It's All Your Fault


Daily Radar is just the latest of the gaming-oriented websites to bite the dust; game sites (and, in general content-oriented sites) have been suffering pretty badly for about a year now. What does this say about the future of gaming and role-playing websites? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. And they all have you to blame.

Whoever broke the Internet, raise their hand.

Got your hand up? You should. Because it's your fault. Well, sort of.

Here's why:

Person A goes down to the store to buy a magazine so he can read about the cool new MMORPG that's coming out. Money changes hands, and somewhere way back along the line the guys who print the magazine make some money. For the most part, they're making money from the advertisers who spent money to place their ads in that magazine. But they're also making money from person A, who threw down money for the mag.

Over time, the advertisers in that magazine start looking at their Return On Investment (ROI). If they notice that nobody is responding to their full color advertisement on page 15, they pull their ads and look for a different venue.

If this happens over and over again, eventually the magazine can't afford itself any more. They stop printing it. It makes sense. Simple capitalism at work. But two things cushion the blow. First of all, the guy who bought the magazine helped pay for it, and second, it's not that easy to figure out exactly who read the ad, and who didn't. Advertisers have to guess a lot, so they're not so quick to yank ads if they even suspect they're getting eyes on the ad.

This, by the way, is why we're still reading entertainment magazines, even though the medium is over a half-century old.

Now take a look at a gaming website. Person B surfs over to the website to check out the latest game review. Ignoring the banner ads at the top, he reads the reviews and takes off. Six months later, his favorite gaming website is gone. What gives?

Well, first of all Person B is not paying for the content, because he's been groomed to expect that in some cyberpunk fantasy world he lives in, all information should be free on the Internet. Secondly, he's not clicking on that banner ad. And unlike the world of magazines, the online advertisers know exactly how many people didn't click on their banner ads. No clicks, no ads. No ads, no money. Banner ads become less valuable. They generate less revenue. No money, no website. Websites make less money. Case closed.

And it's your fault for not clicking on that banner ad. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Of course, I jest; the problem isn't that you're not clicking, the problem is that they're depending on it. The model is broken. And the problem is also that it's only half of the problem.

The other half of the problem, as I see it, is that in the print world, the gaming companies all need help to market their products. They don't want to pay to print their own magazines, so they go to the established magazines and advertise in them. Not every gaming company owns a printing press.

But every gaming company has a website now.

Now, suddenly, there's no need to push content to gaming portals. Everyone can just bring people to their own websites. Who needs to pay for someone else's billboard when you've got your own in your backyard?

Who needs gaming portal websites?

Nobody, apparently.

And especially not you.

If only I'd known this years ago! Why waste money on magazines when I can get promotional flyers from the game companies themselves!

I don't take anything I read on a gaming company's web site seriously unless it's in the tech support section (and even then I'll probably check what I find there against the advice of usenet or my friends). Gaming web sites needed to have some steam taken out of them anyway -- particularly gassy rags like Daily Radar. I'll be happy to see things taken down a notch or two.

Of course some sites try charging money. PC Accelerator tried it recently and failed. Check out the lovely farewell message: We had a standing bet. Tens of thousands of people emailed us after we closed PCXL. They told us that if we brought it back in any form, they'd pay for it -- pay even more for it than before. We knew it wasn't true. So, just to prove the point, we brought it back. You didn't pay for it. Now cram it. Love, The staff of PCXL (

Well, the PCXL wasn't serious about charging money, as their message stated it was more of a lark announcing that it was coming back. But take IGN, which *is* serious about charging money. Will they get enough people to support their bills? Who knows? Is this the future path for everyone? Probably, yes.

Right now it makes no sense because there are several major sites that are free, but I'm betting that's going to start to change. Personally I don't see a problem with that as long as what you're getting is worth a couple bucks a month (if a popular website gets just 50,000 unique visitors a month--and most get more than that--each only paying $2 that would be good enough to allow the website to continue their operations). It's cheaper than a magazine subscription, and you're getting fresh content 5 times a week. But, like I mentioned, that's the key...if you're not providing information people care about there's no way you'll get away with charging for it.

I already pay $19.95 a month to Prodigy Internet and I'm still paying for the PC I bought two years ago! When I add in much more critical things such as rent, electricity, groceries, etc... paying a fee to visit a website is very low on my list of priorities. I have better uses for my money.

"because he's been groomed to expect that in some cyberpunk fantasy world he lives in, all information should be free on the Internet"

Not at all - there are three reasons as I see it that people don't like to pay for content websites (yet):
1) It's not tangible, for that outlay you get no magazine to hold in your hand, cover CD to stick in the drive, etc,
2) E-commerce is still not universally accepted,
and the biggy...
3) Because starting up a content website is SO CHEAP compared to starting a printed magazine there is a lot of competition. Who can afford to start charging money for a product when your competition doesn't? People will just go elsewhere which is exactly what they do.

This is unlikely to change until it's more common to charge money than not, but how to survive in the meantime? To encourage that shift in paradigm with the current market may require enticements; agreements with publishers or retailers to offer discounts to subscribers, free product with subscriptions, game demo CDs mailed out every couple of months as part of the subscription, that sort of thing.

I just gave your site money. I subscribe to Pyramid and I buy e-rpg's and their supplements, though I don't much like the electronic book medium. And when gets their pay system running (if ever) I'll give them money, too. It's no longer my fault.


Good points in the rants and rebuttals - my 2 pence...

1. The RPG industry was never a rich man's game. Never has been, never will be. Whilst e-publishing will be driving down costs, this is realistically the only thing people will pay for. Charging for access to site content?
Maybe if the content is essential for professional work or if the subject matter is controversial/taboo/risky.
Can we truly say either of the RPG industry?

2. Web sites go down. Fact of life - and who wants to pay for a product that may not be available when you want to read it. Whilst magazine/product availability is a limiting factor, can you argue the same for the Web? And would you want to buy a magazine that disappeared from time to time or was over-written if it got hacked?
I'm leery of paying for nothing - certain memberships in role-playing organisations taught me that lesson...

3. What is so *wrong* with the idea of free information anyway? Would you call OGL and d20 SRD a cyberpunk dream? Sure it's based on previous investment - but it's cornering the market - or haven't you noticed how many publishing companies are producing d20 material?

4. Given the choice, many people *won't* pay if they don't have to. Charityware/guiltware is something that makes me smile on a regular basis - sometimes I even click the relevant URLs. It's my choice if I like the product. But don't ask me to spend more money on a hobby that already expects me to pay upwards of £50 to learn the rules which are incomplete and buggy...

For people to want to do it, it has to be accessible - not every football player spends thousands on their kit or their ball - and the persistance of systems like FUDGE illustrate that point.

Could it be that the success of Magic: The Gathering was due to it's relatively inexpensive prices and small stock space compared to RPGs that cost more and need more sourcebooks to make sense?

The take home message - if you're going to charge for your service, make sure it's worth it. And the way to make a game accessible is to make it cheap as you can and as high-quality as you can.

Thanks for your time guys. Donation's in the post. ; - )