Personal investment in a pen and paper roleplaying game is one of the most important factors in the life and death of a campaign. It doesn’t matter through what medium the game is played (tabletop, forum, Google Hangout, etc.), the range of investment in the players matters.
The biggest investment in a conventional game is the gamemaster (GM). This is the player that tells all the other players “hey, come play in my world!” They are the rules arbitrator, worldkeeper, and general destroyer of fun. If the GM doesn’t have a strong vision or investment in the game they want to run, the game is not off to a great start.
The two biggest hurdles are rules and setting. Usually the GM, who chooses and runs the game, is familiar enough with both. The GM is usually the person with the Book, which contains all the rules and settings. The GM presents the plan for playing to the group, and if the group is on board, the plan moves forward. Then player investment becomes an issue.
The best players will own or borrow the book to learn the rules and the setting. They are the most invested in helping to create a fun environment to help the eventually beleaguered GM. Instead of asking a fallible GM questions about the setting, the answer is in the good book right there. These are the players that motivate the GM. These are the players that will constantly contribute to the game. Unfortunately only the best groups have or require these types of players.
The next tier is players that are willing to learn. If the group isn’t even at this level, the game will be a failure. This tier can be both good and bad for a GM. It’s good because all knowledge comes from the GM, who can control and cheat more. It’s bad because the depth of the game is usually more shallow since a player won’t usually have full understanding of the world, their characters, etc.
Finally, you have the deadbeats. These are players that want to be there, so that’s good. But, for the most part they have little to nothing invested in the game. Some of these players can have brilliant moments in the game. These are not the norm though. Most of the time the player is on the smartphone, snacking, or napping as things pass on by. The GM is left wondering whether to try and keep roping these players in or pass them by.
After the players are categorized and amassed, it comes back to the GM. Being a GM in a multi-session RPG requires a large investment. The GM has to consider the story and the players. It can be a ton of fun when done right, but when the GM is the only one carrying the load, it gets old quick. Energy feed energy, and apathy builds apathy.