I visit my son’s English class and fail to convince them to quit writing and get a real job.
My son, Andrew, has a creative writing class this semester in school. The teacher, Mrs. Nicole Cipriano, devoted the class to blogging. Each student is writing their own blog about whatever strikes their fancy. My son is writing about… Video Game Reviews. Well, at least its writing and not playing.
Mrs. Cipriano found out, through Andrew, that I run a successful blog/website. Apparently, they classify a “successful” blog as one-not-currently-defunct, so I qualify. She asked me to come into class, and I heartily agreed. The best part is that the teacher assigned my blog as homework which drove my viewership up into the 100’s. Yea.
The teacher told the class that a blogger was coming into class, but she didn’t tell them that I was also Andrew’s father, and neither did he. Of course, when the class arrived, I knew over half of the students anyway from Little League, Church, Karate, and general life in a tight-knit community. I got more than a few “Oh hi, Mr. Stangle” as they assembled. One kid, whom I did not know, Eli, asked if I was the Halloween House guy. Yes, I am.
The class was great. We talked for about 40 minutes. The class was really engaged and interested, or at least did a good job pretending to be. And they had a ton of questions. Each kid had at least 2 questions and one girl had 10.
I wasn’t able to cover them all, so I promised to write out all the answers and give them back to the class. Then I decided that this would make a decent post that everyone could benefit from. And here we are.
Without further ado, may I present Mrs. Cipriano’s Eighth Grade Class:
Astrid, Carolina, Evan, Kaylee, Rose, Sarah, Teddy, Thomas, and Zoe asked, “How did I start blogging, and why do I blog about games?”
Back in 2018, I wanted to buy some new board games for Christmas. But I found very little information about any new games and absolutely none that mentioned if a game was actually good (or fun) for kids to play. The few websites that did review games were all boring and difficult to navigate. Since the website I wanted did not exist, I decided to make one.
The first thing I did was to buy a website. What you are really buying is a “Domain Name”. This is to be the name of your website followed by a suffix like .com or .org. The name needs to be unique and should be short, descriptive, and catchy. It is very hard to come up with a name that has all four of these things.
I wanted to call my site, FamilyGameNight.com but that name was already taken. I believe Hasbro owns it. In the end, I went with GameNightBlog.com which is descriptive but not very catchy or even short. But it was the best idea I had at the time.
The next thing I did was to purchase a web hosting service plan and transfer the Domain Name over to their site. All of these things can be done online, with just a credit card and an email address (and having your parent’s permission is probably a good idea.)
For the second most requested question, Kaylee, Petey, Rose, Teddy, and Thomas asked, “How much money do I make in a year?”
I make $0 from the website. I don’t do it for money (clearly). But I have gotten a few free games; usually from small independent game makers.
Money should never be the reason that you get into blogging. It is very unlikely that you will ever make money running a blog and certainly not for several years after starting one.
The primary goal is to share your thoughts, your opinions, and your story with the world. And if that happens to become popular (see below) and someday earns you a real income then that is awesome. But you also have to accept the possibility that you may never gain a huge following and be okay with that.
Petey followed up with, “Do I have another job?”
Yes, I work as a Deputy for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. Specifically, I am a Sergeant at the Nashua Street Jail. We are responsible for housing all persons charged with a crime in the Boston area. The job is challenging and is just as often both tedious and stressful. But some days are equally rewarding.
For a closer look at what we do, the TV show, Lockup, came to our facility a few years ago. I was heavily featured in the episodes because, at the time, I was responsible for the Disciplinary office and Classification. The show can still be found on MSNBC and Netflix. The full title is: MSNBC Lockup, Boston MA, Extended Stay.
Rose asked, “How much money does the blog cost me, out of pocket?”
It costs about $10 to register and keep my domain name (the web address, www.gamenightblog.com) per year. And it costs $50 per year for the web hosting service. So you too can have a decent website for just $60. But when I add in the cost of buying games and going to a couple of conventions each year, my total is closer to $2000.
In addition, the teacher was curious, “Which hosting service do I use and why?”
I use WordPress.com for my hosting services. This is the most common service used by bloggers. The system is very easy but a little limited, but I don’t have a need to change the service right now. A friend of mine who once ran a successful knitting blog used this service and recommended it.
Continuing with the money, Tess asked, “Do different posts make more money and how does one monetize his content?”
Unfortunately, I am the wrong person to ask. I have not looked into ways to monetize my website and have no desire to do so. I do know that to monetize my content using WordPress.com is expensive. There is a second (and the original) hosting service called WordPress.org that is far more generous to when monetizing your website. And yes, the obvious similarity is deceptively deliberate.
Several questions were about the creative process. Astrid and Joey wanted to know, “How do I come up with ideas or decide which topic to write about?”
Obviously, there are hundreds if not thousands of games to write about so there are plenty of ideas there. But when it comes to my Discussion posts or Top Ten lists, I just keep my ears, eyes, and mind open to things that spark my interest.
For example, the other day, I was talking to a young man who was really into complicated board games and his mother who was not. But she really wanted to be a part of his hobby. That gave me an idea to do a Top Ten Games for Gamers and Non-Gamers alike. I am still working on that one.
Gabby wanted to know, “Does writing the same criteria make be bored after a while.”
I deliberately have several different types of articles so that I don’t get bored. A game review is quite formal and has a definite structure to the post. I write the D&D Diaries as if I was writing a fantasy novel with my behind-the-scenes commentary thrown in. The Top Tens need to be light and breezy but also direct and to the point which is a challenge. And last, the Game Designer Blog is my hardest post because it is my most personal writing and I always want to edit out the painful bits, so I have to force myself to keep them in.
But even within the game reviews, it is easy to become stagnant. I always try to have a unique angle to approach the game review from. The hardest part is the beginning because that needs to grab a reader’s attention and compel them to keep going. For example, my post for Reef took me forever until I decided to compare the game with an actual coral reef. Sometime I tell a small story like in my review of Just One. And I love to use puns, and allegory, and alliteration to always activate the acuity of authorship.
For another writing question Joey asked, “How do I stay on topic in a long paragraph?”
To answer your direct question, I try and keep my paragraphs short, just a few sentences. The moment I write a sentence that doesn’t seem on topic, I start a new paragraph.
But to answer your implied question, How do I stay on topic in a long post? There are two answers. One, I try to keep a game review post to about 1000 words. (BTW, this post is almost 4000 words.) That forces me to stay on topic and not meander too far astray. But two, I don’t worry about going of topic. I love to go off on tangents and seemingly unrelated details. My only rule is that you must bring the writing back to your original point and make a connection to the “off-topic” tangent.
Also, regarding Rules. It is important to learn the rules of grammar and sentence structure and writing, and then be unafraid to break them all! So long as you understand why you are breaking it.
Ashley asked, “How long does it take to make a post?”
Sadly, I am a very slow and methodical writer who occasionally agonizes over the perfect word for hours (my wife calls this procrastinating). I would say that a single post takes me about 8 – 10 hours to write, edit, take pictures, format the pictures and put it all together. This does not include the time spent playing the game, prepping a D&D session, or being involved in the gaming community (Conferences, interviews, networking, etc.).
The teacher had a follow-up question, “How long did it take to design my actual blog?”, and “How did I decide on a color scheme and format?”
I spent a long time working on the layout for the website. It was very important to me that pictures and visual elements be a big focus for the website. So many blogs just have a wall of text that is very hard to read on a computer screen or a phone. I wanted the website to feel like reading a magazine. In addition, most game review sites just use a stock photo of the game’s box as their sole photo. I wanted to include bright, vibrant photos of the game as it is played that would hopefully entice people to want to play it themselves.
WordPress has a number of templates to use for your website. I chose “Canard” because it allows me to place 5 “Featured” articles at the top of my page, and that reminded me of the table of contents in a magazine. I also gave me several menus (such as the primary menu which appears between the Game Night Blog banner and the “Featured” photos) that let me link to several categories that I hope might interest my readers.
I wanted my site to evoke a sense of fun. So, I use bright, pop colors whenever I can in my text and my photos, in particular with the banners that become the first image a reader will see connected to any individual post. For the main font, I used Cherry Swash because it was unique, and fun, and was the furthest removed from “serious business”. I like the irreverent but fun and sincere vibe that the whole site portrays.
Rose had a number of questions about the blog as a business. She asked, “Do I work from home or in an office?”, “Do I work for a company?”, “Do I have any days off?”, “Do I have any due date for my blogs?”, and “Where did I learn how to blog?”
Number 1 – I work from home. 2 – I do not work for any company, and prefer my independence. 3 – I technically don’t have any days off, since I am always thinking about the blog in some way. But I also don’t have to work in long, boring 8-hour blocks, just a couple of hours a day. 4 – I used to adhere to a strict schedule about when I would release posts and try to get them done on time. But I realized that is an unrealistic goal, especially for an unpaid hobby. So now I just release posts as soon as they are finished and don’t worry about the deadline. 5 – I just learned how to blog by doing. I friend of mine helped me set up the site, since she ran a blog about knitting. But I am still learning new things every day about writing, graphic design, and running a website.
Both Kaylee and Sarah asked the million-dollar question, “How do I attract readers and get my blog popular?”
I am still trying to work that one out. My honest and honorable advice is to just keep creating content and slowly your viewership will grow over time. In just one year the website has gone from 0 views to about 50 a day. That’s 18,250 views a year. Not too bad for someone with no advertising budget.
Second, I have multiple media accounts. I have a Facebook Group, a Twitter feed, and an Instragram account, all of which feature or link content to my website. I particularly like Instagram. Even though that one is the most time-consuming, since it does not link direct to anything and I have to create a whole new post every time, it allows me to have the most immediate contact with other people interested in my content. Plus, by creating different (but still relevant) hashtags, this allows me to reach new and untapped markets.
Third, become a part of the community that is interested in your world. Go to conferences, meet new people, talk to new people, tell them what you do. Again, Instagram is great for this. Follow other people that have similar interests. Often, they will follow you in return.
As for myself, I attend several conferences for board games and I asked if they were willing to have me speak at them. Most of them said yes. I joined a local Game Makers Guild which let me meet several designers and enthusiasts. I’m in talks with someone about joining her on her podcasts. All of these things will help me grow.
One word of warning. Many of these sites and other disingenuous people can sell you followers, and click-throughs, and “engagements” to help boost your site. I find the whole concept of these things just wrong. They are exploiting people’s craving for popularity and desires to become an “influencer”. I refuse to think of myself as an influencer. I am an information server. A small distinction, but one less selfish.
Similarly, Evan asked, “Was it hard to get your blog out there?” and “Do I have to get an actual job with the blogging carrier?”
It isn’t hard to get your blog “out there”. Just buy a website or go on a forum and type. The hard part is getting people to find you “out there” and to maintain a consistent writhing routine (now there is a perfectly apropos typo). I meant to say, a consistent writing routine.
And no, you do not, and should not get a job at the blogging carrier. Nothing kills creativity like being forced to work for the machine that runs it.
Next, a number of students asked about the games I play and write about. Petey, Rose, Gabby, Sarah, and Andrew asked multiple questions. “Do I play these games with my family?”
Yes, every game is played with my family, especially the kids since that is the focus of the website. Usually my wife, Diane, and I will play a game to see how it plays with just two people since that is often a very different game experience. Then we will play with the family. And we have two other families that we have semi-regular Game Nights with to get their opinions as well.
“Where do I find these games?”
I buy most of my games from a store, like everybody else. Sometimes I have to go to a hobby store to get the less mainstream games. I have also found some pretty good games at thrift stores like Savers and the Salvation Army. And I go to conventions and I check Kickstarter to find the more obscure, independent games. We currently own about 300 games and we are always looking for more.
“Were these games that you had already played or did you play the games specifically for the blog?”
One of the first posts that we did was our Top 20 Games. These were games that we already owned and played and loved. These also became the first twenty reviews that we did. Although we still have not reviewed Cards Against Humanity yet. This is a family website.
Lately we have been focusing more on the games that are nominated for the Spiel des Jahres. This is the top award in the gaming industry. It is a German phrase that boringly translates to “Game of the Year”. We are also focusing on small independent companies that don’t get nearly the exposure that the bigger company releases get. Often these games are overlooked and need all the help and praise they can get.
“What is my favorite game and what is my favorite Family Game Night game?”
Right now, my favorite game is Carcassone. It is a lovely little tile laying game that builds a lovely little medieval village. You win by gaining control of the roads, towns, and monasteries located throughout. I really need to do a review of this game soon.
I have several favorite Game Night Games. I love Ticket to Ride and think it is one of the best family games ever! My favorite word game is called Just One. It recently won the Spiel des Jahres and is the only game that everyone in all our Game Night groups has loved too. I also love Clue, and Atmosfear, and an awesome, new game about birds called Wingspan.
“What is my least favorite game?”
I don’t like to focus on games I don’t like, since I’d rather help people find good games, not bad ones. But I recently played Machi Koro and I really did not enjoy that game. I also do not love Risk or Monopoly. But some games just don’t fit into neat little boxes. I played Diamonds as a two-player version and hated it, but then I played the same game with four players and loved it. Go figure. I often don’t like games that if one player is winning, than the others are losing. Which would be a great idea for a post.
A few asked about my recent attempts to join the ranks as a game designer. Andrew asked, “What made me decide to become a game designer?”
You can read all about my journey into this new, exciting, and terrifying chapter of my life right here on my website. But the short answer is that I was inspired from meeting several game designers at a conference. After a restless night, I woke with several game ideas in my head and a desparate need to see them come to fruition.
It felt sort of like the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who goes crazy, builds a giant mountain out of mud in his living room and drives to Devils Tower because he is compelled to by the voices/aliens in his head. Likewise, I feel compelled to see if I can actually create my very own brand-new game, plus I’ve already been to Devil’s Tower so I’m halfway there.
Tess had a very involved question, “I mentioned a career in game design, and would I prefer to design and publish on my own, or prefer working with a company?”
This question actually has many more layers than is able to be answered here. But basically, I would like to design and self-publish my prototype games without company interference, and then set up a working relationship with a publisher and receive royalties from those games.
But there are other way to go about it. I could self-publish (scary but potentially lucrative), or start a KickStarter campaign (potentially less scary but also very hit-or-miss). A friend of mine just invented only the game mechanic, and then pitched that to a game publisher, who would then come up with the best theme and design for the game.
Finally, several kids asked about life and blogging. Rose asked, “Did I think I was going to be a blogger when I was little?”
The term blogging didn’t even exist when I was little. Of course, there was also no internet, cell phones, or even schools! Yessir, back in my day, we kids were given a pack of Luckys and a pickaxe and sent off to the coal mines which were always uphill. Both ways! “Okay, Boomer!”
But I did always want to be a writer. But I was always afraid that no would care to read my ramblings, so I never wrote my Great American Novel or blockbuster screenplay. I still don’t think that anyone would read my nonsense; the only difference is that now I don’t care. I’m going to write it anyway.
Ashley wanted to know, “Do I do anything besides blogging?”
When I’m not busy complaining about why games cannot fit back into the box after it’s opened, I love to go to the movies. In college, I studied to become a filmmaker. That dream never panned out, but I still love the cinema. Favorite film? A Touch of Evil by Orson Welles. Also, my wife and I love the theatre and we always go to 5-6 Broadway shows a year. Favorite show? Les Miserables (also my favorite book). One of my game ideas is about the Great White Way.
But what we really love to do is travel. The world is an amazing place, and I want to see all of it. We have taken vacations by car, boat, and plane, and we are always ready to plan our next trip. This summer will be a road trip down to New Orleans and Key West. And yes, I have a game idea that involves that too.
Joey asked, “Do I wish that I blogged about something else?”
Of course, I wish that I blogged about being a lottery-winning multi-millionaire. But until that happens, blogging about games is perfect for me. I love to write and I love games, so combining those two is just great. But if I did not love board games, then I would not be the right person to write about them. To be a successful writer you have to have a passion for something, anything.
Zoe and Ashley asked, “Is blogging a successful job?” and “Would I recommend blogging as a career?”
I say that blogging is a successful hobby that might turn into a successful career. The old adage is “Pick the job you would do for free, and do that”. By the same token, you must be willing to blog for free, forever. But you never know, you might just have the next viral post, and become wealthy and famous. But probably not.
And finally, Petey asked, “Is blogging fun?”
Absolutely yes, blogging is fun. And frustrating, and fascinating, and fun. If you have something you want to say, then blogging is a great way to have people hear it. But always treat it like a hobby. You most likely will not make any money and once you start thinking of it like a job then it will not be any fun.
Through blogging, I have met some wonderful people, had a lot of good times and memories and who knows, if the game design thing takes off, you may someday be playing a game I created, and that is pretty awesome.
If I missed anyone’s questions, I apologize. If there is something else you would like to know. Leave a comment and I’ll answer it eventually. Or just ask Andrew.
As always, don’t write what you know, write what you love, and Blog On!
Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers. – Brian Clark, blogging pioneer