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Article #1: The Extravaganza, the Forums, the Future; First in a series of editorials by the Feature Team
Topic Started: Feb 9 2018, 08:30 AM (1,051 Views)
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Welcome, one and all, to the very first instalment in a new series of FFR activites - the article! This will be a bi-monthly fare, and through these pieces we'll be hoping to explore themes related to the forums, to our fan runs (nuzlockes and Other Adventures alike), and to creativity in general. They will be quite a lot denser than normal features, given that there is going to be a lot to delve into with each editorial - so be warned! We will, however, do our best to make sure each article is an engaging, informative, and even entertaining read.

On top of that, we also hope to facilitate discussion. An article that makes people think, or that promotes and provokes discussion among readers, is a successful article. That is how we look at it, anyway! So strap in, everyone, because I am about to get this ball rolling - in an essay simply titled:


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(Also, due warning, this piece will contain a lot of forum history. I am the forum historienne. You have been duly warned.)


Those of you who have gone to school, will know that an article requires a thesis. I will therefore be using the topic of the Fan Run Extravaganza to argue my thesis - which is, The creative community of the Nuzlocke Forums is currently the strongest it has ever been. That's a contentious claim, I know, and particularly so for the oldies and goldies. Well, if you want to see why I think this, read on!

A Brief History of the Extravaganza
But before I get into the how's and why's, we ought to do a quick rundown on the Extravaganza's history. The Extravaganza was started by lyrical back in 2010, with the first ever batch of results popping up on January 1st, 2011. This first year, it was hardly a rousing success; it was a completely new format, the categories were somewhat confusing and overlapping, and the batch of runs that could be nominated was small compared to later years. However, the event returned in 2011, and this time it saw a lot more activity and enthusiasm. There were more runs, better categories, and more time for the hype to build; the amount of nominations and votes both increased significantly. This trend continued in 2012, and a little bit more so in 2013. Some of the categories that we had back then, but no longer have now, include: Most Creative/Innovative Run, Best Guest Contribution, Worst Wipe, Best Reaction Face, and Best Elite Four Challenge. Some of these were good ideas, while others were less so - and through the years, we slowly worked out a category list that is more concise but also covers more areas.

A notable difference between the Extravaganza then and now, was that until 2014, most categories weren't divided by medium. Many of the categories outright favoured comics - which is only natural, as nuzlockes started with comics, and comics continued to be the dominating medium throughout the years. In fact, outside the Nuzlocke Forums, you will rarely find screenshot nuzlockes, and the communities that cater to written nuzlockers are few and far between (though you will find some of the latter on Archive of our Own and fanfiction.net). Hence, comics have always held most of the cards in the battle for attention, and so the categories ended up reflecting this, both intentionally and unintentionally.

This would change in 2014, when the feature team took over responsibility for the Extravaganza. The categories were split three ways, into Comics, Written Runs and Screenshot Runs. In 2015, categories were also included for miscellaneous runs, runs that did not fit neatly into either of the three main groupings. The Extravaganza took a significant hit to activity in 2014, likely due to confusion over the new format and some additional rules for nomination. Since then, activity has been on a slow decline.

Here is a bar graph to show how nomination and voting activity has changed over the years (nomination posts are in green, vote averages are in red):

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But these are statistics! And as we all know, statistics are prone to telling modified truths. Therefore, we need to unpack them.


Why the Numbers Lie: An Introduction
"Wait", you might be thinking, "if activity is so much on the decline, how can the creative community be the strongest it has ever been?" Well, that's where we get to the centre of the issue. For now, allow me to sum up my arguments in four quick bullet points; I will then expand on them over the next few paragraphs.

  • The voting numbers for the Extravaganza post-medium split are artificially low, or perhaps: The voting numbers pre-split were artificially high,
  • Splitting the mediums into three separate categories has provided more space to grow for each individual medium,
  • The community has grown to be more of a community than it once was,
  • and finally, The loss in activity happens at the fringe of the community, and not at the core.


Let's tackle the first point first, because, well, starting anywhere else would have terrifying implications for our understanding of the systemic order of the universe. I will try to explain all of them as best as I can!

The reason why I say that voting numbers are artificially lower than they used to be, is manifold. First of all is that currently, we have a core of ten categories that is multiplied and spread across multiple mediums. Before 2014, we had a core of about 20 categories, of which only six would be medium-dependent. This means that the community is split in three, each to their own sub-grouping, and as a result we also have the average votes spread out on written-based or screenshot-based categories that get a lot less traffic than their corresponding comic-based counterparts, which drags the average down a fair bit. Worth noting is that prior to 2013, only a handful of non-comic runs ever got through in a category that was not devoted to their medium; a category like Best Protagonist or Best Plot would always be overloaded with comic nominations, leaving almost no room for screenshot runs or storylockes. As a result of this, voting for Funniest Comic Run in 2015 was basically the same experience as voting for Funniest Run in 2012; you would only see comics in either case. In 2013, things were slowly beginning to change; we started to see several screenshot runs and written runs placing in the voting for categories like Best Battle or Saddest Death, and in some cases (five of them, to be exact), they would even get third place.

Of course, in that environment, some people in the written or screenshot communities avoided the then common categories, and possibly the Extravaganza altogether. So to achieve at least some kind of equal representation for the three core mediums in the Extravaganza, the split was practically a necessity. Also, have a look at this comparison of the Best Art Style and Best Comic Run numbers from 2011 and 2015. 2011 was the year after the Extravaganza was established, so everybody knew what it was about and understood the categories; 2015 was the year after the three-way split, so things had likewise had a chance to settle after that. You will also see the results of Best Protagonist from 2011, and Best Screenshot Protagonist from 2015. These were picked randomly. They are, of course, not full indicators of the turnout - but I believe they support my point that the comparative averages of votes by category are skewed far too much for any comparison to be fair.

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The upswing this gave to the non-comic mediums is unfortunately not well represented in the numbers, but a comparison through the years tells us that a lot more non-comic runs are getting exposure through the Extravaganza these days, even though that exposure might be somewhat smaller in scale than before. An important point here is that it's not just the votes that matter: Nominations matter just as much, and a wide pool of entrants is vital to the Extravaganza. Which brings me neatly onto my next contention.


The Growth That Comes From Division
It's hard to argue that splitting the mediums in the Extravaganza hasn't been a great benefit to storylockes and screenshot runs. Whether comics have benefitted likewise, is harder to say, and I will not be going into that topic now - however, suffice to say that they have not benefitted to the same degree. Given that comics were such a dominant force, however, their growth was less necessary than that of the other mediums; instead, what we see now is that the other categories have managed to get a relatively equal footing in this context. While they have smaller numbers of readers, and therefore also nominations and votes, what we have seen since 2014 is that more and more written and screenshot runs are getting recognition through the Extravaganza. As a quick comparison of numbers: in 2013, 5 different storylockers placed in the voting rounds, showing up in half of the 16 categories they were eligible to be nominated for. Likewise, 7 screenshotters showed up in various categories; however, they only placed in a total of 4/16 eligible, meaning that they only placed in two categories that weren't specifically intended for screenshot runs. In 2014, on the other hand, 15 different storylockers showed up across the nine categories they were eligible for; a whopping 20 different screenshotters were in the running. In 2016, 21 storylockers placed across the 10 available categories; 13 screenshotters placed in the categories available to screenshot runs. The latter number is a little down from 2014, but still a large improvement on 2013. These numbers tell us that, even though the mediums have grown a lot more independent from each other, each of them has been able to achieve internal growth through this separation.

Counter-arguments to this certainly exist. For example, even though the category split in the Extravaganza has allowed more runs exposure, it could be suggested that the overall exposure is a lot smaller - Best Writing Style received 178 votes in 2013, for instance, while already in 2014 this number had plummeted to 92. The category has yet to break even 90 votes since. And that's quite a large drop. But the question we need to ask, is this: Were those extra 86 votes cast by people who were active participants in the community around written runs? How many of them had any prior knowledge of the runs they voted for? It is, of course, hard to answer this question definitely. My personal belief, however, is that the majority of them were people with no huge interest in participating in the community surrounding those runs. In 2016, the category got 75 votes; in 2017, it got 77. It has evened out, and a greater percentage of votes are peers of the entrants - rather than guests, or people floating by from other mediums - than was the case before. And a lot of this might be down to the emergence of the forum's community-building projects.

In August of 2016, embep founded the Official Nuzlocke Forums Writing Chat. Imagined as a place for writers to connect not just with each other, but also with people from other mediums, it quickly grew to become a hub for enthusiasts of written runs, and helped to kickstart a community that otherwise had had few chances to connect outside of commenting on each other's stories. This contributed to a dramatic rise in written run performance in the 2016 Extravaganza - from an average of 46.5 votes per category in 2015, it shot up to 67.7 per category in 2016, and then plateaued at 63.4 per category in 2017. Even greater is the increase in nominations - the overall number of nominations for written runs shot up from roughly 450 in 2015 to 593 in 2016, and then even further to 807 in 2017. Voting numbers, and particularly nomination counts, for written runs have multiplied as a result of the more solid community that emerged in the wake of Writechat's founding.

But it is also not the only chat to be founded. The Official SSWL Discord was founded almost a year later, in June 2017, by Bug. Like the Discord for writers, this chat provides community, activities, comment competitions and more to its participants, and has also played a large role in revitalising an ailing screenshot community. Unfortunately, however, this revitalisation came too late to be registered in the Extravaganza - we are only really beginning to see its full effects now, with a new crop of interesting screenshot runs popping up in the time between November and now - to learn more about some of these, check out last Friday's feature! Several comic-based Discords also exist, but none of these are official in any way; however, it seems that the greater Nuzlocke Forums population has realised that networking is a force for good.

To sum up this portion, allow me to tie everything together with an image that I will be describing in the next section of the article.

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Community Cores versus Community Fringes
So, as you may have realised, the number of votes cast each year is dwindling. As are views for the voting and results threads. And naturally, this describes a decline in activity - one that is almost inevitable, for a forum that has been going for nearly nine years and a year-end contest that just finished its eighth iteration. The community is losing members faster than it regains them, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Extravaganza. So, if the Nuzlocke Forums membership is in decline, what can we do to keep this site alive?

Of course, we could start aggressive campaigns on sites like Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr and Archive Of Our Own. We could organise "Bring Your Friends to the Forums" days, and organise patronages, or introduce contests with payment rewards. All of these would likely give us at least a small boost in activity, possibly more. We could work harder to bring in fresh faces, and found a vibrant community where oldies and newbies have space to socialise with each other. Now, this is not to say that we won't do any of those things - a growing community is a good community - but for the purposes of this article, I'm more interested in something else. Something that can never be reflected by the number of votes in the Extravaganza, or by the amount of new members we get every week. But it's reflected in one particular number - and that's the number of nominations in the Extravaganza. You see in the picture above that the only category that really dwindles in nominations is screenshot runs. I won't go too deep into why that is, but suffice to say, the screenshot community has struggled with low activity and a lack of progression for the past two years, a trend that we now hope is turning around. Written runs were in a similar funk in 2015, but turned that on its head in 2016; we believe that screenshot runs will be able to do the same thing in time for the 2018 Extravaganza.

To return to the point: Nomination numbers, on the whole, are not falling. The amount of individual nominations for runs and authors is either staying level, or growing - in fact, for written runs, there has been an explosive growth - which this year put them at nearly two thirds of the nominations received by comics, which is an unprecedented feat. Comics also rose slightly from 2016 to 2017. The amount of people turning up to nominate tends to vary greatly from year to year, but most importantly, the trend is pointing ever so slightly upwards, and we are still far from the low point.

There is an important difference, in terms of how the Extravaganza is constructed, between nominations and votes. A vote is difficult to read - it could be a careful decision based on the voter's balanced knowledge of every run involved; it could be a vote given to a friend as a statement of support; or it could be a guest voicing in with their snap judgement based on only the excerpts provided. In other words, the voter could be anything from a measured connoisseur to a passing onlooker. But a nomination is more definite: A guest doesn't pop in to nominate, but a member of the community does. It takes more time and effort, and most nominators make sure to represent multiple people in their posts. Of course, there's room for both natives and passers-by in the Extravaganza - but the former provide a much more solid insight into the surrounding community. What the steady nomination numbers tell us, is that the community is still very lively, filled with people who care both for the runs that are produced, and the people they are socialising with. In the case of the written run community, the community is downright thriving and growing. Reason enough to be positive and optimistic moving forward, don't you think?

The Things We Couldn't Discuss: A Summary
With this knowledge, we see that when it comes to a community's survival, what really matters is the nominations. The gently falling vote numbers are reflective of the fringes disappearing - meanwhile, the core remains, and continues to develop. Of course, not everyone remains in it - but new members also come to fill the gaps that the departees leave behind. This does not mean that we should get complacent - in fact, the more members we get, the more we ensure our long-term survival. I also encourage people to be active, to be creative, and to be social; I think one thing we all can agree on, is that we want a community that continues to be open and supportive. And the existence of chats like the writing and screenshot Discords, suggests that people also want to work at their craft - and improve as storytellers, artists, and content creators.

Which leads me to my final point. I haven't touched much upon the actual content that is created on the forums. This is intentional; any sort of in-depth analysis would likely take years to complete, and the resulting information would be so dense and non-streamlined that it would make even this article seem understated. So instead, I will leave you with some of my own observations, as someone who has been part of the content-creating community through seven Extravaganzas. None of these are definite or inarguable fact, but they do represent my own impression of how things have developed. So take them as you wish:
  • In 2011, landwalker got rousing (and rightful) applause for his Yellow comic, which introduced a deep plot, full of mythology and complex villains. In 2018, runs of this sort are rarely far between. The community once lauded comics for escaping the gag-a-page format; nowadays, most comics are rife with worldbuilding and complex character motivations. Perhaps landwalker would have been less appreciated today, seeing as though he would have competition from every side?
  • In 2010, the unquestionable winner of the Best Screenshot Commenting category was the writer of a gag-a-screenshot comedy run. Other types of screenshot runs were rare - some storyshots existed, but many were just written runs with the occasional screenshot thrown in to tie it together with the gameplay. These days, the screenshot format has included tons of other approaches - reactionlockes and screenshot editing being two of the main approaches. Also including the development of a specific language for storyshots, the medium now seems to have a lot more to offer.
  • In 2011, written runs were at a premium. Only a select few got any kind of attention; people were often surprised to learn that the format existed at all, and would nominate comics for Best Writing Style and Best Written Run. Now, seven years later, there are tons of them coming out every month - they are the second-most prolific medium after screenshot runs, and also the fastest-growing. Not only that, the quality of writing has increased greatly. We have moved away from having to Love the Fall. Now we see Silver Linings everywhere.



The Conclusion, Or Is It?
I hope I've managed to convince at least a few of you that the community is staying lively and prosperous. I hear plenty of doomsayers on the forums, but personally, I think there is great cause for optimism - because the creative environment we have on the forums is definitely better now than it was seven years ago. We still have lots of amazing runs coming out every year, and a warm and welcoming community showing their support for each other every step of the way. We may be getting fewer. But I don't think we're getting weaker.


But we would also like to hear what you think - how do you feel about the forum's development, and about the collective future we face? Are you an optimist, or a pessimist? Or something inbetween? Feel free to share your thoughts in this thread - whether you agree with my thesis or not. It will remain open for a long time yet. Also, if you want to see the old Extravaganza threads for yourself, check out the Events subforum in the Archives.


Before I end this, I want to share with you an image created by our very own Shiny Dustox - it's a banner, featuring the names of everyone who has won anything in the Extravaganza, starting from 2010 and until today. Enjoy:

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Happy nuzlocking, all!
SPECK
(updated 17.04.18)


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Beautiful article, really enjoyed and I truly hope you continue this tradition.

As an active member of the SSWL community I admit these numbers sadden me a bit. I personally do my best to make newcomers feel at home and I think Bug's discord SSWL is an amazing idea and place, and therefore I hope you are right and we will see change in the following year.

Another factor that might explain this stagnation and decrease in the SSWL activity is the fact new games since XY are coming out in different media (and the problems with Citrus). I wonder how many SSWL runs are based on SM or XY? In that sense RPGmaker games are the main way people get to experience new games, which is sometimes problematic. How will the next pokemon game being released on Switch effect all of this (to the best of my knowledge)? I honestly don't know.

Overall Im an optimistic. This community consists of such a varied crowd from gamers to artists, young and old, story tellers and challenge seekers, and as Im rather new here I only have threads like this for reliable information about the "golden age" of Nuzlocking, all I l know is that the community still alive and kicking.

Just a few of my thoughts, keep it up community.
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That's an interesting thought on the SSWL situation - a lack of games to play could certainly have something to say. That said, the screenshot community has also always been the best at using hacks and edited games - apart from video runs, most other mediums haven't had the same bravery in approaching hacks. So I'm sure that the lack of games is never going to paralyse the flow of screenshots.

The next article will be forthcoming on April 13th - so keep an eye out for that!
SPECK
(updated 17.04.18)


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Perhaps landwalker would have been less appreciated today, seeing as though he would have competition from every side?
I mean, it was a function of being a pioneer; obviously Sapphire (actually, did you mean the Sappbire run when you said Yellow?) was not the most polished, but it was the first and most memorable.

I won't claim to know if being the first to do it was the motivator to make his runs what they were, but if landwalker was just starting today, I think he'd have found some other way to surprise us. Maybe his run would have blown current plots out of the water from the start, dunno.

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I meant his Yellow comic, as stated; while his Sapphire run certainly had the things I described, the average page tended towards simple jokes and meme references, rather than the much greater plot and character focus you saw in his Yellow. His Sapphire run was also completed in early 2011, and therefore had no real part in that year's Extravaganza - while Yellow started that year.

This is not to say that landwalker wasn't a trailblazer, or that he didn't make good comics - the point I'm getting at, is that the general crop of comics have developed to a standard - or a focus - that is far more in line with his approach than that of, say, Hale or sQUEAKYfOAMpEANUT.
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(updated 17.04.18)


~ you're all invited to the official nuzlocke writing chat ~
~ adrian ramos drew all my avatars, but not on purpose ~


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First of all, I just want to say that this is a fascinating article to read and thanks so much for starting this up as a thing!!

I used to lurk here in the older days so I did see the first Extravaganzas and comparing them to the nominations and winners of this year is really amazing, not just in format or difference but in the sheer diversity that nuz runs now have. I feel this way partially because community has changed in so many ways in the 4-5 years that I left that I'm still surprised even though I've returned with my own run half a year ago. And I'm definitely seeing it as a positive thing! Creators are pushing the boundaries in ways I never would have thought possible years ago from new hacks to completely genre-bending or even breaking down the nuzlocke/pokemon "skeleton". To add in a personal note, I would never have felt comfortable starting my current comic 5 or 6 years ago because I would have been scared that it was too different or dramatic/serious instead of the internet comedy that was mainstream in the comics then. But now! It's exciting to see so many others try out different things and create wonderful stories and ideas! So yes, I do see the community as rising together towards a greater future and even though the numbers may seem disheartening I agree with what you said, the community's core is as strong as ever or even more.

One thing that I noticed is that you didn't mention Deviantart. I don't know as much as other nuzlockers who are active on dA but from what I remember (and am now experiencing as I return to dA) is that the community (or at least fan/readers) are pretty active and large there? Maybe there's a way to attract that community over here on the forums or introduce the forums to the many nuzlocke groups/audiences there?

But other than that, this community is great so keep it up! I'm super excited to see what else is in store :D
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DeviantArt would be another good site to aim towards! It's generally been the site that gives us the most guest traffic, and over the years, a ton of runs have migrated to here from there, and vice versa. That does leave the question of, how effective could an advertising campaign be there, since the interconnectivity is already high? Rest assured, though, they weren't left off for any specific reason - I just wanted to keep the example list from getting too long. DeviantArt, Smackjeeves, fanfiction.net and Marriland would all be other sites that we could potentially approach, though, and many more beyond that.
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(updated 17.04.18)


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Conqueror of the Dewford Gym...... so there.

Thank you for writing all this up and three cheers for the forum historienne. I think this is a good analysis, and those nomination graphs are pretty compelling.

Talking about declining forum activity, I think there must have been a large substitution effect with the explosive popularity of our Discord channels. That is, while declining post numbers are real, I think they must partly be explained by people simply talking more on Discord instead of in threads. Mind, there was always a network of loosely-affiliated Skype chats, but the Discord is more open and communal so I expect it draws more conversation that would otherwise go to the forum.

Quote:
 
I haven't touched much upon the actual content that is created on the forums. This is intentional; any sort of in-depth analysis would likely take years to complete, and the resulting information would be so dense and non-streamlined that it would make even this article seem understated. So instead, I will leave you with some of my own observations, as someone who has been part of the content-creating community through seven Extravaganzas. None of these are definite or inarguable fact, but they do represent my own impression of how things have developed.


The shift in general tone from gag comics to more serious and story-based works (of more media) is also definitely real from my anecdotal observations over the years. That, and several other different trends in different artistic styles and interests. I would love to see more of the details of these different movements studied and documented some day, though it would be quite the scholarly undertaking. I have a sense of how certain things that have changed in the community's output, but it is hard for me to pin down what were the watershed moments and the leading examples.

Probably Landwalker as you say... though I would also point towards the ending of his Sapphire comic when it swerved into more serious plot territory as being the start of a trend. I think IBAW made quite a stir at the time for doing things other people weren't doing yet... Ah, I'd love to dive into researching all these important questions instead of researching the stuff that I am actually supposed to be researching for my thesis which I am supposed to be working on right now.

Still, hm. I wouldn't presume to say whether more focus on deep plot or gag comedy is a better or a worse creative output, since really both are forms that can be done very well (and have been, often, on this very forum no less!). But I wonder if these changes in the forum's interests are partially responsible for driving some of demographic changes. That is to say, a forum with a focus on gag comedy is probably inherently more friendly towards casual users, and more likely to attract new readers. Come for the jokes, stay for the community.

Whereas, the increased focus now on slow-burning plot and world-building is probably more friendly towards building that devoted core. So, probably in some way we are filtering more towards the sort of people who want to do Fanwork Fridays and some of the other stuff that happens a lot more now that didn't happen back in the day. Which is probably a smaller number of people by the nature of these activities requiring more time commitment.

That's my wild speculation, anyway.

Now I better go back to that aforementioned research. Thanks again for writing this up and I hope this series will continue.
Edited by Vivificient, Feb 16 2018, 05:42 PM.
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