Thou shalt blog each week is the mantra of the SEO age. Does it make sense?
I stare at the queue of articles I have saved to Pocket. As push my thumb up the page I begin to realise there are more than a thousand articles sitting there, waiting for me to read. I resist the next thought: There are a thousand articles sitting here I will *never* read.
I’m not the first person to notice we’re drowning in content. The over abundance of information is perhaps one of the great cliches of our age. I’m not even the first person to notice that read-it-later tools like Pocket or Instapaper have just moved the problem of losing track of interesting articles along one link in the chain: to the more unavoidable reality we never had time to read the things we were losing in the first place. But I am somewhat shamefully, given this foreknowledge, one of many people who have done nothing about the problem. Instead, I am part of it: relentlessly churning out content without fail every week. Not solely because I love it (the one and only good non-commercial reason) but because I feel I ought to.
But writing is fun…right?
The truth is that I do really enjoy writing – sometimes. Sometimes it gives me incredible moments of elation. There are subjects I am passionate about that I want to share with the world. There are ideas, thoughts and feelings I deeply want to communicate. There is a nuance and power in the written word that no medium can match. But the pleasure of the craft of writing is for me has always been a more muted joy.
For me writing has always been a pastime in the truest, original sense of the word. Most of the time it’s a more fun way to spend a few hours than slumped in-front of the TV. Like a good swim it can come with a wonderful endorphin rush at the end. But I don’t live for swimming; I would never describe myself as a swimmer. I was never a newspaper editor because I loved journalism. I was a newspaper editor because I love the town I live it and believe in what a newspaper could do to make it better. I never started this blog because I wanted to be a boardgame critic, but because I had specific ideas, analysis, reflections on experience I wanted to share. The actual content of the content is what I live for, not its craft.
So when the well of content I am actually passionate to share runs dry – when it has to be forced – it turns from a pastime into a slog. Very soon, writing for me becomes a battle to constantly think-up new ideas are easy to execute; rather than full me with joy. As time has gone by I find myself asking more and more: Is that battle to fulfil a blogging schedule because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” worth it?
Some might think this is just typical writers block. The constant fight to apply to seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Perhaps this is just the whinging of someone in a very privileged situation; the educated man’s first world problem par excellence. All of this is about me, it ignores what I am giving to readers entirely.
Maybe all of that is fair enough. Every writer goes through some of this after all. The difference is that I am not sure there is a good reason why I am putting myself through it; however more or less comfortable a problem it is in the grand scheme of things.
The hard facts
I am not a professional writer. I don’t need to earn a living from it and I don’t love the craft itself. If there were another medium I felt I could communicate in just as effectively, I would change to it in a heart beat. In general, as far as intellectual buzz goes, I get my greatest bang-for-buck when I talk about these topics in person; not in in their written form, essay or discussion.
What I write here takes a lot of time to create. I am something of a perfectionist and I can’t help myself when it comes to diving deep into topics. This has it’s positives. I have been complimented on my forensic and detailed approach. I think it’s genuinely different and seems to be useful. It’s also the only form of writing I do that really rewards me personally.
But it cannot be rushed. While I have improved my speed since I launched this site last year, it still takes a total of approx. 5-7 hours to create an average analysis piece; outside of specific research like playing some of these titles a few times. That’s closing on an equivalent of a working day per blog post and some pieces taken even longer. I’ve tried just going faster, but that only really works when the format itself leads to quick execution – like a newsletter. For articles that don’t fit that mould, going faster usually means dropping the quality. I just can’t bring myself to do that.
Looking to more mercenary subjects, regular blogging is not likely to be a huge commercial driver of success for Naylor Games either; at least for now. Diverting time to it becomes something harder to justify each day.
Blogging is widely touted as a panacea for building businesses online. Ever since the SEO goldrush of the 00s, creating endless amounts of content to build-up their web presence is something nearly everyone is doing in the hopes it will translate directly into sales. It became a mantra that you needed to constantly put out new content. Without it you would become lost and irrelevant. But what was probably an innovative and effective strategy back in the day, is now seriously attenuated by the fact that everyone is doing it. Very simply: it doesn’t differentiate you at all to have content if everyone has content. For e-commerce sites battling to the death for the top three spaces on Google organic search, the additional technical values of higher value links-in may be a small but critical edge. For companies where business is not directly generated from search results, such technical value is small beer.
That’s not to say it hasn’t led to some solid traffic. I – a total industry newbie with no published game yet and no real credentials, who writes ludicrously specific posts that are typically three thousand words in length – am averaging well in excess of a thousand visitors a month well before the site’s first anniversary. It’s not a huge number, but I am still immensely flattered by it: the mere thought people want to read what I have to say about these topics is genuinely heartwarming. A lot of the previewers who come to pitch to me for trade are in similar brackets. But ultimately, Naylor Games doesn’t have anything to sell direct and won’t for a while. Analysed on solely commercial grounds as a sales channel, that traffic would still need to be greater: to make its impact outweigh the opportunity cost of putting my time into something else.
But for me the ultimate problem is this: Even if the practical obstacles with creating such content on a regular schedule were vanished away with the flick of a wand, I am not convinced it would be desirable to keep creating it – even in that scenario.
When I write pieces that I am not inspired by I can see the difference between them. Even more importantly, the site’s greatest hits are nearly always the ones *I* was most inspired to create: My article on Dominion’s VPs or the distillation of much of my experience designed thinking in this piece from December. That’s not to say the others weren’t also good. I refuse to let anything be published on this site that isn’t up to a high minimum bar. But I just can’t fake that spark. The articles without it are just not as good.
The thing is though, things that are exceptionally good is what the world actually needs. There is too much content. We almost certainly don’t have time to read all the things that are very good indeed. We absolutely do not have time to read anything less good than that. The wider malaise about “too many games” being released in the board-game community is just a subset of a wider problem. There is simply too much stuff to consume in general. Yet, everyday we create more, taking shot after random shot in the hope we will beat the market or beat the algorithm and get ourselves noticed.
I don’t want to add to that gigantic heap of stuff born out of what amounts to a kind of arms race. The merely quite good merely risks obscuring the really good stuff: the things I don’t want to miss out on.
I want to read critics like Charlie Theel, Matt Thrower or Dan Thurot because they are doing a fantastic job of capturing the experience of games. I want to read Jamey Stegmaier because he’s done the whole business of publishing a game from scratch himself without the help of someone like Jamey Stegmaier to see him through. I want to read MeepleLikeUs because they are actually making gaming more accessible for everyone. I want to read all of these people because they are at the top of their respective journalistic fields. I don’t honestly think I have much time for everything else.
That’s my philosophy in general. Take Magnate: endlessly refining it has been a joy; I love development, down to the tiniest detail of game experience. But it’s also been a commitment to values. In a world full of games and so little time to play them in, I’d rather have just one that was really, really good and never make a game again than a ton that are pretty good. I’d rather have one title with enduring appeal that could be enjoyed by a wide audience outside of a gaming hardcore for years to come. I firmly believe Magnate can be that kind of success and it’s my job to do everything I can to make it that.
Of course, it’s nowhere remotely close to a certain bet it will be: I understand the logic of why designers and publishers cautiously diversify for fear that the majority of their games will not sell. No one can make a hit on demand. But, from what I have seen, it definitely won’t be if I follow the approach of throwing many games at the wall and hoping for one. And after all, if every publisher only produced a couple of exceptional titles a year, the great glut of games we complain of so much would instead be a steady stream of gold.
Why shouldn’t my aims for this blog be any different?
I don’t think I will ever stop writing. This isn’t me swearing off the keyboard forever and I see no reason not to publish regular news at it happens. But I don’t think the regularity of the weekly blogging schedule is for me. Instead, I would much rather share a fraction of articles with you and every single one be right from the heart, head and soul.