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Veteran Member - Level 11
I don't claim to be much of a games journalist though I am trying to be one as best I can with the limited resources at my disposal. The world of online games journalism is filled with thousands of people trying to compete for the reader's attention. That number isn't an exaggeration either. Look at the hundred-plus people blogging on GIO, now add everyone else blogging on every other community site including IGN, 1UP, NeoGaf, Giant Bomb and dozens of other sites. That's not even including semi-professional sites such as the one I currently write for: The Game Effect. And oh yeah, the actual big-guns like all of the aforementioned sites' primary editorial content.
When I write an article for The Game Effect, I am competing with every other person posting articles online. I tweet it, Facebook it, Raptr it, and I put it on N4G. Ah, N4G, the bane of my existence. If you're not familiar with this site, it's a news aggregate site specifically for the games industry. When I write an article I have to post it to N4G, categorize it, and wait for the notoriously picky readers to approve it. If my article is a reprint of a news story that's already been reported, a blatant copy of a story printed by a different outlet, untimely, or just poorly written, my article won't be approved and won't be posted on the site. Luckily, The Game Effect has a small but dedicated reader base, yet that doesn't mean we don't want to expand that base. In fact, we've recently been having trouble attracting new readers.
It's for that reason that we post on sites like N4G. By posting on N4G, we can reach people who don't regularly visit our site. However, every article on the site is competing with hundreds of other articles every day. There's a saying that anything written on the internet has a shelf life of 24 hours tops. On N4G, that's more like half an hour or if you're lucky, two whole half hours (that would add up to one complete hour, by my calculations). As soon as it's bumped off the front page, you can bet you're amount of views is going to drop exponentially. Anyone who blogs on GIO knows exactly what I mean (stupid spammers!).
N4G rates all of the articles posted by using a degree meter based on the amount of views and comments. The higher rated articles, usually from big sites like Game Informer and IGN will garner a hearty 700 degrees or more. My articles for rinky dink ol' Game Effect? Between 100 and 200 if I'm lucky. So the challenge for writers like myself is to draw people in with something that grabs their attention. There are various ways one can go about this which I've listed below in a nifty little list because if there's one thing people love reading on the internet it's...
People love reading lists. They're simple, easy to read and they spark debate. Three key traits any article should have if it hopes to find an audience. Whether you're listing "The five sexiest video game characters" or "Five video game shirts that will make you the epitome of cool" (that one's mine by the way, earned me my highest-ever N4G rating of 210) people will read it. You could be listing the best games to take a dump on, or like Jim Sterling did recently, just list the best games to pose with Alien action figures, and guess what? People will read it!
Ok, now that you found your way back from Destructoid...
Lists are easy to write, easy to read and they will spark debate. The downside is that I wouldn't put any of my list blogs or articles on my personal portfolio. They aren't exactly the best showcase of talent, but they definitely can be useful. I would equate it to Steven Soderbergh directing the Ocean's films so that he can afford to create his unabashedly inaccessible epic Che.
2. Get the scoop!
Kotaku, Joystiq, Destructoid; all of these sites made their names by delivering news that nobody else had. They have sources inside the industry, they subscribe to the RSS feeds of EVERYONE, and they scour the interwebs for any new information on any person or subject that has the gaming populace's attention at that certain moment. That's not to say that a scoop is impossible to get for anybody without the same resources as these giants.
That gives all new meaning to the term 'scoop'
A writer for thesixthaxis.com found out that Capcom was the company behind the mysterious "No Hope Left" billboards by simply calling up the billboard provider and asking the name of the company currently renting that specific ad space. This guy's news article was officially labelled rumor, but that rumor would eventually become well substantiated by the announcement trailer for Resident Evil 6, which Capcom released a few short days after he broke this news. As the writer put it, "A very large cat has just escaped from a very large bag." This is a case of right place, right time with a bit of ingenuity and initiative thrown in. When you aren't in the right place at the right time, you need to...
3. Write something completely original!
Sure this could go under the scoop umbrella, but it is a different kind of scoop. When you write something that nobody else has done before, it should conceivably attract attention for the simple fact that it's unique. These can be anything from a satirical take on the industry to a lengthy, in depth feature such as this excellent piece on Eurogamer by Simon Parkin about the decline of Rare and the developer's relationship with Microsoft. This is one of the best games industry pieces I have ever read. As an aside, this is an article that anyone who wants to be a games journalist needs to read. It will humble even the best writers.
Sadly, simply creating unique, in-depth features won't always garner the attention that we hope they will. I recently wrote an article on TGE for a series called Unsung Heroes, about GIO's own Rob Kehoe (Warbuff) and his experience as a Tester on games such as Batman: Arkham City and Halo 4. I interviewed Rob, researched other opinions on video game testing, and wrote nearly 2,000 words about Rob's responsibilities as a Tester in an effort to shine a light on this oft-misunderstood games industry job. I was so excited about this article and to see the reaction of those fickle N4G readers. This was going to be good! This was going to get attention. This was going to make people stand up and take notice. This was going to have them talking! This....got a 150 on N4G. Not terrible by my standards, I'll take it. But certainly not IGN levels either. If only I had a more....
4. Inflammatory Headline!
What's the difference between this: David Jaffe Leaving Eat, Sleep, Play to Make Casual Games and this: David Jaffe Leaving Eat, Sleep, Play to Focus on Development. They are the same story, and they are reporting the same thing, but the former would likely receive much more attention than the latter. Last week David Jaffe was upset with media outlets focusing on his comments that he wants to make games in the mobile space, rather than focusing on the fact that he is building a completely new studio closer to his San Diego home so that he can focus on game development for the first time since the second Twisted Metal. He made all of these comments at the same time, in the same interview and on the same day, but the media focused on the fact that he wants to make mobile games because they knew that would garner some hits and spark discussion.
No caption necessary
I have even experienced this phenomenon myself. One of my earlier blog posts was a hypothesis on why I didn't think that Valve was making Half-Life 3 (I still have my doubts). I titled it pretty obviously, "Why Valve Isn't Making Half-Life 3". It's not my proudest post, and it's certainly not my favorite, but this is by far the most-read blog I have ever written, currently standing at just shy of 10,000 views. It somehow spread across the internet like wildfire and I remember within a week of my posting it, I had over 2,000 views. I know other people have experienced this phenomenon as well, as mine isn't even close to the top viewed blogs in GIO history. But still, that simple yet inflammatory headline somehow garnered more hits than a head crab in Ravenholm.
The challenge I am currently experiencing is to balance my desire to improve The Game Effect and bring in more readers to the site (because it really is a great site and I love writing for it) with my need to keep my professional reputation in line with what I want to present to future prospects. The video game journalism field is extremely competitive, and readers are extremely fickle. Don't take that as me complaining. It isn't the reader's fault if they don't want to read what I wrote. If anything, it's my fault for not finding a way to grab their interest and spark discussion. In fact, as I get close to posting this very blog, I anticipate waking in the morning and staring at those numbers in the top right corner constantly to see if I grabbed those readers and sparked that conversation. To see if I was successful.
But then again, maybe my headline isn't really eye catching enough. Maybe this one would be better:
Online Games Journalism: Modern Warfare 3 Is Better Than Battlefield 3!