What I’ve Learned Working On A Games Website Without Any Prior Experience For Three Years

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The last time I posted here, I vow to make a writing about games a living. Chasing dreams. The potential’s there, it’s early days for this new wave of Malaysian gaming websites. The crowd and market is there.

A perfect storm, right? Not quite.

I’ve been doing this gig for three years, help running Gamer Malaya English, now Gamer Matters. The story might sound depressing, but let me assure you I’m still willing to go this path. I just need to get some things off my chest an maybe you learn a thing or two.

Pulling Off a Ricciardo

In F1 this season, there is this interesting driver market move where top driver Daniel Ricciardo decided to leave Red Bull, the definite third best team to the game, to Renault, an up-and-coming team with a lot to prove. I’ll leave out all the details, but essentially, it’s seen as a long-term move, something that won’t bring success overnight. He’s going to struggle.

And that’s what I guess ended up doing. I was looking for places where I can do English writing. But of course, I made stupid mistakes. Don’t go request for review jobs as your first gig dumbass. Everyone grits their teeth with news first. Just writing is not enough in this day of social media and video content, be willing to embrace that.

So I was noticed by two folks three years ago, one from Gamer Malaya the other from JomGaming. I heard of Gamer Malaya from another friend (hello Rizal) and they’ve been around for some time in 2015. JomGaming just launched I believed when I got spotted from them. Both approached me for some opportunity to work with them, but at the end I went with GM. I wanted to freelance for both sites to be honest, but after the site kept quiet once I published stuff on GM the door was, I assumed, closed.

GM was not a paid gig, but it led to some new opportunities. We got invited to an event, a big one too. It was the launch of Acer’s new Predator line. Then we got some contacts with publishers and start getting review copies. So this what’s it like writing about games for a living. Minus the living part. We still don’t make much money, there are some ad campaigns and stuff but not enough to sustain a full company. GM remains a group of guys “fueled by passion” doing content about video games.

In 2016 things are in the up and up. We got many people wanting to join and write. Morale was high. There was some money. At that time too, I was suddenly offered another shot, to write at a more prominent games website. That’s some crazy offer, but at the end, I decided to stick with GM.

“I’ll be here until we can start paying people.”

The Struggle

And then reality sinks in. Me and GM founder Hafiz don’t exactly have the experience of doing this. We were winging it as we go. I tried delegating tasks. That didn’t work of course, these guys are not paid workers. Quality of writing was hit and miss and I don’t know how to keep these guys in check.I failed to give them the right feedback.

And then the many new recruits starting to disappear. Welp.

It does not help that three years on, we still working on getting ourselves incorporated. The numbers of our reach are not as high as it used to. Plus, by three years more new websites have cropped up with more resources and experience backing them. From what I like to believe us as trailblazers, we are now backmarkers.

It kind of hurts, seeing other sites getting more opportunities and are growing bigger. They deserve it of course, good on them for getting there. They did a better job.

The Podcast

Thankfully, we now have a core team that stuck around. Unfortunately most of them are on the Gamer Matters site rather than Gamer Malaya which had the bigger audience. Gamer Matters is miniscule. Who would read an English blog for video games when there’s many more established sites out there?

But that does not matter anymore. We have a core team revolving around a podcast. Me, Wam, Danial, and Anan met for the first time at PSX SEA 2017 and we all hated Detroit Become Human. Our hatred for the works of David Cage made me say that we should talk about it sometime as a recording. Then the idea of a podcast was thrown.

I dabbled with podcasts before, again a good friend, Rizal, used to run one and I got to be a guest a few times, and fumbled as a host once. And I have been regularly listening to some other podcasts so I sort of know how we can do this format-wise. Setting it up was hell though.

And so, dia.log – The Gamer Matters Podcast was born. By the time of writing it’s 17 episodes strong. The number of people listening to it is low but screw it. I want these guys to keep on being in this team. We can’t pay. We can’t force them to do stuff. So the least we can do is make them feel belong in this group. And what better way to give that sense of belonging than being able to shit talk with each other.

There is potential though. We did a live panel at VAX this year and we got some crowd. More than 5 people! And they enjoyed it too! It does not translate as anything bigger but it gave me confidence to keep doing it fortnightly.

Plus, it gave me a safe way to dabble with more Photoshop and video editing. I had a very strong fear of doing video editing before this (I was afraid I can’t do it good enough) but now I’m more comfortable doing them.

What We Can Improve On

Still, GM is a work in progress. And here’s some useful takeaways should you, too, want to start a games website.

  • Get a core team, have them involve but not just give them orders, give them opportunities to contribute, bond with them.
  • Make connections. You need to get to know people from the PR side. Game companies. Hardware companies. Esports teams.
  • Build a loyal fanbase. Slow, but surely it will grow.
  • Branding. Get your name around! Get your logo around! At least have people aware that you exist so that the website becomes more credible.
  • Don’t just write. The audience on social media and video sites are bigger than ever. Normal writeups are ok but don’t just only do that unless your content is SSS material.

If you’ve been following the site and are reading this, thanks for all your support. If we’re doing something wrong or have any feedback, the comments section are always open.

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How Could Malaysia Handle The Whole Fight Of Gods Debacle Better?

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Oh Malaysia, going on news headlines for the wrong reasons again. Somehow, the government thought it was a good idea to block access to Steam- the biggest digital games distribution platform- just because they didn’t respond to requests to ban a silly Early Access fighting game involving various gods.

As someone who is more conservative, I totally get the reasoning to why the game deserves a ban here. Religious folks here don’t like their religion being mocked and poked fun of- I get that. But we could all agree that what the government did was far from how it should be handled.

It’s a frustrating experience, all the Malaysian gamers suddently got #potongsteam on the beginning of the weekend. It caused outraged, it generated many, many, headlines that put us in a bad limelight. Things could have gone better. This is not to belittle the mistakes, it’s to point it out and suggest something better so this would not happen again.

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Understanding Why Malaysia Is Big Into Esports (Or Rather, Dota)

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Over the years of my time covering games with Gamer Malaya (and now with Gamer Matters), I always thought of the ordinary mainstream games coverage- reviews, previews and news of the new games coming to consoles and PC. Never did I expect I had to watch game tournaments, follow personalities, and be invited to various esports events in Malaysia. Yet here I am.

I know, there are many mainstream gamers- as in gamers who play the latest releases on consoles and PC- here in Malaysia. Look at the crowd at PSX SEA earlier this month, the first public event for upcoming mainstream (and indie) games. But most events here focus on esports. Or even worse, just Dota. Dota. And only Dota.

Which irks the heck of the rest of the gaming community here. I get it. I used to be one of them as well.

I want to argue more about how to bring more publisher interest here in the Southeast Asia market, but that’s a topic for another time. Here, I want to share what I see to be why esports has such a major appeal in Malaysia.

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Freedom In Open World Games

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I have lamented a few times already how “open world” games is now all just about size and run-of-the-mill content rather than a world full of possibilities. One strong argument I made in the past was to take a page out of 3D platformers where they make the locomotion of the characters you control as the key part of the experience and design the levels around it.

But with Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild amassing huge praise recently, I now have a more contemporary example to point out on how to make open world games more meaningful rather than just a patchwork of places to go do similar things over and over again.

So what made the new Zelda so great? It’s a huge departure from its long established formula by going open world. Yes, this made me worry a little, there’s even towers to climb- a red flag for a boring implementation of an open world in my book (though I admit this is a personal bias rather than a fact).

But the Quick Look video done by Giant Bomb on the game present what an open world, at least in my opinion, should be: it gives freedom and a sense of discovery to the players.

Throughout the video you see several instances of the group throwing in quirky ideas on the fly based on the systems and mechanics the game present. Magnetise the ball or find a controller to grab a hammer and whack that ball better? Can the guardian’s auto-targeting laser be tricked into attacking other enemies? What would happen if you set something on fire? What can happen if a skeleton enemy’s head was kick off far down the cliff? Can you drop down said cliff and climb the mountain not far from there?

It’s refreshing. You see many different mechanics and gameplay systems interact with each other and it works. Sure, the new Zelda suffers from framerate issues and sometimes muddy textures but the joy here is to see the many systems interacting, thus awarding player discovery should they mess around with stuff is what an open world game needs.

In Skyrim, you could put a bucket on an shopkeeper’s head to block line of sight and steal everything in the room. It’s stupid, it’s immersion-breaking but that’s just a happy little accident of different gameplay systems interacting with each other. It’s actually fun if you come across it by accident.

In Metal Gear Solid V, you can drop in supplies at a far distance. This is an odd choice at first glance, why not just drop it right on your feet? It’s a tool you can mess around with: distracting enemy patrols is one thing, but using in as a weapon in a boss fight? Now that’s something else!

Such things are missing in games that claimed to be open world. While Ghost Recon Wildlands is a well made game, as I tried in the open beta, it’s game design does not offer such freedom. You go to an outpost, do some recon (or not), and approach the objective silently, or guns blazing (with or without a vehicle). Repeat ad infinitum.

There are ways to spice up the situation, you can call in mortar support or rebel troops to distract the enemies, but that’s a baked in feature. You know what would be cool? Setting up fights by luring Unidad soldiers to the cartel or vice versa. These two factions will confront each other if they are within their sights, so what if we have abilities that can facilitate this? A cartel giving chase since we attacked a small checkpoint they were holding, then give chase where we lead them into Unidad territory.

Plus, Wildlands suffer in its side mission design. Most of them have one optimal way of approaching it, so that’s a bummer if you are looking for a true open world game. It is open world in the sense that you have freedom to make your way from point A to point B, where point B might as well be an instanced dungeon separated from the rest of the world when you’re doing the mission as it does not interact with other systems outside of it. All the outposts are self-contained, for good reason, but there’s not enough variety in its moment-to-moment action.

This is not me just bashing Wildlands just because it isn’t up to my taste (the game’s solid enough if you like what you see and hear), but it is used as an example of how a game can be open world but not utilising more dynamic systems to make the player feel more.. free.

(On another note: Ubisoft does give you the freedom to approach which of the many territories in the fictional Bolivia to clear first, the only thing gating you are tougher enemies. Breath Of The Wild also does this, so credit is where credit is due.)

The small amount of freedom here works fine for an open-ended linear game. Everything is confined to a certain room or small level, so even the choice of sneak or shoot makes a ton of difference and is enough to make interesting gameplay moments. But if you have an open world, why not think bigger?

If more open world games can reward the sense of discovery and wonder of exploring the open world, I would totally be enticed to play it. Great looking vistas and landscapes alone don’t cut it for me, it’s what you can do in the landscapes that matters to me.

Thankfully for Ubisoft, their recent open beta survey available for beta testers are asking the right questions. I of course asked them more freedom and room for creativity to kick in. Yes, it will be a nightmare to test and design- Skyrim and all Bethesda games at the moment are janky for a good reason, and Breath Of The Wild has some interesting dev stories about having certain parts of the game break due to a tweak in a dynamic system applied accross the world- one in particular is about the wind. But the extra effort should make it the talk about town even longer after launch.

I don’t want to remember them as just open world games, I want to share my unique encounters and experience the game provided to me. Because that’s a more awesome story to tell.

The Dream – What I Want To Contribute To The Malaysian Gaming Industry

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Dreams. Some say it’s a naive way to look at things, some say it’s the sort of vision we need in today’s grim world. I come from the latter camp, and I wish to see one come true.

Around 2013-2015 I had a mental breakdown of sorts which have spun my whole life trajectory into the ground.. if you compare it to the ideal life flow one should be having- graduate, get a decent job, get married, have a family, etc. But the circumstances I land in now have opened a new path- a path of realising one childhood dream:

Making Malaysia have a proper gaming scene and industry.

Step 1- Spreading The Word

While the rest of the world are questioning the need of video games journalism, I believe strongly we still need one in Malaysia, at least for the time being.

Our communities are scattered. We have people working in the games industry here but not many know of their existence and how to you get yourself into it. We have plenty of talented e-sports worthy players that lack the infrastructure to get them on another level, and the exposure that they should be receiving.

So when this blog garnered the attention of two up and coming games sites, I knew the right decision was to jump in and contribute.

So what do these sites can do? Having a local voice reporting on the games coming via news pieces and reviews have its significance. Is the game launching the same day as in Asia? What’s the price for the new console over here?  There is a need to report specific details that needs to be addressed for the local gamers.

And having proper exposure for gaming with dedicated gaming sites should be a better way to spread the word rather than the general tech sites that cover games occasionally. We can have proper writers capable of covering the news with better finesse and better understanding of the current gaming climate.

Step 2- Uniting The Communities

As mentioned earlier, we have a lot of gaming communities, but are all scattered. There are various clans and communities that wanted to get bigger but most exist in different pockets of Malaysia.

There are dedicated gamers here that are educated enough to actually discuss about games more than just “this game is best” and “this game tak best”. Some may have the same problem as me- living around with no one to talk about games. Facebook groups and online games being more mainstream nowadays are good solutions but not totally strong enough to build a community.

Why need a community? To make the presence of gamers larger. You know there’s plenty of gearheads when they do convoys- but how do you know gamers? Just hanging out in cyber cafes? Sitting in their mother’s home and play games all day?

Plus, for e-sports to really grow, we need more crowd that appreciates it. Don’t expect the mainstream audience to be there first, it’s us gamers who have to support the initiatives. Especially if you actually play that game. And to do that, we need to get these gamers band together- doesn’t matter if they’re supporting a rival site or whatnot, what matters is making our presence heard- which will also instill confidence to brands, sponsors and game publishers to cater more to our needs.

Twtupgamers is a pretty good initiative, but as I evangalised before, we need more. If we want the dream to have our own gaming convention, we need these gamers to talk more to each other and make them realise it’s possible. Maybe inspire a few volunteers to start more events. Not to say that we don’t have any, we have currently, but we need to make them something more significant.

We also need to ensure one more thing to get a gaming industry going:

Step 3- Bring Gaming The Positive Light It Needs

Gaming is still unacceptable in our society. I can’t blame them, I see with my eyes plenty of irresponsible practices that do ruin a person’s life. Game responsibly!

But that’s another issue altogether.

What I see that needs to be done currently is highlighting the good stuff we gamers gained from our hobby. It’s not entirely a waste of time!

We need role models, figures the mainstream can respect to. Not just a celeb who happens to game sometimes, but gaming celebs. I see a surge of popularity with certain local youtubers and streamers nowadays, and I hope these great people can press on be the figure of example we all need.

And we also need to make more communal efforts to contribute to society. Look at the West and their various charity events (like AGDQ and Extra-Life streams) and sales (Humble Bundle). Sure, not everyone will agree on doing charity while indulging in entertainment is something worth calling charity work, but they are doing something.

We should contribute back. The Gamers Give Back initiative started from the man behind Jomm Main is a decent example. Though we could do other kinds of contribution in the future.

Other than that, I see the importance of how gaming isn’t just a waste of money, but a way to make one.

Step 4- Money

Video content makes money nowadays, and will probably phase out normal writeups in the far flung future.

I want to highlight that gaming endeavours can earn you a living- helping other gamers find the games they like. For that I have to make my own work worth a living. I barely get paid doing my current contributions, but I’m not complaining. I’ll take one for the team and bare the burden of a hard life to make doing this worth living.

Yes, I know that other avenues could have scored me more pay, but I’m here for the long run. Much of my reading on how games journalist in the West don’t have the best pay in the world has prepared me for the worst. I’m here to make Malaysian gamers happy, with a great scene and an industry for more talented people to contribute in the development side.

Closing Thoughts

Takahashi Ryosuke took a calculated plan to achieve his dreams. I might not have that yet set in stone, but all these steps are guiding what I am doing currently.

I help out at Gamer Malaya pumping out news stories, with the extra effort of offering local-related info. I reached out to the local FGC to try get them all chanting “WE E-SPORTS NOW” one day. I dabbled with YouTube and joined the loose coalition of Teamasam to get me in touch of the struggles of up and coming content creators (as well as practicing doing my own content). In the interviews I handled with content creators, I focused on how gaming helped them being who they are. I am also pushing to get in touch with more local dev studios to further promote their presence and contribution to the gaming scene.

One day, I’ll just do only one of these things, and many other, more talented people are capable of doing all of this. And at that point, at least in my own book, we have a proper gaming scene in Malaysia.

By that time, I should be living the dream, satisfied what I could do to help this nation.

And then worry about debts and money lol.

The Inaugural meckronos Game Awards Of A Certain Significance

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2016 is ending and talks of Game Of The Year and awards are cropping up. Rather than do another rant post of the problems with this year’s Game Awards (again, plenty of good highs and terrible lows) I am inspired to start my very own list of awards.

Basing the idea of TotalBiscuit’s Arbitary Game Awards, where the focus is giving proper reason why the award exist and why that particular game deserves it, and also taking a hint from the Steam Awards where the categories can be a bit silly, the meckronos Game Awards of A Certain Significance (mGACS) is entirely subjective by own opinion, with certain awards aim to celebrate, criticise and maybe a bit of both.

Some categories may have special mentions, some may not because I came up with that awards just for that game. Because why not.

With that out of the way, here are the list of awards:

  • The “Development Hell Survivor” Award
  • The “Needs To Be In Early Access” Award
  • The “Game With The Wrong Name” Award
  • The “Flash In The Pan” Of The Year Award
  • The “Marketing Disaster Of The Year” Award
  • The “Episodic Game Of The Year” Award
  • The “Criminally Underrated Game Of The Year” Award
  • The “meckronos Game Of The Year” Award

And the winners are..

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