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The Friday Five: 5 Things I’ve Learned Running a Video Game Website

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.

As we tip off a new year here at the NLSC, I still find myself in a somewhat reflective mood. As I said in my 2014 Year in Review, and a couple of times in my New Year’s messages, last year was a very good one for the site, and I’m looking forward to making 2015 even better. While preparing to do so, I naturally think back on we’ve done before: what worked and how we can make it better, as well as what hasn’t worked and how we can avoid it. That in turn got me thinking about some of the lessons that I’ve learned while running the NLSC.

So, before I get back to discussing basketball video games, compiling Top 5s, or giving opinions about the NBA, I thought I’d talk a little about some of the things that running the NLSC has taught me. I’d like to think that anyone else who’s looking to start some sort of online endeavour, be it a video gaming website, a YouTube series, or even a modding project, will be able to gain some knowledge and perspective from my experiences. Without any further ado, here are five things I’ve learned from running a video game website.

1. Some People Are Just Difficult

Kobe Bryant in NBA Live 06

I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating: I do believe that we have a great community. We get along for the most part, we do some awesome things with modding, and there’s minimal fuss and drama. Unfortunately, there have been individuals throughout the years who have ended up causing headaches, eventually leading to an unamicable departure. Although they haven’t been common, we have had some very nasty blow-ups in the past.

With hindsight being 20/20, we can’t help but look back on certain situations, and wonder if we could’ve handled them better. It’s how we learn from our mistakes, after all. I’ve certainly done that in regards to some of the more…difficult people that we’ve had in our community, wondering if some of the unpleasantness could have been avoided. And, truth be told, there are situations that I would handle differently, given the opportunity.

At the same time though, I suspect that in some of those situations, it wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference. Some people are just difficult and unpleasant; they’re not going to be happy unless you do everything they want, regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea, a reasonable request, or for the good of anyone but themselves. They’re certainly not going to resolve any disputes with tact or diplomacy, either. Ultimately, you realise that it was a tough situation involving an unreasonable individual, who wasn’t going to be happy unless you catered to their every demand. Fortunately, the really nasty people are in the minority, at least around these parts.

2. If Something’s Just Not Working, Let It Go

Carlos Boozer in NBA Live 06

Not every idea is successful, not every piece of content can be a hit. Alternatively, if something does catch on, it may take a while. And, even if something isn’t quite as successful as you would have liked, it may still have been worthwhile. When you have a new idea for content and feel passionate about it, it’s absolutely worth giving it a try, and allowing it to have a decent chance to succeed. Sometimes you may need to be very patient, or weather some initially lukewarm reactions, but if it’s a project you really want to undertake, then by all means go for it.

Having said that, you also need to know when to pull the plug on an idea that just isn’t working out. We’ve had features on the NLSC before that seemed like a good idea at the time, or drew some initial enthusiasm, but in the long run, they just didn’t pan out. Some of them just didn’t cater to a wide enough audience, nor did they create additional interest in or drive traffic to the site. Other features were in demand at one point, but the interest wasn’t sustained. Some ideas had good intentions, but were ill-fitting. Bottom line, whenever that happens, you need to avoid falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

To a certain extent, that means checking your ego at the door. That can be tough to do when you’ve been really enthusiastic about an idea and believe in it, but when it’s just not working out, you do need to move on. I’ve had ideas, or seen other sites do things that I’ve liked and appear to be working out well, and tried to implement them on the NLSC, only to find that they haven’t suited our content or demographic. It’s hard to give up, especially if something is kind of working, or at least isn’t hurting the site, but you do have to ask yourself: “Is this the best approach moving forward? Do we really need to be doing this?” If the honest answer is no…let it go.

(My apologies for the laboured rhyme, and to anyone who now has the song from Frozen stuck in their head.)

3. Re-Tool, And Try Again

Joel Embiid in NBA 2K15

Of course, you don’t need to discard every feature that doesn’t work. There may be something about the idea that can be re-tooled and re-used elsewhere, the concept salvaged and put to better use. Yes, some ideas do need to be let go if it turns out they weren’t as good as originally thought, but there may be something about them that needn’t go to waste. For ideas that are working out a little better, a bit of tweaking, or a variation of the concept might be all that’s needed. There’s nothing wrong with going back to the old drawing board.

In a similar vein, if something’s no longer working or applicable, you shouldn’t avoid changing it simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done”. When I first took over the NLSC from Tim, Lutz, and Brien, I was very hesitant to change certain aspects of the site or the Forum, because it felt like it was breaking with tradition, even disrespecting the work they’d done. While I believe that change simply for change’s sake can be just as damaging as a refusal to change, I came to understand that it was now on me to make changes as they were needed. I had to try new things when the old approach became outmoded, from CMS software to Forum organisation.

One of the great things about the Internet is that you can keep putting out content, as long as you’re willing to do so. On one hand, this results in Sturgeon’s Law, but it also means that you have freedom to experiment, and ample opportunity to hone a craft. In the entertainment industry, poor ratings, low sales, or flops at the box office may put an end to a project, or even a career, that has a lot of potential. With online ventures, you can afford to have patience and build over time, to make mistakes, learn from them, and get better. It’s a medium that encourages the old saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again”…Yoda’s words of wisdom not withstanding.

4. Some People Will Not Like You (And Won’t Be Polite About It)

LeBron James in NBA Live 15

The Internet is a wonderful innovation, one that I’d say many of us would now find difficult to live without. Unfortunately, it can also be a very hostile and negative place. As I mentioned in the first point, some people are just difficult, and the anonymity of the Internet will often enhance their anti-social behaviour when they interact with others. Whether it’s someone who’s upset about a ban, harbours a grudge because of a disagreement or a mishandled situation, or simply doesn’t like your work, there will be people who dislike you, and they won’t mince words when saying so.

Again, over the years, we have had some nasty people in the community. I’ve also made my share of mistakes, some of which probably could’ve been avoided, while others I had to make and learn from. There have been falling outs, misunderstandings, philosophical disagreements, unhappiness with changes (or perceived lack of change), and so on. The end result is that certain comments have been made about the NLSC or myself personally that are…not very nice, to say the least. Even when they haven’t been posted here, I’ve either stumbled across them, or been made aware of them.

While you can certainly learn from those situations (especially when you know you’ve messed up), and you should never close yourself off from constructive feedback, it doesn’t do you any good to seek out or dwell on the nasty, angry comments. I’m not thrilled that there have been people out there who make their dislike for me so personal, but I figure that much worse is said about celebrities and athletes, not to mention popular Internet personalities such as Doug Walker (The Nostalgia Critic) and James Rolfe (The Angry Video Game Nerd), people who are far more talented than I am. It’s unfortunate, but you can’t let it get you down.

5. You Can’t Please Everyone

Kevin Durant in NBA 2K15

Now, there are a lot of experiences in life that teach you this lesson, and it’s very well illustrated by the old fable of “The miller, the son, and the donkey“. However, whenever you undertake a project that involves creating some kind of content for public consumption, it really drives the point home. Not everyone is going to like a new design when it’s implemented. Not everyone is going to be interested in a certain feature, or article. Not everyone is going to be understanding, or supportive of a difficult decision. To throw out a more specific example in our community, not everyone is going to agree with certain ratings in a roster update.

Fortunately for me, as I said before we do have a great community, and most people are supportive and understanding a majority of the time. I’m certainly grateful for that; after all, you can only hope to please the majority. To that end, while you certainly want to take constructive feedback on board, you also need to know when to stick to your guns, or make a judgement call. Constantly changing things back and forth in attempt to please everyone will likely end up pleasing no one. Sometimes you might be able to find a happy medium, but you have to accept and make peace with the fact that not everyone can be satisfied, or reasoned with.

It’s easier said than done, of course. My instinct is to not alienate anyone, and to provide content about basketball video games that gamers want to find online, and will ultimately enjoy. I would like everyone’s experiences at the NLSC to be positive, for every article or Podcast to be a hit, for everyone to be satisfied with what they get out of the site. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly a realistic scenario, but I believe that as long as you have clear goals, do your best, and most of your audience reacts favourably, you’re on the right track. And hopefully, most of you feel that that’s the case with the NLSC.

As I look to improve the NLSC and add new content, these are some of the things that I keep in mind. I’d like to think that over the past thirteen years, I’ve been able to learn from my experiences, positive and negative, and that my performance as the webmaster/administrator and the site itself are better off because of it. That’s all for now, next week it’s back to business with basketball video game chatter. Thanks for checking in, Happy New Year, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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