- 07-22-2006, 11:18 PM
A lot of this is probably not exactly a secret, but there aren't a lot of people around now that remember. It's also really only my perspective, and there's so much to cover over the history of TW that there isn't much detail, but if you guys have any questions post them and I'll try to answer them. I'm sure Rayn will as well when he checks back in. On with the essay:
How to build a successful fansite
Tribalwar was more or less conceived by Rayn after Planet-Tribes inexplicably lost it's host and vanished off the face of the earth. It was later discovered that the former site admin Brit (I hope I'm remembering his name right) was more or less to blame, and this spawned one of the funnier emails I've ever ready from Imposter which ended in "I hope you choke, John Titus". Imposter and myself all agreed that we'd give a hand with Imposter being a great newshound and myself with the early programming ability. Rayn came up with the original design and colour scheme which I'm happy to see we're still sticking to more or less (although if you asked me I couldn't tell you where the purple/gold thing came from), and as a final touch I remember shamelessly stealing the Tribalwar: [Quote here] thing from other sites, but adding a randomizing script so it would update every time you refreshed the page. It became a trademark of the site, it's funny how things work.
Tribalwar itself was fairly centered around the competative game, with OGL being the specific focus at first. For any good Tribes site there needed to be a forum for some trash talk and (at the time) constructive game discussion. Remember this was when skiing was still a new thing and stuff like mine-discing and beacon hanging was a long way away. So while Rayn plugged away at the news handling script and Imposter tirelessly fired off emails every time we had some relevant news to post (to anybody who would listen, but sites like fragged and bluesnews which historically had been quake sites especially helped boost traffic), I went to work setting up our old UBB. Becaue of that I have the distinction of being this forums first user and longest running user. In order to actually build a user base for our brand new forums we essentially had to bring people here from the busy OGL Tribes Competition forums, which due to the OGL's growing tendancy to censor and ban proved a fairly easy feat. I won't say that Rayn and I didn't help stir the pot a bit by smurfing and spewing some fairly vile stuff to piss off the admins, but it was fairly rare and we would have probably done it anyway. The mass exodus to Tribalwar happened pretty naturally and didn't really need to be assisted. With that original small forum community held safely, we started to grow our user base out to less competative players.
We more or less targetted groups at a time, as we tried to grow our userbase. We set up a Scripting and Mods forum which has to this day stayed a part of Tribalwar to snag the more technical minded Tribes fan, and since I was an active part of that community with my role in the creation of the old Tribes total conversion "Screaming Fist" (see how many of you remember that), I was in a position to help steer other mod and script authors this way by way of offering up any services they might need. This generally meant having a place to stick their small website and an email address and with that TW Hosting was born. It was generally for your high end tribes and mods that we thought showed promise, but anything that had Tribalwar in the URL and had a link back to us built us a bigger user base.
The next big thing that I remember was the Demos. Tribes demos were huge, and there was no central place to put them making their availability limited to
basically FTP sites and people's personal web pages which generally had small file space limits. Rayn made a brilliant move and decided to set up a (mostly) automatic system for people to upload their demos of competative matches so that the community itself could experience what the elite game was like for the first time. It was originally an extension of our news script which Rayn updated to include a comment functionality and later a rating system so people could vote for which one was best or most worth their downloading time - which was huge because back then a lot of us still had crappy dial up connections. The demo site made a big step in elminating any competition we had as a site in the competative community.
You have to understand that for a long time in the site's infancy we were actively trying to set up and establish TW as the place for tribes. We set out after the Planet-Tribes fiasco to have a successful site, so it wasn't like we were out to monopolize the tribes fansite thing but we wanted to do well. We aren't really the kind of people that do things half-assed, and so we put a lot of time and thought into how we could make things better. This was also a personal thing though because we all wanted these tools available as active members of the community. Rayn and Imposter were both members of the somewhat successfull FSC tribe, and I was in a few top 10 tribes like kZ| and (R) myself (I also had the privilege of being able to play a game or two and practice with the legendary [IE], which was really something). We even went so far as to organize TW Staff vs. Dev Team matches.
Anyway around this point Mega-Boris started using shoutcast as a means of broadcasting what was going on in his Tribes' games so other people could listen while it was going on, instead of just waiting for it to be over and watching the demo after they already knew how it would turn out. This was a fairly revolutionary idea that prompted some thought from my brother Beatstick and one of the people who we played with who happened to live two houses down Wonderdog. They both decided in a local Wendy's over frosties that while he had an amazing idea he wasn't really fully utilizing it's potential. The idea we had was that if we brought the team history and for lack of a better term production value to the event it would be something everybody would enjoy - not just people who played on the teams or knew people who did. With that in mind I started setting up and testing the shoutcast server off TW's main server to see what it could handle, while Wonderdog and Beatstick started preparing the hardware and putting together everything they needed to put on a full 'show'. As a final touch we would make the broadcasts available to download later as MP3s so you could watch them alongside your demos to get the full TV colour commentary feeling. It turned out to be a fair bit of work finding people to agree to let us call the game, but the turnout for the first broadcast was bigger than expected and just grew from there. The rest is TSN history. Breef, Wonderdog and I started lanning up for major games, and eventually things like Pubknight's Open Bar would get started when games weren't being played to help keep TSN going throughout the week.
We absorbed a few sites as we went. The now-expanded staff of TW would go to the bigger LANs, even showing up at UVA with spiffy tshirts that made us look elite. We'd donate the odd prize with money we raised from our few failed attempts at putting banners on the site, and try in vain to deal with our site constantly being hacked while we were away from home (and even when we were there - the NoFix era was oh so lovely). It seems the bigger we got, the bigger a target we became and eventually most of what Rayn and I did around the site was try to tighten up security problems. I can't speak for Rayn but this took a lot out of me, and when I ran into people posting pictures of **** in toilet bowls I'd just outright ban them. This would be the beginning of the "Rat's a Nazi" era, because I was pretty fed up with all the crap I had to deal with and honestly I didn't take it well. I was after all still just a teenager, and to my mind TW wasn't a daycare. What I will say is that spending so much time fixing security issues makes passworded and otherwise protected content of other sites widely accessable as a rule. I'm not sure that's really a positive, but we occasionally got a laugh out of it at other people's expense.
Sometime later Tribes 2 was announced and the dreaded Dave G started frequenting our forums. To us this was pretty much the greatest thing ever, because it gave us unique content to offer people who would potentially be going to other sites and it gave other news sites a reason to link to us which built our user base even further. Not long after he started posting I tweaked our forums to mail Imposter, Rayn and myself whenever he posted something with it's contents so we wouldn't have to sift through all the usual garbage just to find something obscure. Obviously that meant we got a lot of email but every now and then it was something interesting and it payed off. The same forum modifications were made for the rest of the dev team as well as they joined our community one by one, and we gave them all special forum titles and things and tried to make them feel at home. Towards the end of development and especially during the beta they were posting here a lot more than on their official boards which was a source of constant drama from the less competative community.
Regardless of the communities thoughts on the game itself, Tribes 2 had more or less solidified our position as the only Tribes site you needed to visit, but from that point on due to lack of interest in the game itself and no real strategy to discuss since everything was capped or limited or designed - there was no thinking outside the box - game discussion died down. I got into scripting a bit, but nothing like the mod I'd worked on for the original Tribes. Tribalwar as a whole drifed away from Tribes slowly at first, but eventually our community would have nothing to do with the game that spawned it. We tried a few other things over the years, some caught on and some didn't. One thing that we tried to do for a long time was get a league or ladder going. I myself programmed at least three versions of a TW ladder that never saw the light of day for various reasons, and never really were seen through to completion. In my eyes though that would have been the final solidifying blow against any other competition. We'd have the community forums tied in with the competative ladder, with demos and shoutcasts available for all the matches. We'd have the bulk of the modding and scripting community on board in one way or another, and all sorts of little intertwined goodies that only come from trully having the monopoly on something and having everything working in an interconnceted network. Another thing that got set up and shut down would be the FilesFactory project which was sort of a take-off on the demo section which would have been direct competion to fileplanet. That deal more or less fell through due to hosting problems and time constraints.
With the amount of general '**** with people to get a laugh' stuff going on, and the departure from the tribes series itself I kind of moved on. In my case I got into Dark Age of Camelot which I played a rediculous amount with Rayn, and then eventually a few other games and now I'm more of a ghost around here. I will say this though: I had a much bigger impact on the community that I'm generally given credit for, and I did a lot more for TW and the Tribes community in general than just ban people because they made me look at women getting enimas. It kind of saddens me that that's how I'm remembered (if I am at all) because of all the time and effort I put into making this place great, but I suppose there isn't much I can do about it. Re-reading all of that it looks a lot like we set out to start an empire and screw everybody who got in our way, but really that wasn't the case. Very shortly after we got our initial user base and TW started to take off, it kind of *became* the community, and efforts to better the site and the community became one and the same. To that end I don't really see the absorbing of other sites and whatnot as being sinister in any way, and I think everybody made out better in the long run for things having gone the way they went. One thing I can't overstate is that while Rayn was a public face of TW with many great ideas and programming talent - and was ultimately the king of the castle, and I sort of was the behind-the-scenes man that kept things updated and running, Imposter often gets left out as having an important role. We started as a news site primarilly, and without his tireless work getting the news up, sending out emails and trying to put our site on the map I'm positive we wouldn't have made it past the first stage. In many ways he was the TW publicist, and he did it very well.
At some point along the way CRC facilitated the AYBABTU trend, we got a turkish DJ a plane trip to new york to be on letterman, and Rayn made sure about 300,000 people saw a man's gaping ass when they closed their eyes for bed every night for a week. Those are great stories to be sure, and every now and then I still check the hall of fame and have a good laugh at the legendary sandpaper thread for example, but to me the great Tribalwar saga will always revolve more around the game and the crafting of a website that's brought entertainment to thousands of people while they're bored at work.