Keeping Game Maker Blog up to date

Game Maker Blog HomepageThe most trafficked website I run is GameMakerBlog.com

As the name suggests it is a blog about the Game Maker game development tool. Articles on the site include news about the company behind the software, YoYo Games, the development of the program and community projects, websites, media, competitions and games.

At three and a half years old it is also probably the longest online project I have stuck with.

Over the years we’ve had some good exclusives as well as reporting on breaking stories and some more run of the mill stuff.

It isn’t the most profitable as it does require quite a bit of time to keep in order. Along the way I’ve been helped by more than 10 fellow writers and countless Game Maker users. One big problem I have experienced throughout the past couple of years is finding regular contributors to create fresh content for the site.

There are people willing to help, approximately 20% of all articles on the site are written by someone other than me, but there are often long dry spells when all the posts are written by myself.

Slightly out of date alias-heavy pie chart below (I prefer to use real names on the site)

Game Maker Blog Contributors

I am very grateful for every post other authors write but it seems to me that more than ever the site is a one-man band.

Recently this was bought to my attention once again. 15 minutes after I left the house YoYo Games released the results of their latest game development competition. More than 5 hours later I returned home and saw I had received a message sent just a couple of minutes after the results had been released telling me that they were out.

A 5 hour delay may not seem long but I think it makes the site look bad. It isn’t an exclusive, it isn’t a hard to get story – effectively all it requires is a quick re-writing of a blog post made elsewhere.

Breaking a story or finding something relevant not currently featured at one of the Game Maker forums or on other prominent Game Maker websites can sometimes be exciting (more so than it probably should be).  Sometimes I have to hold off a story to get verification from another party or find more evidence which can be frustrating but we’ve reported a fair amount of YoYo Games news which they have either not reported themselves or have only later acknowledged.

Despite this people expect us to get the basic stuff right and online quickly – from what I hear some people have begun to rely on the site for all things Game Maker and I don’t like to let them down.

Anyone can set up a half-arsed attempt at a Game Maker news blog – there have been many. If all you want to do is re-write blog posts from elsewhere hours or even days late you won’t gain the followers or respect that we have worked so hard for at GMB.

As an early adopter of Twitter I am pleased to see it has become one of the better known social networking tools.  @GameMakerBlog now has over 400 followers and Twitter is the fourth largest referrer of visits to the website.  A good number of Game Maker users have also, for some unknown reason, chosen to follow my personal account where they get to find out my opinions on formula 1, university, the things I watch on TV and other random but effectively pointless things I say and do.

The people

Such a horrible phrase. The Game Maker community is made up of programmers, artists, game designers, web developers, reviewers, gamers and authors. Through my involvement with Game Maker Blog I have come into contact with an incredible bunch of people from around the globe.

Game Maker Blog Global Reach Map

Obviously I know some better than others. If you’ve got me added on both Facebook and MSN you’re in the minority (I don’t accept random Facebook requests).

I’ve been helped by forum members, moderators, administrators and YoYo Games staff.  People willingly give their time to send news tips my way, answer questions and organise longer articles such as interviews and book reviews. If this is you, thank you. You make things so much easier and help us do things that would not otherwise be possible.

Despite the fact that I’ve never made anything half decent in Game Maker, I have been welcomed by the community.  There have been bad times but the good ones outweigh them.  The efforts people put into game maker games, magazines and other projects as ‘labours of love’ whilst having good time doing it means that Game Maker is far more than just a development program.

Whilst it’s handy being in the same time zone as YoYo Games the worldwide community means news is happening 24/7 so contributors from abroad are a valued asset (even if most seem to have faulty “u” keys on their keyboard).

We had a couple of failed attempts to launch a reviews series then third much more successful attempt spierheaded by Andrew McCluskey following the demise of GMTech. (Also contributions from Jack Brockley, Josh Conley and Matt Scorah.)  Andrew then only went and launched Rekame Mag and got himself a job at YoYo Games!

GMTalk

GMTalk was an accident. Josh and Jono at GMVision had a fortnightly live radio show which improved after a shaky start but quickly got pretty tired. After two shows in a row were plagued with technical problems it was apparent that I wasn’t the only one wishing for something like GMCast to appear on the scene. A few hours later Andrew, Jack and myself recorded the first episode with our guest, James Garner from DS Game Maker.

If you listen to GMTalk you’ll find that we have a mini obsession with magazines. Game Maker magazines can be great if done right but oh, they can be dire.  They simply don’t work for run of the mill news because by the time they are released it isn’t news.

If you’ve ever been on a show (we try to get through different guests each time to keep things fresh) you’ll know how different the initial recording is from what gets published. “Chaotic” could certainly be used to describe our antics at times and often recorded content cannot be included in the final release. When recording more often than not it feels like we are low on usable material but it always seems to work out allright in the end and the positive reception we have received makes me feel all warm inside. To know that people have actually sat and listened to 3 young British guys and our assortment of guests ramble on about geeky computer stuff sometimes worries me, but to hear that they actually enjoyed listening makes me proud (and all that time in Audacity worthwhile!).

Some stats

GMB Pageviews

From launch until the Autumn of 2009 growth was pretty steady with occasional dips in traffic when there wasn’t as much happening to write about. At the end of 2009 version 8 of Game Maker was released which almost doubled our traffic, initially as new features were announced and betas made public but also thanks to a series of logo related posts.

In recent months traffic has declined slightly.

It’s hard to predict traffic levels and the kind of reception a story will receive in the comments section. Posts about YoYo Games’ financial status, which I find interesting and extremely relevant, often don’t get much attention at all – perhaps because the majority of our readers don’t understand them or care about what they mean.  Of course traffic also varies based on the news which is out of our control – both the size of announcements and the number of things available to report on.

I don’t write blindly attract traffic but it doesn’t take a genius to work out which topics result in lots of traffic.  I try not to focus on a narrow path of news but know that the site is very media-heavy and games and development light. I haven’t been able to effectively implement most of what people said they wanted in our survey.

Talking of financials here is a graph of the site’s very low advertising revenues since launch.

GMB Revenues

The site uses a variety of ad networks, most of which are immediately obvious if you don’t have an adblocker/noscript.

TLA robbed us of our pagerank and then buggered off just after our record month. This has left revenues in a less predictable state with jumps of a third on a month by month basis now not uncommon.

Direct ad sales were a nice bonus when they unexpectedly came along but I haven’t actively been trying to sell them.

Costs are pretty static at less than $10 a month on the domain and hosting.  Prizes and accessing documents filed by YoYo Games are easily covered.  The site certainly doesn’t loose money – costs aren’t really an issue – time is.

The future

I graduate in July.  I won’t have the time/energy/drive to work on the site nearly as much as I do now.

I hate to say it, but don’t know of any reason why I shouldn’t, but recently I have been having these thoughts more often. I wrote a bit about the obvious incompatibilities between keeping GMB as it is and having a full time job a few months back in Rekame Mag 2.

Ideally the blog will continue, and continue strongly in to a future which is looking more and more exciting as YoYo Games hire more people to work on some exciting new ideas. For this to happen I would either need to find a slightly younger care-free version of myself or a small team that can commit to keeping the site fresh and encouraging existing and new contributors. Neither of these will be easy to find.

More people are going to be drawn towards Game Maker as a development tool as games appear on device running the iPhone OS, Android and on PSPs.  I think it would be a shame for there not to be a decent blog for them to read.

9 Replies to “Keeping Game Maker Blog up to date”

  1. Just some stuff I wanted to get written down somewhere.

    Took me a while to find a theme I liked and would be practical enough to use with in-post images. Glad you like it. 🙂

  2. Phil:

    Great post about a great blog; a preliminary congrats on the whole graduation thing, and good luck keeping GMB alive (reading it is, more or less, my only connection to that community anymore).

    -Sam

  3. Good read, I’m glad you haven’t given up yet, Phil.

    I’ve considered volunteering to help out at a few different points when it seemed like updates came a couple of hours too late, since I usually have internet access throughout the day at work.

    I always have to remember my own blog though, and how I struggle to keep it up to date at times. News cycle articles are a bit different however, so maybe I could help sometime. 🙂

  4. A good read, very interesting.

    Hope you keep at the blog but I understand how time consuming it can be. If all goes bad, you can always sell the blog for a nice sum =0

  5. Thanks for all your comments (I’ve had a few people contact me privately too).

    One reason I was given by a contributor for them not posting, despite being aware of the specific news story that sparked this post, was that they were afraid their post would not be up to GMB’s standards. It’s certainly a tough one.

    One thing I forgot to mention in the post was the commentors. They provide a tremendous amount of feedback, spark intelligent (mostly) discussion, debate things sensibly and spot mistakes. Of course they too are a key part of the site which I rather embarrassingly overlooked when writing above. 🙂

    @True Valhalla – not really a good investment opportunity for anyone!

    @FredFredrickson @Mr. Me – Thanks for the offers of help. I’ve got a busy none-GM week and will try to get some sort of outline plan (or plans) together for the future of GMB in the next couple of weeks.

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