In mid-2009 I wrote a piece for Jason Hill’s Screenplay blog about the realisms of creating a video game website. Although most of the points raised are still relevant, I felt a bit of an update was needed, especially since I’ve been talking to other likeminded people lately who are embarking on their own perilous online adventures.
To simplify, here are the DO’s and DON’T’s of creating your own videogame website.
… expect to get rich. You won’t. You will lose money. Here are some examples of better financial investments:
- Going to the casino and playing roulette. At the blackjack table. While drunk.
- Lending money to a friend who swears his investment is a sure thing ‘this time’.
- Buying the girl behind the bar drinks in the hope she’ll get drunk enough to sleep with you. She won’t. She can drink more than you. Trust me.
If you can accept this as a truth, you’ve got a much higher chance of succeeding. Don’t get me completely wrong, down the track when you have enough traffic you might be in a position to get a media aggregator to include you in their network, or convince someone to sponsor your site for a while.
… expect that if you build it, they will come. Surprised as you may be, worldwide celebration will not break out once your shiny new gaming mecca is online, unless you already have a dedicated fan base or following.
You might write the be all and end all article that shatters the ‘Call of Duty vs Battlefield’ debate, just don’t expect anyone to actually read it. Not yet. And more importantly, once that article has been published, it’s already irrelevant. Do you think people will sift through your back catalogue of articles just for kicks?
… go it alone. You’ll need help. Whether that be friends with technical skills, graphic design expertise, editors, journalists … it doesn’t matter, just don’t do this on your own.
Most importantly though, even if your site doesn’t become the next IGN killer, you’ll at least have friends who you can share the journey with, people who are reading what you write and giving you the exact kind of feedback you need.
… make the website if you’re not a website developer. Seriously. Get some help from experienced people, because if you want your site to be taken even semi-seriously, it needs to look the part.
The only exception to this is if you’re just looking to create a bit of a blog for yourself as opposed to an actual gaming community. Go nuts, get wordpress, vent to the world, just don’t expect anyone to actually take what you say seriously.
… expect freebies just because you have a site. Getting review copies and attending preview events is a privilege, not a right. As much as possible, put yourself in the position of the gaming publishers and realise that they need to justify all their actions to international publisher HQ. They need to show that sending a free copy of this game to your site to review was a good investment, in terms of quality, content, and traffic (Traffic. Traffic. Traffic.).
Give them a reason to support you, without compromising your editorial integrity. It can be tough starting out with (especially when you don’t have much to leverage), but building solid relationships is the key to succeeding.
… have a point of difference. What’s going to set your site apart from ALL the others? Because I gotta be honest with you, if you simply assume that your content will simply be ‘better’ than anything else out there, that’s not going to be enough. Not only that, but taking the Australian element into consideration, you need to realise that you will rarely be the first to preview or review a game.
Not only will the larger sites take preference, but they can also leverage content from their international counterparts. Game Informer can feature a studio tour, interview, and preview on Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us because the US arm is bigger and has better access. Australia is less than 2% of the global market, you can’t compete.
So look for something else. SneakyBastards by PC Powerplay deputy editor Dan Hindes is a site that completely focuses on stealth based gaming elements. Tsumea is entirely about the local Australian/New Zealand game development industry. Even AustralianGamer started out as a localised version of Penny Arcade, then expanded to focus on the personalities behind the content.
… update constantly and consistently. It’s about longevity and consistency, realise today’s article is tomorrow’s archive. If you can’t regularly post content on the front of your site, you won’t convince people to keep coming back to see what’s new.
… use social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Flickr, Youtube, Digg, everything and anything. Keep them consistently updated along with your main website content, interlinking them all together. You may only get 10 people following your Google Plus page, but that’s 10 people you wouldn’t have had to engage with otherwise.
Also take note, publishers DO consider social media when looking at the reach of your publication and deciding on whether they will support you or not.
… promote your site at every opportunity. Not to the point of being annoying, keep it relevant and topical to any conversations you might be having. When AustralianGamer first started out, I would take every opportunity I could to post a link to stories that were appropriate in the relevant threads. I offered to create graphical sigs for popular gaming forum members as long as they referenced AustralianGamer in them. I would get guests on our podcast and make sure they posted their involvement on their website/blog/facebook.
You don’t necessarily need to outline a full on marketing campaign, just always look for new opportunities to grow your sites reputation and readership.
… live in Sydney. Australian specific again, but frankly if you want to be taken seriously quickly you need to be based in Sydney. It’s where all the gaming publishers (with the exception of Nintendo and THQ) are based, and where the majority of videogame specialist media are. Everyone knows everyone; it’s a massive social network of friends and colleagues and if you want to be taken seriously and get your review/preview content, your life will be a hellofalot easier being based here.
Although AustralianGamer was created by myself and Matt being based in Brisbane, it took many years and many interstate flights to cultivate the kind of relationships (and friendships) to make our presence felt amongst the gaming sectors.
So there you have it, I know the tone of this article might sound a bit harsh, but if you’re going to give this a shot you need to make sure you’re aware of the reality of the situation. Keep in mind of course, these are all just my personal opinions, I’d be interested to hear what other gaming community operators would have to say.
And if you need any help, feel free to contact me – I’ll happy put you in contact with the Publisher PR people, local developers, or website developers if you’re serious.
And remember, if someone like me can wrangle my way into this industry to the point where I’m being paid to drink and play videogames for a living – you’re in with a good chance too