Realising this morning that I’ve now written over 700 posts for the blog came as quite a surprise. I didn’t think the number would be so high; Later Levels might have been going for almost four years but it doesn’t feel that long at all.
A lot of things have changed for my hobbies during that time and many for the better. Most gamers now accept that women pick up controllers; we’re more likely to see female protagonists in new releases; and the importance of narrative and the ability of video games to share experiences is understood. And as for blogging, it’s still something I’m enjoying and I don’t see that stopping, but it’s interesting to take a step back and see how the community has shifted over the past year.
Someone who I bet has seen a few changes in his blogging history too is Pete from MoeGamer. Since his first post in April 2014 where he said he was hoping his site would be ‘a safe haven for those who enjoy and are passionate about Japanese interactive entertainment’, he has become well-known for his interesting conversations and good advice. After his very kind nomination for a Blogger Recognition Award last month, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some thoughts on what’s happened in the last four years.
Later Levels was started in December 2016 after a previous blog ended several months before when it didn’t work out as planned. Ben and I decided that we wanted to create a place online where we could share our opinions on video games and no longer feel as though we had to fight to stay current or review every single release. He eventually had to step away from blogging due to family and work commitments but remains a good friend, and I’ve been plodding along here on my own since early 2019.
I’m obviously talking about my own experiences from inside my individual bubble, but back at the beginning it felt as though the hobby was very community-orientated. It was common for bloggers to reach out to one another with suggestions for collaborations, but it wasn’t just done to increase their followers: it was more about increasing conversations and possibly even making some new friends. It was generally accepted that if you went it completely alone, you were more likely to fail.
This then started to change and the difference has become particularly noticeable in 2020. If I had to put my finger on why, I’d say it was because we all felt overwhelmed or exhausted by such projects. They’d grown in number, length and effort, and it was impossible to take part in all of them even though there was an unspoken pressure to do so. There are far fewer collaborations happening this year and those I’m aware of are being run by smaller groups, such as the game-swaps I’ve enjoyed with individual bloggers recently.
There seems to be less conversation happening in comment sections now too. I’m guilty of this myself, as I’ll often bookmark blog posts with the intention of coming back to them later in the day but I never seem to get around to it. I’ve had more available time since the start of the UK lockdown in March but it still feels as though it’s a struggle to fit everything in. Perhaps it’s a case of being digitally-drained though: it’s tough to work up the motivation to return to my laptop when I’ve been in conference calls all day.
Moving on to trends in the subjects covered by gaming blogs, new sites are more likely to focus on covering the latest news rather than taking a personal tone and I think this could be the cause of their shorter lifespans. The trouble with staying on top of everything is that it’s impossible – plus it’s not fun for you or your audience. Potential readers are highly likely to have already heard about the latest developments in the industry from the major gaming websites, and regurgitating press releases doesn’t fulfil a desire to be creative.
Many long-running blogs have shifted away from covering only video games to now talking about other media such as films, books, comics and board games too. For some bloggers, this may be because their hobbies have broadened during the extra free hours brought by the lockdown; but for others, it’s to do with increasing their views and followers. Logic says that the more subjects you write about, the wider your audience will be and it’s a method if you’re looking to attract more readers and generate revenue.
Speaking of other media, bloggers are branching out of WordPress too. You’ll find them streaming on Twitch, publishing videos on YouTube and recording podcasts. Those who are willing to put in the time are finding new ways to express their creativity – but others expect their readers to follow them over to their new channels and it simply doesn’t work like that. I’ve also noticed established streamers set up blogs, and then abandon them just as quickly when they realise their viewers just aren’t reading.
I’m required to give some advice for new bloggers as part of the Blogger Recognition Award nomination from Pete so I’m going to base it on the observations I’ve made above. Quite simply: all that blogging guidance you find online is a load of rubbish. You’re better off totally ignoring it and simply focusing on having fun with your site and doing what suits you. Write about things you’re genuinely interested in and get to know other bloggers in the community, and blogging end up being one of the most rewarding things you do.
The lockdown has affected us in so many ways, some of which we’re not even aware of right now, but I think a few can be seen within the blogging community at the present time. The feeling of isolation has caused us to turn in on ourselves and focus on what’s happening inside our immediate circles, while many individuals are turning away from their laptops at the end of the day after being stuck in front of a screen for work. We’re finding it hard to concentrate, stay motivated and remain positive.
Although I’m not saying that blogging in 2016 was better than the present, I do miss the level of collaboration and conversation within the community from back then. Maybe these are elements of the hobby which will slowly return once we’re all in a better place and the world isn’t so chaotic. But that’s not to say there isn’t support here for those who need it: all you need to do is reach out and you’ll find plenty of bloggers who are willing to talk, answer questions and tell you all about their favourite video games.
The only thing we can do is take it one day at a time. Things will get better eventually.