Our function is to be a border or window between industry professionals
and gamers, as well as a gateway and proving ground for new writers.
Our readers also create and report on our content.
In terms of approach, we are library, as opposed to a bookstore. A
bookstore's job is to sell the popular stuff to you, and at best
grudgingly supply less common stuff to lure you into buying the trendy
stuff. Like a library, we choose to carry everything and give it
equal shelf space.
Our job is to provide information so it is easy to find, and to
provide a context for that information. You can browse us or go as
deep as you want, we still have you covered.
We are also archival. When we formed, websites would last a semester
under an obscure URL then disappear. We wanted to let creators do
their stuff under our stable banner-- and if they then ran out of time
or wanted to move, the _information_ itself would remain for people to
So we ironically have a creator focus for getting content, and then
provide an institutional memory for it so creators do not have to
tie themselves down to support older works.
Most sites have 'attitude' and a 'hip editorial stance' where the
'editors in the know' inform the readers of 'what is up'. We eschew
an editorial stance-- instead, like a window, we let the readers decide.
This means we don't project a bias nor weight towards one side or the
other. No pro- or anti-d20: it's just another system. No pro- or
anti-small press: all publishers are of equal notice. No 'staff
writers' versus 'readers': our readers create our content.
Everything has a meta-message. A column is not a column, it is also an
example of our thorough coverage. A reply to a bug report is not just
a reply, but PR showing we're on top of things. Admitting a fault is
not just civil, but shows we take things seriously and don't bullshit
our readers. Everything is content.
Related to this, the operations of RPGnet itself are done, for most
aspects, openly. We discuss upcoming changes with our readers,
solicit for feedback, or explain cool back room aspects of it.
The operations of RPGnet really is an ongoing essay into how to run a gaming
portal website. It is the ultimate 'Inside Scoop'. And after all,
if we're going to tell all the so-called 'secrets' of the industry, we
need to be honest about our own methods and plans. For example, I
would like to publish this 'Overview' as my next Soapbox, since (as
a transition document) it is perhaps the one place where all of RPGnet's
history and philosophy is documented.
This also has the benefit that, Japan-style, no change ever hits our
readers unawares. People fear change, even if it is for the better.
By the time change comes to RPGnet, though, the naysayers have been
smoothered by the light of reason and everyone is prepped, psyched
even, for what is new.
With this comes responsibility. Put simple, don't lie. You can always
answer "No" (politely) to an idea, or say "I can't talk about that yet".
Duplicity _will_ be noted by the devout and have a negative PR hit,
and you know, duplicity rarely provides an advantage anyway. We're
the _nice_ site.
Meritocracy plus Annotation
This means "everything gets published and the cream rises to the top".
It is also the source of criticism about the poorer content, by folks
who don't realize that poor content is the price we pay for having
great content as well. Because great content usually can be evaluated
only historically-- and to a large degree, RPGnet is archival, letting
history determine what is right. Today's maligned small press may be
tomorrow's WotC, and RPGnet will have covered it even before it became
We don't aim to surprise people, we aim to delight them. Our only
concession to poorer content is to provide better filters and tools
so readers can decide what is important. Listing reviews with word
counts and including the summary in the index, for example. Having a
'best of forums' page that anyone can submit to but only the site owner
can approve is another. In short, annoted content and meta-content
enhances the raw stuff that pours into RPGnet and creates even more
Columns are the interesting almost-exception. We do choose columnists.
The criteria is simple.
- Is the column series relevant to our meta-stance? That means, is it
a broad concept (as opposed to, say, "RIFTS creature-of-the-week").
- Is it a topic we don't currently do? If we have a columnist
covering fantasy archetypes, for example, we don't want another to
compete. That's reinventing the wheel. Each column series has to have
a unique take.
- Can they write? Most can.
That's really it. It's a very sparse filter and it works exceedingly
well, because it is a meritocracy at its core. Only those writers
able to make a pitch, then follow through with actually delivering
columns, get published. Eminently fair.
Focus is also important. We are the definitive industry-focused site.
We don't publish people's RPG scenarios. We don't have columns about
new rules for d20. We don't do exposes on the cool new product coming
from White Wolf.
Instead, we publish how to create a scenario. We have columns about
how d20 has impacted the industry. We write about White Wolf's
marketing campaign for their new line launch.
And through this, our readers get the visceral pleasure of feeling
that they, too, are insiders to this marvelously confusing gaming
RPGnet is also patronizing, in the proper sense of that word. This means
we don't condescend. We don't crow about how "we know more than you".
We get information, and we share it-- without fanfare or bravado about
how we scooped folks for it. Because we are the parental figure--
we already know all. (If we don't know it, we find it out. Ah, the
joys of research!)
And we inform people when that information appears.
We don't brag about how we know 'cool bit X'. We report on 'cool bit X'
because it's currently relevant. We elaborate on 'cool bit X' if we
see interest in the topic. With this, people get the sense that "my
goodness, they _do_ know everything, the only limit is in the questions
Technically, we have no competitors. There are some neat gaming sites
out there, and some portals. We report on them just as we report on
any rank-and-file publisher. That's our role: to report on everything,
to sit as the meta-entity for the industry.
Case in point, we opened up our press release relay _aeons_ ago so
anyone could email 'email@example.com' and we'd post it. Now there are
'news' sites (whose entire job is to parrot press releases). So we
put up the raw press releases (for archival value) and also embed
other news portals into it (for commentary). Because we're above them,
selecting what is relevant from their many voices.
Whenever someone mimics us, we reinvent ourselves one step higher on
the ladder. Now that portals are trendy, for example, we've shifted
to being a meta-portal.
Growth by Accretion
Our method is "never reinvent the wheel". We also emphasize creator's
rights and ownership of their own work. These two concepts combine
to make competition fairly pointless: being assimilated into RPGnet
provides creators with the best of all possible worlds.
Historically, RPGnet was a demo product for Emma's web hosting and
design company. If people thought RPGnet was cool (went her thinking)
they'd hire Emma to design _their_ sites, too.
The initial content was Sandy's "Writer's Market Guide" (the core of
the industry directory today), his previously published reviews, and
his soapbox. We added the "submit your own review" and recruited some
other columnists. _We_ pitched _them_. Erich Arendall was next on board,
I believe, having already achieved (usenet) fame as "Shadow Sprite".
We also offered to host Prince Etrigan (Shawn Althouse)'s site, to
build synergy, and Brian David Phillips's LARP stuff, because we were
larpers (and to add breadth and scholastic merit). Our motivation was
that both offered neat things we wanted our site to have, and so
there was no point in making one to compete with them. On the other
hand, they were languishing under hard-to-find URLs and had to worry
about web space. We provided free support in order to gain content
and thus readers.
Even now, we use the same general method. Our workers are all volunteer.
They start up with us, and typically do a good run before deciding to
move on to something new. They gained a following during their run with
us, and in turn we keep the archive so it doesn't disappear from the web.
As a result, we have slowly been creating the next generation of game
writers, many of whom cite RPGnet as a strong influence in their early
success. We like that beyond its simple PR value-- it shows we're doing
our job correctly.
Originally we published RPGnet only on Tuesdays; now we do daily
updates with at least two 'things' published per day. A thing
typically includes a column-thingee, or some reviews, or a link
to the latest press releases, or a link to a newly updated section.
We're pretty flexible, it just has to be two clickable links for
each daily "What's New".
For handling email, you can see my 'form responses' for most queries.
These also give you a good background in handling different aspects
of the site. Our policy is to answer every non-SPAM email, within
1 week if possible (and within 1 day if feasible).
We run new reviews Tues/Thurs (for RPGs) plus Wed (for non-RPGs).
There have been requests to shift reviews (perhaps to Mon/Wed/Fri).
Editor's choice on that.
We try to do a new column or feature each day. If things are slow,
we make due with another link.
We also try to update the Press Releases listing daily. We only
mention this on the front page if we need a second "What's New"
item for that day. Other things that get updated 'as needed'
(like the Best of Forums listing) are likewise only noted when we're
either short on stuff, or when the update was significant.
Our current main features are:
- Columns and Features
- Industry Directory
- Subsections and Corners (Humor, SF, Gallery, etc)
- Forums (and Best of Forums)
- "Neat Stuff" like the Birthday tool, Chat, Custom homepage color/layout
Reviews are submitted via the 'submit a review form' prominently placed
on the Reviews listings and the front page. Reviews are vetted by
the Editor and can be edited (typically to remove munged HTML, BODY
and HTML tags left in by folks who composed them offline in html,
and other problems). We don't do content editing of reviews-- part
of the goal is for reviewers to be able to improve their writing through
peer review. And without an editorial stance, content editing is
How long a review goes from submission to publication is somewhat
random. I use the criteria of
- group related reviews together, regardless of order received
- if there is a theme, run with it-- but also toss in a few non-theme
items so everyone has something to read that day
- put longer or better written or more provocative reviews earlier
in the list
- stop adding reviews to any given day's queue when they get to be
more than 1-2 dozen, since people have complained that huge numbers get
- try to ensure that the days are roughly balanced, i.e. that there
aren't 20 RPG reviews on Tuesday then only 3 RPG reviews on Thursday.
So with all that in place, most reviews go up within a week of submission,
and some lucky ones (or during slow weeks) get posted within a day or two.
Almost never will an item go more than two weeks without posting.
Columns and Features
We currently do a column or feature each weekday. On slow weeks (when
we don't have much of a backstock of material), we may skimp by having,
for example, Friday's Survey, as explained earlier. A Column is "an
edition in an ongoing author's series or a one-shot guest column by
an industry or gamer person". A Feature is "the other stuff". For
example, an Interview or Con Report would be a Feature, as are the
"Buzz" and "Mighty Eye of RPGnet" items. This nomenclature is mostly
pointless but I find it handy.
Columns are at least minimally edited. I always run a spell checker
and a sanity check on them. When possible, I work with the author
on revisions. Drew Meger does more intensive one-on-one work with
authors for the specific columns that he manages.
Currently, a new survey goes up every Friday. There is a web tool
for this. Steve Darlington has been handling surveys for us, and
is recruiting S. John Ross to take over when he leaves in December.
The current industry directory is publisher and creator self-reported
information, approved by a staffer to ensure no spamming or off-topic
listings. It is current and in really good shape, I feel.
Subsections and Corners (Humor, SF, Gallery, etc)
These are currently static pages, and mostly out of date. Many were
maintained by individual volunteers (James M did SF, etc) who were
mostly alienated by the crew of 2000, which is why they are out of date.
I favor putting these into the same tool as the Directory Index,
and using the same criteria as the Index (i.e. self-submitted links
that get approved or turned down by the editor).
A survey of our readers found that:
- sites without ads were seen as 'unprofessional'
- readers wanted relevant, targeted ads about new or cool game stuff
Ads are basically content for this site! Readers want them, and they
want them to be gaming stuff. We love this. We currently run them
free for business reasons. We used to charge, the crew of 2000 messed
things up, and we lacked the manpower to restart the collections aspect
of handling them. The ad tool is very primitive but works. We as of
yet have not provided the free ad customers with their ad stats, since
stats are all on one page. I would like to make that page public once
as an 'insider feature', actually-- and as a way to show people that
RPGnet ads are an effective tool for them.
Forums (and Best of Forums)
We originally ran forums years ago, and no one used them. Forums
later became trendy so we embedded them with columns for commentary,
with reviews for commentary, then launched our own industry-focused
top-level ones. And they became one of the highest trafficked portions
of the site.
Forums are of five types:
- Broad Industry Themes, like "RPGnet" or "Game Business"
- Specific for Column series (experiencing cyclical use, whenever a new
column in that series appears)
- Transient, for a given Review (it will always be there, but traffic is
- Administrative, currently just "Trouble Tickets". This is a godsend:
- Once a problem is posted, it's known so you don't get 100 emails over it
- You can track problems, and also ask for more details
- People find out when the problem is fixed when you post a follow-up
- Our followups are good PR and show we care
- We can answer 'no' to issues raised and people accept it
- Offsite. Things like the "PTG,PTB" forums, where we host an outside
friendly sites' forum, thus helping them and in return getting a 'door' from
their site to ours.
This catch-all includes the Birthday tool, the Custom homepage color/layout
gadgets, and the Chat. Basically, the 'other' category that increases
the feel of community (more-so than providing content).