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Fan Sites VS Fandom: A Case Study

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I miss fan sites. I’ve already mentioned the possibility to back them up using something like ArchiveBox, but the fact remains, they’re disappearing, and not a lot new are being made. Instead, fans turn to Fandom, formerly called Wikicities and Wikia, that hosts wikis on various entertainment ranging from games to movies, using the same MediaWiki engine as Wikipedia. It was acquired by TPG Capital in 2018—what you need to remember for now is the specific term “capital”. We’ll get back to that.

But first, remember those awesome dedicated nineties fan sites that came with marquee headers, custom backgrounds, and perhaps even background MIDI soundtracks? That came with interactive image maps explaining different parts of a fantasy world, an abundance of image assets taken right from the game/movie/book to help you feel at home? I’ll point to some stellar examples from the video game world:

Unfortunately, Flamestryke passed away years ago, although her fan sites were recovered both on Zimlab and on IS4 told me he now maintains the Albion World Wiki hosted by Fandom. Let’s take a closer look at the not so subtle differences between the two types of fan sites.

Design & Presentation

The obvious difference, of course, is that Fandom strictly follows the boring and very bland Wikimedia layout style, whereas if you build a fan site from the ground up, you can go as wild or as sober as you’d like. The contrast is stark here. Wikimedia allows typical URL-like templating like [[link]] and {{Special:RecentChanges}} plugins, but that’s about it. The result is a uniform blandness that saddens me, while visiting a fan site should instead enthuse me.

For example, take a look at Flamestryke’s M&MVIII pages. Don’t you love that dark red tone which perfectly complements the Might & Magic VIII logo? Fandom does try to accomplish the same thing, but you can only take it so far, since it has to fit with the framework, and it’s a hosted solution. If you’re interested in M&MVIII’s weapon type maces, Flamestryke’s got you covered: a neat visual overview with label, price, and damage output is presented.

When it comes to navigation, the same downside applies here: Fandom sites are strictly tied to the wiki system. To make matters worse, Fandom applies a completely useless big yellow border “helping” you navigate to other Fandom sites, which isn’t the point of your visit. The top border also blocks off a bit of precious screen estate, but the best is yet to come: if you scroll down, you suddenly end up in a “fan feed” section, where completely pointless posts and images are placed in true social media style, screaming for your attention, that are unrelated to the current fan site. Explore the Castlevania Fandom Wiki and the Albion World Wiki and you’ll understand:

On the Castlevania Fandom page: three bars of useless links and the 'fan feed' section: unrelated latest discussions and sponsored links by BMW?

I know it’s supposed to be an advantage of Wiki engines, but to me, on Fandom, I never quite find what I’m looking for at first glance and have to resort to the search bar. On the other hand, most fan sites are very much glancaeble—and are pleasant to glance at, due to the excessive deployment of silliness, both in text and in related imagery.


Compare this, an excerpt from Let Us Cling Together’s fan page:

Zapan: So you’re training to become a warrior, huh? Well, here is where you’ll be able to learn about many of the different classes that you can become or work with! […] Leonard: Welcome. I’m your personal trainer, Leonard. In Tactics Ogre, there are a large number of classes. Here is where you can learn about the different classes available and their strengths, so that you may rise to your full potential.

To this, an excerpt from Let us Cling Together’s Wiki Fandom page:

The Paladin is a class in Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber and a special class in Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. Usually defenders of the faith, or members of knightly orders, the paladin is set apart from his knight brothers in that he possesses magical ability.

Yawn. Almost every Fandom page I encounter is just so very boring! The informative-centered narrative style, clearly reminiscent of your average just-as-boring Wikipedia article, does everything but entice me as a fan. Most dedicated personal fan pages I encounter are written in the opposite way: sometimes, it’s very personal, where the author shares their experience of the game, and sometimes, it blends in perfectly with the game world, like in the above case, where Zapan and Leonard are NPCs with their own personalities.

I don’t know if a writing style is enforced on Fandom pages, but one thing to take into account is that for more popular pages, multiple people edit the contents, which is, to me, a disadvantage, as while it might be a better way to divide and conquer the work or keep information correct and up to date, any trace of personal flair is completely lost in the process.

Perhaps Fandom maintainers know that Fandom derives its income from advertising and sold content, publishing most user-provided text under copyleft licenses—a sentence I copied from the Wikipedia article. That means it makes money on your back, your content, and your hard work. Yes, your text. If you keep it boring though, I guess it won’t sell as well?

User Engagement

With Fandom’s “fan feed”, it becomes pretty clear that you’ve entered yet another social media garbage pit: TPG’s “capital” is your clicks. My adblocker detects and blocks hits to,,, and Flamestryke’s page? Zero. Mike’s center? Zero. Tactics Ogre pages? Zero. On the bottom right (see above screenshot), I’m encouraged to “follow on IG”, “join TikTok”, and check out more lovely Fandom quizzes, while all I wanted to do was marvel at someone else’s hard fan site work that is just as crazy about a certain game as me—probably crazier.

On personal sites, engagement is less dynamic, but also less forced. Most of the time, you’ll get to know who’s the person behind the cool site, and they will usually leave information as to how to contact them. I met Flamestryke on various Wizardry 8 fan forums—most of these, such as the IGN Wiz8 Spoiler VNBoards, are defunct now. Others are also very active at GameFAQs, but those boards are also dead since the Gamespot takeover in 2012.

Guess who owns GameFAQs since October 2022? That’s right, Fandom!

Read the Inside Fandom 2022 note to better understand what it means to be a “Fandom user”. The title reads:

Fandom Unveils Four Fan Identity Segments & How Marketers Can Best Tap Into Them in New Inside Fandom Study.

Marketeers? Tapping into them? Uhh, I just wanted to look up where to find this mace in that game?

If you’re considering creating a site dedicated to a game or movie you love, perhaps think about doing it the way you want instead of joining the Fandom club. For the non-tech savvy, tools like Neocities still exist! We, as visiting fans and future consumers of your content, will be eternally grateful!

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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