The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story
So You Want To Make A Fansite

Kyle Orland | 14 Nov 2006 11:04
The Rest of the Story - RSS 2.0

Everyone is the world's foremost expert on something. This one fact is the cornerstone of much of the internet. How else do you explain elaborate web pages devoted to everything from shoelace tying to Slurpees? If you're reading this, though, chances are your expertise falls in the realm of some sort of obscure videogame that only earns you derision when you bring it up in polite company. Not to worry; the internet is there to indulge your obsession and let you actively share it with the world.

Unfortunately for you, the key to making a successful fansite seems to be starting in the mid to late '90s. It worked for my own fansite, Super Mario Bros. HQ, which started on a free, AOL-hosted member site in August 1997 and still lingers on today at smbhq.com (albeit with much less direct input from me - more on that later). In those early, untamed days before Wikipedia and Everything2, bored web users were just as eager for random information. While there were fewer web users, there was also less competition from other sites, meaning any fansite that started during the '90s had a much better Darwinian chance of surviving into the brave new world of today's internet. Getting an early start also gives a site an air of authority ("est. 1997") and a backlog full of updates to discourage any pretenders to the fansite throne.

Which brings up a major challenge of starting a good fansite today: finding a game that isn't taken. Just skimming the partial list of fansites hosted by Classicgaming.com is enough to give pause to any potential creator. Everything from Ninja Gaiden to the obscure Windows game Kye is already well represented online. And new sites are popping up constantly: The NES' Ice Hockey seems to have just been taken. More popular series can already have dozens of sites devoted to them, which is no doubt discouraging for an expert such as yourself looking to share your unique and vital information. Will you take the weak-kneed approach and volunteer to work for an established site? Or will you be bold and wade into the internet waters of fandom on your own?

Competition among game sites can cause a destructive feedback loop, leading to a bunch of pages with the same information and resources linking back to each other in a big circle of "thanks to XXX for letting me use the contents of this page." But competition can also be good for a site, forcing the creator to think outside the box for new content ideas. When I was starting work on SMBHQ, my major competitor was The Mushroom Kingdom, a site that actually started months before mine and had much better design and information. In an effort to avoid wasting time and web space, I tried to make everything on SMBHQ unique in some way - either by creating completely original sections or adding my own original writing to any totally repetitive sections. Knowing that TMK was around forced me to add my own spice to my content instead of just becoming an aggregator for information easily found elsewhere, a lesson that can apply to any game journalist.

That doesn't mean everything on your site has to be original. One of the cornerstones of the fansite is the list - the comprehensive, anal-retentive chronicling of every little thing in a game or series. Some lists, like the items in StarTropics, are relatively easy to compile. Others, like the list of "virtually every character, item and enemy from the Mario universe," are a bit more complicated. But a fansite just isn't a fansite without them. Visitors love reliving memories through compilation, poring over the details they forgot they remembered or just skimming to see what they've missed. Don't make the mistake of compiling a totally comprehensive list before launch, though. Starting with a small core and creating a feature like the "item of the week" is a good way to spread out what might seem like an overwhelming task as well as a way to get people to keep coming back to your site.

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