It seems like the Skyrim/MW3 campaign really launched the site into orbit, so to speak. Looking at the results of that campaign, and at what games are popular on the site, I noted a pattern. I'm sure others have noticed this as well, but I thought it might be nice to think on it and discuss it.

I think that this site fills a particular niche in the category of gaming help sites, and perhaps understanding that niche might help it to grow and stay big.

When I look for help about a game on the internet, I go to one of a few places:

  • a FAQ site, which has a detailed (usually text) guide to the entire game from start to finish, usually including some sort of strategy for the game as a whole.
  • A Wiki site, which has similar information, but perhaps differently organized, and features more multimedia options, a wider array of information, and is sometimes better maintained, although usually only for larger games and game series.
  • Youtube, which frequently has video walkthroughs of varying quality.
  • a "tool" site that might have an interactive map or some detailed analysis of game mechanics that I can probe interactively (many such things exist for games like TF2 and WoW)

Where Gaming.SE seems to fit is with games like Minecraft, Starcraft 2, Skyrim - these games have several elements in common. They're usually open ended experiences where a wide array of choices can be made, and there are multiple "right answers." A walkthrough for Starcraft 2 multiplayer or for Minecraft or even Fallout: New Vegas makes little sense. It's possible to do a wide variety of things and run into many unique situations.

I see us trying to expand into other games, with various levels of success. Most of the other games on the site you'll see a low number of questions, primarily asked by regulars to the site. Part of the problem is that it's hard to have experts who are knowledgeable about a wide variety of games, especially since many of the questions asked are relatively obscure. Plus, people don't come here looking for answers to these "other game" questions. I've also seen several people lament that there's no questions for a game they're an expert on, and that they feel posting their own questions/answers for that game would not be beneficial to the site.

As the "Skyrim high" wears down, it might be good to think about where the site is going and what's next. Is it good to fill the niche that other sites don't serve? Is there a way to get more of the "long tail" of game advice that we're currently kind of missing out on? What's the next big game to fit in this niche that we've shown we can serve well, and how can we ride that wave to further popularity?

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Sorry for the wall'o'text, just had too much time to myself on the way to work this morning and saw an interesting pattern. –  agent86 Dec 6 '11 at 22:35
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Part of grabbing the "market" for obscure games is getting more users, which promotions for Skyrim et al do well. The more users, the more likely we have a user who has played your obscure game. –  Matthew Read Dec 7 '11 at 4:26
    
@MatthewRead, I think my call to action is 2-fold here. One, what's the next big wave we can ride, and two, let's get some more Q&A going around the less popular games, even if we have to work to build that momentum. –  agent86 Dec 7 '11 at 15:15
    
I am curious how much traffic we would've gotten without the skyrimvsmw3 campaign. Skyrim naturally leads to a lot of people going online to search for answers. –  z - Dec 7 '11 at 18:59
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Very interesting observation regarding walkthroughs - it seems like the harder it is to write a complete walkthrough, the more the game is appropriate for this site's format. Looking at our top 10 games at the moment (by number of questions about them), none of them can really get a really comprehensive walkthrough. Only number 11 (Portal 2) breaks that. This really shows how we complement gamefaqs.com, rather than compete with it. –  Oak Dec 8 '11 at 1:25
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2 Answers

There's no question that Skyrim and the promotion have brought a lot of welcome traffic to the site, but I think that it would be a mistake to focus too much on the high-traffic, high-sales games to the exclusion of other titles. After all, Skyrim, StarCraft 2 and Minecraft are the most popular tags, but about 75% of the questions on the site don't involve any of those games. (I'd like to get more detailed numbers, but the Data Explorer queries I have are returning only 175 questions for Skyrim ... either the data hasn't been updated recently or it's #usererror.)

Besides, Skyrim is pretty much an exception no matter how you look at it: it has a combination of popularity, deep game play, and cross-platform availability that few other games are going to have. It would be great if the next game matching those general characteristics came out in March, but if it doesn't come out until December, then we have 9-10 months of time to wait before working out the next big promotion, and something needs to fill that gap.

The users we drew from Skyrim and MW3 are valuable not just because of their contributions within those games, but also because of the other games they play: there are probably some people who come here just for Skyrim and don't contribute anywhere else, and that's fine, but the ones that really help are the ones who came here for that promotion, but also found questions on other games they could answer, and had questions themselves about other games they could ask. Attracting those people, the people who are experts on multiple games, is a key to managing growth between launches of popular sandbox games.

The other part is drawing out that quality content, both from new users and established users. I think people do come here for games outside the spotlight, more so for answers about those games than to ask questions about them, but to keep those people coming, we need to have content on those games. For each game, there's a tipping point: up to that point, we get occasional visitors who are looking for something specific and will move on if we don't have it, but once we get enough content for that game, I think people see Gaming as a site that has answers for it, and even if we don't have an answer for their question already, they'll ask it because they feel they'll get it answered here.

I think grants are effective ways of reaching that tipping point. There is value in slowly drawing out questions from an existing title - after all, people are still playing Diablo II, for example - but the best time for those questions is shortly after launch, when a lot of people are likely to have the same questions about that game, and that's probably true whether we're talking about MW3 or Rocksmith. Maybe we won't get the same volume from a grant for Rocksmith as we would for MW3, but that grant may help us reach a tipping point on Rocksmith, and that makes it one more game for which Gaming would be seen as an authoritative site for answering questions.

More games in that category means a greater likelihood of converting new visitors into regular users, and hopefully it also means a greater chance of getting people to ask questions about their own favorite games. I think what makes this site successful is being a Q/A site for a wide variety of games, not just the most popular ones. It's one thing for us to be encouraging users in chat and on meta to post questions about less-popular games, but I think it sends a stronger message if people see that they can receive grants for those games as well as Skyrim-class games.

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Agreed. Part of what I was trying to encourage was people asking questions about whatever game they're interested in (new, old, popular, obscure) to broaden the base. Even if they're coming back to that question after a day or two and answering it, I'd consider that positive for the site, although I think others might disagree with that part of the statement. There's no doubt that if we build it, they will come - but first we have to build it :) –  agent86 Dec 7 '11 at 15:11
    
Nobody is suggesting excluding other titles entirely, but I'm skeptical that we can ever reach the tipping point for a game with only a handful of grantees. And even if we did, reaching the tipping point for an obscure game doesn't really get us much. So it seems to make more sense to focus promotional efforts on games that have a big potential payoff. –  bwarner Dec 7 '11 at 18:32
    
The data on the data explorer is only updated every few months (between 1 and 2, I believe). It was last updated a day or two after Skyrim launch, off the top of my head. –  Thomas McDonald Dec 7 '11 at 21:24
    
@ThomasMcDonald, it's every month ... I never thought to check the FAQ before because I'd only run general queries in the past. Thanks for pointing that out! –  Dave DuPlantis Dec 7 '11 at 21:25
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I agree that its a good idea to analyze why Skyrim was such a success for the site. While I loved the contest and the marketing, I don't think that was the differentiator. And while Skyrim is certainly a popular game, that isn't it either, or MW3 would've won.

I think agent86 has it right in saying that Skyrim was successful because of the type of game it is. It is very open-ended, and there are a large number of game mechanics that are not well explained. It also caters to an audience that likes to tinker and play the game in many different ways. This all adds up to great fodder for Q&A.

I think the other reason we were so successful with Skyrim is that we got out in front of the searches. That meant that by the time a user went to type a question into Google, we already had it here. That means Google led them to us, and many of them then proceeded to add their own questions as well.

So in order to repeat that kind of success, we need to find games with similar characteristics, and we need to make sure that we have enough users to get a lot of questions early. I think Skyrim has shown that it is more effective to find the right game and use the grant to get 20 users working on it right away, versus spreading out the grants between 5-10 different games, and hoping that a few users can find the questions that the masses will ask.

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This is part of what I'm talking about, to an extent. I think between you and Dave you've hit both angles of this. In looking at the releases on the horizon, Mass Effect 3 is the one that kind of stands out as a AAA release that if we did some footwork on, we could ride the wave. Potentially also MMo launches could feed into this, ie, KOTOR is on the immediate horizon. –  agent86 Dec 7 '11 at 15:13
    
@agent86 TOR not KOTOR :P but I think a push for that game is a great idea. –  Matthew Read Dec 7 '11 at 16:18
    
Duly noted, Shows what I know about MMOs. :P –  agent86 Dec 7 '11 at 16:58
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Definitely agree with getting out in front of the searches - note that your Heroes VI question regarding the blinking cursor got way more views than the other Heroes VI questions, since lots of people had the same issue and your question was asked the second day the game was available. One thing we should review is what questions from previous grants brought the most eyeballs to the site and see if there is any commonality that we can use for future grant questions. –  Jason Berkan Dec 7 '11 at 18:04
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However, I disagree with not spreading out the grants. I think if we want to cover a more diverse number of games, the grants are a good way to do that - ensure there are questions and answers on games that are outside the main game(s) everyone is playing / asking questions about. Perhaps there is a middle ground - find the big games and put together a special grant for them, versus the regular grant where almost any game is allowed. –  Jason Berkan Dec 7 '11 at 18:06
    
I'm not at all suggesting any changes to the grant; just trying to encourage people to post more questions for the games they play, and to try and expose something interesting about games that "go big" on the site to perhaps help whoever runs the promotions determine what other "good titles" are on the horizon. –  agent86 Dec 8 '11 at 14:06
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