6 June, 2013
I've written a lot about the importance of in-game community lately. But, allow me to write a bit about the type of community that isn't in a game or owned by a particular company. Maybe we can get draw some lessons that might come back around to game design.
So, let's talk about blogging, and the community around that. As the title asks: where did the bloggers go?
Okay, I went with a bit of a clickbait title. MMO bloggers are still around, I have a few hundred blogs in my reader (currently favoring http://www.commafeed.com/ although it's still going through the growing pains of still being in development.) Some bloggers even post more than once every few weeks like some people around here do. But, it feels like there are less MMO bloggers these days.
Not the only one
I'm not the only one who thought about this. Chris Bateman wrote a blog post with an even more clickbait title, The Extinction of Blogs. In the post he talks about his observation about blogs having faded. Chris focuses a lot on the role social media has played, how it has taken the emphasis off of blogs. As an extra irony, I was clued in to this discussion on Twitter.
There have been a number of interesting responses:
- On Blogging & Online Conversations by Oscar Strik
- The Day the Music Died by Chris Lepine
- Whatever Happened to Class? by Corvus Elrod
Many of them covered why they went into blogging, and why they think blogging is not so strong anymore. I won't go into all the arguments, but the consensus seems to be that yes, blogging is not as dominant as it used to be and, yes, social media is part of the reason. But, I'll also note that most of them see some benefit to blogs over social media; perhaps not surprising given they posted about this on their blogs.
If you take a look at my archives, you'll see that I started blogging back in November of 2004. At first I made it a bit of a personal journal, writing about stuff that interested me. But, eventually I just focused on game design topics. I'm an introvert and I don't really enjoy opening up to strangers about my personal life, but I found it appealing to talk about my game design philosophies, particularly about MMO development which was reaching its peak around the time I started blogging. It felt like a natural extension of what I was already doing: participating on forums and answering game design questions that other developers wouldn't (or couldn't) answer. Owning my own game game me a lot more freedom. But, I noticed that I tended to repeat myself a lot. Blogging was a way to collect my thoughts into one location.
Why don't I switch over to social media these days, given that Twitter and Google+ are so dominant? I want a persistent record of my thoughts. I want to see how my thoughts have changed over time, and to note the things that haven't changed. The problem with social media is that it's too ephemeral. Want to read why I thought indie development is important over 7.5 years ago? You can! Yet, I have trouble finding the tweets or Google+ posts I made a few months ago.
So, blogging works for me and I won't be giving it up anytime soon, even if I could stand to post a little more often.
Why blogging faded
So, why are there less blogs now than there were before? Beyond social media stealing our thunder, I think there are a few other reasons. I'll focus specifically on the MMO bloggers, since that's the community I know best.
Developers stopped blogging
I think this is the biggest reason. MMO developers lead the charge back in the day. We knew all about these online communities, and we knew how to reach them. Blogging was an easy way to run a Lum the Mad type site without having to write your own custom software like he did.
Just as blogs replaced the forums, social media is now the medium of choice. Now, if you want to know about a game you go to the carefully curated social media profile written by a PR person. MMO companies also manage to avoid any "Shut up and give me my ten bucks per month, little man. My Porsche needs some performance upgrades." situations this way.
Finally, MMO development takes a lot of time and effort. Launching a game demands a lot of attention, and it's easy to let things like sleeping in your own bed or writing regular posts on your blog fall by the wayside. I think a lot of blog readers tended to go to developer blogs for more "insider" type access. But, if the developers stop blogging, that reduces the motivation to visit blogs.
So, why did developers just stop writing blogs?
Blogging is a lot of work
Writing a blog post takes a lot of time. I try to post thoughtful stuff, not just vomit words into an input box. (You, there, stop laughing!) I know a lot of people put a lot more effort into their posts than I do. I'm lucky in that I wrote a lot of papers in university, so I often get away with posting a lightly edited first draft. I also touch type well, so I can bang out my masterpieces relatively quickly.
I still like to sit on my posts before pushing them out to make sure I didn't go totally insane when writing. And, often, I'll edit down my posts as I tend to be wordy. But, even now you see why a single post on here tends to take up a few hours of my time, whereas I can whip off a Tweet in a few minutes at most. And, this is for every post, so posting regularly takes a lot of time.
I think this is a larger issue for other MMO bloggers as well. As The Ancient Gaming Noob reports, only about 27% of blogs survived after being encouraged by a bunch of bloggers to start blogs. Kind of sad, as I really enjoyed a few of those blogs.
But, it's not just newbies that drop out.
Influential voices disappear
One thing you might notice as you go read old posts on this blog, particularly the comments: a lot of links go to dead sites. A lot. Even eyeing my blogroll over to the right side, I'm surprised how many sites just don't exist or haven't updated for several months. Some people fade away. Some give tearful goodbyes and move on. Some stop in their prime for no obvious reason, as with some of those new blogs TAGN reported on.
Given that social media is taking over, and tools like Google Reader are going away, it's probably easier for people just stop reading blogs that go offline rather than hunt for new ones.
But, why are people not blogging as much?
MMOs are no longer the new hotness
As I said, there are still a lot of bloggers out there. I read a lot and try to participate when I can. But, MMOs lost their "new shiny" crown to "social" games some years ago. Even now social games are are losing their crown to mobile and tablet games, so MMOs are old news twice over.
It's something that MMO developers have noticed. Damion Schubert (who has neglected his own blog for a long time), once said at GDC that "MMO developers used to be a posse!" It's true, we were a pretty tight group of people, but since then developers went on to other things. As I've lamented before, investors just aren't interested in MMOs anymore, seeing the apparent failure of MMOs as being a sign they're not worth investing in anymore. It's hard to be an MMO dev these days, as your options are limited. Few companies are doing anything truly groundbreaking anymore.
So, we have all these reasons why MMO bloggers aren't so strong anymore. Let's think about what can change.
How to save blogs
Chris Bateman might have posted the first blog post, but he isn't a fatalist. he wrote a followup post about Prototypes for Blog Revival, where he talks about using social media to bring the focus back to blogging.
I think there are a few other things we, as bloggers and blog readers, can do.
Have existing bloggers help newbies
So, what spurred those blogs to start up that TAGN mentioned in that link above? MMO blogger Syp over at Bio Break starting the Newbie Blogger Initiative. He encouraged readers to start their own blogs, and encouraged existing bloggers to post advice. Here was my advice. Note that this was also a clever way to get existing bloggers to post and link to them from a central location.
This is kind of like a highly focused Blogs of the Round Table (BoRT) that Chris mentioned in his post. Maybe have this type of thing on an annual basis to encourage new blood.
"Discoverability" is one of those words from mobile games. It's the age-old problem: you made something cool, now how do you get other people to appreciate it? While I would probably keep writing blogs if nobody bothered to read them, I think that this is not the case for a lot of other people. You post a few blog posts and nobody shows up, and there goes your enthusiasm.
In the bad old days of blogging we had blogrolls, but with RSS readers people don't always go visit a site. Keeping the blogrolls updated is tough given that blogs might come and go quickly. Some people really like the type of blogroll that pulls from RSS feeds that Blogger can feature. It might be interesting to find (or write) a WordPress plugin for that, and maybe have it occasionally post the more active feeds to the RSS feed in a sort of, "If you like this blog, you might also be interested in..."
Focus on community
My use of that word might not surprise you. I think blogs really miss out on discussion compared to social media. It used to be when you visited a site manually you might see nwe comments on a discussion. With RSS feeds, I know that I usually only visit a comments list once, maybe a few other times if I want to watch for replies to my own comments or if the discussion was really promising. I watch the comments on this blog a lot, because for me they're the best part, but I think the discussion aspects of social media are stronger than blogs.
Especially on a blog with frequent updates, comments seem even more ephemeral than tweets. It's not unusual for a comment to feel ignored, even on a popular blog. I think the conversational aspect is what makes a blog feel like more than just a place to read posts and drop a comment. Bring back the conversation, and you bring back a focus on community.
And, it'd be nice to get more of a focus on the community between bloggers. As Chris says when talking about the BoRT, having the drop-down box that linked to all the participants was a great way to link bloggers together. And, it helped discoverability, too.
This is an ongoing conversation
I think blogs have some serious benefits over social media. Not that I think anyone is going to forsake Twitter or Google+ to go back to just reading blogs, but I think we can do so much more. It might be time to really look at how we present blogs.
What do you think? What do you like about blogs? What would make blogs better?