So, Rob Lang posed an interesting question over on The Free RPG Blog the other day:

If you were to have a library of free RPG’s, what would it do?

Rob starts by presenting his own thoughts and a number of people have commented and shared ideas of their own. This is me weighing in. It is a totally selfish and subjective list of the stuff I would like to see in a free RPG library.

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Firstly, I would want the site to do exactly what it says on the tin – be a library that is chock-full of RPG goodness. Easily searchable via a robust search engine. I want the ability to refine my search right down by tags (perhaps a little like I can do on sites like RPGnow), but also should be able to search by other parameters, such as title, author, publisher, date of publication or even words in the brief description that accompanies each game. I can do this when searching for books at my local library. I am no database expert and I am sure some of these options are easier than others. Regarding “tags” the RPGnow ” publisher “back end” has a fairly comprehensive list of tags that you can  allocate to each product.

Talking of RPGnow, I would want to upload my own stuff to the library in the same way I can on RPGnow. I don’t want to wait around for a moderator. However, some firm guidelines or protocols will need to be in place to ensure people don’t go checking every minor tangential tag for their game in the hope of appearing in every search. RPGnow and related sites have this problem – head over to Wargame Vault (it’s for wargames), do a quick search and see how many RPG’s turn up.

Actually, can I upload my free wargame? Or is it only for roleplaying games? What if my wargame has a game master and players only have one character each? Who makes the call? What if it’s a card game or boardgame? You know, I don’t have a problem if the library is a vault for all free games, but that might be diluting the message a bit.

Let’s talk user interface. I have thought about the “library-type-websites” I use regularly and the features I like about them. Let’s start with DeviantArt, since it was mentioned by Rob and comment leavers on his blog. I really like elements of DeviantArt, particularly the individual art piece pages, that have options to download the item, links to the creator’s profile and gallery, lists of groups that users have put the piece into, and threaded comments below the piece. There are many elements that could port wholesale over to an RPG library. I really like the idea of user-created groups but I am not sure how useful they would be and you might just end up having every-man-and-his-dog create a “My Epic Fantasy RPG Group”. DeviantArt does, however, have the facility for users to create their own “favourites” list, which is a good way of tracking the stuff you like.

DeviantArt isn’t all roses, though. The search facility is nowhere near granular enough, and half the time I have no idea what category I should be looking for something in – good descriptions for visitors and guidelines for creators are needed. The front page is good at showing you recently uploaded works, but is really quite random in terms of order, category and the like.

Kickstarter is another “library” I browse regularly. It has a minimalist, easy to read front page that shows a single new/interesting/popular project that you can select by category. Clicking the “Discover” button then takes you to an easy-to-navigate page that you can adjust by category. The images are large, and accompanied by a short description. On an RPG site the little “funded” bar could be replaced by biographical details or even icons indicating genre and the like.

I must admit, I browse Kickstarter more than search, and don’t know how good the search feature is on the site. Another thing Kickstarter has going for it is great social media accessibility – I can post details of projects I “Like” or back straight to Facebook and Twitter, and can put a Kickstarter widget directly into my blog. They would be a cool features.

Netflix is another library I use a lot, and it has some great features that I would love to see in an RPG library. Mostly, I love the landing page. It tells me what the last film I watched was, then gives a bunch of other choices I might be interested in. When I first signed up I completed a comprehensive survey of films I had seen and rated them, and Netflix now suggests movies it thinks I will enjoy – and most of the time it is pretty accurate! And, what’s more, it remembers everything I view, and adds that to its little brain to inform future suggestions. Now, what if the RPG library remembered the last few games I viewed (or perhaps downloaded), and then suggested other games that shared tags or other features. Other “strips” of suggestions might be based on popular (by download) games, genre, recently uploaded, or “staff” picks.

There are already a number of sites that collect RPG links or files, and create communities. RPGgeek is a great idea, but I personally find the appearance very busy and difficult to use – however, the individual game pages are great, with links to additional resources, official web pages and reviews. Likewise, while RPGnow is a commercial site, the ability to read a review of a game is a very handy thing. The Free Wargames Rules page is a neat resource, but graphically very plain. It is organised alphabetically and by category, but there is no search function (or even tags!). The Compendium of Free RPG’s is pretty much the same.

So, looking at all that stuff I just babbled about, what are the features I would love to see in an RPG Library? In no particular order:

  • Clean, minimalist appearance with everything clearly labeled and explained (perhaps with “roll over” pop up boxes, like Netflix)
  • Excellent, excellent search functionality
  • Ability to make “favourites” list (or lists…)
  • Ability to share the things I view, find, upload and favourite, both internally on the site, and via social media
  • Quick and easy uploading (and downloading) of files
  • Comments and/or review facility (maybe linked to, so it isn’t “in your face” on the product page)

There you have it. My thoughts on what I would like a Free RPG Library to look like. At least from a game searcher viewpoint. As a game creator, there are probably some other things I would like, but that is for another post!