Will AOL keep Massively going?

If you follow online media news, you’ll know that the big story of the week was that AOL bought the Huffington Post for crazy high amounts of dosh, and handed editorial control of all of its blogs/ media content over to Arianna Huffington. One of the family of AOL owned blogs is Joystiq which readers might recognise from the URLs of WoW Insider and Massively.

WoW Insider has pretty much nailed down its readership. I’d guess it as the most popular of all the WoW news blogs – the fact that getting linked from WoW Insider can easily net a small blog up to 5k hits will give you an inkling of how many readers they have in general, since only a small proportion of readers do click on links.

But what about Massively? I like the site (despite them failing to offer me a writing gig), but how long can that survive in the brave new HuffPo world, subject to an editor-in-chief whose main strengths are news and women’s interest issues. Here’s a hint of what is to come:

A recent leak of AOL’s growth strategy for its media division showed a business ruthlessly devoted to generating more traffic through increased frequency of publication, better search-engine optimization, and more recruitment of talented writers and editors. The new way sets ambitious goals for site editors, requiring writers to post 5 to 10 stories a day and generate at least 7,000 hits per story.

Does anyone think that press releases about non-mainstream MMOs are going to generate 7000 hits per story?

I’m not trying to be downbeat here. I’d like to be wrong, or misinformed. I think we’re lucky to have a bankrolled MMO news site that doesn’t cut out the smaller, newer, or less WOW-ish games and I’d like to see it do well. But small and diverse niches don’t sound to me as though they fit too well with the AOL growth strategy.

And if it does crash and burn in it’s current form, that doesn’t mean that its corporate masters are giving up on the market. Maybe if things change they can get better. What would you want to see instead?

14 thoughts on “Will AOL keep Massively going?

  1. I probably read less than 10 articles ever on the Huffington Post. No idea what Huffington Post is, for me it was by far too much and too diverse to be interesting.

    I rarely read WoWInsider while I was still playing WoW. (I read MMO Champion and a WOTLK Alpha/Beta Wiki/Forum that soon merged with another site, already forgot the name). I also don’t read Massively. I noticed once a blogger starts writing for Massively that his blog loses a lot of originality and most posts go to Massively, of course.

    Blogomerates are an odd mix of bloggers and journalists. I don’t think it mixes well.

    It is a matter of personal preference, but I like to get my news through professional news or gaming websites and like to read what some bloggers I believe worthwhile to read have to say to that.

  2. To better answer your question, I hope to see your blog around for a long time. It does not matter for me at all what happens to Massively or what AOL does.

  3. Well i am subscribed to TenTonHammer , Massively and MMORPG.Com , and between the 3 there’s a huge [if not 99%] overlap of the exact same stories.

    The only difference between the 3? Massively writes better stories. TenTon seems to be merely “reporting” , they don’t really seem to write their own opinions alot. MMORPG have a nice combination of both, but not always the most interesting of writing. I prefer MMORPG.com in terms of their forums/discussions [it’s well organized for each MMO] .

    So it’s difficult to say, i don’t expect MAssively to be removed, worst case i’d say is them simply being “absorbed” by Joystiq and MMO news and Gaming news “in general” simply being lumped together…which is not a bad thing either mind you.

    Kinda like Gamespot and IGN.

  4. My general thought is that as long as Massively does not loose money they are not likely to suffer overmuch. They don’t seem to have a problem producing quantity of well written content. Generating page views is ultimately more of a marketing strategy, which is more likely to be improved by this move than dampened.

    The main threats to Massively I think are more along the lines of a Bad Management decision/Gawker-esque escapade – something that would likely effect WoW Insider as well. AOL has something of a history of those so I’d be worried for the Joystiq family of blogs in general.

  5. Don’t see why you see this as a problem for niche games. If Massively writers have to do 5-10 stories per day they’ll cover Spud Guns Online if it helps them meet their quota.

    7000 will be an average so they’ll probably makes sure to put in a few high hit generating pieces of rubbish.

    “Should there be a Lesbian Vampire Killers mmo?” would generate 7000 hits regardless of what they wrote after it. Most might be people looking for something entirely different but a hit’s a hit, right?

  6. Although huge by most MMO blogging standards, I don’t think Massively and WoW Insider generate a vast amount of traffic in the grand scheme of things. Of course I have no way to prove that absolutely and I’m just going by the subscriber info Google Reader gives and the average number of comments they get (which is a lot lower than say RPS). Again, I have no way of knowing anything for sure, it’s just a hunch.

    I’d be really interested to find out more about their statistics and revenue though. I honestly don’t know how they make profit or if they even do. I mean, they pay what $20 per article? And post something like 20 articles a day? That’s $400 outlay per day or $12,000 per month before you even take into account operating costs. Given how passively Massively and WoW Insider advertise and the nature of the stuff they advertise, I’d be incredibly surprised if aren’t making a loss every month.

    I’d love to hear someone at these sites on how their business model works because I’m very curious. It seems to something no one wants to talk about though 🙂

    As for the leak from AOL, that’s the exact sort of thing that puts me off a lot of a lot of Internet news sites. Writing specifically to generate traffic and cash by following a set of rules can often result in a lot of pretty rubbish and uninteresting content. I can’t help but prefer the honesty, opinion and personality of a site like RPS. I’d also be willing to subscribe to decent, gated content and pay a couple bucks a month to keep it going.

    • I know what you mean, I like reading informed opinions and RPS is one of my favourite computer gaming sites, even though I know my tastes don’t really coincide with theirs much.

      I know nothing on the blogging model that Massively and WoW Insider use, but I think Massively is a lot less popular if you go by how many hits I get when I’m linked from there. And $20 per article sounds high to me, I’d be guessing more like 2c per word (which is what pen and paper games used to pay new writers, experienced writers could get higher but it still was a niche.)

      If I were running Massively, I suspect I’d be looking to shift over to including facebook games or else start a new blog called Social Gaming Insider or somesuch to drum up more hits. It’s also possibly not that huge even from game blogging standards, the big WoW blogs can easily get upwards of 10k hits per post but for that you’d probably be posting “tactics for spec X of class Y on boss fight Z” to get the search engine hits and also be one of the top blogs for your chosen class. I’m sure some of the top gold making blogs do well also.

  7. I Have This Friend who used to write for Massively, and I, er, he, was on $25 per article, or $50 if it was over 1200 words. He tended to be on the verbose side as a result. That was for Editorial/Opinion articles; not sure if the chirpy “Here’s What The Press Release Said!” stuff paid the same – you’d have to ask my friend’s podcast cohost! At that time, about a year ago, Massively had a commitment to publish *something* at least every two hours.

    Hope that helps!

  8. Oh! Nice non-attributable source info!

    This looks like one of those producer/consumer issues to me. As a consumer, I don’t much care who my provider is, I just want uninterrupted supply.

    If the names on the shareholder report change, that makes no difference to me. If I have to go to a new supplier, that’s a minor, temporary inconvenience, but so long as the new supply is commensurate with the old, then I really don’t care about the change of pipe.

    If what Massively provides is of sufficient interest, then if AOL/HuffPo decides they don’t want Massively, someone else will pick up that content.

  9. It’s kinda interesting to see how the big players are shaping up.

    On the one hand you have AOL with Joystiq, Massively and WoW Insider. All of these are heavily journalism-based, producing quality articles on a regular basis.

    On the other hand you have Curse and ZAM with a heavy mix of user-generated content (addons, data feeds, wikis), news (MMO-C) and community sites (Arena Junkes etc).

    Out in the middle you have MMORPG.com, covering every single MMO around.

    How will things pan out?

    I think that Warcraft is an oddity rather than a norm, purely because of how popular the game is. I think that over time the content will get absorbed into Massively as WoW’s popularity fades.

    I also think that Curse could really corner the MMO content market if they put some work into turning Curse.com into more of a super-site, containing feeds from all the major community sites they run and hiring some columnists to write about the general MMO market and help collate rudimentary MMO data.

    Finally, I reckon MMORPG will either get bought out by AOL or Curse (more likely Curse).

  10. Corporate deals being what they are, I can’t speak with 100% certainty on the fate of any website anywhere, but as far as Massively and the HuffPo acquisition, they’re really not connected at all. HuffPo (and TechCrunch, Engadget, etc) are under AOL’s Tech branch. Joystiq, Massively and WoW Insider are under AOL’s Entertainment branch. They’re managed by different people and don’t have a lot of crossover.

    Of course the higher-ups want to see more traffic and more ad revenue. That’s what business is all about. But I’ve run Massively for almost 3 years now and I’ve never ever been approached by anyone at AOL corporate telling me how to run the site. They know that we fill a niche and they realize that we know what we’re doing. They respect the fact that we know how to run the site better than they ever would (except ad sales, because I don’t want any part of that).

    The funny thing about blogging for money is that it really couldn’t be done without an initial support infrastructure. Any blogger who has ever tried to fund their WordPress site through Google Ads could tell you that a few dollars a month in ad revenue isn’t enough to quit your day job over. AOL allows sites like Massively and Joystiq to be around, doing what they do best. If you think about it, AOL is basically just buying a piece of trending culture and throwing some ads on it for extra revenue. They don’t want to direct or change that trending culture; they merely want to make some money off the top.

    So no, we were never ordered to write specifically for traffic numbers. We were never told to hit an average of 7k hits per post and Arianna Huffington isn’t telling me how to tank a mob 🙂

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