This last week, AOL shut down its “enthusiast blog” division, Joystiq, taking with it WoW Insider and Massively, three of the most well-known game reporting and opinion sites in the industry. It left the writers, with more than 20,000 articles under their belt, a bit bewildered and stunned. And perhaps surprised at, if you were not a regular reader, the great outpouring of sympathy on the discussion threads.
But even more surprising was how quickly WoW Insider was back on its feet in the form of Blizzard Watch after a short and extremely successful Patreon fund raiser. And that Massively successfully funded a $50,000 Kickstarter in just 2 days, currently at $62k with 18 days to go, and now back on its feet as MassivelyOP. Both sites are amazing examples of grass-roots and community coming together to support a business they had come to know and love.
With all the thought about community in the last couple articles, it got me really thinking about how powerful these support groups can be. Public television and radio have been using this model for years, and sure we’ll pay for a magazine subscription if we truly respect their writing staff. But for this kind of special interest, there’s another dimension to the conversation, and that’s the connection the readers feel, not only with the staff, but with each other.
In news reporting, most papers have been unable to move over to a reader-funded model – the notable exceptions being the New York Times and public television/radio. In those two cases, the brands carry a certain weight and credibility with readers, and perhaps that is true also for readers of WoW Insider and Massively, who worked hard to bring even-handed, thoughtful reporting to game coverage since 2007. Sure, these are just video game news sites, but we also respect the coverage that ESPN brings to sports, so why not?
And while these Patreon and Kickstarter campaigns were quite successful, even the MassivelyOP staff have expressed doubts about crowdfunding. At the end of the day, both Blizzard Watch and MassivelyOP very well may need ad revenue in addition to their subscriber base in order to pay their writers and maintain these new sites. But what if they didn’t need to? Is pure community support a possibility for interest-group content? Would readers tolerate a subscription hike? My sense is that they would, for a number of reasons:
- Readers already know well what they are getting in terms of reporting because they’ve seen it in action for 7 years. In contrast to funding Kickstarters for games in development, where there is no guarantee what you are funding is what you will get (if anything) in the end.
- Readers understand the value and quality, not only of the writers they have read for an extended period, but also in the comments from other members of the community. Sure there’s arguing and trolling in the comments, but there’s also so wonderful thinking and ideas there, and even a sense that we all know each other.
- We have a reasonable expectation that the quality of the reporting and opinion will continue. These are established folks, who have many contacts and channels in the industry, and know well what makes good journalism. Unless there was a huge change in staffing, we’d expect to see that in the future.
So what could we reasonably expect to pay for a subscription to an internet-based news and opinion service we value highly? Well, MMO subscriptions have been at $15 a month for quite a while, so, unless money was no object, most readers wouldn’t pay more than they pay to actually play one of these games. I value good writing and commentary, so I pledged $5 a month ($60 a year) to Blizzard Watch’s Patreon campaign and could see going a bit higher if it was really needed. I also backed MassivelyOP’s Kickstarter. Between the two, it’s quite a bit higher than a printed magazine subscription. But I pay more than that because until an ad revenue model is in place, I am guessing they’ll need to rely on pure subscriptions to keep going. Either that, or start looking at higher prices, or periodic fundraising ala PBS as needed. In either case, I’m happy to have sites that are less dependent on corporate whim and marketing.
Are we looking at more independent crowdfunding models in all aspects of business? Are we willing to make the trade-off less marketing and more community support? More YouTube channels based on pure popularity of their subject, reporters and followers? Perhaps more fragmented for awhile, but perhaps a much needed injection of creativity and new ideas. Stay tuned!