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Web Production as Chess

posted by Arley McBlain on Jul 20, 2012.

In this fun, quirky little post, guest author Arley McBlain considers the world of web production as it relates to the classic strategy game of chess. Interesting parallels are established between the game’s pieces and the different players in the web production process.

I’ve been known to enjoy a little chess now and then (not to say that I’m particularly good at it). It’s the hallmark of strategy games, and often very complicated events or situations are compared to it metaphorically. I have gone one step further in thinking of website production as the classic strategy game chess and have associated the pieces with the various people that bring a website together.

The Players


The pawns are the people dealing with the website content directly. Content is the most important thing on a website, so naturally there should be more pawns than anything. Pawns quickly setup the basis of the game, and the direction it will go in. They represent writers, editors, content entry people, photographers, bloggers etc. In chess when a player thinks of Pawns as disposable the game doesn’t go well—in reality the way these are played will make or break the game.

On the other side of the board are enemy pawns, this natural nemesis is lousy content; ad heavy, endlessly scrolling pages, rehashed top-ten lists, pages harvesting content from other websites, etcetera. The dark side can be so compelling.


These pillars represent the Quality Assurance, Analytics, and Testing of a site. A straight forward approach is always the best way—provided that content people are out of the way! Rooks have a unique rapport with kings (the site’s greatest stakeholder) as demonstrated in the move of castling (which we’ll talk about later).

Conversely, ignorance stands tall in the opposite corner, casting tall shadows across the equally ignorant content team – this can take shape as an untested product, ignored user data and poor quality of content. When this player doesn’t do its job, a site can break quickly.


Developers are the forward thinking and often hard to follow characters that often strike from out of nowhere at problems that are in the peripheral. They often work in terms of black and white, so naturally this is how they travel.

No surprise that a developer’s biggest enemy is themselves: His own lousy code, scope creep, lack of attention to detail and failure to plan ahead will create their own undoing.


Working in an often incomprehensible and unpredictable fashion, designers are best represented as the knights. They are often seen as the heroes who will make a name for the site (author bias admitted). Their job description involves breaking rules, which can allow them to get around steps and obstacles with ease.

Their equally wily opponent: Failure to plan ahead and battling deadlines. Knowing four moves ahead is crucial in this game, a misstep can be a long painful road to recovery. Misunderstanding the goal of the design, not knowing the requirements or painting ones self into a corner with an inflexible library might be some of the designers greatest weaknesses.

The Queen

The most powerful player on the board is naturally the top ranking person on the production team; be it the boss, the stake holder, president or any other figurehead. This position can make powerful, fast movements and radically change the direction a site or project is going. This piece often sits back and observes. Even if they’re not an active part of the action, their mere presence inspires confidence in the other pieces. The best leaders began as Pawns and have been through these battles before. Their experience is always a complete asset.

The most powerful deadly crushing weapon the enemy has in its arsenal is the dreaded middle-management trying to climb a ladder; or worse – the diabolical committee. Either force trying to constantly adapt a project to keep up with trends, add features and change requirements.

The King

Who do all of these players play to protect? The client of course! Steady and methodical, the client needs to be surrounded by a group of experts who are highly skilled at their art. When they are felled, the game is over. One of their most incredible moves is interacting with Rooks with castling – based on the analytics and test results the site may need to reevaluate objectives to better serve the client; a decision only the king can make.

The arch-enemy is the very same client! Making moves against themselves; co-ordinating the worst kinds of opposition and unwittingly commanding a hoard of obstacles against their own final goals.

Check. Mate.

Sometimes making a website is an incredible battle filled with gut wrenching strategy and action. If we all do what is right the good guys win.

In reality, website production is a lot more complicated than even the iconic strategy game; but it’s fun to think about. Naturally you’re probably noticing that Account and Project Management is missing from my list of pieces, but the reason is obvious: they’re the ones playing the game.


Since writing this post I did a Google searcheroo to see how original this line of thinking it was. I was initially disappointed, then thrilled to discover a similarly themed post on Smashing Magazine. The difference is that this post talks about how you as a web professional can adopt the personalities of the various pieces for the purposes of making great websites for your client. If you have room for two nerdy chess illustrations about making websites I highly recommend it!

I told you chess makes a great metaphor.

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An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Arley McBlain Arley is a front end developer in Burlington Ontario at Thrillworks. You can also find him on his own website or follow him on Twitter (@ArleyM).

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Sep 24, 2012

Kaka says:

Great post while we look at things in a different way. I’m pawn fighting pawn.

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