February 17, 2012

Behind the Scenes with The Married Gamers

So occasionally I use this space to talk frankly about The Married Gamers website, podcast, and gaming folks I've had the pleasure of interacting with.  For today I want to just give a glimpse on the "secret sauce" we currently are working with behind the scenes.

The Staff

Currently we have 15 staffers at The Married Gamers, including Kelly and myself.  One of those 15 is our web administrator, Devon, who doesn't write for the site, but makes everything look nice and fixes problems when and if they should arrive.

We have three editors at the site.  I'm Executive Editor which is a fancy way of saying I own and shape the direction, look, philosophy, and feel of the website and its various parts (including our Facebook Fan Page, Twitter account, Youtube channel, Google+, and what other social media places we need to be in).  I also proofread articles along with Erik our Editor in Chief.  Erik is the person I most depend on making sure a piece is grammatically correct.  Although I do have an English background my grammar can sometimes be a little shaky.  Finally, Kelly (my wife) is the Managing Editor.  She does not proofread articles, but she is in charge of managing our writer's schedules.  This means requesting review copies of games and products, sending coverage of said items back to the companies, setting up interviews for staff, and setting up what I call "Game Beats" (basically assigning writers a game to cover).

Now running a website that doesn't have ad revenues, angel donors, or rich uncles makes it hard to attract good staff members.  So I am extremely thankful that we have made some great connections, good vibes, and good reputations in that we have attracted some talented, prolific, and passionate writers.  Payment for their services often comes in the form of the games they get to review and keep.  Also this year Kelly and I made an investment in our writers saying that if we can improve our visitors to the site, and if they keep their end of the agreement to develop pre-release release content for an assigned game, that we will guarantee that they will have the game to review.  If we don't get a review copy, I will purchase them a copy to review.  I thought it was only fitting since many of our staff have busy work, school, and work lives so finding additional time to write about games can sometimes be hard to do.  This experiment is in its infancy, but I do hope it encourages our writers to write more often and develop the itch to become serious writers.

Managing, proofreading, planning, promoting, writing, and recording Married Gamers stuff takes a lot of work.  Sometimes it feels like I have so many balls in the air and not enough arms to catch them all.  I'm thankful that Kelly is really good at helping, and Erik has run the site so many times when I've either been sick or away.  I have dealt with burnout, frustrations with staff not writing enough, and sometimes not "feeling it anymore."  There was a time last year I came close to shutting down the website and just producing the podcast.  Thankfully, our some of our writers picked up the slack, and we had some new hires that really re-energized me.

The Community

It's weird this path we've taken with The Married Gamers.  I never expected it to be anything more than a podcast and a personal blog that Kelly & I would share our thoughts on.  Many of you know we started the podcast as a way to heal our marriage, which was in dire straits at the time.  The podcast attracted listeners and when we added forums to the website/blog we attracted a tight-knight community.  I have to say I miss that early community because there was a very strong connection to our members. Some of those 'early adopters' have lost interest in forums, maybe in The Married Gamers, or simply have moved on to other sites or passions.  We have tried as a group to go where the audience is, so we have a Facebook Fan Page and a Google+ page in in it's infancy.

Our Facebook Fan page has been fun, and we're still trying to learn how to use that portal right.  We have not quite made it a special and unique way to interact with us.  We haven't used our photo or video wall as much as I had hoped.  And we also haven't had many discussions that have started from our fans.  Also we had hoped the page would regrow our community game nights using the calendar/invite system, but that hasn't worked that well.  Our fans do answer our Questions of the Day fairly often.

Ultimately with the Facebook page we want to:  1.) Get people to visit our home website.  2.) Make our fans our advocates.  3.) Get our fans to not just respond to questions but to lead discussions.  4.) Get our staff to visit the fan page to interact with our community.   Some of that has been difficult, and we hope we can improve on that in the future.

Our Twitter account has been pretty successful.  Loren, who is not only a pretty good writer, is also our PR person.  He runs the majority of our Twitter postings (that isn't auto-tweets of any new posts on our Wordpress website).  I also use the account as well.  We have a good following, decent interactions, and good retweeting.  We do need to improve our discussions a bit more, and I do want to take advantage of Twitter chats and the like.

Our strategy with @MarriedGamers is to:  1.) Get people to our home website.  2.) Develop an attractive company personality.  3.) Grow our followers.

Recently, we decided to bring back our forums.  We are research and testing various software at the moment, including one that would cost close to $500 but enable us to do some very killer stuff for our community.  Right now we are working on the bugs with that one option and it might be too large a drain on our resources.   Our backup is to get a more tradition forums software that some of these other indie sites use (because it's robust AND free).

I really wanted to get our forums back because I really miss those early community days.  I miss the daily interactions with our passionate fans.  I think they are a way for community to interact better than a quick 140 characters on Twitter, or a short response on Facebook.  We do have more "sinister" reasons for forums as well: 1.) Increase visitor stay lengths  2.) Empower our community to interact.  3.) Provide closer connections with our most passionate community/fans.

We are hoping to have forums running before Easter.  We (by we I mean Devon) has some work to do when he has time for it.  And before we launch something we'll need staff, friends, and community to test it.  But I can't wait for the forums to return!  I'm really jazzed about it.

Okay, I have much more to say, so I'll write down some of these thoughts and use them for some future posts.  Hope you enjoyed some of my internal thoughts, strategies, and plans for The Married Gamers.


Roger Owen Green said...

I've heard The Married Gamers. Sometimes I think you're DRINKING the "secret sauce"...

Lefty said...

Not regularly...but yes on occasion Roger.