I’ve noticed a shift away from web forums and towards Google+ Communities for many OSR games and projects. While it’s certainly not a bad thing to get a community of interested folks together to discuss what they love, I wonder if this shift is splitting the greater old-school gaming community. There are some who don’t have and won’t create G+ accounts, I myself was reluctant to create an account, Google’s “real name” policy rubbed me the wrong way. If I want to be pseudo-anonymous, then I should be able to do so. From a practical sense, this policy was totally counter to the notion that people have different personas (personal, professional, gaming, etc.) and might not want them to become entangled (note: Google has since dropped the real-name requirement for G+). The ‘Circles’ concept is really kind of clunky when combined with G+ communities – you can’t post to a circle and a community at the same time, for example, or to multiple communities at once. And Google pages (what I ended up using to create my gaming persona) are really meant for businesses, so they are in some ways second-class citizens. For example, using the mobile G+ client, it is impossible to start a hangout using a google page identity. You can join a hangout, but not create one as you can using your ‘primary’ identity. There are also no separate features for Google pages – no Google drive, for example. If you want two, distinct Google document repositories, you need separate Google accounts.
So back to communities. I find them inferior to web-based forums in several areas. One big one is search. G+ community search is terrible – you get a plain text box for entering search terms and just two choices for filtering results – ‘most recent’ or ‘best of’. That makes search pretty useless, no searching post titles, or comment bodies, or showing all results, or results from a particular sub-community – all of which are common features in web-based forum searches. It makes the discussions seem ephemeral – once it goes off of the front page, most people will never scroll down to see it. This saddens me – I like browsing old forum threads for topics that pique my interest, many going back years on places like Dragonsfoot, Goblinoid Games or the ODD74 forums.
Second, the conversation format. Trying to follow a conversation on a post is difficult where there are lots of replies and especially where some are longer than a few lines – you have to select to expand those comments. You can post a link as a primary post, but forget about posting multiple links, or embedding them in comments, or quoting that reply that is 20 comments up the chain…it can’t be done, at least easily. You can always cut/paste, or manually type links or invent a quote format, but there is no built-in support for this as there is in forums. The commonly accepted format of replying to a previous comment by referencing the poster’s G+ name is not very helpful as far as seeing which comment you are replying to. All of G+ is very clearly based around mobile devices and one-off posts where you ask a quick question, show off a blog post, or picture, or some other bit of multimedia, and don’t really expect in-depth conversation. A short comment or +1, but nothing beyond that.
Now to be sure there are benefits to G+ Communities – they do make it easy to quickly share ideas, documents and point to blog posts. They pretty much eliminate spam (although you do still see the occasional blatant advertisement and kickstarter plug slip through, these are not too bad if they are topical). They make it easy to schedule hangout games, if that is what you are using. If you are a web forum administrator, managing a G+ community is easier, just due to the simplified interface. I have heard the supposition that people are better behaved on G+, but people can be jerks everywhere and I don’t think even the real-name policy stopped this.
A decent case study is the Swords & Wizardry forum – this has been ‘dead’ for some time, just about the time the S&W G+ community was formed. I can’t help but feel that lots of great ideas and conversation have been lost or just never posted at all, simply due to the ephemeral nature of the G+ community format or someone not wanting to join G+. It was about that time (in late 2012) I was getting into play-by-post (PbP) gaming, and while S&W was my game of choice, I went over to the Labyrinth Lord forums to play, simply because they were much more active (and still are). In fact, I don’t see many Swords & Wizardry PbP games at all on other forums, I think in part due to the nature of G+. While there is a large S&W community on G+, the format itself is not a good fit for PbP games. So maybe G+ attracts gamers who are already in face-to-face or hangout groups, leaving the PbP gamers to fend for themselves.
I’d be interested to hear from those who post to G+ or to forums exclusively, or to both. I post to both, but usually only for blog posts. Otherwise I just join in on conversations on forums.