As a bit of background I’m a user experience designer by trade so as I had some down time at work I thought I’d undertake a review of the STR site and see if there is any way we can boost traffic and engagement.. and also a few other comments on other areas.
First off lets establish what we are trying to achieve here. I think everyone can agree that a win would be the STR seeing a significant boost in members. On the back of this I’m going to also set myself a challenging target and suggest that a “significant boost” would be 50+ members who are active. To make it a little easier though I am going to shy away from defining active as just playing games and instead keep the definition fairly broad and accept IRC and Forum activity as eligible. I’m also going to classify existing members who have not visited in the last month as “lost” and getting them back in to the fold will count as securing a new member.
Just before I get the ball rolling with a quick review of where we are currently I’m want to provide a quick disclaimer before I get started: When I do these kinds of reviews it is essential to stay as detached as possible – it is impossible to do this kind of review properly if you are constantly trying to avoid hurting people’s feelings. Hopefully the below advice will be taken in the spirit it was given: to help the STR. In no way do I want to detract from the great things our members have achieved over the years – you’re all (shattered) stars and that won’t change. It’s also worth adding that my ramblings below are just thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas that are not guaranteed to be right and all of which will benefit from further discussion as they are picked apart, revised and even discarded…
Anyway, I’m going to look at this in four stages:
2. Social Media
3. Getting a head start
4. Old timers
So let’s get started..
So you’ve been playing a game online and you’ve had a blast. Following an evening of pwning noobs in Battlefront with an ad-hoc team of strangers you decide to send out a quick invite in chat for people to pop over to the STR site and say hi, hopeful that they may join. You include the site URL and log off for the night. Great stuff, this is the kind of PR that we were built on and should be everyone’s primary way of building membership.
What we have to consider here is what happens next whilst you are shutting down your computer and getting ready for bed... Let’s look at this from the other side:
L33TDog84 has just had a cracking night. Top of the kill board every match and you’ve finally found a great group of players who worked well as a team and laid waste to everyone who dared go up against you. Before you log off STR-Member throws a link in chat for his guild website and invites everyone on the team to pop in and say hi. As L33tDog84 is looking for a guild and that STR guy seemed like a nice guy you pop over to the site.
On loading you clock the logo, your eyes skip over the navigation bar, you note the first (and maybe second) image on the carousel and then start skim reading through the content - maybe take in a couple of the top tweets on the feed. (This is simplified but, based on research, is how the average person would approach a site like this for the first time)
L33TDog84 likely has a couple of immediate thoughts:
· I expected a gaming clan, I’m not 100% sure that this site is a clan..
· It’s not clear where I can say “hi”
So enough with the roleplay lets break these issues down:
Ref my first point I challenge anyone reading this to have a look at that first page and find anything that suggests we are a guild/clan that plays games – with the exception of the somewhat cryptic “gaming together since 1997” on the first image on the carousel (which they may have missed as it rotates) who we are is not very clear. My gut feeling here is not that it is a bad landing page it is simply that the landing page is aimed at members.. not first time visitors.
Secondly, as a first time visitor, it is not clear how I might say “hi”. To find the forum link it takes effort. I know what you are thinking at this point and it’s something along the lines of “It’s obvious. Just click community, and then community forums and tah-dah, you’re in.” but from a usability point of view this actually isn’t that obvious…
In a blatant misuse of business resources I did a quick user test with 10 of my UX panel and “Community” turns out to be quite an ambiguous term for top level navigation. When asked what each user thought might be contained under the heading of “Community” the majority (8 out of 10) thought it would be an “About us” page.. Yeah it surprised me too.
So with only a cursory glance we already have two clear roadblocks to people getting in touch. I appreciate that L33TDog84 might do some more digging and find his way to the forum but let’s consider those people who visit after finding us on google or linked in someone’s forum signature on another site. These people don’t have the same motivation as L33tDog84 and will have higher expectations as to what they expect from the site..
Generally people form an opinion of a website in the first 50ms. Luckily we benefit from a slick design, engaging graphics and (since the server upgrade) nice responsive pages so that first impression should be excellent for the majority of people. Where we will lose people is when they either try to decipher who we are or how to find what they came here for. Both of these should be discoverable in 10 seconds and with minimum effort (clicks).
Just to clarify here: I am not suggesting a huge redesign of the site.. just a few tweaks. I’m also not suggesting that this will solve all our problems – all it will do is give us the best chance of retaining visitors attracted via other channels.
So my suggestions here would be:
· Replace Community button with Forum and direct link to the boards
· Might just be me but the IRC java client doesn’t work (this may be an issue with Chrome though) so my first question here would be whether we actually get any drive by visitors via the java client? Does it warrant its own menu button? Would a sticky in the main forum linking to the java client and with instructions not work just as well? Added bonus here is that if anyone does want to use it and has problems they’re already in the place they need to be to ask for help.
· Also add a prominent block advertising the forum. At the very least move the “Recent Threads” box higher up the screen and adding a banner inviting people to visit the forum.. my preference though would be a big bright “Come join us in the forum!” graphic..
Here’s a (rough) mock up:
Lastly on the front page I was wondering whether the carousel could also do with a shakeup… here’s my thinking:
· Slide 1: “ShatteredStar: Gaming together since 1997” – Like the message but again wonder if this deserves it’s own slide as it is essentially just repeating the logo above it..
· Slide 2: Ideals – Great but how is this relevant to me and my gaming experience? (asking as a first time visitor)
· Slide 3: Shop – Love the shop but how relevant this is to new/potential members? Existing members know about it from the forum..
· Slide 4: Teamspeak – I like the idea of advertising that we have TS but again more aimed at existing members. I appreciate it is a selling point but worth the prime time? Probably not. On a side note I also wonder if anyone has seen that slide and, as it probably is the most obvious method of communicating with us, and thought they’d log in to talk to STR and then just found it empty..
My solution here would be to take the ideals and turn each of them in to its own slide and reference the benefits to membership. i.e. Friendship: Looking out for each other since 1997 / Equality: Every voice is heard, every opinion matters / etc. For added relevance throw in imagery from the games we play (one game for each slide) as this will help establish the site as a gaming site on first glance.
I know this is potentially a lot of work for what may seem simple tweaks but I hope you can see the reasoning behind each change. The goal here is to ensure we have a solid landing base that we can refer people to with confidence – confidence that the site will continue to pitch the idea of STR to potential recruits and then guide them to the forums and in to the wider community…
Everyone’s favourite topic at the moment! MS has undeniably been doing a great job but I think we can all agree that some extra help is needed.
So let’s understand the road blocks to getting people involved first:
· I don’t have the time
· I don’t use Facebook/Twitter
· I use Facebook/Twitter but managing two accounts is not practical
· I don’t have the hardware to stream/record
Taking these one at a time let’s start at the top with the time investment needed here. Everyone is different, everyone has varying amounts of spare time to commit to STR and, let’s be honest here, most people want to spend their time playing games rather than trawling Twitter and Facebook. Personally I fall in to this category.. gone are the days when I can spend 6 hours a day online - family and work put an end to that years ago and, as demonstrated by my absence from STR prior to this year, I’ve only just found enough me time to squeeze gaming back in to my life. I’m sure different people have varying results but the effect is the same… time is precious and if we are going to get more people involved we need to make it easier.
At work I get asked all the time whether we can make it easier for our users to engage with us more on social media and the answer is always the same: Integration. If you want people to post to social media about a feature/event or situation then the software platform needs to facilitate this engagement with the least amount of effort. Applying this principle to STR the ideal solution would be to incorporate social media integration in to the forum.. but yes I do appreciate that this is a huge ask from a technical point of view…
But imagine the benefits as well: If MS posts a cool set of screenshots and I have the option to click a single button and instantly share the link to my followers on Twitter or my friends on Facebook then the chances of me doing so is increased tenfold. I should also point out that this is not just a case of laziness, this is convenience, which is a whole different ball game. phpBB already has plugins to allow this exact feature but perhaps Anny could weigh in here as to practicality. I also wonder if there is the functionality available via a plugin to mirror hot topics from the forum on the FB group automatically.. (pie in the sky thought only - not one to take too seriously!)
Moving on to the second point. People need to accept that some people simply don’t do social media. This is not a case of them not wanting to contribute, it is simply a choice they have made. Respect it and move on. Find them something else to do instead but please, please, don’t berate their lack of involvement.
Likewise some people find it impractical to manage their own account and a dedicated STR account. I use Facebook almost exclusively on my phone and switching accounts via the app every time I wanted to post something on the other account would drive me insane. Likewise on twitter (although Twitter does have a few more supporting apps that help you manage multiple accounts so it’s not quite as bad). Again this comes down to a personal choice. The trick here is not to share out the STR account but instead encourage engagement on Facebook and on Twitter via our personal accounts.
On Facebook its contributing to the STR FB group (and yes I appreciate that I’m hardly a shining light in this regard so I will happily commit now to doing more on there) but it is also posting more STR related items on our own news feeds as this has far more reach than a group filled solely with existing members.
On Twitter it is tweeting relevant items at the STR account and retweeting items you think your own followers would like. A curated list of STR members might also be useful so members can subscribe and easily see what everyone else is posting about, it’s also a useful link for new members who can quickly start following other members.
Just on a slight tangent I know we post about spare copies of games we have lying around that we’re giving away but could we add a requirement to tweet/FB post something STR related to get the game? Maybe not exactly that but why not use them to drive social media.
And finally we need to appreciate that not everyone has the hardware to record and/or stream games. Unless we’re going to fund upgrades for everyone in this boat then we need a different approach here. How about a list of people willing to drop in to games that these people play and act as a camera man.. appreciate that this is dependent on the type of game, multiplayer setup and whether people own a game but perhaps someone will have an idea as to how this might be achieved.
Getting a head start
Battlefront. Beta landing shortly. Potentially there is a lot of people out there who are already looking for a clan to join and currently we’re simply not on the radar for any of them. I’m wondering whether we should we have pre-empted it’s arrival and taken the opportunity to add a dedicated forum, a front page post that we’re going to be playing it and looking for recruits.. if google indexes this article then we might attract some players before we even kick off. The idea to setup a dedicated STR server is a great idea for getting member but obviously we need to bear in mind that there is a cost. Despite the associated risk I’m happy to contribute but perhaps it’s a subject worth discussing further to get an idea of appetite.
I think, overall, we have a fairly good idea of what games people are intending to play but perhaps a dedicated list to track exactly how many of us will be trying a game would help identify which games might warrant a little pre-emptive action.
This is not a comment on the specifics of Socialgate (i.e. who has the accounts), I respect Sl33py’s decision as I think it is the right one but I’d already written it when he closed the thread and I hate seeing things go to waste especially as this is more of a general view on how we got to that particular point..
We’ve talked a lot about how difficult it has been to keep the lights on here and how, if it hadn’t been for a core few, this place would simply not exist anymore. What I want to talk about here is the other side of the coin.. people returning to the fold. I can only comment directly on my own experience but I have some concerns that we are not making it easy for old members to come back and stay.
I’m fairly sure I’m one of the longest serving members in the group. I say this not to get a pat on the back but purely to highlight that I’ve seen a lot since I joined up as a Mechwarrior 2 pilot back in the 90s. The ebb and flow of members is constant and although I appreciate that currently things are particularly bad I want to highlight the fact that people will leave, and people will come back. Fact.
For me I drifted away from the SSX a couple of years ago because of Life™, combined with the fact that I didn’t have a game to play with the group so I put in less effort to stay engaged. During my absence I had various issues with work, I started a new family and I drifted from occasional forum lurker to once a month drive bys at the most.
But then, as life tends to do, things changed. Pressures eased, I had time to breathe again and, most importantly, I had a craving to return to my gaming roots. So I hopped back on the forums and started reading.
After an extended absence coming back reminded me of visiting my old school. The familiar shapes and sounds still struck a chord, there’s even a few familiar faces but you can’t help but note that things had definitely changed. Change is good though and I’ve never balked at embracing it so I dove back in and really enjoyed catching up with people. I’m yet to find my new game but I remain hopeful that it’s just around the corner.
However it wasn’t long before I hit a sour note. There remains an assumption that if you weren’t in IRC or posting on the forums over the past year then you’ve done the STR a disservice. The implication has never been voiced but it feels like it is simmering just below the surface of every discussion about the future of the group.
The recent “Socialgate” is a prime example whereby because people had not tweeted over the past year they never would in the future. Why bother sharing login details as people have proved they are incapable of contributing to the greater good? Forget whatever personal struggles they may have had to keep them away – you have been judged and you have been found unworthy.
I, of course, exaggerate and I definitely don’t want to restart an argument that Sl33py has put to bed - I know that there is nothing malicious behind it. I simply use it as an example to show that humans, by nature, form opinions based upon experience and the experience here is abandonment. So yeah, I get where people are coming from, all I ask is that everyone considers both sides of this coin and look at it from the perspective of a returning member and give them the benefit of the doubt, and not contribute things like this:
“We'll talk further when someone who's able to contribute something of value shows up.”
As a returning member am I going to spend my valuable time challenging this view or am I going to sigh and walk away? I can guess what most would do..
For me this thread is me challenging these assumptions – here’s all my ideas, I want to contribute. Tear them apart if you want to. Offer up improvements if you feel like it. But don’t dismiss it because for 2 out of 18 years I wasn’t here.