Every writer who’s ever published a vaguely controversial games-related article – be it a review, preview, editorial or news story – will have seen the same old comment. “Oh,” they say, “they’re only doing it for the hits.”
It’s a strange criticism, not least because – well – yes, that’s how online editorial works.
If people don’t click on your articles, it means you don’t have any readers, and your publication cannot make any money. This is the business of online journalism.
Every single website you’ve ever read is either a hobbyist endeavour that has no desire to go pro – and as such will never be able to deliver the same level of content as its professional counterparts – or it attempts to carefully craft every article to be as desirable to read as possible.
It’s the same in print, though. Think about what goes on the front cover of a magazine, or the front page of a newspaper. Think about how those headlines are crafted, how those contents boxes are positioned. They’re “for the hits” too. They’re to grab your attention, and your coins. No one seems to mind about that, for some reason.
There are a few occasions on which people seem to get really riled up by this. The first is low-scoring reviews for generally high-scoring games. Edge takes a lot of flak around the internet for this. The notion that Edge scores games low just to get attention is hilarious because they’ve been consistently one of the more critical review publications for a long time now: far longer than the magazine has had its own website, let alone published reviews upon it.
Edge almost never mentions reviews on its front cover. You have to delve inside to find the scores. It even attempted to drop scores once, but there was such an outcry that they lobbed them back in just one issue later.
Then there are the editorials. If you so much as dare to voice a dissenting opinion, you’re doing it for the hits. Regardless of whether you’re being honest or not. If you voice an opinion that’s straight down the middle of the road, either no one reads it, or people read it then moan that it’s stating the obvious. Our readers would like us to shut up either way, it would seem.
Or how about news stories? There are some headlines that are dubious enough that I’d agree. Taking a quote out of context to make it sound more controversial than it is, for example. That’s the seedier side of “doing it for the hits”. But the art of a well-crafted headline is a fascinating thing. There are ways to “do it for the hits” that don’t require you do be disingenuous in any way. Is that okay?
The funny thing is that controversy in the online world only works for social traffic. Which amounts to so, so little of the traffic that goes through any website above amateur level. As a guide, BeefJack’s pretty small in the scheme of things, but only around 20% of our pageviews come through the likes of N4G, Digg, Reddit, or subject-specific forums. In the grand scheme of things, controversy works only the tiniest amount. In fact, the best way to “do it for the hits”, we’ve found, is to be as straight-up informative as possible, and to drop the controversy altogether.
We’re all doing it for the hits, then – just not in the way for which we’re continually criticised.