NBI 2016 – Thoughts On Blogging

nbi2016

The first rule of blogging is not to blog about blogging. However, June is the Newbie Blogger Initiative here in the game blogging community, so this is the month where we throw out all the rules, talk about the craft of blogging, and try to recruit and encourage new bloggers.

I technically started blogging in 1998, when I put some random notes up on my first ever web site, unless you count some Quake match updates I posted on the clan’s page in 1997. I didn’t really start blogging with any regularity though until about 2002 or 2003. The point is that I’ve been at this hobby for a while now, so I have at least a little sense of the landscape.

For the most part, starting a blog is fairly easy. Grab a free account on WordPress or Blogger or whatever and just start posting. The hard part is getting anyone to read your blog–a topic I clearly haven’t yet mastered–but generally speaking you do this by posting comments on other peoples’ blogs, posting on forums, posting on social media, sending out blog links to an aggregator like @mmoblogosphere, or participating in community events like the NBI.

Do you have what it takes to be a blogger? Almost definitely. All you need is a little bit of time to write, and the courage to post what you write. If you’ve ever posted comments on someone else’s blog or written forum posts, then you are already 90% of the way there. Even if all you’ve ever done is read blogs, you’re probably about 50% there. Avid readers tend to excel at writing, too.

Speaking of which, there are many kinds of bloggers, but a lot of them are writers. (I would count myself in that group.) For them, blogging is merely a convenient publishing platform for the writing they might otherwise do in a vacuum. If you have any kind of passion for writing, fiction or non-fiction, you are automatically a perfect candidate to be a blogger. (In fact if you have any past writing experience I wouldn’t even call you a “newbie” blogger.) Blogging is just about the easiest way to practice writing and perhaps even more importantly it’s a great way to practice having people read and react to your writing, which in my experience is the more grueling part of writing.

(That’s not to say you have to be a great writer to blog. Blogging is extremely informal.)

As a blogging newbie, you may find yourself hoping your blog is successful, but I would caution newcomers that the concept of “success” is very ephemeral in the blogging world. You can define success by the number of hits you get, or the number of dollars of ad revenue you make, or by the number of comments you receive, or any combination thereof. But I have observed that most newcomers are pretty disappointed with their blogs when they try to track those things early on. I know I was.

By the way, stop now if your only goal for blogging is to make money. Nobody is making any money by writing a blog. The best you could hope for is that your blog might give you some exposure which might lead to a content writing gig somewhere else, but the chances of that are slim and content writers tend to get paid quite a bit less than a living wage anyway.

One piece of advice that is often given to new bloggers is that whatever else you do, you need to post often to build and keep an audience. There is a certain amount of truth to that, but I’m not sure it applies as much today as it did in the early days of blogging. Back in the dark ages, people had to make a conscious choice to load your blog in their browser to find out if there was any new content there. The “update often” philosophy was borne from the fact that if people went to your site but didn’t find anything new, they would lose interest, forget about you, and go somewhere else.

Today, however, I think a lot of people will just drop a link to your blog into their favorite RSS program, or follow you on Twitter or some other social media. In other words, I don’t think readers spend a lot of time visiting web sites any more to find out if there is new content to see. Readers now get an instant notification whenever new content is available, so even if you only post once a month, people will still see it.

As a side effect, for better or worse, I invest very little time on the look of the web site itself (by which I mean the theme, the widgets on the sides, etc.), and make the assumption that everyone is reading my posts through an RSS feed or some other mechanism like that. It’s just my opinion of course, but a lot of the time spent on the fonts and layout of a blog page is wasted. I tend to go for a minimalist look that is easily readable in case people reach my site through Google searches.

A constant source of consternation for new bloggers is what to write about. (It’s particularly concerning when you’re also told that you have to post a lot.) It’s very common to think that you have nothing to say, but that should never stop anyone from starting a blog. Believe it or not, most bloggers tend to steal topics from other bloggers or news sites. :) By which I mean that we’ll see something interesting on another site and then write our thoughts about it as a blog post. Most bloggers (including me) tend to have a long list of other blogs they read for inspiration.

As far as the more inside-baseball aspects of blogging, there are a lot of mundane details that you’ll probably want to learn eventually, and which I’m sure are abundantly documented elsewhere in the NBI, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much at first. Things like how to optimize your posts and titles for search engines, how to end your posts with a question to encourage readers to comment, and how to make sure your posts have pictures so that they don’t look weird in aggregators. I find those aspects of blogging to be very much a chore and I often ignore or forget them.

So to summarize, blogging is cool! All the cool kids are doing it! You should totally do it too.

nbi2016discord

@newbieblogger2

The Great Blaugust Flame-Out

I flamed out of Blaugust, so I guess I can now break my own self-imposed Blaugust rule, which was not to write about Blaugust.

There was this one day that I hadn’t scheduled a post, and it was a long, terrible day at work, and when I got home I had to decide whether to try to find enough energy to write a post real quick or play a game instead, and of course that was a no-brainer so I didn’t get a post out that day. I suppose I could have written a make-up post but then there was another day where I had to make the same decision and then another and another and now it’s a different month and oh well.

(Okay, it wasn't nearly as bad as the Hindenburg disaster.)
Okay, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Hindenburg disaster.

I got what I needed out of the event so I’m pretty happy about it anyway. I determined that writing is still hard, and posting daily is still hard, and, while I’m still capable of doing it, at this time in my life, the cost of posting every day outweighs the benefit. It’s not a relaxing diversion after a long draining day at work. I’d rather just play games and maybe post two or three times a week if I’m lucky. :)

Congratulations to everyone who stuck with it through to the end! And to those who didn’t, that’s okay too. Thanks for the event Belghast!

Blaugust Plans

Interstaller Tidal Wave

To hold myself accountable, I’m going to announce publicly that I’m going to try to participate in Belghast’s Blaugust this year. That means posting at least 31 times during the month of August (once a day).

Fortunately for me, I’m sure I have at least 31 half-finished posts in my Drafts folder that I can choose from. So don’t be surprised if you see posts about very old topics that everyone’s long forgotten. :)

NBI Talkback – Early Access

Early Access and Kickstarter – Do you support unfinished games?

This question is worded a little ambiguously, perhaps intentionally… what does “support” mean? I certainly support the development of new games, by which I mean that I always want people to try to make games.

As for financially supporting unfinished games, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I’ve been refining my criteria (see below), but it depends on the situation. I have not supported any game projects on Kickstarter, however I have purchased about a half dozen Steam Early Access games. I have also “bought into beta” a few times too (ArcheAge and Landmark are the biggest examples).

To me it all boils down to risk versus reward.

Kickstarter is a fairly high risk, low reward proposition in my mind, so it doesn’t make much sense to back a game project there unless you happen to know and like the developers. The risk is that the developer will take your money and run, or never finish the game, or change the game entirely from their initial proposal. The “reward” is a lot of buggy releases, and a few dollars off the eventual retail price. (Increasingly I’m also wondering if people consider it a reward to have the opportunity to psychologically terrorize a developer on their early access forums.)

Steam Early Access is more of a low-to-medium risk, with a higher reward (mostly instant gratification). There are a lot of reviews there you can read to help you decide whether or not to take that chance. And if you wait a few days after the game “launches,” you can almost always find someone who is streaming it so you can actually look at it first, or bloggers will write up some first impressions of it.

Buying betas (or “founder’s packs”) is more of a case-by-case basis. With ArcheAge and Landmark, I considered them extremely low risks, with decent-sized rewards. I knew I would like ArcheAge because I’d already played the Russian version, and I was pretty excited to play the Westernized version. True, I paid a premium to play it early, but considering the value of the virtual goods in the founder’s packages, it wasn’t that much of a premium.

As for Landmark, I didn’t know anything about the game, but I trusted (and still mostly trust) that a company like then-SOE-now-Daybreak will actually finish the game and get it to market. So I knew I wouldn’t lose my money. But in retrospect, I probably should have waited. I don’t exactly regret buying a founder’s pack, but if I had known the condition of the game before making my purchase, I would have waited. Because they were basically selling us a prototype.

And because of that Landmark experience, I’ve set myself some loose guidelines on how much I will spend on unfinished games.

If it’s a totally unknown game from a totally unknown developer, I won’t spend more than $10-$15. This also includes games I might be interested in but have seen or heard lukewarm reviews, or seen game footage that makes me wonder about the quality of the developer studio. I have a lot of Steam Early Access games in my wish list in this category. I won’t buy them unless they go on sale.

If it’s an unknown game but I trust the company, or I like what I’ve seen in game footage or streams, or it’s getting good reviews from peers, I might spend $20-$25 on early access.

(If it’s a known game but the publisher is Daybreak, who is known to release prototypes as products, I won’t buy it unless it goes on sale for much less than $20. That means H1Z1.)

These days I can’t see myself spending more than $25 for an unfinished game unless it’s backed by a major AAA studio, or at the very least has a free demo that I can try first. Unless a game concept just blows me away, I can wait until the open beta or the release date. I’ve got plenty of other games to play and not enough time to play them as it is.

But I’ll always reserve the right to change my mind and buy something on impulse.

NBI Talkback – GamerGate

Slightly belated, but…

How did GamerGate affect you?

It actually didn’t affect me per se. I was a passive observer and it wasn’t discussed that much where I spent time on the Internet. I generally don’t read “hard-hitting” game journalism sites like RPS, Kotaku, and whatever others there are, and I definitely don’t venture into their comment sections. I think I only unfollowed one person on Twitter because of their relentless talk about GamerGate.

I did learn some things from GamerGate and its fallout though.

GamerGate demonstrated that there is a rather large conservative population among gamers that I had never seen before. Prior to GamerGate, I viewed gamers as apolitical, or maybe Libertarian-leaning, so that was an eye-opener. But it seemed that the ideals of the average GamerGate supporter correlated very strongly with the ideals of the average political conservative (in America, at least). Political conservatives tend to despise “the liberal media” so it was probably a natural fit for them to despise “the gaming media.”

It’s also been interesting (by which I mean depressing) to see that the “unrest” (if you will) that turned into GamerGate also bled over into other industries like genre fiction. If you’ve followed any of the controversy around the Hugo award nominations this year you’ll find it very familiar: It seems like many of the same conservatives that are GamerGate supporters are also trying to overturn the Hugo establishment. I guess the surprising thing to me is how much of an overlap there is between game audiences and fiction audiences, though I suppose if you think about it, it shouldn’t be that surprising.

I feel like it’s human nature to divide ourselves up into “us and them” sides. Perhaps as gamers we are even more susceptible to it: Most of our games force us to pick one of two factions or teams to play on. But if you take a step back and look at GamerGate (and the Hugos) objectively, the issues are complex and opinions can span a wide variety of gray-shades. (For myself, I can find both merit and fault in both sides, which is true of most things in life.) Sadly, many people just pick a side and run with it, because that’s the path of least resistance.

Liebster Award Saga Continues

Thanks for the nomination j3w3l! I find these things kind of silly, but I guess it would be rude not to participate in the phenomenon that has taken over the MMO blogosphere lately. I’m such a perfectionist though it’s taken forever to put this together. :)

Eleven quick facts about me:

  1. I’ve self-published a book on Amazon and sold over three copies.
  2. I used to write music and record songs in a home studio.
  3. I’ve had tons of dental work done.
  4. I secretly wish I could do slight-of-hand magic.
  5. My perfectly sane retirement plan is to become a best-selling author.
  6. This year I’m hoping to buy a house; I’ve been renting for three years.
  7. I hate talking about myself which makes job interviews painful.
  8. I used to have really long hair but I cut it short on my 40th birthday.
  9. My favorite pickle is the Mt. Olive Kosher Dill pickle.
  10. I don’t talk much but sometimes I can be annoyingly verbose.
  11. I can juggle up to four balls.

Answers to j3w3l’s questions:

If you were to be an expert in a singular subject (anything not just regular school stuffz) what would that be.

I wish I was better at simple mechanical things like home repairs, but I’m just too lazy. In a less practical area I’d love to be an expert swordfighter–I just recently discovered that German longsword fighting is a real thing. If I were 20 years younger I’d be all over that. I still might try it just for the exercise, but I’ll probably embarrass myself.

Your favourite tv show or cartoon when growing up.

This led me to a giant rabbit hole of looking through old Saturday morning cartoon lineups and prime time schedules from the 1980s to find the exact shows that I watched. But then I started to wonder, “What exactly is the age range where one grows up?” Then my precise scientific research went off the rails into some weird philosophical area.

So here are some shows I remember watching religiously from the late 70s through the mid 80s: Quark (briefly), Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, The Dukes of Hazzard (obviously!), Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner, Superfriends, The A-Team, MacGyver, Remington Steele (I had a huge crush on Laura Holt), and pretty much every sitcom that ever came on NBC Thursday nights (Cosby, Cheers, Night Court, etc.)

If you were to be turned into a monster, from any medium or even your imagination what would that be.

Probably a plain old vampire. Eternal life and all that. I’ve never thought about it much though.

Favourite mode of transportation in games.

I’m not much of a mount collector but the horses in Age of Conan are the best ones I can remember. I also like the animation of dwarves bobbing back and forth on yarnosaurs in Rift. I remember loving the flying griffons in WoW way back when I first started playing.

Your favourite piece of merchandise, gaming or non-gaming.

If this means action figures or posters or figurines or the like, I honestly don’t think I own any. I have a problem spending money on things that have no practical use. My house has virtually no decorations in it. Weird but true.

The music that gets you moving, genre and artist.

I don’t dance but anything with a good drum beat will get me playing air drums, usually in the Rock genre. Here is a tiny random selection of songs on my Android car playlist: Bon Jovi Livin’ on a Prayer, Breaking Benjamin Breath, Chevelle I Get It, Extreme Slide, Huey Lewis Couple Days Off, Linkin Park Given Up, Motley Crue Kickstart My Heart, Rush Tom Sawyer, Seether Gasoline, Stone Temple Pilots Unglued, Van Halen Man on a Mission, ZZ Top Sleeping Bag.

If you were to punch a historical figure who would that be.

Whoever invented the 40-hour work week.

If there was one law you were able to break with impunity which would it be.

Ha! Tax evasion? Then I might feel better about splurging more on merchandise. :)

If you could bring one mechanic from games into the real world what would it be.

At first I thought this meant a literal mechanic, as in a person who fixes things. I was imagining some gnomes from World of Warcraft running around fixing my water heater, which might be kind of cool actually, unless I had to listen to their terrible jokes all day long.

As for game mechanics I think it would be cool if people had health bars on them. :) And I wish you could rate people in real life based on your interactions with them, and have that number floating over their heads when you see them. Sort of like the recommendations in FFXIV but mostly I remember it from the book Daemon by Daniel Suarez. It would probably end up destroying society though.

Draw me personal portrait, and yes paint is acceptable.

This was the hardest one of all! Draw something? Are you kidding?? :) Anyway it’s pretty awful but here it is.

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Now for the even-more-hardest part: Thinking up new questions that aren’t too dumb but also don’t sound like essay questions.*

  1. What was the last animated series you watched?
  2. How many mobile devices do you own (choose your own definition)?
  3. Are your right- or left-handed? Do you wish you were the other?
  4. At what point in your life did you give up on the political system (an intentionally loaded question)?
  5. Is it weird to peel a banana from the bottom?
  6. What is your favorite season (ie. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) and why?
  7. What kind of coffee or tea or orange juice do you drink?
  8. How many games are on your desktop right now?
  9. How many musical instruments do you play? Are you out of practice?
  10. What kind of car do you drive? What would you rather drive?
  11. Are you more of a Mulder/believer or a Scully/skeptic (of whatever subject you care to fill in)?

It’s also been hard finding blogs that a) haven’t already responded, b) haven’t already been nominated, and c) have a known Twitter handle so you can actually notify them of their nomination, but here are a few. I think some of these have already been tagged but they haven’t posted yet so get writing! Or feel free to totally ignore me if you want, and if anyone else wants to chime in, go for it.

* In case anyone cares, my answers would be: American Dad, 5+, right/no, around age 35, only if it’s too ripe, Spring, Folgers, like a hundred, 4/holy god yes, Honda Accord/Porsche, mostly skeptic.