Ask The Other Editor, 11/15/2004

Jensen Bohren, famed casual freak also known as The Orgg, asks a very good question:
“Once Star City Games was much like The Dojo and other Magic sites online, and posted most of the ‘decent’ articles with a fair amount of speed; rejected articles were also ‘thrown back’ with a similar amount of speed. Today, I know of only one site that will publish nearly anything, and it’s the only site that will link to the ‘good stuff’ on other Magic sites. Why has Star City become so inwardly focused on itself and turned away from the larger picture of the Magic community?”

Carl Winter, that luckified titan of Vintage, asks:

“It’s good to see you aren’t dead! Where have you been holed up lately? What’s going on? What movies have you liked that have come out since you crawled into your hole and put Knutson in charge? Will you ever have time to write again?”

Holy crap, Carl. Way to start out an “Ask The Other Editor” – with a flurry of barely-related questions! In any case, let me answer:

  • I have been holed up in my office in Rocky River, Ohio, just as I always have. It is a sad little room, stinking of body odor and the smell of burning circuits, where I stay sixteen hours a day writing and programming for the good of StarCityGames.com. Occasionally, I make a feeble attempt to gnaw on the chains that Pete has used to bind me to my desk, but it is too much for my nutrition-starved muscles and I return to typing shortly afterwards. At night, the ice weasels come.

  • What’s going on is that I have written two computer books (Paint Shop Pro For Dummies and The Ultimate LAN Party Guide) and am in the process of writing two more (the revision of Paint Shop Pro For Dummies and a book called Wicked Cool PHP Tricks, due out sometime next summer hopefully). I have been living peacefully with my wife in Ohio, and we’re doing really really swell. I mean, it’s amazing how good married life can be. But it would be better if y’all bought more of my books.

  • I am a ridiculous movie buff, watching an average of five to seven films per week on top of all of my other screen-related activities. Thus, it’s hard to narrow down the films I’ve enjoyed since Ted went live, because I’ve seen so damned many of them. Films I have enjoyed in the past month include Dagon (a great Lovecraft adaptation, complete with the usual downer ending), The Incredibles (Brad Bird is a god, and his ability to create superheroes who seem vulnerable is amazing), The Yes Men (a hysterical documentary about some guys who pretend to be members of the WTO and go around giving over-the-top lectures at trade-friendly events), and of course Play Misty for Me by Clint Eastwood. If you’re looking for cult hits, I gotta recommend Napoleon Dynamite as a funny, quirky film that works and Hero is an excellent foreign film on the true nature of power.

  • Whatever you do, do not see Equilibrium. Rob Dougherty thought it was great, but I needed more gun battles and less 1984 ripoffs.

  • One of the good things that I will gloat about, however, is the home theater system we bought about eight months ago. If you’re a movie buff, you really have to have one. The 55″ screen we have is nice and pretty danged clear, but what surprised me is how much a surround-sound system involves you in the movie. It’s just not the same without the THX booms and explosions going off behind your head.

  • I’ve had some articles that I’ve been working on, but that would involve me playing more Magic than I have lately. I’ve been doing a reasonable amount of dinking around with Champions of Kamigawa, and I have a half-written article called “Crap Unwrapped” that should see the light of day before the new set is released – but beyond that, I hate writing to fill space.

Doyle Lowe asks:

“Paper, or plastic?”

Plastic, of course. Many people think that paper is a better choice, but they’re kidding themselves; paper weighs three times as much as plastic bags do and can’t be compressed nearly as much. The end result is that it takes three trucks (and their oil and gas usage) to carry a load of paper bags, wherein a load of plastic bags can be done in a single trip. (Also, apparently, the bleach used to filter the wood pulp is toxic to the environment, but that I’m not quite so sure about.)

Fools use paper. Take the plastic and then reuse it for something else. I used it to scoop up ferret poop, myself.

Brendan McKendy asks:

“Why isn’t that woman on the right of your website wearing a shirt under her jacket? Thanks to her, it’s getting harder for me to access your website on school computers without feeling guilty about it.

“You still run a great website, but the fact that the ‘sex poker’ companies are taking out ad space on your would seem to reflect poorly on your readership.”

Well, for one thing that assumes that our readers reflected well in the first place. Magic’s audience has always been a bunch of horny nerds; what, you think Serra Angel’s popularity was based on her stats?

Secondly, I never get this whole attitude that enjoying a woman’s body is somehow degrading. As long as the woman is okay with it – and she clearly is, since she’s been paid to expose her belly – I say look away! I’m not ashamed of sex, and if women want to ogle men, heck, they should do that too.

The answer to sexism isn’t to suppress all desire and pretend that guys are really just floating, hormone-free brains; we tried that in the Victorian days, and obviously it didn’t quite work out. The solution is to be open about it, admit that people are going to want to get their thang on with passerby sometimes, and be honest about that. Using a pretty girl to sell a product? Hey, whatever gets your attention.

Jensen Bohren, famed casual freak also known as The Orgg, asks a very good question:

“Once Star City Games was much like The Dojo and other Magic sites online, and posted most of the ‘decent’ articles with a fair amount of speed; rejected articles were also ‘thrown back’ with a similar amount of speed. Today, I know of only one site that will publish nearly anything, and it’s the only site that will link to the ‘good stuff’ on other Magic sites. Why has Star City become so inwardly focused on itself and turned away from the larger picture of the Magic community?”

Well, the flip answer to that is that “We haven’t.” StarCityGames.com still publishes articles that we think are in the best interests of the community, asking questions like “Should we be worried about the allure of Poker?” and “How can we get judges to make the right call?” We get a lot of flack for publishing things like this; I know Wizards would prefer that we not mention Poker and Magic together in the same breath, and judges get offended when you say, “Hey, this was the wrong call.” We still get emails from people saying, “You shouldn’t have said that” – and to me, that’s the best sign that we’re still relevant.

But that’s not fully true, so let me be honest with you: Despite the fact that we’re still concerned about the community, StarCityGames.com is not quite as open as we used to be five years ago. The answer to why we aren’t, of course, “Money.”

Whenever people start reminiscing about how great The Dojo was, you have to remember that The Dojo failed as a business enterprise. It may have made a lot of people happy, but in the end it couldn’t make money to save its life… And as much as we’d like to provide this stuff to you for free, this bandwidth and professional editing and programming costs Pete cold, hard cash. Every decision has to be made with an eye to getting you folks to buy cards. (Which you should.)

There are two elements of the “old” StarCityGames.com that I personally miss, and I wish we could have them back:

1) I miss linking to other sites. We don’t do it anymore, but old-time fans will remember when we used to have a “Best From Around The Net” section where we linked to the finest articles on other sites. We did this because we loved the community, and we wanted to encourage other people to try to write the best Magic articles. That was a great time.

But the problem was, we ran into some dickish sites who took advantage of our free PR. We linked to them over the course of a month or two, tripling their traffic each time we linked – and then when they got big enough that they had a following of their own, they emailed our biggest writers and tried to steal them away from us.* Thus, we wound up getting into huge fights for our best writers with sites that we had made famous enough to bone us.

The first time, we wrote it off. The second time, we got angry. The third time, Pete asked, “So what are the benefits of supporting other sites, really?” And thus, it got shut down.

If a writer says, “Hey, I think I’ve doubled my audience, I want more compensation,” that’s a cost of business that we have to live with. But when a writer wants more moolah because we decided to help out a competitor, the end result is that we are now paying more for a writer who hasn’t brought any new customers to StarCityGames. It’s annoying enough when that happens in the course of everyday business – but when we’re continually creating our own competition? It wasn’t worth it. And so we stopped.

And please remember – though SCG is a very professional site, we don’t have unlimited funds. We are a very well-run shoestring operation. It’s entirely possible that we could go the way of the Dojo, if we weren’t careful. As a writer, I’d love to give all of my authors a thousand bucks per article, which is probably what they’re really worth – but if I did, I’d be looking for work real soon because we’d be out of business before the end of the week. As it is, all of the writers we do compensate are a big drain on our end profits, and we can only hope that the additional traffic (and sales) are worth it.

2) I miss the days when SCG would publish anything. Believe me, so do I. As much as I hated being called “Scrub Editor” back then, it was kind of cool to be wild and experimental.

The problem is that it didn’t sell.

No, really. We track our hits pretty carefully, and know how many people each author and article brings to the table. (If you’re an author, don’t ask. I don’t have the time for that right now…) I decided to do an experiment to see how far I could jack our numbers by tightening up the quality of the articles – I demanded playtesting data, refused bad writing, and didn’t publish clearly idiotic issues articles. I recruited pros. I went after the tournament market.

Each month, the numbers went up. And up. Within a year, we’d tripled our audience – all because we went pro.

As it turns out, people didn’t want a bunch of bad articles – they wanted three to five good articles they could trust on a daily basis. And that’s reasonable. Though there are a few people who want to read everything, most folks don’t want to sort through the chaff to find the gems.

I think we’re currently in another swing period now, wherein Ted may be a little too strict on good articles, but that’s something we’ve discussed a few times and we have some ideas on how to fix it. Overall, Ted’s doing a great job. But what you and I want, Jensen, are not what the overall audience wants… And we want a lot of people who will come here and buy cards.

Now, all of that begs the question: Has StarCityGames.com gone corporate? Of course not. I fight for a lot of things (as does Ted) that really aren’t strictly money-makers. Some things, we just like. But Pete’s a smart businessman and he always asks the question that he should:

Is this making us money? Or at least, not costing us a boatload of money?

That’s valid. Because in the end, if Pete can’t pay our paycheck and can’t pay our web hosting company, we’re going to go the way of the Dojo. And me, I’d rather stick around.

The Ferrett asks:

Got another question? Go ahead; ask me.

Signing off,

The Ferrett

The Here Edits This Here Site For This Here Week Guy

[email protected]

* – Yet, to be honest, I probably would have done the same thing if I were another site. That’s business. The process of making money is not the same as the process of making friends…. And I wish it was.