In yesterday’s post about Project NISEI, the fan-run organization to keep Android: Netrunner alive and thriving, I offered criticisms of their messaging during spoiler season. (If you want to return to the start of this series, click here.) In today’s post, I want to turn my focus to the ways in which NISEI is using–or, sadly, often failing to use–their website.
The website is NISEI’s home on the internet. It is their HQ, the undiluted public face of their brand. When NISEI was getting established, they could afford a merely functional website, because the primary focus was communicating the project’s status to the existing community. But NISEI’s moving beyond that point now, and their web presence has room to catch up.
As a reminder, today’s post will only identify areas for improvement. Tomorrow, I will wrap up this series with recommendations for all of the challenges I identified, both in this post and the previous.
If you get the impression that the bulk of my spoiler season critiques were critiques of the NISEI website… well, you’re not wrong. I said that NISEI’s first-phase efforts left some areas merely functional, and the website is the prime example of that.
When you go to nisei.net, this is what you see:
It’s… fine. I won’t manufacture outrage and pretend it’s some unholy sin against web design. The theme is clean and modern, if boring. It’s responsive. The logo is prominent. The use of card artwork — especially NISEI original artwork — is eye-catching. The point of my criticism is not to say that the website lacks redeemable qualities, it is to illustrate the ways in which NISEI’s merely functional website doesn’t live up to the excellence they have exhibited elsewhere.
Failures of Organization
The first and arguably gravest issue is organization. The NISEI website lacks any semblance of organizational structure, conveying the vast majority of information through uncategorized, untagged blog posts with hard-to-parse titles. Bafflingly, the site lacks a search function. Readers on the NISEI site have only one way to find information: scrolling through the entire article archives, clicking a link that looks promising, and hoping for the best.
Unfortunately, NISEI’s titles make even that difficult. Since early in their history, NISEI’s article titles have been… gimmicky. Starting in August 2018, NISEI titled their articles with names of existing cards. Initially, these were preceded with phrases like “The NISEI Board Plays…” or “The NISEI Board Rezzes…”, as if describing actions in a game of Netrunner. This led to lengthy titles like “The NISEI Board Plays… Encore! The Future of Organized Play”. Since moving to their own website at the end of last August, NISEI has thankfully dropped the “plays” and “rezzes” framing, but their article titles continue to be cluttered and uninformative, due in part to their insistence upon using card names.
When writing this series, I have tried to use the official, unedited title of NISEI articles wherever possible in order to demonstrate how unwieldy and unhelpful they can be. Such titles include:
- Green Level Clearance (Store Champ 2019 Launch)
- The Exposé series:
- Data Leak Reversal (Community Week Recap – AND FRIENDS!)
- SpecWork (Downfall Spoilers – Part 10 – ALL RUNNER CARDS!)
NISEI asks each of their titles to (1) contain a clever Netrunner card reference, (2) serve as stand-ins for categories or tags, (3) denote the date or order in a sequence, (4) provide a sober, straightforward description of contents, and (5) dictate the reader’s emotional state via liberal use of ellipses, capital letters, and exclamation points. That’s way too much!
Consider the title SpecWork (Downfall Spoilers – Part 10 – ALL RUNNER CARDS!). A reader confronted with this doesn’t know what the specific link is about until the final three words of the title. Of that title’s 58 characters, only about 21-25 (“Downfall Runner Cards” or “All Downfall Runner Cards”) convey meaning about the article. Titles like this are bloated to twice the size they need to be with information that’s worse than irrelevant: it impedes legibility.
For comparison, the titles of articles on DailyMTG.com are consistently informative, clean, and professional:
- “Introducing the New Wizards Play Network”
- “A Closer Look at the Stained-Glass Planeswalkers”
- “Romão Playing to His Own Tune”
Even the occasional gimmicky title, as Mark Rosewater tends to write, is immediately put in context by supplemental information in categories, author bylines, and synopses. A title like “You Know Who” may not immediately convey meaning, but the description, “Mark answers reader questions centered around the ‘Who’ of Magic,” quickly puts it back into context. NISEI’s titles are currently the only source of information about their articles’ content; when they fail to provide clarity, there’s nothing to fall back upon.
A blog archive should not rely solely upon titles and feature images for organization, especially when there are long-established tools to solve this problem. If NISEI used post categories, for instance, they would have no need to include “Part X” in titles, because a curious reader could just click the archive for that specific category and find all related posts. If NISEI’s website had a search function or used article descriptions, there would be no need to stuff a title with details. The incomprehensible mess of titles in NISEI’s archives is largely a consequence of their failure to use conventional blog organizational tools and their insistence upon titles that prioritize cleverness and exuberance over clarity.
Inconsistent Article Content and Style
Once a reader clicks one of NISEI’s overburdened titles, the article they find behind the link can still vary wildly from others on the very same site. Stylistic conventions are inconsistent. Articles, such as Data Leak Reversal (Community Scoop Recap – AND FRIENDS!), can change purpose halfway through, as if two or more articles were welded together–or, perhaps, not separated when they should have been. An article on NISEI’s site might be a carefully edited, prose-form report of a player’s tournament experience, or it might be a list of playtester comments, presented without headers or even emphasis on the commenting playtesters’ names, that abruptly cuts off without conclusion.
NISEI does not appear to follow an internal style guide. Conventions such as how to write em dashes seem to be left to the whim of the author: Anzekay writes them with only a trailing space (“today– one for each faction– “), whereas RealityCheque uses a leading and trailing space (“runners – let’s”). Neither author uses the established convention, which is to use either the em dash character, —, or two dashes, with no space on either side.
And it’s not just punctuation. In the span of two sentences in SpecWork (Downfall Spoilers – Part 10 – ALL RUNNER CARDS!), author RealityCheque switches between writing “Runner” with a capital R and without:
So there you go, all 30 Runner cards in Downfall.
There’s no plans for any scoops tomorrow, so you’ve 48 hours to start brewing up new runner decks…NISEI, SpecWork (Downfall Spoilers – Part 10 – ALL RUNNER CARDS!
NISEI is the only organization making Runner or Corp cards anymore. They ought to be the authority on whether “runner” is capitalized when referring to the card faction. But their official communications indicate that even they don’t have a solid idea. If you were brand new to NISEI and Netrunner, would reading that inspire confidence in this organization?
Okay, I hear you rolling your eyes, so let’s agree: none of these issues is, on its own, damning. A single improperly written em dash will only be noticed by a scant handful of readers. But taken together, these little slip-ups suggest a far bigger issue: NISEI appears to lack editorial oversight focused on presenting a confident, professional impression. Rather, NISEI’s official blog articles–lacking consistency, poorly formatted, and often unfocused–still feel like off-the-cuff status updates from the project’s fledgling days.
No Landing Page
Imagine coming to the NISEI website as someone completely new to the game and seeing this:
What on the front page offers a clear picture of this organization?
The largest text on the page isn’t “NISEI” or an explanation of what they do, but simply, “Blog”. Instead, the very name of the organization only appears in small text in the navigation bar at the top. The page is dominated by a feed of articles whose titles are both busy and unfamiliar. The only links that might be useful to you, a brand new player, are buried under the “About” link in the navigation bar. This website is not designed with you and your needs in mind.
I’m not a new player, so is the front page better for me? Only marginally! The theme is bland. The black header bar is clean, but dull. The only part of the front page that reflects my excitement about this awesome cyberpunk card game and its vibrant setting is the blog feed, with its colorful featured images. There are no images of the awesome cards NISEI has created or their swanky tournament support packages. The entire front page is dedicated to the NISEI blog; every other piece of information, like comprehensive rules, prize kits, frequently asked questions, or even consolidated details about NISEI’s sets, is either nonexistent or buried in menus.
NISEI links to their homepage on every one of their social media profiles. It’s what comes up when you search the web for their name. This lukewarm landing page fails to capture the vibrancy of NISEI’s efforts or the excitement of playing with their cards, while also failing to provide useful information. It’s functional, but little more.
Poor SEO and Social Media Practices
Here’s what a recent product announcement for Magic: the Gathering looks like when you share it on Facebook:
A link to Fantasy Flight Games’ final product announcement for Android: Netrunner looks like this:
NISEI? A link to the closest thing NISEI had to a product announcement for Downfall looks like this:
Say you see this in your Facebook feed. What have you learned? Do you even know the name of the product being spoiled?
NISEI’s website content is not set up for sharing on social media. Beyond their unclear titles, their articles lack defined meta descriptions, so the link previews default to the first few words of the content. This is usually “Hey runners,” or “Hi runners!”, or something similar, which provides no useful context. And because NISEI does not set SEO featured images in their article settings, it’s a roll of the dice to see which image the scraper will choose for the link preview.
Also–and I’ll admit, this is a minor pet peeve–NISEI’s official channels on Facebook and Twitter repeatedly make small, amateurish goofs. When sharing articles on their Facebook page, NISEI regularly includes the bare URLs, even when there’s a shiny link preview below:
Meanwhile, on Twitter, NISEI doesn’t seem to have set up the Twitter Cards function, so they approximate link previews by posting bare links and then including photos in the Tweet (when they remember):
The cumulative result is that on social media, whether it’s a link shared by excited players or official posts straight from the organization itself, NISEI looks amateur, like they’re perpetually out of their depth. Not bad, because they’re still using social media, still producing readable content on their blog, and still engaging with the community, but the mistakes and missteps, the goofs and idiosyncrasies, they all amount to a project whose web presence remains, at best, “good for a fan project”.
NISEI has the potential to be an unqualified success. The cards they’ve created and the tournament support they’ve already provided to Netrunner players around the globe, in the short seven months they’ve existed, is nothing short of astounding. But until their communication and social media strategy matches the quality of the work they produce, they’re holding themselves back.
Web Challenges Summary
- Website has no search function
- Articles are not categorized or tagged
- Articles are given bloated, hard-to-parse titles
- Information best suited for static pages is buried in blog posts
- Front page is uninformative and not designed with new players in mind
- Articles use inconsistent style and tone and are poorly edited for consistency and professionalism
- SEO settings aren’t set, leading to amateur-looking and uninformative links on social media
- Social media channels make mistakes like bare URLs and making “link previews” by attaching photos
- Landing page lacks links to social media
- Website lacks obvious links to NetrunnerDB
This is the longest of these articles by far, and to be honest, I still have more critiques. (Like I said, there’s a Google Doc.) I think it’s justified, though, and not just because I’m a nitpicky ass. I’ve spent so much time on organization, titles, link summaries, and even the proper way to write em dashes, not because any one mistake is calamitous, but because on the whole, they speak to NISEI’s arrested development.
When NISEI was beginning to coalesce and communicated primarily through an existing community blog, Stimhack, their audience was enfranchised players. They were trying to build credit with the existing community, who recognized phrases like “Anonymous Tip” as card names and were familiar with the in-game meanings of words like “rezzes” and “scores”. NISEI still lacked a polished communication strategy back then, and their titles still weren’t informative or clear, but the project at least had the excuse of audience familiarity. They didn’t have to have it all together on day one, because enfranchised players would give them a pass on some in-jokes and idiosyncrasies.
But NISEI is no longer an amateur project. In seven short months, they’ve grown immensely. They provide robust support to organized play, they have made authoritative decisions for the future of the game, and they have produced a professional-level product. Their communications, however, still lack that level of polish.
Thanks to their great work on card design and community support, NISEI has a growing audience. As the new face of the game, they’re no longer speaking only to enfranchised players. They represent the game we love to everyone who might be interested, but that now includes new players who have zero context. Any NISEI post could be a curious newbie’s first impression, and unfortunately, the quality of NISEI’s web presence, from their cluttered titles and frustratingly unorganized blog archives to their poorly edited and amateurish articles… well, it doesn’t at all give the impression of an organization that can make products like this:
I’m not here to laugh at NISEI’s mistakes. That’s not why I point out these challenges and missteps. I want NISEI to thrive, and I believe they can. But to thrive fully and be more than just “good for a fan project,” NISEI needs to extend the professional polish they already bring to card design and tournament support to the way they represent themselves on social media and their official website.
Of course, it would be gauche of me to devote this much time to pointing out NISEI’s shortcomings without offering suggestions. Tomorrow, in the final post in the series, I’ll offer my recommendations for addressing these issues and making NISEI even stronger.
By the way, NISEI’s first set, Downfall, is out now! Go check out the brand new product page for more information.