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A New Year’s Resolution

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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.

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16 responses »

  1. Interesting read. I’m too hungover to make any kind of insightful comment, but just wanted to make you aware that the words have been digested. I’d probably be willing to pay £2 a month though.

    Reply
  2. You work amazingly hard, Resolution has come an enormously long way, and myself and anyone else with any sense respects you for that a great deal. One of the reasons Reso has achieved so much, Lewis, is because of how deeply ambitious you are. As you say, you’ve tried all manner of things, you’ve been serious about accumulating genuinely talented writers despite the site’s meagre means… ambitious.

    I think though, that your ambition can make you a little too self-critical at times. Reso’s still young, especially in its current form. I don’t think there’s a great deal of utility in comparing the site to RPS, for example. That’s a blog, yes, but a blog run by an incredibly dense concentration of the most a) famous and b) skilled games writers in the UK if not the world. They have more of nearly everything than Reso, except writers!

    I think building up a community is a very slow process, as is building up the kind of respected, credible site you hope to. Look at TLOBF – it’s been going a good few years now, gets some decent stats and has grown steadily. But do we have a community? No, frankly. Not at all. We get exclusives and interviews with big bands and entry to almost any show and and and… but no community yet, because it just takes forever. RPS has one because people want to get close to people like Gillen Rossignol; they want those guys to link to their stuff, to laugh at their jokes, reply to their comments. Neither Reso nor TLOBF can offer the same thrill. I’m confident that if you and the other wonderfully able people at Reso continue as they are, success will come but god, it’s a slow process.

    As for the £2 thing, I can’t say I’ve ever been a massive fan of the idea. One of the reasons is that “£2 a month” is *exactly* what several big charities ask and I think if most people won’t give two quid to a charity, why to a games site? It could work, but I’m not overwhelmingly convinced that it’ll ever be a serious source of income.

    I think you can afford to worry a little less… but you should definitely keep going, naturally. This is The Wall, man! Push through this, keep good people close, and you’ll be there.

    Reply
  3. God, that was a post of epic proportions!

    I’m not entirely sure how helpful I can be, but I’ll do my best 🙂

    I try and read Resolution relatively often, and in my mind, it fills the gap between RPS and Edge: acute, decently well written commentary, that’ll also be vaguely entertaining, whilst remaining fairly critical and pointed.

    Whether I’d pay for it? Probably, although I’d probably be doing it to support Reso more than to get any sort of extra content.

    I will say this though: the recipe to building a decently sized community around gaming is completely unknown to me. I’ve seen a shockingly large number of *good* – and I do really mean good – sites just fall apart completely. Getting a decent amount of hits is one thing, building a consistent readerbase is another thing entirely.

    Anyway, I’ll probably write a slightly ranty blog post about this later, so I’ll let you know what I think then 😛

    Reply
  4. I’m going to ignore any inane platitudes and respond to your questions in 4 parts:

    1) You spent £45 on a game? Did you absolutely HAVE to buy the limited edition, or have the Game Group bumped up their prices since I last checked?

    2) No matter how brilliant some of the articles on the site are – I’m quite fond of some of the columns – you can’t really hope to compete with RPS. See Andy’s comment. But you shouldn’t really be trying to, either.

    For what it’s worth, trying to break ‘into the industry’ has left me largely penniless and ended a 2 year relationship, and I’m now actually further away from being able to pay the bills with writing than I’ve ever been in the past. Tough market, etc.

    3) If people completely scoff at the idea of paying £1 a week to read The Times, I think you’ll have a hard time encouraging people to donate £2 a month. I think that’s just how society works, to be honest. The bastards.

    4) In terms of growing a community on Reso, the thing I mostly observe from article comments is either a handful of people going “nice review”, me saying something about how the game is good but could do with being a bit harder or someone who waltzes in and says how guff it is before getting shot down by the regulars.

    If we’re making comparisons with RPS, comments threads over there tend to be far more connected. There’s a discussion going on and people are going out of their way to respond to what other people are saying.

    Amusingly, the article that’s generated the most discussion on Resolution this week is the one where people talk about (not liking) Halo and Call of Duty. It just goes to show you can always get people to comment about those two games, so maybe I’ll pitch you the article I’ve been drafting about why MW2 deserves to be the most successful videogame of all time.

    There’s a few other things I’d suggest, but I’m not going to air them over public internet channels because they’re so brilliant they’ll just get pinched.

    Reply
  5. Interesting read and I’m glad I know more of the history behind the site 🙂

    Unfortunately I don’t think enough people will ever donate £2 a month to make it profitable, although hopefully enough to help a little. I think it’s probably people that know how much effort goes into the site that chip in but the ‘average’ reader won’t bother because they don’t feel invested in the site. The community aspect is a tricky one to build up and I’ve no idea how to go about that unfortunately, although I reckon continually providing interesting and different content is part of the way there.

    I know that some days I don’t have much time to catch up on any gaming sites however 9 times out of 10 I’ve always checked and avidly read the new features on Reso. Even before I was a contributor there. The quality is clearly there and much of it is down to your excellent editing skills.
    Too few sites edit well from my experience, while you actively do so and provide comments and other bits and pieces to ensure that your writers continually improve. Not to suck up too much (but I have to be honest after all!) that’s why I genuinely feel proud to write for Reso. Besides being an ego boost to feel worthy of being a full staff writer there, I know that my writing will improve and hopefully become tighter.

    You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished although I don’t blame you worrying too! I found my brief time as editor for a site wonderfully satisfying but also rather stressful too.

    Reply
  6. Love you too, Lewis.

    I would write a long comment here, but everyone else seems to be saying it so very well.

    I have my own plans for the site and those will be discussed away from here, but you should be so very proud of what you have created. All of the staff have fun writing there, your editing is well done and well received and it’s still a baby in relation to other sites out there.

    Just keep up the good work, learn to take a compliment and have the confidence that people love Reso 🙂

    Reply
  7. I don’t think many would pay £2 for a games website newsletter. Why? Because for the most part, people can find that same information or piece of writing elsewhere. What if it’s original you may be asking, in terms of an editorial or opinion piece? Then ask yourself this: “Why should I pay £2 to see what someone thinks about something, when I could probably see what countless people (albeit probably trolls) think about said topic?” It’s unfortunate, but true. I myself could probably see myself paying £2 for it, though.

    Reply
    • I probably worded badly, but the idea being that people would donate money because they like the site and want to see it continue, with the potential newsletter being a thank you for that, rather than the reason.

      Reply
      • Oh, okay. Unfortunately, this adds to my point: It’s basically saying “You’re paying £2 or so with no promise – it’s just a donation, but you might get a newsletter!”

        Again, unfortunately, but a lot of people can simply get information from elsewhere, and to be honest, £2 could be spent elsewhere for that person.

        This is not to say I wouldn’t do it! 🙂

  8. Hmmm. Easy answers are hard to come by. Having said that…

    Have you ever come across the forum “Be Excellent To Each Other”? It was started a few years ago in reaction to Stuart Campbell’s decision to start charging people if they wanted full posting privileges on his World of Stuart forum. There a fairly lively and intelligent bunch, but they’ve been soul-searching for a long time about how the community will sustain itself in the long term without google-friendly content to bring in new blood. A year or so ago they launched uptojump.co.uk to try to fix that, but as you’ll see if you have a nosey around, it’s now very rarely updated and has not been a wild success.

    I am only thinking out loud, and have NO IDEA whether there’d be any appetite for this kind of partnership from either side, but in theory it could solve both side’s problems in one stroke. King of the castle over there is “Grim…” if you decide it might be a worth a PM. The forum URL is:

    http://www.beexcellenttoeachother.com

    (Just be warned you might get some sarcastic comments if you go over there and mention the magic phrase £2/month…)

    Reply
  9. Urg. No edit function. *They’re* not *there*. Why do the most stupid mistakes always happen in sentences which include the word “intelligent”?

    Reply
  10. You asked for my input, so here it is:

    1) I prefer to read shorter reviews in general, usually under a thousand words in total (I think your Just Cause 2 review is the perfect length for me).

    2) I’m not interested in that kind of writing, such as “Do You Like Halo, Then?” It’s too pretentious for me, sorry. But this is a taste thing, as I see that many other people would disagree with me on this point (judging from the comments).

    3) Your advertising is non-intrusive and, for that reason, absolutely spot-on. I also think the choice of adverts you run is appropriate. So, full marks on this aspect… but I also feel the website looks somewhat barren. Obviously, I am not saying clog it up with a series of Flash ads, but, at the same time, something is missing.

    I think what it is is that all-important sense of community, which I get from RPS, GiantBomb, Joystiq, Kotaku and Eurogamer. Sure, some of the people in those communities are morons, but at least when you participate in the discussion it introduces a sense of communion and belonging, which is extremely powerful – and what, ultimately, has a very large impact on me revisiting these sites.

    4) Having a donate button would in no way would come across as irksome to me, the reader. In fact, I really quite like donations: it allows the reader to give something back and feel good about it; it allows them to make their own valuation; and it helps reduce the gap between staff and reader, which makes way for community engagement.

    However, I would be much less inclined to give you money if you hid content behind a pay-wall. Personally, I don’t think anyone’s opinion can have any monetary value if everyone is giving theirs out for free. You are an intelligent, talented writer, Mr Denby, but there are many others like you out there who I can go to as well, and I wouldn’t have to pay them for the privilege, either.

    5) I read very few reviews from very few trusted sources. Actually, I prefer to get my fill from podcasts, user comments, video content and Metacritic (for a rough aggregate of what people in general think). Since your site deals primarily in reviews, I don’t read them, or I might flick through them to see the score, just out of curiosity.

    6) What I do enjoy reading, though, are opinion pieces about something topical or on a certain aspect of gaming. I also have a preference for more jocular rather than self-serious writing.
    I’ve tried to be as frank as possible about what I think, because I don’t think being sycophantic or holding myself back would provide very useful feedback. Also, these are just a list of my personal preferences and impressions more than anything; they are not a list of improvements that I think you should be making, or anything like that.

    If I can make a further observation, this blog post is one of the few articles you’ve written where I’ve been engaged and read thoroughly right to the end. I thought the subject was interesting (the behind-the-scenes decisions governing what goes into a gaming website startup), and it was written about in a way that was both honest and to the point.

    And, for the record, I think your podcast is pretty good, too.

    (Sorry for this being such a long comment. Apparently I had a lot to say.)

    Reply
  11. Well that certainly was mammoth! Enlightening too, like Jen I’m happy to learn about Resolution’s origins.

    Seems to me that, the heroic Lipscombe aside, Reso lives and dies entirely on your hard work – you’re pretty much the heart of the magazine. The fact you havent in any way sacrificed your vision of what Reso should be, and yet still receive thousands of unique visits each month, is surely testament to how well you’ve managed. And Dan too! Full credit to him for relieving the pressure.

    For what its worth I think you’re a fine editor. I always dread seeing your edits on my stuff because I’m quite self-critical myself, but after you’ve chopped and sliced a little I feel my articles have transformed into something better. It’s great to learn from and I hope to improve from it, making your editing life a little easier in the process.

    Although you only briefly mentioned it, I think a sexier-looking site would help a lot. An attractive theme and layout might encourage visitors to come back and would also give Reso a unique ‘feel’. At the moment, although the content is good, the aesthetics of the site don’t quite match up and you don’t quite get the correct impression overall. Thats my opinion anyway – might just be the shallow side of me coming out but I feel its important.

    Hope this helps somewhat, although I don’t think I’ve actually said anything of any use. Frankly I’m amazed I sat all the way through your blog, must’ve been a good one!

    Reply
  12. theprettiestboyontheplanet

    Well, I’m coming a bit late to this post, but I’ve only just discovered your lovely website. From what I’ve read thus far, your articles and other content seem to capture an introspective quality which infrequently seen in video game discussion. As a poor student, I haven’t got any funds to contribute to your project. Going forward, however, I will do what little I can to help form sense of community at the site. Hope it helps!

    Reply
  13. Really nice post. I run a blog on the side and am in a similar position to you, except it costs me £100 or so to host each year and I only make about £10 from Google Adwords.

    For me it’s for the love of writing about video games – the single most interesting hobby in my life. I just don’t have the time to keep it as fresh as I’d like to. But thanks for this post – it helped me delete my embarrassing forum too (let’s just say I had less than 35 users sign up!)

    Keep up the good work.

    Dom

    Reply

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