For another, we identify with our accounts, maybe more than we'd like. That's saying the identity I've grown comfortable with isn't good enough and has to be rejected. All angst aside, that fundamentally means that the new staff account is a new alt, with all a new alt's chances for failure or disinterest.
- All factions owned/controlled by staff
What do you mean, I can't be a Gondorian knight or a Dark Brotherhood assassin without approval from the staffer who controls Gondor or the Brotherhood? Guess anything I achieve will still exist in the context of that power structure. Fundamentally, there are three kinds of faction-related motive: Creation, competition, and ambition. This setup allows for competition (though if only staff/leaders are calling the shots on hostilities, competition starts feeling pointless), but absolutely neuters creation and ambition.
The password-protected 18+ forum? The hidden forum that allows discussion of religion and politics? The subforums that nobody knows about? The alternate board where anything goes? Absolute death to a board. These places invariably breed elitism and resentment, not to mention all the other potential complications, and the last thing a forum needs is one more reason to be divided.
This is a big one, maybe the biggest. Ten, twenty IC forums broken down by location means your visible activity gets split ten, twenty ways. Even moderately successful little boards wind up looking like pretty ghost towns with no posts in the last few weeks. You need an immense board like Aelyria to make this practical (and Aelyria has its own massive problems). For anything small or midsize, IC forum subdivision spells death. 2-3 IC forums, tops. The Public/Private divide is a good one; not the only way to do it, but one of the best. But separate forums for every continent, country, and capital city? None of those will ever get used.
This is another one that Chaos does well these days, but like I said, I'm not talking about Chaos. I'm talking about boards with rules in five different places, economies, leveling up, point systems, skill systems, money tracking, strict timelines...I take one look at that and I'm gone. Which is sort of the point of some places' very steep learning curves -- exclusion. 'I just want a nice little place for me and my friends, set up just the way we like it.' Yeah. You'll spend your days alone on a pretty, empty forum - no community growth, no new friendships, just stagnation and waste.
- The alternate franchise subforum
I spent a decade on a good little Star Wars board. It had its problems, some of them insurmountable, but the beginning of the end was the creation of a superhero subforum. It sapped life from the existing community, and created new power struggles and rule conflicts overnight. It's like half the community running off to another community, except instead of getting drawn back to the big one, they're always faced with the alternative, because it's right there in front of them. It's entrenching the competition. Never goes well.
Again, I'm not talking about Chaos.