Saturday, January 8, 2011

Interviews with Stellar Dawn Fan Sites: Stellar Dawn Central

Today's interview is with Ren, founder and co-owner of Stellar Dawn Central. Stellar Dawn Central has the largest Stellar Dawn community and currently is the only Stellar Dawn fan site officially recognized by Jagex.
There is more to it, though. Stellar Dawn Central is one of the few sites where various Jagex related news are discussed (it is my "go to" place for this kind of information) and, of course, it is the place where Ren publishes his awesome reports (RuneScoop and users should be familiar with them). BTW, the latest report about Jagex's finances in 2009-2010 just appeared, check it out here.
And now the interview. Enjoy!

Q: How would you describe your site in a few words?
A: Stellar Dawn Central (formerly MechScape World) is the first Stellar Dawn / MechScape fansite. We have an amazing community and cover all things Jagex.

Q: Can you tell us about major milestones of your site? A little bit of a history?
A: We launched the website on the 23rd of October 2007 and the forums on the 10th of November 2007 back when Jagex saw fansites as a threat and wouldn’t even confirm that MechScape existed. However, things quickly changed when Mark Gerhard became CEO and I got a phone call from Jagex on the 13th of February 2009 which featured various Jagex staff including Gerhard himself. I’d been up all night doing coursework and was pretty nervous so probably wasn’t on my best form but it was really great to chat with them about how Jagex wanted to work with fansites.
On the 16th of February 2009 Jagex sent us the first official concept art for the game ever released and later that day we suddenly got a huge spike in traffic. We managed to get 3,000 unique hits and had 347 people using the forum in a 20 minute period and were blown away by this level of attention. At first we feared the site might be under attack, but I asked one of the people who had just signed up to the forum and they told me that they had heard about our site from a tweet by Jagex (the first time Jagex had promoted a fansite through Twitter). After that we became the first fansite in years which Jagex would allow to be discussed on the RuneScape Official forum and on the 13th of May 2009 we became the first MS/SD recognised fansite. PoultryChamp managed to get Jagex’s first face-to-face interview with a fansite on the 24th of March 2009.
We achieved 40,000 posts on the 16th of January 2009; 50,000 on the 23rd of February 2009 and 100,000 on the 18th of July 2009 and are currently approaching 300,000 posts. On the 28th of April 2009 we achieved 8,000 registered members and now the figure is up to over 12,000 (including several Jagex employees who post from time to time). However, the community’s history is perhaps better defined more in terms of the various changes in management such as PoultryChamp joining me to run the site and the various competitions and in-forum events we have had such as the Art Contest, the Pliigi Invasion, the Easter Egg Hunt and the Not-so-Cold War.
Of course one can’t talk about milestones without mentioning the cancellation of MechScape and its rebirth as Stellar Dawn which was announced first on our forums by Mark Gerhard himself on our birthday, the 23rd of October 2009. This led us to change our name from MechScape World to Stellar Dawn Central on the 22nd of July 2010. The change took a while because we didn’t want to change the name before there was Stellar Dawn related content and we wanted to co-ordinate it with an update to our forums. Furthermore we wanted to go for the right name so we spent a long time consulting the community and evaluating the various possibilities to help ensure that our new title would be fit for the future whilst respecting our past.

Q: What inspired you to start a Stellar Dawn fan site?
A: I was inspired to create a MechScape fansite because at the time there weren’t any fansites, I was excited about the game and had research about it I wanted to share. I’ve always been a big fan of the sci-fi genre and have been following Jagex since when I started playing RuneScape in February 2001. As a programmer I have always respected and been interested in Jagex as a company so was really stoked to discover that they were working on a second major MMORPG.

Q: What were your original goals for the site?
A: The original short-term goal was to share my research and convince people that MechScape was real because at the time Jagex hadn’t publicly announced it and many doubted that they were working on a sci-fi MMORPG. I also wanted to establish the site as the premier MechScape fansite, build up a community and ultimately when the game was released to have all the usual fansite offerings such as guides and tools.

Q: Had your goals changed over time? If yes, how and why?
A: The focus changed from MechScape to Stellar Dawn and I no longer have to work hard convincing people that the game exists, especially now that Jagex have launched My current goal is to maintain our position as the #1 Stellar Dawn fansite, keep up with my research and analysis and prepare for the launch of the Stellar Dawn beta (sign up at here)

Q: Was it the first web site you ever created?
A: No, the first website I created was a silly Geocities site which I created in NetScape Composer back in 1997. I’ve created various sites since, but Stellar Dawn Central is my most successful endeavor (thanks of course to the contributions of many people). The website theme was designed by PoultryChamp who has been doing this sort of thing for years.

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 MechScape Central site was hosted on Google Pages so didn't really use any technology. We soon moved to a proper web host and use PHP, MySQL and CSS. Our forums run on IP.Board which I really like, and we've fairly recently upgraded to IPB 3.1 which has more functionality.

Q: Is there a unique feature/service your site provides to Runescape/Stellar Dawn players?
A: Our forum is unique in its blend of an awesome community and a fairly liberal approach to what people can post (so long as it’s suitable for 13+ and isn’t spam, flaming, RWT, etc). We are usually the first to discover new information about Stellar Dawn and are one of the few sites who also focus on news and analysis relating to Jagex as a company. For now we're also the only recognised fansite for Stellar Dawn and have Platinum status, which has meant that Jagex employees post on our forums from time to time and give us exclusives. Oh, and we’re the only fansite with space pie!

Q: Is there a feature/service of the site you are most proud of?
A: I’m most proud of our community. Most people find the site due to MechScape / Stellar Dawn and many are still eagerly awaiting the SD’s release, but considering it’s been three years without a beta the reason people have stayed active is primarily because they enjoy being part of the community.

Q: Did you start the site alone or with friends?
A: I started MechScape Central on my own but MechScape World / Stellar Dawn Central has always been a joint project. At the moment I’m running the site with PoultryChamp (Laura) and she’s in charge of paying the bills and ensuring the website doesn’t go down while I focus more on research and content.

Q: How much time do you normally spend supporting the site? A few hours a day? A few hours a month?
A: Stellar Dawn isn’t out yet so there aren’t the usual activities such as managing guide submissions yet, but I do spend hours a day on the forums and am always keeping an eye out for relevant Stellar Dawn or Jagex related news. Most of my time on the forums is taking part in discussions but I always keep an eye out for potential mod / admin work which needs to get done. Two recent time-consuming projects were the changeover and rebrand from to and the upgrade to the latest version of IP.Board, but PoultryChamp and Max did a lot of the work on the forum upgrade.
Being first for Jagex and Stellar Dawn related news is a time-consuming endeavor as you always have to be on the lookout. Fortunately I don't have to do all the research myself any more as others such as Pliigi do a great job at finding things and posting them to the website. When the game is released we'll be needing our staff to work really hard, but we'll also be depending on submissions from our community.

Q: How many staff members do you have? How did you find/chose them?
A: We have 5 administrators and 6 moderators who pitch in and do plenty of other things that need to be done as well as 7 other members of staff. When the beta is out we’ll need more staff but there’s not that much for people to do at the moment. For the general staff positions we had a formal application process but for the mods/admins we offered people who we knew would be good at the job the position, usually people who had been long-term users of the forum who had proved that they had sound judgment and were active members of the community.

Q: Did you ever have to deal with hostility and/or attacks from other fan sites?
A: We've had sites steal our content which we’ve had to deal with as diplomatically as we can. However, we’ve also had many positive experiences such as the multi-fansite event a couple of months ago.

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: I think that it’s great that Jagex have a fan site support programme and that it's certainly not something which ever would have happened back when Iddison was CEO. However, there are plenty of opportunities for the program to be improved. There should be more APIs to allow easy access to relevant data and for Stellar Dawn there should be more fansites supported and more support for those fansites. Hopefully as Stellar Dawn approaches release Jagex will be more willing to share information and concept art with fansites and take part in interviews.

Q: Are there any Runescape fan sites you personally use?
A: I’m sure there are lots of great RuneScape fansites out there but as I’m more focused on Stellar Dawn I don’t spend that much time on my account “me” playing RuneScape these days. However, I’ve been visiting Rune Tips ( since early 2001 and it has always served me well.

Q: Do you follow/read Runescape blogs and news papers from other sites?
A: The only RuneScape blog I follow is the RuneScape Reader’s Digest which I visit all the time. If I hear about an interesting editorial I’ll check it our but I don’t regularly read RS newspapers.

Q: Is there something you don't mind revealing about your RL (age, country, hobbies etc.)?
A: I am a British guy in my mid-20’s who has BSc in Computing, does volunteer work for environmental causes and works as a self-employed techie. I am a big fan of the authors Sir Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin. I enjoy watching Anime, Sci-fi, House and The Daily Show. Oh, and if the rumours are true I'm actually a robot badger from the future.

Thank you very much, Ren!


Anonymous said...

Good luck with the site, but this interview seems totally pointless; what has stellar dawn have to do with runescape? It's like having an interview with a World of warcraft fansite; it's nice to see but its random and not related to runescape

Alex said...

Stellar Dawn is being made by Jagex. A lot of the tech is shared between the two (as far as we know) and some of those RS updates you see are due to things developed for SD.

And of course, when it comes out, there's bound to be some migration. It's related. (Hell, as it is, we're more of a general Jagex community anyway)

Vaskor said...

I agree with Alex. At this moment Runescape and Stellar Dawn communities are the same.

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