Who Are You Talking To?

Do you know your audience as a writer? Who are the readers you’re trying to reach? And do you write mostly for them or do you write in the hopes of attracting others unlike you?

It takes a lot of time for a blogger to get to know their audience. But for game bloggers the experience usually starts off as a passion for a particular game and, in a way, you immediately know who your audience is. So there are bloggers who got started writing about World of Warcraft and anyone who plays that game might be interested in what they’re writing. Players from Wildstar or Star Wars might find it interesting too, but the target audience is clearly players who like the same games as you do.

This is the same with social justice, though it seems to be poorly understood. I can’t count how many times I’ve had readers wonder who I’m writing for. Well …for you. The person who read it.

I think over the years I’ve come to know my audience pretty well. I know what riles up my readers and what makes them feel good about themselves. I know what they might find amusing or the kinds of games they might play. In a way, bloggers even come to know things about our readers that are a little …intimate. For example, some bloggers know what makes their readers uncomfortable. That might be why they know which issues to avoid and which issues will net them more page views than usual. Writers get to know their audience and their own writing. For those who have been at it for a few years, you know exactly the kind of response (or lack thereof) to any given topic you publish.

And the audience knows their writers much of the time too.

Almost every one I’ve come to know through blogging who has heard me speak for the first time has been surprised. Because of the intensity of my writing at times, a lot of people imagine I speak more loudly than I actually do. Because of the tenor of my writing some have come to think I’m a talker, but those of you who’ve talked to me have learned that’s not the case either. So in a sense, blogging gives the reader and writer this weird space to imagine who the person really is, but also to invent the person behind the monitor completely.

I speak softly. I speak rarely. But I have a lot I want to say. One could argue that blogging gave me a voice in a way I’ve never had. I feel very comfortable blogging in ways that I’d never feel about talking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shy or afraid to speak or anything like that. But …well some things from our childhoods stick with us in my case. Talking wasn’t the way I learned to communicate most effectively and in a way I still feel inadequate when I speak. Words feel clumsy in my mouth.

Here’s a an exercise: who did you imagine your audience/favorite authors to be before you had the opportunity to interact with them? Did they meet your expectations?

How do your various personalities come together? There’s the gamer Doone. Then there’s the community carebear Doone. There’s daddy Doone. Mr. D. Doony. There’s the NBI Doone (the pest who just won’t stop bothering you about getting involved). There’s Doone the friend and Doone the social justice warrior. There’s many Doones, but the truth is that most of you only know blogger Doone. You only know the highly opinionated, analytical, unyielding game critic, the guy who challenges everything even when he agrees with it. I’d ask who your favorite Doone is, but I probably don’t really want to know. Much more fun to imagine.

Know your audience. Unlike when I first started writing, I’ve got a pretty clear picture of who I’m talking to when I write and I think every veteran blogger knows what I mean. Over time you just get a really good feel for who your audience is. For new bloggers, you’re not alone if you still aren’t entirely sure who you’re writing for.  You’re still developing your audience and over time that picture will become a bit more clear to you.

Game Reviewing for New Bloggers

Game bloggers usually want to blog about …well, games. I have my own reading favorites from bloggers who do game reviews and others like me who tend more towards game criticism. I used to do far more reviews than I do today, but these days I enjoy game criticism a bit more. What’s the difference?

There’s a subtle difference. In fact, I think there are too few writers – indie or otherwise – who write buyer’s guides for gamers. Much of the time when we’re reading game blogs, we want to know how others feel about a game we like or are curious about. Reviews mix the best of both worlds: Objective and subjective critique.

Reviewing

A good review will give a breakdown of the core features of the game and summarize how well they fit together. There’s lots of room for being creative with your writing style to deliver something that’s fun to read.

For mainstream reviews, I like the style of reviews that I find on Rock, Paper, Shotgun andIndie Game Reviewer. They don’t simply give the facts, but actually report in a creative way that mixes facts with opinions. RPS has a style that takes the dryness out of rote reviews while IGR is fairly straightforward with it’s game impressions. How the review is written matters if your goal is to make your blog a reliable source for game reviews.

What’s Your Scope?

Whatever the general theme of your blog, the scope will be important to who enjoys your reviews. For example, if you’re an MMO blog, then writing reviews for MMOs will refine and add to your audience. No blog truly focuses on ALL genres. Each writer has a gaming preference and this will usually be apparent in what you write about. As an example, most of the games I’ve reviewed are single-player. I tend to write about RPGs in general, showing a preference for games with story. So I’m not a good source for reviews about platformers, even though I consider my blog to be a place for info about games in general (all genres). So it’s important to have a limited scope to the kinds of games you’ll be reviewing so that its consistent with the kinds of games you tend to write about. It’s part of avoiding trying to be everything to everyone. Specialization, in this case, is a good thing but that doesn’t mean you can’t review all the games in your library. It just means you’re a human being with diverse tastes, but whose preferences are clear to your readership.

What You’re Rambling About

In my opinion, reviews should contain details that tell me who made the game, what the game is (genre), and where I can learn more about it. Next, a good review will tell me what the game’s core features are and how long a play through will take on average. From there, the review should talk about how all those features tie together and what kind of experience the writer had.

Reviews absolutely don’t need spoilers and they should be avoidable if that’s your style (some reviewers provide spoilers).

To Score or Not to Score

I used to actually score my reviews. If I ever get back into game reviewing, I’ll probably go back to scoring because I think they’re a valuable addition to a thorough review in that it gives your readers at-a-glance impressions.

While scorecards terrible for definitive game impressions, they’re definitely helpful to readers. I prefer to use a scorecard which takes into account multiple facets of the gameplay experience. Here’s an example of how I used to score games in my reviews and you can take a look at the review itself here.

score_capsized

This was on a scale from 0-5.

I’m pretty sure I went through several iterations of criteria (it’s really, really hard to try to be fair with it), but I ultimately settled on this because it’s how I, as a gamer, understand the different facets of a game. Now this will be purely subjective criteria for any writer — and that’s exactly what will make your reviews unique! If you decide to use score cards like this, it will undoubtedly have different criteria than mine. It’s our unique point of view as gamers which is the true value in what we publish for our readers. So don’t be afraid to experiment. In the end, I stopped using score systems because it required more time than I had (I didn’t have children when I used to score games like this). Still, I actually liked doing this and I’ve considered going back to it many times.

I think, though, score cards have limited value to readers. I wouldn’t ever substitute written reviews for strict scorecards and it’s for the same reason that players despise sites like Metacritic. While the score has it’s uses, their prominence discourages thoughtful review and many will try to reduce the game to an arbitrary score. A well-written review can’t be substituted for a scorecard!

When you’re writing your reviews, just remember to focus on the actual game content while being critical at the same time. Rote reviews are boring – if you’re too objective, the review loses it’s appeal to readers. If you’re too subjective it becomes nothing more than another opinion by another blogger, losing credibility.

Reviews are actually fun to write and I’ve been told very recently I need to get back to it. I’m taking that advice for sure and I’ve decided I will narrow my scope to mostly indie games because those seem to be the kinds of games I play most lately.

For veteran bloggers, I want to leave you some questions to join the conversation: what makes a good review for you? Do you enjoy writing reviews and why? What advice would you pass on to new bloggers who want to review games?

NBI Twitter Crash Course

I’m going to go on record with this statement: Twitter is probably the most important social media platform for a blogger to use. I’ll also admit that it’s not for everyone; it requires constant management which can easily become a drain on your time. There’s two primary ways bloggers seem to use it:

  1. To simply tweet announcements of new articles.
  2. As a platform for socializing.

That last one includes bloggers who use it as a way access to their favorite games, developers and celebrities. Both ways of using are valid and can get the job done. Even if you don’t personally prefer using Twitter you should consider that you have readers who use it religiously and it can give them new information when something you write is published. If you use Twitter to socialize daily, it can really help you grow your audience.

So why don’t I say it’s mandatory? Because Twitter has a LOT of white noise. Filtering through all the information is a chore. Still, if you can just focus on your readers and keep the number of people you follow under control, Twitter is indispensable. And that’s the key. So many users just auto-follow EVERYONE who follows them. Try to only follow people you’re interested in or who provide content your readers would be interested in, otherwise you’ll flood your Timeline with more information than you can read through in a reasonable amount of time.

Twitter can be addicting, because it’s fun and responses are so fast. The speed of information can give you whiplash so be careful!

Relevant articles by other NBI supporters on social media: Stubborn on Blog Promotion

Pros

  • Free
  • Real-time networking
  • Speedy communication
  • Virality (yes, I think I just made that up …)
  • Easy to use
  • Reasonable privacy (no personal information is required and your account can be easily deleted)
  • Universal platform

The only real Con is that it requires constant maintenance and interaction to get the most of it. That’s not a bad thing and in fact if you’re someone who’s always staring at their smartphone, there’s almost no reason not to use Twitter. Like I said, it’s actually really fun but it can also consume you. Use with caution!

Bookmark this page if you’re new to Twitter: Twitter Glossary. It’s a handy quick reference guide to help you get around until you’re used to using the service.

How to use it

twitter-chart

Quick tips. Twitter Support page also has good guidance.

If you’re at a computer, just go to Twitter.com and sign-up. It’s free. If you’ve done all that and you’re ready to take it on the go, you can download it at your local app store to your phone or tablet.

A lot of people don’t know this, but you don’t actually need the app to Tweet from your phone. You can do it via text, which is useful if you have a device which can’t install the Twitter app. Every phone carrier has a short code. Tweeting to that code from your phone will publish it to your Timeline. Just be sure to add your mobile phone number to your Twitter account and then you can use this service.

There are two components to your name: Your twitter handle (starts with @) and your display name. For your blog, you should try to use names that readers know from your site. For example, my Twitter is @trredskies because that was the name of my original blog. For my display name, I chose Doone. You can change either of these at any time.

When you tweet it goes into your Timeline. This is where all your tweets and the tweets of people you follow will appear. There’s also a Mentions Timeline. It will only show tweets in which you are mentioned, which can be anyone regardless of whether they are following you or you them.

Mentions (@) at the beginning of your Tweet are called a Reply. Replies are ONLY seen by you, the recipient and your mutual followers. A Public Reply works like your regular tweets. It’ll show up in you and the recipients timelines for ALL of your followers.

Using the Mention (@) symbol anywhere else in the tweet is simply a Mention. It’ll go into your timeline and into the Mentions Timeline of those mentioned. Keep reading for examples of how Mentions look and behave below!

Typing a d at the beginning of a tweet sends a Direct Message. For example, if you wanted to send a DM to @trredskies, you would drop the @ symbol and type “d trredskies”. This will send me a message that only I will receive. It’s still gotta be 140 chars or less!

twitter-profile

Always fill out your profile completely, but keep it short!

Hashtags (#) are for keeping collections (or categories) of related topics, or for starting trends. Twitter actually has a great help guide which explains these features in more detail.

It should go without saying, but your profile is crucial as an author. For people on Twitter who’ve never heard of you, this is all they will know of you. Try to make it very SHORT and sweet, but informative. Remember, it’s Twitter, home of “speak your mind in 140 chars or less”. No wordy profiles!

This is also where you might want to keep your branding in mind. This might be a simple color palette or maybe you have a logo you use. On Twitter, this profile will become the image of you whenever your name is mentioned. Ask yourself: what do I want people to see and think when they see me on Twitter? Keep it simple, but keep it consistent.

Not everyone has time to sit down and design logos and branding, but there are other bloggers who may be great at it and who actually enjoy doing creative things. I can’t make promises about their schedules, but asking never hurt anyone. For example, Vidyala of Manalicious, fellow gamer and wonderful person, is the artist who made my avatar (she offered commissions at the time and a lot of readers and bloggers took the opportunity to do it). As far as I can recall, she still draws on commission and has even done work for attendees at Blizzcon.

Ravanel of Ravalation is the artist behind the NBI dragon and banner design. Another creative soul who has volunteered with the NBI is Joseph Skyrim.

Your Homepage on Twitter

Now, let’s interpret the Twitter UI before moving on to tools. The Twitter site is pretty minimalist, but that doesn’t mean everything on it is intuitive. To someone who’s never used Twitter, it probably doesn’t make any sense. The most important element of Twitter for the beginner is your homepage. On that page is your Timeline and it will be filled with boxes that look like this:

twitter-tweet

Example 1. Note how the links are spelled out. This is because I clicked on a tweet and I’m now viewing it’s dedicated page.

Your Timeline contains tweets from all of the people you follow and the tweets you send out. This particular tweet is illustrative. You’ll note it begins with several Mentions. This tweet will only appear to those people and their mutual followers. For example, if Friend A is following @trredskies and @ausj3w3l, then even though Friend A isn’t mentioned, they will see the tweet in their timeline. Let’s look at another Tweet:

twitter-tweet2

Example 2

Notice the period (.) before the @ symbol. This means the tweet will appear in yours and your friends’ timeline without restriction; all of your followers and theirs will see it. It would be just as if you sent an ordinary Tweet that didn’t begin with a Mention.

twitter-tweet3

Example 3

That .@ in the middle? Does nothing. You don’t need to do this. Since the Mention is at the middle or ending of the tweet, it will post like normal on your Timeline, the timelines of those who follow you, and in the Mentions of those mentioned in the tweet.

Now let’s talk about the links and icons on the tweet at the bottom. A Reply will behave like example 1 and a Retweet will behave like example 2 unless you alter it to begin with a Mention. I’ve noticed that RTs, TTs and auto-tweets (from other services) tend to have really large font size on Twitter.

The second half of this guide is for more advanced Twitter use! Just go on to the second page to get started!

A Poem: Invisible Ink

The words are there
Written in ink across the screen.
The ink of my sweat, of my passion.
Eyes not mine do read the invisible ink.
Eyes not mine do read but often do not think.
That is the case with invisible ink.
 
With time and patience
The words do come
Through toil and dedication
The words do run
They often flee the page,
hovering above and out of reach.
These eyes of mine see them
but do not think my mind can read them.
The words that are out of reach.
They are like invisible ink.
 
The reader smiles
The reader laughs
At the spectacle of writing
while the ink becomes dry.
They pause at my words 
but do not know why.
Could it be the ink is visible?
Could it be my prose is pitiful?
Perhaps the unseen has been seen
The ink is there, but what does it mean?
 
The reader and writer
Together they share
A love to discover what yet isn’t there.
The words and meaning
Separate do they speak.
That is the case with invisible ink.

Are You Supporting the Newbie Blogger Initiative?

So what does it mean to support a community event? Well, we’re all different. We have different hopes and expectations for the communities we inhabit. As gamers, I know many of us are introverts, preferring our own quiet company and one-person platform as we blog about our own opinions. While being introverts can sometimes isolate us, having that in common means we’re all part of the same club! Communities have to be just social enough to stick together, but allow space for us to grow individually. Creating and maintaining a network of support is something we have to actively do, no matter what our goals are individually. It’s this support that helps create the environment for bloggers to thrive.

The past 2 years, I’ve seen so many of you put yourselves aside to help a fellow gamer who was interested in getting started with blogging. In that time, blogging has changed quite a bit. Today’s gamers want to be seen and heard — and writing can often seem like a dying form depending on where you’re from and who’s around you. With change comes awesome. While the blogging landscape is still defined by it’s veterans who are now landmarks and beacons, that landscape is eroding and it’s not just time, but technology.

Newer bloggers want to stream, vlog and podcast. They want to live blog via sites like Tumblr and Twitter. These are all amazing tools and platforms for expressing our love of games and declaring our membership to a community of people like us. The NBI has to continue to nurture a culture of change.

To support something like the NBI, it’s not enough to just mention it in a blog article. It’s not enough to say the name on a Podcast. Despite having so many supporters last year, here’s what our support actually looks like by the numbers:

  • NBI RSS Subscribers: 3
  • NBI Email Subscribers: 0
  • NBI Twitter: 54 (better, but barely a reflection of the participants and supporters).

Publishing a word or two about the event is nothing without your active participation. It’s easy to be active without volunteering too much of your time, especially when time is elusive for most of us. Still, what’s a mention on a blog without wearing the NBI badge on it? What’s an announcement on a Podcast if you don’t even keep up with newly published articles via Twitter/RSS/Email? What’s it mean to support the NBI?

  1. Follow. Press that follow button and mean it! When you follow NBI on WordPressTwitter and RSS, you’re proving your interest in staying connected to the event.
  2. Participate. Don’t be a passive supporter, but an active one. Show up. Wear the NBI badge. Show your readers that you’re not just a lone blogger, but part of a wider community that supports one another. Join the Steam group and play some games with us.
  3. Share. Surely you have something to offer! Newbies need mentors. They also need guides, resources, and friends. Just remember how tough it was when you got started. How much better was it when you had friends to support you?

If you really want to show your support, volunteer! There’s a running list of things we’re all chipping in to do for the event on the forum. While time zones are a huge challenge for our global community, we’re trying to address that more this year by coordinating multiple days and times for some events in order to allow opportunities for everyone.

We’re always listening to your feedback and suggestions. After all, NBI is about community. Make your voice heard and support the NBI!

Scree Tags: #NBI2014 #newbiebloggerinitiative

Blog Discovery at the Gaming Blog Nexus

This is a public service announcement for those unaware of the existence of a game blog syndication service called Gaming Blog Nexus. I’m completely biased, I’ll admit: it’s one of the tools I use to discover new blogs so this plug is as much to get new blogs into my feed as it is to help other bloggers increase their audience!

If you use RSS readers like I do, then you know how inadequate they are at keeping up with NEW authors. Scouring the web for new authors to read is time consuming to say the least. Mostly, though, unless you hear it from the blogs you read or word of mouth, you’ll almost never find new authors to keep your reading selection fresh.

Gaming Blog Nexus (GBN) allows bloggers to submit their blogs to the service and every time they publish a new article, it pops up on the Nexus feed. Then you can just follow the RSS feed for GBN and voila: you’ve got one additional source for discovering new authors who write on the topics you love.

If you haven’t, subscribe to the Nexus. It’s a great service you can use to discover new bloggers. If you’re a new blogger, take advantage of this opportunity to be discovered!

NBI 2014 Is Coming

Yes, it’s that time already.

I realize this may seem very soon considering NBI 2013 ran very late last year. It was never intended to be a Fall event. This year, I want the community to return it to a Spring/Summer time event. It’s usually a very inspirational time for bloggers and the community is very active and engaged. With all the new game announcements and conventions there’s constant buzz in the blogosphere, much more so than in the Fall. And this time of year is also when school is winding down in the US and bloggers all over the world are taking more vacation time. In my experience, it’s a very good time to start blogging.

This year’s NBI will probably launch in May/June, but that’s not been decided. That’s what this article is about!

I want to reach out there into the community and ask for volunteers for this year’s NBI. We need leaders. We need bloggers who can offer us some time and skill. Volunteers can expect to be tasked with specific roles and spend maybe 3 hours a week helping organize the event. We need volunteers of ALL talents: writers, podcasters, vloggers, artists, musicians. As long as it’s related to gaming in some way, even tangentially, it’s relevant. It’s also possible that NBI will be opened up to bloggers outside of the gaming community. Perhaps we’ll open it up to geeks of all stripes, I don’t know. But I need volunteers in order to find out! The more community involvement we have, the more likely we will have the resources to open the event up for other kinds of bloggers.

Please contact me via email or use the comments to ask questions, volunteer, make suggestions and generally discuss the possibilities for NBI 2014. You can also visit the official NBI forums for community discussion.