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Soapbox: About the Industry

The Websites That Wouldn't Die

by Sandy Antunes
Apr 10,2003

 

The Websites That Wouldn't Die

"More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
-- Woody Allen --

Much is often made of a given website taking a new direction. Immediate doom is always predicted. Change is almost always seen as bad. Lack of change is also almost always seen as bad. Based on this, every website is doomed to die in a morass of bad karma and slashed reputations.

Character is that intangible that lets people know which website they are on even when they've scrolled past the logos on the top. Editorial stance and voice set character. Moreso than any specific, it's a chance in 'character' which initiates recognition that a website is either ascending or descending. But does such 'success' or 'failure' really matter in any practical sense? Or are they simply false measurements?

Earlier this week I wrapped up two chapters on epublishing marketing for an upcoming book from RPGNow. You know, the site run by that fellow who thought I was his mortal enemy and whom we probably both called each other fuckwits (or worse) at some point?

It's not like we ever resolved the past. And like most RPG projects, the pay is lousy. I just thought it was a neat project, and he thought I could write my way out of a wet paper bag. So it goes. Reputations and impressions give way to new sparkly interest.

Just today I saw a print ad in 'Computer Games' for happypuppy.com saying "The puppy's back"-- and also saying "'since 1995'. Err... I remember when HappyPuppy got sold, during the dot-com boom. If it's back, can you really say 'since 1995'? Wouldn't the ever-so awkward '1995-1999, 2003-' be more accurate? Or 'since 1995, minus a few years?'

People predicted RPGnet's death when it hit a bobble a few years ago. (Bonus points for those who think, 'which of the bobbles is he referring to!' You get the point!)

Just what does it take for a site to die, anyway? In business terms, how viable is a brand when the 'product' (the website) takes a dip?

While wrapping up the chapter in that book on epublishing, I went through my old list of RPGnet and ZAPdeliver's "competitors and possible allies" dating from around 2 years ago (when I was web-active). Umm... all were gone or merged into RPGHost. _All_.

Within this context, I think RPGnet is the russians of the rpg scene. "We will bury you" (an unfortunately American translations of an old Russian aphorism) was my tongue-in-cheek motto; translated properly, it means "our way is such that, when you have gone and faded, we'll still be around to visit at your funeral."

Which has general relevance for any venture. There's a certain perky undead quality to doing a web operation. A half-decent name and a minimum standard for much of the time is the equivalence of Woody Allen's quote, "seventy percent of success in life is showing up".

And as we know, there's been a bevy of new RPG industry sites arising (most taking a news+blog approach). Some have faded, others have taken the spotlight. A half-decent name is enough to spark interest, get a few people on board, start the ball rolling.

So a known brand isn't essential, but useful. Initiating a brand isn't easy, but isn't hard. Rebuilding a faded brand is pretty easy. The thing that really matters is decent content and 'character'.

What this suggests is that any web venture really should be seen as a two-year project. At the end of two years, sites either:

  1. dominate the niche
  2. sell or aggregated into a larger portal
  3. fade or burn out
  4. provide enough ROI that the site supplements the biz's main cash source (e.g. sites that serve as marketing moreso than as a sole revenue generator)

Given the cyclic nature of things, and the poor group memory of online people, I don't think past reputation (good or bad) lasts as long as some might hope. People are very quick to accept "okay, time to move on".

At the same time, people have a very high tolerance for dips and lows, a sort of 'inertia effect'. "This site isn't as good as it used to be, but I'd rather keep visiting than have to research the current scene".

Corrolary: therefore, most people aren't, say, searching for 'a new RPG news site'. They only switch from their existing one (regardless of its performance, unless it's burning out) when someone specifically points them to a new one.

Which means the web also follows Young's Law ("Games are sold by word of mouth"). "Websites are sold by word of mouth".

Cheers,
Sandy
sandy@rpg.net
freelance

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