As I discussed yesterday in the first post in this series, clearly, Project NISEI, the fan organization dedicated to keeping Android: Netrunner alive, is doing a lot right. From my outsider perspective, it appears they carefully prioritized the achievements necessary to build a solid foundation in their first few months. NISEI seemingly identified where they needed to shine in this early stage of their project, and dedicated their efforts to excelling in exactly those areas.
But now that NISEI is solidly established, I believe their priorities must necessarily shift. Areas that were less critical in their first stage, and thus left with room for improvement, will become more important as NISEI moves to release their second set and beyond. NISEI is no longer trying to earn the trust of the established Netrunner community. They are the face of the game’s future, which means they need to pay increasing attention to a second audience: new players.
I am going to focus my critiques in today’s and tomorrow’s posts on the two aspects of NISEI’s work so far that I believe have the biggest potential for improvement: (1) spoiler season, and (2) NISEI’s online communications, primarily their website. To keep things focused, these posts will only consist of identifying these challenges; the final post in this series will contain recommendations.
Spoiler Season Challenges
NISEI’s first spoiler season, for their new set Downfall, was certainly successful. The organization built excitement for the new cards by slowly leaking them over the course of several weeks, and personally, by the time the final spoilers were posted, I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on them. Additionally, NISEI wisely partnered with ten different community content creators to share spoilers, a clever move straight from the playbook of a much bigger game, Magic: the Gathering. Letting community partners share in the spoilers is a mutually beneficial choice: community creators get an influx of audience members, whereas NISEI benefits from the promotion of their product.
But we’re not here to talk about the successes, we’re here to talk challenges.
During Downfall spoiler season, two questions were asked on social media far more than any others: “When can I get it?” and “How do I get it?”
From one perspective, this is a good problem to have. It means the spoilers did their job, building excitement and convincing people to buy. A frequent refrain was “I was initially skeptical of NISEI, but damn, I’m sold–where do I get it?” But a good problem is still a problem, and in this case, the problem points to poor messaging.
The answers to those two questions are what I’ll call Downfall’s “release details”: how and when readers could acquire the cards. They were first shared in an article on the NISEI site entitled Hyperdriver (Spoiler Season Schedule!):
18th of March: Downfall is available to buy (from a Print on Demand service) or download to proxy!NISEI, Hyperdriver (Spoiler Season Schedule!)
Downfall’s spoilers officially began with the post Déjà Vu (Downfall Spoilers – Part 1), and between then and now, by my count, there were 13 posts on the NISEI site relating to Downfall.
How many of those contained the full release details–the how and the when?
Not a single post during the entire Downfall spoiler season specifically conveyed both how and when readers could acquire the product being spoiled. Nor did any of these posts even link to the original post, quoted above, which contained that information. The final Corp spoiler post, Fully Operational (Downfall Spoilers Part 11 – ALL CORP CARDS!), came closest by saying, “on Monday these cards go on sale!”, but the date and method were both unspecified. Even Special Order (Downfall Purchase Methods), a post revealing the details of how the set will be made available, does not contain the release date.
It’s no wonder readers didn’t know when or how they could get Downfall: NISEI failed to tell them.
To NISEI’s credit, members of their team were often quick to respond to these questions, and where they didn’t, community members often stepped in. I myself did this several times. But this is a downstream solution to an upstream problem. Responding individually to every confused reader is an admirable effort, and certainly better than nothing, but it doesn’t do much to prevent the next person from asking… which they did, again and again. The problem was at the source, which was, in this case, NISEI’s communications strategy.
Problems at the Source
NISEI’s use of their website during Downfall spoiler season left much to be desired. Although the content of their spoiler articles was creative and provided great insight into aspects of the set’s creation, including art creation and card development, their sole reliance upon blog posts was a mistake that made information hard to find. To make matters worse, these blog posts often read like two or more articles melded together. Déjà Vu (Downfall Spoilers – Part 1) begins with an announcement about Downfall and NISEI’s future efforts, then pivots to an actual spoiler article. Data Leak Reversal (Community Scoop Recap – AND FRIENDS!) acts as a gallery for cards revealed by community partners, but also contains fresh spoilers and a discussion of their designs.
Lacking clear, singular purposes, these posts obscured information. Due to the chronological nature of a blog feed, each blog post pushed other posts further down the NISEI feed, and with hardly any interlinking between articles, spoilers and pieces of information were quickly subsumed. It’s not coincidence that a user on Facebook created a shared Google Doc to track the cards that had been spoiled: NISEI’s own website was failing to serve this purpose.
On top of that, NISEI’s spoiler blog posts consistently failed to anticipate areas of reader interest and confusion, and not just regarding release details. For example, with Downfall, NISEI has changed the way certain abilities are worded–“Make a run on R&D”, for instance, is now simply “Run R&D”. These changes were not once explained or put in context during spoiler season. They were never addressed in NISEI posts. Instead, NISEI simply dropped these changes, unexplained, on the blog, then turned to damage control in the comments, reassuring readers that the changes would be explained in a coming post about rules updates.
Still, even that could have been included in blog posts! Consider: “You might notice some new wording for familiar effects on these cards. We’ll have the full details in the rules update on [date], but for now, just know that it’s intentional, and we’ll explain all in good time!” Whether it was changes to card wording or clarification on unintuitive aspects of new cards, NISEI failed to provide clarity upstream, so they paid for it downstream, answering the same questions again and again in comments, asked by readers who were understandably confused.
Of course you can’t preempt every question, and there will always be readers who skim the articles or just honestly miss things. But NISEI frequently failed to even make the information available in the first place. During Downfall spoiler season, the answer to a reader’s “Did I miss X?” was almost always, “No, that information just isn’t on NISEI’s site.”
This is poor communications strategy and poor use of the website. To return to an earlier comparison, Magic: the Gathering has a static product page (example) for each of their releases, containing credits, previews, and release information. This static page also contains a gallery, updated daily, of all cards spoiled so far. When sets are announced, they are announced in a post that serves only as an announcement, and articles written during the spoiler season not only use the set’s name frequently in order to drive home the message, they also anticipate reader questions and confusion. The website is the authoritative source for all the information about the product.
Make no mistake, NISEI’s first spoiler season efforts were admirable for a team that had likely never done this before. They built excitement for their first release, so they met the most important goal of a spoiler season. It’s in the details, however, where their efforts fell off. NISEI has the opportunity before the release of their next set, Uprising, to coordinate a much tighter messaging effort not only for spoiler season, but their entire online presence. This starts with the website, so tomorrow, I’ll have a whole post diving into NISEI’s use of their official home on the web.
Spoiler Season Challenges Summary
- Over-reliance on blog posts caused important information to be buried
- Spoiler posts lacked release details, causing reader confusion
- Spoiler posts didn’t anticipate reader questions or interest, so NISEI often had to repeat clarifications in comment sections
- No centralized product information
- No centralized card gallery
- No clean product announcement; announcements were mixed with other article content