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To give an indication of what a web presence can do for you, WoTMud's website gets about 1 million page impressions per year, and was visited by 50,000 unique people last year. Admittedly, I work very hard at it, but having respected sites write things like "exciting [...] showcases the Internet at it's best!" and "This is the best site this award has been given to - worth a visit!" is PR that money just can't buy - and moreover, not only can you use it on your front page to show off, but it also reassures your patrons that they're on to a good thing. Even more importantly, they are objective reviews which you can use elsewhere, and, in my opinion, that's a lot better than player reviews, which are nearly always biased. Two tips to help you: building a website isn't just a matter of putting up the basic information in the game. If you want it to be useful and visited, you need to have content there that you can't find in the helpfiles on the game, i.e. maps, logs, hints - whatever. A regularly updated news and gossip page will get a ton of attention, especially if it lets your patrons know things that they wouldn't know anywhere else. Secondly, encourage your patrons to build their own websites and link them back to your main page, or at least to mention you. Not only does it help with search engines, but 1,000 pages are a lot better than 100 in terms of catching the WWW.tourist. You only have to see the number of websites that are linked back to Discworld's to see what I mean.
Once your WWW "machine" is up and running, and getting a lot of traffic, things will start to happen, and you'll need to find a way to deal with these. Attracting non-mudders means that some of your newbies will be clueless, and I mean clueless with a captial c and exclamation mark. The funniest incident illustrating this that I ever came across personally was when I had a low-level patron tell me "I've eaten and eaten and eaten till I'm blue in the face, and my character just doesn't seem to be getting any taller". Awww, bless. If a lot of people are tempted just to see what your mud is like, they'll log on, they might decide it's not for them, then just kill the telnet application - leaving a linkless character that looks bad on 'who' - we auto-log off linkless after a few minutes to deal with this. You'll get "The mud's too tough", "why can't I multiplay" and even worse, AOL teenagers (yick). Above all, you'll need to inculcate a spirit amongst your patrons of helping others, to capitalise on the tourists. "Helper" immortals or players appear to be a popular answer to this, although a level-restricted Newbie channel is shooting yourself in the foot, as is limiting low-level global abilities.
In terms of the WWW, The Mud Connector deserves a special mention. Make sure that your mud is listed there, as it's the busiest mud-related website that I know about. Put up reviews of your muds from time to time, and you can also buy banner advertisements there at very reasonable rates ("10,000 ad banner impression deliveries for a 1 month period and is priced at $100").
Next, in terms of influence, is Usenet. I've been posting there a few years now, and I'm always pleased to hear from our patrons, when I ask around as I do from time to time, that they came to my place because of a Usenet ad. I'm especially pleased when I hear of people that were brought into mudding by my ad. Beware: Usenet is an art form all in itself, and make sure that you follow the guidelines for a particular group, or you'll be flamed to hell and back. Don't make spurious claims, as all it takes is a respected voice in the mudding community to point out the error in your post and you will be shown up forever, and it becomes a permanent liability. Two excellent places to use Usenet from your browser are Deja News and Remarq - sign up, head over towards the rec.games.mud.* hierarchies, read the FAQs, read a few posts to get the idea and post away. Don't overdo it (once a month is more than enough), and don't post into inappropriate groups. The response that you'll get from your posts will vary - do a content-less "come here it RUL3Z, lotsa unique code modifications"-type post, and nobody will notice and you might get handful of people respond with a flame. Put some effort into your posts, by making them funny, or comprehensive, or by listing and mentioning the features that actually make your mud unique and you'll have hundreds of people visiting your website and mud. Over the years, I've found that a lousy one liner brings a handful of visitors, your average post will get you about 50 and a detailed post that's had a bit of effort put into it 250+.
Other things worth considering are such features as banner ad networks, webrings, awards and leagues. If you're going to use banner ads, make sure that you do them well and that they instruct people to "click here" in some way - basic banner design guidelines, and standard for the WWW. I've seen some dreadful banner ads in my time, which make me not want to visit the places concerned, and unsubstantiated claims just gets everybody's back up. Good software for this includes Adobe Imageready and Macromedia Fireworks at the top end of the scale, but there are plenty of shareware and freeware applications that will do the same for you if you're prepared to look for them.
Ok, many such things as webrings, etc. are a bit Mickey Mouse, more worried about getting a link back, but everything helps. After all, it's fair enough if they're going to give you traffic - though I wouldn't recommend covering your main homepage with a cacophony of ring and award graphics as it looks amateurish. Keep them on a separate page somewhere and join as many as you can, it's all just a numbers game and sooner or later someone will come across your site via these that may actually stay and become a member of your mud family.
The bigger picture.
What is a mud? Normally, it is a multiplayer RPG. They're book-themed and classic fantasy-related, or sci-fi, cyberpunk, modern. They are free, a leisure activity and part of the "culture" of the Internet. All around, given the mass of regurgitated content on the Internet, believe it or not, we're actually pretty darn hip! There are thousands upon thousands of websites that deal with these categories - and we're not being featured there. And who is being featured? The commercial boys - and they're getting the traffic, and consequently the players. Lots of Ultima Online patrons don't have the faintest idea that free online worlds actually exist!
It takes no more than a quick email to websites that are in a variety categories to see if they might link back to your mud. Provided your website is good enough (i.e. you've put some work into them), most of them are glad to oblige, and you'll find that your reach widens dramatically as you're linked on more and more pages. After a certain point the ball gets rolling, and you really don't have to do much more as people just hear about your site.
Remember, the Internet is the buzzword of the decade. We've been at it a lot longer than 99.99% of websites and web-users, and people love to hear about things like muds, as we represent the spirit of the Internet at its finest. So for the love of God, let's get our collective rears into gear and work toward widening our collective reach and exposure, giving ourselves the credit that we are rightly due, rather than bloodfesting over a supposedly shrinking pool of players.
April 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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