There are many sites in our community, some better known than others. The majority of these sites have one thing in common - they have dedicated webmasters and staff members who keep the site running from day to day. Many of these sites have been around for several years. Whilst we have been around since 2000, we still are comparatively young compared to the likes of CNCNZ, PlanetCNC and CNCDen. It's so easy to forget that there have been real people behind these websites for years on end. Visitors often become accustomed to, and as a result simply begin to expect, daily news updates, files, articles and more. This article discusses the various trials and tribulations that webmasters in the C&C Community face. What makes us look after our sites year after year? What are the highs and lows? Have we ever nearly quit? These are but a few of the questions that will be answered.
Initially, I will begin the piece with two interviews that I conducted with two of the best known faces in our community, Dario (Director of PlanetCNC) and Lion (Webmaster of CNCDen & RADen). Their answers, which I'm sure you will find very interesting, will form the basis for the rest of the piece.
1) How long have you been a webmaster in the community for?
Lion: I'm now going on my 8th year as a webmaster in the C&C community. I started the 'Lion's Den' way back in 1997. I had that site for about six months. But technically the first official DEN site in which I purchased a domain name for (tsden.com) was started in 1998. As to why I started the first DEN site, basically I was looking for a new hobby I could enjoy. And since I loved RTS games, and in particular Command & Conquer, I dedicated the site to covering games by Westwood Studios.
Dario: I honestly cannot remember, but I think I started visiting C&C sites sometime in 1997, immediately after getting access to the Internet. It didn't take long for me to start learning HTML and make my own Tiberian Sun site. What inspired me to do it is, of course, addiction to C&C series, but also many quality sites that were up at the time, such as Tiberian Sun Empire, Tiberian Sun World, Techno's Tiberian Sun Page (later to become Battleground: TS) and others. *sigh* I miss those good
In late 1998 I was offered to take over PlanetCNC since the guys who started it in 1997 never actually got to launch it. I launched it on June 4th, 1999, and have been running it ever since. I'd also like to use this opportunity to thank to everyone who have helped me along the way, particularly all of my past and present site co-directors (VL, Cypher and HeXetic) and staff members.
2) Roughly, how long do you spend looking after the sites and what basic duties do they entail?
Lion: I currently maintain three DEN websites on a daily basis. The times vary depending on what needs to be done. But on average I put in about 2-4 hours daily updating the sites. But I have seen eight hour days and work into the wee hours of the morning...my policy is, whatever it takes. For me, it's never felt like work because I so much enjoy what I do. As far as my duties go, I do all of the updating of all three DEN websites, which includes posting news and adding content, etc. The only thing I don't do is the day to day managing of the DEN Network Forums. I have a full (dedicated I might add) staff that helps me maintain the forums. And with over 2,500 members, it would be impossible to maintain and moderate them without help.
Dario: At least an hour a day, although this can extend for several hours when adding new content. Basic duties entail news updating, content management when needed, answering e-mail...
3) What has been the lowest point during your time as a webmaster?
Lion: I've been very fortunate as far as staff goes. I treat everyone as I would want to be treated, and it's worked for me for many years. Server problems have never been an issue, other than the times I've had to search for a new host. If I had to pick an all-time low point, it would be when EA decided to close Westwood Studios. And to be quite frank, the community never really recovered fully from that event.
Dario: I'm afraid I think this is the lowest time as a webmaster for several reasons. I'm having the most hectic year at college due to the workload that we have, so generally I don't have much free time. We've also had some major server problems a few months back, but all those issues aside, I'm concerned C&C doesn't have a bright future with so many ex-Westwood guys leaving EA. But I try to be optimistic, because EA *can* put together a good C&C title. They have all they need - now if they could only go ahead and do it!
4) Conversely, what has been your highest point?
Lion: My highest point would have to be when I toured Westwood Studios in Las Vegas and met Brett Sperry, Louis Castle (co-founders of WS), and other members of the development team for Command & Conquer games.
Dario: Uh, I'd say it was around the time we redesigned and Renegade was released. Ah, those were the days. I'm not sure how the rest of the staff feels, but I think that was the biggest turning point in the site's history. Our hit counter went sky high, we had loads of content posted on a daily basis, and Renegade was finally released after a long wait.
5) What is the inspiration for maintaining your sites, and how much has it changed from when you first started them?
Lion: My inspiration is the many emails I've receive from visitors to my DEN websites over the years thanking me for keeping my sites updated on a regular basis. And of course I sincerely do enjoy running websites and interacting with my visitors. As far as number of visitors, when I first started out way back when, on average I'd receive 20-30 daily. My three DEN sites combined now receive over 5,000 unique hits on a daily basis. Of course, the DENs have evolved much over the years. I listen to feedback from fans and try to give them what they want. I also provide them with several ways to communicate and interact with me and my websites, be it via forums, comment sections on the news, my daily blurb, and emails. And since day one I've always tried my best to provide quality content in terms of info on the games I cover, and downloads after they've been released. And if I might add, the key to the success of any website is not getting them to visit your site, but rather giving them a reason to return time and time again.
Dario: Looking back at the original PlanetCNC, I'd say the site has changed in all aspects, especially in quality of content and popularity. None of the current staff members have been here since the initial launch, but you can try asking some of our forum vets and they'll tell you. This wouldn't happen, of course, without all the great people that I've had the pleasure to work with. But let us not forget the visitors who have sent in so many articles, essays, art, files for download...
What inspires me? We've always been getting great feedback and that inspires me the most. It's a lovely feeling to know that the site has grown so much and helped so many people.
Lion and Dario both raise several important issues, which I'm sure all webmasters in the community will be able to associate with. It's interesting to note how Lion sees the closure of Westwood Studios as the lowest point in his time as a webmaster. This only goes to show what a true fan of the company and its games he is - the term fansite cannot be applied more appropriately to CNCDen and indeed his other site RADen. From my own point of view, server problems have certainly been my greatest problem as a webmaster. Perhaps this is a more selfish perspective than Lion's, although given I was only around for the last few years of Westwood's existence, it would seem logical that I wasn't quite so attached to them. However, spending hours uploading files to a new server, or indeed simply trying to find a server for them, will always be a very monotonous and boring task. Yet it has to be done. Being a webmaster isn't all glamour, you know.
I fondly remember my visit to Westwood. And the doughnuts.
Before I start sounding overly sorry for myself, I must touch on the many benefits of being a webmaster. Certainly, my visit to Westwood Studios in Las Vegas to test Yuri's Revenge in 2001 was undoubtedly my highest point as a webmaster. Meeting the people behind the games that you spend so many hours promoting and playing is a great experience, as was meeting fellow community members like Maniac. The site was also probably at the height of its popularity back then, spitting out more strategies than folks could ever hope to remember. Receiving positive feedback, particularly when I released the Ultimate Strategy Guide, was a great inspiration in continuing to strive forwards and improve the site. Seeing a site improve year after year, version after version, is a great feeling. I've learnt many skills from my time as a webmaster, allowing me to make some money through web design (Sadly, I'm some way off my first million). If somebody had told me that I'd be able to code a forum or indeed something as advanced as the Clan System but a few years ago, I would have just laughed. One must also note the people skills webmasters develop. Handling staff, other webmasters and thousands of visitors requires careful consideration and thought. Oh, and did I mention, Westwood were always good enough to send us several free copies of the latest game.
Dario raised an interesting point with his answer to the third question, mentioning how he is currently experiencing his lowest point as a webmaster. Indeed, times are worrying. Many well-known faces have left EALA, choosing to join the rapidly expanding Petroglyph. There is yet to be any official confirmation of Red Alert 3 being in production, and rumours persist of it being scrapped altogether. So what makes webmasters want to carry on updating news, content and websites for a game that might not even exist?! Hope. In the case of the better established sites in the community, I would venture that the main reason for webmasters continuing to nurture their sites is simply how far the sites have come in recent years. Letting sites with hundreds of files, articles, strategies and detailed content go to waste would indeed be a great shame. That in itself was enough inspiration for creating the newest version of this site.
Our community has many wonderful webmasters all with an array of many diverse talents. Maps, mods, strategy guides, articles - many of these have been created by the people behind our great community. Whilst our community may not be the most advanced, or the biggest, it certainly is one of the friendliest, with a wealth of information and resources to be found throughout. Being a webmaster is definitely a taxing experience - there are times when you just feel like pulling your hair out; particularly when you receive arrogant or obnoxious comments. However, like they say, it's not all bad. One email with a simple "Thank you" can be enough to make a webmaster smile and realise that their efforts are all worthwhile.
Hopefully, this article has helped to give you some idea of the sort of problems webmasters encounter on a regular basis, as well as the benefits that keep them going. Being a webmaster is a great opportunity to gain respect, friends and spread your message, whatever that may be. But it does come at a price. Time, stress, arguments - all things one would encounter when running their own business really! Yet, at the end of the day, we all know it's worthwhile. Just look at our sites.