Something is definitely amiss. I have thought about starting a thread myself.
To get it out of the way, lately there has been a decline of traditional forums in the HvZ and nerf world. Alternate messageboards such as facebook and reddit tend to steal the traffic. About the only nerf group in the world that primarily hangs out in a forum anymore is the American NIC on nerfhaven, which is also seeing less traffic than in the past. (Why this has happened, I do not know, but it does have its problems in that these new venues have no archival value and make content hard to find.)
Regardless, this is probably a large part of why there are fewer posts right now. I wouldn't take it as an indication of HvZ's health.
I am in Florida. Within range of me are 4 HvZ sites (UF, USF, SEU, Florida Polytechnic University).
- Polytechnic is a brand new game as of early 15. It has played 2 full games and approximately doubled its attendance in the second, amounting to 1/5 the campus playing HvZ.
- USF is an established organization which just ran its big 5th anniversary game. I couldn't play this last game, but I haven't heard anything negative. About 260 players. This is a large school.
- SEU is a smaller school. They have an established HvZ. I also have not heard anything worrisome about this game and have attended a few missions.
- UF is where I started in 2010, but unfortunately, it is the local game where I can say beyond a doubt that trouble has gone down and evidence of any global decline has arguably manifested in rare form. Also 300-ish players in recent years. This game is notable in that its popularity was astronomical early on and dropped to its modern numbers around 2011.
So overall, based on games and numbers, local HvZ is not doing too bad.
I think more of what has declined is the quality of gameplay. I see a stagnation of both human and zombie sides and a lack of new blood and fresh interest in hardcoring HvZ. For instance (I am a career human) I am not seeing the weapons and tactics posts of the old days, anywhere. Along the same lines I see less of the original spark, the thrill of earlier games that drew people in so well.
Note that HvZ is NOT a fad. The game has been around since 2005. Players of my generation (which are veteran and often retired from university games by several years by now) were not even in high school when HvZ originated. The game has remained of strong appeal all this time and continued spreading. If anything is going wrong at any given site now, it has to be down to some recent change in the way things are done.
Now that is precisely the case with the UF game. I would pin most of the blame for its ills on misguided changes to the game with positive intent. There has been a serious push to cater to casual players, I am guessing in the belief that newer players were being discouraged by a highly competitive gamestate with major skill and equipment barriers to entry. Moderators have thus had a serious bias/grudge against hardcore or effective players with the default idea being that they need to be reined in and nerfed, and the culture has trickled down and led to anti-veteran sentiment (culminating in the banning of a high-level and respected player for extremely dubious reasons with major evidence of corruption) and an attitude I would call sour and unsporting. Zombies have become much less of a fair, square, can-do optimistic bunch and increasingly demanded specials and human nerfs, complained about velocity limits and guns hurting, complained about everything. There is more cheating and arguing. Adding to that, moderators have taken to leashing the gamestate very tightly and using NPC enemies (often immortal) to herd players around and increasingly contrived and lame ways to off people.
I do not play this game any more and have not played their last, but as of the previous game I have seen an excellent cross section of the decline. Is UF turning around? Perhaps. Perhaps it is declining more, signs point to yes (the last I heard, the mods have adopted this police state us-vs-them approach, created a 5 page document of various ways to be banned and warned, and adopted a velocity limit that is clearly intended to trip up any serious upgrading player with the statement that "we will make sure you never use that gun again and if you do, you will be banned"). But the observations stand. The game in such state is highly unrewarding to play as either a human or a zombie, and this type of corrosion of the game structures perfectly explains what I was getting at earlier with the stagnation and loss of the original thrill that I see reflected everywhere.
What I consider most important in efforts to turn it around is that the determination of the game's state/skill level/etc. by player vs. player interaction is critical. As much as some hate arms races, HvZ is an arms race. It is a framework in which players come together to challenge each other with their best honest efforts and abilities and that is what the thrill is derived from. They, and you, get to do anything safe, legal, and sporting to succeed. It is all out survival. That is what the spark is. It is the stuff of batshit insane plays, epic dodges, heroic moments. The legitimacy of it is what makes each kill and each narrow escape so intense and satisfying, you are playing against fellow players. Not against mods, not against rules or a rigged system. The game is genuine and honorable; and you can advance as far as you want in it by putting effort into it, thus it rewards involvement and loyalty.
The vast majority of large scale problems with HvZ I would attribute to attempts to fight this, mainly associated with the great fallacy of "hardcore = bad"/"don't take it too seriously" or that what is going to discourage the noobs is the skill level (and not the culture which is the real issue); thus attempts to seize control and force a de-escalation which end up only violating the core principles of the older games and rendering the end result tedious, lame and cheap, not thrilling. Yet, in all this time, accounts of games with solid sporting attitudes being trashed by over-escalation of the serious players' abilities are few and far between, or even nonexistent. Hardcores/Vets are the foundation. They are who do the promotion and help get noobs involved and act as the game's bedrock. You want them in your game.
Game balance has to come into play, but the best balancing methods are the ones you don't see as artifice when you are a player. Changing mission objectives slightly and metering out perks carefully (to simply change the difficulty of the gameplay) is how it used to be done. By contrast, sending an immortal NPC enemy to run through a squad and murder them, or setting off an unannounced EMP so that players attending a mission with electric guns (not previously knowing that the game itself is even aware of electric guns as a concept) all get iced, is fucking bullshit. Cheap and lame as hell. It isn't skill-based. When it gets that heavyhanded that players are being randomly smited by TPTB and the randomness is the key element to how, you can't do anything as a player to improve! You can't develop better tactics, better weapons, better communication, anything. The only winning move IS NOT TO PLAY.
Another common problem is that we forget humans, versus, zombies. That is, was, the original draw. Most early games around here were strictly plotted with zombie scenarios and did not dilute this too much. That has changed and there is way too much complexity. It could be argued that the freshness of the game is no longer there and the zombie apocalypse allure has got old, but again, in my experience the zombie apocalypse concept doesn't get old and the real cause of any staleness is once again misdirected effort to "fix" the game or change things for the hell of it thereby diminishing elements that made the game as awesome as it once was.
So I hope this was not too much of a detour to get into my theories on the HvZ decline, but that is what I think it is. I have been trying to put this together in a blog post or something for like a year now, and forgive the lack of polish and possible missing pieces.
We need to recapture the original allure of the game and the players will return. It is as simple as that, we need to go back to mid 2011 or earlier. How we did things back then worked.