The Fansite debate: aftermath

Just a quick follow-up post after a very interesting few days debate on my take on the fansite issue. The main platform for debate has been a thread on the official forums, MMO Champion, and Game Banshee. Darth Hater has a small thread as well.

Summarising debate across a range of forums is always risky, but from my biased standpoint, opinions seem to fall into two broad camps:

1. Those who see the fansite agreement as being too prescriptive, with a focus of angst being the advertising ban. This includes those who didn’t read the intricacies of the argument and assumed things were worse than what they are.

2. Those who see it as a storm in a tea-cup / overreaction / rightful stance by Bioware. This includes those who felt Bioware should be left to do their thing as they see fit. There was even one person who was angry the issue was raised as it was taking Bioware’s community team away from valuable time working with the community.

So overall? The split to me seemed 70% concerned about the issue, 30% not fazed / in favour of Bioware’s agreement. As I said though, I’m biased and would love your thoughts in the comments. I think a debate on the issue is overall a positive thing.

What’s interested me the most about it all, is the near silence from the fansite community. TOR Wars and SWTOR-UK have mentioned it, but that’s about it.

It could be that most sites don’t have an issue with it. Or it could be that no-one wants to speak out for fear of repercussions. I don’t believe the latter scenario is one to be concerned about i.e. as far as I can tell, Bioware don’t mind dissent. They rightfully want to minimise it, but to date they’ve allowed the debate on their forums, and I can confirm no horse heads have appeared on my pillow. So if you’re a fansite that has a concern, then now would be the time to flag it prior to game release. The larger sites or smaller ones like these that take a journalistic bent, have some clarity i.e. we are treated as press sites. I’m not so convinced that clarity is there at a wider level.

As Spectus says on the SWTOR forums:

Rather than close off all such loopholes individually on a case-by-case basis, BW/LA simply takes a broad approach, and forbids fansites from generating ANY income from ANY source.

Is that wise? Maybe; maybe not. But that’s why executives get paid the big bucks — to make such decisions.

If you’re impacted by that broad approach, then perhaps you might like to speak up.

And for the cynics, here’s how much ad revenue I generated in the big bump in traffic over the past few days as the debate unfolded:

Maybe we should have signed the agreement after all 😉

Again – would love your comments / thoughts.

Comments

  1. Our view of it over at TORWars.com was pretty straightforward: you had a concern, and you were trying to resolve that concern, as well as clarify the issue, with BioWare. In reading your article, we couldn’t find anything that was screechy or histrionic or problematic….you were writing about a concern.

    The much bigger problem, from our perspective, was the response over at The Register. They took your concerns/comments, and really spun them up into a full blown “controversy”. The overall tone of *their* piece was that this was a frakkin’ crisis, and they used phrases about “hancuffing” fansites, and implied a draconic mistreatment of the enthusiastic fans that run such sites. None of that was in your original piece.

    Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. The Register should honestly be ashamed of themselves.

    • K. M. Johnson says:

      I would hardly call this a little issue. Minimizing it honestly helps no one.

      Bioware is certainly drawing heavy line in the sand considering the fact that ad revenue and donation support are pretty much customary for almost any active fansite on the web. That’s just how things stay afloat in this realm. How else do you make it work?

      I reread the Register article before posting here and I must say there is little to no opinion being expressed there, simply facts.

  2. I’ve seen your previous post on the matter and I completely understood your argument and the source of your frustration. I, however, did not expect this to be so widely discussed on all these forums. From my experience I must tell you that you are raging for no reason whatsoever. Let me clarify. I started a fansite for Lord of the Rings Online almost 4 years ago. When I asked to be recognized as official fansite – they said no ads. 2 years ago I created an Aion fansite. They said no ads if you want to be an official fansite. I’ve researched the subject in regards to World of Warcraft – guess what – no ads. Swtor fansite – no ads. That is four different companies with the same policy. It has nothing to do with Bioware.

    Ultimately the decision is always yours – you decide what your site will be. Official promotion are great – all of a sudden you jump from 100 visitors per day to 1000 visitors per day, but in my 4 year experience with fansite-ism (is that a word?) it is content that brings people (10.000+ per day). Having a good relation with the game company is irrelevant, it is what you do that makes a difference for your site and visitors.

    The reason why so many fansites did not comment on the whole deal is probably not fear (if it is fear that is stupid – you are not dealing with a police state and dictatorship here). Most of us encountered this discussion before and we know all the arguments on both sides. I exchanged emails with Bioware on the subject some six months ago and their decision seems set in stone. Since all the other companies have the same requirement I did not make a public fuss about it. Besides, it is common courtesy to discuss things with your business partner (which, after all, is what Bioware represents here) in private and not go all righteous on their ass on the first impulse.

    This is what I, personally, am bother with the most. You could have talked in detail with Tor Syndicate sites, Ask a Jedi, Darth Hater, me or any other fansite owner out there to see what they think. Learn what is a common practice among MMOs and their fansites. Talked at least for a week with David and then, after you have gathered all the facts – you could have written an article and stated your opinion with much more background. You did some of this in your updates, but your initial report, that caused wider media coverage lacked this component.

    Also, your initial article has some statements that are not true or need better clarification:

    ” if that review is on a site with advertising, then it won’t be linked to”
    This is not true – they are saying that it might or might not be linked to. If you had no advertisements and are a fansite you have a higher chance that it will be linked to by the official site. There is a world of difference between those two. One is censorship and other is priorities.

    Also, you haven’t even explored the reasons behind such policy. For example, most small sites run google ads because it has no lower limit. Do you know how many gold selling ads and MMO identity theft schemes are advertised through that? A lot! there was an initiative by IGN a few years back that had all the gold spammers listed so you can add it to your google ads blacklist, but none ever tried real hard to keep that updated. I have a problem with low quality ads on my site that have nothing to do with games at all. I have “lose weight fast” stuff and gardening ads. In classic media that would be considered a very low level of quality of media that allows such advertisement. If you are a company, would you be bothered with articles about your product that get printed in such media – probably not.

    It is a very difficult rule for a small guy and it stirs up a lot of feelings. I just think it would be much better if the whole discussion is done with cooler heads and with more facts.

    For the record, I have decided to remove the ads on my site (working on a new design that will have no ads planned in the layout). I do have a plan on how to make revenue and this will be possible without having any ads on SWTOR Life.

  3. Hi Serge,

    Thanks for your well-thought out reply. On the issue of ‘checking in’ with others, I did in fact do that with a couple of people, plus I’ve had another couple contact me since I published the story. In all those cases, they are far from unconcerned. As I mentioned in the original story, we’re running as a press site now anyway.

    I’m a little bemused by your claim that Bioware is a ‘business partner’ – can you explain to me, if even we were a fansite, how we would be a business partner? A key point of the agreement is that a fansite can gain commercial advantage – the direct opposite of a business partnership.

    I also tend not to buy the line of if I’d checked in with others, I wouldn’t have run the story. For our site the original email was an issue – an email I’m unable to publicise which on its own tends to say a lot. I made some on-the-record requests for clarification, and then published my thoughts. It’s all pretty standard stuff.

    The gold-seller issue is a furphy in that any advertising has issues with dodgy people – no matter the product / game. I’ve had one advertiser ask to place a text link for a SWTOR Credits operation – which I obviously refused. It’s not an argument for removing all advertising, particularly given 100% of it is used to pay our writers.

    Of course, like any site, fan or press, if people don’t like our approach, they can look elsewhere. One thing I know for sure is that there’ll be no shortage of sites willing to run wall-to-wall praise, so I think a little criticism isn’t going to kill anyone 😉

  4. Hey there,

    All right, here’s my take.

    “What’s interested me the most about it all, is the near silence from the fansite community. TOR Wars and SWTOR-UK have mentioned it, but that’s about it.”-David, TOROZ (Article Above)

    The majority of SW:TOR fan-sites haven’t been in uproar over this issue because it’s not surprising at all.

    BioWare is working on an MMORPG with the Star Wars Brand/ Name and they had to pay a significant amount of money and time to gain that IP from LucasArts. This fan-site agreement, if accepted, is our consent to becoming an official BioWare/LucasArts/EA fan-site. We are “official” representatives of these three companies and the SW:TOR brand of LucasArts. But if we had advertising on our websites, then those advertisements would also be classified representatives as well, despite the fact it’s indirect. Every post, episode, article, etc. that is constructed on a official fan-site is interpreted as an “official” representation of BioWare/LucasArts/EA under this contract.

    Also there are many fan-sites of other MMORPGs that aren’t aloud to advertise because of competitive reasons. This isn’t unusual. What if a World of Warcraft fan-site had an advertisement promoting the upcoming Rift MMO; this could be a potential blow to WoW from an economic stand-point. So not only is this contract a document declaring a fan-site’s “officiality” if signed, but it is also a marketing safe-guard for BioWare/LucasArts/EA. What if some fan-site was promoting politics, pornography, religion, etc.? Which unfortunately has happened numerous times before. This would be bad. It’s a risk that BioWare/LucasArts/EA aren’t willing to take. But finally there’s that one question. Well why can’t “official” fan-sites accept donations? Well it’s simple, because the fan-sites we operate revolve around one of the largest sci-fi intellectual properties on our planet. The brand “Star Wars” is being promoted whenever we speculate off of it, write an editorial, record a podcast, and so on. That brand/name, Star Wars, is attracting star wars fans, star wars customers, and future star wars customers to our website. As an “official” fan-site of LucasArts we would be gaining revenue from from their IP if donations were allowed. Even though it’s donations you’re still receiving money because that brand/name, Star Wars, is having an immense impact on this fan-site, which becomes a company once you begin accepting money.

    In sum, fan-sites that sign this agreement become an “official” representation of BioWare/LucasArts/EA. It is imperative from a business stand-point and marketing stand-point, that official SW:TOR fan-sites need to be an 100% appropriate representation of these companies and non-profit.

    I hope this statement helps, once you climb into the shoes of BioWare/LucasArts/EA you begin to see that it is the most logical way for “official” SW:TOR fan-sites to operate. People forget that these are businesses out to make money, that is their priority. Don’t get me wrong, the developers and companies want to launch this MMORPG with extraordinary success that entertains their customers. But in the end they need to make a profit.

  5. Is it possible to avoid being an “Official” fansite if you have SWTOR content on your site? I don’t understand the legality of it. I chose not to submit my site officially for fear that I might have been breaking some rules.

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