Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Blog financing

Syncaine is now admittedly paid by Aventurine to promote Darkfall. Basically he has a "Buy Darkfall" add on his blog, and if people use that to buy Darkfall, he gets 20%, which I think is rather generous. Apart from being a perfect opportunity to make jokes about him as a corporate sellout, I think that this is quite a nice option of blog financing. Sure beats Google ads, which often end up selling gold, or other dubious wares. Syncaine at least knows what he is promoting.

The other side of the coin of course is that now the world's only blog speaking nicely about Darkfall having a "material relationship" with the makers of Darkfall, and thus losing credibility. I don't really think it matters in this case, Syncaine was already notoriously unable to even remotely consider the possibility that not every feature of Darkfall was absolutely perfect. But people who don't know him will see the add, see his Darkfall posts, and make a wrong but understandable conclusion.

Furthermore it is unlikely that this will end up as standard model for MMORPG blog financing, because very few games will ever offer it. Can you imagine the fight which would break out if World of Warcraft offered such a community promotion program, and people started WoW blogs just to get a slice of the pie?

I'd be interested in hearing your opinion about MMORPG bloggers being paid to sell MMORPGs on their blogs. Great way of financing, or end of independant journalism, what do you think?
If you want to promote something do not enter a material relationship. It makes you un-credible.

You can have the ad if you want, but don't accept money.
While it probably isn't shady, seeing as the company itself is talking to a blogger, it does seem kind of... weird.

I don't know how to explain it without possibly stepping on some toes, but I'll try.

I think his credibility isn't in question so much as the perception of the thing he's doing. I mean, it's all well and good that he has extra cash and all, but it looks unsavory or unethical from certain points of view.

anyway, maybe someone with better words than I can explain it further.

What remains is journalism as a business, plus readers that need to constantly be aware of the interests hidden behind articles. With the advent of web 2.0, media literacy has become a skill of fundamental importance.
"Syncaine was already notoriously unable to even remotely consider the possibility that not every feature of Darkfall was absolutely perfect"

Not that Syncayne needs any defenders but have you read his blog? He does criticizes Aventurine a lot and he's the first to say that they are improving the game. And never ever he said the game was perfect in the first place.
About credibility, Syncayne has praised Darkfall for the best part of a year and he fully disclosed the deal. He has a disclaimer in all of his Darkfall posts and he is consistent.
Same as if you had some links to Blizzard. You've been praising WoW since 2004, would you become all of a sudden an unreliable source? Or were you considered such by most of your readers when you got the Blizzcon passes? No.
It's a problem of reader trust. If readers trust Syncaine to be honest about MMOs, Darkfall included, the advertising isn't a problem.

Game magazines have always run ads for games. An MMO blog running an ad for an MMO isn't any different.

It's when readers think that editorial is being influenced by ad dollars that the troubles start.
I don't think it makes him lose credibility.

Fans of niche games usually support what they do, especially if it involves building the player base and improving the longevity of the game.

DFO is trying out a new style of MMO launch. Rather than overhype, sell too many boxes then crash they started with virtually no hype, made it difficult to even get a copy at first and no American server.

As the MMO moves on from a typical problematic launch they are building their player base with their launch problems already behind them.

This move is the latest is a strategy of incremental promotion.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Darkfall eventually make more money than Warhammer or AoC.
"Great way of financing, or end of independant journalism, what do you think?"

Anyway, as you stated quite a few times: blogging in not journalism. There is no deontological obligations from a blogger.

Now, did your review of Dragon Age: Origins influenced by the free copy? And why should you care if someone says it was?
Eve Online has an affiliate program where you get money from sign-up referrals. I wrote a guide for noobs to Eve, from a WoW players' perspective, and for a while had links to their 'play Eve' system with my affiliate code. Don't recall the payout but it was reasonable.

I cancelled it in the end out of principle.
I personally think there is no loss of credibility here (and know I'm probably a minority). The way I see it, big-business has yet to catch up to the Internet in terms of marketing opportunities, and such, and this is one example where someone can "do what you love" and still pay the bills.

In times when newspapers and TV are still wrestling with how to stay afloat using older business models, and social media is exploding in popularity, I think it's great that Syncaine is taking advantage to make a few bucks off what he enjoyed doing for free anyway: Blogging about DarkFall.

As said, he's always been forthright and clear about his relationship with Adventurine, and has never claimed "it's perfect" to my knowledge. Makes for very reliable and honest journalism, IMHO.
First thought:

Second thought:
As long as the blogger can see past the money and offer an honest review of the game (without violating their contract with the manufacturer), there shouldnt be an issue.
As a blogger I don't see the point of shilling other people's wares on my site. It's a hobby, not a job - and I'd hate it to start feeling like one.
BTW, same person who calls other advertisers actions scummy.
Well, one thing that no one has yet to address, is how Syncaine will continue to moderate his site after getting in bed with the devil. He is placing himself into the awkward position of having to remain unbiased in -everyones- eyes; between those who see this as a sell-out move, versus those who thinks he can remain unbiased.

Personally, I dont think it's possible, and I doubt that he will care either way, but the determining factor here will be the standard -test of time- as the magnifying glass is applied with much malign.
Thanks for the link Tobold, I'll be sending your cut of the profit shortly, and Tasos says 'thanks' as well.

But seriously, the DF ad is not a way for me to get smart about my blog and make some money, because even though it's already made me more than most of the other advertising offers I've gotten, it's still not even a days pay compared to my actual job. More than anything, the benefit to ME is that more players might end up giving Aventurine money for future dev work, and Agon will have more players running around.

But my financial situation won't change if I take the ad down tomorrow, and it also won't change that I wish WoW would die already and for DF to continue prospering. It's gonna take a lot more money to change that opinion.
I think it very much depends on the quality of that blog, and that quality depends, in turn, on the author's character. A man's character is his destiny. I'll take you, Tobold, as an example:

Considering that you also have articles that I like a lot and are not necessarily about MMORPGs (loved the one about "friends" and followers and USocial for ex., and there are many more like those), and considering that your opinions are usually fairly balanced, not the hysterical attention-seeking type (with flaming statements), I'd read you even if I found out some company paid you. Basically it's a (vague) form of trust, based on past entries I've read on this blog.

As for the death of free journalism: I strongly believe that, of the many blogs out there, the ones held by people who really have something to say (be it about MMORPGs or about smth else) will distance themselves and remain a good read, even if those authors have a financial relation with someone.
He's upfront about it, so I can't be all that critical of it beyond that I dislike blog ads in general except when the blog is part of a larger site which already advertises. But maybe my opinion doesn't matter because I don't read his blog anyway.

I wonder why... maybe because "I wish WoW would die already" is a horribly selfish thing to say.
@ Chris: Why exactly does he need to try and convince people he is unbiased? It seems to me that it is a safe assumption that every blogger (indeed every person) has some agenda or other. This must always be taken into consideration when determining whether or not to follow their advice.

Honestly, I am not exactly sure why people recently have made such a big deal about financial relationships between bloggers and corporations. I can understand the government's concern for any tax liability that may arise from these arrangements. But for others to be bothered about this seems a bit silly at best, and possibly ad hominem in more extreme cases.

Personally, I like it that Tobold (insofar as we know) is public about any arrangements he has with companies, and has been for a long time, but I do not see this as compulsory.
I would only have a problem with game ads if the blog host was portraying themselves as an independent, unbiased game reviewer. If the blog had ads that had nothing to do with specific games (like, say, ads for Dell) I wouldn't mind that.

If somebody that loves a game (ie. is biased) and has a blog that is dominated with subject matter from that same game, its good to see them getting some pay for the work they do via blog ads.
Journalism has been a series of commercials for a long time now. Whether it be for a product or an ideal, the writers have been in the business of advertising from the beginning.

As for credibility on a blog, I think the word has been misrepresented. Most bloggers do not research their material and those that do often do not share sources. Readers are generally left to take a blogger's "educated" opinion on faith.

To get angry over a blogger's choice to monetize the content is just silly. There are plenty of other blogs to read if advertisements are a bother.
I don't think it affects his integrity but he's probably going to be inclined to write (even) more about Darkfall, which makes the blog less interesting if you aren't following the game.

I mean, as opposed to a general MMO blog.
Why would this be as you put it the end of independent journalism?

Does this deal somehow preclude people to be independent and honest? Does it in some way force someone to advertise?

Remeber the culprit is technology and attides. If I could pay you 10 cents every time I read your post, I would, and same with many other bloggers. But right now there is no way to do this, so people look for alternatives.
Wyrm wrote: "He does criticizes Aventurine a lot and he's the first to say that they are improving the game. And never ever he said the game was perfect in the first place."

I think you and I read a different version of Syncaine's blog. I think 'criticize' might be a bit strong. I think a better way to describe it is that he offers suggestions. Mostly, however, what I read is praise for a game he clearly loves.

Chris wrote: "He is placing himself into the awkward position of having to remain unbiased in -everyones- eyes"

Oh that's rich. You do realize that you are talking about perhaps the MOST biased MMO blogger on the internet, right?

His position on both Darkfall and WoW are already very well known so I can't see how this impacts his credibility in any way at all.

And honestly, that's what we are talking about -- credibility. Not bias. We already KNOW he is bias.

And from that perspective, I believe that it's pretty obvious to his current readership that he loves this game -- ad or no ad.

Also, I'm a pretty cynical person by nature and I find that when people are upfront about their relationship with a company -- they actually GAIN credibility in my eyes.
Media has been doing these back deals for ever. They are just now reaching out to the interweb and since the net is typically a very open place it's being brought to light.

Some friends had a product reviewed in a magazine. The magazine raved about it saying how it would put all their competition out of business. Their competition (who owned ALOT of ad space in the magazine) threatened to pull their money if the magazine didn't recant. The magazine posted a withdrawl the next month.

It has been going on forever. Internet bloggers are just now getting a piece of the pie.

The bright side is their are so many bloggers that you can't buy them all. So there will always be an honest voice out there, just may have to look to find it.
"The other side of the coin of course is that now the world's only blog speaking nicely about Darkfall having a "material relationship" with the makers of Darkfall, and thus losing credibility." - Tobold.

That say's it all. Shame. You know how the old saying goes, money is the root of all evil.

Actually, I have been feeling a little out of sorts since I started writing for a website and getting paid per post.

I have slowed down from my writing since it became "not for fun". I guess the extra money that syncaine will be nice or maybe he needs the money. Only he knows his motives and I am not one to judge, but will always take whatever he says on his blog as biased from now on.

But on the other hand, you were basically spiffed by EA (sort of) to write a review on the game.

As a writer my only goal is to be understood, informative and entertaining. For all else I have a job and my own entrepreneurial interests.

Good luck syncaine, hope it's worth it.
I think bloggers should be allowed to sell MMORPGS on blogs. (including WoW, why not, it'd put some money in bloggers pockets instead of lazy old Blizzard) However, audiences are allowed to think whatever they want. Plenty of blogs already have amazon links to stuff and get a cut of what's sold. Some websites like gamespy/gamespot/ign and so on have links to retail stuff. I don't think it impedes their journalism. It DOES however impede journalism to get paid to say nice things, like gamespot and some others have been accused of in the past... And it impedes nice look aand feel of the website to have lots of banner adds in my opinion so I don't do it.
Syncaine is the biggest fanboi of Darkfall i've ever read a post from.

I think he was one of the OG forumfallers that started following the game when it was announced in 2002 and has way too much time invested to let it die an honorable death.

I played the game in beta and for a few months upon release and it was utter dogshit. I could critisize for pages but this isn't my blog, so I wont bear any of you to my rantings.

Sure they've made improvements and additions since release, but imo, too little and too late. Nothing they can do can make up for the lack of communication to their community and horrible customer service abilities.

And in response to your post I believe any blogger who takes a profit or compensation from a developer's game they review or blog about, any opinion they had would be instantly compromised. Their post would be instantly skewed or flawed from the very first sentence.
I thought this referral 20% thing was available to everyone? If that's so, then Syncaine didn't "talk" to anyone at Aventurine and didn't make any kind of "deal".

Referral programs have been available for a long time for a multitude of things. This is like saying if my best friend decides to play WoW, and I get him to sign up through my referral, that I have a material relationship with Activision Blizzard and I promote their game in exchange for extra game time.

Rediculous, and the phrase "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" comes to mind considering your (Tobold's) recent deal with the devil that is EA. If you really want a comparison between how free games and free swag affect reviews or opinion towards a game, and a available-to-everyone referral program, I have a pretty strong inkling you'll end up coming out worse.

If I'm wrong, and this is a specific deal between Syncaine and Aventurine, that's a different matter and disregard the rest of this comment.

Had this been a deal where Aventurine were paying his subscription, giving him free accounts, or directly paying him as an advertiser, it'd be a completely differerent kettle of fish too.
If you really want a comparison between how free games and free swag affect reviews or opinion towards a game, and a available-to-everyone referral program, I have a pretty strong inkling you'll end up coming out worse.

I don't agree with that. As I got the free swag BEFORE I wrote the review, I could still write a very negative review and not suffer any negative consequences myself. But if Syncaine now started to blog what a horrible game Darkfall is, his future income would drop.

But I totally agree that the situations are somewhat similar, and if you'd actually read my post you'd find that I presented both sides of the problem, and never claimed that I'm in any way different than Syncaine. Of course I've always promoted rather capitalist ideas, so Syncaine selling out to commerce is somewhat funnier than me doing it.
Actually, your argument is a bit off, if you gave the game a wholely negative review, you would be essentially severing the material relationship with EA for the rest of the life of your blog.

If Syncaine was negative about DF, he wouldn't be removed from the referral program, because his participation in it is not based on any sort of performance review.

Now you're right to make the argument that if he is negative he will lose income, but if you hold true to your statement of how that sort of thing doesn't affect your opinion in anyw hich way, why would it be different for Syncaine?

Personally, I have a much bigger problem with "impartial" reviews that were financed by the publisher/developer that made the subject matter, than clear opinion pieces on a site with a referral link.

Let me put it this way, Syncaine has been vastly more negative and damning of both DF & Aventurine than you ever have over Dragon Age, does trust need to be measured by how hard you try to make it look like you're not biased now?

Also, I don't think your situations are at all similar, in fact I think they're polar opposite. You have a material RELATIONSHIP with EA via a human contact that will send you products for review, Syncaine simply added code he found in his DF profile to his DF-heavy blog.

Funny; how despite him probably making substantially more monetary gain through the referrals than your EA contact, that you look like a sell-out and he doesn't.

Sorry, just the way I see it.
Do gamers live in some kind of communitarian utopia of the mind? If the moral standards that seem to be expected of enthusiastic fans were applied to professional journalists and broadcasters the entire media infrastructure would collapse overnight.

Anyone can start a blog. Game companies (and movie and book and music companies) will throw free product at anyone that can offer them an audience of two men and a dog. The idea that free stuff is going to influence what anyone writes is ludicrous.

As for getting commission for referring customers, that's an absolute standard of commerce. Leaving aside centuries of offline precedent, hasn't Amazon been paying for referrals for a decade or so? What's newsworthy about this, other than that 20% is a very generous commission?
I think it's obvious that many of the commenters here didn't bother to read the linked post to Tobold's blog.

Syncaine makes it VERY obvious that the reason he put up the ad is to SUPPORT the game.

The motive is not about money but about endorsing a product that he already promotes excessively.

In my mind, that distinction is important because the motivation isn't to lure people into playing the game BECAUSE HE WAS ALREADY DOING THAT FOR FREE.

So he's not 'hard up for cash' or 'doing it for the money' because he's always been very bias.

So the bigger question, and the one that Tobold is raising, is whether or not he loses credibility for continuing to support it.

Or put another way, will this cause him to keep supporting the game even when he no longer enjoys it?

For my part, as one of his active readers (and someone who frequently comments an opposing view on his blog), I believe him when he says the monetary compensation is not significant enough to modify his blogging behavior.
This is just silly, to be honest. The whole "journalism" / incentive thing has been around for ages. Magazines, Newspapers - there's a gazillion places where potential bias has been introduced for decades.

If you want a really potent example: I just started trying out online poker. Try getting an online poker room review without bias. No matter where you land from google search for that info, you'll find a site with a gazillion adds or affiliate codes to various sites. Good luck finding a squeaky clean one.

So trust me, an example of one blogger promoting one game, suddenly introducing a referral link that will probably end up paying him no more than a week's salary over the next 5 years really doesn't amount to a hill of beans.
We have an Amazon store link at Kill Ten Rats. I have no idea how that goes, but if it makes up for any of Ethic's hosting costs, bully.

I have Amazon links for the books I review, although I rarely recommend buying them. It would be odd if a game publisher gave me free copies: I would mention the relationship and then probably go on to savage the game. But I do say positive things to, so hey, corruption: where can I get mine? ;)
You do realize that you are talking about perhaps the MOST biased MMO blogger on the internet, right?

I'm not talking about his ability to maintain a lack of bias where the actual content of his posts are concerned, but rather how he approaches the overall tone and focus of his blog -from this point forward- now that he's placed himself in this position.

It has already been pointed out that negativity will tend to decrease his income, so the commercialism aspect of his site is now dependent upon how many people he can convince that DF is indeed worth buying, so the bias he may or may not display can only be determined by those who read his site from here and onward - hence the "time will tell" angle I took in my comment.

What bias he might or might not have displayed in the past is irrelevant at this point, as he is NOW in the position of blogging for money, the motives and reasons he has for doing so have now changed.

He might not be getting paid to blog the same as a journalist gets paid, but he's required to keep the link active with clicks if he's going to be paid, and it would be folly to think that he would not consider his own self interest in that regard.
Syncaine is a sellout and I will ignore his opinions/blog/ads.
Of course I've always promoted rather capitalist ideas, so Syncaine selling out to commerce is somewhat funnier than me doing it.

That's a debatable gray area and you know it. You risk more than you are willing to admit. You know, and have admitted on more than one occasion, that some high profile game developers and industry pundits visit your site on a regular basis, and I know that you cherish the standing that your blog has achieved among your peers over the years. It -IS- in your best interest to remain unbiased, unaffiliated and unbuyable in how you present yourself.

You cannot review a game without a copy of it to review, so I have no problem with that aspect of the process(although I would prefer that review copies should automatically de-activate after a set period of time), but actual "swag" items should be taboo in cases such as this, as "swag" items are created to increase interest and brand awareness, so you cannot cast aside the belief that readers would tend to hold a certain level of suspicion even after full disclosure on your part.
If the relationship is disclosed fully, readers can make up their minds.

Especially since we are not talking about your average reader or even average gamer that would maybe have to be more "protected" from being mislead (even if I do not personally believe the need to protect anyone from anything to be necessary), we are talking about a population of readers that can be considered able to make an informed decision.

Trust between writer and reader is built on several different levels, not only based on the financial sources or outcomes.

All media function on some source of energy: money, will, love, sense of community. Professionalism is not only decided by the fact of money exchanging hands, but also on the ability of the journalist to maintain an independent and authentic viewpoint (notice I didnt use the word "objectivity", since I do not believe it can exist).

The same way we wouldn't excuse gross or less gross mistakes or ramblings or pure crap on a blog made out of non-monetary reasons (we would probably stop reading it), the same way we shouldn't judge too hastily a monetary incentive.

professional journalists get paid by advertising (bottom line), what we do judge is their ability, skill and, again, authenticity to make best of it for us.

wickEd - Arathor(EU)
What you're talking about is Affiliate Marketing which is a very popular way of earning money on the net. I agree that it may make people question his motivation when he talks so highly of Darkfall but ultimately it's always going to boil down to what someone elses's opinion is. We trust gaming magazines for instance yet I know of plenty of shady deals that go on behind closed doors with them.
Ya know, it's really okay if they can keep their blog writing uninfected of corporate interest. Advertising a video game on a video game blog seems to be within the realm of quasi-journalistic ethics.
Well I got a free month when I persuaded a friend to play Eve. I didn't even (before now) declare it.

Add me to the blacklist of evil sellouts if you want.
I don't see the problem with having advertising on a blog, as long as the blogger doesn't begin posting just to please his/her advertisers.

We have a couple of ads which created ourselves. One is for AoC which one of our writers setup. We don't get paid for the ad however if we were asked about paid advertising we would consider it. One thing we would not do however is let an advertiser influence our post content. We would not write a post praising a game we had an advert for of we didn't like the game.

We have been given test accounts to try mmo's out and them written posts about our dislike for the game.

There is nothing wrong with earning a bit of cash to pay for domains and hosting.

Bloggers just need to make sure they keep their integrity and objectivity intact.
Neither Tobold or Syncaine pay a penny to run their blogs, since they're on free Blogger and Wordpress accounts, so that point is a little moot.

I agree with you on the premise that advertising games you actually like is perfectly alright, especially if you do pay money out of your own pocket to run your site.

Giant Bomb ( and Penny Arcade ( are perfect examples of this. They're extremely transparent about their advertising policy, they only accept advertising offers from products they themeselves would personally endorse. All other arguments aside, I would rather blogs advertised for copies of the thing they clearly like, such as the game they talk about, instead of gold inside said game.
It's fine as long as conflicts-of-interest are disclosed openly and clearly.

If I had a relationship with a gaming company in any formal capacity, I'd be doing readers a disservice by not letting them know.

Otherwise you lose credibility
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