It might be time to address the way we're going about outreach efforts. I would post this on Slack, but it'll probably become too big and complicated a discussion to have there, in addition to reasons I'll touch on in a moment.
For the first time we actually have a game that looks good. The mechanics in 0.3.0 aren't that different to 0.2.4, but they're packaged a lot more attractively which pays when marketing the game. Gameplay is the next major thing on the agenda, which should make it even better at not seeming like vapourware.
In the last month our biggest traffic spikes have come from here:
Neither of these were posted by developers, although the former saw @Moopli step in to clear up confusion and make a better impression. In the past, we've focused on posting to game development forums in the hope of attracting developers as opposed to fans, but it hasn't really paid off. This is mostly because these places are too small for many to notice, even if we post to a lot of them. Obviously I still think we should be doing that as there'll be a higher proportion of developers there than elsewhere, but there are other options.
Anyone want to guess where, excluding Reddit and search engines, most of the website's traffic has arrived from? It's actually here. Over 4000 people have clicked through to our website from that page in the last year, even though we were added to it long ago and it wasn't any of us who did so.
There's a pattern emerging here - so far the most successful outreach efforts have been out of our control and (regrettably) focus on the game's similarity to Spore. I'm not saying we should return to marketing ourselves as Spore 2.0, because the game most certainly isn't Spore 2.0 at this point.
Instead, I think we should be a little more involved in the word of mouth approach. Even the massive traffic spike we had back in 2013 (which quite possibly saved the game's entire existence) was the result of a fan spreading word about us. And it wasn't even targeted directly at developers, yet we found a few (Nimbal, for instance, who was essential in the months of progress afterwards). Now, clearly, we don't just want to let them go off the rails (sorry to any fans reading, but some of you do have a habit of unintentionally presenting us poorly). Just take a look at what's happened in the past, even with good intentions. There are just as many, if not more, effective Thrive advertisements from excited fans (and we thank you all for it), but a lot of the time those interested haven't found proper answers to their questions until a dev has stepped in.
Back in the summer, we had a collectively drafted formal advertisement so we could post something we felt presented us as positively as possible. Most of the information's out of date so it's no longer useful, but I think we should do something similar again, even allowing others to post it on our behalf to places we haven't gone to before (though we'll have to trust them to keep within the rules and guidelines of wherever they post it, because we do not want it to seem like spam). If we supply it with instructions to visit us directly for any questions, it should help against some of the problems of people not getting answers. Many people seem to be relatively inactive over the Christmas period (including myself), but come January or whenever I propose we restart the outreach efforts with this in mind. Who knows, with @hhyyrylainen's progress on fixing Thrive on Linux we might even have 0.3.1 out by then.
I'll try writing up a new ad when I get some time, but for now use this thread to suggest anything you think should be in it, or if you want tell me I'm barking up completely the wrong tree with all of this.
Another thing we need to address is our social media presence. We regularly have people who follow us on Facebook, YouTube etc. exclaim something along the lines of, 'Wow I thought you were dead!' whenever we put something new up. Clearly we're not dead here, but anyone looking purely at our social media feeds would be hard-pressed to believe otherwise.
Though with 0.3.0 recently most of them won't suffer for at least another month or two even with complete inactivity, our Facebook feed is dead mostly because we have no one to oversee it. At the moment ~sciocont and @WJacobC are the only two with access to it, and while both of them contributed greatly to it in the past, nowadays neither are around regularly enough for our needs (not blaming them or anything, we just need to work out a solution). @stealthstylel is apparently still interested in moderating it, and we have everything set up for that providing @WJacobC returns again (I should be able to find him again for that to happen). We should post the most recent Devblog there ASAP (it's already nearly three weeks late), along with being a bit more active there in general. Over 1600 people follow us there, and quite a significant portion nowhere else, so to neglect it would in my opinion be a mistake.
As for what to post there, maybe just intermediate small updates whenever something happens in development? If there's a particularly active forum topic, or a new feature added to the codebase, it could be publicised real-time rather than waiting until the month or whatever is over and another Devblog is released. Plus, there are still people who ask a ton of questions on the Facebook page, and hardly ever do they get answered. Whether they're relevant questions or not, ignoring them makes us look either apathetic or inactive.
The next thing to address has been on my mind a while. I'm tentative to post it because it feels too bossy (but this post is basically just telling everyone what to do anyway so I apologise for all of it).
It actually hasn't been too bad recently, but I'm still concerned about how we're using this forum vs how we're using Slack. A lot of the GUI discussion, for instance, had to be copied over from a Slack convo, and on occasion we still slip into using it for long detailed posts when really it isn't the best suited, just for the sake of convenience. Don't get me wrong, I like Slack and I think it's good that we're using it, but we have been a bit over-reliant on it while neglecting public discussion.
For an open-source team, it's vital that we present ourselves as inviting to newcomers. Hence why I'm including this rant with the marketing one. If someone comes along and sees the dev forum inactive, even if we're all busy talking in private, it won't be very encouraging. Programming especially has (until recently) been non-existent on these forums, and I understand why. It's useful to talk to new programmers in real-time to fix problems with compiling, etc. so naturally all programming discussion has tended towards there, even if the same problem's had to be solved multiple times when the first discussion has been lost.
Slack conversations also get lost. We went over our 10,000 message limit ages ago, so everything we've talked about in the past is vulnerable to deletion. And even if it's still around, who's going to go trawling through 10,000 messages to find it?
There are some things we have to do in private, of course. Review applications is the obvious one, and we've also had highly-speculative conversations on accepting donations recently which wouldn't work so well if we knew everyone could see what we were saying. That's why Slack is useful.
I find it difficult talking about this because it feels like I'm telling people to completely change the way they go about things without taking their opinions, so I won't suggest anything concrete without some discussion below. I'll just make my position clear that I think we should be moving as many in-depth conversations as possible to here. As a rule of thumb, unless it's something which needs to be privately discussed, if you need to create a wall of text to get your point across it might be better putting it here.
On that note, apologies for the wall of text and talking about three things simultaneously. That wasn't my intention, that's just the way it ended up.