How Google+ Failed ConTessa's Online Conventions
Back in November, Google+ rolled out a new 'Preview' of Google+. It featured a new layout, and a new focus on collections and communities, but it removed dozens of features common to G+. Features had been disappearing little by little for a while, but this changed presented some rather enormous changes. The worst of which, and what ultimately may do in ConTessa's ability to hold online conventions, was that they removed Events entirely.
For three months, I've seen updates come out fixing HUNDREDS of bugs each time (I still wonder if Google even QAs) and re-instituting a feature here or there that was in the old Google+, but got taken away. Each time the developers crow about how they 'listened to the users', which is a strange thing to say when you take away a feature and the users complain until you put it back.
For three months, I've been asking about what's happening with HoAs and Events. I've commented on the posts where supposedly users are being listened to, sent in feedback several times, made posts, plussed in Google developers... hell, other people on Google+ even took my words and submitted them as their feedback. I haven't gotten an answer to anything. No one from Google has said a single thing about the survival or death of events that I've been able to see.
Which is another problem... because the Google+ account on Google+ doesn't actually make posts notifying the users of updates to Google+. If you want to know what changes have happened recently in Google+, you have to follow a collection owned by Luke Wroblewski, a Product Director at Google. Everyone knew that, right?
When I founded ConTessa, I made the decision to do everything through Google+ in order to lower the hurdles necessary to participate in online conventions. It had everything we needed. An audience thanks to the social media portion of it and the G+ gaming community, a FREE super easy-to-use tool to facility online tabletop gaming via video conferencing, third-party apps that plug into that video conferencing to allow even more complex tools GMs and moderators alike need, the ability to air those sessions live and save recorded versions of them, and an event system that tied into all of that making it easy to add games to calendars, talk to those going to the event, and even archive previous events so there's a record.
People asked me, "Stacy, why are you doing everything on Google+? No one's on Google+!", and I gave them that list of reasons. It's an all-in-one answer to everything we need to run a game, and takes very little to train someone who's never done this on how to do it.
Since November, none of that is true. It doesn't work anymore... and it doesn't work anymore in a pretty catastrophic way. The new design of Google+ breaks events. That's just one of the problems, but it happens to be the most crippling in my case. Take a look at the image below to see the differences between old HoA events and new HoA events. Keep in mind that while you can still get to the old events in the desktop preview of Google+, they are completely broken on all devices.
As it stood, the process of creating a usable HoA event for the future was a terrible user experience. It's buried under a menu item under a second tab... and the first tab is misleading because it tells you hangouts have moved to a new URL. Once you get to the right tab, you go through the standard process of filling out a form, but you can't set the banner image or trailer for the video until after you create the event. You also have to be careful to ensure you invite communities when you're creating the event because you can only invite individuals after it's been created. In order to get all this information across to convention GMs, I had to create a handful of screencasts and have someone available to answer questions.
To get sign-ups for our games, we rely on player comments on the event page. This is also more complex than it used to be. HoAs don't ask whether you'll attend the event, they ask whether or not you'll watch the event. So, while there's some handy buttons there to tell you someone wants to attend an event, they don't make much sense. You can easily find out who's going to WATCH the event, but the player attendees have to indicate they're coming in another way.
Even if there was a way for someone to say they'll attend instead of just watch (there is such a way when an event isn't an HoA event), the order in which people sign up is not retained, making it useless to a GM who's trying to accept people in the order in which they signed up.
To get over these problems, we had people post a comment on the very pretty event page, and asked the GM to monitor those comments and keep a running list of who was coming and who was set up as an alternate. It worked pretty well, but we kept having to redirect people who were commenting on a share to the original post and other random bits of miscommunication. Still, it worked well enough.
My dream of having an easily usable (thus accessible) single platform that allowed us to build a community and run conventions has crumbled before my very eyes. Events are a shambles, now. If you're not on the preview version of G+, everything works as it did before and should until the preview becomes the main product. However, if you've switched over to the preview version, there is no events section of your G+, and individual events in your feeds look like posts, not events.
At least on the desktop there's a chance people will be able to see our events, but not so on any other device. Events aren't available through any of the apps for phones or tablets, and events that show up in stream aren't clickable.
As I mentioned above, I've reached out to Google in every way possible asking for a solution to the problem - or even an acknowledgment that it's a problem, but I've been met with nothing but silence. Hundreds of bugs have been fixed, and many other features that were taken away from the old version have been re-introduced to the new version, but events haven't been talked about at all. For three months, there's been absolutely no word as to whether or not Google is even aware that events are broken.
That leaves me in a terrible lurch. I can no longer count on Google+ to be my all-in-one solution to running online conventions, and there is nothing else to switch to. We won't be running any convention weekends in 2016. Our next online convention will be in early 2017, where we'll go back to the annual format. By then, I hope there's a solution. By then, I hope to be able to write my own solution (though I'm going to have to find someone to write the back-end or relearn that part of web development to accomplish that), but for right now we're dead in the water save for the occasional ConTessa sponsored one-off game or panel.
This sucks, yes, but that's not even the worst part of this story in my mind. The worst part of this story is that Google didn't warn anyone using these services they would be close to unusable for several months if not eternity. They haven't communicated to us what's to happen to these services, and haven't even shown any compassion for all the users they've suddenly and without warning left in a lurch.