The drama llama was out in full force last weekend on Destructoid, and I've been feeling really bummed about it. The hug meme on the cblogs was really nice and all, but it didn't accomplish anything meaningful in my mind - only distract from the big problems. What are those problems? The fact that many users feel the site has lost its soul. I'd occasionally hear some user say something to this effect for months, and I've always been apt to defend Destructoid, but lately, I just haven't felt the same way. Everything seems to have become standardized, predictable, and just uninteresting on many different levels. This is not the Destructoid that I fell in love with. And sadly, it feels like the community is drifting apart.
There were some actions taken this weekend, bans of a small handful of users, one of whom we all know to be Workman. I'd love to just come out and say stuff regarding that ban, but it's such a sensitive topic with many different issues underneath on both sides that I really don't feel that I should speak about a topic I don't know nearly every thing about, so I can just say that I'm going to miss a guy who was a major part of Destructoid for me. What's done is done. What I'm here to talk about is what can be done moving forwards.
The problems with Destructoid are amazingly hard to pin down. It's not like you can pin down a date that a "soul" disappears, and the cause is very vague. Destructoid used to feel just like an online family to me, where members were amazingly close with each other. Lately, though, it seems that we're all individuals rather than one big happy family. However, I truly don't think that Niero, Nick, and all the other editors are the ones to blame here. Any problems with Destructoid are just as much a fault of the community's as the staff.
However, I really don't want to take time playing the blame game - negativity won't solve anything, it will just leave you feeling horrible about it, like I was for the weekend. Instead, I'm looking at the recent coming of 2009 for inspiration - this is a post of New Year's resolutions. Resolutions to improve Destructoid, together. And maybe some good old-fashioned rape afterwards. Now, no one has to listen to me and do what I suggest; it's your life. But I hope you'll at least consider some of these goals as the year continues. To make things simpler, I've divided them up into resolutions for editors and resolutions for community members. If you make it halfway, I'll give you a silly picture.
RESOLUTIONS FOR THE EDITORS
1. Try something new with your writing. The thing that attracted me to Destructoid in the first place, all the way back in late 2006, was first and foremost the writing. Before I ever started interacting with the awesome community, the writing is what caught my eye. Why? Because it was different. It was raw, it was edgy, and it was honest. I don't mean honest in the way of holding a game accountable for something that was promised during development, I mean honest in that way where you feel the passion that the writer has for the subject matter. Destructoid was founded by people with unabashed enthusiasm for video games, and that really came through.
Now, your writing today is still competent and well-done. However, I feel like many long-time editors have fallen into ruts in their style. They've done it so many times that it's too commonplace. I want to see that raw enthusiasm for whatever topic the writer is tackling. This is not me just shitting on your writing; I've enjoyed the work of many of the staff over the years. I do not want to call out any names on this matter or praise a few writers who I think are fine, because I want this to be an incentive for all writers to shoot for. I want to encourage you to maybe slap yourselves in the face and mix things up a bit, because from where I'm standing, many posts are approaching dull territory, and it's not too late to try something different.
2. Make sure the news is worth it. One of the defining things I noticed about Destructoid in previous days was that it was not Joystiq or Kotaku. It did not make a hundred posts a day and cover every small bit of rumor and gossip that came out of the industry. I remember asking DMV back then why they weren't posting more about this or that inconsequential topic on Kotaku, and his response was that I really shouldn't be caring about some stupid thing a developer said. He was right - it doesn't enrich my life anymore to see the latest development in the action-game feud between Ninja Gaiden's Itagaki and Devil May Cry's Kamiya. So what did Destructoid post? News that not only did the editors think the users would find interesting, but that they themselves found interesting. I would keep this in mind: while Niero has decided to make news a higher priority on the site to accommodate users who visit only Destructoid for news, you should not feel obligated to post news if it doesn't matter or interest the editors in some way. Otherwise, that enthusiasm I mentioned in resolution #1 is hard to communicate.
3. Surprise us! Unlike Joystiq and Kotaku, Destructoid is home to a wide array of regular features. Essentially, they are weekly columns. This is good, and a key part of the site's flavor for many people. However, by adhering too closely to these established features, you can be limiting your ideas and falling into a pattern. I completely understand the appeal of a column - if you look in my blog's sidebar, you'll note the Rantoid column I wrote every week for about four months. It's great to get a name up there and develop something people can become familiar with, returning every week and securing yourself readers of your work. However, I noticed that due to my establishment of the column, I was avoiding tackling some topics I wanted to do. Rantoid became the goal of every week, and my regular, non-column posts began to dwindle.
My point in bringing this up is that I want to see more editorial content in general, content that doesn't fit into any established feature and just randomly appears on the site. There have been great examples of this in the past: I fondly remember Anthony's article on his love of the Super Mario Bros. movie, Topher's savage critique of the 360's d-pad, and Sterling's condemnation of 30 stupid Pokemon. Most recently, November's Left 4 Dead "I Call Dibs" articles were some of my favorite articles of the month, so I know you guys still have it in you. Just go on some rant about a topic that's bugging you, and I promise I'll be there to read it. For that matter, consider bringing back old features with random, unscheduled updates, like Bargin Bin Laden, Games That Time Forgot, and Weekend Reading.
And tying into that theme of "surprise," give us some stuff that we totally don't expect at all! Sometimes finding a really funny video is good enough for a post; it doesn't have to be lumped in with Weekend Destructainment. It gives the air of "hey guys, look at this awesome thing I found!" that makes it feel more like a conversation between the editor and the reader. Knowing when to limit something random like this to a cblog and when to put it up on the front page, standards be damned, would be something to think about - but whatever! Just don't give a damn and post something to interest us!
4. Keep up the good work with the reviews. Nothing much to say here, you guys are doing great with such a delicate internet subject.
5. Strive to post at least once every day or two. Look. I know life is tough. For most of you, Destructoid is a part-time gig, something you can only contribute to on the side. But really, some of you need to post. A lot more. (Not you, Brad2, you're doing just fine.) Did you catch the Destructoid panel at PAX? Chad said something really important there during his segment. If I may paraphrase Mr. Concelmo, he told the audience that for a blog to be successful, the bloggers have to try to blog whenever they can manage it. They need to try and sneak a blog post in during their lunch break. They need to be passionate about getting their writing in there as much as possible.
I make no pretense about knowing what's going on behind the scenes at Destructoid and how things are being managed. I understand that Niero has been busy all through 2008 trying to keep the site running smoothly and run the business. DMV is busy running Japanator, so that's understandable too. However, where are the rest of you? Colette and Topher, I know you're also running Tomopop now, but come on, the news doesn't move that fast where you couldn't contribute to Dtoid more, now does it? I've always been a fan of Sterling's writing, but there's only so much you can take of constant Sterling and Brad2 posts before it starts to wear thin. I need variety!
I don't say this because I want to accuse some of the bloggers of slacking. I say this because I miss your writing. It's not enough for me to just read your posts once a week, maybe more. I want to see you show off that talent you have, and not just on your usual features, as mentioned in resolution #3. I want to see Chad gush over something, to see Dyson complain about a remake of a retro game, to see Fronz write something other than a game debate! Orcist, you still there? Samit, did finals kill you? Anthony, are non-features below you?
6. Have some faith in the community to self-regulate. In the past year, there's been a movement among the staff to encourage less hazing and more acceptance of new users. No official policies have been changed, but there have been requests to tone stuff down to make newbies welcome. In exchange, Hamza has stepped up to take on more of a moderator position.
This is one of the most touchy issues that is at the heart of the drama of last weekend. I understand where you're coming from, editors. You don't want a small clique of people hazing people into oblivion and scaring off potentially cool newbies. That's understandable. Still, I have to say my bit on this. Yes, one year ago, there was flaming in the cblogs. However, I saw something very positive in this: as established users felt more and more at home, they started changing from just blatant flaming ("THIS BLOG SUCKS") to attempting to help the newbie ("Next time, add more content and do etc."). The flaming was often harsh in telling the new user that they had failed, but I frequently saw those flames also tell them how not to fail. Many people who were exposed to this went on to become strong members of the community. If you look among many of the members who started interacting with the community in 2007 and early 2008, many will say that their initial blogs were terrible or admit they were a troll and they didn't even know it - but that being put in a "trial by fire" situation in the cblogs really helped them. Off the top of my head, Abortothefetus and Atlas are both great Dtoiders now, thanks to other Dtoiders who weren't afraid to tell them not to suck.
Excessive flaming is bad, I understand. But when people become unsure of what they can post, if they're afraid they're going to get reprimanded by the staff or possibly banned, that seems even worse to me. If that is the feeling, then users will just choose not to post. And because of that, we have the current cblogs of today: many less posts, many less comments, a safer experience that feels tame and unfulfilling. I don't believe that asking users not to flame anymore was the sole cause of this, but it certainly contributed.
So what I'm saying here is to reconsider how you look at flaming. Obviously, you don't ban just for flaming every now and then, and I always loved that about Destructoid. But next time you think someone is getting flamed too much, look and see if that flaming is actually telling the person how not to suck, how to become a better Dtoider, and how to possibly become a cherished regular, or if it's just hating on the blog with no positives. If it's the latter, I get your concern, and I'd hope you talk with the person causing trouble, make sure he has a few chances under your watchful eye to redeem himself. (I'll also be addressing the topic of flaming in the community's resolutions.)
7. Interact with the community more. One thing I always loved about Destructoid is that its editors are so approachable. They'll communicate with the readers and even become good friends with many of them. Unlike other big sites, where the editors stomp about, showing off how much power they have, you feel like you're on the same level with the editors - you're both gamers, you both love the culture, it just so happens that one of you writes for the site and one doesn't. As of late, I've noticed something of a perception that the editors feel somewhat distant.
I've spoken with some editors before already, and I know - it's crazy that people feel that way, huh? You're really good at responding to comments in your own articles, you have email and Gtalk readily available to anyone who isn't intimidated to message you, and you try to participate in community stuff when you're not too busy. But regardless of how well you think you're doing, people still have this perception.
Well, let's not dwell on where this comes from, let's look at possible solutions, shall we? I don't hop into the forums as much as I should either, but from what I hear, they want to talk with the editors much more. So, yeah, forums are that way. I can say, though, that I don't notice editors in the cblogs enough. My advice is to stroll through the cblogs when you have a moment and take the time to read some of the community's work, maybe comment if you've got something to say. As a user, I always felt really good when I saw someone like Chad leave a message saying that my editorial was the "BEST ARTICLE EVER!" and I was glad that I could contribute something enjoyable back to the writers that I enjoyed so much.
Remember that old community emailer that Ron started back in the day? It's migrated over to Google Groups, in case you haven't heard, and there are only a few editors still on there talking with people. I read many posts on the emailer during the drama that said they missed talking to the editors on the emailer, so I'm sure you'd be welcomed back with open arms. And by now, I'm sure you've noticed that the unofficial IRC channel has gotten a page on Destructoid. Hamza, Sterling, Conrad, and Aerox are all pretty good about dropping by to say hello on a frequent basis, but IRC Dtoiders are always excited to see any editor pop in.
8. Get more involved with community planning. This is mostly addressed to some of the editors who are higher-up on the site, especially Hamza. I'm going to be making some comparisons to Ron that are unavoidable, so please bear with me. Ron was devoted enough to Dtoid to be a major planner at the Cinci NARP. He contacted as many Dtoiders as he could to come, including me. When I said I couldn't make it there, he attempted his hardest to try to find me a ride and make arrangements for me to get there, all so that I could party with Dtoiders, even though it wasn't in the cards for me. Furthermore, just this week, he is going to CES with a bunch of Dtoiders. He organized these Dtoiders, took care of booking the rooms, all by himself. And he's not even part of the site.
My suggestion here is that I'd like to see editors reach out and do these community things more often. I don't expect any of you to be Ron, because you're all different and special in your own way like they taught me on PBS when I was three. And I know you're all quite busy running the site as well. Still, try to consider this resolution a bit. The community does a great job of organizing NARPS and other get-togethers on their own, but if you know something's going down and you can be a part of it, it would be wonderful to see the Dtoid staff helping out the Dtoid community. How awesome would it be to see Hamza pull out some crazy organizing skills and help Dtoiders reserve an entire floor at the Red Lion come PAX 09? Seriously, think about that as well. A floor full of Dtoiders next PAX. DO WANT.
(This doesn't really apply to Dtoid LA, which I hear has awesome NARPs and parties with editors on a near-weekly basis.)
9. Stop censoring "cocks" in the cblog title feed. I totally understand what's going on with swearing, Niero. The site needs money desperately, and it's much easier for advertisers to support you if there is no dirty language on the front page. That's why there's no swearing anywhere on the front page, and why we see lobster milkshakes in our cblog titles sometimes. But come on. "Also Cocks" is part of Dtoid lore. It's our battle cry! To see that we can't even post that in a cblog title without it being awkwardly censored on the front page...I'll be honest, the first time I saw that, I was heartbroken. You want to talk about Dtoid lousing parts of its soul? Seeing "Also Lobster Milkshake" is part of it.
So keep censoring the dirty words on the front page. We know that writers can curse after the fold, we understand, we sympathize. (Note to editors: don't be scared of cursing after the fold!) Keep everything as clean as it needs to be, we can survive with "a*s" and "c*nt" if it means the money you're getting from advertisers keeps the site afloat. But please - dear God, please - give us "Also Cocks" back!
I think I've said enough about what improvements I'd like the esteemed Destructoid staff to make, so it's time to move on to the community. But first, here's that silly picture I promised you.
That's an unreleased picture. Savor it, ladies.
RESOLUTIONS FOR THE COMMUNITY:
1. Venture outside your comfort zone. I think that, with a few exceptions, we're all guilty of this to a certain degree. One year ago, I was heavily active pretty much everywhere on Destructoid except the forums, which I attempted to get to when I could. Now, I end up sticking rather closely to the IRC, only reading the cblogs if a friend has written one and commenting on posts everywhere much less than I used to, even on stories that I find interesting. I think I have only made forum posts last year in the completed games thread. My point here is that we speak of the dangers of cliques on Destructoid, of how we're supposed to welcome new users, but if we're stuck in the same place we always go, the community is only going to segregate itself. It's hard to maintain a family feel if people stick to what they know.
So this is a message to all the different pieces of Destructoid: the front page commenters, the cbloggers, the forum users, the IRCartel, the people in Vent, the readers on the community emailer, and the Cblog Mafia: go outside your comfort zone. Personally, I plan on visiting the forums more often this year. I met some great people at PAX that I miss because they're mainly forum users and our paths never cross. Try commenting more on front page posts and cblogs to get dialogue going. Consider that other friends of yours on Dtoid may have drifted to other parts of the community, and that maybe you should make the effort to go find them and talk to them some more. I guarantee that if you stop talking to these people because they're not on your section of the site, you will continue to lose that extended family feel that draws many users back to Dtoid.
2. Write a cblog. Or two. Or twenty. People constantly say that the reason they don't blog as much anymore is because the cblogs aren't that good anymore. And frankly, I don't think they are either. They pale in comparison to what they were a year ago, where they were an eclectic mix of news, reviews, editorials, videos, and random shit, with a touch of fail in there to keep you on your toes. It used to be that if you posted a blog mid-day, within an hour there would be at least 10-15 comments on it (with more on the way) and the post would have been pushed 3/4 of the way down the page to make room for even more blogs. Stuff went down in there, friendships were formed from constant interaction, and I read a lot of interesting articles. Now, content moves so slow that your blog could be posted early in the morning and still be on the front page of the cblogs by the end of the night with 10 comments if you're lucky. The posts themselves are far too tepid and not of the same quality produced by such a frenzied atmosphere. I don't mean to insult some of the Dtoiders who are trying their best in there, because it's not all hopeless, but it's hard to sift through and find what's really worth reading. And when new users come in and think that this is the way things should be, I just can't see them wanting to expand the cblogs back to what they were.
And who do we have to blame for this? Ourselves. Sure, as I noted up in the editors' resolutions, I think there was a bit of a cooling effect caused by uncertainty about how far users could take certain comments, but ultimately, the editors are not responsible for making great cblogs - we are. We're the ones who gradually stopped excitedly posting our news before it ever showed up on the front page. We're the ones who stopped posting long editorials that weren't prompted to us by Anthony every month. We're the ones who stopped reading each other's work and giving feedback on what was good and what was fail. So we're the ones to ultimately blame if we don't like the cblogs. And I'm right there along with you.
How do we fix it? It's practically zen: start posting again. I already made a personal resolution to start posting more frequently once I go back to college next week to flex my writing some more. I'll be in there posting news and trying to come up with some stupid editorials to entertain people with. But I can't resuscitate the cblogs alone. If we want the cblogs to be strong again, we need the community on board with this. So if you're reading this, pay special attention to this resolution. I find it funny that the Cblog Mafia, a group friendship forged by the cblogs, rarely steps foot in there - start writing again, all of you, you're just what we need to inspire others to come out of the woodwork and create their own unique content.
3. Flame constructively. Before either the community or the editors think I'm advocating calling someone a faggot and telling them to die in a fire, let me explain myself. I touched on this a bit in one of the editors' resolutions already, but basically flaming doesn't have to be all bad. Look, I get a thrill out of flaming a fail cblog just as much as you do. It's often fun. And no one's saying you can't call someone out on how much a post sucks. However, that is not going to help them learn from their mistakes, it's just going to tell them they're wrong and that you don't like it.
As I was writing this, I checked in the cblogs and found this fail post. This is a horrible post and not the kind of thing any of us want to see on Destructoid. There is no reason to be nice to what is essentially spam, and I don't see why a couple of people said "Hey, that's great, welcome to Destructoid!" Activate your flames and tell him it sucks...but then again, that's where some commenters stopped. One comment just says "you have sucked already," which is pure flaming with no positive benefit. It makes the poster feel good but doesn't contribute to Dtoid at all.
Now, look at the comment I left. "This is a horrible post. In the future, put some actual content in here - paragraphs, thoughts, not just random pictures." Note that I did not feel the need to back down my criticism, because it was a horrible post. However, I also told him how he could avoid such criticism in the future. Many people who fail just need someone to kick them in the head a few times and let them know how to do it, and "flaming constructively" can be the way to do this. I've seen hundreds of Dtoiders come in over the years who started off with sub-standard posts, cultured by a tenure at IGN or Gamespot, who grew into great community members after they got told how things run around here.
We the community can be an essential part of growing new members who matter by telling people not just that they suck, not just that they shouldn't suck, but how not to suck.
(As I'm not a frequent forum-goer, I don't feel I'm qualified enough to comment on matters of flaming and suck that go on in there, but I hear Technophile and the old members are doing a good job so far.)
4. Play in Friday Night Fights. Again, remember the good old days? Friday Night Fights were fucking awesome - over a hundred people who managed to network their names together through front page and cblog posts would play tons of games across 360, PS3, and PC. (Back then, there were no real online Wii games. And there still aren't! Haha, flamebait.) I tried looking into FNF a little while ago, and it just seemed like no one was playing anything except for a hardcore few, and their games were all locked up. During the summer, a real-life friend of mine who had been trying to connect better with the Dtoid community attempted to start some games up with people, but no one was biting, which made him feel really discouraged about interacting with people.
We're gamers! We've all got our info available in our cblogs and profiles! Many of us are already friends with tons of other Dtoiders! Why are we not playing together? Why am I not playing more with you? I'm going to try to participate in many more FNFs this semester, so I'm hoping to see many more Dtoiders jumping back into the fray to beat me down. We need to get some epic Bomberman Live drinking games going again for old times' sake.
5. Listen to Failcast. LOL no one listens to Failcast
6. Get into IRC and Vent. I'm not gonna debate about which one is better for you, but sometimes it's nice to have an actual conversation with people. Forums and cblogs are the foundation of the site's community, but sometimes you need to be able to have a conversation with people directly. Unless you happen to have their email or Gtalk, joining the group chat is a good way to communicate directly with other members of the community. To me, talking with each other one a frequent basis is an extremely important part to keeping the family feel we all want for Destructoid. Plus, at least for IRC, this is a great chance to reach out to newbies who are checking out the channel through Destructoid's "live chat" link and help them become awesome members of the community.
7. Talk to the editors. If you have some problem with Destructoid, I guarantee you that just bitching to your fellow community members is not going to help. I know from personal experience that all the editors are extremely approachable and willing to talk about plenty. The thing is, they're not going to know you have a problem with the site unless you tell them - they can't read minds. So don't be intimidated by them (this is mostly directed at newer users, not really old users who are good friends with editors) and just try talking to them. Maybe you'll even talk to them more often.
That more or less sums up what I wanted to say. Sorry for the giant walls of text with no pictures in-between. Again, I'm not trying to force anyone to follow these resolutions, be they editor or community member. However, seeing as no one else has come up with any real constructive solutions to the bad feelings people are having about Dtoid lately, I would hope that both sides at least consider the resolutions I'm attempting to put forward here. And now, if I may make one slightly off-topic resolution I think is important...
RESOLUTION FOR NIERO
1. Get cblogs working on Japanator this year. Seriously, man. I know I've made my position on the importance of Tomopop's cblogs compared to Japanator's non-existent cblogs clear to some people in the community via Failcast in the past, but I feel that with a new year, I wanted to bring up this matter. Japanator really needs cblogs. There is so much for us weeaboos to talk about when it comes to animu, and they could become just as big as Dtoid's cblogs. They just need to be put in. I'm really, really hoping something like this is possible for 2009. :)