Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 01, 2008
Blogs are irrelevant and subjective

One interesting subject from the open Sunday thread was why some people react so strongly when they read somebody praising a different game, or even start shouting "conspiracy!" when they read some less than raving report on their favorite game. And I think one anonymous commenter got a step closer to the answer by asking about the influence of blogs. It seems logical that if somebody believes that blogs wield a huge influence in the decision of people what to play, or even on the developers of those games, they would feel threatened if a blogger writes negatively about their favorite game, or positively about a different game. But I do think that would overestimate the influence of blogs. In reality blogs have no, or very, very little, influence on developers and players. They are just a reflection of the subjective opinions of one or few people.

The reason why I can state the lack of influence with some certainty is simple math. I'm proud to have a "popular" blog, but popular still means only 5,000 visitors a day, of which 55% come here from some search engine, 25% following some link, and only 20% by either typing the URL of my blog, or having me bookmarked. So I maybe have 1,000 regular readers. Most of them are of the "I read what Tobold has to say, but I sometimes disagree" type, which is how it should be. But even if I could influence all 1,000 of them to lets say switch from one game to another, the impact on the subscription numbers of a major MMORPG would be minimal. 99% of WoW players have never even heard of me.

Not only is there a lack of influence, but also there is no conspiracy or hidden agenda. I'm just a regular MMORPG player, with certain preferences. Just like everyone else, I get excited about new games, like some games more than others, and inside one game have features I like and others I dislike. I generally prefer PvE over PvP, and if I PvP I prefer the "carebear" sort. I like storytelling and variety of gameplay, and dislike grinds. I prefer content to be accessible to casual players, and don't like exclusive content for a small elite. Besides games, I have an interest in economics, so you'll often find me discussing game economics, both the real world economics of business models, and the virtual economics of tradeskills and auction houses. None of this is secret in any way, and since it is inevitable that I repeat myself in 5 years of blogging, you can find ample evidence of these preference all over this blog.

Currently I am very much excited and happy about the Wrath of the Lich King expansion of World of Warcraft, because it very much corresponds to my personal preferences: As always in WoW, it is mostly PvE, with some carebear PvP. It has better storytelling and more varied gameplay than the previous expansion. And it promises to be more accessible and less elite in the endgame. A near-perfect match. But I'm not vain or stupid enough to believe that the Blizzard developers read what I wrote on this blog and created the expansion to fit my personal preferences. What I do believe (and again I only have indirect evidence) is that The Burning Crusade was not quite as big a success as Blizzard had hoped. It sold a lot of copies early, but then relatively quickly lost players. I do believe that the reason for that decline was that the players reached level 70 and because raiding was relatively difficult never even got started in the raiding circuit. I think Blizzard got that message through various exit interviews from people canceling their accounts, and is trying to do better this time. My personal agenda just happens to coincide with what a large number of casual players prefers, it isn't as if they were in any way influenced by me. And Blizzard is influenced by profits and subscription numbers, not by what anyone says about their game on any blog or forum.

Another evidence for the lack of influence of bloggers on players and developers is that people who take the time to discuss games on the internet are already a minority among players in general. By definition they are less casual, because it takes an above average interest in a game to not only play it, but also to want to talk about it when not playing it. I believe, without having proof for it, that the people who discuss games on the internet on average have somewhat different, less casual, interests than players who don't. Thus aspects of gameplay which require more dedication, for example hardcore PvP or raiding, are more popular on blogs and game forums than they are in the games themselves. I think developers don't listen too closely to what people say on forums and blogs, because they know that doing so would risk to miss the interests of the silent majority.

While it is obviously hard to judge oneself correctly, I would say that overall I'm a rather rational type. I try to avoid posting obvious falsehoods, and I usually do see both the good and bad sides of any given game or feature. But that doesn't make the content of this blog completely fair and balanced. Blogs, by their very nature, aren't even supposed to be objective. The word "blog" comes from "weblog", and that is what this is: A log of my thoughts, a kind of public diary. Objectivity isn't even a stated goal of that, I write my subjective feelings on games, features, or sometimes even non-game issues. And, being personal and subjective, my attitude towards one game can, and frequently does, change over time. If you read my archives, you will find that I never liked The Burning Crusade very much, and during that time wrote a lot of negative stuff about World of Warcraft, including an "I quit" post, taking an extensive leave from the game. You will also find some very positive coverage of WAR from the late beta and early release days, until the preponderance of scenarios ruined that game for me. And then there are lots of games that get no or very little coverage from this blog at all, because they are simply not on my radar.

If somebody expects me to cover and praise every existing game equally, he simply is at the wrong spot. Being personal this blog reports on the games I play, with a subjective slant towards the games I like. I am certainly trying to be balanced and fair, but there simply aren't any game review sites that praise all games equally, because frankly that wouldn't be of much use to anyone. The very act of reviewing a game introduces subjectivity. Besides reviews and personal opinions this blog has some "MMO news coverage", but that very often consists of links to the totally subjective reviews and personal opinions of other bloggers, with my subjective comments thrown in. Game companies are private enterprises, and there is a lot of interesting data they have and don't publish. Thus subjects like subscription numbers or future strategy of a game are surrounded by a lot of speculation, some circumstantial evidence, and very few absolute truths. But the fun is in the speculation and discussion, nobody should expect the same level of proof from a blog post than what would be required in a criminal justice court.

So, in summary, I do think that some people overestimate the influence of blogs. And some people have trouble making the distinction between a blog and the Washington Post. It is obviously hard to convince these people that I'm neither out to influence the MMORPG world, nor am I likely to do that. So the best advice I can offer is that if you believe so strongly that a single person with a blog hosted for free can influence both developers and players, then you should go and make your own blog. If it's so easy to move millions of subscribers to one's preferred game, and change the way in which future games are designed, why don't you go out and do it?
Apology Accepted tob
Apology Accepted tob

Lol. And where, if I may ask so, is your apology and the link to your newly created WAR-praising blog?
You are perhaps underselling yourself Tobold. Remember that many of those 1000 regular readers have blogs themselves, are active on fora and are otherwise plugged into the gaming community. I am not saying that every post you make is passed around and analysed by the masses but I do think that a positive review or a particularly insightful post has the potential to create ripples far beyond your core readership.

Gladwell's analysis of "The Tipping Point" of epidemics was a bit too unscientific for my liking but the phenomena he describes are real. I can't quite figure out whether your blog is a "connector" (bringing a large number of people together) or a "Maven" (Information Specialists). Its probably a bit of both.
I love the irony of the title of this blog post.
Lol. And where, if I may ask...

Tobold, please don't feed the trolls.
The people who really appreciate your blog and make the effort to post constructive comments, non-anonymously, deserve better than a useless flamewar between yourself and some anonymous cowardly troll.

As for your post, I respectfully disagree. Your blog is widely read and was even featured once on, remember? If even 1 person among your 5000 daily readers is a dev and that dev changes his mind about an issue or starts to think about some game problem because of your post, you made a difference.
Expecting a blog to be unbiased is at its base foolish. There is only one form of writing that is intended to be unbiased, that being journalism. It is unfortunate that the politi-blogs have attempted to paint themselves in the cast of journalists as I feel they have made an expectation throughout the entire internet that if you put words online you must be fair and unbiased. This is wrong at its philosophical foundation. Following a blog is like following a series of books that you like, since it is quite easy to find the content that you want to read about coupled with the style that appeals to you. I read Tobold because he plays like I do and can communicate a cogent thought. I read Ixobelle because he can communicate the self-loathing that adults that live their lives around video games tend to have. I stay away from the message boards at because I tire very quickly from whining. I do not expect anybody else in the world to have these same preferences, they are mine, not yours. However, I do expect people to see the difference between blogging and journalism. If you want unbiased reporting regarding games, go to a gamer news site, don't go to a blog. That isn't the reason they exist.
useless flamewar between yourself and some anonymous cowardly troll

The anonymous cowardly troll is just one symptom of something larger. I could simply have deleted his comments, but that wouldn't have solved the underlying problems. He isn't the only one who expects more influence and objectivity from a blog than it could possibly deliver. I'd rather discuss the subject in the open than just censor the troll. Trolls hate rational arguments even more than they hate being ignored. And for regular readers my personal subjective take on relevance and subjectiveness might be interesting as well.
Welcome to Tobold's Blog - the Fox News of blogging. Lol!

Don't change what you're doing, Tobold, just because a few anonymous posters are trolling.
1 - Point has been made but I'll repeat it: your circle of influence cannot be measured alone by your web stats. I would venture to guess you touch more than 5000 people through your blog, but it would just be a guess.
2 - I think it's an interesting balance between "with power comes responsibility" and "hey it's my opinions if you don't like then gtfo." I think if you're an influential blogger then you could technically use it for harm. Not implying you do, in fact I'm of the opinion that your words are great. Just saying, if I were in your position, I'd consider and apply some balance.
I agree with MBP here. Blogs (not only game blog) are becoming a powerful tool to influence the masses. One blog post riples into others where after a certain point in time it is unclear where the original "news" came from. However, people (even if only a marginal amount) may take actions or change opinions based on that news. If you know how to influence this ripple effect you have a tool to influence people, (financial) markets, games developers etc. Hence, blogs are certainly no longer irrelevant.

Also I think you have more than 1.000 regular readers. I always google your blog or type in directly, must be more idiots like me who waste their time like that instead of favoriting it :p
i consider your post as a thank you to me for raising your blog traffic ^_^
It is now possible to track what are called "influencers," individuals on the Internet who have a measurable impact on a particular topic. Influence is tracked not just based upon hits to a single site, but rather by following conversation threads that link to or mention the individual in question.

I would imagine that Tobold is a significant influencer among World of Warcraft discussions. This is a metric that smart companies pay attention to, because the opinion of such a person has ripples across the community.

Compared to how few opinion sites (blogs before there were blogs) were around in the days of UO and EQ, I would imagine it is more difficult for a single site to stand out in today's crowded information marketplace. But there are also more eyeballs on the MMO space than ever before, so the influence of cogent, thoughtful bloggers cannot be underestimated.
First of all Tobold, this is your blog, you write about what you damn want to and, if you don't mind my suggestion to YOUR blog, you should avoid these posts about how you write what you like.

For one, give up! Since you got the Blizzard goodies most of your readers will throw a condescending nod whenever you praise anything coming from Irvine, California.

For two, there will always exist very vocal minorities who are so disappointed that WAR didn't kill WoW, so no matter what you do (unless declaring WoW the worst game ever and canceling your sub) will always give you flak on your opinions on both games.

For three, sometimes you don't help yourself. The Wintergrasp PVP post came across as a "Blizzard makes it better every time" or "Keep Battles in WoW are better than in WAR". It's your opinion but let me point out that when it comes to PvP, you always added a "but bear in mind that i don't like PvP so if you do take my opinion with a grain of salt." Yes, most of us throw a "in my opinion" in front of your every sentence but don't expect trolls to do that.

Bottom line is: aren't you worrying too much?
That is the point here...isn't it? We each have an opinion of games, and we cannot make or break those games based on what we blog about.

Like myself, I still find it insane that people play Vanguard, LOTRO, DDO, etc...but, my opinion means squat in regards to those games because people still play them for some reason.

Your decision to say WAR is shrinking can be seen by so many, yet, you will always have those anonymous cowards who still cannot come to grips with their favorite game dying, and need someone else to blame. You are the perfect scapegoat.

But, I do agree with Moorgard in some respects.

It seems Mythic thought you had some sway, thus the reason for the free account to get more discussion out there..

Maybe a survey needs to be done to see how many people read a blog about their game of choice before they purchased it...hmm?

I did when I bought Age of, who knows.
"First of all Tobold, this is your blog, you write about what you damn want to and, if you don't mind my suggestion to YOUR blog, you should avoid these posts about how you write what you like."

...and yes, the irony isn't lost here, but i think you understand what i'm trying to say... :)
"First of all Tobold, this is your blog, you write about what you damn want to and, if you don't mind my suggestion to YOUR blog, you should avoid these posts about how you write what you like."
...and yes, the irony isn't lost here, but i think you understand what i'm trying to say... :)

I understand what you are saying. But I respectfully disagree. I'm willing to take the risk to appear vain by talking about myself, not only because I *am* vain :), but also because I think the subject of what people can reasonably expect from a blog is an important one. This isn't about single trolls or my reaction to them. Posts like this come from a deeper unease I have that people take me way too seriously. And it isn't as if I possibly could make everyone happy. Wyrm here suggests that I've been writing nice things about WoW because Blizzard sent me a press pass to their European convention. But if I would write something nice about WAR he'd say it was because Mythic bought me with a free subscription. I can't even say "I like Wintergrasp" any more, without someone taking it as me bashing WAR keep warfare. Stating my point of view on blogging to me the preferable alternative to just giving up and raising a white flag to the trolls.
Posts like this only make me bored and disappointed. I wish Tobold could be above this.
Heheheheheheh. Statistically, I'd say you're right Tobold, but for those few who do read you, you are often insightful and so on and can be very convincing. Those who are really worried about your influence on the overall market are usually just jousting windmills but you definitely wield an influence over your readers. (however many they may be)
Tobold, just to say that i don't suggest anything, just giving examples on how there is always food for trolls...
Hey Tobold, just want to thank you for writing. I don't always agree with you but I enjoy reading what you have to say. Keep up with your opinions I guess.
One of the reasons I read your blog, Tobold, is your skill in setting topics for discussion. Because your readership is (largely) thoughtful, there's a lot of value in the comments as well as the original posts. As a result, I end up chatting about these topics to other gaming friends, none of whom read your blog (or even heard of you). So I suspect your influence extends well beyond your actual readership, as people say "Hey - I read an interesting thing last night".
Tobold, you have been posting a lot lately as a result of the comments on some of your posts, mostly troll comments. I wouldn't bother dude, most of your readers know what they are getting with your blog - quality commentary from a somewhat casual player. Its excatly what most of us want to read. I liked your WoW, Lotro and WAR journals quite a lot, keep it up. You don't need to justify yourself after every post.
1. I love your writing. Even this possibly dull story was very interesting. You have a great writing style and I never think you are being rude, condescending or even partial. Yeah, you like WoW more than WAR, but there was a time not long ago when it was the other way around.

2. Do underestimate your influence. You are probably what most marketers refer to as an influencer. You affect the opinions of others moreso than many. Do I think Blizzard is making changes to the game because of your comments? Absolutely not, but they know your opinions have influence and I am sure their developers and marketers take it into account when making choices.

3. At first I thought you were giving too much reverence to a forum troll with this post, but you are right. What better way to handle a common complaint on your blog than to write more about it. I just hope you don't actually lose any sleep over this. Most of us Tobold Fanbois (TM) think you're doing a great job. Hell, you even got me a little interested in that Football Manager game you wrote about.
Tobold, several have said it already but I have push this point one more time. You underestimate the influence of a blog. Your numbers and logic are sound, I just think it reaches beyond what those set of numbers are telling you. I worked with analysts most of my adult life and one common phrase I have always heard from them is: "What number do you want me to find?" Their biggest code of conduct is only to be able to reproduce a number reliably when challenged. Do you drive the MMO industry single handily with you blog? Probably not? I do believe, that where you may rate your influence as a 1 or 2, and the over zealous may rate your influence as a 9 or a 10, it probably is somewhere between a 5 and a 7.

Looking at your site traffic only tells part of the story. Consider this. It is no secret that companies large and small have noted the positive impacts a public blog can have. To the point that just about every major company has one and many small to mid sized ones are getting into it. When you thin about the biggest such as Dell, Microsoft, and HP, you know that the percentage of people that read those blogs is a fraction of a percent of their customer base. Yet it is so important to them. Why?

I am sure there are many reasons but one the relates to our subject is that that small group of people are the most passionate about that product. You mention this in your post. If you influence 1000 of the most passionate and most influential section a market, they will in-turn influence another set of people that you do not reach directly. There is no way to know just how far or deep your influence is.

That being said, keep doing what you are doing. This is a great blog and I enjoy your writing very much. I have learned a lot from you already and hope to learn even more. I enjoy the sense of community that playing an MMO can bring and I hope to give back to the community as I believe you have done.
1. I wish I could edit my comments for typos and brain farts.
2. Reading my own comment - the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" popped into my head.
I've wonder too lately at the whole, "bloogers to blame for..." commentary I've read and heard on podcasts. Blogs aren't new sites cringing over the accuracy and facts of every post. They are akin to journals, diaries, personal commentary and as such, are highly subjective. I don't get where suddenly bloggers owe games anything other than an honest opinion of the person writing. We're consumers expressing satisfaction or dissatisfaction, as we see fit. Why does it need to be anything more than just that? And as you've said, the number of blogs no matter how popular, measured up against the number of players is so minimal, that people should just get over themselves.

Even when the gaming companies see value in blogger opinions and how they might impact potential customers - Mythic providing some bloggers accounts or developers/publishers commenting on some blogs (I've had it happen 3x), it can't be measured and is no different than word of mouth. Just someone articulating that opinion in print on the Internet, which by the way,is full of millions of people doing the same thing. *shrug*

The blogs I read are no-paid and no advertising meaning they blogger is footing the bill. If someone doesn't like what they have to say, that someone is certainly free not to read them anymore. *ugh why are people so annoying?*
Much like how trolls live under the forum bridges, they have also been in blogs. They don't really have to be addressed, they have been living their troll lives online since GameFAQs, BBSs, 4chan, SomethingAwful, etc. Some of them do it out of humor, some out of ignorance.

It isn't really because they overestimate the influence of a blog, it's because they just feel the need to disagree with what they don't like. Their choice of games define what kind of person they are due to the lack of anything else in their lives and they strongly believe that ardently defending their gaming lifestyle will make them feel better.
I also think it's a case of "killing the messenger." Blogs put down in words what a lot of us other customers are feeling about a game. Sometimes a blogger's writing will crystalize a series of vague impressions and feelings into a more solid, cogent thought and opinion. A sort of "Oh yeah, that's what I was thinking, too" type of thing.

To blame the blogger for saying that a game sucks, isn't really a problem of the blog or the blogger. It's a problem with the game.
Huh. I read that title as "blogs are irreverent and subjective" and couldn't agree more. Irrelevant is arguable... but I suspect that it's mostly accurate.
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