Another vital step in promoting your game and running your studio site is creating a professional press kit. We’ll show you what a good one includes and take a look at a couple of easy ways to develop one. Stay tuned tomorrow to learn how to pair it with a killer press release!
Comics writer Ray Marek joins the show to talk about his indie publishing group, Apogee Comics, discuss the impending doom of Toys ‘R’ Us, and since Halloween fast approaches and he’s the founder of The Horror Syndicate, we talk about great games for horror fans. We also welcome John Schiber back to the show!
I don’t always agree with my friend Max Krieger. We’ve been connected on Twitter for some time, maybe a couple of years now, but we initially had video games in common and probably not much else. There have been a couple of times I’ve chimed in on a conversation with him to present a differing personal view, but in many situations we just look at things in different ways which don’t affect one of us or the other in a real enough way to cause issues. I respected his passion about the world around him and considered us different, friendly people.
After a brief trial period and confirmation that I won’t be too easily fired, I’m happy to share my new podcast, Next-Gen Nerds! This show is the product of me and two close friends having kids, being nerds, and spending an hour a week together, under the tutelage of our friends at Lineup Media. The early feedback has been (too) positive.
Since the studio (perhaps rightly) hasn’t yet given me unrestricted access to the show’s website, I thought I could use this space to do some unofficial show notes for our latest episode: United Airlines and Video Games.
GoldenEye – It needs no introduction, but if you’re interested in the specific mentions from the show, here’s Kotaku’s post about the deserted turret outpost. You can see my feature article profiling some of the legends of retro game development, including GoldenEye X lead Donald J. “Wreck” York at Zam.com. It was my first paid article!
MLB The Show Goes Full RPG – We talked about sports fans getting…surprisingly nerdy, and MLB The Show’s RPG mode serves as a prime example. Personally I don’t know how you could sit through this, but if it’s your thing, enjoy.
Xbox Live Games with Gold – You still have time to grab the month’s first set of games before they switch over around the 16th. These are great games, free with the subscription you may already be paying for!
Finally, if we could only manage to share one game each with our children, the three of us somehow managed to share all of the following:
- Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?
- Kirby’s Adventure
- The Legend of Zelda
- Dragon Warrior
- Sweet Home
- Mega Man II
- Super Mario Bros. 3
- Star Trek
A Dark Orbit – It’s John’s band. Go listen.
Ben Folds – Ben Folds doesn’t need my help, but you need Ben Folds’ music in your life.
The Impossibles – Jamie talks about The Impossibles like I talk about Ben Folds.
MC Frontalot – MC Frontalot’s career isn’t an easy one. He could use your support.
MC Lars – Jamie and I both enjoy MC Lars a lot. Give him a listen.
Ra – Ra’s album From One will change your life.
Shai Hulud – I listened to Dune on Audible, so I didn’t appreciate having to try to sound this out for Googling purposes. Jamie gave this kind of a half-hearted plug; he might loan you the disc.
They Might Be Giants – If you’ve never checked out TMBG, do so.
Weezer – Who doesn’t love Weezer? These guys have nerd credit for days, and Jamie/Producer Brian just did a great podcast profile of “the blue album” that may just take you on an emotional stroll down memory lane.
You’ve either seen the United Airlines videos by now or you’ve gone out of your way to avoid them. Let’s agree to skip them in this post. We appreciate everyone’s spirited discussion about this topic, and the opportunity we’ve been given to discuss it as well. Any concerns about our viewpoints on this matter can be directed to New Jersey Pigeon (NJP).
Speaking of which, that is indeed the famed pigeon John discussed with us at length in the image at the top of this post.
I took to Medium today to share some thoughts on the disappointing nature of the modern internet.
Update 1/15/16: Want your indie project to be considered for this series? Here’s more info!
Update 1/13/16: The first installment of this series is up!
Just a quick post to announce the Inside Indie Dev interview series! In these posts you’ll get a look at new and upcoming independent projects and interviews with the creative minds behind the games.
Later this week you’ll hear about the upcoming shooter RPG Push for Emor. I chatted with creator Garry Hamer and gathered his thoughts on the great sci-fi influences of our time, developing for PC and VR simultaneously, and balancing life and game development when you’re already working full time. You won’t want to miss it!
Time for the weekend roundup! It’s been a big week here and around the web. I’m always happy when a post starts a discussion here on the site, so I was glad I shared my Google Adsense disaster story. I also kicked off a new series detailing my countless indie dev missteps and my first contribution over at Zam.com has been posted! Check out anything you missed and tell a friend!
Invalid Activity: My Google AdSense Nightmare – Long before Code Write Play came along I spent years building and running a geek culture site with a close friend of mine. This post discusses some of the ups and downs of building and monetizing your own site and some of the pitfalls that can catch you by surprise. Google didn’t exactly catch wind of this post and come running to resolve the issue so hopefully it’s at least entertaining.
Indie Dev Confessions: Part 1 – As well as things have been going, I felt the need to step back at the turn of the new year to assess my game development progress. It hasn’t gone well. I decided the best thing I could do is evaluate my strategy as objectively as possible in an effort to make 2016 a better year. If you have a passion for creative projects of your own, perhaps this series will strike a chord with you.
10 Indie Games to Watch in 2016 – This is my first published contribution to Zam.com! For this post I got my hands on a ton of great indie games and put together a list of titles I expect to turn heads in the coming year. Though I didn’t get to spend time with all of them (a couple are very early in development) all these games either have a great Early Access build available or they already have an audience in a pre-Alpha frenzy. Some are small initiatives that do what they set out to do well while others are highly ambitious, aiming to change the way we play. One of the developers was so pleased with his mention that he announced his game’s release window for the very first time in the comments! Check out the list and let me know what great upcoming games you’re looking forward to.
See you next week!
My name is Todd Mitchell. I am personally banned from the benefits of the Google AdSense program for life. I’d like to tell you the story, though there are large portions of it I do not know, and I’d like to warn you about how easily this can happen to you too.
Introduction: Two Friends and a Big Idea
Like any memorable nightmare, this one starts as a pleasant dream. A few years ago I found myself catching up with an old friend at a movie night where we discussed what we were up to as well as plans for the future. My friend lamented that his short run in retail had taken up much more of his life that he’d hoped. His dream, he said, was to one day join with an artist to turn several scripts he’d written into comic books and graphic novels. Eventually he wanted to run his own website where his work could be found and perhaps one day open a comic shop of his own.
“That’s fantastic!” I told him. I shared an interest in this type of geeky pursuit and certainly encouraged those interested in writing at every opportunity. I asked what steps he’d taken and he said he felt stuck until he could establish a small web presence to attract artists that may be seeking exposure for their work. This seemed reasonable. He didn’t know a lot about my background so I told him a little about my areas of expertise. I shared some ideas about how to make such a site successful and I offered to help get him started. He was ecstatic.
In the coming weeks we stayed in close contact and I’ll admit I became very excited by the idea as well. I’ve written a couple of scripts and outlines along the way myself and, with a variety of content ideas and access to artists, we could have a full-blown indie publishing operation on our hands in no time. We decided we would keep the initial cost low, we would write about interesting industry news and other geek topics of interest to generate some traffic, and simultaneously work on the development of one book each. We would publish online initially, print on demand, and expand as necessary. Done right, we felt the project could pay for itself.
The Birth (and Rebirth) of a Website
Before long we had a modest WordPress installation in place, several logos and headers designed, and we were even speaking with a couple of local artists interested in reading our scripts. I recall paying for at least half of the domain registration, hosting, and other expenses standing between us and the starting line. My friend was very eager to help but was not technical, and I had no problem with investing a little money and a good amount of time for a worthy cause. As we communicated with artists we happily wrote about everything from comics to video games and urban legends. My friend is a leading authority on the Gates of Hell here in the greater St. Louis area and his first post on this topic turned out to be the site’s most popular by far. We were doing what we loved and looking ahead with excitement.
Comics, as it turned out, make for a brutal business for newcomers. To this day we have and cherish some great concept art we received from a variety of interested contributors but we never found artists who truly bought into the dream. They rightly wanted to be paid for their work. I’m the first to agree they should have been. We should have been too. That’s not how indie operations often work (it’s worth noting here that crowdfunding hadn’t quite yet arrived). Worse, we disagreed about how to make the best of things. After our first year I wanted to put together all the concept art we’d received, put together some facts and anecdotes about our journey thus far, and sell it for next-to-nothing so we would have our first product available and could raise a little revenue for reinvestment. My partner didn’t buy in. We were exhausted, disillusioned, and we argued bitterly. We parted ways and the site laid still as we went months without speaking.
In time we reached out as friends do and made amends. We agreed that our initial plan could work, but it wasn’t working yet. We missed the fun we were having writing about general geek culture while we pitched artists and waited for their replies. We quickly reached a decision that we would rather have the freedom of a broad geek culture site that may or may not launch comics of its own in the future. The spots we couldn’t fill with artists were quickly taken up by eager, talented writers. A very short time later we were editors of a geek culture news site with loads of potential. The dream had changed suddenly, but we were having a blast.
AdSense and Other Business Development
My friend and I found ourselves with a strong product on our hands and determined to focus on differentiating ourselves from the competition and find ways to monetize the site. Having already worked closely with a number of business and marketing grads at this point in my young career, I quickly volunteered to take the lead. I was eager to try my hand at building something from nothing. I wanted to make this work and reward the people who were already working so hard for us. I enrolled the site in a number of affiliate programs including Amazon and Audible (which we’d also promote in a new podcast we’d set out to develop) and I set up Google AdSense ads in strategic locations throughout our WordPress theme. I spread word throughout the staff: Do. Not. Touch. These. Ads.
Nearly the moment I finished setting up our new stat tracking system the site saw its first post go viral. We saw a sudden spike in traffic and ad revenue and, I’ll admit it, I panicked. There was no way I didn’t mess this up somehow. Surely something was wrong. That’s when we started seeing the Gates of Hell write-up posted all over Facebook. Our best days saw tens of thousands of unique site visits pour in as our modest site strained to handle the attention (our host initially assumed it was a DDoS attack and shut us down until I called). I don’t have the numbers lying around anymore but I distinctly recall we beat a couple of small cable networks in views per day once or twice. Our AdSense account was off to a great start. We were well on our way to our first check. The podcast even got a jump start as listeners followed along during our moment in the spotlight.
Morale remained high long after the viral wave subsided. Several staff writers very wisely adjusted their focus to give viewers more of the urban legend coverage they craved and readers responded well. The rest of the staff continued to branch out into all areas of geek culture and pursue new projects including specialty podcasts, site-wide challenges, cross promotion with other sites, and a variety of video posts. Everything we touched started turning to gold. The future grew brighter by the day.
Then, at 8:41 AM on a Friday morning with no prior discussion, Google dropped us from the AdSense program.
Citing invalid activity on our ads, all our unpaid revenue (meaning all revenue period in our case) would be returned to its advertisers and we would no longer be allowed to participate in the program. No specific offenses were listed. My formal appeal was almost immediately denied with no additional information offered. I personally would never be allowed to participate in Google advertising programs again. My current account was immediately suspended, any future accounts I opened would be suspended, and any accounts opened by relatives or business partners of mine could be discovered and closed without warning at any time. I could never make money from another YouTube video again. The years of work were blown. The site shut down soon after. The money I’d personally invested would never be recovered. The completely unrelated professional work I wanted to do in the future was wasted in advance in the blink of an eye. Words like “angry” and “confused” fall short of the state I was left in.
My staff was angry at me. I was angry at my staff. My partner eventually suggested he misunderstood the rules, saying his wife may have been occasionally clicking the ads, but he didn’t give me specifics. My appeals with Google were open and honest. Surely I couldn’t babysit every site visitor. Surely I can’t be held responsible for more than my own actions and the crystal clear instructions I gave my staffers. Google had literally no interest at all in working with me or explaining the exact problem.
I tried appealing the suspension one last time last night, over one year after the initial notice. It was rejected before I woke up this morning with the shortest, most dismissive message to date.
A Broken System
I reminded myself that my friends were not at fault; this is a bad business practice with victims all over the world. Accounts are suspended due to malicious ad clicking, accidents, and often with no useful explanation whatsoever. Any business partner who starts with a reasonable set of rules but absolutely refuses to listen to a circumstance or work with you to reach a resolution is a bad business partner, even if that makes Google a bad business partner. This is not said in bitterness. The proof is the moderately successful AdSense account my old partner now runs under his own name on a new site from the same network that may well have brought down the previous site. Has this rule protected Google’s advertisers at this point? Or has it just ruined a relationship with a capable AdSense partner?
Beyond the defunct website I’ve stopped creating YouTube videos and I’ve sworn never to release any of my mobile apps to the Google Play store while this suspension stands. I’m just one guy. I can’t personally hurt Google, but I damn sure know the difference between right and wrong. Google got this one wrong.
Have you been hurt by the AdSense program? Share your story in the comments.
I’ve been a busy writer (and even a fairly busy editor). Busyness is no excuse for not posting a weekly roundup so here it is: last week’s content both here and around the web.
Plenty more great stuff on the way!
UFC/EA’s Fight for the Cover – This story was great fun to cover. Never before have two professional athletes fought in a cage to grace the cover of a video game — and, sure, to win the division championship as well. We know now that “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor will appear on the upcoming EA Sports UFC 2, but it was fascinating to know that two potential game boxes were waiting to be revealed after the fight.
It’s hard to imagine other fighters on the cover but I can’t help but think Holly Holm got shortchanged, having beaten Rousey the day she was announced for the retail box.
Amazon’s Fire Tablet is Awesome for Mobile Gaming – I decided to write up the Fire tablet after my wife and I bought one for our son for Christmas. This thing is awesome. One of the biggest draws is the access it gains you to Amazon Underground, a program where players play popular commercial games totally free of charge and Amazon picks up the tab. It’s probably the best mobile gaming value for the cost.
Oriental Empires Headed for Steam Early Access – I love my strategy games. I could play Sid Meier’s Civilization V all day long and, more than a few times, I have. When I saw the press release about Oriental Empires I made it a point to follow the game’s development. It would be awesome to score a review copy at some point to cover for one of my sites.
Dawn of Steel Coming to New Platforms Next Year – Some of my closest friends spend a lot of their time in an iMessage group chat playing and talking about this game. While the news that it’s rolling out to new platforms wasn’t life-changing for us, we were celebrating when we heard word that players can now join alliances and work together on team objectives. For a free-to-play iOS game, Dawn of Steel is surprisingly well-designed. I’ll probably check it out on Windows when the time comes.
I’m pleased to be a new regular contributor over at Nerd Stash!
I’ll be covering news, reviews, opinions and more. I’ll also be putting in work on a number of new multimedia initiatives as they start to get off the ground.
I talked to multiple outlets and really clicked with the team at Nerd Stash. They care greatly for their people and they do incredible charity work throughout the year with Extra Life and the Kentucky Children’s Hospital.
I’ll be doing a weekly roundup here to fill you in on my contributions. Check them out!