Thursday, October 27, 2005

Marx on the ceiling (or The Zen of DING!)

Did you ever get the feeling that as you're participating at a site on the Web over a long period of time, you realise that your experience is training for something else? I got that feeling after my time at I suppose you could call it the Last Starfighter Moment.

Allow me to explain. FUMBBL is a site built by a Swedish guy called Christer Kaivo-Oja as a community site for Blood Bowl, a gridiron board game which was an offshoot of the Warhammer fantasy world from Games Workshop. The community was not built around the tabletop board game, but instead on an unofficial Java ripoff of the game written by SkiJunkie. I came to the site in 2003 as an old fan of Blood Bowl, but I hadn't played it since 1992 and only had a vague recollection of how it was played. It wasn't long before I was back in the swing of things though.

As a community site without any revenue streams other than donations, FUMBBL is a success by any measure, especially considering the niche appeal of Blood Bowl. At last count it had more than 22,000 users, and is close to hosting its half-millionth game. And all written in the LAMP environment by one main guy and two helpers (sound familiar, two point ohers?). One underrated aspect of the site is its healthy non-American and non-English-speaking audience, with healthy subcultures of Spaniards, Germans, Swedes, French and others.

Part of the appeal is that there are so many other players in the community, and so you can compete with them at many levels. There are many types of divisions each with their own restrictions and rules; coach rating systems; team records and individual player records; unofficial player-run tournaments and official admin-run tournaments; forum battles; the list goes on. I sampled all of these, eventually gaining enough respect within the community that I was appointed by Christer as a "monkey" (who can approve new teams), and then a "gorilla" (a full admin who can ban cheats and has ops in chat, amongst other admin powers). I ended up editing the site's newsletter, the Grotty Little Newspaper, plus being one of the main organisers of official tournaments. In addition, I was vocal on the official Blood Bowl forums where they were openly formulating the ruleset for the next version of the game, a set of provisional rules called the Vault for which I took it upon myself to edit the summary document, which caused one of the invovled parties to reward me with a limited edition miniature of an alien from the movie Alien in Blood Bowl regalia (below). I was all up and down that beeyotch, as the kiddies say. Using the language of MMOGs, I was luxuriating in the incremental existential pleasure of the DING.

Despite all this participatory fun, I had to leave the Blood Bowl community cold turkey, because there was only so far I could go. I may have been in positions to contribute a lot of value to the community, but it was all still in the position of consumer, not owner. Not to criticise Christer or the Games Workshop guys (g'day Galak, thanks for the fig!), but no matter how much I contributed, I was always only going to be an outsider looking up at the glass ceiling. Looking back now, I value the time I spent at that site as I know its lessons will be invaluable in my attempts to build Tinfinger, FanFooty et al into vibrant communities.

The reason I'm pouring out all this is that I was reminded of it while reading the cluster of blog entries about incentives for community participation, the latest of which was by Anil Dash on the Interesting Economy. Yes, users can feel benefits from social cachet, but that only goes so far. There is a point after which you have to offer them some ownership of their efforts.

When we talk about ownership, this is where I like to bring my old mucky-muck Karl in. I don't have much faith in his theories for changing the world in practice, the poor old dear, but I find it refreshing to apply a Marxist critique to identify where the real sources of power lie.

No matter how many times a user dings, even at a Web 2.0 site, he/she does not have any ownership over the "means of production". What does that last phrase mean in an online context? It means an AdSense/YPN account whose ID is in the code on the site in question. So who is going to be ballsy enough to introduce a revenue-sharing agreement with their users in exchange for a cut of the AdSense cash?

More importantly, who is going to be the first to get big enough with this new franchising model to ditch AdSense/YPN and build their own advertising network?


Blogger Blake said...

Right, so I'm probably not going to get a response, as I'm commenting on a three year old post, but fumbbl is down and I'm looking for ways to fill my time at work.

First - excellent description of fumbbl, and thanks for all your earlier efforts. I've been on the site since 9/11/03, and I have taken an extended hiatus from time to time, but always find myself back wanting more.

The reason for the post, and hope for reply, is this: If Christer had opened up the site, released the source code, gone open source, essentially giving the means of production to the masses, would you have felt any more incentive to stay, or would you have still felt the need to venture out on your own?

Clearly, the intellectual rights in some sense would stay with Christer as the founder, but there would be many advantages, like perhaps a lack of extended outages as there could be mirror sites around the globe.

Your thoughts would be welcome -

Oh, and by the way, they're hoping to have hosted their 1 millionth game by the end of the year - around 50k or so to go.


8:23 am, November 09, 2007  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

Thanks for your comment Blake. The answer to your question is no, open sourcing the code wouldn't have made a difference on its own. Most of the cachet of FUMBBL is now in the size of the community. At this stage, or even in 2003, it would have been too late to create another FUMBBL. Now, if Christer had created some sort of franchising model where you can set up "shards" with custom rules but still tied into the main FUMBBL community so that you can play inter-shard games, that might have been interesting.

I'm sure Christer knows what he's doing, though - maybe he was hemmed in by not wanting to annoy GW too much. If possible, he should look into some Google ads...

6:03 pm, November 09, 2007  

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