In your opinion, what's holding Waterfall back?
Aw shit, essay time bois
This'll be a long post but I guess it'll be worth reading? Anyway.
1) Chicken Egg Chicken Egg Egg Chicken Egg Egg
Everything is stuck in a loop with the site. On the side of getting users, we need both more, and exclusive content. However, creators won't post content here - especially not exclusive - because it has less reach, because we don't have any users. Which we can't get unless people start posting content, but they won't because we have no users.
It's similar problem with the Commission Market at the minute - as an idea, it was EXTREMELY well recieved. The intention was always to launch it as an alpha, that was madde clear from the start, and the level of interest shown it it seemed to indicate that it was worth the investment in man hours and legal fees to get everything sorted - that is, it seemed the return on investment was going to be there. Actually, this should be pushed into it's own section.
2) Focusing on the wrong areas
The reality of the CM is that it's.... currently, at least, even taking into account the alpha state, been a colossal failure. The projections I did suggested that by now, two months after launch, Waterfall should have made a $30 or so take from the CM. Our actual take from it is, as of writing, $1.12. That's also why it's been so slow to develop, it's just been really hard to justify spending the time on it from an ROI perspective and that's even if I value my time at $0.
I don't know whether it's a case of artists are holding off until it's finished, I'm not communicating the benefits of it well enough or folks aren't happy about the fees (or think that 10% is our cut AFTER processing fees, rather than it being a flat "you get 90% of the list price guaranteed", but the CM just isn't being used at all by anyone. Which means I've spent months working on something that was, from the perspective of growing and maintaining the site, a complete waste of time.
My best guess is maybe a combination of fees and completeness - there's a small bug in the account delete function right now that doesn't interfere with the process but throws a warning in Sentry, and I know that about 50 artists (I googled some of the blog names/some sounded familiar) have signed up over the last month, immediately checked out the CM, then deleted their accounts after presumably thinking it was shit.
Being slightly disappointed that they were here to try and get money rather than any actual interest in the site is a topic for another time, but either way, chicken and egg - it needs to be used before I can justify investing more time into it, but I guess I need to invest more time into it before people will use it.
3) Staff oh god they're going to read this
On paper, there's five staff. I'm fine with that and fine with them having the label of staff, they do help, especially with PR stuff because I am legitimately terrible at communication and sometimes I need them to help me phrase something in a way that softens the blow when a suggestion comes in and people support it but it's just. Not a good one. The audit log shows they're dealing with some reports before I even know we have them too, so like, fab, I have no complaints.
However, I worry about the impression that's conveyed when we say "we have five staff" because I think that implies a lot more movement behind the scenes than there is, possibly? From an actual like, coding perspective, it's effectively still just me. I'm the only one who like... "actively" for lack of a better word develops the site, so when a bug crops up and it takes a couple days to fix that looks bad to people who are new or who don't use the site and don't realise that that's the situation.
It'll be exacerbated when the apps start serious development because I'll have to do the core site, the iOS app, and the Android app all at the same time. I love the staff but god I need them to learn to code already.
4) Benevolent Dictatorship; or why The Discord was a mistake
I think that maybe the Discord was a bad idea, or at the very least, making the staff easily public facing is a bad idea. Maybe not originally, I think it was definitely important in the early days, but now I think it's detrimental. It feels almost like because we've been so available, we've a) made ourselves targets for any criticism against the site because we've (me especially) become the "face" of the site, and b) I think some people are expecting us to do what they want "as a favour" because we're friendly towards them or shitpost with them in the Discord or something?
Like... I'm not gonna name names, but since the Kickstarter, a lot of the suggestions have been very much "this feature for me, and not for thee" requests. They'd benefit that individual and maybe a small number of other users, but for the site as a whole would be detrimental, and we end up feeling like we can't give a firm no because it generates An Atmosphere. It also leads to us getting unsolicited criticism - immediately after the KS posted app concept screenshots someone decided they were shit and re-did them and presented them to us as if they were doing us a favour and that theirs is the design we'd be implementing.
So while it's not holding the site back per se, it's definitely making things uncomfortable because either a suggestion is garbage or a suggestion is good but the execution suggested is garbage, and we've definitely had one case of the latter where I've implemented something and then I got DMs saying "but that's not how I wanted it implemented". I'm just really struggling to figure out how to remind people that suggestions are welcome, but what you want isn't necesarily what's best for the site as a whole.
Look I'm gonna be honest, I'm shit at marketing because I can't get over myself about how corporate I sound whenever I try it. Our ad posts on Tumblr have the worst reblog to like ratio of any posts the WF blog makes over there, and as a whole you guys aren't advertising for us either. This means we're losing ground to Pillowfort et al who has users hopping on the rare post where someone DOES recommend Waterfall on Twitter or Tumblr to put PF's name forward too. I don't wanna sound bitchy but... seriously, you guys gotta step up a little bit. This links into chicken egg I guess.
So yeah, this is me asking you guys to spread the word. Hell, link my stupid rambly posts like this one where I talk about the future of the site if you have to.
6) Web 2.0 has fucking spoiled us
7) We update too fast
This sounds INCREDIBLY counter-intuitive, I know. But, this is actually an explanation as to why every site goes to shit eventually. If a site isn't getting updates, it starts to feel stagnant to its users, who will start migrating elsewhere as soon as they see something that they can go "ooo, shiny" to. That's why places like Reddit, Tumblr etc all have been getting shitter - not only do they have to justify their staff's positions, but shareholders want to see "improvements" as well, and user counts are king. So by updating the site as often as I have been, I've actually put us on the back foot, because what happens when the site is stable and working? I'll need to find something to add so people don't think the site is dead. And with the frequent updates, we also have the patch notes...
8) Transparency is a bad thing, actually
I just ran a query on the database. It tells me how many posts are on the staff blog, and have the word "patch" in the title. There's 304. There's also often quite a few posted on the same day. I've been using it as a way to communicate updates, but I now realise that to someone new, that's going to make the site seem like an absolute clusterfuck of bugs with an incompetent staff.
At the same time, I know that people aren't actually reading them because invariably within a day or two of a change or new feature, people go "[x] isn't [y] anymore" in the bugs channel when it's something I covered in patch notes, or "whoa since when can we do [z]".
There's also answering all the questions on the staff blog, which I've already stopped doing since yesterday I closed Staff's inbox. At this point, essentially every question is a duplicate or just users being idiots (sorry y'all, but some of you really need to learn to scroll down a little bit or just try something before asking how it works) and it looks a bit bad - either from the "staff are having to explain basic stuff to people so it must be really hard to use" perspective, or the "the userbase must all be idiots so I'll skip it" perspective.
So, I think that I may have tried to be a bit too transparent with things and that I need to tone it down a bit. Maybe stop with the patch notes as well and only do big announcements of new features on there.
Most of the stuff above is because of me (there was also a thing where people decried the site on Twitter because of that very minor jab at NewTumbl, saying we were unprofessional, but that's not the main point I'm trying to make here) However, I also think I've maybe put myself in a bad position - everyone who's followed this blog since before June knows how much I overwork myself and how stressed I get about the site and, as I've mentioned before, I've put $20k+ of personal money into getting WF up and off the ground. Given how slow growth is, how little our users spread the site, and how poorly stuff that people were enthusiastic about has performed, I genuinely lose sleep wondering if I'll ever get that money back, or whether I've wasted the inheritance I was given with the intention of it being a deposit on a house.
Pillowfort ran two Kickstarters and charged for entry. They have a budget that is at least 6 figures. I didn't run a Kickstarter (other than for the app, and it did nowhere near as well as either of theirs did) and access was free. They have, uindeniably, got the advantage there. As things stand, I don't have any more money to put into the site. My credit card is maxxed out, and I can't really afford the monthly minimum as it is. Waterfall needs to start earning some money to keep itself going, let alone let me pay myself back, and I'm genuinely worried whether it will. If I add subscriptions, how many people will actually pay for them? We've already had people asking whether they can just make alt accounts because they don't want to pay for blog slots, and those are a single fucking dollar. How am I going to get people to give me three, five, or ten dollars if I can't persuade people to give me one? To throw away the veil of me not being panicked about this a bit because it's harder than I thought it would be, how the fuck am I going to be able to start paying the staff, let alone myself or the debts we have when people aren't willing to give us one single fucking dollar as a show of support? And then, on top of the $20k invested, if we assume I should be compensated for my time spent on the site so far, that's another $60k I need to find to pay myself. Like, legitimately, I lie there awake at night thinking to myself "shit, did I fuck up?"
Part of the marketing for the site said "no ads", and I so desperately want to avoid having them on the site, but I'm getting to a point where it's like... okay, I've put off every single other one of my projects to do this, have worked on it unpaid for that time and do not have another job to fall back on - this is going to sound really terrible and I'm sorry, but I need something here. I don't want to sell out, I genuinely don't, but it's starting to look like it might be the only option.
Part of this is because I've tried to hold ethical operation at the core values of the site, but... that's a problem of its own, when you're trying to be ethical against unethical competitors, we automatically lose because they have an advantage. I need money, but at the same time, I won't adopt any behaviours that'll help get it.
Anyway, those are the salient points I can think of that are most impactful.
I'm also going to note that you guys are allowed to reblog and spread my ask answers, someone asked on a prior one and I think people are assuming they're only allowed to like them.
That said I do sincerely apologise if the any of the new folks have joined expecting a professional development team because I can assure you that, collectively, the staff are just winging it and acting on feedback as we get it. Only one of us (not me) has professional development experience, the rest of us wanted to be indie game devs and Waterfall got popular by accident.
We'll listen and we'll build the site as damn well as we can, but I can promise you we're not doing the corporate bollockspeak you get from Tumblr or Twitter or whatever. If you need that to feel like the site is worth using then uh... sorry, it's not happening here.