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Who, What, Give me a Guiness

 

Yet another day at the RPGnet office. The hassles of dealing with chauffeurs and unruly masseuses, the rigors of doing multi-million dollar business deals with overseas investors, oh, the suffering we engage in just to bring you this feature. I eternally agonized over the vicissitudes of life.

"Oh, the angst," moaned I, popping a chocolate into my mouth, "such woe and sadness. Pass me the Guiness, dear."

Okay, we're a small internet company-- one owner, one slave (me), one infant (who doesn't do much, but is so cute I wanted to mention her), two sys admins, and a score of volunteers. But we're a small company that gets 1.5 million hits a month, serves 55,000 different visitors each week, and delivers a third of a gigabyte of roleplaying every day.

So it's time for a honest self-investigation, since we're planning our next redesign of RPGnet. It seems a web site goes through the same stages of evolution as an actor.

  1. RPGnet who?
  2. I like RPGnet!
  3. I like this site, it's just like RPGnet!
  4. I'd like a site like RPGnet used to be!
  5. RPGnet who?

We're at least up to stage 3... what with 'trekrpg.net', 'trpg.net', 'netrpg.com', and the others, well, I guess we should be happy that our site (and trademark) has become something iconic in the web world. Success has been odd that way.

We had hoped to boost the industry and help others to launch bold new ventures. And this has happened. But sometimes people want to latch onto an already-taken idea and worry it to pieces. Our motto is "don't reinvent the wheel". Reinventing wheels is what has caused the web explosion, and it's the same thing that is slowing damning things up.

The concept of 'portal sites' was born when marketing thought people didn't want to have to decide which coverage was best, but just get it all under one wrapper. Now dozens of sites want to be the 'rpg portal'.

Now, we've been a portal site for 2 years, before marketing types took up the banner, just because at its core it's a darn good (and not terribly new) idea. In fact, by dint of exerting editorial control, most magazines are portals. But is it time for us to move on?

From the GTS'99 show we took a look at the whole field and at ourselves. On one industry list, there was a thread about how working the game industry can take much of the fun out of it-- in a word, burnout. It's harsher when you're dealing with the business end, a bit easier if you're simply writing.

I know the business end of RPGnet has been frustrating. Keeping things up and afloat and making sure we have enough funds to mail out review items and keep the T1 alive and buy new hard drives for our ever-frying box is not quite what I'd call fun.

We've been threatened with lawsuits. We've been accused of being a front for WotC. We've been accused of being the enemy of WotC. We've been accused of slander, of lying, of being in the pockets of various 'industry giants'. No one said business was easy, though.

We've contemplated selling, if you take 'contemplate' to mean "sure!" Truthfully, we'd love to see someone who is business-savvy buy RPGnet to boost their own venture. It would ensure RPGnet's work would continue to grow in ways that our all-volunteer staff just can't manage. But being pragmatic, the number of business-savvy folks in the industry is not terribly high. That's one reason it's still a niche, as most money-hunters end up drifting into more lucrative fields. That's also the topic of another essay, though.

So let's skip economic criteria and focus on what really matters. Let's ask ourselves, 'have we done good'. That's, ultimately, the most important issue.

  1. We've introduced a lot of writers to the industry.
  2. We've been able to get reviews out on games from other than the top 5 companies, giving good exposure to small press.
  3. We've found volunteer webmasters for some companies that would otherwise be swept under.
  4. We've seen some of the columnists we took risks on snare industry jobs on the basis of the quality of their work. Now that's satisfying.

How should we reinvent ourselves for the 19th (oops, make that 21st) century? When we started, we were the first roleplaying meta-site to specifically target things from the industry side. So instead of being structured based on game systems, we reversed that and gave a look from the inside-- by company, by writer, by designer.

RPG fan culture provides a wealth of resources for specific games. So we've carved our sections showing you the people behind the games. You read a review here, for starters. And you don't just get a review, you get a reviewer, with their own point of view and style. Like 'em or hate 'em, you can at least track them and decide if they're "company shill" or "iconoclastic rebel".

Our news is geared towards what is being done, by whom, and how. We provide columns on actually designing stuff, and deconstructing it. This leaves creating the sourcebook material to the gamers. So your creative energy goes to what you know (the specific game), and ours to what we know (how to build games).

We've had requests to mimic webrpg's forums, or to duplicate Usenet, or to be just like Geocities. We've surveyed. Let's define our active readers as "those who bother to fill out our surveys". This is a selection based on follow-through; one could wager that someone less inclined to fill out an instant survey is also less likely to finish their plans.

Almost 1/2 are not from the US. About one quarter are from Canada, and about one quarter are from the rest of the world.

About 1/3rd have fewer time to play these days, but 1/3rd have more time to play, so it's a tough call on what the trend is there. About half are hardcore, in the sense that they are loathe to give up gaming (even for romance). Half of the less hardcore already have a life that doesn't allow for much gaming time, so sacrifices have already been made.

Over half are or will be publishing their own game-- and most want to make sure they get credit for their work. Half would decline working on a project that sucks.

Both rules and setting are considered important in a game, with setting being slightly more important. An ideal game has 3-4 people, with 5-7 being reasonable. Games done as a paper book, costing around $25, are preferable to electronic media at this point.

One third are confident enough in their roleplaying to be willing to stake their life on it. Over half would love to have a paid day off to play RPGs-- even over a Christmas-like gift-giving holiday.

But what of the more interesting results?

  1. 10% of our readers would enjoy a day of looting and pillaging.
  2. 3% of our readers can't read.
  3. 15% would give up gaming for love.
  4. 5% of our readers have no interest in writing, and 1/3rd have no interest in being a game publisher.
  5. 14% of our readers are brutally honest.
  6. 4% of our players consider CCGs their best bet in a duel with death.
  7. one quarter of our readers wouldn't mind a holiday where there was no TV.

We're proud of our audience. In a world slowly drowning in media-delivered sludge, RPGnet readers are literate, active, and enjoy thinking. They have diverse opinions and aren't afraid to speak them. But they can also listen, and encourage. They welcome newcomers, they believe in the hobby, and they love to dream.

I can live with that.

Until next month,
Sandy Antunes
sandy@rpg.net

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