[NBI] Content: What should you write and how should you write it?

Welcome to issue 2 of my advice to new gaming bloggers. This is the part where I state the obvious for a paragraph or too, and then discuss  it so brilliantly that you forget it was obvious and you already knew it.

If you are a gaming blogger, you should blog about games from time to time. Preferably games that you are playing. You may see other bloggers spawn huge comment threads by writing provocative opinion columns or raising knee-jerk issues (ie. issues that are guaranteed to get a reaction), but before you throw yourself headlong into a flamewar frenzy, bear one thing in mind. What people really enjoy is to read opinions that agree with their own, especially if they feel that their opinion is a minority. There is probably a psychological phrase for this, but it makes those readers feel good about themselves.

I’m not saying you should write for anyone except yourself, but if you write about things that you enjoy in your favourite game/s of the moment, you will probably attract a readership who are in tune with that. If you write about a great time you had in the game, readers will remember why they also liked that game. If you write about how much you enjoy grouping in MMOs (I’m using Skaggy as an example because he posted this today), it reminds readers of why they enjoy/ed grouping in MMOs. If you write about the joys of soloing, you’ll please readers who connect with that too. So even if you are in a gaming slump, try to post more positive articles than negative ones. It’s good for your mental state and it makes other people happy too. If you read a lot of older gaming blogs, you’ll see that people like Tobold and Syncaine are careful to schedule some positive posts even when they are mostly feeling negative about the genre. It is a way of connecting to readers who also enjoy games, and if they didn’t enjoy games they wouldn’t be reading gaming blogs in the first place. It is also a way to remind people who game that you are ‘one of them’. This can sometimes get lost if you tend to use a more formal writing style, or focus on writing guides. None of those things are bad, but writing about your own positive experiences will always engage with readers.

You will never go wrong with a post that describes how you had fun in a game. I am sure it is possible to offend more people than you gain via your notion of fun, but I’ve never actually seen anyone do it. If the fun involves playing an underplayed class or much-hated-on game or playing style  then so much the better, because you’re also demonstrating to other people that fun doesn’t have to involve minmaxing or playing ‘the cool new hotness’.

Or if you want to write about how much fun minmaxing is for you, then that’s good too.

How much of yourself to put into your posts

Some blogs thrive on the personal voice of the writer. Others may use a team of writers, focus on curating links, or cultivate a more professional writing style. You should never feel pushed to reveal more of yourself than you feel comfortable with. If you want to write a high concept theorycrafting blog then there’s no need to write about how games affect you emotionally, especially if they don’t. If on the other hand you are an emotional person or want to use your blog to let off steam, a blog can be a good way to do this.

Warning: Do not blog about your guild or in game friends without thinking hard about how they might feel if they read it. Everyone else will LOVE reading about guild drama, it has a sort of car crash fascination, but getting it off your chest a) might not make you feel better and b) might get back to them and increase the drama. If you’ve thought it over and you’re OK with that, then go for it and send me the link Smile

Readers do like to get a sense of the person behind the blog, because that way they can build up a sort of relationship. I’m sure anyone who has been reading this blog for awhile will have a sense for my gaming interests and how I tend to play and think about games.The longer you stick at it, the more likely your persona is to end up embedded in the blog whether you mean to or not. Your opinions and attitudes will colour what you write about and how you write it. While it is possible to front a persona for the purposes of blogging, authenticity is what attracts readers. Be genuine. Don’t pretend to like something you hate. Don’t be afraid to admit you like something that you like. And don’t be afraid to write about why you like or dislike those things.

Topics that will usually get a reaction

This is just based on my experience. Don’t do this just to get a reaction, just be aware that if you want to write about these things it may happen.

  • Posts about feminism or discussion of sexy character costumes in games
  • Ditto for racism or portrayals of gay characters
  • Pictures of cute animals
  • List posts. ie. title is something like ‘X reasons to buy Diablo 3.’ (Please don’t make your entire blog into list posts.)
  • Posts connecting your subject to something currently in the news.
  • Posts about casual vs hardcore gaming
  • Posts about soloing vs grouping in MMOs
  • Direct attacks on other bloggers/blogs. Blog flamewars can be kind of fun, though.
  • Anything really negative about a fan favourite game (rabid fans have some kind of psychic way to find these things)
  • Anything really positive about Blizzard or Bioware

And a couple more ideas to get you going

Rowan has some advice on RSS feeds and blog lists. I rely heavily on RSS to source links for my link posts, and one of my fallbacks for post content is to look through the reader at what other bloggers have written and see if I feel inspired to reply via blog post to any of them. It’s polite to link to the post you are referencing.

I saw this in problogger recently, it’s a link to a google spreadsheet that will draw in recent articles on a topic of your choice. I thought that looked like an interesting way to generate some ideas so am passing it on here too.

Blizzard subs fall, and voting with your feet

News at the Activision investor call yesterday (yes it’s that time of the year) was that WoW subscriptions have dropped by around 600,000 since Cataclysm launched.

Kotaku comment that this means numbers are dropping towards pre-Wrath levels, which is an odd way of putting things since they still have a fair way to go before that. The Ancient Gaming Noob puts it better, as a 5% drop since Cataclysm launched.

This will not surprise any player who has been paying attention – I think the playerbase is well aware that many players have been getting bored with the new expansion relatively quickly. And although it’s tempting to say “yes but 11.4 million players are still there”, that’s probably not a constant population so much as a churn anyway.

But it’s interesting to imagine that the vast bulk of WoW subs are stable, with a swing population of 4-600k (easily enough to populate another successful MMO or two when they get bored of WoW). I wonder if they still count as WoW tourists if WoW is the game they’re getting bored with?

Activision’s response is that they will bring more frequent content updates to WoW, so both people who left because they ran out of content and current players who find they’ve run out of things to do should be pleased with that. It’s interesting to wonder how far this is a response to Rift’s frequent updates also but I’m sure that paying players voting with their feet is a larger influence.

In any case, expect subs to drop further over the summer because .. well … it’s warm out (at least in the northern hemisphere).

Changing patterns of MMO playing

I think the patterns in which people play MMOs are changing. With a larger choice of F2P games, as well as older AAA games offering new updates and content, there’s an increasing slice of the playerbase who will be more game-nomadic and less likely to set down roots in a single game for long periods of time.

This probably won’t affect WoW for a long time, they’re enough of their own thing to be in a different category altogether. And the majority of their player base has little interest in other MMOs. But people who do want to drift in and out and try different things will be wondering what they get for their sub.

And once you have a tooled up character in any game, it’s much easier to hop back in when a new and interesting content update comes along. (eg. I hadn’t played LOTRO for awhile but went back for Enedwaith.) So Activision’s comments about more frequent content updates show that they’re recognising this direct link between new content patches and players returning to the game. I’m sure they knew this anyway but this time they’ve explicitly stated it.

It’ll be interesting to see how they try to balance up attracting ex-players to return with keeping existing players from getting bored and leaving.

The Fluff post

It’s a given that World of Warcraft is great for fluff content; pop culture references, silly holiday costumes and devices to throw at other players, things to do in down-time, etc.

I can dress my new dwarf shaman up as a pilgrim and turn other players into turkeys – now that’s what I call fluff!

But, if they’re so great with fluff, where’s the housing, the cosmetic clothing, the trophies? Why is it so easy to give us vanity pets (which are great and strangely addictive) and not the rest. Every time I get some new cool bit of clothing or mask at a holiday, I crave cosmetic armour. I want trophies like in Warhammer Online, medals I can pin to my armour. I want a better selection of titles and for achievement points to mean something. And I’d like housing so I could have housing items. I love all these things about the MMOs I’ve played in the past and that I currently play.

And WoW is so great at so much fun content, that I feel the lack there all the more. If I couldn’t see the full pilgrim armour, or the Day of the Dead gear.. I wouldn’t care about the cosmetics. Also, the moment you see it done well in one game, you kind of realise all games could probably do it.

If there was one fluff content area you could add to WoW from another game, what would it be? I think for me it’d be housing, and all that entails.

Raid Alliances, and What Could Have Been

There was a time during Wrath when I thought that we’d broken the mould.

The random dungeon finder had just been released. Emblems rained from the heavens to outfit everybody and their alts in T9 equivalent. And in every nook and cranny of Dalaran, PUGs sprouted newborn to tackle various tiers of raid content. Gold DKP runs rewarded experienced raiders for carrying rich alts and newbies. And suddenly, guilds were no longer the gatekeepers of group-based content in Warcraft.

When people wanted to run heroic instances, the advice was no longer a smug, “Join a better guild.” If people wanted to raid, no longer were they pressured into a raid guild. It was to be a new era of people being able to join guilds (or not) as social clubs, and access their group content through a variety of other channels.

And still, despite the gearscore mavens and hapless ninjas, this is how Wrath has played out. My new DK alt has gotten plenty of heroic runs, and already been able to check out raids to Tempest Keep and the Vault of Archavon. And not a single one of those was with a guildie (because the guild is quiet at the moment outside raid times). Yet I was still able to play my alt in groups, and it didn’t involve hours waiting around trying to persuade random people that they wanted a dps DK or trying to schedule with my guild.

In this brave new world, people could form guilds for all sorts of reasons, divorced from the mechanics of the game. Or in other words, you would not be driven to guild with people who wanted to complete the same group content and played at the same skill/commitment level. Never mind Blizzard’s old mantra of requiring people to be in a persistent team for the entire expansion. PUGs would set us free.

In Cataclysm, I increasingly feel, we will be thunderously thrown back into our boxes. Far from being more casual friendly, group content will be more gated than ever before. And heaven help the player who cannot commit to a weekly raid schedule, if they have an interest in raiding. Or the player who has friends who don’t all play at a similar skill level (the big downfall for 10 man raiding).

I like guilds, but I couldn’t eat a whole one

I love guilds myself. Ever since I was first invited by a random person to sign a guild charter in DaoC, I have been hooked. And it’s because I love guilds that I don’t want to play a game where I have to swap guilds any time my playing times change or my interests take a different turn.

I enjoy being part of a large in-game group with common goals. I just don’t want those goals (and that community) to be tied in so tightly with the class/spec I play, the online times I can make, and my gearscore.

Keen has a revolutionary take on how MMOs and guilds have evolved. He hates the tyranny of guilds and thinks they have become far too key. He also comments on how often guild drama or breakups chase people away from games. I’m sure that I am not the only person who ever left a game after a guild broke up – I was so invested in my old TBC raid guild that I had no energy left to start again after they split. (At least not for at least 6 months.)

And Blizzard DID have options. They could have kept their new shiny guild plans without chasing people into regiments that were organised around 10 clones wanting to do the same content.

We could have had guild alliances

Imagine an alternative future. A future in which you could be a member of a guild, and also of several different alliances or communities. Each alliance/ community would be formed because of a shared interest in a specific type of group content. Guilds, on the other hand, would be primarily social groups.

So if your alliance broke up over raid drama, you wouldn’t lose your guild. And vice versa. And if your interests or timetable changed, you could change alliance/ community without having to lose contact with your guild friends.

And all Blizzard would have had to do is to actually support alliances. Offer alliance channels, alliance timetables, and maybe even alliance banks. Recognise that people don’t like switching guilds and leaving their friends just because they have different progression goals. And maybe even add in some larger, PUG friendly raiding content alongside the main line of progression. Something for groups of mixed ability.

Maybe that was just too hard. Maybe they didn’t even consider it. Maybe the hardcore EQ raiders who were at the original core of Blizzard raid design just had too much influence over the design team, and they had no interest in setting players free.

But mark my words, a year from now we will look back and see this period in Wrath as our brief time of freedom from guild tyranny.