How guides help video game sites survive the modern internet

How guides help video game sites survive the modern internet

Screenshot from Final Fantasy VII video game

Image courtesy of Square Enix

Alex Donaldson vividly remembers the moment he was able to tell everyone who contributed to the website he co-founded, the RPG site, that they would get paid for their work.

“The day I was able to speak at our IRC [internet relay channel, an old style of internet charoom]During a recent interview with Waypoint, Donaldson said, “The site will start paying for every existing contribution on the happiest days of my life.”

It’s been a brutal run of gaming media lately. The vast majority of employees at Fanbyte, a culture and video game website, are only a few years old, with former Waypoint managing editor Daniel Rendeau considered its editor-in-chief, They were unofficially laid off. Another outlet that regularly manages high-quality game writing, input, Gone after days. Running any website in ideal conditions is already challenging, but in the midst of a complex economic outlook as companies pull back from advertising, it becomes even more difficult.

In the past month, I have reported challenges for professional writers with game guides, tips combos, walkthroughs, and puzzle solutions that many use every day. In this case, a writer at one website accused a writer at another website of ripping up their work. This is a particularly sensitive topic among small video game sites, who rely on riding specific waves of traffic to keep the lights on and, ideally, pay their contributors properly.

“For an RPG, the clues are the lifeblood of the site,” said Donaldson, who started his site as a Final Fantasy fan site in 2000. Earn our commissions and push your “Great To Have” to a competitive level with other B-tier sites. Not many of our peers in the field pay, or give people $10 for big clues of thousands of words, and it was important for us to get past that. The evidence was the tool that allowed us to do that.”

The RPG site is a purposely niche. It is not a website trying to attract every potential person on the internet. You’ll likely end up here, either by research or on purpose, because you love RPGs. However, the thing about genres is that you can always go deeper and more specialty. This may seem cute for people who like this rabbit terrier, but it is not profitable.

“We cover a lot of really niche stuff, Japanese games in particular,” Donaldson said. “To be honest, there isn’t always a huge audience or traffic available to cover these games – but it’s a vital part of our purview. So a lot of that content is ‘loss leader’. We pay it, we lose money on it. But it’s okay, because “Big Games” guides elsewhere on the site make up for that.”

Screenshot of the video game

No other type lends itself to proof like JRPGs method. Image courtesy of Atlus

Most websites make money with a seemingly simple exchange process, where readers browse through the content, and companies spend money placing ads in said content. But it is more complicated than that, because they may earn more money if you click on the ad. Can you remember the last time you clicked on an ad on the website? This is where the volume and overall time one spends on the page matters, and it’s not hard to see why writing guides for popular games, the kind of writing that might get people scrolling and reading for a while, is so successful.

Donaldson declined to reveal details about how much the RPG site pays for its writers per guide, or how much money the site earns on a monthly basis. But, he said, referrals typically make up “50-60%” of a site’s traffic, which translates to the same amount of revenue coming in. The site also makes money by selling its in-house CMS (Content Management System, aka what lets you publish things on a website) to other websites. It is “the lion’s share of our business”.

Game guides have been around for almost as long as the medium itself has existed, and it’s a guide built for challenging players. Anyone standing in line to play a new game in the middle of the night remembers a GameStop employee wondering if you’d like a strategy guide with her, too. The internet age has been turned upside down, with websites like GameFAQs piecing together clues under a searchable roof.

“To some extent, I attach this to the advent of smartphones with good browsers,” said Donaldson, who also speculated that higher achievements played a role. “If you are sitting on your couch playing Xenoblade and something is bothering you, you will need 30 seconds to get your phone out of the phone and search Google. If you are playing Persona and want to know the ecclesiastical name of your protagonist because you don’t want to make up your own name, you can quickly find this information This combined with changes in the way Google started ranking pages (for better and worse) meant that more traffic was available to directories. And traffic was worth the money.”

“The day I was able to say that the site would start paying for every contribution, it was on the happiest day of my life.”

Logistically speaking, Donaldson told me, the RPG site tries to require video game publishers to have multiple copies of a pre-release game, which is sometimes difficult. (I can personally attest to this – look at you, Nintendo.) But the multiple code means that it’s possible to split the work between multiple writers. Unlike some of the biggest websites, like IGN or GameSpot, this RPG website doesn’t always show websites of its own size as direct competitors, and admits to sharing information beforehand with each other to make sure they get the details right.

“I also try to take a lot of boring stuff personally – SEO [search engine optimization], data entry, and article formatting — out of the contributor and doing it myself, he said. “The responsibility lies with me, after all, so I don’t mind doing the boring stuff—but I own the site.”

When Donaldson was a kid, money wasn’t really part of the equation. Nobody has been paid to post a walkthrough about Game FAQs, for example, and a major problem with game media, which has resulted in a lot of talented individuals leaving the field, is the absolute inability to get paid well as people get older and take on more responsibilities. such as having children or owning a home.

“We were just kids watching a Final Fantasy fan site,” he said. “We didn’t really know what we were doing. We were always giving clues, because that’s exactly what FF/JRPG fan sites were. she did. “

Screenshot of the video game

Many Japanese RPGs have complex and intricate paths toward unraveling the mysteries. Image courtesy of Square Enix

And it’s true, and it doesn’t reflect on places like Game FAQs better than an old golden rule: the longer the instructions, the better. Remember that Game FAQs is a place that not only hosts guides for games, but one of the main pieces of information it reveals about each individual guide is who it wrote and how much space it will take up on your hard drive. Which leads to the second golden rule for Game FAQs: the more KB, the better the directory.

To this point, RPG site guides are usually not exhaustive folders, and instead are guided by what players are looking for, which is itself shaped by the results that appear on Google. It’s a tool that Donaldson uses as head of the site, but these days it’s useful for writers, too.

“We use search engine optimization (SEO) tools and our own knowledge to try to predict and analyze what people are searching for, and then do comprehensive work on those topics, rather than trying to offer everything to everyone,” Donaldson said.

In other words, instead of having 50,000 words that explain how to go from one chapter to the next in a sprawling game like Persona 5they write about how to avoid getting the bad ending, or how to raise the status of your relationship with a certain character as quickly as possible.

“Google tends to make some updates annually to many of the elements of its work that affect search, which in turn affects how your website ranks. It’s a domino effect from there — search equals impressions, which equals advertising money, which equals budget,” Donaldson said. , which equals content production – and so on.”

Screenshot of the video game

Guides are “evergreen” content that people may find long after the game has been released. Image courtesy of Sega

Talk to anyone about running a modern website and you’ll hear the word “Google” pop up every few minutes, given how important a company’s search engine traffic is to the bottom line. But Google and its search engine are not consistent. The company is constantly changing its algorithm and what it offers, rewarding and penalizing websites that do so and don’t play along.

“The nature of Google’s control of the search industry and how that means it can kill a site – whether accidentally or unintentionally – is a topic for another time,” Donaldson said.

The moment of great elan came during the original PlayStation era, more specifically when games like Final Fantasy embraced the scene, resulting in some stunning scenes.

“This was previously on YouTube, so if a fan wants to rewatch a painful scene, their best bet is a slow download of a file over 56KB,” Donaldson said. “But hosting this was expensive, which is why we put ads on the site.” That was a sacred moment, right? We knew the evidence was commonplace, but imagine, we early teens, we suddenly realized truly money. Not much of it. But, you know, enough to pay the cost of web hosting And the Buy some toys, and give the occasional kick to others who helped. For me, that was also the point at which I realized: Oh, man, I can get to it Pay To write about video games.

The moment my parents took me writing about video games seriously in their teens was when a paycheck appeared based on the generous advertising revenue the website I was contributing to at the time was making. (It was the late ’90s, a different time in the internet.) The salary was big enough that I was only allowed to spend a fraction – the rest went to the college fund.

Donaldson said, “When I was 13 and working on fan sites, everyone was doing it for free, for the love of it. So there was no expectation. Life always comes first. Even if everyone gets paid now, there’s a collaborative and fun energy out of that.” The era I’d like to keep, as long as everyone is happy, compensated, with the site in black… It’s cool. This could mean we never have a full-time office and staff of seven, and we can’t afford the big ticket commissions sites can The big one is to give it, but it’s the breaks. I’m proud of what we have.”

follow patrick Twitter. His email is [email protected]available privately at Signal (224-707-1561).

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