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The Indie Infrastructure: CMS

A complex web presence can be either invaluable or a waste of time. If you decide to do any web marketing, like the Wolfire guys, you'd better dive in and do as much as you possibly can. And start with a CMS.

Andy Schatz, Blogger

February 11, 2009

7 Min Read

This post is a continuation of The Indie Infrastructure, a series for those thinking about “going indie” or still getting their bearings once casting off from salaried shores.   

Building Sticky

New vs. returning visitors for the Pocketwatch site, I have no idea if this ratio is any good.


New (blue) vs. returning (green) visitors for the Pocketwatch site, I have no idea if this ratio is any goAre you amazed at how well Wolfire has managed to mobilize a web community for the upcoming game Overgrowth based largely on the reputation of one lesser-known game (Lugaru)? They are beating the marketing drum with everything they've got, and it's working.  How are they doing it?  Well, by doing everything: marketing on Facebook, reaching out to mod communities, Mac and Linux fans, game developers, blogging, creating an IRC channel, and more.  Are you jealous of the attention they've gotten?  Put in the hard work.  And start with a CMS.

A complex web presence can be either invaluable or a waste of time.  If you decide to do any web marketing, like the Wolfire guys, you'd better dive in and do as much as you possibly can.  Finding customers and fans (and then keeping them) is extremely difficult in this era of free-to-play game sites and news aggregators.  Your repeat visitor stat is directly related to the "stickiness" of your website.

One of the primary ways to create a "sticky" website is to constantly have new content.  Daily or weekly blogging is one way to keep people coming back, building a forum community is another.  This (admittedly haphazard) article is on how to build the infrastructure for your web presence that will allow you to update and add to it in data-driven ways.

Free Content Management Systems

A disclaimer - I'm aware that my website is butt-ugly -- the old Pocketwatch site was MUCH prettier.  But this one is built upon Wordpress so it IS extensible.  I can add products or reorganize my sales page without having to hire a graphic designer.  My advice in this column is based on several years of working with Wordpress and phpBB.  Assume, for the sake of argument, that someone with graphic design skills beyond the high school-yearbook level made this site.

Content Management Systems (or CMS) run much of the Web 2.0 world.

Chances are you are cheap like me.  Luckily, CMS is one area in which there are a ton of good open source solutions.  Here's a good Top Ten list which you can use to evaluate your own solution.  If I were starting from scratch today, I would use either Wordpress or Drupal, depending on if I wanted a more blog-centric or professional site.

When you are evaluating, keep in mind that good CMSs are:

  • Flexible -- Can you build a blog about cat sweaters or a complex and functional online tongue-ring catalog?  One with a navbar on the top and the other on the side?

  • Have large libraries of functional add-ons -- Tongue-ring image of the day?

  • Look good out of the box -- Many features you won't WANT to have to edit

  • Are easy to update -- Every CMS has security and feature updates... how easy is it to upgrade and how much danger is there of breaking your site?

  • Fast -- Most PHP-driven sites will break down in high-traffic situations... how long can your site last after being linked from Slashdot or PennyArcade or Tonguerings.com until you have to move to a static page?

This site uses a combination of Wordpress, Gallery2, and phpBB.  Gallery2 serves the images, phpBB handles the forum, and Wordpress handles the blog and all the pages on the site.

Wordpress as CMS

To me, the biggest upside to Wordpress is the huge library of plugins that can extend the functionality of your site.  It's also fairly easy to upgrade Wordpress.

The biggest downside is the lack of forum integration.  There are plugins for integrating phpBB and Wordpress, but they always seem to be out of date.

(OnePress Community seems to be a pretty good Wordpress-based solution for integrating forums, blogging, and CMS into a single package.  OnePress was cooked up by PushButtonlabs, the company recently formed by a bunch of ex-GarageGamers.  I'm a bit skeptical that PBL will support the mod as Wordpress continues to evolve, since the blogging platform is not their primary business, though I certainly could turn out to be wrong.)

Another downside to using Wordpress as your CMS is the lack of separation between your blogging platform and your business-related content.  If you want to build fancy mini-sites for each of your products, or if you plan to add any sort of web-gaming features into your site, Wordpress might actually be a little heavy and rigid for you.  I've found myself wanting to build more unique pages for Venture Africa and Venture Arctic in order to improve first impression and SEO, but Wordpress is a bit inflexible in the different ways it allows you to display content.


Let's take a step back for a minute.  What can you do with a CMS like Wordpress?  Well, you can blog.  Duh.  You can add corporate identity pages.  Boooring.  And you can build that all-important stickiness using plugins.

You don't want to have too many plugins running at once -- that can slow down your site, but to give you a taste of what plugins can do for you, here are the plugins I currently use:   

What's the Point?

There are two points to building a web presence:

  1. Creating fans (to power word-of-mouth marketing or to generate UGC)

  2. Finding customers

FUN STATS HERE!!! Building a community for fans is actually the easy part.  Converting visitors to customers is the hard part.  On a typical indie website, only 15-40% of visitors will actually download a demo to a game.  Only 0.5-3% of those demo downloaders actually buy the game.  That means somewhere around 3 out of 1000 visitors to your site actually buy a game.

I wont get into how to improve the visitor->customer process, but surely your CMS can help facilitate this transition.  Any thoughts on this subject from readers?

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About the Author(s)

Andy Schatz


Andy was the sole programmer, designer, and producer on the company’s first two titles, Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa and Venture Arctic. Venture Africa was built in 10 months on a budget of $8,000 and has sold over 90,000 copies worldwide, while Venture Arctic is receiving tremendous critical acclaim and continues to sell in stores across the United States. Andy also served as the Executive Producer of the kid’s eco-themed website, Green.com. As a leader in the world of “indie games”, Andy hosted the 2007 and 2008 Independent Games Festival awards ceremonies, which were attended by thousands and broadcast to 21 million viewers on the internet. Andy has been published in Game Developer Magazine and Gamasutra.com. His design and development skills have been specifically praised in Game Developer Magazine post-mortems, Gamasutra’s Media Consumption column, BusinessWeek Online, and more. He was a keynote speaker for the Game Career Seminar at E-for-All in 2008 and at the Austin Game Developers Conference in 2007. Prior to Pocketwatch Games, Andy worked as a Designer, an Artificial Intelligence Engineer, a Lead Programmer, and a Development Director. Among other things, he wrote the first Xbox Live code to ship to the public (Whacked!) and the first implementation of EA’s multiplatform internet layer (Goldeneye: Rogue Agent). He graduated from Amherst College with a degree in Computer Science and Fine Arts.

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