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Opinion: How Should Game Blogs Incent Writers?

Opinion: How Should Game Blogs Incent Writers?

January 23, 2008 | By Simon Carless

January 23, 2008 | By Simon Carless
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[Game journalism is an important subject even to developers, and in this editorial, originally printed on sister editor blog GameSetWatch, Gamasutra publisher Simon Carless examines how game blogs pay their authors and asks how this will affect the future of game coverage.]

This is less of a slam or a complaint than an open question - but it's based on an important fact regarding probably the biggest game weblog around, Gawker Media's Kotaku.com (for which, disclaimer, I guest blogged back in November.)

So, the fact - at the beginning of 2008, Kotaku moved from paying its contributors for each post to a new system with base pay and traffic-based incentives - so the more page views each editor gets every month, the more money they'll earn.

Over at sister Gawker-owned weblog Valleywag.com, site contributor Paul Boutin published the internal Gawker memo from Noah Robischon & Nick Denton. It makes fascinating reading - and Boutin was typically cheeky in reprinting it in public, since I'm pretty sure it wasn't intended to be. Some highlights:

"On top of your monthly base pay, you will be eligible for a bonus based on the number of pageviews your posts receive each month. This total includes any pageview on any story with your byline that was read during the month, even if the story is months or years old... One guest editor on Wonkette [where the system was already in progress] landed a huge exclusive and walked away with an extra $3k in his paycheck... The site lead has the right to revoke pageviews on any post. This is to guard against the publication of material that may be inappropriate or illicit, and we hope it is never necessary."

In any case, I've confirmed with senior Kotaku staff that this change has indeed taken place - but that they're taking the change seriously, and that Kotaku boss Brian Crecente has given extensive guidelines to his staff on what they should and shouldn't be doing under the new regime. In addition, the 'new deal' for Kotaku, at least, includes at least one mandated multi-source feature to be written every month by each regular editor.

Comparing and contrasting among the more major game weblogs, I affirmed off the record that the AOL-owned Joystiq continues to use the 'pay per post' metric that has been fairly traditional up to recently.

As well as this, Wired News' Game|Life was using 'pay per post' up to recently (EDIT: Apparently there is a 'small' bonus for big page views on Wired News blogs nowadays), whereas blog upstart Destructoid pays a basic (much lower) per-post sum, with 'bonuses' for getting linked by particular sites such as Digg and Kotaku, from what I've heard.

What does this all mean, other than me spending too long being nosy? Well, I think the possible disadvantages of both 'pay per post' and 'pay for traffic' methods are obvious - 'pay per post' could encourage inconsequential linkblogging, and 'pay for traffic', the newer and arguably scarier of the two, might encourage sensationalism at the expense of accuracy for easy page views.

But there are advantages of 'pay for traffic' too - particularly that editors may stray away from the linklog-only approach and towards snappy, fun pieces like this debunking of the Madden curse posted today. But, of course, it notably dissolves some church-state boundaries, since it directly links how Gawker makes money (page views) with editor compensation.

Let's look at the underlying trend, though. With page views - and therefore monetization - on the Internet diffusing further apart daily, where does the future lie for those who want to write creatively/critically about anything on a salary? This is probably a much larger issue than anyone claiming (not with much justification, I suspect) that linking page views and pay has in any way 'broken' journalism.

Where's the HBO subscription-style 'magic bullet' that allows enough dollars and cents for a little journalistic freedom? Or will the future of writing on games consist of thousands of personal, largely unmonetized viewpoints, with only the aggregators drawing enough juice to make a decent living? Maybe. And who knows? Maybe that's not such a terrible thing. [Illustration tip o/money hat to Penny Arcade.]


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