On Gamer's Games

Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games
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2012 Year In Review: Part 2 (State of the Blog)

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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I started On Gamer’s Games a little over a year ago for a few reasons. The first, and most important, reason was that I was greatly enjoying writing and the discussions that resulted from that writing. I had been a founding member of the original Geekchat League (a discussion style group on BGG, of which there are several active) and while I had enjoyed my time there it was no longer as fulfilling as it once was. I wanted more, and I saw BGG’s relatively new blog feature as a way to both produce writing and be involved in the discussions that I craved.

The second reason was simply because I noticed a bit of a hole in the BGG marketplace of ideas. There really wasn’t anyone doing in-depth reviews of the deeper and heavier board games that I loved so, and I figured that if I wrote well, and wrote often, I could build an audience and, potentially, get involved in some fun and interesting discussions. By making my voice consistent, and having a relatively strong idea of what I liked and did not like, individuals who liked these games could compare how their tastes matched to mine and make a more informed decisions then they would be able to when just reading a random lady or gentleman’s review.

The third was my desire to investigate the social dynamics of BoardGameGeek. Considering that thumbs are the most obvious indicator of popularity, I figured that trying to experiment with seeing how many thumbs I could get, while still achieving my previous two goals, would be fun, as it would allow me to potentially learn about what attracted and held people’s attention while still pursuing my previous goals. As part of this I eventually decided I also wanted to learn how to go about getting review copies from publishing companies. This was partially because I figured it would be an indication that I had “made it”, that I had developed enough of a reputation and understanding of social dynamics of BGG. It was also partially in order to help build my audience, as early access to hot new games is one of the best ways to draw attention to your work, though of course it also requires that you have effective content that is worth consuming.

I have learned a few things based on my efforts. One of those is that when writing about a particular game anywhere from 50% to 75% of the thumbs you get are based on the game itself rather than anything you are writing, assuming you have written an article of high enough quality. When you post it is also key. The most popular reviews of a game are frequently the first and/or the most comprehensive. My most popular review was the first one of a game by a popular designer and was also very comprehensive and I think most of my other reviews have been successful because I try to push hard on the comprehensive end of things. Another is that that if your goal is a combination of quality of analysis and popularity that there is a particular sweet spot in quantity of words. My most popular reviews have all had a roughly similar length, and I have reached the point where I have a good idea of how many thumbs any particular article is going to get based on what the game is, how long the article is, and how good the article is, though I am still surprised sometimes such as with my Terra Mystica review (I was expecting a bit more thumbs) or quite a few of my blog entries (where I was expecting less).

One unexpected, though very welcome, benefit of this has been the creation of an absolutely top notch set of commenters. I get excited to post my articles not only because of all the effort I put into them or to test a social hypothesis, but also because I am looking forward to what my newfound digital friends have to say about some idea I am putting forth or game that I am examining. It is also fun to see who thumbs the post because, outside of commenting, as that is a way I can see if someone I know reads the blog (or my reviews for that matter) got a chance to look at this new entry, and also to see if there is someone new following along.

I also like how the BGG blog community has grown in that time. It does seem that quite a few frequent and semi-frequent bloggers comment on my entries, and that some of them have made connections with each other through this comment section. For some articles it almost feels like my comment section has become a café of sorts, as people get together and talk about whatever topic is on their mind. Sometimes it does not even end up being what I wrote about in the first place, and while sometimes I wonder, “What does this have to do with anything?”, it is still fun to see the conversations evolve and everyone’s opinions of the particular topic of the day.

Part of the reason I asked about everyone the questions I did was in order to get an idea of what occasional commenters were finding to be particularly engaging or boring. I was pretty thrilled with the response, both because of the quantity of responders, but also because it was able to give me a good idea of both the diversity of things that everyone seems to like about my writing as well as topics that I could start touching on next year.

The two things that seemed most universally popular were the reviews and the pre-release predictions articles. The reviews did not surprise me, to be honest, as I have always known that they were popular, but I was a little more surprised about the pre-release predictions. I have heard more complaints about them than anything else, and the fact that a significant percentage of you enjoy them stands as a good indicator that I should continue producing them. Producing the reviews was never in question, but I admit I was wondering how much value people were getting out of my pre-release prediction articles, and am glad that the response was positive.

Some of the more unpopular items were strategy articles, my articles about BGG itself, and my writings about miniatures and more Ameritrash-focused games. Strategy articles are not something I am going to ever stop writing, as I enjoy writing them about as much as I like writing reviews and they do get a pretty favorable response, even if they are not my most popular item. The same applies to my articles about BGG rankings and awards. I love seeing how objects behave in a system and how the psychology of BGG results in certain outcomes, and seeing how things are going to work out each year, and if I can successfully predict them, is enjoyable enough that I am going to continue writing about that. I am less certain about writing about miniature games. I like these games a bit, and enjoy writing about them, but I am in this as much for the discussion, and with less of a response, and thus less discussion it may eventually prove to no longer be worth it.

I got a lot of fun article suggestions, and I have put together a list of things that I am planning on writing about for the rest of 2012 and 2013, in addition to articles that sneak up on me in that period. The list is:
1) Hansa Teutonica Expansion review plus a voice of experience review of the game in general. (This got multiple requests and thus will be a high priority)
2) Agricola review (under the general request for a voice of experience/older games review)
3) Mage Knight Expansion review plus a voice of experience review of the game in general
4) Polis: Fight For The Hegemony review. (This depends on me finding a copy and finding someone willing to explore it with me.)
5) Discussing games that my opinion of changed significantly over time, including recent examples.
6) Discussing my Top 5 games.
7) Discussing how the games of 2012 fit into my “Innovations, Reimplementations, and Retreads” article
8) An article discussing the various people I play with, to give further context for what I write about and my experiences.

If you have any other specific article requests let me know. I am open to suggestions!

There were also some questions or concerns that were asked that I did not get to in the comments, or which I felt should be highlighted further that I felt warranted mentioning in a larger post.

The first was about review copies, and a general preference that I do not receive them. I have long had mixed feelings about receiving review copies, as I have noted in previous works that I have been involved in, and even now, despite the fact that I think I have been able to keep my opinion’s separated from the relationships built in the pursuit of getting these copies, I feel uncomfortable with it. So I will no longer be accepting review copies after my current commitments have come to an end.

The second was about how to get review copies. Essentially my answer to that, is to write (or better yet record, as publishers like video better) reviews that are popular. Find a niche, get lots of views on YouTube and/or thumbs on BoardGameGeek and then contact the publishers with a resume. If you have an established body of work and proof that people listen to you, it is not that difficult.

A few people asked me about writing more about games or in ways I am not that interested in. Instead it was phrased as in, “Write about games I like!”, “Write more about medium and light-weight games!”, or “Write with less analysis and more emotion!” All of those items are unlikely to happen and if they do happen they will be because I happen to like those sorts of games, or feel emotional about something, rather than through any specific decisions on my part. Doing otherwise will just lead to burn out and will ultimately result in me no longer writing. This is something I would prefer not to happen.

I was asked if I would consider doing a regular podcast segment. The fact is, I was actually offered such a segment on the Dice Tower, and while technically I am still considering the offer, I mostly decided against it for a few reasons. The first is that while I do like podcasts a lot more then I like video, I also would prefer that most of my content be directed at my blog and reviews, and while I am perfectly fine with being involved in roundtable discussions, such as the ones I have participated in for my favorite podcast, The Long View, I do not think I would want to divide my attention in the way required to effectively produce a segment.

So that is where I am at. I expect to post a lot this month, mostly because my end of year posts have the unique combination of both being fun and easy to write about, but I suspect that after the new year I will write about one major article per week, either a review or a blog post. The Fall and early Winter will typically be focused on new releases and Essen speculation while the Spring and Summer will be more focused on meta-commentary, articles about genres and games families and reviews of older games or ones that I missed over the course of the previous year.
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