Blogging for Cash, or pondering the zero sum game of funding

Apple Cider Mage has a very thorough post this morning on the practicality and morality of making money off of content, specifically gaming-related blogs, podcasts, and videos. It’s a good write-up, and you should probably go read it.

It was also a very timely read for me, as this is a topic I’ve thought about a lot lately. Let me be frank — I live off a very tight budget, and due to some real life circumstances it’s been a lot tighter than usual lately. I also put roughly 20 hours a week on weekends and evenings into content under the “Totally Legit Publishing” banner, whether it’s this blog or Cat Context or making videos about movies or whatever.

And I do this strictly because I love it. When I was a small child one of my favorite activities was borrowing my parents’ tape deck (yes, I’m old) and recording myself doing “radio shows”, and although technology has moved along honestly running a podcast about video games is not that different in spirit from sitting under a table and making up weather reports.

But it’s also time consuming, and I definitely spend a little money each month on things like a web server or an extra Humble Bundle for future giveaways. During my recent budget crunch I realized that I couldn’t really afford to keep doing all the hobbyist things I do because that time would be better spent being paid for things. It was an intensely frustrating realization.

I have a relatively successful blog and podcast! And I put a lot of work into them! Surely there must be a way to not give up any of that but still scrape out some pocket money each month, or at least break even. Or, as it turns out, maybe not.

(Actually, that is not entirely true as recently some friends gave surprise donations to the server fund. Those people know who they are, and I hope they also know how much I was moved by their generous spirit.)

Anyway, Apple Cider wrote that “[content creators] should be compensated for their time and efforts” and while I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of that I’m not sure it’s a terribly practical approach. Unfortunately, content funding is a zero sum game. Readers and listeners and watchers have limited wallets just like the rest of us, and financial support received by Blog A is financial support not received by Blog B.

That doesn’t mean that content creators who are soliciting donations or patronage should feel guilty, but I think it’s worth reflecting before considering monetization. Is your content actually valuable? Is it more valuable than Blog B’s content? A couple of years ago I was asked to edit someone’s Kickstarter pitch, and my first question was “Why is your idea worth someone’s money?” If you don’t have a good answer to that, you may want to reconsider your quest for funding.

Honestly I’m not sure what my conclusions are for this post. (Good thing it was free!) I am a passionate advocate for the idea that everyone can start a blog and say what they have to say to the world. I am perhaps just not an advocate for the idea that everyone can and should be paid for said blog, particularly in a reality where there are limited dollars and an almost literally endless numbers of creators.

Raid Leader Anxiety Never Dies

I started the guild Machiavellis Cat in late 2005. We began raiding in 2006, starting out in Zul’Gurub and moving on to Molten Core and a bit of Blackwing Lair. The guild gradually got more serious about raids, eventually moving into “hard modes” in Wrath of the Lich King and a bit of Cataclysm.

I stepped down as the guild leader and people manager in early 2011 and quit WoW completely (for a while.. you know) shortly after that. While it was just kind of my time, much of the reason I quit was the Icecrown Citadel doldrums at the end of Wrath. ICC, for those not in the know, was “current” content for a year. That’s a long time to be doing the same raid.

It wasn’t very surprising when people stopped showing up after six months of ICC. I would recruit more if for no better reason than a core of us wanted to finish hard modes, but after a while the drifters and quitters started to get to me. I took it personally, even though it wasn’t meant that way. Over time I started to get pretty bitter from logging on only to see yet again a raid of 21 people, a size that meant no progression could happen, and having to apologize for wasting their time or jolly them through old content.

(I should note that although the situation was pretty terrible for me, it’s not any individual player’s fault. People stop playing games, it’s okay.)

It’s only about six months ago that I fully embraced WoW again as my “main game”, and only in the last six weeks that I started organizing very casual flex raids on Saturdays. That is a break of almost three years. I am certainly no longer burned out on WoW or group content.

But the moment I got an inclination of expectations around these new flex runs — reasonable expectations like actually doing them or having fun during our scheduled time — all of the old anxiety came rushing back. My heart started beating a million times each second and my stomach flopped. I started to panic. “Maybe I just shouldn’t make events. Maybe I should stop wanting to try group content. No wait, I know, I’ll just change my name, disappear, and never log on WoW ever again!”

It’s been three years, and although time has rekindled my enjoyment of WoW apparently that enjoyment is contingent on me never again being responsible for anyone’s in-game happiness but my own.

It’s a testament to the power of MMOs — they can create friendships (and relationships in some cases) and opportunities for amazing positive memories. But on the flip side, all that emotional investment can also set up some easy triggers to make us anxious and terrible, and they will linger even years later.

Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

This week Steam introduced tagging for games in their store. Steam users can add “tags”, or short descriptive terms, to any game on the site for use in searches. The idea is to create a more organic, user-friendly system for cataloguing games, making it easier for people to find something they want to play (and buy).

In typical Valve style they’ve taken a very hands-off approach to the whole system. Certain words are blocked, such as common swear words, but in general the company seems to be working off the assumption that given the potentially huge participation numbers for Steam tags the majority will rule sensibly.

Yep, a sensible majority. You know where this is going, right? Let’s look at a few lovely examples.

We have the downright offensive:

rometotalwar Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

prisonarchetect Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

We have editorializing from “real gamers”:

negative Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

hipstergarbage Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

gonehome Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

(That last one is from Gone Home, of course.)

And we have the just plain bizarre, which while not offensive are also not very helpful for searching:

mumble Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

Small games are getting the worst of it, as it only takes a few people to totally troll their tags. In fact, users are able to tag games that aren’t even out yet which makes no sense whatsoever.

So what of those developers who find their game has been spammed with offensive or insulting tags? Here’s Steam’s answer for that:

steam1 Crowd Sourcing from a Crowd of Idiots (Steam Tags)

So if you find your tags are overtaken by racist trolls…. well, maybe you just haven’t considered that your game is racist! Makes ya think, huh?

I actually believe that Steam’s goals here are good ones. More fluid search terms are helpful for the user, and I understand that it is likely unfeasible for Valve to somehow tag every game in their store through in-house efforts.

But the implementation of this system is terrible. I mean granted, the true problem here is that gamers as a collective are terrible, but adding the ability for any wanker with a keyboard to write horrible things was just destined to be trouble.

I hope Valve re-evaluates their hands-off approach to Steam tags and at the very least provides developers with the powers to remove tags. Otherwise, this system will not only be a delivery method for trolling, but also totally useless to anyone trying to browse the store.

(Thanks to the Actual Steam Tags Tumblr for collecting a lot of these images!)

“Democratic Money” and Early Access

The launch of Everquest Next Landmark’s alpha last week has gotten a lot of people talking about games with paid early access.

I’ve already stated that I’m opposed to the practice. I will spare you all the details of why I’m not a fan of early access / pay-to-alpha, but suffice to say that I don’t think we should be encouraging the industry to sell us unfinished games. (I also don’t kickstart things for similar reasons.)

I understand why people buy early or alpha access and I’m glad folks are enjoying the heck out of Landmark, but I just think setting this expectation of buying half-finished content will bite us consumers in the butt in the long run.

Today on Tales of the Aggronaut, Belghast expands on one of the reasons he likes paid early access: it’s a more “democratic” system of letting people into alpha/beta.

“I will admit I have talked to a friend of a friend who got me on that desired friends and family list more than a few times for a game I was extremely interested in. To be honest, the system that existed just is not fair to the gamer, and involved a whole lot of cronyism… did I abuse this fact to get access to what I wanted? Hell yes I did.

For the the concept of buying into a program just seems more just. If you care enough to plunk down your money in support of a game, then by all means you should have access to alpha and beta testing.”

(from the post Democratizing Access)

Like I said, I understand that people want access to a game they’re looking forward to now rather than later, but calling a financial barrier “just” and “democratic” made my head spin!

There are so many people who love video games who do not have a lot of extra income. Maybe they’re a student, maybe they work a minimum wage job, maybe they’re a single-income household so someone can stay home with the kids. Maybe they lost their job in today’s craptacular economy. Maybe they prioritize their budget on things that aren’t video games.

Honestly, I am fortunate enough to have solid employment and I still don’t have the wiggle room in my budget to spend $60 on a free-to-play game that isn’t finished yet and I know nothing about thanks to the NDA (which was lifted shortly after the alpha launch). That’s a week of groceries!

Buy a pay-to-alpha game because you cannot wait another second to play it, buy it because you want to be part of the zeitgeist, buy it because you want to claim your virtual land plot or you like the developers or for whatever reason. Do it! Own it! Enjoy it!

But man, let’s not pretend that a monetary barrier is somehow more fair than random selection, or that having the ability to drop $60 on an unseen, untested game indicates a greater level of fandom or commitment or anything other than having that money to spend.

A Modest Proposal about Boobs

Okay, okay, okay. So WildStar just reduced the breast size of the Human and Aurin (bunnygirls!) character models in this latest beta patch. Most people either don’t care or are generally pleased with the decision, while a vocal minority are flipping out.

We’re often told that part of the reason female characters are almost always designed to be sexually attractive to straight dudes first and foremost is capitalism and marketing and business and stuff, right? So here’s my idea.

MMOs make female characters who are proportional or even shaped in ways not usually found in games, and then put giant ridiculous boobs in the cash shop. You want a big bouncy ladybutt to ogle while you run around? Buy the .99 badonkadonk upgrade. Want your Night Elf to jiggle enticingly as her idle animation? (Sigh.) That’s $1.99, but it applies account-wide so it’s actually a deal!

If games need sexually attractive female characters to make money, and free-to-play makes more money than subscription, then putting giant boobs in the cash shop should make cash by the wagonload! Hey, it’s just what the market demands, baby.

MMO companies, you can thank me later.

Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

Murf vs. Internet has organized a “Blogger Listmas“, where folks write lists every day during this, the listiest time of the year. You can see more at his site, or look for the #Listmas tag on Twitter.

PS: No “best games of 2013″ list — you’ll have to listen to Cat Context and Game On over the next couple of weeks for that. ;)


Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

Style — you got it or you don’t. I went on a search of the most stylish video game characters, in my opinion, and in the end one thing stood out: Japan has cornered the market on fashion-minded characters. Anyway, on with the list in no particular order!

Bayonetta 500x370 Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

Bayonetta – Okay, so there are a lot of things one could say about Bayonetta Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters‘s outfit (Amazon link), such as the fact that it is apparently made of her hair and disappears as she does battle. But you have to admit that between the outfit and the guns and the hair and the glasses, Bayonetta is one fashion-forward lady.


gum  jsr 0 309x500 Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

Gum from Jet Set Radio – Every character in Jet Set Radio Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters (Amazon link) is dressed like an awesome future graffiti gang warrior, but Gum wins because of her awesome hat.


461x1080 Ezio 213x500 Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

Ezio from many Assassin’s Creed Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters games – The one character on the list from a North American studio, Ezio is charming in-game and has an iconic look. The silver wristguards and the side-cape help, but it all comes down to that sweet, sweet assassin’s hood.


Persona4 Glasses Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

The kids from Persona 4 Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters – These guys made glasses look so cool, there was actually a real life line based on them. And it’s not just the specs! Chie’s motorcycle jacket and kickin’ shoes, Yosuke’s omnipresent red headphones, Naoto’s detective hat — some of these outfits have become pretty iconic for a reason.


medium Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters

The King of All Cosmos from Katamari Damacy Second Day of Listmas: Most Stylish Video Game Characters – Is that his head? It is a weird face hat? I really have no idea, but The King gets props here for his colorful style and bravery to wear those tights while drifting around space yelling at people.

Okay, those are my suggestions. What are yours?

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