RPGFan


Mike Salbato
RPGFan Reader Survey 2017 Results
Settle in, and grab a cup of [beverage] for this one.
10.01.17 - 7:04 PM

Our biggest survey ever wrapped up in early September, and as I promised at the time, we've gone over your responses, researched, discussed, evaluated, and many more words of that nature. Thankfully for all of us, many of you filled out parts of our survey with positive feedback. Whether you've been with us since the LunarNET days of 1998 or more recently, it was really great hearing the positive impact we've had, and we appreciate your warm wishes.

Beyond that, there are things to address based on our findings, so here are my thoughts on those, and more importantly, what we intend to do with the knowledge.


News

Nearly tied with reviews in popularity, news proved to be one of the main things you come here to see. Points of note include:

Timeliness
The most common thread in news comments was about timeliness. We know. We know, and you know, and it's a constant discussion behind the scenes. It's a response I had been expecting, even if it's not a thing we rush to acknowledge. News has always been a hard department to keep staffed at RPGFan, and it gets more difficult as our beloved genre grows more every year: There is just so much out there to report on. Plus, as you likely know, RPGFan is run by volunteers, so it's hard to really force people to commit to multiple news stories every day with real-life responsibilities. Lastly, with the output requirements of news, it's easy for it to feel less glamorous than, say, reviews.

That said, I'm not shrugging and saying "too bad" about this. I'm proud of what our news team writes, and we can't give them more time in the day, but we can make their jobs easier. When it comes to online team-based jobs, it's really easy to get bogged down in process and protocol. Over time, the steps required to write a news story ballooned, making even a simple story a chore to put together. One of the first things I sought out to do as Managing Editor was to streamline this process. Working with the news team, we stripped a ton of complexities from our system, and it's made things flow better, so we're on the right track. We're also working hard to overhaul our posting system, but more on that in a bit.

That said, we're still going to be looking for additional news writers later this fall, because there really is a lot to cover out there! So be on the lookout for our Hiring Drive.

Comments
"Let us comment on news articles."

"Comment sections are evil, never add them."

These are the sentiments amongst not only our staff, but our survey results. Personally, I often fall into the second camp, but it all depends on a site's community. I feel that we have a much higher percentage of people who are well-spoken and good-intentioned than what you would find in YouTube comments. And several of you responded that you like most of our staff and want to interact with us easier, which gives me hope.

We can't actually include commenting with our current news backend, so if you're scared of the feature, don't worry yet. It is something we are likely to implement in the future though, on news and maybe reviews.

We know it can be a scary proposition, but we also know that the way we currently let people directly comment on an article is by offering an email link, which is hardly convenient for quick feedback. So we're going to see how it goes.


Forums

The forums are an interesting beast. Forums are such an old part of the internet, and still thrive in many communities, despite the advances of social media. Our forums are not as lively as they once were, as proved by the sky-high number of "never use" responses the forums received in the survey.

There were some common pieces of feedback on what we could do about the forums unpopularity: Several of you suggested making the forums more visible on the main site, along with expanding the community. The first thing is something we're thinking about, while expanding the community is going to depend on people using them, so that's on you guys! Just kidding. We know some websites have sub-forums for each game being discussed, and while that's possible, we aren't sure the size of our forum community warrants that, and more than that, we can see it fragmenting the discussion by making people click around more.

That said, it's officially an item on our roadmap to try and integrate the forums better, since even something as simple as a "popular on the forums" widget will bring more attention to the community.


Reviews

Reviews are unsurprisingly the most popular section we have, and one we got a ton of feedback on. So many of you had nice things to say about our reviews and review staff, and consider us a trustworthy source as well, which means a lot to us. There's a few key points here:

Video Reviews
39% of survey takers are interested in video versions of our reviews, and while a dramatically smaller number of people specifically asked that we don't expand our content this way, the numbers are clear. Video reviews are something we've discussed for a long time, and like so many other things, we get stuck when it comes to the logistics: Who will edit? Who's on screen? Who has good cameras and audio? We have some ideas, but we also don't want to roll this out half baked or have to rely on one or two people for all of it. If we can get the logistics down, we're definitely interested in this.

A point of note for those concerned: We'd consider video reviews an addition/supplement to written reviews, not a replacement.

Scoring System
Our 1-100% school-grade-based scoring system often comes up for debate amongst the RPGFan staff, but just as many of us are in favor of simplifying it as well as keeping it the same. It's a tough thing to change after 20 years, as we've learned.

For example, about 20% of respondents are in favor of our internal popular choice: A smaller scale, like 1-5 or 1-10. But in looking to change it, our history works against us: Adapting some numbers would be easy: An 80%/100% would become a 4/5, for example. But what do we do with our literally thousands of existing reviews that use more granular scores? Rounding up or down might not line up with the author's intent, making their score higher or lower than intended. And if we try and factor in score aggregators like MetaCritic, which would then have to convert our 1-5 grade back into a 1-100 grade, it gets weird.

I guess it's good that over 60% of you are just fine with our current system, because for the foreseeable future, it's going to stay! And the 13% of you that clicked "No scores; I'd rather read the review itself," you're my favorites.

A fun side note: An equal number of people suggested to us that our grading subcategories were too numerous AND not comprehensive enough. So given the choice between eliminating them or having to add even more categories, we'll also be leaving these as-is.

Retro Reviews
Wow, was the reception to this one overwhelming! Almost 75% or survey takers want us to offer more retro game reviews. Granted, we have a review section as old as the site itself, with reviews from way before that, covering such timeless classics as Deadly Towers for the NES.

That said, there are occasional games we never reviewed, so we have holes in our coverage to fill. Plus, getting a modern-day perspective on older games - even if we reviewed them before - is an intriguing prospect.

To the point though: This is not only a thing we're looking into, but actively doing now. In fact, the first review as part of this program is coming later this week, so please look forward to it. Beyond that, we'll be looking into both games that we never covered and those that the staff wants to revisit, so it's a thing that we will continue to do.


Features and Op-Ed Articles

The #1 response to the question of what type of content you'd want to see more of on RPGFan was more features, opinion pieces, and exclusive content. This helped validate my choice to prioritize developing this kind of content amongst the staff over the last two months. Already, it's proved fruitful: Nick spearheaded our Favorite RPG Casts & Characters feature and rallied 8 other editors to pen their own piece on favorite casts. It proved an enjoyable read, and touched on a wide range of games, from Borderlands 2 to Koudelka. Read it if you haven't!

Robert Fenner is our latest feature hero, who put together the wonderfully in-depth So You Want to Get Into Ys feature, with a primer over every main game, and just why (heh) the series has been as renowned as it has been.

Another thing I've been happy to see, and one people asked for, is "RPG-adjacent" things, like Bob's overview of the Bloodborne Card Game. We don't want to veer out like some sites and start covering Marvel movies for fun (can't wait for Thor: Ragnarok!), but when it relates to games we cover, I'm all for it. There is a ton that could be discussed in the tabletop world that would be relevant on RPGFan.

There is plenty more of this coming. We have dozens of ideas at various stages of development, and follow both of these recent features in format: Some are big, collaborative pieces with multiple staff members involved, and several are personal pieces. I'm excited that our readers like these things, and the staff has been excited by this direction, too. With over 40 people on staff, we have no shortage of ideas that people are passionate about.

This will only become a stronger focus moving forward. We value how important our news and reviews are to you, but we also know the news itself, being factually-based, can still be found elsewhere. Original content by this outstanding staff cannot be, and it will be something we keep pursuing. We don't lack for ideas, but if there's something in particular you'd like to see us tackle, let us know.


Podcasts

We post Retro Encounter weekly - thanks to the monumental efforts of the show's crew - and yet some of you actually want them more often? Whew. I can't give you that, but for those who want more Random Encounter, we're hoping we can be a little more consistent with those.

I was surprised that the most common listening method is right on RPGFan, as I expected iTunes or podcast apps to be more common. The good news there is that we're looking into updating our backend on podcasts, and one of the things that will come with that are an embedded audio player, so the 60% of our listeners that listen on page can actually listen on page. It'll be nice.

Audio Quality
Yes, we hear you, even if you have issues hearing us. We have an open door policy on podcasts at RPGFan. Especially since Retro moved to a weekly show, we invite anyone on staff to participate if they want to. The risk is that everyone has different audio equipment, some better than others. We're looking into getting some better microphones to some people, because we want the quality of everyone's audio to be up to par and not a distraction.

Rhythm Encounter
Poor music podcast, we miss you so. We know Rhythm Encounter has fans, and we're as sad as you are that the show is largely on hiatus, aside from the occasional interview. Like so many other things, it's a logistic issue: We just don't have anyone to consistently run the show, and we don't want to bring it back after 6 months without being able to commit to a monthly/twice monthly schedule at the very least.

That said, I'm personally too in love with the show to let it become an "archival" feature, so when I don't need to prioritize a thousand other things at the site, I'm going to try my damnedest to get the show back off the ground. There's far too many topics we have yet to bring to life.


Patreon

I don't want to get too into this one, since asking what kind of content you'd be willing to support us if we had a Patreon account was a big "if." We haven't decided what we would do, let alone what we'd offer. We had some interesting ideas, which I want to put here for fun:

- Ad-free site option
- Game awards/giveaways
- The ability to vote on or participate in upcoming site content
- Industry content like interviews with developers, voice actors, etc.
- Import reviews
- Interaction with RPGFan staff, like chats on Hangouts or game sessions

We really like a lot of these ideas, and some line up nicely with the kind of things we already had in mind. Nothing is set in stone in this area, except one thing: We will not move any current content types behind a subscriber paywall. If, for example, we decided to add a fourth podcast for patrons only, it would be a standalone thing: We would never move Retro Encounter or anything currently free to a premium item. So please don't worry about that.

Some sites offer things like "behind the scenes" or even outtakes from their podcasts as patron rewards. That's the kind of thing we're thinking of: New things, or bonus content, as long as it doesn't detract from RPGFan itself.


Music

If there was a common thread in music... well, there were two: People either love our music coverage, or have a hard time getting into it if they don't know the games being covered.

Music is still going to do what it does, but it's something I want to help expand a bit to address some of this feedback. For the most part, right now, what we call a "music section" is almost exclusively a "music review section." I think it would help to apply some of our feature article plans to music too. Aren't sure what all these Atelier games are that we're reviewing in Music? Just who is Yoko Shimomura anyway? I'm proud that we have knowledgeable people writing music reviews, but perhaps that level of knowledge can seem daunting, so we need to work on making some approachable content as well.

There's no other RPG site with a music section like RPGFan: I'm proud of what it is, and want it to keep offering things nobody else does.

(As an aside, we've lost two Music staffers this year, so that upcoming hiring drive I mentioned is also going to cover this department, so if you want to talk game music, please apply!)


Site Design/Layout

Shockingly, opinions were split on our site's look and function: About the same number of people feel RPGFan is overdue for a refresh as those that like it as-is.

In this case, it's the former group that is correct: We're behind in this area. As one of my main jobs here is the look and feel of the site, that's largely on me. It's a constant battle of wanting to do more, and also keeping legacy content in mind, and we could update the look without manually changing thousands of old pages.

Again, our history works against us here. If we wanted to start fresh and not worry about legacy content, a new layout would be easy. But I'm just not willing to toss 20 years' worth of what made RPGFan what it is today to the side, or just as bad, keep an "archive" of old HTML pages and relegate it to second-tier content.

This stubbornness means we've spent a long time trying to find a solution to bulk move all of our old reviews, features, news, and so on into a new system. It's a hell of an undertaking for a side project we have to do on evenings and weekends, but for the first time ever, and after numerous false starts, we're actually progressing. And by "progressing," I mean we have hundreds of pages worth of content imported and are working on the finer points to get everything in place as we work on this transition.

It's a project that has been near and dear to me for a long time, and it's taken a lot to make happen. It's not going to solve all of our workflow problems, but it's going to make a lot of things better: Posts will be easier to make, making timely news easier. It will adapt to more screen sizes (hello, it's 2008 calling, we want to talk to you about this "responsive design" thing), and just give us more options to add features and adapt to change than we can possibly do now.

I can't promise a launch date - I want to - but know that we're working hard on it, while making sure it doesn't impact our day-to-day operations.


The Final Stretch

This has become quite a long post, hasn't it? I wanted to address as much feedback as I could so you understood your voices are being heard, so I erred on the side of "too much information." But let's cover a few last things and I'll let you be on your way.

Release Dates
Whew, this was a popular one! Over 75% of survey takers really want our release calendar to make a comeback. While our last-touched-in-2012 page still can be viewed, Release Dates were a casualty several years back, due to the amount of manual HTML work that was required to keep them updated. In the early days of RPGFan, this was my baby: I updated that thing all the time, and as RPGs continued to gain popularity, it became unmanageable to keep up to date. It will make a comeback on the new site though, and not just because we all want to keep track of this stuff too!

What is an RPG, anyway?
Like so many other small questions, feedback on what we cover was evenly split, effectively negating itself. Equal amounts of people told us to "cover what you want" and to "stop covering graphic novels." In short, we're going to keep doing what we do, as graphic novels continue to flourish and be relevant in the RPG world for people who are invested in story-centric games.

The Music Player
Rest in peace, integrated music player. We have one or two people that have been telling us for a long time they miss playing songs inline with music reviews, and to both of you, and everyone else, I apologize. We built our last version of this player on a simple music player widget that Yahoo! offered. Where we messed up was not realizing at first that some part of the player relied on Adobe Flash, and also that even though we hosted the player on our own server, something Yahoo! changed eventually and quietly broke our player. You can still listen to music samples, but in the less-than-ideal way of opening an mp3 in your browser.

With a revised site looming, we will have a better solution for this in place. But because that is on the horizon, we also don't want to spend valuable time retrofitting existing reviews with a player that would only prove temporary. So, it's good news and bad, so we appreciate your understanding and patience on this matter.

One more thing...
And that's it! I'll close this massive report by once again thanking all of our readers and listeners for their continued support: It truly means the world to us. We do what we do out of a love for RPGs and a love for RPGFan, and strive to make it better every day. The combined outpouring of positive feedback and constructive criticism means we're doing something right.

I also want to thank someone who you may know from recent podcasts, but don't see their name on the site often. Hilary joined us in February as a proofreader. We have several writers on staff who fill out our proofing team, but Hilary is our first dedicated person, so even if you don't see her name on a review, know there's a good chance she helped it along. And for this survey, she spent a good chunk of time analyzing our results, and consolidating common themes and feedback types into a pair of documents. This gave us an easy way to see what you all thought in one place, and find trends in the results. Putting this post together would have taken exponentially longer (I've already been sitting here for hours!) were it not for her efforts.


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