The active size of the Angband community, excluding the top 3 variants, is approximately 100 members. I base this number on the number of active members of the angband.oook.cz forums, which is a conservative figure but not unrealistic. Looking at the Angband variants with the most active forums: it appears Furyband is maybe four times larger, Portralis probably a third smaller, and Tales of Middle Earth possibly twice the size. I'm having to guess here based on the number of simultaneous users online for those forum stats - it would be good to know a break down of active users vs. people who haven't logged onto the forums in the last three months.
So perhaps a total community size of 500 users all up, which is undoubtedly an over-estimate. I'd like to know how many people who download Angband who don't 'contribute' further by joining one of these online web forums. Given my experience with Unangband, it's probably a 10:1 to 50:1 ratio. Berlios, who host Unangband, make the download stats available for each Unangband release, which you can have a look at.
You may well have objections to the way I'm restricting 'community' to those people I can count. Well, I could well have been harsher, and just restricted it to the number of people who post to the forums, or Angband ladder, or newsgroups. This would be a more laborious process, but it would give me numbers that would be a lot smaller. And a closer sense of what I'm trying to define community as.
Why am I discussing this? Well, for one, there has been a mini-furor on the Angband Usenet group rec.games.roguelike.angband about the utility of web forums vs. Usenet. I have little time for this sort of discussion. Firstly, Usenet is a great resource, but one that is increasingly become restricted from general access, mostly by ISPs who are not offering nntp as a service anymore. It's also not the first port of call of Internet users anymore, like it was in the days that I attended university (And my dad was running the Commodore 64 BBS for the Auckland C=64 club and excited about getting Fidonet feeds in).
I don't buy most of the arguments for just using the newsgroup because the Internet has always been heterogeneous. I've cut back on a lot of the links I listed on this blog, but if you look to the right and scroll down a little, you'll see the number of Angband related links that I feel confident will allow me to capture any discussion about Unangband. Then I still have to subscribe to Technorati. Then I still have to check which traffic is coming to this blog and the Unangband home page on Google Analytics, and notice that one of my main traffic sources du jour happens to have the blog link in a very light grey against a white background and still manages to redirect more traffic to me than sites that have featured this blog relatively prominently. And then I still search Google for Unangband every month, just to see if anything else has come up.
Secondly, it's because I get frustrated by seeing amateur software developers like myself making despondent posts about whether or not it is worth spending the time trying to develop code, or whether they should continue working on an idea that they had. I'm no stranger to this feeling, and I'm fortunate enough to have been rolled a really good hand in life and have a loving wife who actually understands my need to sit down and write code for six hours at a time.
I'll put this in black and white. If you enjoy playing roguelikes, or any other games that are put together by people who are not employed full time by the game industry, you have the power to transform their lives.
- Give the author feedback on their blog or on web forums or email or whatever means of communicating with them that you have.
- Contribute what you can back in the form of being an active community member. Help out others, write reviews of the game, set up your own blog and link to the game.
- Become an advocate for the game. Pester game reviewers that you know or like, link to the game on related forums, submit articles about the game to Slashdot, Digg it, Reddit.
- Be a hedgehog about it. Don't just promote the game once, but keep doing it.
So why do this? It's simple really. The more feedback an amateur software developer gets, the better they feel about the game, and the more they'll code. Positive feedback helps, but even constructive criticism is good.
I challenge you to pick a game, any game that you like that you feel is unappreciated, go out and become an advocate for it for a week. Write a review and submit it to Play This Thing. If you can't do that, at least post five times to the forums of five separate games within a week. Be more than a passive reader. Get a Digg account, search for roguelikes and digg every article you find. File some bug reports, using whatever bug reporting tool the game has. I love to get bug reports, even though I reserve the right to ignore fixing them (I'll write more on this another time).
If you do that, I guarantee that you'll get more game written in return for a fraction of your total time invested. Not only that, but you create a small chance that something magical will happen. If enough people start to love the game that you love, there is the distinct possibility that the software developer will be able to make the biggest transition of all, to working on their game full-time. Few will achieve it, but I think most dream of being able to do so.
Think about it. Through spending a little of your time, you could end up with a professionally written version of the game that you love. But you've got to make it worth the investment. And becoming part of the community, or better yet, an advocate for the community, is the best way to start making this happen.