So long, Ads!

You may (or may not) have noticed something is a little different around here…

I removed all of the advertising from the blog last week. When I first introduced ads, I decided that they would only exist for as long as their value outweighed their inherent annoyances.

This blog was never about making money. I can make plenty on my other sites. A gaming blog is not an efficient place to do it. My goal with running ads here was always to simply pay server expenses. Since I can do that simply with affiliate links, I don’t need the ads. I use affiliate links to Amazon whenever it makes sense. You may notice sometimes my reviews contain an affiliate link. For example, I really liked Uncharted 4, so in my review at the bottom is a link to Amazon.

Don’t assume every link is an affiliate link, though. Many things are not available on Amazon. I’ve decided as of this moment the only affiliate links will be to Amazon. Sometimes I may put a little flag next to the link if I feel it’s justified. For example: “I’m pretty much exclusively spending my time playing Legion (aff link) these days.”

Refresher on how affiliate links work: When you click on them, we get a percentage of what you end up buying within a 24 hour window. It’s pretty much that simple. So if you click on our links and shop on Amazon (which I do for most things these days) then you support the blog and don’t have to spend anything extra to do so.

Thanks for continuing to support us by being a reader! Hard to believe in just a few months we’ll hit our 10 year anniversary.

Let’s do this!

I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time. What “this” means exactly is still coming into focus. The gist of it is that I want to start focusing on growing our blog again. I feel like over the years this blog has been nothing but reactive, and though we have evolved, it has been because we are acted upon by outside forces rather than taking the reins. As a result, things haven’t been as great as I would have liked.

When we first started, MMORPGs were still in their hyping heyday. All we had to do was mention a game and we would have thousands of readers, instant first-page Google rankings, and developers banging down our door.  Things started to unravel a bit from there. The hype machine died, people matured (we matured), RSS feed readers went away, video killed the radio blogger star (Youtube and Twitch), Graev got busy doing other stuff leaving me to blog alone, and the MMORPG industry tanked hard. The environment has undoubtedly changed.

I still believe in blogging as a medium people enjoy and seek after. The internet is full of sh…tuff. When people have questions about games or want to learn more, I have always believed bloggers can provide that personalized touch. I love Googling, “How to make Money in WoD 6.2” and having lots of personal blogs come up with people’s strategies. I’m even okay seeing the websites like Icy-veins or WoWhead with guides. I love seeing people create original, helpful content. I get nerdchills from this stuff.

A few months ago you guys got me thinking about focusing on work and careers. Some of you mentioned how you put time into your careers and suddenly skyrocketed. I recently did the same. I not only got a promotion with more income, but I also started my own company on the side and partnered to start an additional side venture. I feel the need to justify why I’ve been neglecting my writing and gaming like I have, and that’s the best I can do.

Here’s how we’re going to get things going again.

You’re going to start seeing something new like this at the end of each post just about the comments:

Subscribe for Gaming Updates

I’m growing my email list. No, scratch that. I’m STARTING my email list. I know what you’re thinking: Keen has been blogging for almost a decade, he’s a marketer, and he hasn’t been building an email list? Yeah, don’t get me started. Look guys, subscribe will you? You’ll be notified each morning if I posted a new post the previous day. If I didn’t post something the previous day (shame on me) then you won’t get an email. I’ll never spam you. What I’m also going to do is give those people who subscribe first dibs on Beta key, game keys, and just about any goodies we get. I get so much crap to give away, and I want to use it to bribe entice you to give me your email. Once you give me your email, you won’t see that box anymore.

You’re also going to see more videos. Stop laughing. No seriously, you’re hurting my feelings. Yes, I’ve said it a dozen times. I know. You’re laughing again. I’ve upgraded my internet now and I can actually stream. I can also actually record my iPhone/iPad/etc now. That means lots of videos regardless of the platform.

I’m ramping up my coverage of new games. I need to do a better job of getting you guys TIMELY information. None of this reviews 2-3 months after a game launches. I also need to cover older games, weird games, odd games, etc. I need your help. Tell me what you’re interested in. Comment. Start a conversation. Stop lurking — there are 600 of you return visitors lurking every single day.

There will also be some technology changes around here. Just like my email opt in stuff, I’m going to start cranking out some pretty cool things to grow the blog. I’ll reserve those reveals for later.

Lastly, I’m bringing Graev back. I’m going to tie one of those elvish ropes around his ankle and drag his smeagol arse back here kicking and screaming. He plays 100x more games than I do. He’s also 100x better at most of them. I need him. You need him. Email him: graev@keenandgraev.com and tell him to come back. I think I’ve almost got him, and you can help.

There’s more to come, guys. I’m going to have the best Legion coverage I can provide. I’ll be cranking out the iOS game coverage — In fact, I have a few developers pushing me beta versions that they’re going to let me share. I want to start writing more tips and useful info like I used to. Remember that LOTRO guide? That thing brought in THOUSANDS of people every month, and my data shows a 25% conversion of those visitors into regular monthly readers. That’s insane, and proves I need to do that more. Time to stop being lazy, and time to put into practice here what I help others do on a daily basis.

Let’s do this!

State of the Blog Address

Another year has come, and another year has gone. We’re coming up on our 9th anniversary of blogging this year! That is incredible. I can’t believe we’re almost to a DECADE of blogging about video games. I never thought this would go so far for so long, and I have nothing but gratitude in my heart for all of you regulars who consistently stop by to chat about video games with us.

I want to take this opportunity to take a peak into the analytics and data of the blog to highlight some of the particulars. I do not give out most of our analytics, but for the sake of this exercise I’ll share a few. I find this stuff fascinating, and I hope you do too!

Most Popular Posts in 2015

What can we glean from this? People love tech support and turn to the internet to solve problems. That seems about right. The fascinating thing is how the older posts, namely the two from 2013 did so well. People tend to look for specific games and specific terminology. Many of of the top 100 posts visited this year were related to FFIXV. I credit the fact that most of my titles used the words, “FFXIV” and then something else like “end-game dungeons” or “insert specific quest name here.” FFXIV has also been, consistently, one of the better choices for MMORPGs in 2015.

Traffic Channels (where it comes from)

Direct (Type in URL or Bookmark): 44.43%
Organic Search: 40.48%
Referral: 10.65%
Social: 4.37%

I love to see that almost half of our traffic comes from regulars, or people who check our blog on a daily basis. That direct traffic number is awesome. Organic search (Google) is pretty solid. We’ve always had about 40% come from search engines. Referrals are links to us from other websites, and social is pretty obvious. I definitely want to improve our social presence, but it’s crazy to think that even thought it’s only 4.37% that still represents tens of thousands of visitors. I definitely could ramp up our social and see big gains there.

Where is Blogging Trending?

Since the great crash of 2013, blogging in general has brought in far fewer numbers. We actually managed significant growth this year compared to last year, but overall haven’t seen the numbers of our heyday. Last year I bemoaned the fact that blogging has become an even smaller niche medium than it was due to the prolific growth of streaming. Yes, traffic is down significantly from where it was back in the day of Google Reader. I also attribute our overall decline to the decline of the MMO industry.

Interesting Numbers & Facts:

Most Popular Day in 2015: July 29 – 5,916 visitors

Desktop users account for 77.53% of our traffic. Says something about our readers that they aren’t mostly on mobile devices.

Top Referrers: 

  • syncaine.com – 3,028
  • tomshardware.com – 1,800
  • bhagpuss.blogspot.com – 1,540

Thanks go out to those who linked to us this past year. I’m horrible at it myself, but will certainly try to reciprocate the love when possible — even when you link to my thoughts as something you disagree with!

Youtube – In the past 3 months of making videos VERY casually, I’ve seen roughly 2,100 video views. That can and will grow as I make more videos in 2016. My “Keen Plays” collection will grow. I enjoy trying to share my playtime in as many ways as I can.

Advertising & Paying the Bills – We make just barely enough through our Adsense, Amazon Affiliates, and Tips to cover all of our costs. If you want to support our blog, the best way to do that without spending a dime is by using our Amazon Affiliates link when purchasing things you normally buy right on Amazon. We receive a cut and you can support us while doing your normal shopping. We do our best to only link to products and games we believe people should buy. Supporting us in this way means we can review more games faster and keep up the coverage you guys clearly enjoy.

Plan of Attack for 2016

My goal is always to write what I want, about what I want, for no one but myself. I refuse to write about something I don’t want or like just because I think it will bring in more traffic. Instead, I write about what I think people will want to read — what will be interesting to them — while still being something I enjoy. As I mentioned yesterday in my retrospective, I want to do more reviews (timely if possible) on more games. I also want to focus hard on sharing my adventure logs of what’s going on in the MMOs I’m playing. I need to be more specific, which is clearly what people want to read.

Write more. Share more. Relate more. That’s 2016 for me in a nutshell.

2015 Gaming Retrospective

Another year has come and gone. How is it possible that time is moving this quickly? I feel like I did so much, yet at the same time barely did anything at all. I want to continue the tradition of evaluating the previous year and setting goals for the coming year.

Evaluating 2015’s Goals

Write More

I was absolutely able to write more this year than I did last year simply because I had 3/4 of the year back to normal. The beginning was a bit shaky while still planning a wedding, but once things settled down I was able to find a rhythm. Still, I have a long way to go to get back to where I want to be with daily blogging.

Write About What I do In-game

I failed here. I need and want to give you guys more in-depth commentary on what I am actually doing on a daily basis in my games — especially MMOs. This will help with the amount of content.

Increase Our Coverage

I think we did phenomenal here. I’ll allude to this later, but as far as coverage goes there hasn’t been a better year for the diverse spectrum of coverage spanning across all platforms.

Diversify My Gaming

I nailed this one. 2015 was the year of console gaming for me. I played more console games than anything else, yet at the same time I still enjoyed MMOs, shooters on PC, and all sorts of games. I had a blast breaking out and trying so many games I never would have given the time of day. I can finally say I have accomplished my goal of avoiding consoles.

Post More On Game Forums

I get why I made this goal. Get more involved to increase immersion, feel like there’s a community, etc. Ultimately no games were there to provide me with this avenue. I think I’ll abandon this one.

Finish What I Start

I’m going to put a check next to this one because I definitely completed most games I started. I still have to finish Fallout 4, but that just came out in November and it’s a long game and not worth rushing.

The Games of 2015

2015 Gaming Chart

The chart above shows the games I can say I actually “played” seriously, and is rather enlightening — click to enlarge. [Idea for the chart came from seeing one on TAGN] Getting married pretty much killed the first 4 months of the year for my gaming schedule, creating what looks like the dark age or drought. A huge surge happened by the end of the year and became a renaissance with more games than I could even play.

MMOs consisted of EverQuest for 5 months and WoW for about 3, making MMOs consistently present from May through December. However, in terms of volume, I played way more console games the PC games with the PS4 coming in far head of anything else.

My favorite games of 2015 included:

New Review System

I introduced a new review system in 2015 that I am very happy with. The layout works great (other than some mobile issues with responsive design) and allows me to focus in more on giving you guys the details of why I like or dislike a game. Our overall review system is the same. I give a game an “Overall Fun Factor” score which acts like the typical 1-10 system. I also throw in pros and cons to help you understand why I gave a game the score I did.

Video Game Review System

Your feedback on our reviews is always welcome. I want to continue to improve upon the system, namely how quickly we review. I’m also trying to improve providing review coverage of games we may not necessarily enjoy. You may notice our reviews tend to fall within the 7-10 range a lot. That’s not because our system is flawed like others who seem to give a 7 for the worst games on the planet and a 10 for the games slipping money under the table. Almost every single game was purchased with my own money this year, and I tend to try and avoid buying games I dislike. I’m going to work on reaching out to developers again to obtain review copies.

Ultimately, we truly play everything we review. That’s a big part of my gaming requirement: Gaming is not my job. I do not force myself to play games. Games are what I do for fun. That’s why I continue to enjoy reviewing games — ultimately I am helping others make informed decisions based on what I love.

Gaming Goals for 2016

I like setting goals rather than the predictions I used to make in the past. Goals give me a metric to measure myself against and see whether or not I am capable of achieving what I set myself to do.

Goal 1: Complete my 2015 Backlog

Goal 2: Reach the level cap in EverQuest

Goal 3: Review more games in 2016 than any other year, and review them quicker

Goal 4: Play at least 3 MMOs (not including EverQuest

As of this moment, 2016 looks like a repeat of 2016. There will be plenty of games to play, but MMOs seem to be taking a backseat to the rest of the industry. Legion’s launch late in the year will definitely revitalize things a bit, but in general it’s going to be about the same. One thing is for sure: I won’t have a dead period in the beginning of the year and that already means gaming in 2016 is going to look a whole lot better.

To wrap up this 2015 gaming retrospective, I’ll conclude by answering this question question… Did I have fun playing games in 2015? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ I had more fun playing games in 2015 than I’ve had in many, MANY years. I haven’t been able to look back and say that with such confidence in a very long time. Here’s another great year!

Coming up Next: State of the Blog

Bringing Back Videos in a New Way

Keen and Graev's Youtube ChannelI’ve given a lot of thought recently to where I see the blog going for the remainder of 2015 and into the near future. I’m always thinking about whether or not there’s something we can do to enhance the blog without taking away from our core competence of writing content about the games we play.

When Twitch was just starting out we dabbled into streaming a bit. I might consider doing that again, but a capable internet connection is not available in my area at the moment. Even so, streaming doesn’t mesh with the style of content we provide here. We’re not entertainers. We’re not serious journalistic types. We have always provided something that most sites lack; Something we have always been about: Discussion.

I want to start making videos again, and I want to tailor them towards a deeper and more analytical discussion like you see here on the blog. For example, when I talk about immersion and danger in a MMORPG, wouldn’t it be great to actually show that in a video and walk through the process of identifying those traits? Showing what I’m writing about seems to me like it can only enhance or augment what is already taking place here on the blog.

Videos were one of the biggest ways we kickstarted our blog’s success. Remember those Age of Conan beta videos I shot where I ran around the battlegrounds and discussed how each class felt compared to the others? Those brought in 100,000’s of views and visitors. How about those cheesy Allods online videos? I can’t believe some of them broke 100,000 views. The facts cannot be ignored: Videos are a preferred medium.

I’m not looking to provide TV-like entertainment or provide something you’ll tune in to every afternoon at work for a laugh or to distract you. That space is already monopolized and readily available to you on Twitch. I’m looking to provide something I haven’t found, and a space I think is empty and ready to be filled. I have the experience, especially in MMOs, to provide commentary on gameplay mechanics, design elements, and the type of stuff readers of this blog would want to see. My hope is that by turning my written-medium into video form I will be able to reach a wider audience to not only grow our blog but help educate and improve the gaming community.

The style of these videos will be very casual and similar to the “let’s play” style that has become popular over the years. I’ll probably throw an intro on there (with custom music composed by my Wife — she’s an awesome composer & arranger) and launch right into showing you gameplay with discussion.  From there I’ll just launch into playing and discuss what’s going on. I expect to probably have series going for games. I might have everything from an EverQuest series of let’s play videos to Assassin’s Creed. Whatever the game, there may be multiple videos and I want them all to showcase the games while highlighting that thoughtful discussion.

These videos won’t be super regular at the start. I can’t promise one a day yet or anything. I want to test the waters and get my own feet wet with figuring out exactly how I want to create them, but my goal is to eventually be making them regularly. They will be especially interesting and worth-watching for upcoming and newer games. I will be going through some older games as well, but will focus my efforts on what’s new when those opportunities are available.

I will, of course, post everything here. If you want to give us a follow on our (currently very out-of-date) Keen and Graev Youtube page please do! I’m also looking for feedback on a name. How about “Keen Insights” … yay, nay? The name might come later.