5 Tips for Starting a Video Game News/Review Website
So you’ve scoured the internet for reviews, news and opinion articles on video games and figured that it seems easy enough and hell, you’re a well learned guy. Maybe it’s high time you started your own video game website!
I strongly encourage you to! The most awesome thing about the internet is that anyone can have a go. However, before diving head first into the bottomless pit that is video game reporting, I’d like to share some tips I’ve learnt from being in the field for a number of years.
For those who don’t know me, I founded Aussie-Gamer.com back in 2008 as a little, Australian video game website. The reason I decided to get into it was due to a longtime love affair of writing, and a deep interest in video games. At the time, online video game reporting was certainly in its infancy. Well, maybe in its “teen years”. Video game publishers rarely addressed the fandom directly so all news had to be filtered through journalists to varying degrees of clarity. Publishers were also slow on the uptake of social media so really, most of the news you were getting came from places like IGN or certain small forums/community websites that had their own flavour of news reporting. I didn’t want to wait, so the main thing driving me forward was getting news as it broke so that I knew what was going on, but also so I could share with my readers the events and press releases as plainly as possible.
Through the website, I had many great adventures and met awesome people. Starting your own video game website is certainly fun, enjoyable and worthwhile but it is also a hell of a lot of work. The rewards can be minuscule compared to the time and money you invest, but if you take it in your stride you’ll certainly cherish the experience.
Hopefully these tips will help you on your way.
It’s About Relationships
My first tip is probably the most important: everything you do when creating a video game news/review website is about relationships.
This is the biggest and most important obstacle you need to overcome if you expect to succeed in this journey, regardless of the end goal. You need to understand the importance of building strong relationships with not only your readers, but PR people, developers, rival websites and, to no small degree, your content.
As a gamer, the very reason you’ve chosen to embark on a quest to build your own video game website is largely fuelled by your inability to understand humans in their natural environment. For me, this was certainly the case. Simply put I understand the internet more than I understand the idiots down at the supermarket. Screens, mice and keyboards make more sense to me than smiles, fashion and conversations. To succeed, you will need to push yourself outside your comfort zone and embrace relationships with everyone you encounter.
Some relationships will come naturally. Your readers, for example, don’t expect you to be a douche to them in the comment section. If you behave that way, they probably wont be back. Others may take you by surprise, such as when its time to chat to PR people or attend a launch party. If you have friends helping out with writing articles, how do you balance the line between friendship and mentorship to ensure consistency for your readers?
In my experience, going from 0 to 100 happens in the blink of an eye. You may have one day three readers, then you get an email from a developer who wants to promote his indie game: except that indie game turns out to be Minecraft and you’re suddenly the guy who told the world about it. If you haven’t crafted your relationship skills properly, you will find that lofty height will end in a huge pile of missed opportunities.
Contacting PR People
PR (Public Relations) people are the backbone of pretty much everything you do when owning a video game news/review website. Without them, you will find it difficult to have any daily content and reviewing every single game that ever comes out is a very expensive activity.
The first thing you need to understand about these people is that they’re actually people who work for a company. They have jobs and everything they do on a daily basis is treated as importantly as any other job. It might sound silly to put it into words, but I think it’s important to point out this fact since you likely aren’t starting a website with a huge budget and certainly aren’t making an income that’s paying the rent. The position you’re in makes it a little difficult to gain perspective. You’re doing “work” without getting paid, but your “colleagues” are actually industry professionals, in it for real money.
To that end, it’s important to remember that professionalism is key. You need to approach these people with the same consistency, respect and restraint as you would with anyone you’d deal with in a corporate environment. Sending a PR person 90 emails asking for a copy of the next Call of Duty game to review is going to be excruciating for that individual, whose job almost entirely consists of hundreds of emails coming through on a daily basis. You wont hear back from everyone, every time. But you running a review on your site is just as much a favour to the publisher as is the publisher sending you that game in the first place.
This mutual respect must be understood if you are to be successful with these people. Remember too that PR aren’t just there for review code. They are a valuable resource for getting clarification on anything that wasn’t made clear, as well as getting answers to questions you should be asking before clicking “publish” and looking like an idiot. These are also the guys who can set you up with developer interviews and previews of games early on in development. And when it comes time to tour the E3 floor, booking in a time to meet a PR person on the day is a life saver.
Just remember, when dealing with PR people professionalism and respect go a long way.
Consider Your Process
How are articles approved for publish? Coming up with rules before you get started will go a long way to ensuring your website looks the part and remains consistent.
It may feel like a luxury you simply can’t afford, but assigning someone the task to proof read and edit stories before they publish on your website makes all the difference.
If you have enough contributors, consider a “pitch” system where writers seek permission to go ahead with a story idea. That way you can assign who is working on what so that there is no overlap. This is particularly important when it comes time to divvy up review code. Knowing ahead of time who is in charge of what process will ensure a smooth, fair and manageable system.
It’s also an idea to figure out hierarchy. If you’re the only one who has the final say, what happens when you have to suddenly be away from your desk for a while? Does the site die for that week, or do you have a second in command? Is that 2IC someone you trust to retain the look and feel of the website?
Process should also be considered when thinking about social networks. An “Editorial Calendar” will help. This is a tool you use to decide what kind of post will appear at what time. For example, you might like to post a “Throwback” article on Thursdays where you highlight an older post on your social channels. Having a guide and even going to the extent of pre-writing these posts in advance ensures a smooth roll out.
A lot of this has to do with the daily management of the website. Sadly, it’s a little more involved than writing a post on a forum or in a chatroom. It requires a degree of careful planning, a lot of time management and quite a bit of delegation. All while you’re still trying to write posts yourself. You will find your groove eventually, but taking a moment before diving in to consider how all the little things will come together will really make your life easier.
Don’t Worry About Equipment
If you’re going to an event like E3, you will probably run out and spend some money on things like DSLR cameras, fancy microphones and maybe a new laptop. When you find yourself mixing with real journalists with actual jobs, you’ll quickly learn how much of a peasant you really are.
Most of what you’ll need to get this website off the ground is built into any smart phone. You’ll also need a laptop and an internet connection, a pen and notepad (like these). Start with these tools and don’t worry about anything else right away.
Hauling around a huge pile of expensive DSLR camera lenses through the sweaty, busy convention centre is a nightmare. And when some photographer from News Limited whips out a $10,000 Nikon WTF, you’ll wish you just stuck to your crappy iPhone because you’re not getting anywhere near that level of awesome photographic coverage on any sane budget.
Personally, I prefer the honest, humble approach. While I was known to haul around a DSLR (I bought a Nikon D5100 years back and it has served very well), I’ve also conducted show floor interviews with a Galaxy S3 phone crammed against the talent’s face. When we interviewed Charles Martinet (voice of Super Mario), I did so on a Rode Podcaster microphone attached to my 2010 Macbook Pro via USB while sitting on beanbags. Totally the wrong equipment to use when questioning someone so iconic, but it all worked out in the end. (And off camera we had a chat about that microphone: while he considered it “too omnidirectional” for his liking, he does have one at home. Also, he uses Audacity software to do his voice over work — I was using Garageband because it was the only thing I could get loaded up in time!)
Don’t feel inferior! It’s all part of the fun. The honesty will shine through and your readers will appreciate the “less than polished” approach. There will always be a time where you’ll feel the need to upgrade some equipment but do it because your site is growing, not because you feel like an idiot in front of a bunch of “real journalists”.
This advice also extends to software for your actual website. Open source options like Wordpress.org and Gimp will get you set up without spending a cent. Hosting your Podcasts on places like Archive.org is a great way to freely grow your website. Using Disqus to handle your website comments may take away branding options, but will save a lot of time and resources in the long run. You can also use open source forum software like phpBB instead of paying for something like vBulletin.
While you’re at it, check out Cloudflare to save some money on server resources. I wont get into the technical side here but it’s well worth exploring.
Remember, the important thing is that it gets published and is good content, not that it has been produced to a world standard. Buying into the arms race of having the most flashy toys and “looking professional” is going to end in disappointment and financial ruin.
Be Different, Not Better
There are millions of websites out there. Probably billions. You’re not better than all of them, but you will be better than some (probably better than most!). Your aim then should not focus on being “better”, but being “different”.
You need to stand out. Do this by boiling down your content to fit a specific niche. Do you love racing games? Focus your website on that. Not only will it allow you to ignore 99% of the workload you’d otherwise have to deal with, but it will be providing a valuable resource for fans of the niche who are hard pressed to find a community they fit into.
This will also help you land specific opportunities. For example, those wanting to get a hold of Oculus Rift hardware to review were left disappointed unless they contributed to VR-only websites. That’s because these sites were the most valuable to that company: they obviously knew the product well and their readers were interested in the Rift. If you brush too broadly, your reader base will be diluted: no one will be particularly interested in everything you have to write about, so you may miss opportunities.
Figuring out a niche will ensure your content is different, engaging and fresh. Great content is what will get you over the line and no small team can possibly write great content about every single event that happens. There’s just too much going on. Reduce it down to a small niche where possible and think outside the square.
Hopefully the above tips have given you somewhere to start when considering launching a video game website. To sum up, it’s really about two things: People and Content. Manage these two pillars well — with purpose and consistency — and you’ll be rewarded with rich experiences and a product of which you and your readers can feel incredibly proud.