Just before Christmas, when I started blogging about how we deal with certain subjects at Eurogamer, I said: "I promise to try and deal with the thorniest ones as often as the fun ones." When it comes to the relationship between editorial and advertising, as far as the internet's concerned there's none more thorny.
Let's start with what's obvious: like more or less all of our competitors, Eurogamer is reliant on advertising money to operate. People book up space around our homepage, indexes, forums and features where they can show off to you directly. The obvious implication of this is that it would be damaging for Eurogamer as a business were our advertisers to take their money elsewhere. And with so much of our, and everybody else's, advertising based on games, it's easy for you to imagine that the prospect of upsetting game-makers is hard for us to countenance. This is the source of the traditional editorial-versus-advertising debate.
Another thing to consider is that our advertising space becomes more valuable as people visit the website in greater numbers. So it's easy, again, for you to imagine that we choose to focus on popular games, and make our headlines as dramatic as possible, in order to catch people's attention. This is well-expressed by Eurogamer contributor Kieron Gillen, who told Crispy Gamer before Christmas: "I'm worried that people running websites want to maximise their money into page impressions. And if spending the money on an indie review will get fewer page impressions than spending it on a feature comparing the frame-rate of an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3 game, they're going to spend it on the latter." This is the source of the other traditional editorial-versus-advertising debate.
As editor, these issues affect me differently. For instance, the question of whether or not people want to advertise with us is almost never something that I deal with directly. As Observer journalist Nick Davies writes in his entertaining book about how modern journalism is rubbish, Flat Earth News, "The closest I can get to shoring up the idea [that advertising influences editorial] is that there certainly are examples of corporations pulling their advertising in order to try to have an impact on the political or general editorial line of a media outlet - but there is a real shortage of examples of their succeeding." This rings true for me.
I can't comment on how other websites and magazines are run, but I believe my responsibility is to our readers and not the people who advertise with us. If advertisers get upset about something and it means taking a hit financially, that's the cost of doing business, and if it ever starts to threaten our livelihood, we'll have to find other ways to look after ourselves.
This leaves the second major component of the editorial-versus-advertising debate: the need to attract more readers to the site, and how we choose to do it. Pretty much the first thing I said in January 2008 when I was promoted was that we have to behave ourselves when it comes to how we choose to do it.
As you know if you read the site with any regularity, it's a mixture of subjects, some of which provoke more discussion than others. Rich Leadbetter's "Face-Off" series, where we compare the technical aspects of PS3, Xbox 360 and PC games, frequently results in hundreds of comments arguing the finer details (and is the subject of Kieron Gillen's comment above). Meanwhile, a preview of Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce may attract fewer than a dozen. If my primary motivation was "hits", the lesson would be not to bother with the latter. Then again, if my primary motivation was hits, I would have learnt that lesson in January 2008 when we previewed the nominees for the Independent Games Festival and only a few people read about them.
It's better, I think, to try and maintain a healthy balance. I focus on certain features because I know they will attract a sizable audience, but only if they're interesting or useful in the first place. Otherwise, I try and spend at least a third of our budget on things that I simply want us to cover, either for personal reasons (obscure console shmups and puzzle games!), because I think something's going to be big one day, or because someone else on the staff (or one of our readers) makes a compelling case for it. It's also partly because I'm conscious of Eurogamer's origins: We used to be last on the list. We weren't invited to the party. We just wrote about whatever we found and liked at the time.
There are worse editorial strategies than writing about what interests you. As with all things, you are the ultimate judge of whether I get this right or not. But it would be a mistake to believe that the decisions I or anyone else here make - for better or worse - are unduly influenced by advertising. If you've ever tried out on this side of the writer/reader fence, you'll know that magazines and websites that pander to advertisers have no future. So in other words, if you think something I've done is wrong, or stupid, it definitely was me being wrong or stupid!
P.S. Keep your suggestions for other topics coming, as I am rounding them up, and may do another mailbag thing for titbits before I tackle another one of these. Also, if you have further questions about editorial-versus-advertising, post them below and I'll try to get to them in the thread after hours. Cheers!