Community > Recreation Commons

the vitality of 4X TBS gaming forums

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I started out wanting to shill my massive After Action Report, to try to get it more views and some kind of audience.  I think I pretty quickly identified the few relevant SMAC forums out there: CivFanatics, Apolyton, WePlayCiv, and Reddit.  Ok fine, links posted.  Hope it helps.

In doing so, I ran into broader cultures of 4X TBS game playing.  Also of AAR writing.  Some sideshows of people doing "Never Ending Stories" or other kinds of simulation / role playing hybrids.  I've seen the historical life cycles of a number of communities, because many of them had their peak years earlier.  When a community has been on the wind down for several years, it doesn't take very long to click through a few web pages of posts and end up back in 2012.

This has made me wonder, if I am to "have another go at it" and write a 4X TBS, possibly with RPG narrative elements, what "scraps" am I fighting over?  Is this a basically healthy arena in which to try to be writing a game?  Are there any forums that are vibrant, with a paying audience?  Is there a viable customer base?  Or are there a lot of people who complain and don't spend money?

I'm currently still trying to digest the Reddit /r/4Xgaming forum.  It has a lot of subforums for specific titles, for instance a nominal SMAC forum with almost no traffic.  The toplevel forum seems to revolve around diatribes concerning "the big 3" titles: Stellaris, Endless Space 2, and Galactic Civilizations III.  I haven't made the time to try to examine any of these titles firsthand.  What seems clear to me from following the threads though, is that historical problems of the 4X genre in general have never been solved, by anyone.  GC3 still suffers from unit pushing, for instance.  Same kind of stuff we were complaining about in the days of Civ III.  "Why do I have to clean out this continent?"  AI still pretty much sucks for all titles.  Some suck less, others suck hard because the devs didn't come remotely close to doing any kind of job with it.

/r/4Xgaming claims 11,367 Redditors and eXpanding.  Doesn't feel like I'm reading the thoughts of any vast number of people though.  A nominal audience number doesn't reflect the active user set, in my experience.  I wonder how many people checked out the forum briefly and never came back?  I wonder how many people stuck around but only lurk?  I don't yet have sense of whether this is a "large" watering hole for 4X TBS, or a backwater.

I do wonder at the value of trying to promote one's game through such channels though.  There's a lot of negativity.  Maybe that's because game developers keep making the same mistakes, getting the same things wrong from product generation to product generation.  Maybe it's because these forums attract people who complain as a sport, to prop up their own psyches.

Rating systems that have both upvoting and downvoting are daunting.  There was a thread recently that the top 10 posts in the forum by upvotes, only numbered in the low 100s of upvotes.  By general Reddit standards, for instance what will land you on the front page of Reddit, that's completely pathetic.  One would say that nobody has the power or interest to push awareness of titles.  I haven't calibrated this phenomenon against other forums for better known games in other genres, but I suspect it will make /r/4Xgaming look like an abysmal waste of time.

On the other hand, if one is actually committed enough to 4X TBS to want to solve problems in the genre, then it behooves one to understand the loci of "tastemakers" wherever they may be residing.  I'm still looking.  However I do find myself wondering if historical notions of "what 4X TBS is", are a market not worth chasing.  That a broader conception of what a game can offer an audience, may be necessary.

"Space ships" - get grief about why your game isn't like game X.  "Fantasy" - may be less limited, for lack of work done in that area.  Cue Salvador Dali approach to 4X.  Yes, you don't even even know what you're fighting over, or what winning would mean.  But think of the style points!

Buster's Uncle:
I've been watching this kind of thing like it was a full-time job for nine years now, so I have thoughts worth listening to seriously.

Hmm.  Sid's still making bank, and I'd say the market's still there - just, this is a greater community grown long in the tooth, and no Firaxis game since Civ4 has been found satisfactory here.

Some of it's just web trends, too, I don't Reddit, and rarely have ever lurked from a googling for something, but I've been told more than once by people at the top of the CFC staff pecking order that many of the admins there are terrified of Reddit.

Too, still on trends, Facebook, one of the nasty things about it being that it's taken over the internet, and competes with all forums, scratching many of the same itches without being any good -stuff posted here, for instance, not being effectively vanished forever in a week or a month- but ALL forums are seriously diminished by Facebook being bigger than God and syphoning off all the time and attention it does.

No, grognards will be with us always, and forums of any vintage and/or focus are no measure of their numbers, enthusiasm or buying-power. ;nod

Yes, Reddit is terrifying.  It's a home turf for alt-right white supremacists.  It's not difficult to avoid direct contact with their toxic culture.  But indirectly, they poison most layers of Reddit culture.  Generally speaking the place is a toxic 551thole, especially if you're a woman.  I am unlikely to ever get a date from hanging out on Reddit.  That's the major reason I stopped even trying to hang out there.  I'm only driven back by proxy career interest, trying to understand the publicity space available for 4X TBS titles.

I'm a Facebook refusenik and do understand that they're sucking the air out of the room.  I only have 1 answer for that: build cultures that don't do Facebook.  I can't expect the masses to wise up, but some people will.  I do take some consolation that Facebook's stock value took a significant tumble recently, over some kind of spying / lack of privacy / I forget what concern.  The story made it to the front page of one of the sections of the local Winston-Salem NC newspaper, so that is something.  Let it fall!

I finally got the "calibration" I was looking for.  Someone happened to reference a /r/civ thread and I saw that forum has 231,525 nominal subscribers.  That's a factor of 20 higher than /r/4Xgaming, whose "big 3" sensibility clearly doesn't include recent Civ.  I shouldn't complain too much about the Civ franchise, because much like the TSR of old, they kept RPG alive via AD&D sales.  I should probably study the degree to which Civ players are disaffected or not, when developing a strategy.

Also I should see what the communities of the /r/4Xgaming "big 3" are like.  I did play Gal Civ II.  III is supposed to have "decent" AI.  Game mechanically, II just ended up being about buying entire star systems wholesale though.  I did the equivalent of Huge or Giant maps in that game several times.  "OMG too many mouseclicks!" became the problem for that, then as now.

Buster's Uncle:
As you'll have already noticed, web gaming communities and their cultures and trends are an abiding interest of Green1's, too, and I'm interested to see what he'll add when he comes by.  He's half full of crap and will talk about MMO's and first person real time stuff mostly, but still; I think he's got a valid perspective and interesting insights and a LOT of war stories.  Worth paying attention, because he definitely has for a very long time, and put a lot of ongoing thought into it.  Incredibly helpful to your purpose, if a bit outside your focus.

My REAL sweet-tooth is gossip within the greater Civ community where I know people and where many of the bodies are buried, but kicking around the whole gamer culture all over the nets is indeed my idea of a good time.

I can probably be real helpful if you have any questions about this community's history, going back ten years before my time - but I've listened and remembered when War Stories Were Told...

The 4X genre is a niche. SMAC is a niche within a niche, and also 19 years old. The game this site is about can legally purchase alcohol in Canada.

Forums will be your best engagement to view ratio while reddit skews the other way. On a dedicated forum you may only get 30-40 views but you're likely to get 2-3 replies as well. On reddit, you'll get hundreds, if not thousands, of views but very little to show for it.

When I did writing for myself, not for this, I'd do some advertising on reddit. It was a great source of traffic but not engagement. That seems to be the case for most everything submitted on reddit for purposes of advertising. If you want traffic more than you want engagement, reddit will provide. Smaller communities without much traffic rely less on upvotes; your post with, say, 5 upvotes will likely end up on the front page of that subreddit even if the front page of reddit is restricted to posts with 15k+ votes.

The Steam Community forums are useless. The developer forums are (usually) useless as well. Dedicated communities are rare and you'll most likely be dealing with a couple dozen people at most.

4X fan fiction is not the path to riches or fame. :P


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