I’m continually amazed at the ripple effects that can occur as a result of a snap decision. After selling a bunch of my old video game stuff on Craigslist when I moved from a house to a studio apartment, I was struck by the enormous amount of replies each ad got. Having been a retro video game fan since the games were new, the idea of helping to organize these folks in a way that puts us all together in a functional manner was appealing. Knowing I could never do it alone, I put up another Craigslist ad…
We made a Facebook group, bought a domain name, and had our first meet-up. Several of those founding members are still active in organizing group functions and online content to this very day!
As meet-up attendance began to grow from month-to-month and members had begun driving longer and longer distances to attend, the group made a leap from a city-wide structure to a state-wide one. We were then able to network with the ladies and gentlemen of our hobby all over Oklahoma, which made acquiring games for our collections, meeting friends with similar interests, and in some cases igniting romances possible with people all over the state. And then it kept growing. Texas grew so fast that it out-paced Oklahoma. Kansas is on a steady incline as well.
The RGS has many members that do not use Facebook (some due to privacy concerns, others due to simply not caring about Facebook). Despite not having exact numbers on the amount of people who consider themselves members of the RGS, we do have a couple of metrics to get an idea of our group’s reach.
Naturally, Facebook groups help. By the end of the summer, we are on pace to top 1000 group members collectively on our Facebook groups. But what does this mean, exactly? There are two types of Facebook social networking functions for groups like ours. One is “Pages”, which we do have. You can “like” a page and get updates from it, and post to a section of it. It is not user friendly from the information consumer side, though. Participation is very limited. Many people will like a page just to get it in their profile (for example, “Rosco Raccoon likes Contra”). Groups work differently, though – they are active hubs of information exchange similar to forums, and to a lesser extent, chat rooms. I look at it this way:
Pages = like it and walk away
Groups = active participants
The amount of Facebook active participation for the RGS is enormous and growing – with trades, discussions, and photos flowing forth on a regular basis. It’s just the thing we were hoping for when the group first started.
The other metric we can use to gauge reach is our website. We re-launched it in March with a complete overhaul and a fresh WordPress back-end. Since that time we’ve had 80,000+ hits on the site. A full 22% of that lands on the homepage, with the rest being split primarily between the videos, individual articles, and Exchange. As our content stream grows, we may eventually outgrow WordPress – or at least its ability to sort content in its default settings. We are actively seeking volunteer web developers who can help us continue to mold the site into something that works well for our members and focuses on usability and stability.
We’ve heard interest from a few other states on getting RGS operations up and running there. Good news! We’re now scouting for RGS coordinators to help expand to new areas and continue to grow this retro gamer network and maximize the utility of our members.
Yes, utility – I’m talking about our burgeoning Outreach operations! Since the RGS began helping out in our local communities, we’ve built a home with Habitat for Humanity, adopted a street, bagged food at the Food Bank, set up Wii Sports for a morning at a retirement center, and hosted a game-a-thon to benefit Hotdogs for the Homeless in Oklahoma (our 2nd Annual HftH Game-a-thon will be held this coming Labor Day weekend). Outreach is a fantastic way to give back to our communities and spend some time with our fellow RGS members outside of the meet-up “party” atmosphere. It’s one of the features of this group that really sets us apart from other enthusiast sites (that mostly exist online). The difference the RGS makes in our communities really makes me proud of the giving spirit of all of our members.
Then there are the meet-ups – where we are averaging around 20 attendees at each. In the early days it would be maybe three of us. At our largest gatherings we can top 30+. The meet-ups have always been the “gateway drug” to RGS membership. Indeed, many people will come for the free pizza and end up becoming an active member in trading, discussion, and Outreach. The meet-ups will always be free, also – that is something that will never change (except for meet-ups at restaurants, obviously). When an RGS member opens his or her home to members for a night of fun and trade haggling, the food will always be paid-for courtesy of the RGS floating budget (or personal funds of the RGS staff). It’s a standard we have held since the group began – meet-ups should be open for everyone, even if they’re only there for the free meal.
To that end, we have considered the option of sponsorships of the RGS to cover cost of pizza and soda for our meet-ups. This group will never be a “moneymaker” in the traditional sense, for two reasons: (1) that’s not the model that RGS members have built and (2) that was never the intent anyways. Sponsorship deals are tricky, though – some might not want any negative press about their business posted to RGS groups, or others might want to spam links to their products on our website. There are potential problems. What the RGS staff can promise, though, is this: we will never stifle respectful speech about a company or a product, no matter the content, for any reason. This includes instances where that constructive criticism is about a (potential) sponsor. The extent to which RGS Bylaws limit speech in “Community” posts is only about courtesy – and nothing more. Some have accused RGS Community moderators of censoring “free speech” in the past in pursuit of sponsorships – but that has never been the case. We are open to sponsorships, yes, but enforcement of the Bylaws and pursuit of cost coverage are not mutually exclusive. Our intent in enforcing the Bylaws is to keep the community clean – which is welcoming not only to potential group sponsors, but to potential group members as well. [note: if you’re interested in a sponsorship, just shoot me an email]
That said, the big avenue of cost coverage on the RGS horizon is our March 2014 convention, SUPER! BitCon. Profit potential on this venture should make the RGS solvent for a year’s worth of meet-ups for all groups plus down-payments for SUPER! Bitcon 2015. With the help of RGS volunteers to make S!BC a success, we can effectively fund our entire group function with a single event held annually. Sponsorships to cover our meet-up costs would be a huge boost for group activities, but a single event to cover operating costs for a full year would be monumental.
When I originally proposed the idea of this group to my then-girlfriend, Aimee, I envisioned a group of a dozen or so members that would get together for game sessions once a month or so. Almost three years (and one wedding) later my wife and I (with massive help from David Sollars, Micah Heath, and David Chauncey Clothier) have seen this grow well beyond what I could have ever imagined. The Retro Gamers Society was never destined to be my little gamer circle – the community nature of the hobby wouldn’t allow for that. With all of you being so enthusiastic about trades, meet-ups, Outreach, and all of the other things the RGS facilitates, this society has become something so much more. I’m proud to be a part of it. And I’m proud to call you all friends. It’s been quite the ride, but well worth the work. The Retro Gamers Society wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the epic community that powers it.
You folks are awesome.
And you should feel awesome.
See you at SGC this weekend! ♦
Brandon Cole Phillips