Blogging: looking back, and looking forward

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.

MoeGamer, title, website, blog, homepage

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.

WordPress, reading, blogging, posts, articles, titles

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.

blogging, laptop, hands, keyboard

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.

Gamers’ blog party: autumn 2020 invitation

Before we get wrapped up in cosy blankets, it’s time for the latest blog party here at Later Levels. There’s no better way to celebrate the start of the week as well as meet some new blogging friends and read their awesome posts.

The rules are simple:

🎉   Arrive at the party: don’t be shy and stand in the corner – say hello and introduce yourself in the comments below! Give an introduction to your blog to welcome new readers and let us know what you’re all about.

🎉   Present your gift: think about the posts you’ve written during the past three months and choose your favourite or one which was fun to write. Leave a link to it in your comment and explain why you’ve picked it.

🎉   Show off your costume: Halloween may be a little way off yet but who doesn’t love dressing up? That’s why we’re going with a fancy-dress theme for this party. Tell which video game character you’ve come dressed as and why.

🎉   Mingle: grab yourself a drink, put on a party hat and get to know your fellow guests! Check back on the comments throughout the day to discover excellent sites and meet new bloggers.

🎉   Party all day: the comments below will be open for 24-hours until 06:00 BST on Tuesday, 15 September 2020 so you’ve got plenty of time to meet and greet. Plus your posts will be shared on the Later Levels’ social media channels!

These blog party events are my way of giving something back to the amazing WordPress community and showing my appreciation for all of your support. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some lovely people and talented writers since starting the site at the end of 2016; here’s a little thank you and a way of finding some awesome blogs you may not have come across already.

Have fun – and excuse me while I grab some more ice for the drinks and turn the music up louder!

Frosti-writes: honesty in your posts

One of the hardest things you can do as a gaming blogger is write a review. On one hand, you want to give your readers an honest opinion and let them know if a game is worth their time and money. Then on the other, you want to give the developer credit for their effort.

These sides don’t always play nicely together and can conflict if the release is a bad one. It’s especially difficult if the review is for a game you received via a free key because you might feel a bad critique could damage your relationship with the developer or publisher. Come across a critique which absolutely gushes about a title but doesn’t specifically explain why it’s so good and is extremely far removed from most other opinions on it, and you’ve likely found a blogger who’s experiencing this kind of struggle.

It can be a balancing act, and a lesson I’ve had to learn myself since starting blogging. I now only accept keys for games which are the sort of thing I usually enjoy – point-and-clicks or narrative-based adventures – and I know which public relations (PR) contacts are likely to promote those sort of experiences. Accepting a free code comes with the obligation of publishing a review, and life is too short to spend playing video games you’re not enjoying and then having to write about them.

That being said though, it’s important to never shy away from expressing your opinion even if it’s a negative one. It is your blog after all. But it’s just as vital to make sure you’re able to explain why you feel the way you do. The reason ‘I just didn’t like it’ can sometimes be valid and the only one you can give, but it isn’t enough if you’re trying to give a well-rounded critique to your audience. It also doesn’t give the developer much to go on: if you’re able to provide more details, they then have opportunity to improve their work in the future.

Someone who I admire in this regard is Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes. His honesty (along with his awesome artwork) is one of the reasons I enjoy his posts and streams as much as I do. If he has a view on a video game or genre that many others are unlikely to agree with, he doesn’t shy away from it. Instead he’s happy to talk about it and always strives to explain his opinion so you can see where he’s coming from, and you can be certain when reading one of his reviews that it’s really what he thinks.

I first realised this when watching him on a Frosti Fridays evening as he began streaming Hollow Knight to his Twitch channel a few months ago. My other-half had attempted to play Ori and the Blind Forest for our GameBlast20 challenge earlier this year, and made a comment in chat about the coordination to play these kind of Metroidvania titles. This moved us on to a conversation about our thoughts on Moon Studios’ release and Frosti wasn’t scared to give an opinion that was quite different to most I’ve heard before.

His honesty during this situation, along with his very kind nomination for the Super Happy Love Award last month, made me think about the way I express my own opinions. Do I ever ‘adapt’ them so as not to be so far removed from general consensus or seem like I’m just trying to be different from the majority? I already know that I don’t like writing negative reviews, because if I’ve not enjoyed playing a game then I’m not going to enjoy writing about it either; is this a part of it too?

Twitch, stream, chat, Frostilyte, Frostilyte Writes

It’s possible that I hold back in my posts without even realising I’m doing it sometimes. This could come in part from not wanting to share my blog with many people in my real life and concern about what they might think if they stumble across it. It can also be hard to say what you truly think about a game or a company when you know so many others around you feel completely differently. For example, I’ve had an idea for a post about Nintendo for a while now but I’ve always been too scared to write it.

Perhaps it’s time to start letting go of the doubts we feel about sharing our thoughts as bloggers and the worry we feel when expressing a different view. Everyone here in our community has different backgrounds and experiences which make us each react to the video games we play in a way which is unique to us. It’s this which keeps our conversations interesting: there’s something to be learned from everyone we speak to and every discussion is a chance to open your eyes to something you might not have considered before.

Talking to Frostilyte during his streams has made me want to be more open in my writing. The thing he has taught me over the past few months is that it’s ok to have your own opinion, even if it’s totally unlike that conveyed by everybody else. But you’ve got to be able to explain it so others can understand why you’ve arrived at this view, even if they don’t necessarily agree with you. It’s certainly something I’m going to try to stick to – as well as tuning in for more Frosti Fridays.

I know what I’m doing this afternoon now. It’s time to finally start writing that post explaining why I don’t like Nintendo.

Gamers’ blog party: summer 2020 invitation

The lockdown may have meant we’ve had isolate ourselves over the past few months, but that doesn’t mean we can’t socialise. Put on your best frock and dancing shoes, grab your laptop and join in with the latest blog party here at Later Levels.

The rules are simple:

🎉   Arrive at the party: don’t be shy and stand in the corner – say hello and introduce yourself in the comments below! Give an introduction to your blog to welcome new readers and let us know what you’re all about.

🎉   Present your gift: think about the posts you’ve written during the past three months and choose your favourite or one which was fun to write. Leave a link to it in your comment and explain why you’ve picked it.

🎉   Get the conversation going: tell us what you’ve learnt during lockdown. Whether it’s a new hobby, an interesting fact or love for a gaming genre you never thought you’d enjoy, we want to hear about it.

🎉   Be sociable: grab yourself a drink, put on a party hat and get to know your fellow guests! Check back on the comments throughout the day to discover excellent sites and meet new bloggers.

🎉   Party all day: the comments below will be open for 24-hours until 06:00 BST on Tuesday, 16 June 2020 so you’ve got plenty of time to meet and greet. Plus your posts will be shared on the Later Levels’ social media channels!

These blog party events are my way of giving something back to the amazing WordPress community and showing my appreciation for all of your support. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some lovely people and talented writers since starting the site at the end of 2016; here’s a little thank you and a way of finding some awesome blogs you may not have come across already.

We beat the record number of posts shared in a single event at last summer’s blog party, hitting 36 articles and 348 comments. Can we beat it yet again? Have fun – and excuse me while I top up everyone’s drinks and turn the music up louder!

Gamers’ blog party: spring 2020 invitation

Easter is only a few weeks away and anticipation for chocolate and cute furry animals is in the air. So put on your best frock and dancing shoes, grab your laptop and join in with the latest blog party here at Later Levels, because there’s no better way to kick off your week.

The rules are simple:

🎉   Arrive at the party: don’t be shy and stand in the corner – say hello and introduce yourself in the comments below! Give an introduction to your blog to welcome new readers and let us know what you’re all about.

🎉   Present your gift: think about the posts you’ve written during the past three months and choose your favourite or one which was fun to write. Leave a link to it in your comment and explain why you’ve picked it.

🎉   Get the conversation going: we’re all looking forward to the long-weekend next month. So tell us what you’re going to be playing, and which Easter treats you’ll be scoffing.

🎉   Be sociable: grab yourself a drink, put on a party hat and get to know your fellow guests! Check back on the comments throughout the day to discover excellent sites and meet new bloggers.

🎉   Party all day: the comments below will be open for 24-hours until 06:00 GMT on Tuesday, 17 March 2020 so you’ve got plenty of time to meet and greet. Plus your posts will be shared on the Later Levels’ social media channels!

These blog party events are my way of giving something back to the amazing WordPress community and showing my appreciation for all of your support. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some lovely people and talented writers over the past three years; here’s a little thank you and a way of finding some awesome blogs you may not have come across already.

We beat the record number of posts shared in a single event at last summer’s blog party, hitting 36 articles and 348 comments. Can we beat it yet again? Have fun – and excuse me while I top up everyone’s drinks and turn the music up louder!

Keeping my blogging to myself

If you’re a blogger, do your friends and family know you write? Do they follow your site and show their support, maybe even leaving a like or comment occasionally? Or do you prefer not to tell them, making your blog something only for yourself and a side of your life they’re not a part of?

This was the subject of conversation in a channel on The Support Role Discord server recently after someone suggested connecting on LinkedIn. Another member responded by explaining how they keep their online persona and real-life very separate: although they’re happy to share what’s going on in the real world, they prefer to leave out details which could be used to easily make the link. Several others then echoed the same sentiment and revealed they keep their blogging and real selves apart.

Locked In A Room, Parallax, team, Bristol, Kim, Pete, Phil, Ethan, Tim, Jake

At first I was quite surprised by this. Blogging is usually a very social activity and many writers are extremely proud of their sites, so it makes sense they’d want to share their work with those close to them. I’ve published posts and where other bloggers have commented before their sibling has joined in with the conversation too; and when my other-half and I completed our 24-hour stream last month, one even tuned in with their mother (who ended up making a very kind donation herself!).

But then I realised: I keep my blog and personal life separate so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that others do too. In fact, of the nine people who responded to that comment about LinkedIn on the Discord server, all of them said they do the same. Explanations ranged from being wary about work colleagues finding out about hobbies, to professional responsibilities or conflicts of interest, to parents disapproving of gaming habits. So what are my own reasons?

Let’s start with family first. Although my brother and sister-in-law recently stumbled across the Later Levels Instagram, no other relatives on my side of the family know about the site. Although my parents don’t have a problem with video games, I’ve never made the move to tell them because I don’t want the blog to be used as some kind of ‘bragging right’. My dad has a tendency to stay into overly-proud-father territory and with that can come a lot of pressure when he tells people about his kids’ achievements.

Most of my real-life friends nowadays are people I’ve met through blogging and they tend to have similar hobbies. But those I’ve grown to know through other channels have no interest in video games whatsoever and they view the fact I play as a ‘quirk’. I’ve therefore never had any incentive to tell them about Later Levels and I’m not entirely sure what they’d make of it if I did; maybe they’d be surprised but I doubt they’d want to know more. It seems a bit pointless starting the conversation so I don’t think it’s one I’m ever likely to have.

And now we come to colleagues. Prior to switching jobs last July, I worked for a manager who was disdainful of video games. It was safer never to never mention the blog because if I did, he would have immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was using company resources to maintain it. My current team is more open to gaming and actually include me in conversations; but again, I’ve never told them about what I do. It just feels weird bringing it up at work and I’d rather keep it as something only for my personal life.

Naithin from Time to Loot recently published a post on a similar subject, and he summed it up perfectly: “I’ve just never felt comfortable talking about it in the professional environment. Perhaps an acknowledgement of the shared interest with another known gamer. But never would I reveal this whole ‘other’ part of me — this guy who has an internet blog and prefers the collection of hobbies surrounding gaming more than any other hobby.”

I really can’t see myself announcing Later Levels to these groups any time soon. The thought of having family, friends and work colleagues read the posts I’ve published makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, although I struggle to find the words to explain why. Perhaps it’s because these people are ‘too close’ and it’s easier to respond to comments on a blog page rather than in person? I’m not entirely sure, but what I do know is that the site will be a secret for as long as I decide to continue blogging.

So what about you? Do those around you know you blog or is it something you keep to yourself?