Warning. This post contains a lethal dose of navel-gazing.
Joe Martin, self-proclaimed ex-games journalist and creator of the Unlimited Hyperbole podcast, set himself a strange goal. Martin doesn’t like the Games Media Awards but he decided if he didn’t receive a GMA nomination for Best Podcast, he’d pull the plug on Unlimited Hyperbole. The GMAs came, Unlimited Hyperbole did not get nominated and Martin pulled the plug.
Why would anyone do this?
Pet projects such as Electron Dance start out as an adventure but eventually the alchemy of attention will transform them. Transform them into something that looks like work. At the point when love becomes labour, either you accept change or you quit. Over the years I’ve seen sites die and seen sites survive. I remember Arcadian Rhythms going through a rough patch and was compelled to ask Shaun Green, who runs the site, whether its demise was imminent. The site is still with us.
Prior to Electron Dance, I maintained a creative fiction website for three years, updating every single week with only one reader. Sometimes personal obsessions will see you through, but that’s not the norm. At some point you need to be paid for all that time you pour into a passion project. Not necessarily with hard cash – but with attention or recognition. You might practice plenty of self-denial but the truth is once it becomes “work” then you need something to keep you going.
You look for sustenance in terms of cold metrics – hits, follows, subscribers – as well as personal recommendations or virtual high-fives. It gets rough when no one talks about you. It gets rough when you reach a new ceiling of growth. Electron Dance tends to spurt: the first half of the year was good to the site, with Superbrothers and Leigh Alexander recommending Electron Dance and countless articles have been featured on the Rock Paper Shotgun Sunday Papers (see the RPS category). But things have cooled off since and Twitter followers have held steady for a couple of months. The death of Google Reader also took away a lot of subscribers. It’s always difficult when the numbers freeze: suddenly all the same questions come back to haunt you. You wonder whether anyone cares, whether you’re actually in decline, whether you’ve done all your best work…
The ego gets hungry. The beast needs to be fed.
You never know what’s going to find an audience and I’ve been trying to get away from posts that require a lot of effort. High-effort posts are high-risk because the emotional crash if they fail can be devastating. I wrote about this happening to me in The Accidental ARG – ironically, itself a high-effort heavily-researched post that is the least read essay of the year. Both Where We Came From and The Academics Are Coming were failures despite being labour-intensive and brought the site perilously close to its end. All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. That’s why videos don’t happen any more and I rarely dabble with a podcast outside of Counterweight.
On top of that, there’s also a vein of guilt running through Electron Dance because I’m not doing this for the money, whereas others are. I may not be an unpaid intern, but I’m still a contributor to the ever-expanding body of free writing available online. I am the flood.
This year it became increasingly difficult to summon the enthusiasm to write each week, even though I have no shortage of subjects. Only the Monday deadline was enough to break through the funk and that’s pretty late in the day to include enough time for polishing the words beyond basic edits. There were skipped weeks. There were late posts.
It doesn’t take much to coax me into whining about the impact of the site on my life (here it is important to apologise to Eric Brasure’s inbox) and I moan too much about it. The first time I met Joe Martin in the flesh, I divulged that I was on the verge of quitting every week. He didn’t understand why I didn’t space the posts out more, give myself some breathing room, but I retorted that I’d seen so many sites die that way. First, they post a little irregularly, then once a month and finally… they just never come back. Anyone remember Second Person Shooter? Where has Jordan Rivas been for two months?
But something had to happen and Martin’s suggestion lingered in mind. Unwilling to give up the weekly schedule, I chose instead to go on an Electron Dance sabbatical for August – no videogame writing for a month.
Thank you, Joe. I may be sad to see Unlimited Hyperbole walk off into the sunset, get shot in the head and buried in an unmarked grave in the Arizona desert, but I understand it.
If you missed it, Joe Martin recently wrote about the origins of Thief as a swordfighting game based in a zombie-overrun Soviet Union for Rock Paper Shotgun.