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Posted: 25 November 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

Being a freelance games journalist: Reviews

Video game freelance writer

Here on Gameleon we get a lot of requests asking how people become freelance games journalists. So – along with our training days – we thought it about time we brought together some thoughts. This is the third in what will be a series of articles about how to be a freelance games journalist. You can part one here and part two here.

Part #3: Writing Reviews

by Kirsten Kearney

Reviews are the bread and butter of freelance games journalists. This is especially true in September-November when there are a lot more games coming out than any in-house writing team can cope with. Remember that as a freelancer, especially at the start, you won’t get the games you *want* to play. You’ll get the stuff no one else wants to review and sometimes it will mean a lot of gameplay for not that many words (so not that much remuneration).

But being able to write a good review is a pre-requisite for being a games journalist and it’s a skill you must master. This will take time – it’s a lot harder than the flame-boys on the forums would have you believe. Before you start make sure that you’re reading a lot of reviews and break them down into what is successful or not. Probably the two best freelance reviewers right now are Christiam Donlan (@Doonvas) and Simon Parkin (@SimonParkin). Read everything they do, ignore whether you agree with the score and think about how they structure their reviews and create narratives.

When it comes to getting worth different publications have different requirements for reviews. As a freelancer you must make sure you can meet these before agreeing to take on work. If the game code for the review is for a debug console, do you have access to one? If the publication requires you to take screenshots of the gameplay, are you set up for that? There are three more things to agree on before you undertake a job – the word count, the deadline and your fee.

Your deadline is likely to be perilously close. The very nature of the role of freelancer means you’re likely to get the last minute work that the staff writers don’t have time for. This can mean you only have a few days to play and review a game so be prepared to work fast and efficiently.

How much depth you go into in your review will depend on the word count you’ve been given. Longer reviews of more than 600 words allow you to go into more detail about the mechanics of a game or to give an account of a particular in-game experience. Much shorter reviews of fewer than 300 words still need to give an idea of the game’s history, genre, content and quality. There is almost always a more economical way to make a point so look for ways to rearrange your sentences to get the word count down. A good rule of thumb is to never go more than 10% over your word count. Learning to self-edit is an art worth putting some time in to. No matter what the length of your review though the most important thing is to convey to the reader if the game is fun and if it’s worth the money. You may have been given your review copy for free but the reader needs to know whether it’s worth paying the full retail price for

There’s a big difference between your personal taste in games and an objective critique of a new title. Use your experience, expertise and research skills to explain the product’s weaknesses and strengths rather than your own preferences for a particular style or mechanic.

Although publications have varying scoring systems most do use one. Many journalists are uncomfortable with whittling down their critique to a number but it serves as an invaluable tool to the reader. The score you give must be based on the publication’s own system and policy so make sure you are completely versed on it. It seems obvious but it’s important to make sure your score reflects what you’ve said in your review.

The key to making a living as a freelance games journalist, who is able to get regular work and build good relationships with magazine and website editors, is to be dependable. Be available and willing to work weekends. Always hand in high quality, complete work, on time. You are in competition with all the other freelencers out there. Be the best.

Kirsten Kearney (@KittAlpha) has been a journalist for more that 14 years, the past eight writing about video games. She holds two Guinness World Records for longest marathon in the FPS and driving genres and is currently editor of GMA-nominated Ready-Up. And, yes, she used to be a ‘Frag Doll’.

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Posted: 18 November 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

Being a freelance games journalist: Preparation

Video game freelance writer

Here on Gameleon we get a lot of requests asking how people become freelance games journalists. So – along with our training days – we thought it about time we brought together some thoughts. This is the second in what will be a series of articles about how to be a freelance games journalist. You can read the first part here.

Part #2: Preparation

by Kirsten Kearney

The days of getting a commission based on one piece of example writing have all but gone. Creating and maintaining your own blog is so easy that any editor would likely question why you don’t have one when pitching for work.

Starting your own blog has a threefold purpose:

1. An online portfolio of your skill and experience as a writer.
Any editor will be able to click a link and see a variety of your work, brought to life with images.

2. A place to practice writing.
Whether you’re at school, university, have a full time job or three kids to look after you should always make time regularly write. Practice by reviewing games you have played, previewing titles you have played a demo of, and write up thoughts and feelings on the industry as opinion piece blogs.

3. See your work published and in the public domain.
Don’t hide your work away in a corner of the internet. Tell your friends about it. Send links to your peers and ask for feedback both good and bad.

Besides being a showcase for your work make sure that your blog has an “About Me” page or section. This way potential employers can quickly get an idea of who you are and an idea of your skills. Hilariously funny and silly biogs are an indulgence of highly successful, already known and established writers. Keep it simple and informative!

Using social media to promote your writing can help you gain attention from the industry and expose you to a larger audience. You can use Facebook and Twitter to let people know when you’ve written something new and give them a quick link to it.

For more experience it’s worth looking for places on established games community blog sites. They don’t pay their writers but can offer support, the chance to be a part of a team and possible access to media events. Check out the independent sites on The Games Tribe for leads.

Part #3 of this series will be along in a few days.

Kirsten Kearney (@KittAlpha) has been a journalist for more that 14 years, the past eight writing about video games. She holds two Guinness World Records for longest marathon in the FPS and driving genres and is currently editor of GMA-nominated Ready-Up. And, yes, she used to be a ‘Frag Doll‘.

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Posted: 16 November 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

Being a freelance games journalist: Introduction

Video game freelance writer

Here on Gameleon we’re dedicated to improving the state of games journalism. Whether that is starting discussions about review scores, supporting the Games Media Awards or profiling writers and industry folk, we’re about sharing knowledge and information. We get a lot of requests asking how people become freelance games journalists. So – along with our training days – we thought it about time we brought together some thoughts. So this is just the first in what will be a series of articles about how to be a freelance games journalist.

Part #1: Introduction

Words: Kirsten Kearney

Carving out a career as a freelance games journalist is not easy. There are many barriers to entry and obstacles in the way. Print media isn’t the unshakable giant it used to be. Not only can gamers get their news and views quicker online but declining advertising in the current financial climate means that magazines are on tighter and tighter budgets. Why farm out reviews to you when there are staff writers in the office willing to take on more and more work just to keep their jobs? And what of the staff who have lost their jobs? They are likely to get any freelance that is going before a newcomer to the industry.

It’s not all bad news though. The rise of online media has opened up a plethora of opportunities. In fact there’s never been a better time for those with plenty of talent but little experience to get their work published.

There are things you need to have before even beginning to undertake a career as a freelance games journalist. The main one is, of course, an unbridled passion for games. Your passion should extend not just to playing them but to finding out everything you can about who makes them, how they’re made and the whole history of the medium. The other essential requirement is a love of writing. It can’t just be a way to get to play games for a living or to get free games. That wont be enough motivation to overcome the difficulties of building a career as a journalist. You must genuinely love writing and be willing to work hard at improving your skills and be willing to take instruction and criticism from an editor.

Here are a few words of inspiration for you from some of the greatest exponents of our craft. We’d love you to add your own in the comments – especially if you’re a seasoned pro.

Believe in what you write. Enjoy what you do – and if you don’t, find a way – find an angle. And if you can’t, do something else instead. Be interested and be sociable. Listen more than talk. Be innocent like a reader. Know your subject. Research thoroughly. Write what you want to read. Write for yourself or someone you know well. Be objective. Treat everyone the same, whether you revere or revile them, they are all just like you. Genius isn’t infallible. Look for the bad in the good and vice versa.” Gary Penn – Editor Zzap!64, The One, Amiga Power, PC Format (@GaryPenn)

Get good. Nothing else matters. Always remember that there’s a million ways to be “good”. It’s about finding the one that’s you. Which takes time, so get on with it. Worth stressing: if you’re good enough, you’ll be hired pretty much immediately. When I was on PC Gamer, I hired every genuinely first-class writer who crossed my desk. Just be good. I like people making me feel obsolete.” Kieron Gillen – Amiga Power, PC Gamer, Eurogamer, Wired, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, The Guardian (@kierongillen)

“I reject the idea that you can’t be good and fast. If you’re going to be a professional journalist there’s a good chance you’re going to have to turn copy around to tight deadlines without letting the quality slip. So man up. Personally, I always prided myself on being quick. Sitting there like the tortured artist while you try to come up with the mots justes for your Need For Speed preview is only going to piss the subs off. ‘Make it brilliant but make it now’ is probably what I’d say.” Tim Clark – Editor in Chief (Games) Future Publishing (@timothydclark)

Part #2 of this series will be along in a few days.

Kirsten Kearney (@KittAlpha) has been a journalist for more that 14 years, the past eight writing about video games. She holds two Guinness World Records for longest marathon in the FPS and driving genres and is currently editor of GMA-nominated Ready-Up. And, yes, she used to be a ‘Frag Doll‘.

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Posted: 13 October 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

YouTube power tips: 6 simple ways to turbo charge your channel

YouTube power tips

We’ve been in to YouTube central and talked to the guys who know about how you can get more views and subscribers for your YouTube channel. The first part of our YouTube series shows you six simple ways to turbo charge your videos on YouTube.

 

1. Make the first 15 seconds count

Because that’s all you’ve got. Get the first 10-15 seconds wrong and your viewer is off watching superheroes in Seattle and dogs dressed as AT-AT elsewhere.

  • Answer the question, “What am I Watching?” – in the first few moments
  • If you’ve got long(ish) content then use a teaser to show what comes along later in the video
  • Keep your brand ‘sting’ to five seconds or less.
  • Example: Philip DeFranco Show

2. Have a call to action

Online video isn’t a passive experience. Your viewers have itchy fingers (as we saw above) so give them things to do. You’ll also boost your ranking, engagement and audience scores. With that in mind every video should use annotations, voiceover or a presenter to explicitly ask the viewer to…

3. Create a schedule and stick to it

While online video is certainly a different beast to TV some of the same techniques work across both, including having regular release schedules, programming and timely publishing.

  • Release certain types of videos on set days of the week (video reviews on Friday and mashups on Tuesdays, for instance)

4. Organise themed weeks

This is ‘tent-pole’ programming with a week dedicated to a specific theme, for instance having a ‘FIFA Week’ with all your content about the game (a review, video tips, gamer reactions, round-ups of other’s content ec).

  • Choose a big theme: a game release or cultural or sporting event etc to build content around. A good plan is to get ahead of the actual release to piggy back the pre-release hype, rather than get lost in the rush of actual release.
  • Plan and publish details on your content in advance – let everyone know what is coming.
  • Example: Harry Potter Week

5. Join up with other YouTubers

Collaborating with other YouTube channels is a great way to cross-promote your videos. You can do this as part of your ‘tent-pole’ programming around a specific subject or go for a longer or permanent tie-in.

  • Make sure your collaborator is relevant to your audience (although not necessarily just about video games)
  • Appear in or contribute in some way to content on your collaborator’s channel and encourage them to appear/contribute to your videos
  • Include ‘shout outs’ to your collaborator in your videos
  • Record video chats, use video-responses or incorporate video from one another on your channel.
  • Make it easy for the viewers to get from one channel to the other (and make sure you link to specific videos and not just channel pages).
  • Example: The Bacon Song

6. Interact with your audience

Online video users aren’t passive watchers and it’s important to get them involved in your channel. Not only will you make them stick around it will help create a sense of community and give users something to feel part of.

  • Respond to comments as quickly as possible (but don’t pick fights)
  • Ask for ideas, opinions and feedback
  • Use YouTube Bulletins to message your subscribers (and use a call to action to get them involved).
  • Reward your audience with shout-outs or prizes or whatever you can think of – get them onto the show itself if you can do that.

We’ll be going deeper into YouTube with our next post including how to use analytics to boost audiences and more great tips straight from the heart of YouTube.

Got more YouTube tips? Then let us know either in the comments or the contact page and we’ll feature them in the next round of YouTube Power Tips.

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Posted: 4 October 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

How to make a podcast

Gaming site podcasts

So you’ve read my two previous podcast posts here at Gameleon and think that you should give it a shot yourself, yet don’t know where to begin. In this article I’ll show you the basics of how to create an internet radio show of your own in the easiest possible manner, at the highest quality, for a reasonable price.

This piece will not cover technique, advanced editing, delivery or how to get it in front of a large audience – perhaps they’re subjects for another day – but it will cover what you’ll need and the practical elements of rudimentary podcasting. Let’s start with the equipment you should be using.

A computer

Congratulations! You’re more than likely part of the way there already if you’re reading this. Your PC or Mac needn’t be a powerhouse for audio recording and editing – anything made in the last half decade should be plenty powerful – but you will need a good chunk of hard drive space available. Set aside a few gigs to dedicate to recording / editing and ensure the machine is running as well as it can before starting. Defragment your system, turn off any programs you’re not actively using, run a disk clean-up program and scan your machine for viruses, as all of these will be hogging resources that could affect performance.

Audio editing software

More good news! You needn’t spend a thing on this element of the process, as Audacity (or Garageband) is more than enough for any aspiring podcaster. It’s simple to use but perfectly functional for what you’ll need. Of course if you’d like to splash out on some professional software then by all means. Sony’s Acid suite, Cubase by Steinberg and Adobe Audition are all infinitely more flexible than the free options but you’re unlikely to ever use the added options they confer, especially when you’re starting out. If you’re using Audacity, you’ll also need to ensure you’ve installed the LAME MP3 encoder as it does not come with the software download. There’s a handy guide on the Audacity site, click here for how to do so.

A VOIP recorder

Oh my goodness me another freebie. If you’d like to record a conversation with someone on Skype or another VOIP program to enable dialogue, you’ll need to do one of two things. Either record both sets of audio separately and mesh them together – which I’d advise against as it’s a laborious process – or you can nab yourself this free plug-in for Skype and just capture the whole thing on one machine. Far easier, far quicker, same result.

alt

This is what you'll see

Headphones

“I have speakers, why do I need headphones?” I hear you ask. Through my headphones. The reasons are twofold. First you’ll get a far better idea of how your audience will hear the finished product when editing, as most listeners will consume your media via an MP3 player. The second is when it comes to conversing with others on Skype, as not wearing them while recording will see your guest’s portion of audio come from the speakers and consequently will be picked up on your microphone, creating an echo.

Any set of headphones will do at a stretch but if you have a little money – especially after the next item on the list – then splash out on a decent set. Over-ear work best as they create a fuller sound with which to pick out minor discrepancies in the audio you may miss with in-ear. You needn’t spend an absolute fortune, this pair of Sony MDR-XD200s will do the trick nicely.

Quality microphone (mic stand & pop shield)

Here’s where the wheat are separated from the chaff. If you want an amateurish, hiss-filled, crackly podcast then use your PC’s inbuilt microphone or any old headset you have kicking about. If you don’t want to sound like 90% of the rubbish on the iTunes Marketplace and have a desire to take your product to an audience wider than just your mates, you’ll need a semi-professional microphone.

Microphones come in so many different shapes and sizes that picking the right one can be confusing. Essentially you want an active condenser mic to pick up the richness of every tone in your voice. A colleague of mine working at the BBC swears by his Phantom powered, multiple channel mixer setup, however for most people this isn’t going to be an option. This microphone is what I use and the difference in quality between it and several hundred pounds worth of setup is negligible to all but the untrained ear. As you’ll see from the price, it’s not chump change, but if you’re serious about making something worthwhile, you really should invest.

In addition to the microphone, you’ll need a pop guard and stand, these are cheap but essential; never hold or move the microphone you’re talking into, always make sure you cover the mic to avoid any unsightly puh-puh-pops when pronouncing hard consonants.

The recording process…

For a one-person show this is very simple: load up your recording software ensuring the hardware is set up correctly, press record and speak into the microphone from a distance of six to 12 inches. Hit the stop button when you’re finished and… that’s it on a very basic level, you’ve recorded your audio and can now edit it.

If you’re recording from Skype, just hit the red record button on the third party software before having your conversation. Once you’ve finished, press stop, then you’ll need to fire up the editing suite and drag the saved recording file into your program.

Ensure you’ve saved what you’ve recorded / imported, then clip out any sections of audio that don’t belong – such as the clicking sound of your mouse starting and stopping the recording – by clicking and dragging to select the offending area on the timeline, then clicking Edit, then Cut. When you’re happy with the piece, save the work then export the file as an MP3. Voila, that’s your podcast, ready to be uploaded to your site and distributed, with an audio quality like this…

Gameleon podcasting example

This is of course the most basic podcast you can produce, just speech without intro or outro, nor any fancy effects such as fading or multiple channel audio, but it’s a solid start to get you used to the process at large. If you think what you create is high quality, let me know with a link to your work in the comments below…

 

altPeter Willington is a freelance games critic with credits at Made2Game, Pocket Gamer,PSM3, Nintendo Life, The SixthAxis and many more. He started his career of arrogantly telling people what games they should play through podcasting and now runs a label of internet radio shows over at InRetroSpectPodcast.com. Follow him on twitter.com/xeroxeroxero

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted: 21 September 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

The Steve Hill Column: On being the first journalist to play Deus Ex, tabloid scum and other stories

Games journalist Steve Hill goes Gears of War 3

I’ve been playing that new Deus Ex lately, which reminded me to immediately shoehorn in a hoary old story from the good old bad old days. So, there we were, in Dallas to see the ill-fated Daikatana. Made by a studio called Ion Storm…

It was the brainchild of Jon Romero, who depending whom you asked was the inventor/level designer/glorified tester of Doom, the game that changed everything. A longhaired earring-wearing motherfucker in a leather jacket, it’s fair to say he fancied himself. I didn’t really get to know him: on the one occasion he joined us at a strip club, he slugged down a can of Dr Pepper, buried his face in the nearest pair of tits for the requisite three minutes, and fucked off home in his yellow sports car.

Unfortunately, Daikatana was a mess, and we arrived in Dallas on the back of about ten key members of staff leaving the project. As a barometer of the confusion, nobody appeared to be expecting us, much to the dismay of a stressed PR man on his first trip, precipitating a full Alan Partridge meltdown in which he pointed out to a bewildered receptionist that Tannoy is actually a trade name and that she should instead refer to it as a public address system. Having finally talked our way into the office, perched atop an enormous skyscraper with a hole in the middle, we were dispatched to the recreation room to play hours of table tennis and retro arcade cabinets. I think the bloke from Edge actually finished Scramble – he didn’t give a fuck, and was mainly using the trip as a cheap way to emigrate to the States.

Finally, we were apologetically informed that Daikatana wasn’t quite ready and could we please come back tomorrow? By the way, while you’re here would anybody like to have a quick look at an unannounced game called Deus Ex? This is Warren Spector, he’ll be taking you through the demonstration and answering your questions. And so that’s how I had the honour of being the (equal) first journalist ever to set eyes on Deus Ex, the game that changed everything. It’s a shame I’ve never managed to get past the first level…

One game I have actually finished is Gears Of War 3, which was recently unveiled in London in more professional circumstances: row after row of consoles manned by sweaty journalists in headphones. Playable from 9am until midnight, some poor saps with short deadlines seemed intent on completing the game there and then. Gaming, like masturbation, should mainly be carried out at home alone. That said, I put in a token half hour, followed by a lamb curry and a few cold drinks. By no means the worst offender, that honour goes to a tabloid hack who reaped the benefits of free beer, food and wi-fi for an afternoon without even going near the game, and then promptly slung his goodie bag in the first bin outside. Scum. Subhuman scum.

Steve Hill: Having accidentally landed a job on a PC games magazine in the mid-90’s, Hill has since written for such outlets as PC Zone, CVG, Eurogamer, IGN, Gamespot, Official PlayStation Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine, Official Dreamcast Magazine, PlayNation, PC Gear, PSW, FourFourTwo, Sky Sports Magazine, Hotdog, The Independent, The Mail On Sunday, Loaded, Maxim, Front, Nuts, Jack, Goal!, The Onion Bag, The Red Card and PokerPlayer. And some others. He can occasionally be seen on www.gameshocktv.com, and tweets infrequently as @HillyTheFish.

Disclaimer: Opinion above is the columnist’s own and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Gameleon or The Games Tribe.

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Posted: 19 September 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

10 best gaming podcasts (plus 10 more to get inspiration from)

Gaming site podcasts

In The State of Gaming Podcast #1 I promised I’d highlight not five, not ten but 20 podcasts that for me show the best the medium currently has to offer to potential listeners. Below then are two sets of shows. One is a list where the focus is squarely aimed at fans of interactive entertainment. The other is a catalogue of productions outside of what one might clumsily term as being “geared towards gamers”.

 

I should point out that these are in no particular order of importance, some of the shows are no longer running and what you’ll read aren’t full reviews as such, merely what makes them great, what makes them stand out from the throng.

Game Podcasts

1. A Life Well Wasted

Robert Ashley presents what is probably best described as an audio almanac, discussing games culture with a multitude of guests that rarely see air time on other shows. Yet it’s the production quality that is what most impresses, interview speech is often subtly altered for dramatic effect, atmospheric sound is piped in to give better context and psyche-tinged tunes heighten the experience by acting as punctuation marks to big and bold statements.

2. The Bombcast

One of the best examples of a more traditional “whatcha-been-playin” format, the Giant Bomb team never fail to draw the listener in, whether it’s through fantastically funny banter on subjects adjacent to games, spot-on observations about the form from Brad Shoemaker, or the sheer energy and excitement the team seem to have for their chosen subject. The Bombcast is often imitated, it is never bettered.

3. Brainy Gamer

Several friends recently recommended I check out Brainy Gamer, a show I’d intentionally shied away from due to a yawn-inducing name and terrible podcast art. I’m now steadily working through the back catalogue of Michael Abbott’s show after being won over by his soft-spoken, well-reasoned debates with some of the most exciting people in the business. It’s smart and highly sophisticated, yet welcoming and accessible, making it an utter delight to listen to.

4. TalkRadar

The polar opposite of Brainy Gamer, this show is loud, raucous and not afraid of the odd dick joke or two. Chris Antista is one of the sharpest wits in podcasting, never missing an opportunity to bring up a controversial subject, weigh-in with an opinionated thought, or jump on a chance to rib his co-hosts. What’s more impressive is how he keeps the chaos in check, drawing remarkably insightful commentary on the week’s news and the state of the games industry from his colleagues, never afraid to ruffle a few feathers in the process.

5. Midlife Gamer

As I noted in my previous article, if there’s one thing podcasts do exceptionally well, it’s build community: Matthew Moore and Daren Baldock understand that fully, exuding warmth and passion in their dialogue, always encouraging their listeners to get involved at every turn. This dedication to create social ties with their fans has built them a dedicated fan base, a rapidly growing site and turned their show into one of the best British made podcasts available.

6. Retronauts

Though the latest shows have taken a much more stilted “community calls” approach that the hosts haven’t quite nailed yet, delve back into the archives and you’ll find the most refreshing and intricately detailed discussions on the archives of video games. Jeremy Parish’s encyclopaedic knowledge of RPGs combined with Scott Sharkey’s vicious satire is just as fresh today as it was three years back, making for a portfolio of shows that are easily revisited time and time again.

7. Nintendownload X-press

Is it cheating to include two podcasts by the same outlet? Probably. Yet what’s most interesting about the show isn’t the content – entirely composed of one man talking about new software available on Nintendo’s troubled downloadable services – but that Jeff Gerstmann turns podcasting into pantomime. Hosting the show in what sounds like his bedroom, the character Gerstmann portrays has an unflinching belief in Nintendo’s weakest efforts, making for a hilarious, yet tragic study on podcasting and fan sites.

8. One Life Left

Broadcast on Resonance FM in London and later uploaded to the net, it’s because of this founding in radio that OLL adopts a more segmented style with a good selection of original chip-tune music and it thrives because of it. Industry veterans Simon Byron and Ste Curran, along with producer Ann Scantlebury keep the show ticking along nicely while they dip into contributors’ efforts on the politics of Wikipedia and game store ownership, plus a nihilistic poem or two.

9. The Joystiq Show

Recently rebooted and better than ever, The Joystiq Show picks a theme or topic and combines developer interviews with in-house discussion. It’s the range of strong opinion yet respectful and humorous discourse that impresses most though, the breadth of staff available at the outlet making for a smorgasbord of rational and entertaining games criticism.

10. Retro Gaming Round Up

Most podcasts weigh in at an hour, maybe two, some of the best are shorter. At around six hours every month the Retro Gaming Round Up challenges these preconceptions and is largely successful. It’s all very hardcore collector, vintage, pinball stuff but it remains likeable and well produced. You’ll need most of a working day to see it through to the end but it makes this list for having the guts to be so demanding of its listeners, who in turn have built up a strong community around the show.

Additional Listening – Shows From Outside Of Games Culture

This American Life

Public radio at its very best: thought provoking, smile inducing, intelligent. A novel insight into American living on a sociological, cultural and political basis.

Tested

A tech show that swings from dual core processors and OLED screens to how long you should wear socks for, the Tested crew make mobile phones, gadgets and ISPs interesting. Which is really quite an accolade.

Adam And Joe on 6music

Proving once and for all that a podcast with a “Clean” tag can be just as hilariously immature as one that’s “Explicit”, Adam and Joe are the masters of allowing the listener’s imagination to complete the punchline.

Answer Me This

Built on nothing but questions their listeners always wanted to ask but never knew who to talk to, the podcast goes to show that crowd-sourcing content and extrapolating upon it can make for fantastic listening.

My Brother, My Brother And Me

“An advice for show for the modern era”, the advice the three brothers give isn’t always recommended – or even safe – but it never fails to make you smile and their plundering of questions on Yahoo Answers is pure internet radio gold.

Sick And Wrong

If you think you’ve heard controversial and you haven’t listened to Sick And Wrong, then you’re in for a big surprise. With no censors and no subject considered taboo, this kind of content could only be found on the internet and is all the better for it.

Peacock and Gamble

Like listening to two teenage boys egg each other on to say more absurd and laugh out loud funny statements on the human condition, these two rising comedians perfectly blend scripting and improvisation.

Johann Hari Podcast

Listening to Hari recounting tales of human suffering, greed and exploitation is never easy but it will always make you think, a superb example of how audio can force a listener to challenge their own beliefs and question how society operates.

Jordan, Jesse, Go

I don’t usually go in for shows that are – in essence – two friends talking to one another but Jesse Thorn and Jordan Morris are the exception to the rule by leading such interesting lives in the world of TV, film and comedy.

As It Occurs To Me

The definition of in-joke, self-referential comedy podcasting, trawling through the series is a pleasure, the listener being sucked into a world of high backed arm chairs, Susan Boyle and Cumpkins. If you want to know how to hold an audience and make them feel special, this is it.

So now you know what to listen to for inspiration, you may like to take your own swing at the format. In my next article I’ll tell you what you need, how to go about doing it and how to get it out to an audience. Stay tuned.

 

Is your favourite – or, indeed, your – podcast missing from this list? Please add them in the comments and we’ll publish the most popular ones.

altPeter Willington is a freelance games critic with credits at Made2Game, Pocket Gamer, PSM3, Nintendo Life, The SixthAxis and many more. He started his career of arrogantly telling people what games they should play through podcasting and now runs a label of internet radio shows over at InRetroSpectPodcast.com. Follow him on twitter.com/xeroxeroxero

 

 

 

 

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Posted: 14 September 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
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Games Journalist Q&A – Vikki Blake: “It’s a frighteningly competitive industry to crack”

GGS Gamer's Vikki Blake

What do you do now and who do you work for?

I’m presently Editor-in-Chief of my own small-but-perfectly-formed indie gaming site, GGS Gamer, with several contracts and freelance gigs peppered elsewhere, too. I also freelance for Ginx TV, where I review games, write scripts and capture my (often abysmal) game-play footage for TV.

Tell us how you become a games journalist in the first place.

To be honest, it all happened rather recently and comparatively late in life. I’ve always wanted to write professionally – originally in the chick-flick magazine industry – but a six month placement at a magazine-that-will-remain-nameless when I was 21 almost destroyed me. (Have you ever seen The Devil Wears Prada? IT IS EXACTLY LIKE THAT.) I realised I wasn’t built for that kind of brutal environment, quit, changed direction, and spent the best part of ten years climbing the ladder in the education sector as a specialist in disability and equality law. I still wrote; in the background I was trying to write a novel in-between research papers. But it was only in 2008 – after a chance invite out of the blue – that I first tentatively considered writing about video games.

Looking back now I can see what a ridiculously insane stroke of luck this was, but it started when I was invited out to San Francisco by EA (Yeah. Really). I’ve run a Silent Hill fansite since 2002, and – looking to stir up interest in their then new survival horror IP, Dead Space – EA invited me and a handful of other digital publications to come play it for ourselves. It was here, after meeting other writers, that I realised that all of the excuses that had been holding me back – my age, my gender, my experience, my industry knowledge – were bullshit. I came home, picked up a writing job at Aeropause.com, and – 18 months after that – branched out on my own and set up GGS. Over the next year I worked my arse off to build up my experience, my portfolio and my contacts, and eventually hit game journo Nirvana – actually being paid to write – in 2010.

What’s the best or most memorable job or assignment you’ve had since then?

It’s impossible to pick the best; I don’t care how long I do this or what anyone else says, I’ll never tire of previews or launch events. Along with the freebies of course, it’s one of the best things about this job, and – as the game journo industry in the UK is surprisingly small – these days I’m lucky enough to usually be in the company of other writers I’m blessed to call friends. But the most memorable was probably the Golden Joystick Awards last year. I was invited to report on the event as one of several “Digital Media” attendees and, without doubt, that night was pivotal in my career.

It’s probably fair to say that at that time, I was essentially still just playing at being a video games writer. But my contact list exploded that night, and I won my first prize for my subsequent editorial – a customised Golden Joysticks Xbox 360 Slim. Now, if I’m ever having a bad day and/or think I’ll never be commissioned again, I look at that machine and promptly shut myself up.

And the worst one?

The aforementioned EA event in San Francisco, probably. I TANKED the gameplay. The game completely terrified me, and, trying to get through Chapter 6 – even on average difficulty – was simply too much. Each time a Necromorph flew at my face I’d all but scream, panic, and promptly die. In the end I gave up and just watched the guys either side of me … but not before a few people had spotted my ineptitude and hidden smirks behind their hands. Not my finest hour and an occupational hazard when your enthusiasm for gaming routinely outstrips your ability!

How has the games industry changed since you started out?

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve been holding this gig long enough to gauge any changes. What’s clear in even my short time, however, is that the industry is investing more time in understanding the communities around their titles. Today, there’s (quite rightly) a burgeoning commitment to listening to fanbase critique and using it to meaningfully inform development.

As for the writing industry specifically? As a newbie, I guess my key observation is that it’s a frighteningly competitive industry to crack and the best thing about video game journalism is also the worst: literally anyone can do it. With just a little bit of know-how and a comparatively meagre outlay, anyone can set up a site and just start writing. This means it’s easier than ever to get your words in print and touch an audience … but it also means it’s harder than ever to stand out and get your work noticed by the people with cheque books.

Is this for the better or worse?

Ask me again in a few years’ time!

Who has had the most influence on your career so far?

I’ve been staring at this question for hours now and I still don’t have an answer. It’s like stuffing a duvet into a can of beans: IMPOSSIBLE.

Like many a games writer with boobs, my instinct first turns to metaphorical heavyweights like Leigh Alexander, Ellie Gibson and Mitu Khandaker, all of whom have raised the profile of talented female writers tenfold in this industry. Crucial to my individual development, however, were the people who took an interest in my work early on, and it’s been that individual support and friendship that’s been most crucial to (and for) me. While I haven’t been formally mentored, I have been lucky enough to have people willing to share PR contact details, or drop a freelance opportunity my way. There are too many to list them all but seriously; if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be here.

What is the best bit of advice about games journalism anyone’s ever given you?

Don’t give up. Ever. Give up on yourself and you’re inviting others to do so, too.

Do you have any advice to others starting out/wanting to get into industry as a journalist?

Write for yourself. I know: it’s a hideous cliché, but it’s utterly true. I set up GGS because I was increasingly frustrated by sarcastic and misogynistic gaming communities, often losing my voice in a sea of snark. My site was born from the unwavering belief that you don’t have to have a 100,000G Gamerscore to have a valid opinion about video games. I firmly believe that it’s this approach – and a complete lack of any alternate agenda – that has gotten me thus far.

I know this might seem obvious, but you have to be an excellent writer, too. Industry knowledge simply isn’t enough. Yeah, you might know a title inside out and outside in, but if you can’t communicate that competently – by an enviable grasp of vocabulary, grammar, pacing, personality etc. - no-one will ever know. And even that might not be enough. The key is to not only be good, but also be efficient; meet deadlines, be courteous, be professional, know your audience. Make sure every single word you write – paid or otherwise – is as sharp and fresh as it possibly can be.

Finally? While breaking this industry is about a thousand times harder than you’ll ever think it is, the rewards are about a thousand times better, too. So if you’ll permit me to refer back to the advice I had – DON’T GIVE UP. If you genuinely think you have what it takes, keep on trying. Find a high-quality indie site – even if it doesn’t pay just yet – and hone your skills there. I don’t know a single salaried journo who didn’t initially start off writing pro-bono, so use this time as an opportunity to build up your portfolio and experience. You’ll be grateful for it later.

What is your dream job?

What I do now – albeit it for a little more money and perhaps a few high-profile columns here and there – would suit me just fine!

How do you find working with PRs and how has it changed since you started out?

I don’t mind admitting that for me, it was initially harder to impress the PR agencies than it was to catch the eye of dev/pub CMs. I came into this business without a contact list, so I quite literally started from scratch and I didn’t realise the importance of the PR agencies until surprisingly late into the game. Things are different today, obviously – but that didn’t come about without a great deal of perseverance.

As a rule though, working with PR isn’t too troublesome, providing you offer them the same courtesy and professionalism as others in the industry. Be friendly and polite and make sure that you turn up for events (without gatecrashing) and review the codes you’re sent.

Pro tip: try not to stand too close to gatherings of PR reps. Their youth and beauty is damaging to fragile and ageing egos. Seriously.

A few quick questions. What’s your favourite…?

Platform: Current gen? Xbox 360, probably, though I’m essentially impartial. If I had to pick my all-time favourite platform, however, it’s probably the PS2. The PS2′s back-catalogue completely defines me as both a gamer and a writer.

Game: Silent Hill 2. The first few chords of the title music still gives me shivers. There’s so much beauty in the grotesqueness of the characters, so much pathos in James, so much fear the first time we saw the now overly-exploited Pyramid Head. It’s been a decade since it’s release and we’re still discovering new things about the mythos.

Honourable mention goes to Portal 2, which is undoubtedly the best game of the last five years. There’s not a single second of that game that isn’t chocful of awesome.

Developer: It’s a straight tie between Valve and Bioware. Outstanding developers, outstanding games.

Games writer: Too many to pick just one! I think I have a penchant for writers who inject a little of themselves into their work; it always makes for a more personable, enjoyable read.

Gaming site (not your own): If plumping for one of the big boys, I’d say Joystiq. My favourite indie sites is probably The Border House.

Games magazine (not your own) GamesTM and EDGE.

Non-gaming magazine/website: Hmm. I don’t think I visit any non-gaming websites. (That’s probably not healthy, right?)

Who’s your games industry hero: WHAT A HORRIBLE QUESTION. Um, again, there’s loads, but it’s probably Grasshopper Manufacture’s producer and sound director, Akira Yamaoka. And GLaDOS.

To be featured on a Q&A please contact us.

 

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PR Q&A – Tony Coles: “There’s too much of a generalised set of references and agreed standards”

alt

What do you do now and who do you work for?

I’m account manager at Peppermint P, a nice PR agency for game industry publishers and developers based in London, England.

Tell us how you become a games PR in the first place.

It was really a case of ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you know’. I’d been writing some freelance reviews and features for a couple of places. A friend of mine got a job at a big games PR agency and pushed a lot of content my way. This meant I was lucky enough to be basically writing an incredibly specific portfolio of work to appeal to his agency and, funnily enough, I got asked to come aboard.

What’s the best or most memorable campaign, event or meeting involving games journalists you’ve had since then?

That would definitely be a notorious client with a notorious history, but a gift for going over the top with events. This was for a licensed sports car game and despite the client being something of a total nightmare (but I still love the guy personally), the event was getting to drive high-end cars around a genuine race track in Italy, with instructors insisting you floored it at every opportunity. I hadn’t driven a real car for about 15 years, so to be behind the wheel of a 180mph monster was a totally mind-blowing, life-changing event. All the journalists we took had a blast too, though as they weren’t car enthusiasts to quite the same rabidity as me, they didn’t have quite the orgasmic connection that I had.

And the worst one?

I couldn’t pick a ‘worst’, as the stuff at the bottom tends to become a grey mass that you quickly try to forget about. The worst things in my experience all share the same issues: terrible products with unrealistic client expectations and not enough budget to mitigate either!

But then there’s the tragic stuff where there’s a good product, person or technology, but it’s so niche, obscure or undeveloped that the opportunities are miniscule. You know there’s a good story, but only for a select group of readers, or there’s not enough information for public release to craft a good tale around. There’s this sense that if you could only get the right coverage at the right time that the story could explode and even some technical thing (like a piece of impenetrable middleware) could become incredibly interesting to a much wider audience, but it’s not your job as a PR to dictate coverage and if the client can’t give you the meat to make the story exciting and interesting, then it can be amazingly frustrating to have things slip through the net.

The worst meeting I ever had was about two weeks into a new campaign with a client I’d never met before. It was our second meeting and I was there with the owner of the agency. After answering a question about the strengths of the game in question, the client tried to headhunt me in front of my boss. That got weird really, really quickly. I’ve had more than enough conference calls that were a total waste of time, too!

How has the games industry changed since you started out?

I got started in a transition period – just before the launch of the 360. So for me, the big change has been the rise of online. It’s seeped into every corner of the industry now, from integration into the very core of the console experience, to the media we talk to and the ways we can distribute information, not to mention the way games can be bought, or where games can be played.

Is this for the better or worse?

Generally better, I’d say, though there’re some trends that are worrying, such as trust in slightly questionable metrics (such as giant registered user figures without context in some sectors, or the dominance of metacritic-style aggregators as a marker for success). I also think that as the barriers to entry into videogames journalism have lowered somewhat (getting a decent position is still horrifically tough, but anyone can start a blog), the quality of critique has dropped. There’s too much of a generalised set of references and agreed standards, and not enough freedom for individual tastes. There’s also a curious homogeneity happening, where you can be fairly assured that if a game gets a 9 from outlet Y, then outlets X and Z will give it the same score – and the reviews will all be broadly the same. I don’t know if this is because games have advanced to the point where so many aspects need to be of a certain quality that they’ll get generally similar reviews, or if it’s because the mass of writers all hold generally similar tastes and opinions.

Who has had the most influence on your career so far?

Simon Byron. He has a legendary status for very good reasons and he taught me how to write professionally.

What is the best bit of advice about the games industry/PR anyone’s ever given you?

The funniest and most wise is simply “don’t be a c**t”. The best, though, is “find the balance”. There’s always a tension between client and journalist needs and I think good PR practice is to find where the ideal balance is between those two. It’s a real skill, and as PR can come down to cat-and-mouse on both sides of the coin, identifying balance and creating good compromises can be the only way to stay sane.

How do you find working with games journalists and how has it changed since you started out?

Games journalists are generally great to work with as long as you keep in mind that you’re supposed to be making their life easier. The working context hasn’t really changed that much! We still use the same methods and channels as we did six years ago, even if there are supplemental services beyond the core disciplines (like social media etc). I’d say that these days, clients are much more risk-averse, which tends to make things less interesting – especially in terms of what’s possible for creative coverage like meaningful features.

What advice would you give to games journalists starting out/wanting to get into industry?

Write enthusiastically and don’t be afraid to go to extremes if you honestly believe in what you’re writing. The greatest crime of all is mediocrity. Also know the history of your sector, know about game development and never, ever stop learning or researching. The difference between a poor amateur enthusiast and a well-paid professional expert is smaller than most people think.

What is your dream PR job/campaign?

My dream job is design consultancy rather than PR (shhhh!). However, my dream PR campaign would be either another licensed sports car game with enough budget to do the kind of mad trips mentioned above, or to work on a game I truly love as a gamer (but only for the early hands-on access!).

A few quick questions. What’s your favourite*… ?

Platform: Current: 360. It’s been an astonishingly good format over the last six years, really rivaling the PS2 for breadth and appeal to the hardest of the hardcore, though PS3 has caught up marvelously.

All time: Commodore 64. Runner up is the PC Engine, but nostalgia rather than retro-rediscovery takes precedent here!

Game: Too many vying for the top, but I’d have to put Splinter Cell, Fallout, Gran Turismo, PGR, Virtua Fighter and Saints Row 2 all on the same footing. I’d shove in some 8/16-bit favourites in too, but the list would be way too long.

Developer: Sega AM2. Just for the history.

Games writer: Current: Christian Donlan. All time: Gary Penn

Gaming site: I love Destructoid’s swagger and Eurogamer’s individualist approach.

Games magazine: Edge.

Non-gaming magazine/website: Mag: Octane – retro/modern sports car porn. Web: Image-based Tumblrs – there’s a Tumblr for everything and the interface is, in general, magnificently streamlined.

Who’s your games industry hero? Yu Suzuki. He’s the Stanley Kubrick of games.

*These are all personal choices and do NOT represent the official view of Peppermint P.

If you’re a games journalist or a games industry PR or marketer from anywhere in the world and want to be featured in a Gameleon Q&A then please contact us.

 

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Posted: 7 September 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
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The State Of Gaming Podcasts #1

Gaming site podcasts

We’ve had well over a decade of internet distributed radio shows but it wasn’t until 2005, when iTunes was updated to include native support for podcasts, that the medium gained truly mass appeal, writes Peter Willington.

 

Since then it seems that anyone with a microphone and an interest in games has started their own gaming podcast. You run a gaming site? You have a podcast. You’re a freelance journo? You have a desire to appear on them. It’s one of “teh laws of gamez journalismism”. Yet it’s this attitude that is at least partly responsible for the quagmire of shows that engulf the marketplace.

There are a couple of issues at play here, the first of which being that potential creators confuse “casual conversation” with “discussion for an audience”. Just as keeping a diary is a free-form and unedited experience which is very different to writing an article for others to read, so too is the gulf between chatting with mates down a pub and producing a slick, high quality podcast. Not everyone can perform to an audience to a high standard; they don’t have the natural talent or years of training that the skill takes. Yet many of these people still believe they can create a podcast and expect it to become popular.

The very best shows are scripted affairs that check off lists of pre-planned topics, featuring hosts that fulfil that lofty title of “host” by guiding conversation, playing Devil’s advocate if discussion runs dry and generally ensuring that guests have the confidence and air time to explain their opinions fully. These shows may still seem disorganised or even chaotic in their presentation – which may well form part of their brand identity – but they are quite the opposite. Those appearing on the podcast know what they will discuss and have prepared for the recording.

Another issue is that there is quite simply no money in the format and subsequently little by way of perceived “value” in podcasts. There are several mega high profile publishers – both in the UK and abroad – that see internet radio shows as nothing but a net loss. The feeling is that their editorial team should be focused on producing the next issue or site post, rather than just chatting to one another about games. This often leaves pro writers to record and create the shows out of hours or on a very strict time line – stifling creativity and enthusiasm for the project – but the lack of immediate monetary return also ensures that enthusiast press have little way to grow and expand their audio projects. However there are far more exciting, far more valuable things to be gained from podcasting than money.

In drama and performance circles there is something known as ‘The Theatre Of The Mind’, it’s a concept that affects almost everyone each day without them realising it. As an example, ask yourself the following, “What do some of your favourite radio show / podcast hosts look like?” Then ask yourself how many of those people you’ve actually seen pictures of. The brain will always fill in gaps of knowledge if it can and this includes building a mental picture of who it is that is talking, including but not limited to overall personality, how a person looks and even mannerisms that person might exude. The same is true of phone calls with strangers, discussions heard in your periphery and any other voice sample where you cannot see the person who is talking and you have not met them.

This effect is an extremely powerful tool in giving your work personality, whether that’s work as a freelancer or the overall tone of an outlet. Anyone can write “the game’s graphics were really great” but its weight and the identity of the person saying it is affected when that sentence is delivered with a surfer shlub drawl or with the gruff honesty of a Yorkshireman. Building this identity can be key to tapping into audiences outside of the show. Podcasts reflect quickly the type of people working at an outlet and whether or not those are the type of people the listener might relate to. Podcast listeners become site readers or fans of work of a particular writer, increasing audience numbers and overall awareness of the site’s brand.

Of course tapping into that potential listenership is a tricky feat. As I noted earlier there are some truly excellent shows out there waiting to be discovered if you look hard enough but finding them is still a chore. Apple have been instrumental in the podcast process – redefining exactly what a webcast was and providing the perfect outlet to house such content – but if there’s one thing the company don’t understand how to do, it’s highlighting the very best shows. This should come as no surprise, the California based giant doesn’t seem to be able to get many of the store fronts for content right – just look at the App Store if you need any evidence of this.

Since good podcasts are usually found by word of mouth, next (week / fortnight / month, delete as applicable) I’ll highlight ten utterly unmissable audio-only video game shows that you should be listening to for inspiration. They’ll be ten series that you can download right now that, for me, epitomise good podcasting in our field and I’ll also serve up an additional ten from outside of games criticism to see what we might learn from producers in other fields. Stay tuned.

alt

Peter Willington is a freelance games critic with credits at Made2Game, Pocket Gamer, PSM3, Nintendo Life, The SixthAxis and many more. He started his career of arrogantly telling people what games they should play through podcasting and now runs a label of internet radio shows over at InRetroSpectPodcast.com. Follow him on twitter.com/xeroxeroxero

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Posted: 23 August 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
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Games Journalist Q&A – Will Porter: “My first job on PC Zone was primarily – I sh*t you not – making tea”

What do you do now and who do you work for?

After five or six years working at the PC Zone (RIP) coalface I went freelance – my words now appear in various Future Publishing magazines (OXM, ONM, Gamesmaster, PSM3, XBW et al.) and for the occasional special guest appearance over with the lovely lot at Eurogamer.

Over the last few years I’ve also moved into the development side of things as well. On top of a fair amount of consultancy work for different developers and publishers I worked on the narrative for several behind-the-scenes projects for Slightly Mad Studios – and was also the studio writer on NFS: Shift 2 – Unleashed. I’m also a fifth of an Indie Studio called The Indie Stone who’re in the process of creating Project Zomboid – a ‘you pay, we develop’ Minecraft-esque affair that’s focussed on survival during a zombie apocalypse.

Tell us how you become a games journalist in the first place.

I always wanted to be a magazine journalist, but didn’t actually realise how much I wanted to be a games journalist until I found myself sitting in an interview in front of Jamie Sefton and Dave Woods for the role of Editorial Assistant at PC Zone. I had spent four or five month’s worth of the year 2003 sleeping on my friend Adam’s bedroom floor – doing unpaid work experience at places like Empire, Maxim and an embryonic form of a pre-release Zoo magazine – and fate had led me to PC Zone’s door.

I wrote in asking about work experience after a spot of reminiscing about the PCZ glory years (the days of Brooker, Mallo, Macca, Prezzer, Hill and all their kind) and happened to include an anecdote about dropping my mobile in a puddle to explain why no-one would be able to phone me. This amused Dave Woods no end, and it just so happened that they had an Editorial Assistant position open.

These were very, very different times to the way games journalism runs now. Dennis had six writers full-time on the magazine, and a horde of trusted freelancers. My initial job was primarily – I shit you not – making tea. To this day I can remember how many sugars everyone took, including Martin Korda’s freakish ‘three, no milk’.

What’s the best or most memorable job or assignment you’ve had since then?

I won’t go into details, for obvious reasons, but one of my first press trips was to an Eastern European city with a faintly dodgy small-scale publisher. The game presentation lasted all of five minutes before we were carted off to a house of ill-repute in a limo – bizarrely with two gigantic local minders. The night ended at 4AM on the return journey when one of said minders pulled out a loaded Beretta, gave me a smile and and placed it in my hands. It was so surreal, and I was so drunk, that I just didn’t know what to do. Instead I laughed until I cried, shouting, “Take it back! Take it back!” to my new Slavic friend’s clear amusement.

And the worst one?

Well, depending on how you look at it – the above was simultaneously best and worst. Best because it gave me a life experience I will never, ever forget – and worst because it was extremely depressing. In all honesty there is no such thing as a bad foreign trip, as you should never forget quite how lucky you are being sent all over the place to talk to passionate people about your shared love of gaming.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t some fairly tiresome games journalist office jobs out there too. Anyone who’s ever written a tips guide, constructed a magazine’s cover DVD or reviewed something that’s truly mind-deadening will agree that it’s not all beer, giggles and air-miles. There are plenty of people out there killing themselves to earn a crust while I’m pissing around talking about mythical-creature murder though, so you’ll rarely hear me complain.

How has the games industry changed since you started out?

Print has died, put simply. Magazines are on their uppers, so the way I found into the industry has all but disappeared. This means that there’s a much stronger focus on news sites, blogs, podcasts and funny videos on YouTube. Game journalism has been democratised.

Is this for the better or worse?

It’s not better or worse – it’s just different. The main issue is that there’s an awful lot more voices out there clamouring for attention, and not all of them know how to punctuate. It’s a lot harder to separate the wheat from the chaff and often the people with the loudest voices, and perhaps not the most considered voices, are the ones that get the attention. Any period in games journalism, however, that gives the world sites like Rock Paper Shotgun or the continued growth of Eurogamer can be considered a great one. Quality will always find an audience.

Who has had the most influence on your career so far?

Charlie Brooker – without him I wouldn’t be doing what I do, there’s no doubt about that. He’s bugger all to do with games, but I’d also say that my writing wouldn’t be the way it is without Bill Bryson – he’s another hero.

What is the best bit of advice about games journalism anyone’s ever given you ?

Steve Hill’s sage advice never to get out of bed unless there’s a trip to America involved or the opportunity to drive heavy machinery probably doesn’t ring true in this day and age does it?

Paul Presley and I were once, long ago, having a chat about whether or not a particularly arty/pretentious reference should go into a review. He just said, “Fuck it. We’re not dumbing down. If they don’t know it already, we can teach ‘em.” That’s always stuck with me – especially because PC Zone was always such a silly magazine. Clever and stupid can both live in the same piece of writing if you’re good enough.

Do you have any advice to others starting out/wanting to get into industry as a journalist?

There’s a real trend in new games journalist who like moaning. They moan, and gripe and groan as if games aren’t fun – and that really pisses me off. If you’re going to be a games journalist then you need passion: pure and simple. What’s more, this passion doesn’t necessarily mean dialling up the outrage on an out-of-context quote from a game’s spokeperson to guarantee your story a few more hits.

If you want to get me (or people like me, who might still be important) to pay attention then write as if you love games and gaming, not as if an entire entertainment medium owes you a favour. Games are about having fun, and many people want to read material that reflects that fun – no matter what the sourpuss comment thread beneath that material might otherwise suggest.

What is your dream job?

I think I have my dream job, although it’d be nice if I still did it in an office – and had a reason to wear trousers.

How do you find working with PRs and how has it changed since you started out?

Games PR never changes, the people involved just move to another publisher. Sometimes they are magificent and know their shit, sometimes they’re straight from a PR academy and a little clueless. What’s universal, however, is that if they don’t return your calls, seemingly never check their emails and appear entirely useless – it’s rarely the fault of the individual.

Many UK PRs, especially those working for vast international corporations, are under huge amounts of internal and external pressure – whether from wobbly management, buck-passing from the American office or the dreaded spectre of Metacritic. If there has been a change in PR since I started out then it’s this pressure being ramped up more and more. Traditionally a lot of games journalists have moved into games PR, but I’d never do it as I know I’d simply drown. (And tear out my own tongue, of course.)

A few quick questions

What’s your favourite?

Platform: PC

Game: Deus Ex

Developer: Valve

Games writer: Christian Donlan

Gaming site (not your own): RPS

Games magazine (not your own): PC Gamer or Edge

Non-gaming magazine/website: www.b3ta.com

Who’s your games industry hero: Charlier Brooker or, gulp, Kieron Gillen

 

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Posted: 23 August 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
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The Steve Hill Column – At The Coalface

Freelance games journalist Steve Hill

Games journalism is dead. And I say this as someone who has been writing about videogames since 1995: we used to write on paper, you know. Despite my melodramatic last rites, in terms of quantity there has probably never been more games journalism, thanks of course to what Tony Soprano once described as that “fucking internet.” As you read this, countless games “journalists” are knocking out ill-informed missives for a miniscule audience, sharing their tiresome opinions, probably for free, thus undermining the careers of decent hardworking slugabeds.

 

The system is broken. Consider that some 16 years after first sharing my tiresome opinion with the general public – in the form of an actual magazine – the derisory amount I was tendered to write these columns represents the lowest fee I have ever been offered, apart from zero pence of course, which is a whole other can of worms.

After weeks of intense negotiations, I have managed to improve the fee from derisory to paltry, but the reason that games writers are so poorly paid is that every fucker wants to do it. Back in what is popularly known as “the day,” kids wanted to be astronauts, firemen, train drivers, doctors. Now they want to be games journalists, and will gladly bend over and be fucked up the arse to achieve that supposed dream.

It was ever thus. In my first job in the games industry, at the end of the interview I thought I was being offered £19k. Asking the dead-eyed lizard to repeat himself, it transpired that he’d said “nine grand”, ie barely more than the dole to work five days a week, plus the odd unpaid weekend. And it involved a pay cut. And believe me, it wasn’t something to brag about either; back then, telling someone that you played ‘computer games’ for a living was akin to fessing up to kiddy-fiddling.

Now you can’t move for some berk telling you that you’ve got “the best job in the world.” The universality of this opinion was drummed home to me a few years ago during E3 when I found myself staying at the home of some pornographers in San Fernando Valley. They were genuinely amazed that we worked in games, and begged us to get them into the show so they could blag some tawdry promotional T-shirts. The obvious response of “but you get to film attractive people rutting like beasts” was met with a cursory, “That gets old real quickly.” It was a conversation that led to the Porn For Games Exchange, whereby unmarked packages would arrive at the offices of PC Zone, with a succession of RPGs and train simulators heading in the opposite direction.

Anyway, enough of the nostalgic reminiscence – I was recently at a press event where UbiSoft built a beach in west London, replete with ice cream and cocktails. My wide-eyed cameraman described it as the best thing he’d ever been to, including his wedding.

Games journalism is dead. Long live games journalism.

Steve Hill

Having accidentally landed a job on a PC games magazine in the mid-90’s, Hill has since written for such outlets as PC Zone, CVG, Eurogamer, IGN, Gamespot, Official PlayStation Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine, Official Dreamcast Magazine, PlayNation, PC Gear, PSW, FourFourTwo, Sky Sports Magazine, Hotdog, The Independent, The Mail On Sunday, Loaded, Maxim, Front, Nuts, Jack, Goal!, The Onion Bag, The Red Card and PokerPlayer. And some others. He can occasionally be seen on www.gameshocktv.com, and tweets infrequently as @HillyTheFish.

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Posted: 6 August 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
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PR Q&A – Andy Gray: “Games PR isn’t rocket science”

 

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What do you do now and who do you work for?

I’m the Global Communications Manager for Codemasters, working on the F1 and DiRT games franchises.

Tell us how you become a games PR in the first place.

It wasn’t something I planned. I’d always wanted to be a sports journalist and joined a local newspaper group after university. However a couple of years of working seven day weeks, with long hours, for crap money took its toll so I bowed out and joined a local PR agency. It wasn’t supposed to be long term just something to pay the bills while I decided what I wanted to do with my life. Turns out that I quite enjoyed it and after a few years I put in a speculative application for a PR role at a small games publisher up in Sheffield called ZOO Digital Publishing. I ended up spending the best part of three years ‘oop north before joining Codies, specifically to work on F1, in January 2009.

What’s the best or most memorable campaign, event or meeting involving games journalists you’ve had since then?

There are a few to be honest. Working in F1 is amazing so I’ve done some pretty cool things, most notably filming with Lewis Hamilton, Jake Humphrey and Nic Hamilton for a BBC F1 feature.

However, I think the best event specifically involving games journalists, would have to be our DiRT 3 Gymkhana Uncovered event at Battersea Power Station back in April. We had Ken Block and Mikko Hirvonen performing live Gymkhana and gave a game presentation with a Q&A session with Ken and Kris Meeke on stage in front of around 450 people. It was an amazing thing to be a part of and something we’re all very proud to put our names to.

And the worst one?

Probably Battersea again. We were setting up for the best part of 12 hours the day before and nothing worked. Consoles crashed, the PC blue screened and half the branding was missing. To finish up we did a run through of the presentation right at the end of the day which was terrible. An absolute car crash.

We were supposed to be at the MCV Awards collecting an award for Sales Triumph but instead I was frantically running around Battersea swearing.

It all turned out okay, apart from a huge power cut halfway through the presentation which left me filling to a big crowd and talking about UI design for far longer than I was comfortable.

How has the games industry changed since you started out?

From my perspective I would say that the growth in social media has been the biggest change. We are now able to communicate directly to our consumers through Facebook and Twitter. It’s now much easier for them to get in contact with us and ask specific questions about our games.

F1 is the prime example of this. Both myself and Steve Hood (F1 2010/2011 Chief Game Designer) have personal Twitter accounts with over 4,000 followers, which is crazy. My wife doesn’t even care about anything I have to say so I’m amazed that so many people follow me (its @AndyGray_ by the way).

Is this for the better or worse?

That has definitely been for the better but it’s a pretty big commitment if you are going to do it properly. I probably dick about a little bit too much at times which annoys one or two.

Who has had the most influence on your career so far?

There are a few people. It sounds corny but I have a lot to thank my wife and my family for. My parents are self employed so a lot of their work ethic has stuck with me and my wife actually found me my first job in games.

Games industry-wise: Rich Eddy(my boss) and Ade Lawton (fellow PR Manager at Codies) are both awesome and helped me a lot when I made the move from a small publisher to Codemasters.

What is the best bit of advice about the games industry/PR anyone’s ever given you ?

A few weeks ago a family friend said to me, “Isn’t PR a piece of piss?” And do you know what, the core principles certainly are. It’s not rocket science. It boils down to a few simple things: being honest, being friendly and knowing your product. Those were the first things I learnt when I entered PR back in 2005 and they’ve stuck with me ever since.

How do you find working with games journalists and how has it changed since you started out?

It’s great. We’re all in the industry because we love games and I am especially lucky as I work on racing titles so get to deal with games journalists who also love their motorsport. It makes my life an awful lot easier and in all honesty I probably spend more time talking to people about sport than about games.

Online media is becoming more and more important so one of the main changes is making sure that you’ve always got something of interest to film as this helps make the features more rounded rather than just a straight to camera interview.

What advice would you give to games journalists starting out/wanting to get into industry?

Attend events and stick around for a beer afterwards wherever possible. The more people you get to know the easier your job will become. It’s always good to be able to put a face to a name.

What is your dream PR job/campaign?

Hmmm tough one. I love working on F1 and I am in no rush to go anywhere else, however if I was pushed then I’d love to work for one of the big F1 teams or maybe even the mighty Spurs.

A few quick questions. What’s your favourite…*

Platform: Depends on the type of game. PS3 for football and racing (better wheel support) and 360 for everything else.

Game: If we are talking about hours spent playing then back in the day it was PES and now it’s FIFA.

Developer: I can’t decide betweenCodemasters Birmingham and Codemasters Racing Studio ;) Ah okay, I think Rocksteady has done unbelievable things with the Batman licence.

Games writer: I have a few. To name them would be professional suicide.

Gaming site (not your own): Ha Ha see above

Games magazine (not your own): Make that a hat-trick of cop outs

Non-gaming magazine/website: I used to love Football 365 before the redesign but the site I use most is YouTube if only to watch old Partridge clips.

Who’s your games industry hero? Probably David Rutter from EA. The way he has resurrected FIFA to overtake PES in terms of quality and gameplay has to be admired. Plus Spurs were amazing in FIFA 11 and long may that continue!

*Please note that these are Andy’s personal choices and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Codemasters!

 

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Posted: 6 July 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: The Games Tribe Features

Get more visitors to your site – an expert introduction to SEO

 

SEO for games sites

The search landscape has changed dramatically in recent years and so have modern approaches to SEO. Do you remember when Google was just ten blue links? Compare that today and how the UK’s most popular search engine includes news, videos, blogs, news inserts and even more in their main results as well as persuasive social annotations. The goal of this guide is to lend a helping hand to the busy with modern SEO in mind.

 

Getting all technical

Once SEO (search engine optimisation) was seen as a technical exercise and one that often happened to a website after it had been built. If a company wanted to ‘SEO’ its website, in the early days, it was the technical team who paid for it. These days it is the marketing team. Actually, these days I am not surprised to see the Chief Marketing Office present.

Certainly, the technical nature of SEO has changed. Today it is rare to see sites that the search engines can neither access nor read. Obstacles like session based URLs, content in frames or even Flash are not common. A technical barrier that gaming sites need to be aware of is that unless your site is of extra special interest to the search engines they will not make any attempt to interact with your forms and therefore cannot log into restricted or sign-up required forums.

Another aspect of technical SEO which people now spend less time worrying about is the use of the correct tags for keyword emphasis. In yester years it would be beneficial to make sure anchor text content matched with title tags and h1 tags on the target page. For example, it would be good to have a category called ‘PlayStation 2’ so that lots of links containing the phrase ‘PlayStation 2’ would point to a page that had ‘PlayStation 2’ in the title and in the h1 tag. Over time, as millions of blogs have managed to get this basic combination right the relevancy signals the search engines pick up from this trilogy has declined but it is still certainly worth doing.

While we’re on the subject of blogs it’s worth calling out both the All In One SEO Pack and WordPress SEO by Yoast as two very easy ways to SEO a WordPress blog. I started with the All in One SEO Pack and updated my preference to WordPress SEO. I feel it’s more modern and offers better compatibility with the likes of Facebook’s Open Graph markup.

Today, one of the technical areas which are certainly worth spending time on is in feeds – I strongly recommend joining the Google Webmaster Console and making sure you have a sitemap XML file in place.

Another productive area is spending time to ensure the right RDFa is in place to enhance data that Google cares particularly about. For many gamer sites this will mean enhanced review data. You can read more about structured markup at Schema.org and test what Google thinks of your efforts with the search engine’s Rich Snippets testing tool.

One area I certainly recommend for all authors is the combination of RDFa to ensure Google understands dates and ownership on any content you produced, combined with the use of a Google Profile (closely coupled with Google+ these days) to decorate search results with your profile. Why? Not only does this help to automatically personalise your content – thus helping to promote it to your connections – this will help the click through ratio from the results. In the modern world of annotations you should think of SEO as being as much about as improving your click throughs as much as it was once about boosting positions.

For example, here’s my success with a very quick post I did for Dark Souls that simply threw two videos together. The screen grab below shows just how hard it would be for a ‘mere’ text link to attract any click in such a visual search result.

Gamer sites SEO tips

URLs and Site Structure

It can be beneficial to have keywords in URLs – but only slightly. The presence of keywords in the URL tends to encourage people to use those same words when referring to the page. However, it’s far better to have short and snappy URLs. These are less likely to be shortened by some social sharing networks and are better for recall. The best URLs are still query string free.

Each page needs its own URL. If it has more than one then you’re in duplicate content issues which are worth avoiding. If you start to dabble with Ajax then you may have more pages than you have URLs. If that still tempts you then you need to investigate running a headless browser on your server and following Google’s Ajax protocol.

URL examples

Dreadful: www.example.com/page.php?sessions=2349234239434723dfs2323

Dreadful: www.example.com/aJaxGateway

Bad: www.example.com/blog.php?cat=23&page=32

Good: www.example.com/nintendo/wii-u/

Site structure is still worth thinking about. Imagine you only have 10 seconds of Google’s time and most people link to your homepage when referencing your site. Do you want Google to spend all of that time exploring your forum archives from 2007 or picking up on your fresh content?

Homepages should be a gateway to fresh content. As a result the best site structure in terms of search is broad and shallow. Blogs that offer links to archives and category pages can often quickly and naturally achieve this effect but it’s more of a challenge for retail sites.

Keywords and content

Google says that 15% of all searches on any day are unique. In other words; they’ve never been used for a search before and no amount of backwards facing keyword research would have predicted them.

I’m not a fan of keyword research. For gamers there are some core keyword groups that common sense scream are important; words like Xbox, PlayStation, Sony, Square Enix, EA, etc. I’ll admit it’s important not to ignore them entirely on your site and they may well be a key part of your navigation but unless you aspire to the heights of IGN and Kotaku these keywords may be better placed in a secondary tier for your efforts rather than ones you tackle head on.

Old SEO talked a lot about “keyword density”. Forget that. Instead write as best quality content as you can possibly can and just keep headlines in mind. If you don’t actually say “The best games for the iPhone 5” in your content then there’s no way search engines will consider your content particularly relevant for “best games iPhone 5” but that does not mean you need to repeat the phrase again and again throughout the article. Mind you; one of the reasons why list posts are popular is because readers enjoy them and they are a lazy way to thump home target phrases. Rather than “keyword density” being your focus, think instead about “keyword confidence” – is it clear what the content is about – and producing the sort of content that people are likely to share on Google+, Twitter, Facebook and other networks.

Calendars are an important part of keywords and traffic. Take the “best games for the iPhone 5” concept. Is now a good time to be writing that post? Would we have been better off trying to compile it two months ago? Or would we be better waiting another two months?

On a broad timing scale Google Insights is a fantastic free tool for you to see when people start to search for things. An easy example of this is Christmas – just when do people start planning to buy consoles for Christmas presents. I strongly recommend a content calendar for any gamer site.

The quick and the dead

In modern SEO speed matters. If you’re the second site that Google or Bing finds that mentions “New Game XYZ” then you are in a much stronger position to be an authority on “New Game XYZ” than all the others.

For the “race to second” here are some of the tricks I use are:

  • Subscribe to Press Release sites like PR News Wire, Brinkwire and, of course, Gameleon. In particular, I look for sites that offer good RSS feeds. I live by my Google Reader.
  • Google Reader. This free bit of kit is second only two WordPress in my essential blogger list. Earlier this year I compiled a tips cheat for Search Engine Watch.
  • Subscribe to RSS feeds from Facebook Pages. Personal Facebook pages don’t have an RSS option but from the bottom of the left menu from brand sites like Play.com. Twitter also offers RSS feeds for search results.
  • Make sure search engines find your content quickly – offer RSS feeds of your own, make sure you’re using Bing and Google’s Webmaster Console and use sitemap feeds.
  • Consider whether it makes sense to do short, announcement style posts, which can go up quickly in advance of longer and more detailed posts. If you’re reviewing games – should you have a “first impressions” post that acts as a prequel to the main review?
  • Respect embargos down to the last minute. Unless you’re TechCrunch you don’t really have the option to stuff embargos. Stay in the content collecting good books and respect them – down to the last second. If possible prepare your content ahead of time and publish the very second you can. In many blogging platforms you can schedule posts. Do so. I’ve had blog posts go live while I was in the air above London before and it worked very well.
  • PubSubHubbub is even faster than RSS. The Google backed Pubsubhubbub is worth knowing about as it encourages even quicker adoption of your content.

Traditional, equally strong, tactics are to monitor the publisher sites directly, develop strong relationships with PR and digital agencies that may be working with game producers and retailers. Don’t be one of those bloggers who take offense if someone with “PR” in their job title tries to give you some news.

You may also find that some PR companies have their own extranet for pushing out news and resources to bloggers and other authors. Sometimes content appears here first.

Timely content is better for SEO

There are ways to be first to popular keywords. Here are just a few examples;

  • See a relevant ad on TV? Produce content about the music on it or any actors who appear. For example, “Who sings the song in the Halo ad?” is a fantastic blog post title.
  • Predict sequels - bloggers can speculate about games that retailers and production houses cannot. Be as brave as you like here.
  • Ask for interviews – you’ll get more successes here than you might think and it is an easy chance to ask a developer, artist or designer directly about their next project.

It’s also true that Google dislikes slow web servers. This may be a tie-breaking issue when it comes to natural search but in paid search Google will penalise advertisers with reduced Quality Scores.

Promoting your content

In the early – and perhaps quite recent years of SEO – a lot of the promotional focus was on links. Google encouraged us to think of links as votes except not every vote was equal. A page with relevant content, no sign of trying to game the system and with plenty of trusted links was likely to be more deserving of high positions than a page with relevant content, no cheating but few links.

Today we should think of links as one type of “Quality Signal” that modern search engines look at. I think it was in 2005, in a conference in London, that I heard Google’s Head of Spam openly encourage the audience to look beyond links and at wider Quality Signals. It’s taken a while for the industry to catch up. Indeed, links themselves may be judged by signals – Google may well look at the information around a link before deciding whether it counts as a vote of confidence for the content it relates to.

It is suspected there are a hundreds of quality signals. Here are just a few;

  • Is the content unique or stolen?
  • Is the domain registered to a fake address?
  • What are the quality of the fresh inbound links?
  • Is the server stable?
  • Is the site quick? (I use Amazon S3 as much as possible with an eye on speed)
  • Is there a buzz about this content (are sites in Google News talking about you?)
  • The number of +1s (add the button here)
  • The number of Likes, Shares and Tweets content has had
  • Is the content timely?
  • Is the site part of a bad network? (Google banned the entire .co.cc sub-domain recently – some 11M sites)
  • Is the site covered in dodgy ads?

Some practical examples including simply tweeting about your content and membership of Gameleon or The Games Tribe can help as they help surface content created by the collective. You may find joining gaming communities like Empire Avenue or adding technologies that encourage sharing like Meebo to be useful.

Want to encourage people to +1 your content? Share it on Google+ as that’s where a host of early Google adopters are. I have the +1 button added to my Chrome browser so I can promote my content even if the webmaster has not added the button to their site. I mean, I’ve not yet added it to my gamer blog. I’m still looking for a plugin solution that’ll give me a graceful way of offering Like, Tweet and +1 altogether.

Some essential reading on this subject comes from Google themselves in a discussion on what counts as a high quality site in the post-Panda world. Panda was the name given to the Google update that accepted there was a difference between spam (junk content or attempts to game the system) and low quality sites.

I can summarise modern SEO as the need to create content worthy of discussion and reference – while being relevant to the topics people search for – combined the techniques necessary to bring that content to people’s attention.

One of the mistakes I made on my little hobby gamer site is not setting up a Facebook page for it. I thought my reasons where good at the time – I wanted to drive people to my blog, encourage discussions there, get people to tweet and share my post URLs. In retrospect that may have been a mistake because the extra sharing having a Facebook page to showcase my posts is a benefit that outweighs any loss of focus on the blog may cost.

Traps to avoid

Better SEO for gaming sites

Photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/chasingfun/2200393834/

There are plenty of traps to avoid. One tip is certainly to avoid any person or company who suggests they have a special, behind the curtain, relationship with Google or Bing that enables them to guarantee results. They don’t. Avoid the cowboys.

Google very strongly reserves the right to run their search engine in the way they see fit. One area that annoys Google, especially, is in paid links. It is not just a matter of resisting the temptation to buy them but owners of niche sites need to avoid selling them too. Google finds it much easier to be certain of who is selling links than who is buying them. What’s at risk? You risk picking up negative quality signals, becoming a site that other content producers don’t want to be associated with and potentially even running into trouble with the ASA for non-disclosed adverts. The latter is especially a problem when people offer to write articles or other content for your site. An even higher authority than the Advertising Standards Authority is The Office of Fair Trading who investigated the blogging network Handpicked Media in late 2010.

Also avoid the temptation to re-use too much of other people’s content. The search engines dislike duplicate text. When you get a press release take the time to, at least, cut it up and splice in your own comments and quips. Do enough to make it unique – think about it as adding value.

A final tip is simple to produce a site that you are proud of. If your site is one that people like and recommend to friends then you’ll naturally earn all the quality signals (links, shares, buzz, etc) that Google and Bing look for. This is a far better, cheaper, more robust tactic than employing cowboy techniques to try and trick the search engines.

About the author

SEO export Andrew GirdwoodAndrew Girdwood is the Media Innovations Director for bigmouthmedia and has worked with several large gaming brands and retailers on their search strategy. Andrew is a registered user of Gameleon and his hobby gamer blog, Geek Native, is a small but proud member of the Games Tribe.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
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