Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fragmentation of the hobby?

I've just finished reading the Polemarch's recent post on wargame communities, which struck a chord with me in view of the statistics I noticed today while checking my blog stats.

Now, hits are not why I blog (and the greater good of 'the hobby' is not why I play, for that matter!), but it seems that my hit numbers have been going up.  The last few months I've been getting between 4000 and 5000 hits, and last month I got close to 6000.  While you would think this would be pleasing, my suspicion is that in real terms the number of interested *human* viewers has actually gone down.  The stats show that I have hundreds of hits from various 'vampire stats' and 'crawler' sites, but have remarkably few hits (even by my standards!) on actual recent posts.

As an example, when I post a battle report here I often link to it on TMP.  Two years ago I could expect to get around 300 hits in the first couple of days, with these then dropping off over time.  Most of my older battle reports have somewhere between 400 and 1500 hits, with this presumably depending on whether they were any good, got shared around, turned up on searches or whatever.

But lately I am lucky to get 100 hits from TMP over the first couple of days, and will end up with between 100 and 300 hits in total, from all sources.

This leads to several possible conclusions:

1) my reports are a lot worse than they used to be (quite possible!)
2) people know me, dislike me, and now know not to click (highly possible!)
3) gamers have changed their habits and tend not to click on external links, or are content to see just the 'teaser' photos on the thread (quite possible)
4) there is considerably less traffic on these TMP threads than there used to be (probable)

If the latter is true - and I certainly see a lot fewer posters on the ancients boards than I remember from the past, and recent posts seem to get fewer hits than older posts - then I have to wonder what it is about this hobby that seems to lead to fragmentation.  It happens with yahoo groups and it seems to happen with forums.

Why is it that we split into smaller and smaller cells?  I guess bloggers are the ultimate in 'one cell' groupings, and probably contribute immensely to the decentralisation.

Is it that we are too individualistic and argumentative to put up with forum rules?  Is it that we get bored?  Do we like to differentiate ourselves from others?  Is it that we get a sense that something is dying and move on to somewhere else?  Do we like to pick up our (metaphorical) ball and go home?  Is it that (God forbid) we give up wargaming altogether?

Now, I am not a big believer in virtual 'community' in any real sense.  I'm too much of a cynic probably, though having said that I do greatly value the personal connections I've built up with fellow enthusiasts over the time I've been (virtually) involved with gaming.

But I do think that a loose conglomeration of gamers who drop in and out of a virtual communal clubhouse is a very good thing for the hobby because it is a VERY good thing for individual gamers.  It is no exaggeration to say that I wouldn't have become a gamer without the information, advice and, at times, encouragement I got (and still get) from TMP.

Assuming it is not just a figment of my imagination, it seems to me that this tendency to fragmentation - even if it is natural and cyclical - is not a thing to celebrate. 

29 comments:

  1. First, bravo for your ability to decipher Polemarch's weekly offerings! Why I enjoy his blog, it sometimes brings back memories of university days wading through journal articles. Not that there isn't good information therein. For me, it can take a while to digest.

    Second, my sense is that traffic has decreased on TMP. One look at the number of inactive accounts is quite revealing. Your conclusions (1) and (2) are unlikely but (3) could be occurring. I hadn't thought of that.

    Finally on your fragmentation thesis, I view TMP as an aggregator and a communal clearinghouse of information. With the explosion in individual blogging activities, readers likely gravitate towards their own specific likes and associate primarily with like-minded bloggers.

    With the power of the press within easy reach of almost everyone, decentralization of information and fragmentation is unavoidable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree with you about TMP, but boardgamegeek does the same job and still appears to be booming. Why are we (the miniatures gamers) different?

      Regarding blogging, I think blogging is fantastic, but it is no substitute for a centralised 'meeting space' and I fear that without that neutral central space it will become harder to find common ground. But I may of course be wrong!

      Delete
  2. Interesting blog post, I also think the traffic at TMP has been decreasing quite a bit also based on link traffic to my own blog.

    As stated above I also think the decrease in traffic is caused by the rise of individual blogs and other forums.

    Kind regards

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it seems we have reached similar conclusions! I do hope that TMP can get back on track because (as I keep saying) I think a central point is important, and TMP has been it.

      Delete
  3. One more reason that might be whittling away at blog hit counts, at least from my perspective, is the use of RSS feeds for watching blogs. I use Feedly myself, and many times I read the new posts without going to the blog that posted them.

    Dilution, while not the solution this time, seems to be the cause!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, good point... [Goes to check what an RSS feed is ;-)]

      Delete
    2. Wow! I use Feedly as well and love it. But, how do you find new discussions on TMP without having to go to site?

      Delete
    3. I use RSS reader for a most of my blog reads (Feedly). I think I am currently subscribed to about 300. But I visit TMP regularly as well for the non-blog related stuff. And I am getting very good at recognising TMP threads that are also blog posts I have in my reader.

      Delete
  4. I think that TMP No.4 is the most probable!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it does look that way, unfortuately!

      Delete
  5. I cannot comment on the number of hits be they virtual or otherwise, but I can say for me personally, I have not used TMP as I used to in the past. It wasn't any one particular thing with TMP that has contributed to this but more the great number of nice blogs that now seem everywhere, and with nice pictures to go with them. I'm a visual kind of guy, as I suspect many miniature gamers are - so blogs with nice pictures far outweigh visits to TMP. TMP does have the appearance of an older type of website. Anyway, fellow-blogger (& TMPer) Legatus' recent post resounded with me. Best, Dean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Dean. Just searched for Legatus' post.

      Delete
  6. On fragmentation, it seems apparent to me that most wargame hobbyists are less social sorts of people. And once the individuals find a community in which they feel comfortable, they tend to stay within that community and venture no further. There are many other factors that come into this of course. There is also a very strong economic motivation at play. When the overall economy is a downswing, interest in wargaming increases. Likewise, interest goes down when the economy is on the upswing. The reason for this is that wargames are inexpensive in relation to other entertainment options. When the economy improves, more entertainment options become available. Every hobby vendor I've spoken to is keenly aware of this. Perhaps, this is being reflected in the TMP forum? The economy has gotta turn around sometime, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm, interesting idea, HoldFast! I don't know enough about the economics of wargaming to say, but if it's a known issue for manufacturers it might have something to do with it.

      Delete
  7. I think there is a lot less traffic on TMP, because of levels of irritation due to poor moderation. My heart went out of TMP when Allen Curtis was banned. Tango1's spamathon is causing much discord, even as I write. Having said that, I still post and get a fair portion of my traffic from there.

    Another possible 5th factor is that Ancients are in a bit of a down-cycle at the moment. Nothing has quite replaced the level of buzz that WAB brought to the period, 4 or 5 years back. Your blog, and mine, are both quite ancient-orientated, and we may have lost traffic to, say, Flames of War, which is currently big.

    I had a quick look at my stats, and bots seem to account for 15-20% of the traffic, recently. However, I suspect there has always been a fair level of bot traffic, and this may be nothing new...

    I used to just post on TMP, now I also post in WD3, and on Facebook, and sometimes in other places. Traffic has been up (somewhat) over the last year, but that is, in part, due to more frequent posting.

    I think you can safely discount 1) and 2) above. ;-)

    Cheers, Simon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think bots are probably 40% or more of my traffic. I never used to get them, but now they are my biggest fans ;-) Yes, I think TMP took a bit of a hit when Allen Curtis went - or the ancients area did, at least - and each new issue seems to cost us a few more people. I try to stay out of the politics of it though.

      You might be right about there being a downturn in ancients. That could be part of it too...

      Delete
  8. #4 is the most likely. I use TMP significantly less then I used to in the past. Between Tabletop Gaming News and the "Wargames News and Terrain" blog, I can find most of what I want to see without the distraction of the discussion threads. TMP has a very 'busy' layout and I stopped using its forums years ago as the Drama to Content ratio became unfavorable.

    I think blogs have also significantly changed the gaming dynamic as well. I was looking at Wargames Illustrated and Miniature Wargames at a local hobby store the other day and thinking "What do these magazines offer that I am not already getting on-line?" I can find new products on the aggregating 'news' sites, and the explosion of blogs allows me to find more content that interests me, as well as a comment section that allows for relevant interaction with the authors.
    I can understand the desire for a 'communal clearing house' for discussion, but I think the system tends to favor a vocal minority.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good points, Dartfrog. If the 'clearing house' is only serving a few, then I suppose it's not much good! I'll have to look in on Tbletop Gaming News and the WN&T blogs. I must have had my blinkers on!

      I agree about magazines too. We are having the same issues with Slingshot at the SoA. There's no point trying to compete with blogs on the eye candy / photographic how-to article front because you just can't do it in print as well and as cheaply as you can on the net. Magazines and journals need to have a point of difference (or a captive audience!). I think blogs are a good thing in this regard: they should be raising the standards all round (in theory, at least!).

      Delete
  9. Good discussion! I've had an idea for a similar post based on our local group. We used to all game FoG exclusively. But then we branched out and now we're all over the map. Variety is great but I do miss a single set of rules that could pull all of us together for a meet up.

    In years past, I could post at TMP and get heavy traffic. Now it barely moves the needle. I like TMP but I'm tired of the know it alls jumping in to thread crap. I did a post of Hungarian shields I'd painted based off of a Hungarian medieval website and quite a number of people weighed in to say "that's not Hungarian heraldry." In fact it was but what are you gonna do? It puts a guy off the place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Monty - rules diversity / player preferences are probably other contributors to the sense of fragmentation.

      I know what you mean about know-it-alls. I may even be a bit of one myself, so I'll have to watch that! You are a centre of gravity all your own, so I'm surprised that anyone would have wanted to 'put you right'. Takes all sorts, I suppose...

      Delete
  10. I must admit oi do think there is a place for somewhere like TMP that is a catchalll generalist area. There are a lot of other forums, some more specialist than others, but TMP is like an allrounder where there is usually some answer or pointer or discussion available. I think the blogger stats are just indications. About two years ago, I noticed a drastic increase in crawler hits which seems to have levelled off. I do post to TMP when I do a battle report and, although I had not noticed before, you are right - there *seems* to be less traffic generated from TMP. But I have noticed that the amount of traffic for blog posts is very similar and only about a third will actually come from TMP. I am assuming that traffic to my blog posts is being generated from RRS readers as mentioned above. Certainly I am hitting blog posts myself that way rather than TMP posts.

    Lastly, if you do want to get a much better idea of blog post stats, install Google Analytics. I did that when I first started blogging. It does not record web crawler hits etc. I go occasionally to get a reality check - the count via Analytics is only about 50% that reported by blogger stats. I am happy that people come and read my posts; so while stats are fine things, I get way more hits than I *ever* thought I would and that is more than enough contentment for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Shaun, I'm off the same mind; upping page hits is not the goal of the exercise.

      I think TMP is a pretty good resource, and as I say, I basically learned how to paint, what books to get and what rules to look at from the folks at TMP. Some of those folks are not there anymore which is a shame, but the threads are still around, and it's valuable as an archive even if posting there is not everyone's cup of tea.

      Delete
  11. Great discussion and lots of food for thought, so here's my twopennethworth....

    I disagree with some comments suggesting that the wargamers are a naturally unsociable lot. That just isn't my experience, quite the contrary in fact. All my friends (and I think I have many) I know though either Wargaming or RPG groups.

    The massive increase in personal blogs has probably impacted on forum sites like TMP, but poor moderation and spammers have also contributed to reducing their popularity. On a personal blog you can apply the sort of moderation and spam filtering often missed in a large public forum.

    The Internet has created a massive explosion in information in all walks of life. The hobby industry has grown and as already discussed there are many personal blogs to choose from. Its impossible to folow them all, so we naturally pick our own customised subset of sites that are relevent to us. I don't think this is symptomatic of anti-social fragmentation, just a natural result of information overload!

    TMP is looking incredibly dated and it seems to me it is just falling behind much more modern and dynamic forum sites. I still think TMP is a great resourse, and I hope it has a long and vibrant future...but this will only happen if the site is given a radical overhaul sometime soon.


    Great blog by the way, and a great article. +1 new Follower!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahem..thats embarresing...I'm already a follower. See what I mean about information overload! I read so many good blogs (450+ at last count) I forget which ones I follow!

      Delete
    2. Hmm, perhaps you are right Lee, and it's just the way things go. But there's still the example of boardgamegeek, which is the biggest thing around in boardgaming and is expanding all the time. Maybe you're right - TMP has not moved with the times?

      I'm in the same boat with information (and blog following) overload: I often find myself 'following' a new blog only to find it's already on my list!

      Cheers,
      Aaron

      Delete
    3. A very interesting Topic, Aaron.

      Thanks too, to Shaun for mentioning Google Analytics, I've downloaded it. Looks interesting...

      Delete
  12. I try to limit my activities on forums and groups because of the time sink they become for me. I'm OCD enough about blogging. As to TMP, I'm conflicted. I've only been there a few times and posted a handful of times. I have benefited from Tango01 posting about my inane posts but don't normally search him out. I may also give analytics a try.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've stuck Google Analytics on my Blog. I'm just getting to grips with how it works, but it looks useful!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...