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General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: Mathew E. Reuther on October 06, 2010, 04:27:42 PM

Title: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Mathew E. Reuther on October 06, 2010, 04:27:42 PM
This is not entirely a rant, per se, but it's not entirely simply a point of discussion.

See, I've just spent about the last six hours looking at publishing websites. Indie sites as well as the "big boys" and I've come to a conclusion.

The standards for sites in the industry are lacking something fierce.

I feel like someone gouged out the inside of my head and stuck an infinitely-spanning and tiling terribad-colored jumble of garbled text and arcane product imagery inside of it . . .

On the plus side I have seen some very cool product treatments that really lent to the theme of those games.

The bad news is that those were few and far between.

In a day and age where the internet is extremely influential, even for those publishers who do a lot of work in meatspace with real books on real shelves, is it "ok" to have such awful sites?

Shouldn't publishers be trying to hold themselves to the same standards as other professional organizations? We're not talking about a plumbing business here, after all, but an industry where a certain level of, well, beauty may be too much but at the very least something like visual propriety, would be nice to see.

It seems that all too often when a site is created it is a throw-away. Something just tossed together and never worked on again. Never improved. Which is a shame because unlike the products (at least those in print) it is very easy to rework a site.

Please note that I've got a few sites open in a browser right now that are indie publishers who seem to have a good grasp of how to make a nice site. I am not overtly pointing any fingers at anyone either. This is just me wondering aloud if perhaps there's something being missed in the process of putting games out there for people to devour . . .

Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Paul Czege on October 06, 2010, 07:36:13 PM
Hey man,

There's a humanity to a hand-constructed 1999-ish website that isn't present in Wordpress gradient fills and template-derived sites, don't you think? The hand-constructed site is an expression of personal identity and creative effort.


Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Mathew E. Reuther on October 06, 2010, 08:38:27 PM
Paul, I absolutely agree with you that there is a humanity to that, and I actually hold many of the more "human" sites above those that are deeply obviously blog templates. (Be they wordpress, livejournal, or blogger or what have you!)

What seems to be lacking though is the kind of basic evolution of web design that we're (at least arguably) striving for in RPG design. :)

I mean, we try and look at design ideas and theory, and that is absolutely something that is of prime import . . .

But I wonder if it is not of at least passing import to consider revising one's page once every couple of years. Not to do it mind you, but to at the very least consider it.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and it may very well be that what I find hideous makes other people warm with fond memories of when they still had hair, or less of a gut . . . :D

I think there's a balance, that's all. And for the record, it's NOT just indie publishers that suffer from lack of design. There are some big, huge publishers that have some hideous sites.

Just to not make anyone from anywhere in THIS neck of the woods cry, I'll point out that is ugly, and has been that ugly since it was designed . . . in the 90's. :) So there you go, mainstream sci-fi/fantasy novel publisher with a good list of authors including NYTimes Bestselling ones. Still horrible. :)

Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Chris_Chinn on October 07, 2010, 07:50:10 AM
Shouldn't publishers be trying to hold themselves to the same standards as other professional organizations?

Given that RPGs are still struggling with basic editing and including things like "Indexes", I think asking for solid web design is still pretty much asking too much.

It's probably worth remembering that most companies are a handful of people at best, and, for hardcopy publishers, most of their money is going towards printing the book and shipping it around.

Since there's both a lot of how-to guides as well as extremely affordable layout folks floating around these days, we have to assume that most companies just don't give it much priority or thought.


Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Mathew E. Reuther on October 07, 2010, 08:06:38 AM
It is indeed that lack of thought which concerns me. After all, if one would like to be taken at least semi-seriously, it is wise to put forth an image which inspires confidence.

I am in wholehearted agreement that some print/pdf layout work is similarly poor, and that it needs even more attention than website aesthetics, certainly.

I really bring this subject up so that it maybe clicks with someone here who otherwise might ignore the basics in pursuit of a more "lofty" goal. (Getting one's baby out to the public as one example.)

Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Chris_Chinn on October 07, 2010, 08:59:16 AM
It is indeed that lack of thought which concerns me. After all, if one would like to be taken at least semi-seriously, it is wise to put forth an image which inspires confidence.

I guess my question is, "Taken seriously" by whom?  And to what end?

It's pretty clear that gamers in general are willing to bear poor web design.  If you mean potential roleplayers, well, websites aren't really their portal of entry into the hobby.  Or, if you mean just publishing or business or the general populace... is there a reason being taken seriously by them will somehow aid a publisher or the hobby as a whole?

I mean, I'd love it if publishers all had awesome layout and lived up to the standards of say, basic mainstream publishing in any other context... but I['m not seeing what specifically would make this more urgent than the prevailing issues of growing networks of players and good game design.

Is there something I'm not seeing here?


Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Seth M. Drebitko on October 07, 2010, 09:51:10 AM
Well I think the standard person so long as they do the best they can with what they have will show through in their efforts. I have seen plenty of terrible sites but knowing that someone did it on their own with no skill gone "A" for effort. Personally I have no skills at all with the web, and do my best with wordpress and SMF and happen to like the results.

What would you propose someone with no funds to aquire a coder, or skills to hand build should do? I mean this honestly as I'd love to here other methods of getting things done than what I am doing now.

Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Mathew E. Reuther on October 07, 2010, 10:09:21 AM
Well Chris, just as one example you could look at this article ( which draws comparisons between perceived (blink-of-the-eye, even) beauty and how long people linger.

The net is positively overflowing with information regarding web design. I don't think it would be too difficult to have a peek around and find tips which are drawn from various studies or market research efforts that would then be usable in refining a publisher's site.

If the goal is to distribute (which I admit, it may not be, but if it isn't then it's probably better to just not have a site with any reference to products) then you should be doing your level best to make that an appealing process. Which may mean doing the menial work of web design instead of the "fun stuff" like game design. (Though you might find that you have someone around you as an indie publisher who is talented with that "menial" work and wouldn't at all mind helping out . . . it's not exactly the least common skill in the world.)

Being "taken seriously" defined in this context is, then, the willingness of consumers (the people who buy your products) and professionals (who may wish to develop a working relationship with you in some way) to linger on your site, peruse your selection, and proceed in a positive (buy stuff/get in touch with collaborative proposals) manner.

Perhaps good web design is a means to an end? James Naismith is quoted as having said: "Be strong in body, clean in mind, lofty in ideals." If the web site and product layout are the body, the game design is the mind and ideals are the spread of gaming, the three feed off of a single positive trend of thought, no?

I see things as a business because that is how I think the best work in any field is produced. By people respecting their own work as being of professional quality and setting standards that they feel meet that professional ideal. If they give that work away there's no problem. Being a professional isn't a matter of making money. It's a matter of approach and diligence.

As far as what you're saying Seth about your own personal limitations, look at it like this:

When you were 12 you had a certain ability with Mathematics. By the time you were 14, that ability had grown. Again, later, you would have learned more. Even now (at whatever age you may be) there remains more to be learned in the field of Mathematics, and should you choose to, you could uncover more intricacies.

Web design is no different than any other skill. It can be learned. A basic level of design and a bit of research will uncover a great deal of potential. I've had a look at your site since you brought it up. I've been avoiding doing so with anything outside the conversation, but you mentioned it, so ha! ;)

What I have seen is that your site is indeed a blog style site with limited navigation. That's not a bad thing, actually. While it may not be perfect, it's at least legible, and does not suffer from scaling issues like a lot of homebrew sites do. And by homebrew I feel free to include big boy sites that seem to think their pages look best in 1080p . . .

The best solution I have for people with limited design knowledge is to talk to friends and family. While some of those friends or family may think they know what they are doing and do not, others actually may be able to lend a hand in getting a page layout working which better suits the projects you are working on.

As an aside since I'm just getting started I am in the design (companywise) phase and that is dictating the stuff I am looking at. It'd be why most of my posting will be happening in this forum which is the more business-oriented one than in AP which is more concerned with design. But the cart needs to stay behind the horse in my estimation. Having a good plan and presence goes a long way to giving your creative work (your design, setting, etc.) the framework it deserves.

I am, of course, just one person with a point of view. :)

(I'll be putting my site online in the relatively near future, so perhaps it will be interesting to look at it and see what people think once we're live.)

Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Chris_Chinn on October 07, 2010, 12:01:24 PM
Hi Mathew,

A great website is generally a good thing, though the issue of keeping folks around and making sales depends on the market being sold to - it especially makes sense of the potential customers -aren't sure- if they're going to make a purchase at a given particular site.

Non-gamers don't randomly show up on tabletop rpg sites and randomly decide to buy games, while gamers who are typically willing to read 200-400 pages of rules before even playing a game which will also require 3-6 hours of sit-down play, are usually going to have no problem enduring not-great web design to get the information they're looking for.

The issue of people "passing" on a site makes most sense when someone isn't coming there specifically for a specific product AND has a lot of other web options to go to.   Roleplaying is such a small market, that typically gamers only have one, or maybe 2 or 3 sites to choose from to get a specific game.

Since typically no other sales site is going to have more info than the publisher, that's going to be the place most people go... with the only exception to further info being available at forums and blogs from reviews and actual play reports.

A lot of energy and money in the hobby gets put towards "earning legitimacy" from the general public, often in the hopes of the hobby going mainstream or some such- it's overall been a poor investment especially compared to the primary issue of delivering  a good play experience.

A good website is a good thing, but again, I'm asking what you're seeing here that makes it a high priority?


Title: Re: Industry Web Standards (Thoughts)
Post by: Mathew E. Reuther on October 07, 2010, 12:32:19 PM
Chris, the priority one places on an aspect of a project is a personal thing obviously.

Why do I find web aesthetics to be something worth worrying about and dedicating attention to? Because in my eyes time spent on them is a good investment into the potential of a publisher's efforts.

Imagine your game product is worth 50 cold "I want it don't care about anything else" sales from people who are interested. Now imagine that you have a web page which is linked to from various outlets, can be accessed via Google, etc. Word of mouth, random chance, SEO, etc. gets you 200 visitors to the site. These are people who haven't played your game or spoken with you directly.

Now, if your website isn't an appealing place, maybe you convert 10 of those visitors into sales because they take the time to really read and move past the jumbles or jarring colors, etc. If on the other hand it's got a pretty clean design like some of the blog site templates might or like a reasonable homebrew, maybe you convert a total of 25 visitors into sales. Now imagine that you have a fantastic site that really draws people in and makes them feel comfortable. Not only do 40 people buy the product they came in for, another 10 grab a second product because the site led them to more than just what they were originally looking for.

These are "maybes" and "what ifs" with no hard evidence behind them.

But can it hurt any publisher to put forth a strong site which is generally pleasing? Particularly if you're talking about a design process of finite duration with periodic minor tweaks? These things do not need a dedicated webmaster (though to be fair some projects will have someone capable of fulfilling this role) but rather a semi-skilled and somewhat careful designer willing to do some research and not rush this stage in haste to move on.

The priority I personally place on good web design is no more than what I would place on good layout or good game design. It's simply the first part of building a new publishing enterprise. :)