After Scott adds a poll to the goo game asking if players are interested in Web Page Survivor 4: Welcome to the Jungle, he sends a simple promotional message to the few who answered affirmatively, inviting them to sign up. Upset that his real email address has apparently been compromised by a spammer, new member Todd Brotsch sends a businesslike message to Scott asking not to be contacted again unless he has won a prize in a game. The phrase strikes directly at Scott's fear of being seen as a mere prize-giver by people who have no real interest in playing his games for fun. Scott is so hurt he permanently bans Web Page Survivor from his site, and never sends another email to site members except as part of an opt-in announcement system. Todd and Scott apologize to each other over the unintentional hurt feelings, but their relationship and the site are never the same again.
After years of only a few dedicated players like Matthew Preston, Lori Lancaster, and Kelly Lee participating in the goo game, finally it has taken off in popularity with strangers, and the competition takes center stage for many. The game evolves to compensate, leaning towards more Google-proof clues and gaining descriptive categories that help players solve the goo like a puzzle. The new breed of players are instant experts at the game, none more so than Steve West, who wins the game a mere 37 goos into his game career, the fastest player to become a champion since Matthew Preston in the very first round.
The goo game has already seen special rounds that experimented with game structure like letting players request the celebrities, but this concept is entirely new: A whole round of the game build on a single topic. It is the "Goo World Tour," and each celebrity represents a different nation around the globe. The quirky theme is a huge hit with enthusiastic players, who ask for more themes like it when it ends. Thereafter on a regular basis, goos are grouped together into themes that unify them, like space or the wild west or the seven deadly sins. It becomes one of the goo game's most popular features.
Someone somewhere links to Predict the Oscars 2004 during the open registration period, and this edition of the annual contest becomes flooded with strangers who don't participate in the rest of the site. In the end, 41 people enter the contest, which is twice as many as the previous four years combined. When the prizes are all won by strangers, the site regulars are just as disappointed as Scott, and a new rule in future Oscar contests requires at least a week of participation on the site before entry. Former players are grandfathered in, and 2004's PTO champions return to compete again in successive years, frequently placing just as high.
Unemployed, Scott spends his spare time reading movie industry news, and finds he wants to say something about it almost every day. The approach is novel: He transforms Thorough Movie Reviews into Thorough Movie Weblog, so that he can write whatever he wants about movies in general and still review whatever films he sees. The results are uneven, with updates coming in spurts, and Scott finds he misses the plain simplicity of his reviews as reviews. When his career picks up a few months later, he is relieved to cancel the weblog and restore the reviews back to their previous format.
Another web fad visits the site when Scott invites members to transform themselves into South Park caricatures using an online tool and send him the resulting images for publication. The discussion is a hit, and members have a lot of fun letting out their inner surly grade-schoolers, even getting a few of their loved ones into the act. They also get their only glimpse of top member Russ Wilhelm, who won't supply a photo due to family privacy. Scott takes it a step further by converting all Weekly Curiosity and Fin du siècle characters into warped cartoon illustrations. A subsequent call for members to become characters from The Simpsons is also popular three years later.
Since the site's population of strangers has grown, Scott realizes that some of them may be curious how certain members of the site know each other in real life, and where some live. To that end, he creates the "User Legend," a complicated diagram of site members connecting the friends, family, and couples with brightly-colored lines, and the "User Map," a United States map with icons showing where participating members live. Both features are popular but difficult to maintain, since Scott must edit the images himself whenever there's a change. Eventually he replaces the legend with a dynamic version, and plans a dynamic map ever since removing the original from the site.
The goo game isn't the only growing part of the site: Tragic Comedy experiences a renaissance when its focus shifts from anecdotal accounts of member's daily experiences to open-ended discussions about politics, education, society, and culture. Prolific new authors like Erik Bates, Melissa Erin, Anthony Lewis, Scott Horowitz, and Steve Dunn invigorate the forum with their new perspectives and contribute to what some still consider the forum's golden age, when serious topics are analyzed in a friendly, argument-free forum.
General members get their first physical "merchandise" based on the site after an intriguing Tragic Comedy discussion. Among his circle of friends, Erik Bates winds up in a game to create a mix CD entirely out of cover songs, and turns to other authors for ideas. They prove so prolific that he offers to send them copies of the results in thanks. Previously, Island at the End of the World players had received mix CDs and silkscreened t-shirts, but this was the first product available to anyone on the site. Scott had toyed with offering goo game t-shirts through CafePress.com and similar services, but found their rules too restrictive.
Years of tinkering with this site when he could have gone to class or spent more time with loved ones finally pays off in an unexpected way when Scott is hired as a professional web developer. He had dreamed of the job for eight years, but doubted that his meager HTML skills were enough to compete with the countless other young people trying to break into the field. When he learns PHP and the site becomes application-like before his very eyes, he finally finds the courage to apply in the web development field, and within four weeks he has landed a promising full-time position. The good news for the site is that Scott learns a great deal more on the job about PHP and development techniques, but the bad news is that his free time slowly dwindles, especially when he is promoted to a position managing other developers. Forevermore, the site becomes a high-tech application depending at least as much on content from various members as from Scott's own hand.
As the site grows in popularity, it attracts people not just outside of Scott's social circle, but outside of the contiguous 48 states. The "Goo World Tour" comes down to a final face-off between Alaskan Christine Marie Doiron and Ontarian Mexan Baxter. (Christine wins but Megan goes on to a longer, high-scoring career as a goo player.) Fellow Ontarian Chris McKinnon later follows in Megan's footsteps with his own high score. Labradorian siblings Nadine and Allan Russell do well in the goo game, and Amir Sufyani invites his friend Kat Stratton to play from Britain. The furthest registrant of this era is Mihai Rusu, a native Romanian who says he enjoys playing the goo game because it teaches him about American culture from an American perspective.
The site experiences its share of brief outages from time to time, but one glitch proves especially vexing to the community when three days' worth of content disappear from the site, including a new goo and Tragic Comedy discussions about the passing of Ronald Reagan. Scott is able to recover some of the content from his hard drive, but it takes almost a day of the site on hiatus for him to do it, and knowing those days are lost permanently disrupts all affected discussions.
Searching for a way to keep Fin du siècle from growing stagnant, Scott turns to the source: An official D&D adventure called "Red Jack" in which the party chases the ghost of Jack the Ripper in the foggy streets of Boston, to which Scott adds family elements for new player Erik Bates. The choice of this plotline for his game couldn't turn out better: Scott realizes that structured adventures with their own self-contained arcs from opening to conclusion will be the game's salvation. From then on, the game is much-improved as a series of separate adventures, and the modern era of Fin du siècle begins.
With a Tragic Comedy discussion about the Yankees' performance in the World Series growing more heated by the hour, David Mitzman invites superfan friend James Chiappone to join the site. James's posts are inflammatory from the beginning, and the next day, he begins a new discussion solely for fellow members to fling creative insults at one another. With the forum's civility in danger of permanent collapse and several longtime authors informing Scott of their intention to quit, Scott takes two unprecedented actions that he hoped would never happen: He deletes the entire discussion and removes James from the site to end the angry conflict. James and Scott have a polite parting of ways by email, and site members learn the value of preserving the culture of mutual respect.
Scott's new career as a professional developer teaches him plenty of new web tricks both technological and philosophical. From this experience comes a complete redesign of the site, built with a professional touch but little creativity. Originally Scott conceives an animated shell but his artistic limitations end that dream. He makes the site plain white with a simple gray header because he intends to create numerous shells and let each member select the one they want, but lack of time and design talent also keep that from becoming a reality. This plain-jane look to the site survives for nearly two years, much to Scott's frustration, but at least it focuses on content. The biggest change to the site beyond its look and code is that Celebrity Goo Game now updates daily instead of weekly, a radical shift that means multiple goos are active at once and the competition gets a lot harder to win, not to mention that it becomes harder to update in Scott's busy schedule.
Discussion of hot social topics, especially the election-day turnout during the presidential showdown between George W. Bush and John Kerry, helps Tragic Comedy reach a fever pitch of activity. This calendar week sees 932 member comments, with 302 on November 3rd alone, by far a single-day record. (By comparison, it took six months for the forum to have its three-hundredth overall comment in 2001.) Top participants this week include Anna Gregoline, Anthony Lewis, Lori Lancaster, Scott Horowitz, Mike Eberhart, Jackie Mason, Todd Brotsch, Erik Bates, John Gunter, Kris Weberg, David Mitzman, Scott Hardie, and new member Amy Austin in her third week on the site.
For the first time, a site member takes Scott up on his offer to host their own sites for free. (Scott doesn't use anywhere near the storage limit on his hosting account.) Eager to offer character data online for his space-based RPG Trouble Shooters, John R. Edwards has Scott create him a basic site at travellerlog.celebritygoogame.com. John doesn't get around to updating it and the RPG soon ends, but for a brief time the site is host to an entirely separate web entity owned by someone other than Scott.
Obscene, mean-spirited humor site SomethingAwful.com mentions this site as its Awful Link of the Day, asking rhetorically "what fucking moron thought [the goo game] would be a good idea." Instantly this site is deluged with dozens of unwelcome visitors, who register with names like "Fuck You" and post messages like "Why does your site suck so much cock?" Scott doesn't discover the damage until he gets home from work, and spends six hours cleaning all of the junk out of the database to restore normalcy. Not one of the visitors sticks around the site beyond the first day.
So many players guess Pamela Anderson for the Jenna Jameson goo that Scott decides to create a whole week of goos that were frequently guessed wrong for similar celebrities. Thus the recurring "Do-Over Week" is born, becoming an easy, fun way for Scott to come up with celebrities who players are obviously familiar with. The concept doesn't stop players from guessing Martha Stewart for television goos, O.J. Simpson for crime goos, and especially Bill Gates for technology goos, the three famous figures who players most often guess wrong. (All three have been goos.)
June 14, 2005: Competition in the now-daily goo game becomes so intense that victory seems a privilege reserved for a few dedicated experts, especially Mike Eberhart, Russ Wilhelm, Megan Baxter, Jerry Mathis, Elliot Farney, Denise Sawicki, Todd Brotsch, and Steve West. Read more...
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