Friday, August 10, 2012

The Google Plus Epicenter Shift

Almost a year ago, I asked the open question about whether Google Plus would overtake rpg blogs and forums in significance. I deliberately framed the question polemically—at the time I didn't think they would so much as supplement them.

But that was then this is now.

Do I think G+ will overtake forums and blogs for DIY rpg hobbyists? In some ways, it already has. This draft post has been sitting in around for over three months and it's quite clear witnessing recent threads like this that there is a shifting of the tectonic plates for a number of us.

To be sure there's a whole lot of old school (and just about any other school) gaming going on over there. I run the Hill Cantons there once a week for a group of 12 core players (idiosyncratically called the Nefarious Nine) and a larger floating group of “guest stars”. I've run numerous sessions of Empire of the Petal Throne, TSR Conan, Boot Hill and now even a (mostly) weekly Traveller mini-campaign. And importantly for a guy usually stuck being a GM, played in any number of other people's campaigns. Previously I had been playing with my home group about once a month, now I play roughly twice a week.

But it's the discussion—the over-arching conversation that shapes this side of our hobby—that strikes me as having shifted. Most obviously a certain range of discussion-focused or more casual topics has almost entirely ported over for a number of us—direct queries, half thoughts about the effects of house rules

So what's the balance sheet? Is this a good or bad trend? Unfortunately like most things in adult life it's not either/or but a mixed development. To wit from personal perspective:

All That is Solid... Longtime readers will remember how much I bemoaned the content on a blog that just floats away into the ether. This is even more pronounced in G+ with it's lack of robust archiving and the nature of the conversation. With many people in your circles things will in a space of hours slip right off your feed.

I have, however, found that setting up discrete special pages on G+ for the Hill Cantons and the Space Cantons has helped ameliorate that somewhat by giving a space to share campaign news, special items, maps, and the rest of the content that a campaign builds up.

Home Group Blues. Adult life being what it is, it's been hard to keep my face-to-face group going. Frankly the supreme ease of the Hangout games which I can play at night during the week means disincentives me somewhat to stretch to make time. And that's a loss as the virtual gaming is at best 80 percent as satisfying as face-to-face and I miss my friends here in San Anto.

Content Depth. Linked to the flighty nature of the content on G+ I notice that my own posts there tend to lack the considered depth that they do here on the blog. For instance the longer, more considered analysis pieces like that of this week, simply do not come to me there.

Walled Garden. The G+ discussion is not a broadcast one. It is only semi-open and highly-selective. This can and does have positive effects as mutually-selective social organization often do but it is inherently a more inward-looking scene.

Dynamic conversations. I enjoy the back and forth between readers and me here, but there is a certain stilted quality about the discussion. It feels sometimes more like the question and answer session following a lecture than it does a real conversation. My discussions on G+ however do and as such they tend to generate way more discussion (commenting there even on links to blog posts is routinely 3-8 times more frequent in quantity there)--and the frequent, interesting tangents feel more like the zig zags of real conversation.

Tighter, trust-based community. Again while the medium is a walled garden, this does have advantages. I have built deeper relationships with people based in actual play and repeat content—and they are for the most part people with distinct, real discernable identities. This works wonders in weeding out the anonymous idiots and pathological elements that the Internet is infamous for (though it can still produce it's fair share of idiocy too).

More egalitarian and fluid. One doesn't have to be a first and second-tier blogger to have real voice in those discussions. I like the leveling on principle, but it also brings forth some voices that are truly interesting. I have also noticed that it tends to encourage new folks to write more themselves.

More cross-fertilization. I feel like I see and understand more about other people's campaigns and thought processes from discussions there—and this inspires and influences me. Likewise discussions on books have opened up all kind so new authors for me. Big plus.

Open World gaming. FLAILSNAILS and Constantcon more broadly have meant that many of our game worlds have become increasingly networked together in a larger multiverse, a virtual return to a an old, fascinating style of play—and a HolyGrail for me.

It's about the play, stupid. We write, breathe, and talk about gaming, so shouldn't this just be the ultimate metric? I play now not just more frequently but with a wider range of people scattered across the world.

So neither entirely positive nor negative, but I feel looking over the list that the positive outcomes tip the balance that way. The negatives ensure that I will continue to blog—if a bit less obsessively—to continue to develop content here on the blog.

How are you feeling about this? Do you see a similar trend? What's your balance sheet look like?


  1. Good follow-up to Sean's post. I think you lay the advantages and disadvantages ougth well. I certainly agree with the play thing. I've played in the Hill Cantons fair frequently, Wampus Country regularly, and run my own G+ Weird Adventures game.

    The only place I'd differ from you is the the amount of feedback. My blog posts still (usually) generate more comment (though less than they used to before G+) than any of my considered G+ posts. If I ask a silly question or post a frivolous picture, that will certainly get responses, though. I've seen somewhat generally with other folks posts, though it's by no means universal. I suppose it just means that my interests lie somewhere outside the bullseye of what the G+ gaming crowd want to talk about, which is reasonable, I guess it just makes it a bit more apparently than blogging.

    1. Curse the lack of editing from comments. So many types! That's what I get for typing from smartphone.

    2. My so-called smartphone gets me into all kinds of editing problems both here and on G+ (where a good 80 percent of the time I am looking at it from).

  2. This has given me a whole new insight into virtual gaming and the G+. I probably discounted the allure of virtual games because I, myself, am lucky enough to be playing with a face-to-face group that has met regularly for the last five years and rarely ever do sessions need to be canceled or rescheduled.

    But I've certainly had times in my life when I just couldn't hold a group together to play regularly, and I understand the appeal of having access to a large pool of gamers who can play together without ever leaving home.

    Thanks for the additional insight.

  3. Wow, guys. I don't have too much to add to this conversation, but I've enjoyed reading the posts about it.

    Cheers and boogie boogie.

  4. I've always been terrible about blog-posting frequency, but I have gotten worse since G+. Part of that, though, is a shift in my own perspective. I had, at one time, attached a lot of significance to being a 'top-tier' blogger. Now, however, I've realised the rather obvious fact that those sorts of accolades aren't actually going to help me pay my electric bill.

  5. I think it filters blogging down to more detailed, thought-out pieces (one of your main points above). And just 'getting something off your chest' stays more on G+; which is actually where I think it should be. I think you should only blog to extend your own play's breadth and content. Once you lose focus on your own extension of theory, into "what is currently being discussed" you end up being moved by others, and not yourself. Your best pieces here have been uniquely your own, and directly pertinent to your gaming at hand. And because of that, they feel "real", and stand the test of time.

  6. what Michael and Peter said (although I've never entertained dreams of being a top-tier blogger it's actually rather nice that G+ doesn't tell you how many people are watching).

    The walled garden (or roach motel) aspect of G+ worries me a lot. I have readers elsewhere who refuse to go to G+ exactly because of that issue. And the anti-pseudonymity thing bothers me too - no matter what google says about G+, the video things I've done have outed me as a gamer to whoever in my professional life
    more surely, permanently andindelibly than anything else I've ever done online.

    And I just don't want to blog there - it has the lifespan of a sneeze, it's really effectively unsearchable (on google!) and the editing is actively hostile to the blogging I like to do (ONE link per post! Pictures that don't link to full size! Cutoff after 5 lines!).

  7. I think it's fabulous. It's deeply frustrating that something made of gold will pop up and then vanish in the space of hours (minutes if the streams are busy), but, there are ways to save content if you're sufficiently organised (and have the time) and the pay off is worth it.

    Being exposed to the ideas - pre-blog post alot of the time - of a couple of hundred people all bouncing off each other in semi-real time is as valuable in terms of inspiration and education as the same number of well thought out blog posts over a slightly longer period of time.

  8. I feel like I must be missing something obvious, but it seems like the main difference between blogs and G+ is that I can read people's blogs but I can't read anything people post on G+.

    With the exception of Jeff Rients, everyone's profile just says "This person hasn't shared anything with you. People are more likely to share with you if you add them to your circles." But I tried adding people to my circles and it didn't make any difference so I gave up.

    I suppose that if I were really bothered I could post in the comments section of people's blogs, asking them to add me to their circles, but since I have no idea who is worth following on G+, and since there is already more than enough good content on the OSR blogs to keep me satisfied, it just seems like getting involved with G+ would mean a lot of effort just in order to get another distraction in my life that I don't need.

    1. I agree the walled garden bit is a major drawback.

  9. In fact, I did contact a couple of people asking them to add me, but they both ignored me. I suppose the whole point of G+ is that it enables you to restrict your conversation to people you know already, and adding just anyone who asks would defeat the point?

    1. Drop me a line and I will share a rather large rpg circle with you.