maxbarry.com
Sat 12
Nov
2022

NationStates Turns Twenty

Max So I normally keep my NationStates stuff separate from this blog. But it’s 20 years today since I launched a little web game in the hope that it would promote my novel Jennifer Government, and help prevent it from sinking without a trace like my debut novel. So I’m cross-posting.

Twenty years! For perspective, the web itself is only thirty-three.

Here are some things that didn’t exist when I created NationStates: MySpace, Digg, World of Warcraft, Facebook, XBox Live, iTunes, Skype, Firefox, Chrome, iPhones, Reddit, Twitter, Wordpress.

NationStates began in a time where any idiot could make a website and people would go check it out, because there weren’t many to choose from. In 2002, I was that idiot, learning to code from a book, hacking the site together, and emailing a few friends. Then they told a few friends, and almost immediately, it was in the newspapers, even the New York Times, because that was newsworthy back then, some dork’s website.

Almost all the websites from 2002 are now gone. And like a geriatric who’s outlived his contemporaries, I marvel at the fact that this one is still freaking here. Everyone thinks you can put something online and it will just hang around forever because that’s how the internet works, but that’s not true at all, not even for the dumbest, most static pages like THIS IS TIM’S WORLD WIDE WEB PAGE, UNDER CONSTRUCTION, COOL STUFF COMING SOON, because sometime in the last twenty years, Tim’s web host got bought out and shut down, taking Tim’s dancing baby GIF with it, and now, at best, there are a few snapshots filed away in an internet archive.

Sites that do things, interactive sites, like NationStates, are hard to keep alive. They have so many ways to die. I’m incredibly proud that NationStates is here twenty years and eight million nations later, with as many players as ever. That’s magical. I credit:

  • Not selling the site. I came close. In retrospect, the buyer would have spent 12 months squeezing users for money before everyone left.

  • Moderators. Oh my god, moderators. They do so much, every day, for nothing, and without them, the site would almost immediately become somewhere you wouldn’t want to visit. Some mods have been here from the beginning. Many have clocked up over a decade. So much is thanks to mods.

  • The community. I can’t even explain this because I don’t fully understand it. I made a site where you could create a nation and talk to people. The community did everything else, i.e. turned that into something interesting, with political intrigue, relationships, lore, rules; basically the vast majority of what makes NationStates worth your time. This includes regional leaders, ordinary nations, World Assembly Delegates, admin, Roleplay Mentors, Founders, dispatch authors, World Census trophy chasers, forum regulars, forum irregulars, anyone who’s taken the time to explain something to someone new to the site, card traders, everyone.

  • The people who buy Site Supporter, Postmaster, Postmaster-General, and Telegram Stamps. Most people don’t, and that’s totally fine, but the lights wouldn’t have stayed on without those who do.

  • Managing the tech stack. All the tech from 2002 is slow, insecure, missing essential features, and three thousand times harder to work on that what’s available today. It also can’t be replaced without losing 20 years of bug fixes. So far we have managed to steer a path between killing the site from negligence and killing it from overly ambitious upgrades. And we keep adding features! To a 20-year-old codebase! Written in Perl!

Happy Birthday everyone.

Love,

Max.

www.nationstates.net

Comments

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Ben Turner (#922)

Location: Bendigo, Australia
Quote: "I have nothing to say on that matter, unless it happens to benefit me to say something."
Posted: 13 days ago

That stirs up some memories. I started playing when it first started, but then lost track of it for a while. I tried to go back a few years later, but it seems my state no longer existed. Maybe I'll have another crack at it :)

Radiatia (#6360)

Location: Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted: 13 days ago

As silly as it sounds, the impact that Nationstates has had on my life cannot be understated and I'm very grateful to you, Max, for creating and maintaining it all these years.

I first appeared on the site around the end of 2008, when the site (along with the book Jennifer Government) was recommended to me by a Political Science lecturer at university.

Since then I've been a fairly regularly roleplayer with a bunch of different nations and this has actually resulted in me making lifelong friendships - some of the closest people to me are people that I met 10+ years ago on Nationstates.

The website, being a political nation simulator, honed my knowledge of politics and probably helped me gain some of the skills needed to spend three years working in the New Zealand Parliament.

It honed my writing abilities and as a result I've published a smattering of things here and there over the years and hopefully soon will have achieved my lifelong dream of having a novel published.

I have no idea if you'll see or read this comment, but I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling an incredible level of debt and gratitude to you for giving me and countless others this strange little space in a secluded corner of the internet to become who I am today.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 13 days ago

I always read all the comments!

It's really wild to hear about the ways in which NationStates has mattered to people. There are people alive now because their parents met on the site. I only played a small role in all that, getting the thing started, but without that all the good stuff that followed couldn't have happened. That makes me happy.

Stijn (#5223)

Location: Antwerp, Belgium
Quote: "Seek nothing and you will find everything."
Posted: 13 days ago

Many happy returns, NS and Jennifer Government. The longevity of this website is a great example of how its use has evolved. Your description of how the community took the platform and ran with it, is also what keeps the same community sticking around or coming back after a few years. I don't believe this is related to the "sunk cost" fallacy. Rather, for many people, it was a game that turned into a hobby that turned into a third place. Because of so much flexibility, NS had already grown quite a large community footprint before the arrival of, for example, Facebook. This is one of many reasons that had people using NS in parallel to other websites.

Brenda (#7217)

Location: Berowra Bushland
Quote: "entering your world via the book portal is awesome"
Posted: 13 days ago

Legend!
You are part of the internet folklore.
In our throwaway society where mandatory upgrades ensure all electronic devices are outdated and unusable within a rapidly narrowing window Nation States has defied the odds.
I also love the irony that it is Max Barry who has helped this to occur.

Cameron Government (#166)

Location: melb-au
Quote: "There once was a man from Nantucket"
Posted: 13 days ago

That's so cool. Have you thought of getting a wealthy space exploration and EV industrialist to invest so you can properly fund a re-write of the code? I'm sure it would all work out really great and not become a laughing stock.

Machine Man subscriber M.I.Minter (#347)

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Quote: "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
Posted: 13 days ago

If people do the math about nation states birthday then They’ll realize that 21 years ago you and Risk had sex on Valentines Day.

Michael Kazak (#8368)

Location: Plainfield, IL
Quote: "A Quote! I don't know any quotes!"
Posted: 13 days ago

Just want to say thank you for you little knowledge of coding that allowed you to create this wonderful site!

Hank Mishkoff (#6424)

Location: Dallas, TX USA
Quote: "Purchase only authorized editions."
Posted: 13 days ago

I went into the Web business all the way back in 1995. (This is not a plug, I shut that business down decades ago.) I created a website where I sold 1MB of web space for $5/month. Then I sat back and waited for people to sign up. The weird thing is that some people did -- because, as you say, there wasn't much to choose from.

That business model (doing nothing and waiting for the money to roll in) wasn't robust enough to keep me in business for very long, but I did have subscribers from as far away as Germany and Indonesia, which was fun for a while. And if you can't have fun running a failing business, what's the point?

Just for giggles, here's a link to my 1995 website: www.webfeats.com/pspace.html. (Again, this isn't an ad, I'm no longer in that business.) Note that I offer such advanced features as FTP access, forms support (for a one-time fee of only $20), and access reports. With sophisticated services like those, I don't understand why I'm not rich.

Kieran Bennett (#8398)

Location: Kentucky
Quote: ""Smiles, they fade""
Posted: 11 days ago

I joined this year. Thank you for creating a website that I will hopefully be participating in for years to come. Is there a possibility someday you could create a version that is offline? For future proofing?

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 10 days ago

> it’s 20 years today since I launched a little web game in the hope that it would promote my novel Jennifer Government, and help prevent it from sinking without a trace like my debut novel

Well, it worked. That's how I found "Jennifer Government".
Which in turn helped me realize reading was actually a fun way to pass the time. And now I have bookcases full of books.
NationStates was my gateway drug to reading.*


(* or at least a major contributor)

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