I was saddened to hear that CSTM is shutting down today after 200 episodes and countless blog posts. It's a lot of hard work and time running a fan site like this, and while I don't begrudge their decision to step down, they will be missed. I struck up a friendship with both of them several years back, and we've since been in the same kinship, hung out at conventions together, and podcasted together.
I reached out to ask Merric and Goldenstar if they'd like to share some final words about LotRO and being a big part of the fan community. From running a fan site to thoughts on the direction the game's taking, it's all there after the jump!
Goldenstar: We both love podcasts and were already chatting up a storm on our commute to and from work about LotRO. We just thought it'd be fun to record what we were already discussing and see if anyone cared to listen.
We had no clue what we were doing, but we took it seriously. We went to a local music store and purchased some real microphones. They weren't great, but they were better than a headset mic, and we ordered a small mixer. We wanted to sound good enough so that if people hated it, it was for what we said, not how we sounded.
We were pretty nit-picky in the beginning. We never would do it live early on because we were so scared of messing up and Merric was spending hours editing out our mistakes. We stopped doing that after a while figuring we're human and people will have to just have to learn to accept our mistakes. Things got easier week by week. If I had a time machine I would have gone back and told old us to do the live chat way sooner. The live audience in a chatroom is awesome to have.
The blog was technically first, but we originally built the blog in order to have someplace to put the podcast. I was the one who started adding more content at first, and then Merric stepped in, followed by some friendly contributors volunteering their thoughts, and just like that we started providing both written and audio content.
What were some of the highlights of running a fan site for so long?
Goldenstar: Without a doubt, it would be our fellow LotRO players. The feedback, the game information, and the stories we received were great. We were always looking for more ways to get the community to interact with us as we love hearing from them. Those who listened and identified with us made working on CSTM a labor of love.
I'd also say it was the friendships I've made with our long time contributors. Apart from the amazing guides and stories, we've seen specialty pie-cakes and even actual wedding proposals from these amazing folks. The fan site wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without them.
Merric: For me I think the largest was when we started getting mail and comments on the blog. The community itself has really driven the podcast and the blog throughout the years. Although the love of the game was what got us started, over time the community is what encourages you to go on when you inevitably discover that the more you blog and podcast about a hobby, the less time you actually have to spend just enjoying it. It's also been amazing to recognize the same names from four years ago still commenting on the blog today. We've also made a countless number of friends inside the game, both in the community and within Turbine itself.
What advice do you have for people looking to create an MMO fan site?
Goldenstar: Don't be afraid to try things out. A lot of what we attempted with CSTM was just things we thought may be neat or something a contributor wanted to try. There was no plan; there were bendable guidelines of what we would and wouldn't attempt. We don't recall if we ever told anyone no for any idea he or she presented.
As a result, we had really fun articles like cooking in-game food in real life, posts comparing real-life photos to in-game screenshots, detailed guides to skirmishes, a guide to dwarven speech, a cataloging of critters in the Shire, and more, all created just for fun. Roundtables would be an example of something we just decided to try for the podcast without any idea if people would like it. So be brave. Not all of our attempts were winners, but it certainly doesn't hurt to try to see what sticks with the readers.
Merric: Never start a blog or a podcast expecting people to read or listen to it. Never do it with an expectation or acknowledgement from the company or developers. Do it because you are passionate about the topic. Do it because you want to further your enjoyment of the game and its mechanics. Do it because you want to further explore the game and open up discussions. But never, ever expect acknowledgement of your hard work. This doesn't mean that you won't get such acknowledgement eventually, but it does ensure that you'll have a good time writing and podcasting. Overall, though, do your best to have fun.
Why do you love LotRO? Why is it a game worth playing?
Goldenstar: It's a game with so much detail and depth in a world we're already familiar with. In other MMOs, you walk around and shriek when you see some strange new creature. In LotRO, you flip out because you found Tom Bombadil's house or when you first walk into Rivendell. It's the closest you probably will ever get to actually living in Middle-earth.
Merric: And although it would be easy to sometimes get wrapped up in things you might disagree with the game's development, storyline, gameplay, etc., once you take a step back and realize, "I'm in the Shire," or that you've just confronted a Balrog, you can't help but be overwhelmed by the immensity of the game and its undertaking.
Goldenstar: Free-to-play was a positive direction. I think it has paved the way to allow more people to play and given more support to Turbine to build us more. I was nervous with the announcement way back when, but it certainly has been a positive for the game.
Merric: Mounted combat, skirmishes, raids that make things easier on the player (marks, teleports to the front, renewing your cooldowns), and providing rewards to player held events are just a few of the things that I've seen Turbine do over the years that just leave me speechless. Even though it's a smaller company, sometimes it seems that it accomplishes things on a social and technical level that some of the "giants" of the industry can't do on their best days. I can't wait to see where LotRO is five years from now.
Conversely, in what ways has LotRO taken a bad turn?
Goldenstar: We've mentioned this on the podcast, but I'm not hot on the gimmicky tricks to get you to login that have been surfacing lately. I don't want to log in for Hobbit Presents or to check out the store sales; I want to log in to play. The content and community is compelling enough for me to log in. This extra stuff doesn't really hurt anything, but I personally think it cheapens LotRO's overall look.
Merric: Turbine's communication skills with the community over why certain decisions are made concerning the game also seem to have faltered over the past several years. Even though the community has repeatedly asked for a more open response, it seems that the company seems to be taking more and more of a "closed door" policy when it comes to both its business and development decisions.
What LotRO blogs or podcasts do you recommend people check out now that they don't have their CSTM fix?
Goldenstar: There are a couple of news podcasts that have been going for a while that available to listen to: LOTRO Reporter and LOTRO Academy are worth a listen. For blogs, there are plenty of players with their own blogs, and we have a blogroll on our site to help you discover some of these. One I would look at as a news source, though, would be the new LOTRO Players portal on Middle-earth Network.
Thanks you two and good luck with future projects!
When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.