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Friday, September 12, 2014

Video Killed Game-ezines; are Game Bloggers Next?

I've been mulling over something Nosey Gamer wrote in his post about gamergate being a tempest in a teapot. It's the comment that got me all fired up in the first place. The one about dismissing certain game-ezines unless they showed up on a Google search. Here's what he said,

"I think I need to say this about the games journalists in question. Not only have I never heard of these people before, but for the most part they write for gaming sites that I only visit if it comes up on a Google search. As for the quality of those sites, if I have a choice between any of those sites and PC Gamer, Eurogamer, or Massively, I don't use the sites that published the "Gamers Are Dead" articles. Sites like Gamasutra, Polygon, and Kotaku always seemed sketchy to me, so I'm glad to see my judgement vindicated"


The emphasis is mine. I highlighted that statement because it occurred to me I do the same thing, though not because I feel the game-ezines are "sketchy." I use Google Alerts and Flipboard as my main vectors for gaming news - and other blogs of course.

This realization led down one mental path and then another as these things often do. tl;dr - I know periodicals like newspapers have suffered a decline in readership because of the digital age. Why wait for a paper when you can get it now? Now it seems to me like there is a decline in game-ezines use as well. Why go look at the site when Google can feed you what you want? In fact, there are no game-ezines I regularly read now. Is this a problem?

To answer that question I went back to Google Trends. I put in the Internet domains of five game-ezines, and took a look at their trend lines since Google started collecting the data (or at least making it available.) Yes, there is a significant, and serious, decline in the trend lines.

[caption id="attachment_3649" align="aligncenter" width="815"]Game-ezine Decline Game-ezine Decline[/caption]

I tried dozens of game-ezine domains to find the best five. Gamespot.com and IGN.com were the two best curves of the lot, and they are in significant decline. Kotaku.com had a bump about 2010, but all the others look flat line to me: an apt analogy I think.

So what caused this? It's not like the gaming industry isn't going great guns. It's growing steadily, and some might even say mightily (though not Massively ;-) .) Then it occurred to me there is something I take time to do day after day. There are some avenues of gaming related "news" I do routinely visit without prompting and of my own volition. It's called YouTube. Could YouTube be the cause of those negative trends?

It's not as easy as you might think to discover such a correlation. You can't trend YouTube. If you put in YouTube.com, you get everything, not just gaming related stuff. Not to mention the trend line breaks the graph. It's just not a good comparison. However, there is a gaming specific phrase used on YouTube that I thought might work. The phrase is "Let's Play." If you're a gamer, you should know precisely what sort of video that identifies. And as I was trying to figure out ways of restricting the scope to gaming videos only, I remembered something about Eurogamer I'd read some years back. It was an article discussing how they were moving away from written reviews and more into video reviews. And Eurogamer is a very unique word, unlike Massively which does not work at all because of massive overuse by everyone. XD So I took my top two game-ezine curves and added a trend for Eurogamer and "Let's Play."

[caption id="attachment_3648" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Game-vids Ascending Game-vids Ascending[/caption]

Holy trend-lines batman! I couldn't have paid for a better result. Just look at that would you. When I trended Eurogamer.com in the first graph, it was the most flat lined of the bunch. But when Eurogamer alone is used, there is a steady, sustained increase shown. Now, you could argue people in Europe who game are constantly called a Eurogamer by the press and everyone else. But I really haven't seen that as the case. And when you hover over those blue letters provided by Google Trends (they are significant results as determined by the algorithm,) they completely dismiss that red herring. On my graph, F, D, B and A are ALL Eurogamer YouTube gaming videos. In an Austin Powers international man of mystery voice, "Smoking gun baby, yeah!" And what about that "Let's Play" trend line? That is a tremendously good-looking inverse curve, and most of its letters are also YouTube videos. Here, explore it for yourself:

http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=Eurogamer%2C%20Let's%20Play%2C%20Gamespot.com%2C%20IGN.com

But discovering all this only led to more questions, as research often does. The next question that spilled into my brain was, "What about Twitch.tv?" If video is supplanting the written review, wouldn't you expect to see a similar curve as "Let's Play" if the search term were Twitch.tv? Is that why Amazon paid nearly a billion dollars for the IP? Why yes, yes it is.

[caption id="attachment_3647" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Twitch Ascending Twitch Ascending[/caption]

Twitch.tv most certainly does seem to be a large contributing factor in the changing of the journalistic guard so to speak. YouTube is not the only video service causing those negative game-ezine trends in the first graph. From what I am seeing here, there appears to have been a paradigm shift somewhere in 2010, and gamers aren't looking back.

Then I got worried. Is this shift affecting game bloggers? Are we doomed as the preference for gaming reviews move from written to video? To answer this question I could not use Google Trends. If I try to trend individual blogs, there are not enough results for analysis. If I trend something generic like "Wordpress," there is a lot of noise in the line, and by noise I mean non-blogging things like business commentary and computer security related stuff. Oh, and the trend line totally dwarfs all the others, so no good comparison is possible. It certainly doesn't produce beautiful graphs like those above.

So I decided to take a different tack. I often go to Google Book's Ngram Viewer for other research. As Google has digitized millions upon millions of books, they can run statistical analysis on them - even the copyrighted ones. Ngram Viewer is a word frequency analysis. It tracks how often a particular word is used in literature over the course of time. It's a great way to see how significant a word is to a culture and when. Since the Internet is a recent thing, and blogging even more recent, I restricted my search dates from 2000 through 2008. My premise was this. If oral is overtaking written as the dominant form of Internet social consumption, we should see a marked difference in the usage of words related to both. More usage would indicate greater interest. A decline would indicate a drop in interest. My assumption here is usage has a direct correlation with interest and interest drives adoption. I don't think that's a bad assumption. For this purpose, Twitch.tv is too new to use. It didn't exist prior to 2011. YouTube was the only video service of note prior to that.  It's the 500-pound gorilla after all. I added to the list other popular social media and words (mostly) associate with blogging. Here's what I discovered.

[caption id="attachment_3646" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Twitter,Facebook,YouTube,Tumbler,Wordpress,Blogger Ngram Viewer Twitter,Facebook,YouTube,Tumbler,Wordpress,Blogger Ngram Viewer[/caption]

Interest in written media is certainly not fading if word usage in literature is any indication, but it is also not growing significantly - except Twitter. That's a different case all together. The same, I think, can be said for Facebook. But YouTube is on fire so far as writers are concerned, and that seems to validate my assumption because of the known trend lines above. I find it ironic the written word frequency of the thing that's replacing the written word metaphorically sounds a sort of death knell. Don't you?

So it isn't all doom and gloom for bloggers, but it isn't good for game journalists who only write articles. Video is where it's at, and if your favorite game-ezine isn't jumping onto the YouTube wagon its days may be numbered. Keep that in mind as you ponder where your current blogging hobby may take you. Especially if you have professional aspirations. If writing is all you do, be certain to figure out what people really would rather just read about (hint, hint: controversy, research, anything unique) and what they would rather see for themselves. I'd recommend staying away from what they would rather see. It may be a dead-end thread.

8 comments:

  1. Nice work! I think your conclusion is spot on. Also, I think it explains some of the disconnect between the gaming press and gamers. The game journos are trying to maintain a level of relevancy in order to still have jobs. Can't blame them, either. In all the back and forth I've seen over the past few weeks, this is the best presentation of the data I've seen.

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  2. I have to say that I read the graphs a completely different way.
    When I look at the first one, I think that Kotaku and Eurogamer and Massively are and have always been very niche publications. The scale is so compacted that it's hard to tell, but I don't think they have really gained or lost readers. Meanwhile, the big, widely-read publications are losing market share to video stuff, which Eurogamer happens to have tapped into expertly.

    If you're going to accuse a site like Kotaku of struggling to retain relevancy, I think you're going to need to look elsewhere. Their share of eyeballs has always been small, but this isn't changing. The people who /weren't going there anyway/ are switching from text to video. (Similarly, if you're going to say that sort of thing about Gamasutra, which wasn't mentioned here, I think you're going to have a similarly hard time making the case, as I have always considered their audience to be game-makers, rather than game-players, and that's also a fairly niche audience.)

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  3. Chill bro. Accuse is too strong a word. I'm not accusing any site of anything. I am providing graphs of trends based on equivalent search criteria and drawing a conclusion that encompasses ALL gamer-ezines, without singling any out for special treatment. Now, I did mention Kotaku specifically, but that was to point out they had the ***third*** best result of the DOZENS of Gamer-ezine sites I investigated. I wish I could have include all of them, but Google Analytics only allows five at a time. Peace out.

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  4. […] Mabrick wrote a very interesting post about the trends of blogs/news sites that pertain to gaming, along with the trends of YouTube, Let’s Plays and Twitch. TL;DR: blogs and e-zines are trending down, anything relating to video is trending up. I honestly don’t think blogs will completely die off. I do think that people should experiment with video and other formats though, just to stay semi-future proof. Mabrick has a lot of independent research in his post, I recommend giving it a full read. […]

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  5. Fact is, when I'm trying to decide whether I want to buy a game or not, I don't read some gaming "journalist's" review of it. I will speak to friends who have already played the game, and if it still sounds good or I can't get any info there, I head over to twitch and check out someone playing it before making the decision. I've never really trusted someone's review of a game when their site makes money to stay in business off the ad dollars of the products they are reviewing.

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  6. Previous comment got iphone'd. Please delete :).

    I trust blogs and forums for game reviews. Sometimes that fails, as in Elder Scrolls Online. But even in that case, few reviews could have told me what I needed to know about the game. So I wonder if the nature of games, being visual and experiential, is being caught up by the ability to watch instead of read? I read this blog and others for commentary, and maybe reviews. But you have caused me to buy two* games in the last year, which is more than any "professional" site. So i think blogs have a purpose, actually many purposes. As long as the blogger enjoys blogging, keep on going.

    *TESO and Banished, for the record.

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  7. "So i think blogs have a purpose, actually many purposes." Agreed. This statement more than anything I think explains why the Ngram usage trends for blog related words may be flat, but is certainly not in decline. And I for one always enjoy reading (and yes, watching) what other gamers are doing and what they think about games both specific and general. That will always be unique from the professional game journalist. For some reason I believe those who don't get paid for their opinion more than those who do. ;-)

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  8. Agreed, Brilliant insight, Awesome data gathering, very important background information on an issue that is very much in the spotlight for the community around video games.

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Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.