How to Bring a Dead Project Back to Life

Before I begin, I want to point out that the opinions in this blog post are entirely my own. They do not reflect the attitudes of anyone else that has ever been a part of this team.

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This project has definitely seen better days. For over a year it laid almost completely dormant. So what happened? Who is to blame? How can we bring it back to life and prevent a second silence such as this? These are the questions I'm going to try to answer.

I think the majority of the blame rests with me. There is a very direct relationship between how much time I spend working on the project and how much progress the team makes. And it's definitely not because this is a one-man show (I could never have done all that we have accomplished thus far by myself). It's because that when I'm not around, the rest of the team loses motivation and direction. Things just sort of fizzle out and continue declining until I come back. I've made a few disappearances over the past four years or so (usually weeks or months long). And when I disappear, I mean my presence literally vanishes. I stop checking the forums, no longer keep up with ongoing discussions on the project, nor contribute in any form (other than paying the occasional bill for the website).

Why do I disappear in such a manner? That's a question I didn't always know the answer to myself, but after this long break I finally understand. I never grow bored or become uninterested in this project. It's because I have other hobbies and priorities in my life, and sometimes there's just not any room for me to work on this. And when I don't have time to work on it, I feel like if I don't detach myself completely, I'm going to end up spending more time on it than I can/should, and other parts of my life will suffer as a result. That fear is what keeps me away from the project for so long at times.

It wasn't always like this. In the first 3-4 years, I was always active here. But back in those days I was a serious workaholic who committed myself to too many things (Allacrost included), and both my mental and physical health suffered as a result, and I just wasn't a happy person. I take a different stance on living my life now, and I'm happier as a result. I don't want to return to being an unhappy workaholic like I used to be. That's an important goal for me, and the key thing I feel I need to do is to figure out a way for Allacrost to thrive without reducing me to that state.

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Now I have made several attempts for the project to continue to survive and progress in my absence in the past, but nothing we tried out was very effective. The first thing I tried to do was to pass the project leadership to someone else, but few seemed interested in taking control and those that did weren't that enthusiastic about it and gradually I found myself back in control when they failed to do everything that was needed. The other thing that I tried was to divide up my management responsibilities among other members of the team, but that also proved ineffective as most team members were unfortunately not willing to invest the time and effort to do things like keep the wiki documentation updated or do any task other than their main love (whether it was programming, artwork, or music). I am grateful for the efforts that they did make though, and my burden was lifted somewhat, but it was never enough and that assistance wasn't always consistently there either.

You might think that it's fun to lead a project like this, and sometimes it is, but it is a very heavy burden to bear. I author the story of this game. I've written the majority of our code. I created some of our artwork. I manage the website, forums, and other online services. I do public relations work, advertising, and recruitment. I search for and compile free multimedia content that we can include in our game. I manage design discussions and resolve disputes. I design maps and other game content. I assist with balancing the game. I write documentation for our wiki. And I'm a release manager. I often get overwhelmed with so many of these responsibilities that it really breaks me down.

I take responsibility for my prolong and complete absences, which have been the root cause for every lull in this project's progress. I've made attempts to mitigate this damage and have asked others on the team to take matters into their own hands, but it has never worked out very well and they share some of this responsibility for the decline of our project. I don't want this to be a project that lives or dies with me. I have never wished that. Life is short and unpredictable. I could die unexpectedly tomorrow and if that happened, this project would likely never revive.

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Now let's discuss what I and what we should do to ensure the continued survival of this project. I honestly don't have all of the answers to this right now. But I think that I need to always be involved in Allacrost in some way, on an ever-lasting basis, despite what other priorities might be in my life. It doesn't matter if the only thing I can do is spare 20 minutes a week to check in on the forums and discuss recent topics. I need to have a presence here, always. And though I think it will be difficult for me to do so, I promise that I'm going to make that happen.

But that still isn't enough, because the project can't be so dependent on me. How do we get other people to step up and take responsibility and ownership for this project's success? I still have no answer for this question, and I have made multiple attempts for this type of mindset to take place among the members of this team. Since the very beginning, I tried to establish the mindset for those that join this project that I want them to become more than just contributors to this project. I want them to become owners of it.

I think we do have a better development model now with more frequent and regular releases (when the project is active anyway). I had also experimented with producing regular video recordings showcasing the current state of the game in play, and commenting on what we've added or changed lately, what we are working on, and so forth. That's another heavy responsibility for me to take on (hopefully I can share this one with other developers), but I think the investment would be well worth it for everyone involved in Allacrost. From those already on the team, to those interested in joining and helping out, and of course for the players. It's especially important for our content creators (artists, musicians, and so on) that they see regular progress to help them stay motivated. There's nothing more gratifying than seeing your work being put to good use.

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I started this project in June 2004, one month before my 22nd birthday. I'm 30 years old now and a much different person than I was eight years ago, but my passion for this project has not changed. I will continue being a part of this team and contributing to this project until I see it finished. We've come so far already, but many more challenges for us still lie ahead. My resolve to overcome them is unbreakable.