Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Interviews with Runescape Fan Sites: RuneHQ

Today's interview is with RuneHQ's founders and owners: MrStormy, Stormys_Amazon, Dravan, Apuredelite, and Roklykthat. RuneHQ is a Platinum level Runescape fan site and rightly so - it's one of the biggest and well known among Runescape players.
This is the final interview of the series and I could've hardly find a better way to close it out. Enjoy!

Q: How would you describe your site in a few words?
A: We try to have a site that provides users with accurate information that will help them to get through the game successfully. We have a lot of users that use only the information part of our site, but we also have a forum community that has been together for some time now and we all feel like family.

Q: Can you tell us about major milestones of your site? A little bit of a history?
A: We recently celebrated our another anniversary as a fansite. We typically hold various events in game and on our forums to celebrate with our members. MrStormy had previously worked on other fansites but was unhappy with the information that the site provided and with how the site was run so he put together his own fansite which quickly grew into a well respected and used fansite for Runescape.

Q: What were your original goals for the site?
A: Original goals were to provide the best information possible to help players get the information they needed to be successful with the game. Originally MrStormy had no idea that the site would grow so quickly and become so large, so many changes had to take place to keep the site usable for the growing number of Runescape players that became followers of the site.

Q: Had your goals changed over time? If yes, how and why?
A: As the site grew there were many changes. MrStormy's wife (at the time, not Stormys_Amazon) helped start and run the site along with some friends/players of Runescape. She was rather strict and there were many growing pains, but as we made changes with owners and admins, those problems seemed to calm down. Many of the initial rules have been altered to make the site less strict, though we still look out for member safety and security so we limit the ability to post potentially harmful links or images to the site. We try to make sure that the younger players have a place where they can talk with friends safely and for this reason, many of the core ideals of the site (safety and security for the members and the site) will always remain at the core of RuneHQ.

Q: Was it the first web site you ever created?
A: This was one of the first sites MrStormy had created but since then there are several others. Some need some MAJOR work, but we do what we can.

Q: What technologies were used to create the site? Did you add new technologies into the mix after you created the original version?
A: The original site was basic HTML and PHP which it remains, however some other web languages are also used now. The site recently received its first ‘makeover’ and plans are to revise the look of the site on a more regular basis in the future. We are already working on totally recoding the site to clean up old code and to add more flexibility and features to future site versions.

Q: Is there a unique feature/service your site provides to Runescape players?
A: RuneHQ has many features, though, they are not really unique. We try to listen to our members and provide them the features they want (to the best of our ability) and we have been told that many users prefer our databases for looking up items, monsters, etc. over some other sites. We also have several calculators (which are being looked at for revision), a toolbar for use on Firefox (similar to the one Jagex has recently released though we had ours first J), we try to get guides out the same day as updates, and we are a Platinum level fansite for our level of association with Jagex.

Q: Which feature/service took the most time and effort to create?
A: By far revision of the site appearance itself. This is something that should have happened long ago but what can we say, MrStormy is stubborn and is not a big advocate for change. His wife, Stormys_Amazon has helped to get him to ‘see the light’ and has softened his stance on many things with the site so we hope to make some huge improvements over the next year.

Q: Which feature/service was the most complex from the programming stand point?
A: We recently updated our forums to the latest version which allowed us to move the forums to the same server(s) as the site data. This created some programming issues in trying to get the forums to sync with the multiple servers we use (there is so much traffic that we currently use 4 servers to help keep the site from lagging as much as possible). This was a big improvement for our members as it allowed all of the site information to be on essentially the same location rather than a separate web address for the forums.
We also try to avoid using programming that will cause additional lag for our users. We know that people want information and want it fast so the use of JavaScript (which many users turn off) and other similar languages are kept to a minimum so that users with slower machines are not forced to wait for long periods of time for the site to load. We realize we still have some issues, but we try to work out the bugs as quickly as possible. We welcome feedback on our site and will consider any ideas or suggestions that might help improve the site experience for our users.

Q: Is there a feature/service of the site you are most proud of?
A: We like the new design of the site. We think it is cleaner and less cluttered (which was a complaint for many years from our members) – though now that we have changed it, many users state they preferred the old look – go figure J

Q: Did you start the site alone or with friends?
A: The original site was started by MrStormy and his future wife along with Dravan who MrStormy had worked with on another fansite. They then brought in Apuredelite and Roklykthat who also became owners of the site. There are still many members on the site who have been with RuneHQ since the beginning.

Q: Are you the only developers of the site's code?
A: Originally yes, but over the years several others have helped and we currently have a coding team that is headed by Lilroo503. His team works on the coding for the site itself. Im4eversmart continues to help with the site appearance and forum skins as well as the editing team headed by Alfawarlord and Knight who help keep the guides and databases up-to-date (with the help of other staff and members who gather information for the site).

Q: How much time do you normally spend supporting the site? A few hours a day? A few hours a month?
A: This varies – MrStormy is on call 24/7 but the site really requires a team to keep it running. There is a lot of work involved with a website that most people do not realize. Very simple problems can lead to major outages and this all takes time to troubleshoot. Lilroo503 and Double_D_Edd help to monitor the site so that problems can be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Q: What is the most difficult/challenging task you have to do to maintain the site?
A: Running a site that is as big as RuneHQ is a huge challenge. Dealing with outside vendors who manage the servers can lead to delays in keeping the site live. Having volunteer members who help to keep the site running is also a challenge with people in varying time zones and in various countries all create challenges to site maintenance. Communication can also be a big factor since there are so many people who are involved in the daily running of the site.

Q: How many staff members do you have? How did you find/chose them?
A: The number of staff members varies. We do not have a limit on staff we have and try to allow adequate numbers of active individuals to help with the running of the site. To become staff we have staff applications that we have all potential staff fill out. Varying information is required depending on the job they will hold. For example, people who do coding will have to provide more personal information than someone who is just going to help on the forums. We have open positions listed on the announcement area of our forums as all staff must become a member of our site (membership is free).

Q: Are there aspects of web site management you were able to completely delegate to others?
A: Much of the daily running of the site is delegated to staff but owners are available 24/7 for any problems, questions, or concerns. Most owners and staff have irl situations such as jobs, school, family obligations, etc. so we try to be as flexible as possible with everyone.

Q: Did you ever had to deal with hostility and/or attacks from other fan sites?
A: Definitely. We have had people try to hack the site, people who have hacked access to staff accounts, but all are dealt with very quickly. Staff access is removed immediately for any compromised accounts and passwords are changed frequently to help maintain a safe and secure site. There are currently posts on hacking sites offering to pay to hack into MrStormys account. We are very prudent with security and take any and all attacks on the site seriously and will prosecute if needed. We want our members to have a safe experience on the site and do our best to make sure that happens. As for hostilities with other sites, of course there are. We are rivals for the same fan base – much like competing stores seeking business. We have had rival fansites try to spoil events, try to start arguments, and various other things both in-game and on our forums. Our goal is to provide our members with a choice and while we hope that people will use RuneHQ, we do not encourage any criticism or interference with other sites or their members.

Q: Did you ever consider making money with the site or is it just a hobby?
A: The site has to make money in order to pay for the very expensive server space, but the primary goal is not to make money. RuneHQ is a business so we have to bring in income to support it but making money is not the main goal of the site.

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?
A: We were overjoyed to see that Jagex was changing their attitude regarding fansites. For so long it was just the opposite with fansites being viewed almost like the enemy. While we appreciate all of the support they currently provide, like other sites we wish they would be more open with upcoming projects, updates, etc. we understand that if something is written down that people will expect it to happen, especially if a timeline is given, but sometimes it feels like they are being a bit overly secretive. They get everyone hyped about an update or new release and then nothing… no word on how it is coming, if it is still happening, etc. fansites can be used to help Jagex spread the word about upcoming things in game and we believe that fansites could be used more to their advantage if they would involve fansites more.

Q: Do you still play Runescape? If yes, how often?
A: All of the owners have active memberships in Runescape. While not all of them are able to play as often as they would like, they do still pop-in from time to time to check on things.

Q: Are there other Runescape fan sites you personally use as a Runescape player?
A: Of course we check out other fan sites. And various members of the site prefer various aspects of other sites which are being taken into consideration for the revamping of the site. We will not copy other sites but do use them for inspiration based on input from our members/users.

Q: Do you follow/read Runescape blogs and news papers from other sites?
A: Various members of the site keep very close attention to these areas.

Q: Is there something you don't mind revealing about your RL (age, country, hobbies etc.)?
A: MrStormy is 49 and lives in the United States. He works as a consultant doing work with backup, storage and recovery of data with a major company.
Stormys_Amazon is also 49 and is working on her dissertation for her PhD in Instructional Design. Her area of study is learning via games. She also helps with other sites owned by Global Gaming HQ (the company that owns RuneHQ).
Dravan, Apuredelite, and Roklykthat also live in the United States in various locations. All have jobs they also work.

Thank you very much, MrStormy, Stormys_Amazon, Dravan, Apuredelite, and Roklykthat!

P.S. And, by the way, I love the new site design :)


Jennifer Runescape said...

I enjoyed this interview very much, I read it as soon as I woke up this morning. I think all the questions were asked and answered well and I'm looking forward to more interviews with other runescape sites.

lol its Bowser said...

The more you know, The day i signed up on rhq went down as one of my top 10 best decisions in the past 5 years :D. loved it since that day and will continue to use it even after i stop playing rs. rhq ftw ^^ -Flammo9

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