Typically, the year-in-review posts have a positive spin, highlighting the new things I’ve learned throughout the year. 2016 was different. 2016 was the year that I accepted just how many mistakes and compromises I’ve made in my approach to this blog, many of which I was aware of to an extent but in denial about.
Consider this post a review of the goings on at Eye Moustaches throughout the year, but also in a sense a post-mortem on the blog generally. This will almost certainly be one of the “bloggiest” things I ever write. However, to introduce one of the themes of the list ahead of time, short of a miracle, I’m not really talking to anyone, no-one’s reading this. So really, I’m talking to myself, both figuratively and literally, given how many of these points are about people like me who read about games. But I’d never bother to read something like this. And neither would you. You’re me. I’m you. And frankly, I’m a little shit (recurring theme number two here, folks).
This post also has some theories and ideas that, while I think they’re worth considering, are based for the most part on personal experience. This rather subjective approach doesn’t sit particularly well with me as a scientist, I’d prefer to have some data or at least a collection of people saying similar things to help make my case but I don’t have the time to gather them together at the moment. It’s a *gulp* think-piece, I suppose you could say.
1: Anonymity was a mistake
This has been my mistake from the start and one which I am perpetuating even now. I started writing anonymously to test the waters and to get over my hesitancy about publishing anything. The “deal” I made, with myself, was that I would never publicly associate myself with this stuff, so I could go as “off-brand” (as the kids say) as I pleased. But the idea that I’d still be able to drive readers to the site was hopelessly naïve. No-one succeeds alone and strangers don’t owe you anything. You don’t have to read The Tipping Point to understand the value of networks (as a point of fact you don’t have to read The Tipping Point at all if you want to really understand anything, but you’ll get some fun anecdotes).
Part of my reason for anonymity was fear of being that guy, the “read my eBook”, “hey check out my band on YouTube”, “I’ll be streaming at six” and so on guy, pestering his social circle to support him. Yet the more I think about it this whole frame of mind is on pretty shaky ground. I could go on a whole rant about the vast gulf between how successful (or to put it another way, accepted) artists, musicians, writers, “Influencers” even YouTubers are regarded (as something just below gods in some cases) compared to the “wannabes”, widely agreed to be the lowest form of human life. How it is we make this distinction is murky, but I suspect that it has a lot more to do with “the wisdom of crowds”, “Influencers” and “The Media Establishment” that we’re all meant to dislike these days than any of us supposedly free thinkers, basking in the digital age where the barriers between content creators and the public has been broken down would care to admit.
One of the interesting things to come out of this article was the benefit of “legitimacy” conferred by having a high follower count, leading to increased interest that was not correlated with actual quality.
2: My #contentstrategy was a mistake
The sort of stuff I’ve been putting out has mostly been reviews, and reviews of old titles at that. Who wants to read the opinions of a stranger on something they may have already played? I mean, I wouldn’t. There’s a least some evidence that reviews of timely games by professionals don’t even draw in big numbers.
While it’s fashionable to look down our noses at clickbait, #content and think-pieces with contrarian titles, that is what the people want. For example, while the likes are few and far in between, my Darth Vader thing and Dexter Jettster fan theory continue to generate a trickle of views even now. Outside of these posts and some “fan content” like the Psychonauts hoedown I haven’t been writing what readers want. They don’t want reviews by a stranger and, as discussed, they certainly don’t want this post, what they want is takes. Grabby headlines! Contrarian views!
Myself, I’m guilty of googling a subject as a sort of sanity check, to verify that I’m not alone in having a particular opinion (I recently entered “San Andreas gameplay bad”, come at me nerds). I’ve a thing in mind about Virginia that will definitely get better numbers from you people if I call it “Virginia: Games Media Circle-Jerking At Its Finest!!!” instead of something more restrained. This post is a list of 7 things, your brain liked that, didn’t it? If I’d called it “Loser Wannabe Games Journalist Destroys His Credibility With 7 Bitter Resentful Rants” you’d have liked it even more, wouldn’t you?
3: Spending time on Twitter was a mistake
While their branding may try and deny it, Twitter, as with almost everything comes down to who you know, and as I’ve said, when you’re writing in total anonymity, you know no-one. Twitter is constructed in such a way that if you’re well connected your content is exposed to more people, increasing the odds of making that magic impression on someone even more well connected and so it continues. What’s more they seem dedicated to pushing it further in that direction by messing with the previously chronological timeline.
I can totally understand why being anonymous on Twitter doesn’t work. On my modestly more popular personal account I’ve learned to ignore it when strangers follow me, doubly so when they seem to be using a fake name. I’m pretty sure at this point that I’ve come to Twitter too late, that the signal to noise ratio has veered drastically to the latter and unless you have the real world connections already you’ll never crack it, unless you’re willing to pester influential types of course. In contrast, I’ve had much more engagement and, what the hell, fun, during my month on fledging social media Mastodon (that description will likely piss off the slightly self-important guardians of the site, if anyone will ruin Mastodon, my money is on them) than I’ve ever had on “birdsite”.
Twitter is a garbage website where the status quo is a large proportion of the userbase are made to feel small and insignificant. This section of the post is the one that threatens to bloat out and ensure I never actually finish it, so I’ll leave it there for now.
4: WordPress and r/gamereviews
Similar to Twitter, WordPress doesn’t seem to be very good for building an audience. Unlike Youtube with its recommended videos, or Tumblr where browsing popular tags appears to be a thing that happens, actually finding new WordPress blogs within the site is quite difficult. You don’t seem to discover things on WordPress, there’s no obvious front page, it’s not a landing site, more of a hosting site. Compounding this is the problem that WordPress is composed of approximately 95% blogs about WordPress.
As for r/videogamereviews, again, personally, I can never bring myself to click through to anything there, so why would I expect others to? I think this kind of relates to the accepted/amateur point I tried to make earlier, where if someone has the blessing of someone influential you’re more inclined to read what they have to say. On a brighter note, r/games_journalism seems a little more active, with some discussions and sharing of advice.
5: Fandom was a mistake
One of the odder ways I spent my time last year was trying to break into the top-tier of a games website Facebook fan group and in hindsight, I can’t really tell you why I cared. If there appears to be a top-tier, then is it really a fan group? The mania in that group for “GETTING THE STAFF IN” always struck me as a pretty clear signal that the last people that some of the members of that fan group wanted to interact with were their fellow fans.
Games journalism fandom, while tempting, is arguably a poor use of one’s time. Certainly, it’s important to read what others are writing so as to identify a site’s voice, understand what they want from potential employees and generally to keep up with the main conversations happening in games media. But outright fandom, of the fawning variety, as well as being kind of lame, is something which, while it might feel like a useful form of networking, is really establishing a weird dynamic between you and the other individuals. These people will hopefully be your peers one day, your equals.
Another point which could also easily be applied to Twitter is that fandom of this kind is essentially junk-food, it’s enjoyable to a point, but eventually you have a moment of clarity in which it becomes clear that you’ve been poisoning yourself the whole time. When you catch yourself ideally daydreaming about what it would be like if someone you follow were to do something is minor as follow you back on a website, it’s a worrying sign.
6: The lack of feedback really gets to you (I’ve decided that the “X was a mistake” format was also a mistake)
The end result of all of the above, and the real consequence of a lack of views is a lack of feedback and the entirely accurate feeling that I’m talking to a wall.
For example, this year I put together three “emergency filler content” posts. Now, while I perhaps shouldn’t mention this, those posts genuinely were written in a rush after I realised that yet another possibility to benefit from an “attention surplus” was passing me by. Nevertheless, I thought they were at least somewhat entertaining, even if they don’t appear to be a genuine satire of anything in particular, and a potentially interesting way to convey opinions, in particular my own frustrations with blogging into the void. Now, I could start planning them ahead of time, with a bit of extra polish I suspect I could make them easier to follow without losing the Trump-esque train of thought quality, but considering there’s no evidence that anyone other than myself enjoys them what would be the point?
Similarly, I was quite happy with my fake Hideo Kojima interview, and briefly considered that maybe I had found a niche for myself, creating surrealist accounts of “my (fictional) experience” as a “(fictional) games journalist” in the style of those bizarre columns Stewart Lee sometimes writes for The Guardian. (On the subject of inspiration, that particular piece was inspired, to a degree, by this very funny headstuff.org account of an interview with Dennis O’Brien) It would be the Ivan Moustache and Miister X concepts come to fruition. But again, in the absence of any tangible demand, what’s the point?
7: This will all be over soon
Just to clarify, I am not, to the best of my knowledge, dying.
Yes, having coyly alluded to it before like the bashful geisha I am, I will soon be wrapping up Eye Moustaches. But the blog will not go gentle into that good night. That’s right, taking my cue from the shitheads who make gaming culture a burden a lot of the time, I plan to finish up with a final run of content, which I’m calling the “Eye Moustaches Extinction Event” (sadly, the aforementioned shitheads seem to be hanging on pretty well).
Someway, somehow, 300 to 500 words will go up every 5 or so days. I’m hoping that’s a manageable size, as you may have noted (if you, ”The Reader”, existed which as we’ve established you don’t) this post has run on a little long and was supposed to come out in January. I’ve played a number of games recently and now I’m ready to play the numbers game, so help me you fucks are getting some takes. When I’m out of takes, if such a thing can happen of course, if some sort of audience has built up then Eye Moustaches may continue, if not then I’ll have to accept that it never will.
As it is, this blog, in its current form is perhaps the biggest obstacle in the way of pursuing the career I want. It’s a holding pattern, a way that I can tell myself I’m making progress but without really doing it. I also just found out that my WordPress @ handle is eyesmoustaches, which is another point in the “burn it all down” column.
So, how am I going to learn from the mistakes described here?
1: Anonymity: I’m actually not going to learn from my mistake about anonymity just yet, please be patient. This is intended as anonymity’s last hurrah in a sense.
2: Content: as discussed, we’re taking a trip down to take town. Grabby titles, short pieces that just agree with things people already think, short pieces that strongly contradict things people already think (there are several aspects of games that don’t do a whole lot for me, so this shouldn’t be hard). In practice, this might consist of posting some stuff I’ve had in drafts for years, but they won’t do me any good stuck there will they? “Throw enough mud” (in Latin) will become the official blog motto for some time.
Increasing page hits may not be the most noble goal, but realistically, you need people who listen to you if you want to aim for something higher.
3: Fuck Twitter, I’ll post links there but that’s it.
4: Fuck WordPress, I’m going to try Medium for a while or any other site that’ll have me. WordPress will remain the hub though.
5: Fandom, no time for that. Also, I’m starting to wonder whether “getting into a particular social circle” is a good motivation for a career, so a renewed focus on “doing the work” over the next while could be very helpful.
6: Lack of feedback. Hard to say how to learn from this except to ask for feedback, I suppose.
Come back next January for my post entitled “Yeah, none of that crap worked either”.
(More likely to be next April at the earliest if we’re being realistic)
And um… please like… awh jeez, please like-favourite-follow-and-subscribe-if-applicable and let me…. let-me-know-what-you-think-in-the-comments.