Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are RPG Blogs Supplanting RPG Forums?

Sounds like a self-important sort of question from a RPG blogger, doesn't it? Before you jump to conclusions, bear in mind I'm a moderator on two fairly large RPG boards, subscribe to the Imperial Moot, and have joined many different gaming message boards in general. So why am I spending more and more of my time surfing gaming blogs?

Here's the thing: there are some things that message boards are always going to do better in terms of organization or community when compared to blogs. If you don't believe "better", at least "better according to the tastes of many". Threads, private messaging, a single-point community--these are all things RPG forums offer that most blogs don't. But, as has been mentioned in comments here, Whitehall ParaIndustries, theRPGsite, and many other internet locales, there seems to be a popularizing of the RPG blogging community and commentary. I notice more and more esteemed and well-regarded message board posters and publishers striking out for Blogland.

For my part, I know my readership was increasing even before RPG Bloggers Network, the institution I credit for the biggest jump we've seen in cross-pollination and blogging synergy. But personally, I've been spending more time reading gaming blogs at the expense of forums. I just found I like the pace of a blogging community. Many posts seem more well-considered, the pace of discourse is a little slower, a bit more courteous. You don't have to worry as much about the inevitable Gaming Theory/Edition War/Palladium Books threadcrap.

Forum discussion is often more knee-jerk, moderated by a third party who likely won't share your views on what constitutes disorder or off-topic. Arguments blow out of proportion, aided by the twin spectres of "everyone's watching, gotta score points" and "they just know me as OgreTroll_LupinIII! I can free the beast (read: a-hole) within!". At it's best, it can bring together a nice group of regular contributors, who give a great series of opinions over the course of a thread. At worst, it can produce an inbred, toothless "safe haven", where overmoderation leads to sniping, passive-aggressive snipes, and baiting. At blogging's best, it's a community of folks doing their own thing, but learning from other blogs in the community, writing a variety of interesting items with moderation left up to the individual blogs. At worst, it's a widely-scattered, inconvenient mess of folks who can go silent or burn out for weeks at a time.

Honestly, blogs and forums can both be a heaven or hell for gaming. And I still love many of the forums I visit, and wouldn't trade them for the world. But I can't help but notice when I'm surfing the web at night, my blogroll is now my first stop, right after my email. And Webkinz for my daughter.

38 comments:

Johnn Four said...

synergy and cross-polination. Whoa, let me get my bingo card. :P

I agree on the blog front. Friendly, thoughtful, content rich.

Also, a few more features, such as categorized content and images.

Zachary The First said...

lol...see what doing that business jargon for 9-10 hours a day gets me? We become what we loathe. :)

Gleichman said...

For myself, the blog format allows me to post complete thoughts, and follow them up with being derailed by people I likely could never agree with if they were the last ones on the earth.

And it allows me to read complete throught on other people's blogs without them having to put up with the same.

Generally I think that's because people will only visit those blogs that actually interest them, while message boards take all comers- and many don't want to see you there out of the gate.

All in all, it's been a wonderful couple of weeks blogging. Wish I had decided to do this years ago.

Ryan said...

I'm new to the blog scene, and I have to say that I will never go back to forums. I have had more thoughtful discussions in the blogosphere in one day than in years of various forums combined.

That being said, I don't think the forums are going to go away any time soon, if only because many of them are "official" or company sponsored, or perhaps because it's easier to browse forums for multiple topics. (This is becoming less true with handy sidebar blog rolls, though)

noisms said...

I agree. Synergy and cross-pollination, rather than aggro and nitpicking. The only problem with blogs is that you could argue they preach to the converted. Most people don't read blogs about things they aren't interested in or don't agree with, whereas they have to engage with such things in forums.

Jonathan said...

Once again Zach -- you're dead on. Although the blogosphere is not immune to the somewhat pervasive "echochamber effect" that is pervasive in the forum communities - the biggest difference is (what I call) "reputation ownership". Bloggers care about what they write. Rarely does a blogger try to use his or her own blog as troll bait, or even worse, troll the comments from their own posts. The content is ofentimes (IMHO) more thoughtful and well-paced. Heck... this is all probably obvious since I'm the one with this whole "rpg blog anthology" thing going on. Anywhoo... I agree with all of the above - and MadBrewLabs too when he said :

"I mentioned that the RPG Blogosphere would continue evolving and make a big impact. The online community is on the verge of greatness, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I cannot quite put my finger on exactly what is going to happen, but I think we will see more"

Jonathan said...

.

Evil Hat Productions said...

Forums have questionable authority structures; I think a little more deliberate hierarchy (which exists in a blog, where the owner of the blog is much more clearly delineated and taken as the authority within that context) helps a lot.

There's also an element where forum populations are just too large to have a conversation that pursues a particular line of thought constructively. It's an overpopulation issue, for me; forums are sufficiently populated that the resulting pollution creates a toxic environment.

I stopped really doing forum stuff as a primary mode of community action the better part of a year back. My stress levels have been lower, and the conversations I have had have been better, smaller, more on-topic, and less contentious.

What's not to love?

Stargazer said...

I agree with you 100%. When I found out about the RPG Bloggers Network I stopped reading the RPG forums I lurked on for years and started to take part in the blogger community. The blog format is very different from a forum of course but it still allows discussion on certain subject without turning into the usual flamewar.
But there may be some truth to "we are preaching to the converted". But I am willing to accept that because it helps to raise the bar. You just don't flame around in an other person's blog because it will be the best way to drive people from your won blog.

Just my two cents...

Alex Schroeder said...

Blogs are a medium where the the default is IGNORE. That's great, because you only subscribe and read to those people you're actually interested in.

Places like RPG Bloggers Network are excellent because they allow you to start fishing for new blogs you want to subscribe to – like blogrolls, it overcomes the drawback of "the default is IGNORE". We get the best of both worlds.

PaulofCthulhu said...

I've just done a count and I check:

10 Blogs (including RPG Bloggers)
3 Forum sites (one of them, my own)

Our podcast is like a form of 'site blog' and I also produce an Audio Diary, which is more of a personal blog.

Zachary The First said...

@ All: Your responses outshine my own post. Excellent points all around.

@Gelichman: We wish you'd decided to do it years ago, as well!

@Ryan: I'm curious as to how much Blogrolls are used, but I know they help me. There's always Feed Readers as well.

@noisms: True, but in a forum I find I also skip threads I know I'm not going to care for. Then again, threads can derail rather quickly.

@Jonathan: Interesting quote from Mad Brew!

@ Evil Hat: I think "productivity" is something key to look at. I do think that productivity of discussion comes from the focus, and weeding out of the trollish/baiting populace.

@noisms & Alex: Perhaps forums are more like dorms with a shared common area, and blogs are like an apartment complex. With apartments, if someone tracks mud through the place or spills potato chip crumbs all over the floor,it's happening in his or her place, and you don't have to see it. Perhaps a forced analogy, but the first that came to mind. :)

Viriatha said...

The largest problem I've seen on any forums is the amount of cynicism posters display. I had a disagreement with a blogger this last month but we were able to work it out and each gave the other the benefit of the doubt after the initial blow-up.

Forum posters just flame in many cases. It seems to be a symptom of the immediacy that forum posting engenders in members.

Mark said...

I have to echo what the Evil Hat says. Before I started roleplaying again last year after along hiatus, I was heavily into wargames. I had grown very disenchanted with the wargaming forums that were out there, and had quit reading most of them.

When I started RP'ing (and looking for related content on the web), I was delighted to discover that there were so many well-written and thoughtful blogs related to roleplay. I tried dipping my toe into the waters of EnWorld and rpg.net forums, but quickly retreated. Way too high a chaff to wheat ratio, even for specific rules questions.

It makes me wonder why there are so few really good wargaming blogs out there that go beyond how-to articles or examining the tactics of their game system of choice. Even the good ones seem to direct their readership to an attached forum more often than not.

mthomas768 said...

I think both formats have a place. I think blogs, on average, offer more thoughtful information, but forums are still better for Q&A, opinions on system, or humorous flame wars about GNS. ;)

Zachary The First said...

I do think when you're looking for opinions/breakdowns on more obscure games, forums are definitely the way to go, even with the signal/noise ratio.

Jonathan said...

@Mark - seems like its time for you to start a Wargaming blog with the style and content you are looking for! Who knows... maybe even invite a few guest bloggers to contribute who are into wargaming...

Evil Hat Productions said...

One thing that I didn't touch on as directly as I would have liked -- not only does the "ownership" element of the blog author provide some clear authority in the discussion, it also provides some clear *responsibility* on the part of that owner.

In short, the "don't shit where you eat" ethic is more effectively in force.

Zweihander said...

What I like best is that I can focus on a subject through blogs. I branch out occasionally, but right now it's nice that I can read all of the old-school blogs, because that's next type of campaign I'm going to run. Even better is that I don't have to wade through edition wars and other flame-bait to get to the house rules and other tidbits that get my imagination flowing.

Dave The Game said...

I got a chuckle today by noticing that the "Forums" icon on the front page of ENWorld is an angry mob with torches and pitchforks. It's funny because it's true!

jamused said...

I think the only forums I still read are ones that are the official forums for games that I'm interested in (the Savage World forum, and Dragonsfoot for the simulacra games).

I think the key thing is that blogs have a point of view. I read Jeff's Game Blog because I want to read what Jeff Rients has to say; I read Whitehall Paraindustries because I want to read what Brian Gleichman has to say. If they started posting on a different blog, I'd read that one instead; if their blogs somehow changed hands, I'd stop reading them (unless I turned out to be interested in the new author). Contrast that with a forum where you never know from day to day who is still participating, making original posts, replying, or sometimes even who is moderating.

Gleichman said...

Evil Hat Productions- Yes, screwing up your own blog seems a poor idea although it seems to work for RPGPundit.

I do worry that blogs do have the limit of speaking to the converted. But given the option of endless fighting with people who may have taken a dislike to you over a different single subject- I'll go with the blog.

Jonathan said...

@Gleichman : Hopefully that's one issue the anthology project, Open Game Table, will address by bringing in a whole host of new readers to our blogs.

Gleichman said...

Jonathan- I didn't know this existed, and it's been running for a couple years at least now?

And you mean I'll have to wait until next year for anything of mine to be considered? :)

I declare Message Boards as worthless now. I finding more new stuff after blogging for a couple weeks than I did in a year of forum flame wars.

Jonathan said...

@ Gleichmann - No, this is the first year. It was an idea I hatched last october, and ... well... let's just say that the idea has blossumed into a full-fledged grass-roots project. Currently we are in editing phase. I've got 49 blog articles, ~40 blog authors participating. Some very kind people are also donating their editing skills to help (some of them here in these comments); and i've got a team of 7 artists doing artwork. Hopefully by March 1 I'll be ready to get some galley proofs printed; and the book will be printed shortly thereafter.

Not trying to derail this thread anymore than I may have already - so if your interested in more info on the Open Game Table project; checkout this url at my blog

Latest weekly update for the Anthology

of course, you can also email me directly if you have any questions: jonathan dot jacobs at gmail dot com

clash bowley said...

Soon I will be huddled alone and in the dark as the wolves surround me on the forums. My friends have deserted me to blogland, where I cannot go.

-clash

Gleichman said...

But clash, you're already in blogland...

Zweihander said...

No kidding Clash! If you have something interesting to say on a relatively regular basis, get to blogging!

Richard Iorio II said...

For me, RPG Forums are an example of signal-to-noise ratio being so high, that I just shut them out totally.

I think the reason I like going to blogs, is that I can get the type of discussion I like, the topics I enjoy reading, and I do not have to wade through so much noise to get it.

I did not realize the power of this -- or the appeal for that mater -- until James started up Grognardia. I might not be as Old School as he is, but I enjoy the topics and discussions that happen there. (Still, I must admit, I might be bias since he is my friend, business partner and we talk nearly every day). Your blog as well is one I read all the time, because the this is a discussion.

The funny thing is, I never really cared for forums. I tended to gravitate toward email discussion groups -- remember those -- and I think it was that style of discussion I enjoyed. Forums were, and are, too wild.

Mad Brew said...

There is a definitely a different mindset when it comes to forums. I feel a forum is supposed be for visitors to explore their opinions and discuss ideas. However, I feel that the forum moderators too often abuse their powers.

Then the forum authorities begin asserting their influence, cultivating their preferred ideology and suppressing conflicting views. And thus forums lose their original purpose.

I have never really participated much in forums, because I always feel like I am behind enemy lines where some horde of trolls are ready to ambush me if I stray too far from the path.

On the other hand, there is no question as to the purpose of a blog. Blogs are sites dedicated to the views of the author(s). Visitors do not control the content (though they obviously have a strong influece) as they do in forums. And so authors are free to develop and broadcast their opinion/ideas without being censored.

And I do agree with Noisms that for the most part, a blog preaches to the converted but also to those who are looking for direction. Build it and they will come.

There are exceptions however. I regularly read blogs that espouse ideas that I do not subscribe to. I do this for a couple of reasons.

One, I am not conceited enough to think my current ideology is perfect or the one true way. So it allows me to constantly verify if my current ideas really have merit.

Two, it is always good to understand the arguments of the other viewpoints, so you can improve your own arguement.

Back on topic though. I don't believe forums are dead yet by any means, or ever will be. I do think that most of them will be taking a backseat to newer approaches, like blogs, and many of them will be thought of as the internet backwater they really are.

Anyways, sorry for the comment book and thanks to Jonathan for graciously quoting me.

Stuart said...

I took a break from both RPG Forums for the fall, and in January started visiting again. At the same time I relaunched my blog and started adding some semi-regular content.

I find the blog community a lot more positive than the forums, and I think I'm going to continue to channel my energies this way.

On that note I just joined The RPG Bloggers Network yesterday! :)

Zachary The First said...

@clash: My friend, you are not abandoned; I'm still on theRPGsite!

But if a certain superb game designer were to put some of his awesome ideas into bloggy form, I think many would be pleased. But blogging isn't for everyone--I get this.

Sean said...

Thanks for this post. I am a huge fan of blogs, and by extension Google Reader. Forums are good for finding out what is new, and for getting a handle on rules issues, but they are so noisy.

What I like about blogs is that I can subscribe to the ones I like, and easily skim them for the articles that sound interesting. Google Reader has such a nice search that I can mark everything as read if I get behind and just search later if I want to see if anyone has discussed a particular topic.

Olman Feelyus said...

There is a place for both. Forums are great for small, local communities, as you can get a ton of planning and organizing done for one-shots, local cons, things like that and then have a ton of fun discussing the fallout afterwards.

I think that the blog/forum dynamic will be generally good for internet gaming discussion overall. They keep each other in check somewhat.

clash bowley said...

Erg! Blog myself? Yikes! I truly can't imagine anyone being particularly interested in what I have to say. Interested enough to actually go to a blog to read it, rather than tripping over it on some forum, or in the comments of someone else's blog, like yours.

Being neither a leader nor a follower, I prefer to just get out of the way, and let those who have something to say say it, understanding and accepting that this is non-survival behavior now.

-clash

Donny said...

I like blogging because it is mine.

It's my house. The rules are mine.

MINE MINE ALL MINE! lol.

I am a lot more free to talk about what I want to talk about without risking becoming some a--holes whipping boy.

I like the amount of control I have over my quality (or lack thereof).

I like the feeling of...togetherness? no...community? maybe. That has us collaborating and stealing and improving upon ideas from other great people.

Let the lowest common denominator keep the forums, from what I am seeing, only the elite blog.

Zachary The First said...

Thanks very much for all the responses, guys. Haven't had this many comments on an article in some time. I'm going to read it all over a bit more in-depth over the weekend. There very likely will be some material for follow-up.

@clash: As long as I know you're at least hanging around, all is well. :)

Anonymous said...

An interesting idea since the forums are getting smaller and smaller. The one I really like has been slowly losing people. Sigh. Its a shame.

But if you'd like to add another forum to your reading, you could check out http://www.quarrelsandquills.com . RPG by post in several different worlds both original and based on other media like novels and movies.