Star City is the”scrub” site.
Star City is the issues site.
There are no good players at Star City.
There are no good writers at Star City.
Those are the criticisms we used to have to deal with around here. Back then, if you told people that you wrote for StarCityGames.com, many would pat your head and say things like,”Oh, I’m sorry,” or”Yeah, Rizzo’s great. I wonder when he’s going to start writing for a real site,” or”I don’t really like multiplayer.” These people felt that all the real writers, (you know, those writers who wrote strategy, theory, and entertaining articles) were published on other sites.
Oh, how times have changed.
Today I’m going to chat about where we were, where we are, and where I see StarCityGames.com going in the future.* Even though Star City isn’t a state or a union, I feel that this”State of the Union” Address provides me a good opportunity to look at what’s happened over the last four years, give you some idea of the history of the site, and to examine the areas that I’d like to improve. I’ll also address a lot of the issues that you guys brought up when we asked for your feedback on how the site is doing. Finally, as a small bonus (no, kids – still no cheesecake), I’m going to tell the brief tale of how I got the job, just in case you folks are wondering how one goes about becoming Managing Editor of a Magic the Gathering website.
Where We’ve Been… or Omeed and his Damned Chains
Do me a favor and take a look at how the site used to look, minus the now-broken links, way back in 1999 (Here’s to hoping I don’t overload the web archive servers). Back then, Star City could be found at starcityccg.com, and was run by a fellow named Omeed Dariani. Omeed became a writer for Scrye Magazine, then accepted a full-time position as editor of The Sideboard before seeming to disappear. He later returned to Sideboard with his”All-Time MVPs” series. Former editors are tricky like that. Anyway, peep that page and look at who’s on there. It’s safe to assume that you all recognize Bennie”Star City Institution” Smith, and Jamie Wakefield is still revered by players everywhere, assuming their last name is not spelled T-a-i-t. John Sorrentino is a old Virginia pro who wrote some pretty amusing articles in his own right (Pete Halfling? Flores and Chapin playing Mental Magic for $10 a hand?), but I have to admit I don’t know the other folks at all.
Back then, the site was updated a couple of times a week, and a”high volume” week consisted of five articles. Pretty crazy stuff. There were no forums, and the site design was less than impressive. All of that is irrelevant, though, because even in the earliest days, Star City had quality writers on board. A couple of them liked to swing with fat-bodied Green men, but really, who doesn’t like to do that every now and again?
Fast-forward eighteen months to December of 2000 (where none of the links work, but it’s not our fault), and you can see the site had changed looks and editors. Omeed had taken the aforementioned Sideboard gig, and some scruffy-looking multiplayer guy naming himself after a rodent had been promoted. Talk about an odd turn of events. The big (or soon-to-be-big) writers for Star City during that time period were Johnny Friggin’ Rizzo, Bennie”Yep, Still Here” Smith, Will Rieffer, Mike Mason, King of Beatdown Dave Price, People’s Champion Sol Malka, Aaron Forsythe, and a skinny Canadian kid named Josh Bennett, whose hair seemed to weigh more than he did, but whose writing was an absolute tour de force. Carl”Zeke” Jarrell and Dave Meddish bald, smiling pate were also still around, and some guy named Alongi was busy doing his thang.
God, what a weak lineup! I mean, there’s only a Pro Tour winner, a player who finished in two Pro Tour Top 8’s (later moving on to edit MagicTheGathering.com and now designing the game itself), the future head of Sideboard’s event coverage team, and two future Featured Writers for MagicTheGathering.com listed there.
Yes, that was sarcasm.
In all seriousness, when a submission lands on the front page of Star City, it’s gotten there because the editor either believes in the message… or the messenger. Granted, we’ve been handed our share of coal over the years, but within that coal, we’ve discovered many diamonds… Ferrett, Omeed Dariani, Josh Bennett, John”Friggin” Rizzo, Geordie Tait, Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, Tim Aten, and Stephen Menendian… just to name a few.
Where We Are… or The Death of Tiny Bill… or Ferrett Gave Me A Ferrari For Christmas
Perhaps the most influential factor in Star City’s improvement over the years is that scruffy rodent fellow I mentioned earlier. Hiring The Ferrett was probably one of the smartest things Pete Hoefling ever did. Under his leadership, Star City has grown from a site which couldn’t even get most second-tier pros to write for us (even for a hefty fee) into a site that literally has more pros now wanting to write for us than we can ever realistically employ. The question is, my friends: How did this happen?
I have a few of theories on this one, most of which are at least partially true, but none of which tell the tale by itself.
First and foremost, these guys work hard. Pete and Ferrett both have ridiculous work ethics. They each work far more hours than a slacker like me could ever aspire to, and all their work has helped drive the success of the site. Last summer, Ferrett killed himself in order to completely redesign the website while continuing to fulfill all of his editing duties. Considering the fact that I’ve been putting in ten-hour days for my first two weeks here, I’m a little bewildered at how exactly he managed to do it, but he did. When you combine that with Frodo Hoefling’s business savvy, and willingness to spend a little money to produce a quality product, you end up with a site that just continues to get better.
The second reason that I think Star City has continued to get better and better is the rapport Pete wanted to create with the Magic community. Part of that”scrub site, issues site” reputation came from the fact that he always insisted that StarCityGames.com be a home for all Magic players.
This is why we pay attention to the Type One community, providing a forum for the most popular Vintage writers to share their thoughts with the community, and we will continue to do so. Who was the only major website that covered the Vintage World Championships last year? Star City.
The same goes for Multiplayer. We know there’s a huge population of players who like to get together on weekends, throw a two-hundred card deck down on the table, and slug things out for four hours, and you guys (and gals!) have a home here at Star City.
If there’s a problem in the community and you need a place to share your voice, Star City is still that place. Employees at Wizards of the Coast read our site on a daily basis to see what players have to say – and although they may not respond, what you say on StarCityGames.com can (and often does) make a difference. Honestly, what more can you ask for? The people who make the game want to know what you have to say about it, and they come here to find out.
Right now we have a place for every part of the Magic community – and make no mistake, it is by design. We’ve worked hard to develop forums that provide a diverse array of opinions, and we’ll continue working on them. (More on that later.) There will never be another Dojo, a website whose gravitational pull is so strong that it lures the entire Magic community there every day to read, discuss, debate, and share their love of the game. However, if any site has tried to fit that mold and adhere to that ideal, it’s StarCityGames.com.
The third major reason I think Star City has continued to grow and be successful, is the emphasis that Ferrett has placed on developing writers. Sure, he could have gone out and broken the bank to drag in some random pros who know the game but are a bore to read. Trust me, there are a lot of them. Instead, he chose to encourage, promote, and develop the people who were good writers. It doesn’t matter if you have a lowly 1650 Constructed rating, if you have solid arguments and you are entertaining when you make them, he was happy to toss you out there and give you a chance to be a star.
The strategy on Star City has steadily gotten better over the years, but the writing… That’s always been good. Whenever you visited Star City as part of your daily jaunt around the web, you knew that you could probably find something entertaining to read. It wasn’t always the latest netdeck for your Friday Night Magic tournament (although we have those too), but whatever it was, it was probably enjoyable. This was also by design.
As you can see, Ferrett has had an enormous influence on the direction of StarCityGames.com over the last three years and deserves an immense amount of credit for the current”State of the Union.” The redesign, the quality writers we employ, the rapport we have with the community… None of this would be possible without his efforts.
Unfortunately, the rodent has been a victim of his own success. His efforts increased our traffic by ridiculous amounts. Our writers became so popular that fans demanded more and more, and the writers delivered, resulting in longer articles that contain deeper strategy and more ridiculous, amusing stories about the game and its players. The rapport with the community is so good that we get incredible feedback from you each and every day about what you like and dislike, and you send us tremendous numbers of articles to be posted.
All the additional feedback has resulted in new features that we’d like to add to the site to further your experience, both on the content side and in the online store. Additional articles from both Featured Writers and the community mean it takes more time to proofread the articles, edit them, post them to the site, send rejection letters, ask for rewrites, etc. In short, the success made Ferrett’s duties far too much for one man to accomplish.
So… They hired me.
All that back patting above may look like I think we’re perfect. I don’t, actually. In fact, I’d say we’re still quite far from it, which is good, because it gives us goals to work towards. In order to explain my vision for the future of the site, I want to take a moment to examine how things are right now, so that you can get an idea of what I think we need to work on. Therefore, I’m going to list the different areas of writing we publish and detail my thoughts about what we’ve got, and what we need to do to get better.
Limited – We have the best Limited writers on the net, and in all honesty, no other site even comes close. Headliners like Nick Eisel, Tim Aten, Mike Turian, Ken Krouner, and Geordie Tait ensure that StarCityGames.com is the place to turn to when you want to improve your Sealed deck/Drafting skills.
Does that mean I’m satisfied? Hell no! There’s always room for improvement. Limited is relatively unexplored from a strategic perspective, and I have confidence that our writers will be developing new ways to examine the game over the coming year. Not only that, but we will continue to publish and recruit outstanding Limited writers for your reading pleasure. If you don’t believe me, check out Joey Bags‘ and [author name="Piemaster"]Piemaster’s[/author] work this week, and see how we are dedicated to furthering your, ahem, Limited experience.
Constructed – StarCityGames.com already publishes a fairly decent amount of top-notch articles on Constructed formats, but being a Constructed specialist myself, improving upon this is one of my top priorities.
Adrian Sullivan is a noted rogue deckbuilder, and he’s now going to be a regular columnist, lending his insights and years of experience to your quest to qualify. Additionally, I’m dragging our best and brightest Constructed minds back to the site, and I don’t care if they’re kicking and screaming. There are folks out there that I want to read, and these are generally writers who have something interesting to say, so I’m abusing my newfound power and making them write. (I’m completely prepared to break some legs to get this done. Twist some arms. Okay, beg a little too, but no groveling. I draw the line at groveling.)
(Give it time, my friend, give it time – The Ferrett)
Vintage – Like Limited, I believe that Star City features the best Vintage writers on the net, bar none. You know what? I want more! I want to see all of the really great Vintage minds writing for our site. I want to see our forums hopping with Vintage players from all over the world, who want to share their love of the old cards with all the kids who’ve never played Type One.
I want to continue to see our writers break the format time and again, but I’d like to get some new folks doing it as well. Regardless, there will be no mistaking our support for Vintage formats and issues as long as I’m here.
Issues and Multiplayer – There’s a reason why we’re known for this stuff, and we will continue to support both the Issues and the Multiplayer sides of the site. I’ll be honest with you, my multiplayer strategy is non-existent (we don’t play it locally), so if you feel that we haven’t been posting enough multiplayer articles, tell your favorite writer on that topic how wonderful he is and how much you’d appreciate new articles from him. In the meantime, I’ll try and make sure that Ferrett has more time to actually play the game, so that he can go back to contributing his strategic insights and making good fun of Anthony Alongi.
Article Volume vs. Article Quality
As I may have mentioned, we get a ton of submissions nowadays. We also have a pretty consistent flow of Featured Writer output. The volume of what we publish will stay about the same, as we feel it represents the right amount of content per day. However, due to the increased level of submissions, we have slowly been raising our standards for what we will publish. Articles that don’t”make the cut” get rejected with a nice letter explaining why they were rejected and offering tips for next time.
Please don’t misunderstand. We’re still going to accept and publish submissions from the community, but we’re just going to be a little more selective about which ones we choose. If you submit an article and it gets rejected, don’t take it personally. Plenty of our Featured Writers (even pros) have had articles rejected or sent back requesting a rewrite. It’s all part of the game.
Now I think it’s time to address some of what you guys said you wanted to see when we asked you for feedback about the site. After all, without you folks it wouldn’t really matter what we’re publishing, now would it?
Q and A
Ferrett was the best. I don’t want him to leave!
You can breathe easy, because he’s not going anywhere right now. Okay, that’s technically not true… he’s probably going to take his first vacation in three years sometime soon, but he’ll be back. We have a hundred projects that we’d like him to contribute towards, and he’s still Editor-In-Chief, meaning he influences the direction and attitude of the site, and will still be involved with everything going on. For more on this subject, read his explanation from last week.
Now that Knut is editing, does that mean he’s going to stop writing like Ferrett did?
Ferrett only cut back on his writing because he stopped playing as much Magic as before and he stopped having time to write about Magic. That Pete fellow is pretty smart, though, as he made writing articles part of my job description. Therefore, I’m contractually obligated to continue writing articles for you folks.
Are you going to continue doing Event Coverage?
Absolutely. The plan right now is to stay mostly within the U.S. and Canada to cover events, but if things continue to go well, you may find us branching out a bit. Overall, we appreciate the recognition that our coverage has received and we love doing it, but it remains pretty expensive to fly a team to all the Pro Tours and pay their expenses while they do coverage. Regardless, we’re interested in doing more coverage, we’re just not sure how much yet.
The site is clunky, please fix it!
Now that Ferrett doesn’t have to spend half his time editing articles, he is free to start making changes to the design of the webpage itself that he’s been wanting to make for months. The shopping cart is the first beast that he’ll be banging on, but we will try to give you a more efficient design for our page sometime in the near future. Many of you had good ideas about what you’d like to see, we just have to figure out how to execute them.
The forum software is awful!
Duly noted. This was the single biggest complaint we received when we asked for feedback, and we are going to do something about it. There are questions about how tough it will be to transfer the threads over, but after your complaints, this item has become a much higher priority.
Your archives are really difficult to navigate!
See, I had no idea that this was true. At the bottom of each page there’s a search field that reliably brings up all the information that I’m ever looking for. Even most of the super-old stuff is still available in the database; so as long as you know who wrote it or have an idea of what the title was, you can search for it. If that doesn’t work for you guys, please e-mail me with the specific problems you’re having, and any ideas you have as to how they should be resolved. With a little more information about what the problem is, we should be able to fix it.
Weekend articles! Weekend articles!
Outside of event coverage? Sorry, but no.
That Week in Review/Digest thing is swell. Keep doing that!
That’s the plan. I’m pretty set on publishing it on Mondays, because it allows me to encapsulate an entire week with one shot while not taking up important Friday page space with an article that doesn’t add new content. Right now, I’m leaving the more popular Featured Writer pieces off of it, in the assumption that you’ve already read those articles, but it may grow a bit over time to really be a”Best of Star City for Week 11/21/2003″ sort of thing.
As I said in the introductory Digest, we publish so much content some weeks that you may miss some things, so feel free to check it out and see if you missed a reader submission that was really a diamond in the rough.
Editorially, it seems like the number of grammatical mistakes and typos has gone up substantially recently.
That’s ironic considering that Ferrett and I have been tag-teaming almost every article (I like to think of us as The Road Warriors, but Ferrett, he keeps calling us… gulp… The Wonder Twins). For the last two weeks you’ve been getting twice the editorial bang for your buck. My opinion is that you folks are just paying more attention to the editing, now that you know the new guy is around, hoping I’ll slip some random swimsuit links in along the way (sadly, those must be saved for my own articles).
I’ll make no bones about it: This job is hard. I’m sure that things will be a little rough in the beginning as I get up to speed, and I’m sure that I’ll make my share of mistakes. Bear with me, and feel free to point these things out, and hopefully I’ll get through the learning period as painlessly as possible.
The Deck Database is a little painful to use.
Noted, and placed on the list of projects.
Star City is great, please don’t change a thing!
Hmm, I suppose you can’t please everybody. Expect that whatever changes we do make will be made with the same”quality” and”community” concepts that we’ve been following for the last few years. You’ve placed your trust in us by visiting the site daily, and by becoming repeat customers for our products, and I think the folks that have gone before me have done an excellent job of upholding that trust. I will do my best to do the same.
We are always going to try and be responsive to your complaints. We are going to continually try to get better at everything we do. Do us a favor though… when you think we are doing a good job, or you read an article you really like, drop me a line and let me know, and also, (this is important):
Buy some cards.
The content part of the website exists because the store exists, and the content has improved because sales have improved. Therefore, whenever you like what you’ve read, please take a second to make a”donation” by placing an order.
Anyway, that’s where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re heading (minus all of the really juicy plans we’re not at liberty to talk about, of course). If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited to be here, and if my run as Editor is half as good as Ferrett’s has been, you guys should be pretty happy with what you see on the screen.
I’ll sign off now, but if you scroll down past the signature you’ll find out the brief story of how I got the new job, and see the conversation that occurred when somebody (not me for once), completely missed their flight to New Orleans.
* – I’m actually not a huge fan of tooting our own horn, but I feel that sometimes it needs to be done. The old perceptions about StarCityGames.com just aren’t true anymore, and in order to change these perceptions, you have to plainly state the reality. The reality is that the site is pretty darn good right now, so I decided to talk about it.
And Now For Something Completely Different
It’s 11 a.m. Wednesday morning in New Orleans, and we’re all in the Bleimobile, on our way to the New Orleans airport to pick up The Ferrett. Unfortunately we’re running about ten minutes late, and being the only member of the team with an available cell phone, I get the task of calling Ferrett and telling him to meet us at baggage claim.
Me:”Hey there. We’re just pulling into the airport now. I’ll meet you in the baggage claim area as soon as we get there, okay?”
Ferrett:”Um, who is this?”
Me: Raised eyebrow.”This is Knutson. I just wanted to tell you we’re running a little late, in case you are waiting around.”
Ferrett:”Um, can you hang on a second, Ted?”
At this point I hear vigorous typing going on in the background. I didn’t fully grasp the situation at that time, so I thought maybe Ferrett was talking to Delta about his return flight arrangements or something.
Bleiweiss:”What did he say?”
Me:”Well, he put me on hold.”
Me:”He put me on hold. I have no idea why.”
Ferrett:”Yeah, Ted. Um, I’m not at the airport right now.”
Me:”Was your flight delayed or something?”
Ferrett:”Not exactly. I’m going to have to call you back. You guys go ahead and have lunch and stuff and I’ll talk to you in a while.”
Me:”Uh… okay. You do that.”
Bleiweiss:”So what did Ferrett say? What’s going on?”
Me:”Well, he told us to go have lunch and he’ll call me back. He’s not at the airport.”
Bleiweiss:”He’s not at the airport? What the hell is going on?”
About an hour later Ferrett called me back and had this to say:
Ferrett:”Hi Ted. I committed a major f***up, because I thought my flight was tomorrow, and my Palm Pilot says it’s tomorrow, but my itinerary says it’s today. Thankfully I was able to straighten things out with the airline, and for a large fee, they’ll be flying me down to New Orleans at the same time tomorrow.”
Me:”You’re sure? You’re not going to put me on hold again tomorrow when I call you and tell you we’re at baggage claim, are you?”
Ferrett:”Go ahead, make fun of me. I deserve it for this one.”
I did, and he did, and then I related the story to the rest of our little party and mad cackling ensued. For the rest of the weekend, whenever we saw somebody new, we made Ferrett tell his little story about how he missed his plane and put me on hold to figure it out. Good Times.
In the chaos of event coverage a lot of weird things tend to happen. Bleiweiss had already locked his keys various places twice on the trip, Ferrett missed his flight, Telfer and Ben kept making fun of me for forgetting to register Broodstars at States, and Iain joked about how it was now his turn to have a major brain-fart and do something stoopid. He would, proving karma is alive and well, but that’s a story for another time. What an odd weekend.
Anyway, Ferrett actually made his flight on Thursday, and while we were traveling back to the hotel, he asked me,”Have you talked to Pete yet?” I replied no, but I thought I knew what he was talking about.
Flashback: You see, back in September, I was chillin’ with my boy Sheldon out at his crib in Norfolk. We were checking out the Scarface posters on the wall of his den, and he idly mentioned the fact that Ferrett was (quite) a bit overworked and that Sheldon thought I was on the short list for the new Editor position. This was the first I’d heard of the idea, and I think I basically blew him off with a response of,”That’s interesting, but I don’t know if I’d want to get all burnt out on Magic writing like Ferrett did.”
Then about a week before States, Ferrett demanded to know why I wasn’t sending him States-related articles, and I informed him I was working on my Top Secret project, and was only doing research lately. He stressed that it was imperative I get him a metagame article to publish as soon as possible. I informed him that this wasn’t our normal little editor-writer relationship, and I thought he was being cheeky, demanding that I write. Hmph. He then wrote back in his ever-so-Ferrettian way saying,”Hey chief, if I go, you’re likely to be the next guy on the totem pole, so shut the hell up and get me that article.”
At that point I realized I was in contention for the new Editor position and I knew I actually wanted the job, but there didn’t seem to be much to do about it. It wasn’t officially announced, so you couldn’t apply for it. There’s no place to turn in a resume. So I was stuck telling Pete I was interested if the rumors I heard were true, and then waiting.
We got back to the hotel room and there was a message for me telling me to check my e-mail, and lo and behold, they had decided to offer me the job. Ferrett and I talked about details, and then Pete and I talked about details, and I decided to accept. Then they told me to keep it quiet until they could officially announce it. Those bastards!
I walked around New Orleans all weekend as the new Managing Editor of StarCityGames.com and I couldn’t tell anyone.
Anyway, so that’s the story. Featured Writer to Managing Editor in eighteen months. Ferrett missed his flight, I got a job, our coverage kicked ass (but still has room for improvement, mind you), and now I get to control the content you see every day on this here site here.
It’s been a pretty good month.