For the last few months, I’ve been doing this dual-production thing where I publish my columns as a YouTube video and as a blog post. That’s sort of like making a game cross-platform by releasing it as a Steam VR title and an MS-DOS text adventure. The two mediums are so different that there are very few assets you can meaningfully reuse.
(Also, if it’s not obvious already: This post is a bunch of navel gazing. This is going to be really boring. I’ve even got graphs and charts later. I’d tell you not to bother reading this, but we both know that’s not how things work around here.)
Stuff that works well in one medium might not have a good equivalent in the other. My beloved footnotesFootnotes like this one, except more funny. don’t have a good analogue in the video world. And of course linking to other sites is trivial in text and obnoxious / impossibleYou can either put the link in the description where absolutely no one will see it, or you can display the URL as text in the video and absolutely no one will bother typing it. in a video. Likewise, video footage can convey a lot of information that would take several paragraphs to convey in text. One example is in my column on in-game economies. In the video version, I cut away to some Final Fantasy X for a humorous conversation that lampshades the economic problem I’m talking about. There was no way to capture that joke in the text version except to explain it, so it got left out.
One of the problems I’ve had in writing these things is that I can never get a good sense of how long a video is going to be before I start recording. Some scripts are under 1,000 words. Some exceed 2,500. Some have little cutaways to gameplay footage, and some are non-stop narration. I wanted a way to reliably convert words to time.
So I made a spreadsheet and I entered the length of every video (minus credits) and the word length of every script. This gave me a rough “words per minute” estimate to work with. My slowest video was Blizzard’s Folly, where I narrated 179 words per minute. The fastest talking was in Raytracing, where I reached 205 WPM. According to the spreadsheet, I average around 196.
If you’ve ever made a spreadsheet, then you know it’s hard to stop once you’ve started. The temptation is to keep adding data to the chart and see if the magic computer box can convert any of the information into knowledge. So that’s what I did. I got a bit carried away, and ended up fussing with the silly spreadsheet for a whole evening rather than making a post for today. So this chart dump is actually my attempt to cover my sins.
Let’s start with the obvious stuff:
This is the word length of each script. It’s not a trick of the bar graph that three of the videos seem to be the same length. Borderlands 3 and Skinner’s Box happen to be exactly 1,884 words long, and Dumbest Cutscene is 1,885. Note that this is the length of the narration script. The text post might be different due to wording changes / image captions / section headings, and other blog-only conventions.
Also, the above chart contains a spoiler for next week: The next article is about how Bethesda misunderstood the nuances of Fallout. You can see that script is pretty massive compared to the others.
Here on the blog, my favorite article size is somewhere in the 1,500 to 2,500 range. As an article exceeds 3,000, I usually start looking for ways to cut it in half and make a two-parter out of it. It’s been years since an article hit 4k on this site.
However, this video essay stuff is putting new constraints on my workflow. You really don’t want to release a single argument in the form of two 10-minute videos. Blog readers come back to the blog, but video-watchers are fickle people. The YouTube algorithm will not remind them to come back next week. Maybe you could fix this by making the text version a two-parter and the video version a single video, but… nah. That would be annoying.
Here are the lengths of the various videos. Note that the last one is a projection. I haven’t recorded the audio yet so I can’t say for sure how long it’ll be. I’ll finalize the script and record the narration later this week.
Again, the upcoming video is much longer than the others. It’ll be interesting to see if this has any impact (positive or negative) on viewership.
This chart is a little odd. It’s labeled as the number of “slides” in each video, but it’s more accurately a count of the number of unique files that went into it. This would include screenshots, charts, gameplay footage, and audio. I guess calling this category “assets” would be more accurateThe numbers aren’t totally accurate. Some assets don’t get used in the final cut, and there are always a handful of random / temporary files that end up floating around inside the project folder.. I think the bare minimum number of files to make a video would be 4: The title screen, my narration, some gameplay footage, and the end credits. That would be a very boring video, but that’s the lower limit.
The Dumbest Cutscene one had very few files because it was mostly just me talking over gameplay footage. The Domino Worldbuilding one had a lot because it was long and I had a lot of specific images rather than just letting gameplay footage roll over my narration. The Fallout one is obviously out of control. I hope people don’t get spoiled and demand that level of hand-crafted content in every video, because that’s not sustainable. Still, I’m really enjoying working on this video.
Now for the bad news:
Ugh. That is depressing. For contrast, my old Reset Button videos easily hit the 40k mark on multiple occasions. My video on megatextures – which I don’t think is particularly good by today’s standards – is just shy of half a million views. Now my videos are getting less than a tenth of what they used to.
- Maybe the overall quality of YouTube video essays has gone up, and now my content isn’t strong enough to capture people’s attention.
- Maybe this new content isn’t very good and I can’t tell because I’m too close to the project to appraise it objectively.
- Maybe my content is fine, but the current-day algorithm is burying my channel for reasons that nobody could hope to discern. Maybe it doesn’t like that I have ads turned off. Maybe it doesn’t like that my channel was dormant for years.
- Maybe YouTube really hates my ratio of view to subscriptions. I have 14K subscribers left over from the old days when my videos were far more viral. Certainly a large number of those accounts have long since gone dormant. So YouTube sees that a lot of my subscribers aren’t clicking on my content. Maybe if I’d started over with a new channel then YouTube would have thought, “Oh wow. 2K views! This newcomer is off to a great start! I should spread this around!”
I thought I was being punished for lack of engagement, but I did the usual shtick of begging for comments, subs, and thumbs up button, and it didn’t seem to change anything. I appeared on-camera at the end of the Dumbest Cutscene episode to ask for more engagement, and it doesn’t look like it made much of a difference. Or maybe it did. I guess the sample size is too small to draw any real conclusions.
So Why Are We Doing This?
As I’ve said before, the videos are part of my effort to bring in fresh traffic. The age of the gaming blog is long over, and I’m not getting links like I used to. I mean, who would link to me? Most peer sites stopped existing years ago.
Every site has some degree of churn. People change, or they get tired of your content, or they move to a new hobby, and you lose some readers. If I don’t bring in new people to replace the ones I lose, then the site will go into a death spiral.
So the goal here is to create videos that will give me a bump in readers / Patreon supporters / general name recognition. The thing is, I want to do this without sacrificing the output on the blog. If I pivot all the way to YouTube, then I’m no longer a writer, I’m a personality. I prefer writing, so anything that takes me away from the blog is a non-starter. At that point, I might as well give up and get a regular job.
More importantly, pivoting to YouTube is exactly the kind of change in priorities that killed BioWare. They spurred their longtime hard-core fans in pursuit of mass market appeal, and wound up with neither.
So I need to make popular videos. Which means making high-quality videos. Which means spending time on them. But if I spend to much time on them then I’ll hurt the blog. This is… not a fun spot to be in.
Additional notes: I shared the Dumbest Cutscene on the r/HiTMAN subreddit, and I shared the Domino Worldbuilding one on r/MassEffect. If those links gave me a boost, it didn’t rise above the level of noise in our sample.
Then again, I think self-promoting links…
“Hey, I made a thing!”
….aren’t nearly as effective as links from other people…
“Hey, some guy named Shamus made a thing!”
…so this isn’t really a useful metric. Someone on Reddit linked to my Mass Effect retrospective a few years ago, and it created a nice bump in traffic.
I could be wrong, but that’s what it looks like from my tiny corner of the internet.
Anyway. The battle to keep this old-school gaming blog relevant continues. Maybe I’ll hemorrhage readers and this place will fold in the next few years, but I’m obstinate and I want to keep this hustle going for as long as I can.
I do enjoy making the videos and Issac enjoys editing them. They’re not really worth it in terms of time investment. They make no money and they bring in almost nothing in the way of traffic. But there’s always the chance that the planets will align and one of them will go viral. Issac and I agreed we should give it a few more months and see if the show grows.
 Footnotes like this one, except more funny.
 You can either put the link in the description where absolutely no one will see it, or you can display the URL as text in the video and absolutely no one will bother typing it.
 The numbers aren’t totally accurate. Some assets don’t get used in the final cut, and there are always a handful of random / temporary files that end up floating around inside the project folder.
 I even bought a little ad space on Facebook a few years ago.
What is this silly word, why did some people get so irritated by it, and why did it fall out of use?
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
The Dumbest Cutscene
This is it. This is the dumbest cutscene ever created for a AAA game. It's so bad it's simultaneously hilarious and painful. This is "The Room" of video game cutscenes.
Skyrim Thieves Guild
The Thieves Guild quest in Skyrim is a vortex of disjointed plot-holes, contrivances, and nonsense.
This Scene Breaks a Character
Small changes to the animations can have a huge impact on how the audience interprets a scene.