I have a tendency to create a web site for every hobby I get involved with. Board games are no different. Some of you might know Gameblog, my weblog where I publish session reports, game reviews and other tidbits. However, while it is certainly more popular than my other games web site, it's less important. My second games site, which is written in Finnish, gets less hits monthly, but has had a much stronger impact.
For one, I have received lots of e-mail, from more and less enthusiastic board game fans who have reached my web site. Many people ask for rules for old board games (a common request I'm very rarely able to fulfill), some ask for recommendations but I also get contacted by the media. Five times it has been radio—I've done one live 30-minute interview and two smaller pre-recorded bits (one by phone, the other time our game session got a visitor), twice I've directed the interview requests to other people. Before Christmas last year I was interviewed for two different magazines (I actually pretty much wrote one of the articles) and the local main newspaper. I've also talked about Diplomacy on morning TV.
All that because I just happen to maintain a web site about board games. I thought I'd share my views of online board game promotion with you and perhaps more people will discover the delight of board games.
My first point is locality. The smaller country you live in, the better. If your native tongue isn't English, don't write your web site in English. There are plenty of English web sites already, but your own language might have a shortage of good web sites about board games. While English is the lingua franca of the World Wide Web I have always felt some sort of responsibility to provide useful information in Finnish, too. Everybody isn't fluent in English and even though I am, I still prefer reading in Finnish if I have a choice.
Think about what you can offer to your local board gamers. Providing reviews of board games in your own language is a good way to start, that's what I did. Most people don't know about good board games (or whatever you want to call them), so education is important. Write reviews, tell people which games are good and which are not.
Providing translations is also a good idea and I started doing this when I first bought games from Germany. I needed rules translations and while English rules are easily available, I thought Finnish rules would be nice. I translated some rules and soon I started doing it more and publishing the results on my web site. I'm not sure if anyone is really ever going to need Finnish rules for Dia de los Muertos, but my Carcassonne translation is probably fairly popular.
I also started to co-operate with one of the few Finnish board game retailers. We did a great deal, I think. I agreed to write descriptions of games for their web site and I also allowed them to give copies of my translations to people who bought games. Later, I also did some exclusive translations for them and as a reward, they gave me games. I was satisfied. Later, I've worked with other retailers as well, allowing them to use my translations for moderate rewards. I get free games, stores serve their customers better, people who buy games get Finnish rules. That's a total win-win situation, I'd say.
Recently I was contacted by the Finnish publisher of Die Neuen Entdecker. They are planning to publish some other Teuber games in Finnish and asked for my help in choosing the games and to translate the rules.
Good Web Site is a Key to Success
I'm certainly satisfied. I've got fame (at least amongst Finnish board gamers) and fortune (well, free games), all thanks to a single web site. If you're curious to see the legendary web site, it can be found at http://www.melankolia.net/pelit/. If you want to achieve fame and fortune, I recommend you spend a while thinking about web site design, just anything won't do.
First, as I said, write in your own language if it isn't English. If a journalist or some random visitor is looking for your site, he or she certainly isn't doing it in English. You English-speaking lot are at a disadvantage here, sorry!
The best way to get new and interesting visitors to your web site is to rank high in search engine results. In the world of today, that means a good rank in Google. For "pelit" (games) my site appears third (leaving some major portals behind it!) and the result is same for "lautapelit" (board games). Getting good rankings in Google is an art and one could write an series of articles on how to do it, but there are few basic things. First, write proper and valid HTML—Google doesn't see Flash or pictures. Use real HTML headings and make sure that your headings and title include important terms. Add your site in Open Directory (or Google Directory) and try to get people to link to you as much as possible. Add links to Boardgamegeek—you can see quite a few "Review in Finnish at Melankolia.net" links there and believe me, people use them, too. The more you have links coming in, the more likely it is that people link to you even more. And once you put something up, don't move it, unless you want every link that's pointing to it to break.
When people come looking for information, they want information. They don't want splash screens, fancy Flash animations, blinking pictures, headache-inducing background images, background music or any other distractions. Web surfers are really fast to click the Back button if they don't see something interesting. Get to the point right away. The first screen of your web site should have something useful. My web site is very plain (one could say boring), but it serves its purpose: it delivers information. Provide navigation that is clear and easy to understand. Make sure people won't get lost on your site. Make sure linking your content is easy (that is: don't use frames!)—you want people to link to you and people want to link to specific pages, not just your front page. If you want people to contact you, provide contact information in a way that's really obvious. I've wasted lots of time trying to find e-mail addresses or feedback forms on web sites. Stick your e-mail address on the top of the first page and make it visible on every single page, preferably in a way that doesn't require jumping through hoops to send you some e-mail. If it's difficult, nobody is going to do it.
Make sure you update your web site with new content often. If your last updated date is months back, people start to wonder if your site is still alive. Provide a quick and easy way to access what's new for people who visit regularly. Find out what RSS feeds are and how you could use them to provide update information (you could, for example, ask me about it). You don't have to keep adding new stuff every day, just make sure your web site looks like it's alive.
That's it, in a nutshell. There's plenty to know about designing good web sites, but these are some pointers on how to make a web site that will attract people. If you want to learn more, the web is full of material. Hopefully I've inspired someone to create a killer web site about games in their own language, thus spreading the information about good games further.
There was a heated discussion on the Spielfrieks list on how to spread the gospel. Some people thought there's no point in doing that, they don't want board games to become a mainstream hobby. I can understand that point, but think about this: in Finland, there's about three specialist stores that sell quality board games. It would be really great to make good board games a bit more popular in Finland, just to get more opportunities to buy and play the games. I'm doing everything I can to see that happen. While the situation might be quite satisfying in the States, I'm quite sure Finland isn't the only small country where good board games are still a rare thing to find in shops.
One more thing: I'd like to hear if someone else has received attention from media because of their game web sites. Tell me about it!
- Mikko Saari