Improbable Island Message of the Day (MoTD)

General update, health and workflow, finances, advertising, broader ecosystem
Staff2020-07-13 19:12:44 [Permalink]
Hi folks, it's been a couple of weeks since the last MotD and I've been working on general bugfixes and the stuff outside of the Island but tangential to it. I don't often talk about these tangential things but I thought I'd do so a little bit today because, like all websites, the Island exists as a part of a broader internet, which is a thing made of people, and those people have human needs and work inside of human systems and even the Island is not an Island.

Let's do the Island-specific stuff first. Jill & The Jokers Part 7 went online a couple of weeks ago, and people seemed to dig it. I also changed the way that player stats are displayed across the top of the page in Horizontal skins, in such a way that they can reflow more easily to fit the content. If your stats have looked weird, clearing your cache should fix that problem. I've also been working on some tools to make things easier for our beloved moderators, which will help them to spot creepy stuff before enough people get weirded out to make a report about it.

Over the past two weeks I've knocked about a hundred bugs off our petitions list. Most of them were pretty minor, quality-of-life stuff.

Oh, we had a scandalous bug last week. There are a couple other sites sharing space on the Island's dedicated server - little mini-sites that take up less than a megabyte of space and practically no CPU usage or bandwidth. If someone asks me for a web hosting recommendation, I'll just say "Eh, chuck it up on my server, there's room. I'm paying like $200 a month for a dedicated server, might as well use it." So my good friend who we shall refer to through the fake name Phoenix Baker, who you might remember my telling you about in previous MotD's, has a shiny new website sharing space with the Island. Upon going live I managed to screw up the Apache config so badly that for a couple of minutes Improbable Island visitors were being greeted with Phoenix's website, which would be less of a problem if Phoenix weren't an erotica writer. To those who were greeted with a page prominently advertising "Foxbutt," Phoenix Baker's upcoming experimental furry erotica ebook, I can only apologize and hope for Phoenix's sake that you're into that. I helped Phoenix out with the site, and managed to get it to load in under a second on most browsers, so if you're not at work feel free to check it out. It's thoroughly NSFW.

Another website housed on Improbable Island's servers is Rook Trader, and this is actually one of mine. This is a game I wrote based on the Rook Trader minigame on Improbable Island, recognising that it had enough potential that I could expand it into its own game. The idea for Rook Trader was that it would be an advertising-supported game whose profits would somewhat offset Improbable Island's advertising budget. Back when I made it, Improbable Island used Project Wonderful as an advertising network, mostly advertising on webcomics - Rook Trader would have Project Wonderful's banner ads on it, and the money that Rook Trader brought in would go back into promoting Improbable Island. Project Wonderful closed its doors in 2018, and it wasn't until late last year that a semi-viable alternative came about in the form of comicad.net. I suddenly remembered Rook Trader and its purpose last week, and I've been working on making a mobile-friendly version that should be ready to go this month.

Speaking of adverts, it's time for an update on the getting-new-players situation. Comicad.net is still in its infancy, and not very many webcomics are signed up yet. I used to be able to spend fifty bucks a day on Project Wonderful and get a hundred interested players every single day, but even if I place an ad across every single webcomic in Comicad's system, it takes me a month to spend a hundred bucks. So our influx of new players slowed to a trickle between 2018 and 2019. It's starting to pick back up again as comicad.net becomes more popular, but we could still use your help. Please tell your friends about Improbable Island, post links on social media, tell people what it is about the game that keeps you coming back.

If you're a webcomic reader, you can also help by telling your favourite webcomic authors about comicad.net. I place a bid on every site that doesn't have a minimum bid. Some of those sites only get a couple of hits a week, but I still place a penny-a-day ad on those sites anyway. I do this because I believe that if you've put effort into a webcomic and summoned the will to put it online, then you deserve to be paid something for it, even if it's only pennies. I've been in the position of starting a new website, many many times, and I remember very well that there's an enormous emotional difference between your work earning nothing and your work earning something, even if it's a penny a day. So, part of our advertising budget is, I suppose, semi-philanthropic. We want to tell new webcomic artists who might be struggling to build an audience "Hey, keep your chin up, it's worth something." There's also the narrow chance that we might advertise on a site for three months and spend a buck on it and then one day gain a single player from it who'll spend a tenner on a Monthly Memento. So if you know someone who's making a webcomic, please tell them that, even if it might not be very much, I've got money waiting for them.

There are, obviously, other ways to advertise - unfortunately the modern internet seems to be obsessed with the idea of "targeted" advertising. Most adverts you see online these days are these targeted adverts - massive surveillance companies like Google and Facebook spend an enormous amount of time and energy spying on you in every way they know how, all so they can show you an ad for a set of marshmallow toasting forks you bought last week. These targeted ads from companies like Google or Facebook are pretty much the exact opposite of how we want to gain players, for several reasons. First, obviously, this shit is creepy as hell. Second, back when we used Project Wonderful for advertising, we mostly advertised on webcomics, and people would often tell me that mine was the only banner ad they'd ever clicked, and finding this place and falling in love with it was a wonderful moment of serendipity for them. If you only advertise to people who you already know will like your thing, how are people supposed to find new things to like? Targeted advertising works especially badly for extremely niche things like this game - there really aren't very many people out there who like text adventures, but there are lots of people who do not yet know that they like text adventures. Those are the people we want to find, and the best way to find them isn't by making guesses at who they are based on their search history, but by hurling ads out into the cosmos at random and trusting that they get lucky every now and then.

Outside of the internet and into the real world, Improbable Island HQ is in my attic these days. It was in a ground floor room until 2016, and then it became Nerv's room and I moved all my stuff upstairs. The west-facing portion of the attic is uninsulated and gets baked in the sun, so lately it's been pretty intolerable after about 2pm, so that's pretty much when work stops - it's been creeping over 40 celsius, and one monitor has already fallen victim. I'm trying to save up some money to buy some rolls of insulation and try to improve the situation so that I can spend a bit more time working on the Island, but as I'm sure you're aware, nobody's got any money lately because everything's shut down due to COVID-19.

We've been trying to keep our chins up here at Improbable HQ, but given that we're now on the crappy-and-expensive health insurance, we've also been taking no chances. I've had a couple of socially-distanced, masked-up backyard hangouts, but I haven't had anyone in my house, or been to anyone else's house, since March. Grocery-wise, we're getting everything delivered. We're in the USA, which has spectacularly shat the bed and basically surrendered to the virus. We've managed to avoid picking up the 'rona but our mental and emotional health is not good. Nerv will be four at the end of the month and birthdays in the pandemic aren't as special as I'd like them to be. Back at the start of the pandemic, it almost felt good, that I'd have three months or so to really concentrate on the Island while we collectively starved the virus of new homes to infect - now the outlook is different, and it's difficult to concentrate moment-to-moment on the more complex code and moderation. I'm not doing okay, I don't think anybody is, so please forgive me if new game features are a little simpler than my more traditionally ambitious systems.

I'm sure we'll get through it. The Island has been online twelve years, which is a LONG time in internet time, and we've survived a lot. I just wanted to let you all know how the Island ties into the broader internet and into people's real lives.

Next time, I'll have a meatier update for you, along with a poll on what you think I should work on next.

As usual, throughout this pandemic, if you normally donate every month to get the Monthly Memento but you're short of cash this month because of covid-related embuggerances, please let me know via Distraction and I'll sort you out with the memento for free.

Have fun,

~CMJ
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