Saturday, December 25, 2010

Interviews with Runescape Fan Sites: RuneSlayer

Today's interview is with four owners, developers and admins of RuneSlayer and a network of related Runescape, Stellar Dawn and War of Legends sites. It's amazing how spread out RuneSlayer is and how much work these guys are doing to support all these sites.

Q: How would you describe your site in a few words?
Boomer-One: A fansite made by players, for players.
DarknessFalls: RuneSlayer is really a community of sites, we've branched out to a couple of Jagex's other games and have a few sites that are based off of unique ideas that other RuneScape fansites aren't trying.

Q: Can you tell us about major milestones of your site? A little bit of a history?
Ben Ryfos: Our site was created based off of the merge of the staff of two very small fansites, The Scape, and RuneUnion. The Scape, the owner decided to shut down with no warning, and the RuneUnion (the one I'm originally from, one of about 5 founders) was very inactive, and we didn't have the resources to continue on our own. So, in the best interest of both sites, we worked together, starting basically from scratch, to build what we have now. I think, from both sides, the merge would probably be our biggest milestone, as we finally had the staff to actually be productive.
Schmidty102: As Ben said, our site was created basically from scratch off of just the members and staff from two sites. Once we agreed on the merge, we literally had the site up within a week. I would have to say that two major milestones for us were to make it to our first birthday and to become officially recognized by Jagex.

Q: What inspired you to start a Runescape fan site?
Ben Ryfos: (From RuneUnion, before RuneSlayer was merged together) Originally, it was because I was playing RuneScape constantly, like literally 20-30 hours a week, and I had a group of friends (one other who's still active on RuneSlayer) that decided to create a RuneScape fansite of our own. We had all come from successful Neopets fansites of our own, and figured now that we had all moved from Neopets to RuneScape, the site focus should move with us.
Schmidty102: I had always wanted to have my own RuneScape Fan site since I had always been an active member in the fan site community. When The Scape was unexpectedly closed down and I was left stranded without a good fan site, I turned to creating my own. RuneSlayer would be by no means successful if it weren't for all of us Network Admins.

Q: What were your original goals for the site?
Ben Ryfos: Originally, I had wanted to start a fansite focused on tracking your highscore history, and other unique things like that -- this was way back. I only remember being able to find RuneMonkey with even a similar feature, and it's interface wasn't that great.
Schmidty102: My original goal was to get all quest guides on the site since I always hated doing quests without a guide (Something about dying each time I did a quest... xD).

Q: Had your goals changed over time? If yes, how and why?
Ben Ryfos: Over time, I think my personal goals changed. I mean, the highscore tracker project that I originally started on was dumped over a year ago and hasn't been touched since, although we do have another site (Runite.net, owned by RuneSlayer) that is starting a similar project. Really though, a lot has changed in every department. When I started at RuneUnion, twitter and facebook advertising didn't matter. Now, it's probably half of our new visitors. Quest guides weren't my original goal on RuneUnion, and we only kept like 5 or 10 on the site. Now, on RuneSlayer, we compete with RuneScape Wiki to have the fastest guide released half the time, although we're still catching up on old quests. Most of our change is basically outward expansion though, focusing on everything, rather than just the few tools to make the game easier.
Schmidty102: Definitely. My goals have changed a few times. First, I wanted RuneSlayer to get officially supported by Jagex, which ended up happening quite fast. My second goal turned from creating quest guides to creating tools. I was starting to do more skilling at the time and I felt that calculators were a major necessity for any skiller. Once we got the basic calculators online, I was semi-happy and turned my goals to activity. After all, my job is public relations, so I turned to advertising. Currently I am working on getting more staff and more members on the site.
DarknessFalls: The goal that I've seen change the most is moving away from focusing on RuneScape and turning to support more of Jagex's games. When we first started RuneSlayer I don't think any of us would have thought that we'd have diversified so much by our first birthday.

Q: Was it the first web site you ever created?
Ben Ryfos: My absolute first was NQ2H, short for "Neoquest 2 Help". Neoquest 2 is a turn-based RPG on Neopets. We had a basic complete guide series for that game, and then expanded to cover other parts of Neopets as well. From there, I worked on some other projects, like a simple pet website similar to neopets, working on a boy scout website, and a few personal blogs, but RuneUnion was basically my second major site, and I count RuneSlayer as part of that project. Now, though, I manage probably a dozen websites on top of RuneSlayer.
Schmidty102: This was my fourth website I have ever created, and by far the largest (currently at 3630 published pages and 4724 unpublished pages for upcoming projects!)
DarknessFalls: The first website I ever worked on was another RuneScape community called KSA. It originally started out as a collection of RuneScape shops (before the Grand Exchange and free trade limits were put in place) with a website, but after the Grand Exchange came out it turned into a kind of skilling clan with a fansite. I eventually left to pursue interests with another fansite and KSA faded into obscurity.

Q: What technologies were used to create the site? Did you add new technologies into the mix after you created the original version?
Ben Ryfos: We use mostly PHP and MySQL, although technology-wise, our servers have changed quite a bit. RuneUnion started on a "free-server" type of thing, with just barely enough functionality to work what we needed. We've since been through 3 other servers, upgrading to a Plesk-based shared server, and eventually, to a cpanel-based shared server. We started having problems with the reliability of that server though, so we just bought "our own" basically -- although one of the other administrators does technically "own" it, and we have quite a few other personal sites on it, it's probably about half RuneSlayer right now.
Schmidty102: Ben created our own basic CMS which RuneSlayer is run on. It allows much better functionality for our staff to add in content.

Q: Is there a unique feature/service your site provides to Runescape players?
Boomer-One: We have a sig tool - something most fansites don't have. We're currently working on a world map that will be unique compared to all other fansites. Another thing we have that very few fansites offer, is an updated list of penguin locations. ;)
Schmidty102: I love our calculators which just came out of beta on our first birthday update. We also have our penguin guide with a special penguin calculator to let you know how much experience or gold you will get for your points.
DarknessFalls: One of our most unique features is our universal login support. Because we run fansites and forums for RuneScape, Stellar Dawn and War of Legends it's important that your account is universal and you can login to RuneSlayer, DawnTips and LegendsHQ with just one username and password.

Q: Which feature/service took the most time and effort to create?
Boomer-One: Databases in general take a lot of time and effort to work on, just because of the sheer magnitude of each one
Schmidty102: Databases and Calculators. The calculators took at least two hours a piece just to enter the information into the database, let alone the twenty or so hours it took Ben to create the code to run them.

Q: Which feature/service was the most complex from the programming stand point?
Ben Ryfos: From my programming time, I'm not sure. I've had to re-write, improve, modify, and fix everything constantly. It's a toss up between calculators, signatures, and user management. Out of all three, I'd have to say calculators is the one closest to "finished" though, so if you ask in 6 months time, it will probably be between signatures and user management :P

Q: Is there a feature/service of the site you are most proud of?
Boomer-One: I'm quite happy with the Dungeoneering guides. Although they aren't complete, they offer insight to players who may be unfamiliar with parts of dungeoneering, whether they're just starting, or come across a new boss or challenge room they haven't seen before!
Schmidty102: I am very proud of the quality on our quest guides. Very few fan sites go into as much detail as we do. We try our best to explain what is going on in the quest and not a "do this, then this" type of guide.

Q: Did you start the site alone or with friends?
Ben Ryfos: Well, RuneUnion was started entirely with people I would safely have called friends beforehand. RuneSlayer, on the other hand, was only half friends, and the other half were people I didn't know. I had spoken to Schmidty102 once or twice before, but Ty and DarknessFalls I didn't meet until after the merge.
Schmidty102: Heh, as Ben said, we had hardly known each other at the time and were taking a major risk with each other at first. (You should have felt the tension between us) Now, I would safely say that we are good friends and good co-workers.
DarknessFalls: We started with six founders, three from RuneUnion and three from The Scape. Schmidty was the link between the two groups that introduced our group to the other. There was some tension at first because both groups had different ideas about things, but we've all got a good working relationship now and I'd say those separations have gone away.

Q: Are you the only developer of the site's code?
Ben Ryfos: For the most part, I am the sole developer on RuneSlayer for back-end code. Anthony does most of the HTML and such, as well as code for other sites in our network.
Schmidty102: I do minimal coding, mainly just some css work here and there. I have a good note in the css which is my pride for the site. lol "/*For IE6 Shenanigans*/"

Q: How much time do you normally spend supporting the site? A few hours a day? A few hours a month?
Boomer-One: When I get around to working on something, I usually spend several hours a day, for several days. I'm always checking our community sites and forums though, helping out and answering questions, and adding my bits into discussions.
Ben Ryfos: A few hours a day is an understatement. I'm normally on the site about 8-10 hours a day. When I'm home for a weekend, it could be 14-16 hours straight.
Schmidty102: When you sent the email requesting this interview I was out at dinner and I replied to you on my phone. I am always available to work on the site and I would say I spend at least 6 hours a day on a school day and 10 hours a day on a weekend. I check the site and my email hourly at school, and always read each post on the forums.

Q: What is the most difficult/challenging task you have to do to maintain the site?
Ben Ryfos: This may seem like a stupid one, but I think it's server backups, and software upgrades. As RuneSlayer operates an entire network of sites (including, but not limited to, DawnTips, Planet Stellar, Runite.net, LegendsHQ, RuneScape Times, RuneForums, DawnForums, and the Crusading Skillers RS clan), we're constantly performing upgrades to software. A forum software upgrade requires upgrading 5 boards. A Wordpress upgrade requires 5 sites updated. File backups are two gigabytes a week, while database backups, which I tend to take more often, are several hundred megabytes. Eventually, I'd like to get that all automated to a backup server somewhere though. :P
Schmidty102: Keep up with all the sites and know what administrators and staff are working on (We manage multiple sites within our network, as Ben has mentioned).

Q: How many staff members do you have? How did you find/chose them?
Ben Ryfos: For RuneSlayer, we currently have 6 "Network Administrators" -- we maintain all sites in the network, as well as 4 other "staff". If you count all the staff on our network, we have 5 total staff, as well as 5 "Local" administrators, who are responsible for general upkeep of another site in the network. Our count goes up and down on a regular basis though.

Q: Are there aspects of web site management you were able to completely delegate to others?
Ben Ryfos: Originally with RuneSlayer, I was basically the "everything" person. I've moved almost entirely off of content now, and very rarely will I perform an actual content update, and I've tried to focus more on advertising (twitter, facebook, google adwords) and technical (server maintenance and coding upgrades to the site).
Schmidty102: I originally started out at the "Boss" telling everyone what to do and to make sure things go as planned. I have pushed myself away from that and am now working solely on public relations with Jagex and other fan sites, besides the small kick to get some people working.

Q: Did you even had to deal with hostility and/or attacks from other fan sites?
Ben Ryfos: Each of the two sites we were from had to face some hostilities from a certain one fansite that is now under new ownership, but nothing major -- just "your layout colors match our layout colors too closely" type of thing. Once the whole fansite support program from Jagex was put in place, though, it seems like fansites have been closer together, and more willing to talk among each other.
Schmidty102: At The Scape we dealt with a certain fan site that ended up pushing a DMCA on us and having us closed down for a week due to "similar colors" which was an unfair advantage to them.

Q: Did you ever consider making money with the site or is it just a hobby?
Ben Ryfos: As a group of administrators, we have not seriously considered any one solution for making money. I personally considered projects on the side to make money that funds RuneSlayer though. Nothing on-site specifically, but another website that offers some service, where profits go to RuneSlayer's budget. I just haven't found quite the right thing yet. :P
Schmidty102: I have thought about making money from the site, but it is solely a hobby right now. I would love to have a project on the side which made the money for RuneSlayer to pay for itself though.

Q: What do you think about the current Jagex's fan sites support program? Do they do too much, too little? Is there something you'd wish would go differently?
Ben Ryfos: The current fansite program is great. I'd like to see more from them, like all the fansite related utilities and tools we all request constantly, but I understand they require Jagex development hours to do projects that affect a minor portion of their users.
Schmidty102: It is excellent for us fan sites who are smaller and need an extra boost by Jagex. They could do some more by having more community involvement on their site and helping to advertise the fan sites more.

Q: Do you still play Runescape? If yes, how often?
Boomer-One: Assuming real life doesn't get in the way, I generally hop on every day or two.
Ben Ryfos: Yeah, I play on occasion. I'm not much of a "every day" player anymore, but normally I log on Tuesday night for Penguin and Tears of Guthix reset, and for new content/quests to try them out.
Schmidty102: I play RuneScape for maybe an hour or two a week and normally spend that time woodcutting.
DarknessFalls: I play sporadically now, I'll get online and do some Dungeoneering or trains some other skill and then log off after an hour or two. Setting goals has helped me to focus on playing in a more organized way, but life is such a distraction.

Q: What's you Runescape goals, if any?
Boomer-One: Keeping my quest cape, of course :P Also, I'm slowly going for 99 defense, I'm not in a big hurry to get it though - I just play casually and have fun. I'm currently almost to 96 defense
Ben Ryfos: I'm looking toward getting all my skills to level 70.
Schmidty102: 99 Woodcutting. I am currently at level 88.

Q: What kind of Runescape player are you? Which Runescape aspect is most appealing to you: quests, role-playing, skilling, pking, minigames etc.?
Boomer-One: I really enjoy quests, learning the story lines, looking just beyond the surface of RuneScape and then discussing my findings with friends. I'm also a fan of emergent/creative gameplay. A few years ago, before I got into penguins, and before it was officially recognized by Jagex, this was something I really enjoyed doing. Then of course, when penguins came out, I got hooked on that, and I personally consider herding several penguins into a certain place to be creative gameplay :P
Ben Ryfos: Mostly, I'm in it for the storyline. The quests are (as posted in a previous blog entry on RuneScape Reader's Digest) probably the best of any MMORPG. I'm not one to grind skills really, and combat is even less likely, so questing is about it :P
Schmidty102: Skilling. I hate quests and they hate me.

Q: Are there other Runescape fan sites you personally use as a Runescape player?
Boomer-One: I like using the RuneScape Wiki because if you know what you're looking for, it's easy to navigate. They also tend to have random little facts scattered throughout their guides that you may not have known otherwise!
Ben Ryfos: Not like, for quest guides or calculators or anything. I mostly don't use RuneSlayer for that either. I know most of what I need to know about RuneScape, and haven't found a need to use any. :P
Schmidty102: I created RuneSlayer based solely on the fact of no single fan site has been good enough for me. Some sites are weak on quest guides, some are weak on skill guides, some are weak on tools... I wanted a site that was strong in all aspects.

Q: Do you follow/read Runescape blogs and news papers from other sites?
Boomer-One: Sadly, not anymore. I used to read the RS Wiki Post and the Tip.It Times, but have since fallen away from that.
Ben Ryfos: Well, I follow the RuneScape Reader's Digest and the Tip.It Times most of the time. I only really check on them when I see a new tweet though :P
Schmidty102: I am a fan of the Tip.It Times, and when I see a tweet I will read the RuneScape Reader's Digest.
DarknessFalls: I usually read the Tip.It Times, depending on what the article is about.

Q: Is there something you don't mind revealing about your RL (age, country, hobbies etc.)?
Ben Ryfos: I'm 20, from the United States. I've been involved with the Boy Scouts for most of my life (12 or 13 years now), and web design and computer programming is basically my hobbies. I honestly have two personalities -- Mountain Man, and Computer Geek, with not much in between. :)
Schmidty102: I am 16, as of December 27th and live in the United States. I am an honor student, and I have a great desire to work in law and forensic science. I am hoping to get early release from high school and will be trying to go to college next year, if things go as planned.
DarknessFalls: I'm 17 and live in sunny Florida in the United States. I'm really focused on school right now and I'm in the International Baccalaureate diploma program at my High School. Mostly I'm using my personal time volunteering and doing school organizations/homework to make sure I can get into a good university when I graduate.


Thank you very much, Schmidty102, Ben Ryfos, Boomer-One and DarknessFalls!

6 comments:

Schmidty102 said...

Thanks for the interview! It turned out great. :)

Free Runescape Membership Codes said...

The interview turned out great! I read the whole thing, lots of inspiration.

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