Hello. My name’s Lewis Denby, and I run a videogames website called Resolution Magazine.
Resolution was conceived towards the end of the summer of 2008. I’d been writing primarily about music for the past few years, and had started writing voluntarily for a couple of amateur-run games sites. One of them was really good. It’s called HonestGamers. Its focus is almost entirely on reviews, though, and that’s something I was keen to make a slight break away from.
Back in the early 2000s, I was part of a sort of collective. Resolution, in an earlier form, was my primary outlet. It was a semi-regularly updated videogames website that was, in the very real sense of the word, completely pretentious. As in, we thought the way to become an authority on videogames was to pretend we knew far more about them than we actually did, and were far more accomplished at communicating ideas about the medium than we actually were. Resolution’s team – whose editorial consisted of myself, The Line Of Best Fit‘s Adam Nelson and Rock, Paper, Shotgun‘s web-monkey James Willock, and was supported by a whole host of volunteer writers – also contributed to several other publications in this sort-of-collective. There was VideoGamesLife, whose team included Martin Wharmby (who’s gone on to write for publications such as PC Zone, 360 Gamer and 360 Magazine) and Craig Gilmore (now Mr. Rockstar PR), although they were more peripherally involved in the collective. More centrally, there was Ego Gaming, primarily a reviews site, which ended up turning into an online magazine. And there was LOST Digital, which was an online magazine from the start, was more focused on op-ed stuff, and was run by a guy called Josh Murfitt whom I’ve not heard from in years. Last I knew he’d formed an emo band, who were becoming quite popular. Occasionally, folks from the whole lot of the collective got stuff published in State Magazine, which spawned the formidable writing talent of “proper” journalists like Quinns and Tim Edwards and Ian Shanahan.
These online magazines were all the rage in our community at the time. None of them were huge, but we managed to develop quite a nice social circle surrounding them. It was with that in mind that I, dragging in J.D. Richardson and a couple of others who’ve since fled the Reso-nest, brought Resolution back in monthly online magazine format, launching in time for Christmas 2008.
Why am I telling you this? Background, mainly. I want to talk a little bit about why Resolution Magazine exists, what I’m hoping to do with it, why my splendid deputy Daniel Lipscombe is the Most Amazing Human On The Planet TM, and why I wake up every day terrified that it’s all going to crumble down around me and I’ll be left without a purpose on this poor, suffering Earth.
The more astute of you will have noticed by now that Resolution scrapped the magazine format in late April 2009, just five months after launch. To this day, I wish it’s a decision we didn’t have to make. Problem was, though, no one read it past the first few days after release. We’d have a reasonable (for the time) influx of traffic over that first week, if we were lucky, then basically nothing for the rest of the month. And it was, before we’d even properly got started, hurting our industry relationships. Since we were HTML-based and online, we were judged as a website, and if we weren’t pulling in regular traffic to the site across the whole month, many PR reps simply weren’t interested. By following a format we genuinely believed in, we were shooting ourselves in the foot. We had to put that golden revolver down.
But those early, feet-finding issues of Resolution Magazine were perhaps the best indication of what I’ve tried to achieve with Resolution, and why I’ve always hoped we filled a gap in the market rather than simply adding yet another fan-run games tabloid to the roster. We wanted to create something in the online space that did what the magazines we’d grown up reading did: to provide a healthy mix of standard games coverage – news, reviews, previews – with fiercely opinionated editorials and in-depth, researched features – all presented neatly, and with just the right balance of silly humour and take-me-seriously-seriousness.
Which might sound like an obvious thing. I mean, of course that’s what we’d want to achieve with Resolution, right? Isn’t that what anyone would want to achieve? Thing is, no one really seemed to be getting the balance right, to our minds. Publications were too review centric, was the main issue. Or they tried to pour out the news as-it-happens, and in doing so the rest of the site suffered. One of the first decisions we made in coming up with a template for Resolution would be that we’d only editorialise the news, never just regurgitate it. News pieces were rare, and they’d be accompanied by opinion-laced commentary. We broke our own rule and introduced news later in 2009. It saw our traffic double within a week. We scrapped it a couple of months later, because we weren’t doing it well enough, and it was compromising our vision.
That worries me. We’d got to the stage where Resolution was being happily read by more than a thousand unique users per day, each day of the week. Then we took news away again, and dropped back down. Resolution is currently enjoyed by between 300 and 1200 users on a daily basis, generally, depending on how popular our stories are proving to be, and depending on which of our two stat providers you trust. (Although we did see a spike of 9,000 in a day once. That’s as high as it’s ever been and was, bizarrely, the day I wrote about Spelunky. Guess that thing became popular, eh?)
It worries me because being able to run a videogames website is a horrible cycle of traffic and editorial with advertising and PR dealings sneaking into the loop along the way. It goes a little something like this. In order to keep a website running, you need money. You get this money through advertising. In order to attract decent advertisers, or even deal with the better targeted ad networks, you need traffic. In order to get traffic, you need good industry access so you can break stories earlier than your competition, or you need to be really, really good. If you want good industry access, you need traffic. If you want the best writers, you need money. How do you get traffic and money? Well… you get the picture.
In addition to its 300-1200 daily readers, Resolution Magazine enjoys a delightful income of around £100 per year. And costs around £500 to keep running. That additional £400 comes out of my own pocket. It is not financially viable for me to keep spending five or six hours a day working on Resolution (as well as being a student for the next month or so, and as well as freelancing to actually earn money which inevitably goes at least partially back into Resolution) if this is the case. Resolution, either through its own earnings or my bank account, has to pay for things like hosting and domain costs, travel and accommodation expenses for press trips, copies of games publishers won’t send us for review (if we want to cover something, we will cover it, whether that costs us or not), and little things like postage, which add up, because we review between 15 and 25 games per month, and it costs 60p a time to post out each one of the hard-copies that drops through the door. Thank goodness the vast majority of our PC code, at least, is delivered electronically these days.
I want to tell you all about this because it’s good to share your worries. I genuinely, genuinely think Resolution Magazine has a place on the internet and the potential to become really good. I’m worried that it might never achieve that. I’m here to ask for your help.
We’ll come to that bit soon.
First, let me tell you a bit about why Daniel Lipscombe is awesome.
Dan got in touch with me a year or so ago about doing the odd bit of writing for Resolution. His samples were rough and ready, and needed a lot of work, but we were in need of some new folks to provide occasional contributions. Almost immediately, something incredible happened. He got really, really good, really, really quickly.
So later last year, in need of a helping hand, I asked Dan to come on-board as my right-hand man, deputy editor of Resolution Magazine. As well as effectively co-directing the site (we are almost constantly on Steam chat talking about new ideas, new directions, new things to try out), he’s now in charge of the vast majority of console previews and reviews, organising code and assigning it to writers. I still do most of the PC stuff, as well as our features now that Andy’s stepped down from his role in order to focus more on his studies and his music journalism. Fraser makes sure we keep up our coverage of non-commercial indie games, which is another of the things we really wanted to push with Resolution.
Being able to pass some of the workload over to Dan has been so helpful. I’m now in a position where I can dedicate enough time to editorial that I can schedule two articles to appear on Resolution every day except weekends. Considering when we launched a single issue of the magazine contained maybe 15 articles, I think that shows just how far we’ve come. And I’m able to dedicate time to ensuring everything we publish is of the highest quality, too. Or, at least, as high quality as my meagre editing skills can manage. Wherever possible, I provide detailed annotations on every piece of copy that hits my inbox, with suggestions for changes to, or additions or subtractions from, each piece of work. I also copy edit like fucking mad. That’s another worry. On some level, I haven’t got used to this editing lark yet. I feel a faint pang of guilt for every change I make, just in case the writer feels I’m somehow looking down on their authorial skills.
Let’s sidetrack, briefly. You might recall my mentioning that I was attending a meet for something called the AIGW. It’s the Association of Independent Games Websites, established by terrifyingly brilliant games sites Thunderbolt, Dark Zero and Gamestyle. We met up in a lovely pub in London, a variety of games journalists working for non-commercial websites, and talked about this thing we’re not quite ready to call a “career”.
Editing was the big thing that came up. It was pretty much in universal agreement: copy editing and editorial direction is absolutely key to a site’s ability to maintain a vision and appear respectable. Several writers said the publications they write for barely edit a thing. They all said they wished their work could be picked apart more, as that’s the only way they could improve.
We spoke about lots of things that day – from content management, to web design, to writing style, to editorial direction, to PR secrets and press trip shenanigans that you will never find out about. It was a really interesting day. There were loads of ideas I want to implement into Resolution. Working out how to do so, on our meagre budget and time, is the big problem.
Sometimes, running Resolution Magazine is a nightmare. I’ve woken up in a great mood, turned on my PC, and found emails from angry PR reps and developers because we slammed their latest game. I’ve woken up to enormous comments threads saying we’re incompetent because we disagreed with popular consensus over a review score. I’ve been told there’s no way in hell a site of our stature is getting access to the big new game we have to cover promptly if we’re to see any decent traffic that week, then spotted a completely terrible, utterly amateurish fanzine running an embargo-day preview of that very same game. I’ve been messed around by countless industry types who, when I’ve asked for review code, they’ve ignored my emails, and failed to return my phonecalls, and then on release day morning I go out and throw down £45 on the game just so we can get a reasonably prompt review up, only to return home and find a review copy of said game on my doorstep. I’ve had writers miss important deadlines. On one occasion, a member of the development team who created a game we awarded 6/10 publically accused us of being in the pocket of a rival developer. Obviously, it was utter nonsense, and I made fucking sure he knew he had to delete that forum post straight away, as it was totally libellous. Sometimes, running Resolution is the most disheartening, bank-balance-emptying and eternally frustrating thing on the planet.
I do it because I believe in the site, and I believe in our vision, and I believe that with the right support from the industry and community we could do something really special. Getting to that stage is the tricky part.
So here’s where I come to you: what do you want out of Resolution Magazine? Do you read it regularly? If so, why? If not, what’s stopping you? If you were in charge, what would your vision be? What do you think’s missing from the enthusiast gaming press?
Particularly, what would make you turn up at Resolution at 8am and noon every day because you know we’ll have posted a new article? What would make you read every one of those articles and leave a comment? What would make you want to get involved in a new Internet community? Building a community is so ferociously important, and we know that, yet much of our traffic remains transient. We trialled a forum for a month last year. About 35 people registered, and less than half of those people posted. It looked embarrassing. We got rid promptly.
Here, Jim Rossignol writes about some of the RPS team’s vision going into that wildly successful project. I read that, and totally agree, and yet attempting to do the same sort of thing has left us with nothing like the readership they have. I can’t help but feel that having familiar and respected names behind the content has had a lot to do with their success, moreso than any of their attempts to engender a community. (And I’d hasten to point out that I love RPS, and consider myself very honoured to be allowed to write for the website occasionally. They’re top guys, delivering insightful and brilliant content, and it’s a delight to see my name next to those of the absolute best in their field.)
Resolution Magazine needs an active community if it’s going to thrive, and if it’s going to attract more people to the site. It also needs money, so I also tentatively ask you this: would you feel that donating a small amount of money on an as-and-when basis would be something you’d be happy to do? A few people already give us £2 monthly, and they’re delightful. We used to run a subscriber-exclusive article every week, but we didn’t have the time to produce it for such a small number of readers. I’m looking into doing an editorial newsletter instead. Would you pay £2 a month for that? How many other people do you think would?
So anyway, those are some of the things that worry me, and some other things that keep me going. There are more worries – what’s our stance on Metacritic? Are we scoring too high? How can we ensure copy is better? The site looks a bit rubbish, doesn’t it? – but they’re for another day. This has been a very long blog post. Thank you for reading it. Please leave a comment.