Friday, 20 March 2015

The Torhead closure within the fanscape

When I read about Torhead closing down this week, it made me think about the gaming fan sites or online resources I've used over the past years. For every MMO there's a range of fan sites offering support, but sometimes it seems to me there are particularly many for SWTOR.

A scattered fanscape

You know, "the landscape of information-based fansites" is such a mouthful, I'm going to stick to the self-invented "fanscape" here.

Back in LotRO, the Lotro-wiki provided most raw information, together with A Casual Stroll for Mordor (now offline) that was both a blog and a source of information for news and guides.

For Guild Wars 2 I find the Guild Wars wiki taking in pretty much the same spot that the Lotro-wiki did for me in LotRO. And then there's Dulfy and Guild Wars Temple to keep track of world bosses spawning.

I miss this kind of simplicity for SWTOR. The SWTOR fanbase seems scattered by many niche websites. There is no up-to-date wiki for the game, although Dulfy keeps up with guides and new updates. A lot of fansites of the first hour seem to have lost their actuality or were brought down after the initial hype around SWTOR calmed down. In this regard, Torhead follows a trend.


This is the official announcement by Amy, administrator of Torhead:

    "It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce we will be closing down Torhead. A recent analysis of our sites has shown that Torhead's traffic doesn't justify the work it needs to keep it a quality site.

    The closure is slated to happen sometime after March 19, 2015.

    Thank you for your support, your passion, your persistence, and your loyalty. I hope you'll stick with ZAM as we continue to forge new tools for gamers."

The news of the closure was met with a general sense of "Hey, don't blame it on us. The website was super out of date, so of course nobody uses it anymore." While I feel for having to react to grumpy internet people, Amy's reply that Torhead was "updated two weeks ago" didn't help. When updates on planets released after Makeb are missing, acting as if your website is being kept up to date nullifies your credibility.

I don't know what Torhead's business model was like (I'm assuming they had one, as it's part of something bigger called ZAM and was running advertisements), but from being intimately involved with the Lotro-wiki I know you'd need at least a bunch of people working fulltime if you'd really want to keep up with all the updates. Especially items are a horror to keep up with, and those happened to be the focus of Torhead. I can imagine advertisements not creating enough revenue to keep everything up.

Outdated or not, it's still a shame to lose Torhead. Many will remember the skill point spender with which you could not only check how to spend your points for your own character, but also link other people specs. This feature is now of course outdated by the new in-game skill trees that spend your points automatically. 

I think the most precious feature of Torhead was the item linking. Many guild websites and fansites used Torhead's services to mouse over item names to show their tooltips. This is something that will be sorely missed.

A new fanscape

On a more positive note, many new websites have arisen since those that lifted on the initial launch of SWTOR. I'm thinking of SWTOR Conquest for comparing guild conquest scores, SWTOR Arenas for PvP scores, SWTOR Economics for our economic-related questions and, most recently, SWTOR Network keeping us up to date with weekly wrap-ups of all official and fan-based news.

And then there are all those new enthusiastic SWTOR blogs that have emerged the past year, which I didn't mention because this post is supposed to be about the more information-based fansites.

Looking back at it all, it seems that SWTOR has developed from "that hyped MMO everyone ran away from after launch" to a solid MMO with a dedicated fanbase. The future is bright.

Update: a few days after this article was published, TORCommunity started a kickstarter project to fund a new database with missions, items and NPCs. At the same time, SWTOR Database is being developed by the maker of SWTOR Conquest. You can read more thoughts on this over at Shintar's post on Going Commando.


  1. I've often thought you could tell a lot about the overall health of a game and it's player base by how many fan sites and blogs are dedicated to it. It is never a good sign to find most sites out of date and blogs abandoned.

    I think you can learn much about what may have gone wrong with a game from reading the last blog entries.

    1. I've thought the same. You could see this happen when LotRO went downhill. That MMO had an incredible loyal and enthusiastic fanbase and there were sooo many blogs, especially compared to its population, which was always much smaller than, say, WoW. With the decline of the game, after the class skill revamp of the Helm's Deep expansion in particular, many old time blogs started disappearing with their bloggers moving over to other games or stopping gaming or blogging altogether. A division among LotRO blogs emerged: some criticized the game, others disapproved of any negativity and kept up their pink glasses. I think the transformation of A Casual Stroll to Mordor into A Casual Stroll through MMOs was a big blow to the LotRO blogging community. That blog/fansite was very popular. Having a huge fanboy attitude and never criticizing the game, its discontinuation was a big surprise to everyone.

      Enough about this LotRO stuff, though, it's something you didn't play and probably don't relate to. But it is the example closest to my heart that reflects exactly what you said.

  2. I do understand regarding the LOTRO community. Early on, the community was really excellent and enthused about every aspect of the game. The developers were accessible and they did some remarkable things. Patience was one of the very best community relations persons I've ever seen. The big schism began with Moria, which I personally loved. It seemed that people could no longer agree on anything, and because it was all so close knit, it got personal.

    The sale to Warner Bros. was the first nail and free to play sealed it.

    I noticed many blogs felt that they had to support the game by announcing sales in the LOTRO store, and discussions of lore and how to play the game went away.

    And many bloggers branched out to talk about other MMOs, or they stopped writing altogether.

    1. Oh, so you did play LotRO after all! My apologies. I don't have to feel bad about boring you to death with that wall of text about LotRO then. ^^

      But yes, you are right, the decline of that game started earlier. It passed recently in this article so I didn't want to go into that all that much here. It was surprising how long many blogs stuck around and kept writing about the game. For me personally, it was also hard to say goodbye to the game.

      Your observation about blogs announcing sales in the Store is interesting. Maybe that's why I could get vaguely annoyed by blogs with a fanboy-attitude. I was already getting showered by the Store in-game on every turn, I didn't need the blogosphere to do the same.

  3. Oh no, I didn't even know about Torhead closing until I saw your headline on my blog roll! That's quite depressing news... I had the code for the item tooltips on my own blog too, which is why I kept pointing my item links to Torhead even after they became worse and worse about updating. I do think the site was stuck in a vicious circle of not generating enough traffic so they didn't want to work on it, and the lack of updates causing it to generate even less traffic. Personally I went through a phase of trying really hard to support the site, uploading nearly 500 screenshots in the process, but even then my work would sometimes sit in their approval queue for weeks until someone bothered to press a button to let it go live.

    So I guess all things considered their shutdown is not surprising - they were one of those "old school" fan sites from launch that clearly hoped to make big buck if SWTOR turned out to be the next World of Warcraft. I guess they never got over that disappointment, and we need fan sites that are happy to support the game as it is - like you said, there are many of those now. Still, I'll miss having a full-fledged database... I don't think any of the other sites has a quite as comprehensive list of everything in the game.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that. It must be heartbreaking to hear about it after having put so much effort into the website. I must say that their policy on updating sounds a bit redundant, from what I hear from you. Letting new content wait for two weeks before approving isn't exactly optimal and far from stimulating for the people putting in the effort to submit it in the first place. No wonder the website became outdated so quickly.

      It's really a shame the SWTOR-wiki (yes, that existed as well) never got enough of a fanbase to hit off. It was set up by people that were involved with the LotRO-wiki and would have followed the same format. I sometimes miss the LotRO-wiki days: we had a nice contributor community going on there, hanging out in IRC together now and then. After submitting a few pages we'd give more contribution rights to contributors; they were always implemented right away and didn't have to be approved beforehand. The goal was always to provide the best resource for the players, not to make profit. The website only started using advertisements when the site expanded and the upkeep for the server became unbearable by the owner. I'd still be hanging out there if the game would be any good. /fanpage contributor nostalgia

      Hehe, I'm terrible; this is a SWTOR post and I just keep going on about LotRO in the comments. I'll shut up now, I promise! ;)

    2. Haha, don't worry, I understand. I still make comparisons to WoW myself... your first game leaves its mark. ;)

      I've since seen some comments by SWTOR Miner that seem to indicate that he's working on an item database of his own that would be updated through his datamining... I'll definitely keep an eye out for that.

    3. That's interesting news, thanks for sharing! If that database could be updated automatically through datamining, that would remove the problem that all those MMO wikis are fighting: the manpower needed to process all the stuff. I wonder if it's possible to automatically add the info most people are after (namely, how do I get this item?), though. We don't know if item tooltips on mousing over as it worked with Torhead are a possibility either, but then again, simply having an up-to-date database available would be a major upgrade from the situation as it is.

  4. That's awesome news, Shintar! I felt horrible able Torhead closing especially after I discovered that they will be closing the day after Inwon Ootinicast's Tip of the Week for urging people to search for companion conversation affection gains there. I personally loved Torhead and am sorry to see it go away. I am excited about Miner opening a new database though. That guy is pretty funny if you listen to him on Torocast. Anyway. Sad news for Torhead, but hopefully something better will come along-even if it isn't as all-inclusive I hope we can get sites that are devoted to individual aspects of the game that were as inclusive as Torhead.

  5. This is sad news :( I used Torhead a lot while discovering new stuff (it's not usual to me to bother my guild mates with questions about items that will be answered with terms that would generate more questions...). Anyway, I alreeady noticed that Torhead was lacking some urgent updates...

    - Murder


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