Building Traffic on a Game Site

It seems as though the web ought to be a natural medium for promoting games; and many bold developers have bet on the assumption if you build it they will come.  Sadly, unlike at the movies, it just ain't so.  The web is littered with game sites that ought to be considered dead; and scores more have died and disappeared.   Sure, if you are (or name your favorite mega-portal) you can instantly generate an overflow crowd for anything; but if you don't already have a gazillion eyeballs, how do you get from zero to a viable community of players?

I'm going to present two cases, one sad and one happier, with which I had some personal knowledge.

The Sad Tale of

My first example  is  I followed this site more or less from beginning to end because it hosted Lines of Action as one of its many games.  Dennis Rahaman, who built the site, did a lot of things that were either obviously right or at least obvious.  His general plan was to build a great web site, attract players with a free trial period, then eventually charge a small subscription fee.

Stage 1: Dennis quit his day job and devoted at least a year to developing the software, which included a server, client, and LOTS of games.  The games included many unique games, not available elsewhere; each presumably with it's own small contingent of devoted fans. (Dennis is a developer, not an inventor).  The games included lots of card games, chess variants, checkers variants, Lines of Action, and some very interesting hex games.

Stage 2: He launched midigames and contacted the obviously interested parties (his is where I came in) who would help promote particular games. He posted on* and generally spread the word on the web.  Several hundred people downloaded his client and signed up for the web site. On the way! Right? Wrong.

Stage 3: Dennis tried various things to populate his wonderful but empty site. He tried mass mailings to his user base proposing "events" at particular times. He proposed tournaments with prizes.  He bought other game related mailing lists and spammed them.  No response; not a poor response, not a weak response: zilch.

Stage 4: When the money (his savings) ran out, he got a day job and tried to market the site to companies that wanted content.  Unsuccessfully.  When last seen, his plan was to move to France and open a restaurant.  R.I.P. Midigames.

The Happier Story of

The original was built "on spec" by a small software company with a plan much like Midigames.  They saw as a demo of their capabilities, from which they would launch a business building similar sites for fun and profit.  They built it, nobody came, they decided to pursue more promising businesses.

When I first encountered, it was in a state like Midigames, but worse; Not only was nobody there, but the site was unreliable.  I volunteered to help fix it, and I've been "helping" ever since.   In the course of 6 years, traffic on the site has increased from essentially zero to approximately 40,000 games played per month.  Here are the things I think were the key elements to building traffic to the current level .

It should also be noted that that a lot of the first time visitors to the site following a link from an physical game they bought, not a reference from someplace else on the web; and that the site has had little direct effect on the worldwide spread of Tantrix.  If there were accountants watching this, they would be shaking their heads in dismay.  However, the web site has been important in another way.  Fanatic online players have gone on to become distributors responsible for the worldwide growth of Tantrix sales.  The web site found and nurtured the fanatics who make the game grow.

The Next Phase:

The next  phase (starting March 2004) of the saga is to see if the relative success of can be replicated. was created by recycling most of the code and know-how from, as well as applying the lessons learned. is to be a multi-game site, not affiliated with any particular game manufacturer.   First game is Zertz,  which is in a similar position to Tantrix in 1998; it is a reasonably well known and respected game with a live inventor, but not one that is hugely successful.  Following Zertz in pretty quick succession over the next 2 years were Lines of Action, Plateau, Yinsh,  Hex, Trax, Punct and Gobblet.  I had specific motives for each game, all aimed at the "brass ring" of  achieving a self sustaining community.  It's not there yet.   Here are some of the ideas behind the choices and thoughts about the results.

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