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Protosals Considered Harmful

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By Kevan, adapted from blog comments

Occasionally, somebody posts a suggested rule change to the game blog to see what other players think of it. This is done as an informal blog post which can have no legal effect on the game, and is sometimes explicitly introduced as a "protosal" (a "prototype proposal"). But Nomic already has a system for suggesting (even vague) gameplay changes and seeing what other player's think of them - proposals. That’s what Nomic is.

While it can work in some Nomics to informally raise a hand and tell everyone that a particular issue needs discussion, I don't think it works well in BlogNomic. Here's why:

  • Protosals slow the game down. In BlogNomic, if a player makes a proposal that's popular, then other players can immediately start proposing add-ons and side-effects further up the queue ("if 'Swords' enacted, add a subrule called 'Pommels'..."), and the gameplay will hit the ruleset more quickly. If the same player shares their great idea in the form of a protosal, then the others are under some social pressure to wait for that player to consider the feedback and post the proposal version before the game can move forward in that direction. A protosal suggests a gentle moratorium on an idea, and anything that might overlap with it.
  • Protosals are unsporting from a pure gameplay perspective. We play Nomic by making proposals, we can get ahead by introducing loopholes and selfish advantages, and in BlogNomic we are only allowed two proposals at a time, to stop the blog from getting too noisy, and to stop a few prolific players from overwhelming the game. There’s nothing in our ruleset against being cagey and throwing out risky proposals as “protosals” (and just abandoning them if they prove unpopular), but it feels like an impolite abuse of the system. Chatting idly about an idea in blog comments or IRC is one thing, but attempting to take a formal straw poll of all active players outside of the existing voting system feels like an attempt to exploit the good nature of other players. In a dynasty where players lost 10 points for failed proposals, cagey protosals would be openly frowned upon. Losing one of your two proposal slots doesn't seem that different.
  • People often ignore protosals, making them less use than a proposal. Timid players who would be confident to cast a simple vote can be intimidated by the call for a non-vote discussion, and players with limited time to play the game aren’t going to spend too much of it composing feedback for an idea that might not even get proposed. Even if your protosal gets a day or two of enthusiastic feedback from a few players, it could still fail as a proposal, because you didn't ask everyone. And there's a button marked "ask everyone" right there in the ruleset.

If you have a vague but potentially controversial idea for a direction, you can propose it in a general way by creating a one-sentence rule with no game effect - if it passes, it can be built on. If you have a complex idea which you fear might not work, you can explicitly include some prominent self-disabling clauses for players to repeal later.