I know I said last week I was going to post the ’30 day video game challenge’ stuff I was doing, but I decided to wait and do it as one post rather than as two. Mainly because if you don’t want to read my meandering ramblings on games then you shouldn’t have to decide that more than once. Having said that, if you didn’t want to read them I have no idea why you’d even be here. What went so wrong in your life to result in this?
Anyway, the challenge stuff will be next week instead.
Today I wanted to talk a bit about ‘readership’. I work, you may have noticed, in an incredibly specific genre. Text gaming is far from as popular as it once was and MUDs are sub-genre of a very niche area. High profile MUDs maybe have as many as two hundred people online at any one time – a lot for a text game, but not by the standards of anything else in gaming. As such, I tend not to expect that what I write here will be read very far – we don’t even have the benefit of being open to build up a readership. I was idly curious a couple of months ago though so I installed some stats tools on the blog. Previously I’d been tracking Epitaph traffic with Google Analytics, but I forgot to install it across when we moved from our internal blog to the word press one. Google Analytics had suggested to me a unique readership of around 150-200 per month, which I was reasonably pleased about – as I say, I work in a niche *within* a niche. It’s been hard to gauge engagement too since we have a very restrictive commenting policy – if you don’t have an account on Epitaph, thank you but your views on the game are not required. Those who have been playing on live haven’t been able to comment either, but that’s going to change this week when I fix up the last remaining pieces of the architecture to make sure the right sites authenticate against the right shards.
When we moved across to the new architecture there was a black hole of reporting for a long time. I installed the stats tool to get a feel for what had happened over the intervening months and was pretty pleased to see that our monthly unique readership for the blog stands at around 500. They come from all over, and the search terms suggest that not all of them come specifically for the blog, but a goodly chunk of them check out a few pages. Most of them come here from the announcements I do on Facebook and Google+. A small number come from Twitter. The rest come from here and there – a few blogs that link back to us, some search traffic, and so on.
Beyond my own social networks, I don’t really make a huge effort to get people looking our way – while we’ve been in heavy development mode it’s always seemed a little counter-productive to get people to look over here and then show them our static live game where nobody logs on and nothing changes. We are galloping towards Epitaph 1.0 now though – we’ve got all the content I think we need, and we’re cleaning up so much of the rough edges of the game that it’s really starting to shine. Along with that, I need to start transitioning into another mindset for the game – that of trying to get people to come check us out.
For a long time, these blog posts have had Facebook like and Google+ buttons. While I like seeing people pressing these, they don’t bring a lot of extra traffic our way. There is no meaningful difference between a blog with ten of these likes/+1s and a blog with two. Nonetheless, seeing numbers there at all always makes me feel happy. If you like what’s said in a blog, or just found it interesting, or whatever – by all means, throw us a +1 or a like. It genuinely does get noticed.
But as I say, this doesn’t drive a lot of traffic here. So I added in two new buttons last week – a twitter link, and a reddit link. I tested them both out to make sure they worked, and for reddit I posted the Epitaph: The Line article just to make sure it was all linked up.
What blew my mind was the fact it drove our readership for the month over 700 within 24 hours. It’s not a gigantic leap in real terms – as blogs go we have a tiny readership and that’s not likely to change. But we got a lot more eyes over here than we previously had. I then posted the computer games journal papers over there, onto the MUD subreddit, and got a good response. So, I’m now sold on Reddit as a useful tool for getting people to understand that we’re around and we’re getting ready to release.
I don’t want to start spamming every post I do there – that’s self indulgent and likely to just breed resentment and annoyance, especially if it’s to the very low traffic MUD subreddit. However, I do want to ask you guys that if you do genuinely think that any of these posts are worth reading, and you have a reddit account, that you click the reddit link to submit it. If it’s already been submitted, clicking the arrows to vote it up or down would also be great. Similarly with twitter – I’m not a big user of it, and thus I don’t have a significant number of followers – but a tweet or a retweet by clicking on the link provided above would be hugely appreciated if you think there’s something worth reading. I know there won’t always be – some of these posts are very self-indulgent, and others so specific to Epitaph that anyone who’s not already reading is just going to glaze over. Occasionally though a post does manage to spark off interest for other people, and signal boosting is a very real way you can get people to look at this blog, and *hopefully* from the blog to the game we’re building.
If you’ve got favourite posts from the last couple of years, then you’ll find that they all got twitter, Facebook, Google and reddit buttons to go along with the move to WordPress. Along the way we lost the accumulated likes and +1s that they would have had (because the URL changed) and they’ve lost visibility as a result. Browsing through our back catalogue and hitting the buttons will do us a lot of good.
Please though, only do it if you feel the post genuinely deserves to be read by more people. Good quality content is by far the single most significant thing I want associated with the game. The blog posts that just ramble on, or are bitter, nasty rants about whatever – that stuff you can merrily skip on by. I think what we’re doing here is interesting though, and occasionally some of the better blog posts reflect that.
I recently too found the site Scribd, when the Computer Games Journal started to use it to host publicly accessible research papers. It’s been neat seeing the readership count for the papers I wrote going up, and so I put a couple of things on there myself. One is the Epitaph Survival Guide, which has been available from monkeys-at-keyboard for a long time. The other is my evidence based case for Scottish Independence. In the post I made recently on politics, Epitaph and the Scottish Cringe I made mention that I was very much for a yes vote in the referendum. If you wondered why, you could read about it there.
If we can get enough momentum going for when we release, we’ll hopefully be able to hit the necessary escape velocity to shoot Epitaph into the stars – and that’s something you can all help us with. We need to start transforming from an insular, closed off development clique to a more inclusive and welcoming environment. A good way to do that is to make sure the people who are intrigued by Epitaph have a good feel for what we’re doing and why.
P.S. As a bonus extra, those of you who are impossible to offend might find some juvenile humour in http://imaginary-realities.com/insult.php. It’s a crude, offensive insult generator for when you just can’t find something suitably mean to call someone.
 Another plug here for my Computer Games Journal paper – http://www.scribd.com/doc/134002484/M-Heron-Likely-to-be-eaten-by-a-Grue-the-relevance-of-text-games-in-the-modern-era 
 Ah hell, and a plug for the other one too – http://www.scribd.com/doc/134167208/M-Heron-Inaccessible-through-oversight-the-need-for-inclusive-game-design
 A platform I am finally starting to see some benefit in.
 Our new patch is coming along great though – we have over 200 quests now. Just think about that for a moment. There are MUDs that have been open for decades that don’t have that many. We’re so close to doubling how many quests we have over the live game.