The Fan Site Tightrope

The following represents my opinions and viewpoints only

I’ve just celebrated my personal first anniversary over at the LOTRO Players fan site. My first article was posted on July 5th of last year. In some ways it seems like just the other day, and in other ways it seems like years ago. One reason that it seems like a great deal of time has passed is because of how much I’ve learned in the past year. Games communities, volunteer journalism, informal networking, and even the business of gaming are things that I’m constantly learning about while feeding this hobby of fan site volunteerism.

Beware the Handcuffs

A couple of things happened in this past week that forced me to once again reflect on how I approach involvement in the site and news podcast. First off, Turbine held a press event where they gave select members of the press a guided tour of the next major update. #LOTRO Players was not at the event, but in working closely with my friends over at the #MMO Reporter network, I was able to post a story about the event (with LOTRO Reporter’s video of the tour) before any of the major press sites had posted similar synopses. It was a great arrangement that was both mutually beneficial and stood for everything LOTRO represents in my mind: community and working together.

I’ll admit, there are times when it would be kind of nice to see Turbine extend a hand to us, simply to legitimize the work we put into talking about and playing their game. However, the downside of that arrangement is that I’d have to be glancing at their extended wrist to make sure there wasn’t a handcuff attached to one side. After all, it’s their job to make sure that their product is advertised properly and shown in a good light whenever possible. It’s our “job” to write and talk about our honest opinions with the LOTRO Players community. It’s what our readers and listeners expect from us. Those two goals are sometimes at odds, and a too-cozy arrangement with the game developer could potentially jeopardize the integrity of our content. Just as a too-honest post or review could impact the game in a negative way. If we came to a point where we felt like we depended on a relationship with Turbine to provide quality content to our readers, that would put us in the awkward position of trying to make sure we didn’t “bite the hand” which might result in our invitations to exclusive events getting lost in the mail. As I said in a comment most over at LOTRO Players, I’m not suggesting that Turbine engages in these kinds of practices, only that the possibility to do so would be there. After careful reflection, I prefer the current arrangement where we are not treated as press, and therefore absolutely free to post our opinions without a potential dark cloud of reprisal looming overhead.

The Fine Line

On the flip side, as a heavily-trafficked fan site, there’s also a time to be silent, or at least to sit back and reserve judgement. The second thing that happened this past week was that Turbine’s Community Manager set off a veritable firestorm throughout the community thanks to some comments (and subsequent forum posts) he made regarding traditional end-game content during a live-stream event. LOTRO Players did not cover the comments from a news perspective, but one of our contributors did post an article dissecting some of the facts and statistics that were stated by the CM during the stream. Long story short, the assertion was that only a very small percentage of the LOTRO player base utilizes traditional end-game content, and that number is not enough to justify the development resources of something as complex and resource intensive as a raid cluster. It was a response to a question about raiding, which also happens to be the same question that has been asked repeatedly over the course of the last seven months ever since it was first hinted that there were no immediate plans for traditional raid content in LOTRO. Piecing all of the CM answers and posts together sounds very much like he’s making the statement: “there will not be any new instance clusters as long as they are only utilized by a minority of the player base”, although I’m still not convinced that he actually ever came out and said this. The community, on the other hand, has connected these dots for themselves and has reacted as you might expect.

It’s times like these that I feel it’s best to sit back and ride out the storm instead of pouring fuel onto the fire. We had a similar tumultuous period during the Helm’s Deep beta last year, when players were first introduced to the new skill tree system. Although it was under NDA, we received numerous personal messages, in-game tells, and lots of leading comments on the site from people who were off-the-hook ticked about the changes. Even after the NDA was lifted, I chose to be very guarded about my comments knowing the fragile state of the community. After all, one wrongly placed negative comment could have set off a firestorm and even possibly driven people away from the game I love to play. Not that I think my comment alone would hold that much influence, but it certainly could be the straw that caused someone to quit. Why play a game when even those who care enough to contribute to a fan site are down on the changes? It can become counter-productive very quickly. Without customers, there is no hope for improvement of these systems because without customers, there is no game. While I want to be honest, I do not want to needlessly drive people away due to a careless or ill-timed remark.

Perspective is Everything

Do the readers/listeners appreciate this tightrope that we find ourselves on? Of course, it depends on the player. We had a comment just last week about how negative we were on a recent podcast. Conversely, one of our first live-chat room visitors during the Helm’s Deep period last year actually rage quit the chat room because we were “nothing but #Turbine fanboys” or something to that effect. You read that right, he rage quit a chat room. I’d never seen that before, either.

One thing that’s difficult is that some readers don’t differentiate between fan sites and actual paid gaming press sites. For those who have been raised in the world of “new media”, the line between paid journalism and high-quality blogging can be extremely blurry. If they don’t realize that we’re just a bunch of players who have banded together for no other reason than to have a little fun and give a little back, their perspective may be one of inflated expectations.

As for me, I’ll just keep attempting to learn how and when to speak up. More importantly, I’ll try to pay attention to when I should sit down and shut up. It’s an interesting balance to strike, one that comes from years of real-life experience and (hopefully) accumulation of wisdom.

Featured image by jeffrey james pacres on Flickr Creative Commons

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13 thoughts on “The Fan Site Tightrope

  1. Cithryth July 6, 2014 / 9:55 pm

    Great write up, Brax. I especially liked the line, “Why play a game when even those who care enough to contribute to a fan site are down on the changes?”. I’ve been worried lately that maybe I have been unintentionally taking on too-negative of a tone even though I enjoy playing the game and I am generally looking forward to the updates coming next week. It’s definitely a fine line that we have to keep ourselves on.

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 6, 2014 / 11:03 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Cithrith! It’s probably a good thing to keep at the forefront of our minds. When we stop thinking about it is when we become dangerous 😉

      Like

  2. iogromerrybelly July 7, 2014 / 10:03 am

    Brax, as always this was a well done article! You have a unique ability to bring the reader into the situation your writing about…and it never leaves one questioning why am I reading this? In fact, I’m sure most want more of your writing and personality! Great job friend!

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 7, 2014 / 12:23 pm

      Thanks for stopping by – always good to see you!

      Like

  3. taltoz July 7, 2014 / 10:28 am

    You gotta love how turbine try to blind us with statistics, of course raiding accounts for only a tiny fraction of the whole gameplay experience in LOTRO.
    Especially when you factor in the 100′s of hours of questing each character goes through to be eligible to join this prestigious group of level capped stalwarts. Not to mention all the turbine points invested on quest packs and expansions on the journey to the summit.
    And then when these heady height’s are within spitting distance, there is the inevitable periods of thumb twiddling before entering because player x needs to go potty and player y wants to bring a different character.
    Then it happens , 30-40 minutes of raiding after which the content in question becomes locked away for another week.
    What then ?
    Roll another character and start all over again, which of course reduces the raiding factor even further. 😠
    I admire you walking the tightrope Brax, as you no doubt guessed i fell of after the first few steps 😉

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 7, 2014 / 12:25 pm

      There certainly are a lot of communication mis-steps between game companies and players. The fault lies on both sides, I think, to some degree, between the companies not investing enough in community interaction and players micro-dissecting every little statement. Sounds like I may have myself another blog post topic!

      Like

      • taltoz July 7, 2014 / 1:16 pm

        I’ll be looking forward to the new topic.
        But please don’t take my comment the wrong way, I’m in no way a hard core raider, I just think turbine could have put the message across in a different way, such as ‘Our resources are focused in other areas at this moment in time’ or something along those lines.
        For me the game has become a social experience in which raids and instances are just a small part of why i enjoy this game so much. If i had a choice of which aspect of the game personally I’d like turbine to show some love it would be kinships,

        Like

  4. Kaleigh July 7, 2014 / 3:07 pm

    Hello, Brax!

    I am pretty sure I am the writer of the article mentioned in your post here. Please know you can always feel free to quote me by name if you like 🙂

    First, I do want to apologize if what I wrote offended you (or anyone else) in any way. I considered the things you wrote about here as I was working on my article, and there was one major moment where I had decided to not pursue it for these very reasons. There were other moments where the thought came into mind as well.

    Obviously, in the end, I decided to go ahead with it, and I feel like I should explain why:

    1. It was new, and it was news

    Someone made a wonderful post summarizing all of Sapience’s and Aaron’s comments throughout the Hobbits to Isengard series regarding this issue, but the thread was locked and I cannot find it to link here. Up until the point where the dust-up happened, the main gist was the information given was:

    – There were no instances or raids planned in the foreseeable future
    – The Developers would consider them, depending on which type of system was best suited for what was to come (whether Epic Battles, regions like Limlight Gorge, and other options)

    This new information, given in the Shield run and in subsequent discussions on the topic of traditional group content was very new and very pertinent. It was an entirely new reason for why they were not pursuing that type of content (with a great many ramifications to it, all of which are newsworthy, in my opinion). It also hinted that the cause of this was the *players*, and some might read the word ‘fault’ instead of ’cause’ in that statement.

    As far as the assertion that Sapience or Turbine has never actually *stated* that this type of content is pretty much off the table, I do not think it takes much of a leap to come to that conclusion. I do not think that anyone would disagree that group content has been diminishing both in quality and quantity over these past few years.

    To discontinue it entirely and say the reason is due to the small percentage of players who take part in it would be like a farmer deciding to no longer plant pumpkin seeds but say that, if the proportion of pumpkins he harvests grows in comparison to his other crops, he will go back to planting them again.

    2. It’s a big deal.

    Brax, this is a really big deal, in my opinion. Can you imagine the outcry if it was announced that Crafting was no longer going to be continued? What if it was announced that Turbine would no longer be creating new regions to explore and the only way to level was through scalable instances or dailies. What about the Festivals? What if it was announced there would be no more new cosmetics?

    I think it is safe to say the reaction would be at least as strong, if not stronger. Would it be right if LOTRO Players did not cover the story in these circumstances, solely due to the outcry?

    Please know I mean this in the most innocent and innocuous way possible. While it is true that everyone on the staff is part of the 2% of groupers out there, I think it is safe to say that this sort of content is not really that high on the list for anyone, no? What if Turbine had stated that podcasts or in-game footage of the game was no longer allowed?

    But, for some, this is the reason they play. And that means a lot.

    Also, just in the MMO sense, a game deciding to no longer pursue ‘traditional’ end-game content is a big deal, I would think.

    So, in the end, I think it was warranted, but that is only my opinion. I will say that, at most, I am asserting that Turbine made an error in judgement. There have been other comments recently, regarding the tour you mentioned and talk of Turbine’s “opportunism” regarding the Tortoise Stone item and the Gift of the Valar being in the store, that go well beyond that (again, in my opinion)

    Brax, I think you are the best, and I hope you still think of me in a somewhat favorable light as well 🙂

    Kaleigh

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 7, 2014 / 3:42 pm

      Hey Kaleigh. Yes, yours was the article I was referring to, but I hope you didn’t take my post as meaning that you shouldn’t have posted it! In fact, I thought that the comparison to the radiance stat was a unique and interesting angle. I certainly hadn’t thought of it that way. That said, I’m still not 100% convinced that the information that everybody is flipping out over is really “new”. Maybe I’m wrong – most of the community seems to think that I am – but I haven’t seen official word from anybody involved in actual direction-setting within the game that future instance clusters will never again be considered. A clearly frustrated CM popping off some numbers about player demographics (in a sentence where he also contradicts himself) just isn’t quite enough for me, as I stated in the comments of your post. Again, I could be wrong and perhaps Mr Heaton has accidentally let slip the 3 year strategic roadmap for LOTRO, and if that’s true, then I agree that it is a big deal.

      >Would it be right if LOTRO Players did not cover the story in these circumstances, solely due to the outcry?

      No, but my personal choice is to sit back and make sure I understand the entire “landscape” of the situation prior to commenting or posting on something that’s so polarizing. I want to make sure that my words and opinions are as fully baked as possible. I want to make sure the community isn’t simply jumping to a conclusion based on incomplete information. Please don’t take this as a slight – just because I’m not there yet with this particular issue doesn’t mean that nobody else should be posting about it. That’s not what I’m saying at all, only that as members of a fan site we must give careful consideration prior to speaking out on it, which it sounds like you did.

      We may not always agree, Kaleigh, but I will always see you in a favorable light. Your posts are always well thought out, your stories creative, and more often than not I feel that I have no counter-argument to your points. You do fantastic work. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      —edit

      By the way, the thought and consideration you put into your post *prior* to publishing it is a great example of how we, as large fan site contributors, have to sometimes weigh our words and options very carefully. It supports my musings in the above post very well!

      Like

  5. Kaleigh July 7, 2014 / 4:30 pm

    Oh, I feel so much better now 🙂

    I wholly understand what you are saying, and I think you are right. A hasty word or action stayed can make a great difference, especially on the scale of which we are speaking.

    What you have written means a lot. Thank you! 🙂

    Like

  6. Fredelas July 7, 2014 / 11:42 pm

    It’s really hard to be openly critical of something or someone we care deeply about. If I saw someone I loved going down what I felt was the wrong path, I’d feel compelled to speak up, regardless of the logic or justifications for that choice.

    Maybe the answer is to stop caring so much. Isn’t that what Turbine wants and LOTRO frequently wins awards for, though? Its passionate community? It seems there may not be much room left for passion, when everything is ruled by facts.

    Like

  7. Roger Edwards (@ModeratePeril) July 9, 2014 / 5:36 pm

    I think the love and passion LOTRO fans have towards the game and possibly even to Turbine, is far from being a two way relationship. I would even go so far as to say that Turbine knows this and has subsequently always had the upper hand.

    But all things come to an end. Even good will.

    Like

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