Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Boardgamegeek Frustrations & My Solution

Time to vent...

If you have done any significant kind of searching on the internet for information on Boardgames, chances are you have run across www.boardgamegeek.com - which is quite simply the most comprehensive database and community concerning boardgames you will find.

Boardgamegeek (or BGG as we affectionately call it) has listing on over 25,000 boardgames. Each listing has the standard information like the name, publisher, year it was made, ect... but it also has pictures of the game and it's components, files you can download like FAQ's, player aids, player made variants, BGG member ratings and comments, links to related web sites, marketplace and eBay listings and much, much more. You can enter all the games you own into the database and keep track of them and how you much you like (ordislike) them. Looking for missing parts? There is a section for that. Need a rule interpretation? Look into the game's individual forums for your answer. Wanna trade away a game you no longer play? Click the "For Trade: box for that game in your collection. There is so much more too, I'm only hitting the tip of the iceberg here.

Anyways, the site has continually been growing and changing in the last 5 years. New features, new changes - all kinds of things to make the site better and better. BGG quickly became my "home" page years ago and up until recently, it's been the ONE page I'd check 5 or 6 times a day to see what's new. It was like gaming Nirvana.

Yes, I said was. What has changed you ask? Unfortunately, I'm afraid the site is becoming less and less useful as it becomes more and more overloaded by the continually increasing demand on it's servers. Just this past weekend I tried continually to access the front page and the server gave me nothing but errors or "Database Busy" messages. Accessing the "Geek" this past month or so has continually been hit or miss with the constant "server not found" errors as well as experiencing painfully slow page loading - I'm telling you it feels like Im on a really bad dial-up service, and I know my DSL is faster than that!

I feel bad for the site's main administrator Scott Alden (or "Aldie" as he is affectionately known) as he is continually trying to keep things operational while still adding new features from the hundreds of member requests he gets weekly. He also has to continually be tweaking the existing ones to just keep everything running - yes just running at this point, I think the equipment is far too taxed to hope for "running smoothly".

Aldie quit his programming job to dedicate himself to BGG full time and his salary comes strictly from member support (of which far too few seem to do). He has slowly had to find other methods of generating income to pay for upgrading the hardware and adding new servers. The site is a behemoth at this point, too large for one guy (no matter how good he is!) to maintain and keep operational, yet I suspect there is not enough income to support him, let alone another dedicated employee. I think he must be very frustrated, as he is constantly against the 8-ball and appears to be losing a race to upgrade the hardware faster than the demand on it increases.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. Maybe it's just bad timing and once the new equipment is in, things will be ok again. I really hope that is the case. BGG is an extremely valuable resource for those in this hobby and losing it would be catastrophic. If the influx of new users continues as it has in the past and the percentage of supporters stays the same, I predict that it will be impossible to keep up with the demands of it's members under the present system of membership, there just wont be enough money to do so.

So what's a guy to do?

How can Aldie save his baby?

I think it's time for Draconian measures...

If you aren't a supporter of the Geek through a minimum $25 donation, you can't have full access to BGG.

Period.

New users who stumble across BGG through Google or somewhere else will only get to see the (as yet to be created) simplified game entry pages. You'll be able to search and find any game you want, but, you'll only see the basic information, a description, a rating or two and a few pictures. THAT'S IT.

If you can't fork over $25 bucks then you don't get access to the forums, you can't get to the marketplace, you can't have geekbuddies (friends whose opinions and comments you value and can track), you can't collect Geekgold (the site's funny money used to buy badges and avatars), you can't block any ads and most of all, you can't make comments and suggestions for more features, since you haven't paid for any of the existing ones.

$25 bucks is VERY Cheap for what the site provides and if everyone was a supporter, there would be a lot fewer problems, as money wouldn't be an issue. Aldie (and Derk too come to think of it) DESERVE to make a great living doing this, as it is - like any other great invention, something that filled a void that nobody knew existed.

BGG has a LOT of members. I'd say that there must be at least 10-15k members out of the upwards of 50k unique people that visit the site (per month), that would be willing to pay to make things better. At $25 a pop, 15 thousand members is $325,000 dollars a year. The wayI see it Aldie and Derkshould be pulling in 100k each, leaving 125k for equipment. It's that simple.

The truth of the matter is, the other 35k or so that come to BGG each month really don't care too much about how the menu's work, or if they can customize modules or not. Give them a 30 day free trial membership to see if they want to keep it. You wont keep everyone, but should that matter? I have many gamer friends that are heavily into games who only come to BGG once in a blue moon. When they do come here, they could care less about how many columns the game pages have or whether or not their post was moved to another forum.

They just want the site to load quickly like it should when they click on it.

Like me.

So, these things may not happen this year, or even the next. But when these changes are made, just remember where you heard it suggested first.

Long live the Geek!

(And special thanks to Aldie and Derk for bringing the Geek to life and making it what it is today).

6 comments:

Yehuda said...

I understand that you are venting, but, like so many others tend to think when they are frustrated, your brute force suggestions are ill-considered.

Firstly: $25 may seem like a small amount to you in America, but I assure you that it is not an insignificant amount of money to people who are students, children, or residents of countries that have a poor exchange rate with America.

For myself, I have bought maybe four games this year by sacrificing other things. I would have to have dropped one or two of those games to afford to support BGG. $25 is what I spend on two nights of food for my family of six.

Secondly: The "midterm" principle is in effect, here. Namely, that $25 may be small, but BGG is just one among thousands of other resources who all feel the same way. This site wants $25, and that site wants $25, and soone or later you are just not going to bother with these sites. Why do you think so many sites have resisted doing this, or in fact dropped doing this?

Thirdly: BGG's great wealth of information was provided by the hard work of many people, including myself. Now you're going to tell me that I can't access this information without paying for it? Should I withdraw my 250 session reports, forty reviews, and 500 articles and comments from the site?

Fourthly: BGG became what it is today, the same way that Google became what it is, because it is useful. If you there is a charging barrier, it becomes less useful, and people go elsewhere.

Trying to lock people or diminish the value of a product doesn't attract people.

Fifthly: Your complaint is about outages on BGG. There have been very few outages on BGG; yesterday was more of an exception to the rule. As a free service, it doesn't bother me too much.

Lastly: You imply that you wouldn't be one of the people paying for the service, which is quite telling. I predict that a whole lot less than 10,000 people would be willing to pay for the service. I don't think there are 10,000 supporters right now.

Yehuda

Post-Lastly: You have to recognize that what is happening with BGG is a natural phenomena. Sites rise and fall. BGG ascended, and it is still doing well, despite problems and detractors.

However, eventually it will decline. Many say that it is already doing so. That's the way everything works on the web, in the world, in fact. With rare exceptions.

manowarplayer said...

Wow, people do read these things. :)

Firstly: $25 may seem like a small amount to you in America, but I assure you that it is not an insignificant amount of money to people who are students, children, or residents of countries that have a poor exchange rate with America. For myself, I have bought maybe four games this year by sacrificing other things. I would have to have dropped one or two of those games to afford to support BGG. $25 is what I spend on two nights of food for my family of six.

I'm in no way suggesting that you can only access the Geek if you pay the $25. I'm suggesting that if you don't pay the $25, you (not you specifically, I mean people in general) don't really get to complain about what BGG does or doesn't do. I understand that $25 is a lot of money and it's a lot more to some than others. I think that the games database should be wide open to anyone, but the use of the "BGG community" should be a service that is paid for. Of course, there will be plenty of discussion on what parts of BGG are "the database" and what parts of it are "the community", and I'm sure that that's another can of worms altogether.

Secondly: The "midterm" principle is in effect, here. Namely, that $25 may be small, but BGG is just one among thousands of other resources who all feel the same way. This site wants $25, and that site wants $25, and soone or later you are just not going to bother with these sites. Why do you think so many sites have resisted doing this, or in fact dropped doing this?

I typically wouldn't pay for services that I feel should be provided freely and I vote with my dollars. To be very honest, BGG is about the only site that I would pay for, but that is because it is so unique. I get my news video feeds on the internet from Yahoo - and not some of the other sites that charge for video - but then again Yahoo! is my service provider so I guess I'm paying for it there anyways.

Thirdly: BGG's great wealth of information was provided by the hard work of many people, including myself. Now you're going to tell me that I can't access this information without paying for it? Should I withdraw my 250 session reports, forty reviews, and 500 articles and comments from the site?

Well, if that were possible I suppose you could, but I think everything submitted to BGG falls under the "creative Commons" license (or something like that) so the act of submitting it makes it public domain. It certainly wouldn't prevent someone from not submitting reports and photos in the future.

Fourthly: BGG became what it is today, the same way that Google became what it is, because it is useful. If you there is a charging barrier, it becomes less useful, and people go elsewhere.

Google makes money, a TON of money. We don't see a Donation box for Google but you had better believe that we pay for it in any number of ways.

Trying to lock people or diminish the value of a product doesn't attract people.

I suggest that the basic database would still be accessible to the majority of the people to which all the extra features have no meaning anyways. To use the "extended" BGG features, you would need to log in as a BGG supporting member. Many, many sites already do this. For the ones where I don't think the extra features are of value to me, I don't go any further and enjoy the limited services they offer - without complaint. If I want to have my voice heard, I would expect to pay for that priveledge.

Fifthly: Your complaint is about outages on BGG. There have been very few outages on BGG; yesterday was more of an exception to the rule. As a free service, it doesn't bother me too much.

BGG was down most of the day on Sunday here in the US. This was the 2nd time the file server has crashed. Before that, there have been numerous times where BGG has been slow, down or limping along with hardware or software issues. BGG is about the only site I visit where there seems to always be an issue. Aldie can only do so much and he is overworked as it is. The situation on BGG is only going to get worse. Think about it. Before, Image moderation was done by the admins and they were struggling to keep up with the uploads of new pics. Now everyone can approve the images for geekcents. You need to look at 100 images as a new member to get 1 GG. You want an AVatar, You want a Geekbadge, so you do what you are supposed to do - moderate the images. Great! except now you need an image approved by a bunch of Geeks at once. Up goes the demand on the server as everyone fights to get to the new images. Each image approval page also now loads a bunch of other pictures for the game so people can check for duplicates. Great! but what has effectively happened is that the same process before took 1 admin, 1 look at an image to approve it. Now the server has to show 10 images at a time to multiple users to approve that same picture. It's a great system and the reasoning for it is fine, but as more and more new members come to the site and try to get their GG, it throws a huge strain on the servers. I'm saying let's get people to pay for these things, instead of just using them and driving the system into the ground.

Lastly: You imply that you wouldn't be one of the people paying for the service, which is quite telling. I predict that a whole lot less than 10,000 people would be willing to pay for the service. I don't think there are 10,000 supporters right now.

Well, that wasn't my intention at all. I have been a paying member of BGG since Aldie first started taking donations. The "Like Me" part of my comment was implying that it was important to me have the site load when it is supposed to, not that I was one of the casual users who don't care about all the customization (which I do).

You have to recognize that what is happening with BGG is a natural phenomena. Sites rise and fall. BGG ascended, and it is still doing well, despite problems and detractors. However, eventually it will decline. Many say that it is already doing so. That's the way everything works on the web, in the world, in fact. With rare exceptions.

That's the difference between us I guess, I don't want the Geek to decline, or think that it should in the natural course of things, but instead become even better than ever. I've seen it happen on other online communities where eventually the voices of the anonymous get louder than those that support those communites. People tend to value things more when they aren't free.

I appreciate your comments and hopefully I've clarified my post a little bit better. I won't go back and edit the original so others can comment as they wish.

Long Live the Geek!

MaksimSmelchak said...

Hi Scott,

Great blog. I linked to you off of my blog here:

http://6mm-minis.blogspot.com/

I understand what you're saying, but I envision pages like BGG and TMP making most of their money from advertizing. Most gamers are a frugal stingy lot and that's reality. The good part is that as the hits grow, so does the potential attraction for advertizers.

I don't envision the Geek declining though. Time is the biggest hurdle and as the word spreads, more and more will use the site and advertizers will follow.

And sorry if I mispelled your name... I haven't seen you in awhile although I imagine we'll bump into each other at Conquest SF. I'll be on staff there.

Shalom,
Maksim-Smelchak.

Darth_Tanyan said...

Well...
I felt so empassioned by your speech that I immediately went to BGG (I go there frequently anyway) and became a contributor for $25.
It was eating at me anyway; you just pushed me over the edge. :-)
But I do take issue with the 'Google makes a LOT of money' line. If memory serves, didn't Google just within the past couple of years, just barely make a profit?
Incoming plug alert (you were warned!) www.logicandnausea.blogspot.com
Shalom!

Jack said...

In some ways I agree and others I don't. The BBG is an excellent resource there's no denying that, or the fact that Aldie and Derk deserve a hefty wad of cash for their tireless efforts on its behalf.

I think Yehuda has a point: limiting service based on donation will reduce the number of visitors and hence the advertising income.

I think donations should be voluntary (hence the name donation) and I've been meaning to donate for a while now - I'll do it today :-)

Mike said...

If BGG becomes a pay site, it will die a slow agonizing death. It only succeeds because it is free. If you lock up some of the content, it will open the door to competitors who will no longer be held off by BGG's popularity.

BGG needs to make money with new offerings and unique tied marketing schemes.

Example: Alot of gaming groups use MeetUp to organize and list thier calandar. Why not create a 'group organinzer' and charge a nominal fee (like Meetup).

Example: Create a game store database. Charge a nominal fee to have a prettier listing (Yellow pages style).

Not sure if any of these work but, closing off major portions of the site unless people subscribe would kill the site.