As has been reported elsewhere, Wizards of the Coast is upgrading their forums this week. According to the stop page you get if you try to access the forums they are upgrading to “a system that includes a host of new features like friends lists, groups, an invite system and calendar, blogs and wiki.”
Gamers have a lot of choices for where to go for their online content nowadays. Gleemax found itself up against deeply entrenched community sites like EN World, not to mention the ever-growing blogging community.
So it is little surprise that Gleemax failed in its quest to become a hub for roleplayers of all stripes. What is impressive is that it failed so spectacularly that they had to knife it in the back and disavow any knowledge of its existence.
In essence, Gleemax had become their Windows Vista. Much like Windows Vista, the Gleemax name had become toxic. They realized that no matter how much they improved the service, it could never overcome the poor public perception of it. So it had to die.
Still, it would be foolish to think that Wizards of the Coast had abandoned its ambition for becoming the hub of the RPG community. Notably, Randy Buehler had the following to say about the death of Gleemax back in 2008:
"The mistake that I made, however, was in trying to push us too far too fast. I still think the vision for Gleemax is awesome: creating a place on the web where hobby gamers (or lifestyle gamers or thinking gamers, or whatever you want to call us) can gather to talk about games, play games, and find people to play games with. But I've come to realize that the vision was too ambitious. We've made progress down about ten different paths over the past eighteen months, but we haven't been able to reach the end of any of them yet."
I think this is why the upgrade to the forums has been so low key. If you look at what they are adding, the feature list is impressive. Friend Lists, Blogs, Calendars, and Wikis? It sounds more like a RPG social networking site than a mere forum. More importantly it seems very close to the vision of Gleemax that Randy Buehler is describing above.
So we are seeing the birth of the “Son of Gleemax”. It is obvious that Wizards of the Coast has learned their lesson and is trying to under-promise and over-deliver this time around. They are hoping that by creating a feature-rich user community first and worrying about branding and advertizing later, that gamers will begin to flock there naturally.
I wish them the best of luck. As I have stated before, Wizards of the Coast has historically never done a great job in creating digital products (E-Tools anyone?). They also horribly mishandled the launch of DDI.
They are getting better though. The Character Builder and (beta) Monster Builder are surprisingly usable. I also have to admit that the feature set of the new “forums” they are creating sound interesting.
So who knows, perhaps Gleemax will get his final revenge from beyond the grave? I suppose that is appropriate for an alien brain in a jar.