I began my blogging career in 2007 when I was accepted onto the WoW Insider team. At that time, I was full of vim and vigor, eager to tell my stories about the game I loved, and even more eager to have other people read them. I had a short tenure at the site, and was eventually let go for reasons I still don't fully understand. The official reason was "spelling errors," FYI. Despite this I look at my formative months at WoW Insider with nostalgia, knowing that I will never have that broad of an audience for my writing again. It's hard to explain what it feels like to wake up in the morning and realize that thousands of people have read something you put your heart and soul into, and that hundreds of them decided to comment on it. I hope that one day we reach that sort of readership here at GameGeex, but for now all I can do is look fondly back on my time as a World of Warcraft blogger and sigh for the experience that was cut short all too quickly.
This past week the vast majority of WoW Insider writers were culled when the site's budget was slashed and the site was no longer paying for articles. It still exists, as the letter from the editor says, in a much reduced form, but the heart of the site was its writers, and now that heart is gone. The writers themselves have banded together, and you can follow them on Twitter or on their own blogging projects as they strike out on their own, riding high upon a tide of community support.
While it saddens me to see so many of my fellow bloggers out of a job, it does not surprise me in the least. Here at GameGeex we've been feeling the tide shift when it game to blog readership for a while now. Much in the same way that middleware games are disappearing from the gaming landscape because every publisher wants a triple AAA title and so won't bank on the smaller projects anymore, the middle sized blogs are vanishing from the horizon. Most people today get their gaming news information from the big sites like IGN, Kotaku, and Gamasutra, and even when they do get their news, it's usually from a social media feed rather than the blog's mainpage. This means that people can scroll a Facebook or Twitter feed and get the headlines, and then click on a story if they want more information on the subject (or fall for the link bait that are half-finished titles and subject lines that tell you how you are doing a normal activity wrong, but that's a rant for another time.)
Initially a gaming site like WoW Insider got most of its traffic from aggregating smaller blogs and bringing the information to their larger reader base. But now WoWI itself is a middleware blog, too focused on one game to survive in an age where all the information is transmitted via social media. Yes, I know the site is still around, and will be for many months, or at least until Joystiq absorbs the team formally into their staff. The reality is though that this is the first domino to fall in a trend I've been expecting for a while now.
Blogging is in decline; you are either the huge sites with budgets big enough to weather the changes in how gamers read gaming sites, or you're the tiny blogs creating new and original content. For those of us in the middle, attempting to create our own content doesn't work when you are also trying to be a successful business. A small blog survives because there's no pressure for constant content; you create awesome stuff, and hopefully you get picked up on Reddit or Kotaku, and then you get your hits that way. The smaller blogs have affiliate programs they work with, and gain revenue from the sale of products through links and testimonials they provide. Affiliate programs don't work for businesses because a business does its work out in the open, and when a business tries to sell you a product, you naturally recoil from their avarice.
With declining readership and no way to supplement the ad revenue they previously received, middle sized websites are facing a challenging road ahead. In the case of WoW Insider, they are run by AOL, and AOL didn't wait to see if WoWI could morph into something new; they just jumped in and slashed the budget. The rest of the middle sized gaming sites are going to have to decide which side of the fence they want to sit on: No longer can you make your living off of aggregating other people's content. You have to become huge (which in the case of a site like WoW Insider means merging with their parent site Joystiq if they want to survive) or you have to only create new content and become something small. That's really hard for the businesses as blogs industry, because if you have a team of 10 or 20 or 30 writers, how do you go back to writing for the love of games? And how do you do that when people are no longer reading blogs?
We here at GameGeex sit in the middle of this dilemma, and are actively searching for our place in a sea of uncertainty. The industry we cover is in flux, and so are we. Note though, that we will not sit idylly by and let all our work be for naught. We care too much for gaming in general and for GameGeex specifically.
And, of course we wish the best for the WoW Insider team, and look forward to seeing their future success.