Though there were a few newsworthy items--Majel Barrett Rodenberry's recent passing chief among them--we've decided in lieu of news updates today or next week, it would be a good time to do a retrospective of this site--and Fortress: Ameritrash in general--as the year winds down.
Really, we've needed to do something like this for awhile...it's funny, because when we launched this site, I remember Uba mentioning that we'd be lucky to get 50 members and a dozen regular posters. That would just about fit with our "early crowd" that was with us in the blog days....but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Checking our registered members today, we managed to do a little better than we thought, with 549 currently registered members. That's not monolithic or anything, but for a bunch of part-timers like us, I'm pretty proud of how much we've grown in just a year's time in terms of the website, and how far we've come since our original blog days.
Of course, of those 548 members, you've gotta assume that many of them weren't with us in the beginning. We assume a lot of things that people know even if they really don't. As we've grown, it's a little past that small circle of pals and hopefully involving into something significantly more "professional." (Don't worry about the term "professional." That means in terms of looks and features only...we'll still have fart jokes and sausagefest threads, I'm pretty sure of that.)
So, for those of you who joined us this year, let's go back in time and look a bit at the evolution of the site, where it came from, and possibly where it's going. Even if you were with us from the beginning, this should be a nice trip down memory lane.
The year was 2006. The so-called "AT/Euro Wars" were pretty much in full swing by then on Boardgamegeek. A big chunk of this was likely caused by an influx of ex-RPGers and ex-CCGers into the boardgaming hobby. In 2006, CCGs especially had become a dying breed, and long-time collectors (like, oh, me) were burned out on chasing cards, filing rares in binders, being ambushed by expansion set after expansion set....
It's so funny, really, how things come full circle. I remember thinking, "Man! It will be nice to get a whole game in one box!" Ignoring how before Richard Garfield's baby, that's how they all came anyway, but I digress.
There was truly a clash of cultures with the theme-heavy gamers migrating on to BGG. Around this same time, Fantasy Flight Games had established itself as a true force in the hobby with behemoth games like Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition bringing back the "Throwback" Milton Bradley games of old. We were a "new" contingent of gamers who were lured in by heavy theme and shiny toys.
The problem was, there was already an entreched segment of the hobby on there, thankyouverymuch. They were the Eurogamers, and they didn't have time for "luck-filled games" and "dicefests." Yet it was these very gamers who had been there from the start, so it's hard to begrudge them their resistance to this new wave of interlopers.
(Some context was added later to all of this, as there was a similar influx of wargamers previously due to changes at Consimworld. It's easy to see why the current crowd would have been reluctant to accept a new wave of gamers, who also would have way different priorities in what they wanted from gaming.)
Robert Martin launched a seminal list on BGG, mostly in reaction to a PM from a BGGer that accused him of being a "Ameritrash Apologist." Robert posted his list, and it was a matter of right place, right time, right sentiment--it became a lightning rod for theme-hungry gamers who may have found BGG and were bewildered by the popularity of the math-heavy Eurogames that dominated the top game lists and discussions.
(You can see Robert's list here: http://www.boardgamegeek.ccom/geeklist/16485)
Suddenly there were a lot of usernames and avatars who hadn't found it appropriate to post much who were glad to see content about the style of games they liked. They started to speak up--and speak up in relative droves. Discussion was flowing, times were good.
But quickly enough, there was a backlash--"can't you guys just shut up about these games? This whole 'Ameritrash' thing? This is getting old!" (This is a paraphrased comment about only the third AT Geeklist posted.) And as simple as that, a culture war was on...one fueled by gamer pride, and a resistance of the entrenched against the barbarians at the gates, so to speak.
This carried on for several months, of course. The conversations about this were mostly something that would start off productive, but by oh...page 7 or so, it would have degenerated into a flamewar. Truly, this was a case of people speaking a different language, sharing different interests, yet trying to co-exist in the framework of the same socially-oriented gaming database website.
One day (January 3rd, 2007) I got a Geekmail from Matt Thrower. Matt was a guy I'd seen posting heavily on the AT-centric threads, so I was intrigued by the subject line that merely read: "AT Blog."
Here's what Matt had to say...
I'm mailing a copy of this to a few of the more active AT badgeholders. [snip]
At the risk of appalling overexposure, I wondered if it might be fun to set up a multi-author AT blog, something along the lines of gone gaming but with opinions from a decidedly AT standpoint.
I've sometimes thought about starting up a gaming blog myself, but being a tedious arsehole I'd never have enough stuff to make it a regular feature. By getting in some of the AT fans to contribute we could get enough material to make it viable. What do you think? If you're interested, please include your email address in your reply so I can start mass-mailing people rather than having to copy & paste geekmails!
I quickly responded that I'd be glad to participate. Soon enough, Matt sent out the first "official" Fortress: Ameritrash mass email. Oh, we weren't called that yet, but this was the true genesis of everything that was to follow. Should we ever make the really really big time, we can enshrine this photo into our Hall of Fame.
We talked quite a bit in those early days about just how we wanted to go about getting the thing off the ground. Matt at one point stated that he was "not interested in going down the BGG route with registered users and so forth." This led us to eventually settle on a Blogger format, and then we promplty...sat on our hands for awhile.
Then, naturally, a spark. Michael Barnes made an off-handed comment in a line of several of them, and the Powers That Be at BGG decided they'd had quite enough of that and showed him the door. Well, we'd had plans, and had initiative, but we'd lacked a spark. Now, suddenly, we had it. Barnes had become fairly symbolic of the "Ameritrash Movement", so his banning was a bit of a rallying cry from gamers who became genuinely angry at how it had gone down....in fact, how it had all gone down, and had been going down for awhile.
So the blog was cemented, and our initial lineup was: Michael Barnes, Robert Martin, Mr. Skeletor, Malloc, Matt Thrower, Tom Hancock, and myself. Malloc led the initial charge with a post that asked the all important question, "Why?" Why were we creating a blog in the first place?
Given how far we've come, it's pretty amazing to look back at that very first post, in all of its super high-tech blogger glory...
Yep, that was us. No forums, no registered users, no flashy menus, just straight-up Blogger in all its glory.
Those early days were pretty awesome, though. Though we had no way of tracking how many users were reading us, we'd often see heavy discussion on several of our articles, discussion that was unfettered by the "can't you guys just SHUT UP" junk. We couldn't gauge anything--hits, page counts, nothin'--so if someone didn't comment, they essentially didn't appear to exist. Yet I'd often get a Geekmail on BGG from someone who would mention reading our blog, or something on our blog would get brought up on BGG, or often new users, new faces would post comments on our articles. It was pretty great, though frustrating due to technical limitations.
We carried on like that for quite awhile, until our first real major shake-up. A certain user named "Ubarose" had submitted a great article. When I say "submitted", understand that our system was very low-tech in those days...if you wanted to post something, you sent something to our communal mailbox, and then one of us had to post it. Anyway, quickly enough we decided F:AT could use a "woman's touch", and an invitation later Ubarose had shatterred our "All-Boys Club." Besides bringing along a rapier wit, she brought something else along, and that was the technical know-how we'd been lacking to get a website off the ground.
We still hemmed and hawed about it, of course....occasionally we'd get "really serious" about talking about it...but nothing ever came of it. We just sort of...coasted along. Then there was this magic article posted, and if you read the comments you can see the desire and initiative to finally, FINALLY get off the ground take place. It's all there, and it's a great read:
That discussion sealed the deal. We were actually going to launch a real, honest-to-God website. We began working behind the scenes, talking about hosting, what we wanted in a website, features, everything. There were some observant people who noticed that our contributions had declined by half on the blog, but we didn't want to let them know that we were already working on something bigger....much bigger. We'd drop cryptic hints that something BIG was coming, but if you weren't "in the know", the slowing down of content looked like our blog was dying, losing interest, just like so many blogs across the blogosphere do.
Finally, on January 10th, 2008, we launched the site after a great deal of preparation. I had been sitting on an interview I'd done with Kevin Wilson and had been holding on to it so we could launch with a real bang. And very rapidly, we found out that there were a lot of people that had been checking us out as the article racked up a couple of thousand hits, there was a LOT of discussion, and boom, we'd arrived. We had forums. We had site mail.
Since that time, we've added a LOT of features to the site. The biggest was our "Recommendations" system, which allowed our users to rank movies, books, and games for the very first time. We added a "Hot Deals" that allowed us to get a little kickback for stuff purchased on Amazon and possibly lead our readers to some good buys. User profiles have consistently been beefed up over time as well...from your user profile, you can see all your contributions, establish "friends", tag Recommendation items and forum threads as "Favorites". I know that I'm pretty proud of how our website has evolved, and I hope we continue to improve and just get better and better.
It's been a lot of fun writing stuff for Fortress: Ameritrash, and interacting with all of you. We've reached a point where we have the "gang of regulars" on the forum side, and we've moved from anonymous commentary to a real, honest community. I'm glad that I was able to jump in at the start and play a part in all of this.
Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to everybody! Here's to 2009...let's see where the road takes us. And a big THANK YOU for taking this trip with us. It truly has been a pleasure.