200 days ago I published my first post on What Games Are. It was a quiet period in my life and I didn’t quite know what I was going to do next. I had something of a draft for a book that I was writing, an urge to create something more immediate, and to strike out on my own and take a risk that I had something worthwhile to say.
Six months later, I’ve published around 130,000 words (and easily written double that). I’ve been invited to write for a couple of esteemed publications. I’ve had the chance to speak at a couple of events. And my consulting business is booming. I am, in short, really really busy.
I thought the 100 post milestone might be a good opportunity to pause and reflect on how things have been going, and talk about my plans for the next 100 posts.
Here are some key numbers that describe how What Games Are has been doing (not including this post) since it launched:
- 99 posts published
- 128,800 words published (many more written and subsequently edited)
- 1,300 words average post length
- 14,000 unique readers (30 day period) at peak, down a little at the moment
- 53,200 total readers with 142,000 page impressions
- Most frequent month: December (32 posts, 1,110 word average)
- Least frequent month: May (6 posts, 1,460 word average)
- 1,620 subscribers via RSS, Facebook, Twitter and email.
These are top ten posts by page impressions:
- You Need $100,000
- CityVille Explained
- You Need a Look
- Minecraft and the Question of Luck
- Simulacra or Simulation
- Busywork is Not Fun
- How Engagement Killed Gameplay
- The Engagement Hierarchy
- Return of the GDD
And these are my top five traffic sources (not including searches, directs or the LinkWithin plugin that adds ‘You Might Also Like’ links to the bottom of each post):
As I was compiling data, I discovered that some of my assumptions were wrong.
For example, I didn’t realise that the average post length has increased significantly. In December I wrote frequent but smaller posts (with some exceptions), but in the last two months I have been writing longer essays almost exclusively. I think that unconscious choice has been a mistake because a blog is supposed to be more of a conversation than a speech, and the pattern of traffic has reflected that.
The best length seems to be around 900 to 1100 words. While some bloggers work better with much shorter length, I find it difficult to really dig into a point with that kind of brevity. On the other hand, 3000 word posts often get tl:dr comments from readers, except in the case of some series like the CityVille posts. So that’s an important lesson.
My second interesting lesson is the importance of relevance. I tend to write two kinds of posts:
- Observations/insight on existing issues
- Definitions/new thinking for the future
Observation posts tend to have more immediately relevant titles (‘Minecraft and the Question of Luck’) whereas definition posts tend to be more opaque. I’ve learned that the former are easier to share with an automatic tweet as a result, but the latter sometimes need tweets that contain a quote or snippet from the content rather than their title. Arguably I need to get better at titling those posts.
Nonetheless both kinds of post are important. Observation posts tend to have a half life, so they are kind of like my viral acquisition activity. However the definition and other posts tend to see more sustained traffic over the long term. My ‘Art is the Best Business’ post, for example, gains a steady flow of sustained traffic from StumbleUpon where many of the more flash-in-the-pan posts do not.
The third lesson I’ve learned is that post timing matters. More of my readers come from California than anywhere else in the world, which is unusual given that I’m based in the UK. So if I post before 6pm GMT (8am PST) then those posts will often not experience a lot of activity on Twitter in particular. Day of the week also matters: Saturday is consistently the weakest day (though there have been exceptions) while Tuesday tends to be the strongest.
Finally, taking the time to post links in venues also matters. Of course I tweet and Facebook share as a matter of course, but Reddit (especially the gamedev and IndieGaming sub-Reddits, which both permit self-publishing) is an incredibly strong venue for both sharing and discussing ideas. StumbleUpon is hit-and-miss, however. The venue that surprised me the most with its lack of effectiveness is LinkedIn. And Digg doesn’t seem to work for my kind of content either.
The Book and Other Plans
It’s been a fantastic experience: To have more than 50,000 people read your material, to receive emails on a regular basis from people who just want to tell me that they are huge admirers, and to make new connections is humbling. To have 1,600 people make the decision to become fans is, likewise, a pretty special feeling – and I thank you all for that.
So what’s next?
The biggest item is finishing the book. I have a draft that needs a thorough rewriting and slimming down, as at the moment it is like a Big Book of Everything I Ever Thought About Games, and not too coherent. I will be working on the book as a matter of priority over the course of the summer, to get it into shape. It will contain some of the ideas discussed on the blog as well as new material. Its ambition is still to capture what games really are as an art and establish a firm grounding for their legitimacy.
I plan to release it in e-book format first, on the Kindle and iBooks etc, by the end of October. It’s more important to me that the book be read rather than bought (and I personally find pricing of ebooks to be way too high given that they have zero cost of production) so the ebook will be inexpensive (<$5), and I’ll likely release a free PDF download too.
The second item on my plan is extending What Games Are in other areas. I plan to launch a Kindle edition of the blog, which are not free but very cheap, containing the material on the main blog plus a few select additions. I also want to expand the use of other media, meaning things like podcasts and other multimedia material.
I’m also looking into activities such as mini-conferences, talks, slidecasts and so on. I’ve seen my friend Amy Jo Kim give a couple of these before and they seem like a lot of fun. They may even lead to a workshop, we’ll see.
There will also be some site re-organisation. Several readers have asked me to create a terminology page that summarises various terms that I use frequently, for reference. I also need to clean up the navigation generally. Any suggestions that you have are welcome.
I’ll be away on a much-needed two week vacation from the end of next week, so for July What Games Are will probably be pretty quiet. Watch out for all manner of exciting things to start happening in August.