Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We're Back

This post is to let anyone subscribed to this blog know that is back online and ready for another round. It will be a while before I have time to write articles, but the site is returning one page at a time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Table Chatter: The GM Nightmare

We have all been there before. Pure tension fills the room as the group moves forward. Thomas searches diligently for traps around the base of the statue. Seeing nothing he tells the Barbarian to carefully remove the heavy idol from it’s base. As the barbarian pulls it away, suddenly the door starts to close behind them. With very little time to react to the trap Furnok point’s toward the entrance and exclaims “Dude, you have to check out this video on my phone. This guy hurls all over the place.” Suddenly conversation breaks out that has nothing to do with anything in game. You the GM are lost in your own universe wondering if you should spoil the fun that your players are having (out of game) or be the jerk that brings everybody back together to the problem at hand.

You have become the victim of table chatter. It takes many several forms; from in jokes to misplaced questions about toppings on the pizza being ordered. It can strike at any time and even disguise itself as relevant conversation at times. But, whatever form that it takes, it is the enemy of any role-playing game and sure to frustrate any GM that set time out of their schedule to run a game. But what are the causes of needless table chatter, how can it be avoided, and when should it be allowed?

The root cause of most table chatter may not be what you think. Most GM’s (at least myself) place much of the blame on boring games and themselves. Now, while this may be partly to blame for some incidences of chatter, it is more often caused by the excitement of your group playing. Which is great. Your group should be excited about playing. It’s a great sign that you are doing your job right. But no matter what the cause, in-jokes, table chatter, and disconnected (out-of-character) conversations during the game can really ruin a serious game. So what can you and your players do to keep the chatter to a minimum and the experience of good roll playing to a maximum?

First off, a little disclaimer. This article is for people who WANT to reduce the amount of chatter at the table. This is not a guide to how all games are supposed to be played. Different groups like different levels of seriousness and immersion with their games. If your group enjoys a good hack n’ slash with beer, pretzels, and Monty Python jokes flying around, by all means run your game that way. There is no wrong in playing your games that way. In fact when I play straight war gaming, that is the only way I will have it. However if you are like me, your role playing sessions are (excuse the pun) an entirely different world all together.

One thing I like to do before a game is a recap of the last game. This is for several reasons,a few known a few secret. For one I make my players do it. Each one will take part in telling me the events in as good of detail as they can remember. This is done casual and out of character. For one it gives them a period of time to begin the process of “getting into character.” It also gives each of them a chance to talk to each other about the events of the game and how they perceived what was happening. It can give me an opportunity to jump in and clarify something that was misunderstood or do some minor GM fixes on something I might have screwed up in the heat of the moment. It helps me as the GM to get even more fresh on current events (hey even we forget things from game to game.) And, above all, it gives the players a chance to get all of their in-joking out of their system. While the recap is limited on time, it is relaxed. There is no pressure to be in character so the players have a chance to tell game related jokes, make fun of each other and get their laughs out of the way. Out of all the chatter problems I ever have “in-jokes” are the least because of this step. Since the players know that they will have a chance to joke about the situations later, nobody feels like they have to break up the game so their one-liners can be heard.

Another trick I employ into my “serious gaming mood” arsenal are game-breaks. This is something everyone talks about but rarely follow through with. I too am guilty of pushing past a break time because the story was intense, but I pay for it in the end every time. By taking a break once an hour to an hour and a half, you give your players a chance to relax. The reason distracting chatter can break out is tension. If your players are really into your game, they are tense. Remember, these are untrained people trying to act out an improvised scene. There are people who get paid for that, they are called actors. It’s a hard job an you’re trying to do it for fun. Give them a little break once in a while to keep the energy up. I promise that with a little practice, a good GM will be able to thrust his players back in exactly where they were. And, with the new energy the group has gained from their break. It will be like nothing ever happened. Aside from that, breaks give players an opportunity to ask questions that they might have on their mind, smoke, go to the bathroom, eat something, and tell a joke or two. It also gives the GM an opportunity to snoop a little and find out what the players think of the game so far. With that kind of input, you should be able to make adjustments according to what the players want to do and keep the energy of the game high.

Finally, if possible, try and keep everyone involved in the scene. When you let your groups characters split up too much you tend to end up with allot of side conversations as you try to deal with one “mini-group” at a time. With everyone involved from scene to scene you will have more of the player’s attention. Since they will be focused on you and what your telling them, there will be less motive to start chatter. If you do have to split your group up (say for shopping excursions) try to keep your splits in groups of at least 2. That way you can send the players (not in the current scene) out of the room together. They won’t get bored because they will be able to go chit chat somewhere else while you deal with the others which will keep them from feeling excluded. Which is a cause for arguments later (especially if your wife plays in your gaming group.)
Basically the moral here is “Idle Hands.”

Well I hope this helps. I know many of you out there have had problems keeping your games from going off the rails, I know I do. But, a cool head and some good GM practices should keep you on the right track to a serious, but still fun game. And also remember, have a good time with your players. The idea behind gaming is to have fun, it’s what you want and it’s what your players want. Sometimes it’s okay to put the game away for the night and cut loose. It isn’t what your doing with your friends, it how you do it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Army of Two

If any of you have been keeping up with the game list for this month, you would know that EA's new game "Army of Two" hit shelves tonight. This is a new third person combat game the closely mirrors the style of Gears of War. A02 is one I have been anticipating for a little while now.

Originally the game development got off to a slow start as the team had to make quite a few adjustments. One thing that has me excited about the game is that it brings back the long loved split-screen 2 player co-op to the Sony (As Gears did with X-Box.) I have not heard yet if there will be online co-op, but I am sure it will be an option as there is for sure an online vs. mode.
It has been a rough few years for the split screen and I am really beginning to miss it. Out of the 20 games I have played for PS3 so far, none have been two players on the same system. While I am a huge fan of the online multi player features that are now common place on our next gen systems, I miss smacking my friends in the back of the head after fragging them. (I'm sure they don't.) I will write more on this topic later.

For those of you who want to know more about this game's development. Below is a quick Q&A with the games Lead Developer, Matt McDopeblog.

In some recent articles, it seems that some vehicles were taken out of campaign mode. What was the reasoning behind this, and will we still see vehicles in the multiplayer mode?

-We ended up cutting a couple of vehicles (namely the tank and dune-buggy) because they weren't quite up to scratch with the rest of the game in regards to pace and flow. When we sat down and made our polish plan those two sequences ended up low on the priority list and we felt that the game would benefit more from not having them at all as opposed to having half baked idea. BUT we were able to implement a couple of them in the versus mode...oh yeah. That made us happy. Want to know which ones? Buy the game!!!

How does co-op campaign work when playing people over Xbox LIVE or PSN? Do you keep a saved file for each person you play with, or can you hop in at any point no matter how much you've played the game before?

-The guest must have played up to, or further than, the current checkpoint of the host in order to join the game. Once a player has completed the whole game once through, they can jump in anywhere or start new games from anywhere.

When you are playing by yourself with an AI partner, how do you control the AI?

-You are able to give the PAI loose directives. They are: Advance, hold position and cover me and each one of these directives has an aggressive and passive mode. There are two ways to order him. The primary way is to use the D-pad but the secondary (and cooler way, in my opinion) is to tell him using your microphone...yeah that's right.

For people looking for a big challenge, is there a hardcore type mode that is more realistic?

-Yes "Professional". It's pretty rough-neck and not for the faint of heart. You can only unlock this mode by first finishing the game in "Contractor".

If one player is new to the game and they keep dying, is there a limit to how many times they can be revived?

-The healing mechanic is infinite provided your partner stays alive and is able to drag you to a safe position to heal you...which can get tricky if the person who is down likes to play Rambo and run around in the open blindly firing.

Multiplayer Questions:

Are you able to upgrade your weapons in multiplayer? Does the money you make in campaign mode transfer over to multiplayer or vice versa?

You can't upgrade individual parts of individual weapons like in the campaign mode but can buy weapons kits during the matches. The campaign and versus operate of completely separate economies so there is no crossover between the two.

Since the goal of multiplayer is to get the most money, does buying weapons reduce your overall score, or just your personal money ?

-Well, the team with the most total money at the end of a match wins. And the total money is the sum of the team's personal accounts. So if you drop 250k on a sweet kit it will diminish your money and in turn your team's yes. BUT they are much more powerful guns so it can be worth it. It adds a certain balancing act to the matches which is fun. And of course if you drop half your money on the most expensive kit with 1 minute left in the match and you lose because of it, it will affect your overall scores on the leader boards.

In versus if you die do you lose all your weapons?

-No sirry-bob. We're not nuts.

Will there be split screen online in Army of Two? (2 people on one console vs. another team of two over the Internet)

-Yup. You can play split screen (if you are on the same console) against 2 guys playing split screen or 2 people playing with each other online...

Can you customize matches in non-ranked versus mode? If so, what options can you change?

-Yup. You can pick the length, mode and map in any kind of match.

What game modes will we be available for online?

-Bounties - Ao2 Bounties is a fast-paced 2 vs. 2 experience that challenges opposing teams to destroy important objectives and assassinate key enemy targets. A quick strike can turn the tide of war!

-Extraction - Ao2 Extraction is an intense and strategic 2 vs. 2 experience that challenges teammates to work closely with one another to complete challenging escort and defend/attack objectives. In times of strife, it's important to protect high-profile targets!

-Warzone - Ao2 Warzone is a diverse and chaotic 2 vs. 2 experience that has a wide variety of objectives including: attack/defend, extract, guard, assassinate, destroy and more. In the heat of battle, anything can happen!

How do you think fans will respond to Two vs. Two online, whereas some previous games allow up to 24 players online?

-Army of Two is a heavily co-op focussed game which requires two man tactics and two man strategies. It's an entirely different game then previous shooters and therefore a different versus experience. I think that it's different enough to attract the attention of gamers out there and they will like it.

Any plans to release new map packs after launch as Downloadable Content?

-You know it. When? Post launch. What? Wait and see. All I can say is that it's awesome.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interview: Robert Howard of P&PG

You asked for it, so we’re giving it to you. Interviews. Starting this month RPGX is going to start bringing you more interviews with game developers, writers, directors, editors and authors. Anyone you ever wanted to talk to in the gaming industry has made our list. We chased down and bugged everyone we could find.

This month I wrote an article called: Is There Anybody Out There? The Internet's Top 10 "Gamer Finder" Sites In which I named as the number one registry on the internet. Shortly after making the decision of making them “#1” I decided that I would also interview the man responsible for the site’s success. After talking with Mr. Robert Howard, I found him to be a very real sort of gamer / developer. Below is the interview I had with Mr. Howard in which I discovered just how much we had in common as gamers, site founders, and visionaries for the future of gaming.

What first gave you the idea to provide this type of player registry?
When I was “growing up,” the way to find players and games was to go down to the local comic book or hobby shop and tack something up on the bulletin board. Another tactic was to hover around the roleplaying section in the local bookstore for hours browsing books. It was a very time consuming and often unfruitful process.

The web opens up a vast new arena for connecting with people, or social networking if you will--which just happens to be all the rage at the moment. Unfortunately, what I found was that the tools that were out there were kludgy or ill-suited to the task. Finding someone on the WotC forums involved paging through hundreds of pages of posts. Like any enterprising developer—and a gamer that wanted to use these tools myaself—I thought, this can be done so much better, and I know how to do it.

Has it personally helped you locate other players for you own games?
Ironically, by the time that I got the site up and running, my gaming group was pretty solid and I wasn’t looking for any more players. It wasn’t until a year later after I moved to Seattle that I finally had a chance to give it a spin myself. It took under two weeks for me to put a group together from scratch, and I was impressed by how well matched my players and I were.

Did you ever think it would grow as big as it has?
I hoped it would. I felt that I had the best tools available on the web, but even the slickest interface wouldn’t mean anything to someone if they couldn’t find other players to game with. I actually think it will grow a whole lot larger as the word continues to spread about the community we’ve built.

What future plans do you have for improving on the site?
My to-do list of features that I would like to add is extensive. I have literally pages and pages of ideas. Currently though, our main focus is on enhancing the Player Registry and creating more tools for both individual gaming groups and local gaming communities. To this end, we’re actually going to have a pretty major addition to the site in the near future that is going to add a lot of new social-networking type functionality, including the ability for members to carve out a section of the website for their own private or public gaming groups. I’m very excited about it, and I think it is going to be a big boon for our members.

Do you currently or would you consider networking with other sites on a more direct basis to widen the scope of your site or to offer more services?
I think there are a lot of crosspollination opportunities out there for P&PG and other sites. To give an example, I recently ran across a play-by-post (PBP) website that has some amazing tools for PBP gaming. They also have a “game finder” section specifically for their site. My feeling is, why not widen the exposure their PBP games get by bringing in a feed of the games looking for players into the P&PG database. This would help both sites. We’d be able to help our members find more options for online games, and they would be able to reach a wider audience. By the same token, I think we could offer a lot to the publisher websites who would like to provide their members with a great tool for finding other people who play the same game in their area.

What interests do you have outside of role playing?
Well, I have a wonderful wife and two-year old who occupy a lot of my time and attention, and running the P&PG website takes up a fair chunk itself. I’ve actually always been interested in martial arts. When I moved to Seattle, I decided to take it up again, and I joined a phenomenal dojo studying Chito-Ryu style karate. Top that off with a strong passion for computers and fantasy/sci-fi fiction.

Where does the strongest following of the site seem to come from geographically?
The largest group of players registered in a single area would be Dallas/Fort Worth, followed closely by a few others like California and New York.

Would you say that is because P&P gaming is more popular in that area or for some other reason? Dallas is a unique story. While DFW definitely has a large concentration of roleplayers, it is also where the Pen & Paper Games website got its start. When I was first starting the site, I reached out to the Dallas RPG Group organizer, Ron Pyatt, to try to see if he could help spread the word in the Dallas community. He had been looking for a long time for something better than that would be more tailored to the RPG community. Don’t get me wrong, is good at what it does, but their focus is on a larger community in general. Ron even loved the limited prototype that I had built, so we collaborated on merging his group with the larger PnPG community. So, the very first members to join were all brought in en masse from the DFW RPG group.

Have you noticed a particular age group that is attracted to the registry (or P&P gaming)? Most come in somewhere close to my age, between 26 and 35. What really surprised me was that our oldest member is ninety-eight years old. Can you believe that? Our second oldest is eighty-eight. I hope that when I’m that age I am still spry enough to whip it up with the younger folks for a good ole’ jaunt of PnP! Anyway, I’m a report building kind of guy, so I whipped up a quick chart showing our age bracket breakdown if you’re interested.

Allot of people enjoy play by post gaming, does you site currently support an area for this type of playing? Absolutely! We have a number of currently running play-by-post games going on right now, and in fact, we recently added a new integrated forum dice roller to help facilitate online play.

How easy is it to gain access to these types of games and how would you say they differ from P&P style gaming? The play-by-post section is open to all visitors to checkout. Most of the current running games are probably full, but any member is free to request to start their own game on the forums. All they need to do is send an email to or send an IM from their account to Farcaster to get it set up.

As to their differences, play-by-post (PBP) games generally focus on social interactions over strategic play, simply because resolving combat can take a lot of time when strung over a long series of posts. Probably one of the most attractive elements of PBP games to me is that the medium encourages more descriptive language from the players and game master instead of simply rolling the dice and announcing the result. In the interest of full disclosure though, I have never personally played or run a PBP game. I prefer the face to face nature of table-top gaming.

Do you currently attend conventions in (or out) of your area?
Since my move about a year ago, I have not yet attended any major conventions. I have gone to one of the mini-conventions that the Seattle D&D Group sponsors, which was a lot of fun. Pen & Paper Games has been pleased to help sponsor several RPG conventions recently though, including NOLACon in New Orleans and TempleCon in Providence, Rhode Island. Sadly, I couldn’t attend personally, however.

Would P&PG be interested in making an appearance at some con's to help boost it's visibility. (Possibly with RPGX as a joint effort?) I’d love to. Just ping me with the details. I’ve actually been looking for an excuse to come back down to Dallas – Seattleites have no concept of good Tex-Mex and I’m dying for some fajitas!

As an aside, Pen & Paper Games is also happy to help promote conventions, big or small, by getting the word out to our members when there are conventions coming up in their area. Organizers interested in a co-sponsorship opportunity should email us at

Best estimate: How many people would you expect to be on the registry by the end of 2008. These things are really difficult to estimate. Currently we have over three thousand player profiles, and if things were to continue at their current place, we’d probably have somewhere around five thousand by the end of the year. However, often these things tend to snowball as the word starts to get out. And honestly, I think this is going to be a break-out year for Pen & Paper Games. Even in the first few months of 2008, our community forums have been exploding with activity way beyond my expectations.

Do you work in the games industry full time or do you have a day job like the rest of us geeks? In real live, I’m a mild mannered reporter. Well, not exactly mild mannered. And, I’m technically a “report developer.” Not to get too technical, but I am a database developer for a major telecommunications company.

How long have you been playing pen/paper (and other) type games?
I got my first introduction to roleplaying games at about ten years old. Ever heard of Bard’s Tale? I used to play that game for hours—or even days at a time—on my Commodore 64. It opened me up to a whole new world of gaming. I enjoyed it so much; it was actually my step-father who suggested I should check out Dungeons and Dragons. So, around twelve, I picked up the old “Red Box Set,” and began my lifelong addiction. I’ve been playing now for somewhere around twenty years.

What is your favorite game / genre?
I’m very partial to fantasy, and Dungeons and Dragons in particular. It’s where I got my start, and where I am most comfortable weaving interesting stories for my players. I occasionally enjoy a jaunt into other genres, but I always end up returning to my favorite standby.

What advice do you have for RPGX or any other person out there trying to be successful at creating something useful and unique to the gaming industry or Internet? I have to admit that it feels a bit strange to be asked that question. I don’t count myself amongst the greats. Nor do I see myself as particularly savvy when it comes to things like marketing or strategizing. What I did have is an idea on how it could be done better. I think that in the vast expanse of the internet, innovation is the key. If you do the same thing every one else is doing, its difficult to stand out in the crowd. This is particularly true if you’re an upstart like P&PG without the benefit of thousands of advertising dollars.

Second, the old adage, “If you build it, they will come,” is bunk when it comes to the web. You can’t just put up a site and wait for your audience to find you. P&PG has spent a grand total of perhaps a couple hundred dollars or so on advertising over the past year and a half, but we have spent a lot of time networking with other sites and gaming communities to help get the word out there. This has been critical in helping build the community.

I had a great time working with Mr. Howard an have started discussing the possibility of adding him on to the RPGX crew as a casual writer. Keep an eye on the site for more works by this person here at RPGX.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Xbox Failure Rate Causes Sony and Nintendo's Rise to the Top

Xbox 360 failure rates worse than most consumer electronics
A new report by warranty-sellers SquareTrade puts the defect rate of the Xbox 360 at 16.4 percent. That's a bit above average for consumer electronics after three or four years (the 360 has been out a little more than two), but much higher than the Nintendo Wii or Sony PlayStation 3.

So with this kind of failure rate why do I still hear only horror stories about the PS3 freezing and catching fire problems? Sony and Nintendo's rates hover in the 3% area while Microsoft plunges head first into 16%.

The damned company can't even work out the bugs in their own hardware and 3rd party support still goes almost exclusively to them? I think that part of the problem is consumers are no longer checking the hard facts before purchasing a product.

For a while now the only argument has been the price point on each of the systems, but the line is starting to blur as Sony changes up their system and Wii adds more online features. But with stats like this I can't understand why a consumer wouldn't want to pay more for a better product anyway. Apparently we are getting what we pay for!

Clan Gaming

So you wanna' join an on line clan, eh? Okay, so let's start with the basics. Maybe you already get the basics, but I'll start by explaining what an on line clan is, it's purpose and typical pitfalls that can cause a clan to fail or general make you the target of someones hate. I think what brought this article on would be the mention of the two RPGX clan sites that are under development (to be finished late march, early April) and all the questions that I have received since.

For starters, what are these “clans” and “guilds” that you speak of? Well kiddies, let me ask you... where have you been for the passed 10 years? Just kidding. Well a clan is a group of on line gamers that get together on line to play either a specific game or a specific group of games. When specific players group together to play in groups, they will often form what we call a clan. The earliest experience I can remember having with any kind of on line clan was in the days of the first Diablo game by Blizzard Entertainment. Night after late night I would sit up on thinking that I was the top dog. I would power level my wizard winning duel after duel thinking my light forge armor and Archangel's Staff of Apocalypse were indestructible. That was until I met a certain member of the Dark Force Clan. Within minutes I had been destroyed by the single most bad-ass rouge I had ever met. From then on, I refused to play Diablo unless I was part of a clan.

The reason he was able to beat me was due to the fact that his particular clan was comprised of game developers who happened to be able write applets that allowed them hack their characters. While this isn't always a perk of clan gaming it is a common one. Clans will develop special tools that will give all their members roughly the same advantages over other normal players. This is viewed as cheating by many non-clan gamers and for the most part it is. But in more recent years gamers have split their game play into clan bases and non-clan based servers. That means you know what your getting into before you play so there are no unfair advantages. But, that's getting ahead of ourselves.

There are two main views of what exactly an on line clan is. One positive view about on line clans is that they are on line communities in which a player will always be able to find others to game with. In this respect a clan may have their own server with games playing 24 hours a day, possibly open to outsiders to come challenge a clan player or sign up. A clan site will typically have forums for people to post tips, cheats, questions and tutorials in and possibly plan on line or IRL events such as tournaments or conventions.

However, there is always a negative outlook for every positive activity (usually based in fact.) Gaming clans are little more than on-line gangs out to push other gamers around with strength of numbers. I think this outlook goes back to the example I gave before. The Dark Force clan was famous for about a month when bulletins went up across to look out for any members of the clan. They would PK even in non PK games simply to steal a characters equipment and gold simply because the could.
Ironically, other people, in response to this kind of on line terrorism were forming clans of their own dedicated to protecting people from becoming victims. The idea was strength in numbers.

As more and more games became on line compatible multi player adventures clans became a more common approach to how they would be played. Eventually games like Tribes and Guild Wars would be released. Games designed specifically for clan play that would allow bonuses to anyone who clicked an option showing that they were affiliated with same clans would receive in game bonuses like shared experience or extra damage.

Okay, so what is a clan? Personal view points aside, a game clan is an organized group of individuals who get together either in person or on line to play a single game or a group of games together and are usually represented by some sort of web site or on line forum.
So what are the advantages and disadvantages of clan based gaming? Well the most obvious answer is game availability and familiarity. Most clans today own their own “clan server.” This means that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week there will be dedicated space on the web where members of that clan will be able play their game with other members and new recruits. Now while it may not be hard to find random people to play with, open servers are often unregulated, lag, or have so many people of different skill levels in them that playing the game is more frustrating than fun. On a closed clan server you will be matched against the same players time and time again, ping rates are usually monitored, and traffic is controlled. On a well maintained server (that you may be paying a due to use) game play is smoother and less frustrating. On the other hand, a clan member may find it difficult to find a game going at particular times of the day or night depending on the size of their clan and how spread out over the world it might be. A small clan might not have any games going at 2:00am.

However, being a small clan is not always a disadvantage. Smaller clans tend to be more tight knit, coordinated, always recruiting, and able to function together in game as a more cohesive unit. Traits clans start to lose after they get too big.

Big clans have advantages over the smaller ones as well. Cooperate sponsorship from game companies, booths at conventions, and product demos are all perks that a large clan might receive.

So, you want to join a clan. How do you get into one you ask? Well there are several different ways. Back in the day you had to be recruited, but that is almost completely a thing of the past. Very few clans are invitation exclusive anymore. Most clans want to grow as many members as possible to help pay for their servers. A simple Google of gaming clans followed by the game of your choice should pull up a big list of possible candidates. After that it's a simple matter of checking out the clans home page, seeing what looks like something you would like to try and following the sign up instructions. It's usually as simple as registering on a clan forum, but a few might screen. Beware of anyone who asks for money up front, many scams have been pulled this way and all transactions should be made through pay pal for safety.

Sometime towards the end of March and the beginning of April, keep an eye out for 2 clans that will be created and sponsored by RPGX. The clans that we are creating will be like no others. Unlike other clan sites, we will be hosting two separate factions under one server. (While we are of course all friends regardless of clan alignment) the two factions will be locked in war. The idea is based of the structure of a PvP server, but will apply to a slew of different games. This will make the clan appealing to all kinds of PC gamers. Events will be organized for the two rival clans to battle it out for prizes and dominance over the clans themselves. The sites should be interesting and players will be encouraged to try both out to decide which flavor is right for their style of play. Each clan will have it's own theme: One being “Good” the other “Evil.” Drawing a line in the themes in this way will allow our members to decide if they want to play a good guy or bad guy in the war of the games.

Of course more on that at a later date... for now, enjoy your games and above all find new ways to enjoy the things that you love doing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is There Anybody Out There? The Internet's Top 10 "Gamer Finder" Sites

If your anything like me your gaming hobby consists of allot more than on line internet gaming.” You probably play some table top games, maybe some CCG’s and a fair amount of pen and paper games as well. That’s good. That makes you a well rounded gamer, or someone who is trying entirely too hard. (Just like me.) Well whatever your motivations are for playing all those games, we all share something in common. At some point we will need to reach out to a new gamer. Maybe you just broke off a friendship, relationship, moved away from the old neighborhood, or just want someone new to join the group. Finding other gamers in a new area can be a little daunting.

Back in the good old days a gamer or GM’s only option was to either hang around college campuses (which might be illegal depending how old you are) or stalking the shadows of your local hobby and game shop. While the latter seems like a fairly obvious choice it does have some problems. For starters, they are at a game shop. It’s pretty likely they are there to buy materials for the game group they are already in. Usually if a group isn’t shopping for a new player you might just be wasting your time. Many game groups (like mine) are tight knit. Outsiders have to be screened by every member and twice by the GM. Second, most gamers like myself tend to be shy. Now granted the trend may have changed a bit since I started playing, but in general gamers have never been the typical cool-guys. As such we tend to be a little withdrawn and not very enthusiastic about starting conversations up with complete strangers. Of course there are exceptions to these rules of thumb, so don’t go flaming me. Do what works for you.

Now while previously these were our only options, a great dandy invention has changed the face of gaming forever. Yes pants… No, idiot. I’m talking about the internet. The internet has made the world a smaller place and more accessible than ever. The internet is an easy way to buy pizza, catch a virus, order a bride, and yes… find other geeks to play our games with.

Where might on go to find such a person you might ask? Well typically we used to hang out in gamer forums, chat rooms, and even in the war rooms of our favorite online games (I found many a play tester on the Diablo chat board.) I even used to spend a great deal of time locating gamers in the old “Wheel of Time” chat room. However, in those days finding a gamer with same interest (and region as myself) were pretty hit and miss. These day, the only way to find a gamer of the same cloth as yourself… On Line Gamer Finders. I know sounds corny. But more and more people have started to create them.

An online gamer finder is a database of registered gamers usually sorted by region and interest. Finding a gamer (in most cases) is as easy as putting in your zip code, entering a genre and you will be given a list of other gamers in your travel radius. It’s that easy. Of course different sites do it better than others, so to make your life even easier I have compiled a list of the top 10 sites for you to find other gamers. Of course you will bring them back to RPGX to actually get some games together… won’t you?

1) Pen and Paper Games (
This is my number one choice for finding gamers of all kinds. This site is run by Robert A. Howard and has been around for a little over 1 year. In that time frame it has grown to be the second largest data base for gamers not only around the United States, but in a few other countries as well. Anyone who signs up on this site (via a forum) will answer a series of game prefrence questions, location details (Which aren’t actually revealed to anyone searching you other than zip code) as well as some standard profile questions. Once finished a player can either manually search the player database for players within a certain proximity or be notified by e-mail when other players register within a certain travel distance. The site also serves as a gaming board and standard forum which enjoys a large amount of use. If you donate towards helping the site, the user is rewarded with special board features and access to the Pen and Paper Games war chest which features many invaluable tools, scenarios and other goodies to be used in various different games. If this is the SECOND largest database on the net, why did it get first you might ask? 2 reasons: First of all ease of communication. This site beat out the #2 pick because of it‘s forums. They are easily accessed, used, and maintained by the owner frequently. Second, find times. While my number 2 pick actually has a bigger data base the load times between the two are staggering. This could possibly be due to the list population sizes, but I doubt it. Something about the web design just feels tighter and less lazy. Pen and Paper Games is the stress-less solution to finding gamers near and far away from you. (Be sure to check out my other article this month where I get a one on one interview with the creator (and GM) of this fantastic site.

2)Access Denied (http://www.access
Another great gamer finder site that almost took the number one spot right out from under Pen and Paper games. While it falls #2 on the list, don’t let that fool you into thinking that it lacks in features. Access Denied actually boasts a larger data base and a much longer run on the internet. But keep in mind that this registry spans more than one country. It may boast more total gamers registered, but are they in your area? Well, surprisingly YES. We ran searches for all 50 states and never turned up less than 25 gamers in our zip codes. Which suggests that there are actually more registered gamers on the data base than what the homepage is boasting. How easy was the site to use? Click search, enter in some info and click submit. Yep that easy… so how did the other site beat them out? The answer is speed and features. We tried to set up a new profile which proved to be a little more lengthy of a process (about 1000 more questions to answer) and searching the data base was a little more of a chore. Also, visiting the site really gives you a feeling of a more worn-in environment. A few less features and a lacking newsletter put this site behind P&PG by just a hair. Also not to mention that the site is actually affiliated with another bigger site that does the same thing. But don’t let that fool you, this monster is not to be reckoned with.

3)Nearby Gamers (http://www.nearby
This is a relatively new site on the net. Going back a little ways in the sites history reveals that it originally started off as another project by the site owner. The data base hasn’t had a great deal of time to grow but has a significant amount of features that I feel will propel this site ahead of the pack in the near future. I placed this site in the number three spot for it’s unlimited potential. The site’s core functions off of a type of Google map tool. On this map players may register a pin mark on the map where they can fill in some bits about themselves, a tag about what games they play, and even a profile picture. The site also sports some mini forums, that while not especially organized make a great IM board for gamers to post a bit about the games they are running. Searching gamers proves to be a little difficult at first, but after learning how the board works becomes easier. The whole site functions on tags. These are like key words that the engine searches for. Based on these tags the search function will return compatible gamers. As I said the site is still under development, but my ultimate reason for awarding this as the number three spot are because of the improvements I have already been told about by the web developer to come this year. In the near future NBG will have a function that allows a webmaster to integrate the game finder into their own page on their own site. Bloggers, webmasters, and homepage jockeys all around will be able to connect themselves and their personal pages directly to the tool and allow people to search for other gamers via their page. A great way to bring traffic to any gaming community as well as the NBG site itself.

4) RPG Registry (
Let’s talk about commercialization a bit. The higher you can get your ranking on a search engine the more visible you are. The more visible you are the more users you have. The more users you have the more your site can grow and become useful. When you Google the words “RPG finder” or “Gamer Finder” this is the site you will get. Highly commercialized and widely used, the guys that own this site own allot of space on the net. While this site sports more features than all the sites on this list combined including, downloads, registries, rpg stores, character sheets, free campaigns, and much more I have knocked this down to my fourth favorite game place on the net. There is a point when a browser can be overloaded. While the tools on this site are fantastic and the uses for them unlimited, I can only take a limited number of ads. While even RPGX itself sports a few ads, it’s nothing like this. From page to page users are bombarded with not only affiliate ads, but ads for the site that you are already on. A great site for anyone with a pop up blocker or ultra high speed, but if you still live in the world of dial-up pass this one up.

5) SJ Gamer Finder ( finder)
This site is proof that something can be great almost to the point of perfection, but still be completely useless to those who don’t use a specific product. Enter the SJ gamer finder. From here on in gamer finders will become decidedly more narrowed down. All the features of this board are great. Easy to use, accurate, large data bases, fast, tons of options. The problem… it’s only good for you if you play an SJ game. Now of course there is always the off chance that you will contact someone who is into another brand of gaming you are in (let’s be realistic) but you don’t have the option to search by this. Now this isn’t without understanding. It is in fact SJ games “gamer finder” we are talking about. Of course they want to promote their own product. But it would be a show of good faith in their gamers if they also offered options for other peoples games to be searchable fields. After all their products should be good enough to attract some attention from those other gamers. After all they did think to check SJ games for their D&D game.

6)Board Game Geek (
Easy to use and similar to P&PG in it’s design. But solely for finding other board gamers. A little limiting when making a search for that new party member.

7)Wiz Kids (
This search probably has the biggest data base of all but our number 2 pick. Unfortunately it can only be used to find other gamers playing WizKid games and tournaments.

This site (lacking a title) is operating under the same idea as NBG. It works almost as well. The only things holding it back are: A) The site limits itself by targeting only PS3 players, which is fine but we typically find each other on Playstaion Home Online. B) A small data base and a lack of features make your options very limited.

9)White Wolf (
There is such a thing as too spread out. While White Wolf does have a small game finder that isn’t narrowed down to just their games, it is hardly useable at most times. Instead White Wolf relies on their vast network to bring players together. By basically blog-rolling all the indi sites that worship them together White-Wolf uses this tactic to bring gamers closer together. However in the process you may end up doing more surfing that what you would have by stopping somewhere else. But in the long run, it is an interesting way to meet new gamers and sometimes the actual writers of the games as they spend a significant amount of time on the forums and their “blog-roles.”

10) RPG Gamer Finder (
This site comes in dead last for now as it has not opened yet. The site is currently shrouded in mystery. It was put up nearly 6 months about without any change. I only bring it up to draw attention so that we may watch it as it grow. Judging by the description at the bottom of their page, they feel they will have something new to offer us. Hopefully they will read this article and learn a thing or two about what real gamers want.