With 2013 coming to a close very quickly (Christmas means we hunker down and just focus on shipping and customer service), we needed to make a decision on how we’re managing Starlit Citadel Reviews in 2014. Last year, we self-funded 26 videos and ran a fundraiser for additional episodes. We raised around $3000, which covered 7 bonus episodes for 2013. We had about 1,500 subscribers then. This year, we have over 9000 subscribers and, were seriously considering fundraising again for additional videos.
However, after much thought, we’ve decided against it for a number of reasons.
a) Lack of time
Both Rob and Joanna (our videographer and co-host) are very busy with their own projects. We were concerned at their ability to commit to more than 26 videos, especially if the workload for one of their projects increases significantly.
In addition, there’s a time-cost on our end. Kaja has to play each game herself before writing the review, which works out to 1 game a week if we hit our maximum of 52 videos. That’s a lot of time just gaming — and doesn’t even include things like writing the script (1-3 hours/episode), filming the videos (1-1.5 hours/episode) and reviewing them for edits (1 hour/episode).
When we looked at it, we realised that, if we did mange to raise enough money to do 52 videos a year, we wouldn’t just be a game company anymore – we’d also be a video production company. Since we don’t directly generate revenue from the videos, the additional benefit of moving from 26 to 52 videos is low for Starlit itself. In fact, if you looked at revenue generated directly from the videos (i.e. purchases made by customers who come to the site directly from Youtube) we’d be running a huge loss. Sure, we’d be generating more videos, but since we don’t make any profit on the fundraising, we’d just be producing videos on behalf of our viewers. It’s just not something I think we should be doing, at least not if it doesn’t make us money in a direct way.
c) Lack of games to review
One thing Kaja brought up was whether there were even 52 games released a year that would fit our format (not too complex, visually friendly, and good enough that we can recommend them to customers). What would happen if we played a game and decided it wasn’t really good enough? Would we shoot it anyway and put out a lukewarm — or bad — review, or try to cram in a 2nd game to be played / scripted / video-taped at the last minute?
26 interesting, high quality games we can be certain of. 52? I’m not so sure myself.
d) PR Issues
When we launched our fundraiser last year, some people complained that we were asking for funds. After all, weren’t they paying for our marketing? Shouldn’t we, as a game store, be providing this entirely free-of-charge? We have a lot more subscribers and viewers now – and I’d expect a lot more questions, complaints, and PR work if we ran a fundraiser again this time.
Considering all we ask for are voluntary donations that would fund extra episodes beyond the 26 that we self-fund (every dollar of which has been directed towards the videos), I personally don’t see the problem. Sure, they have a point – we do get some added benefit from releasing more videos per year, but it’s not as much as most people think for each review. The overall fact of doing the video reviews (and having now built a library of over 80 vidoes) seems to generate more revenue / customers than any individual video review. So any additional video shot is gravy. It’s still nice gravy, but it’s gravy.
A larger campaign, reaching a larger audience, would mean a lot more explaining our motivations, expenses, and marketing practices, and would increase our stress and work-load enough for the PR question to be worth taking into account.
The Plan for 2014
As you’ve probably gathered, we are continuing the video reviews. In 2014, we will release 26 new videos, produced in-house at our cost. We may play around with format slightly by introducing more Top-10 or other “special” episodes year-round. In the case of any changes, you’ll be the first to know.
We are also looking at setting up a dedicated section of the website to showcase our videos better (once we work out the design). This may include a place where individuals who want to donate can do so throughout the year, with funds collected going to additional episodes if they hit a threshold high enough to cover a shoot. We might even make it possible to ‘buy’ a review for indie-game developers; though I have a feeling the cost in this case will be significantly more than most developers would care to pay.
Overall, we’re very interested in continuing with the reviews, and will be focusing on a smaller set of high-quality videos and showcasing the series as best we can. Hopefully, by putting some of the resources that would be spent on creating new episodes and running fundraisers into presenting the series, we’ll create a better experience for viewers and customers even with a smaller season.