Review: The WordPress Android App (Part 2)

I’ve decided not to do this part of the review on the go, as I thought that it wouldn’t be particularly fair or relevant since I can just as readily test it’s features anywhere. I’ll be giving the app a bit more of a grilling this time.

You might remember me saying before that the app is useless if you are starting a blog…but not totally. I’m going to try and create and use a blog, and see the difference in doing so.

Browser

Setting up the blog via a browser isn’t particularly daunting. It’s a linear process: you’re asked what you want the URL and title of the blog to be. You’re then shown through introductory steps to give your blog a tagline and a visual identity.

I decided to make my first post, and I knew that what it needed was a picture of my thumb. I had my phone to hand but, without the WordPress app to use, I had to tiresomely email the photo to myself and then download it to the computer before uploading it WordPress.

App 

One doesn’t have to turn on a computer to be a WordPress user, it seems. It’s easy to set up and account a start a blog from scratch, but alas, you aren’t given the nice introduction you get on PC. However, I was able to pick the nice Flounder theme for my blog, with Themes displayed clearly on the sidebar.

The rest of the appearance options weren’t to be found, meaning that I couldn’t insert widgets. This means that if I happened to start to generate traffic on the blog, I would be losing a significant opportunity to direct some of it to my social media accounts.

It’s easy to create a page or a post, and your tagging and categories options are available. However, don’t expect your first post to be an in-depth masterpiece. Images don’t always appear in the text box when you’re writing your post, unless sent from your phone, so if you’re looking for text wraparound, get to a computer.

You also shouldn’t bother using the app if you have a small touchscreen and research to do for your piece. The app is handicapped by the likelihood that you will have thrown your device against a wall after trying to search the internet.

Overall

The WordPress app should be viewed as a supplement for everyone apart from the casual blogger. It’s not convenient for every situation, but a keen WordPress blogger should not be without it.

DSC_0077

Here’s that picture of my thumb.

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Review: The WordPress Android App (Part 1)

This is the first part of my two part review of the WordPress app. The second part, which will constitute a hands-on on the go, will arrive on Wednesday at the earlier time of midday.

The app was tested on a Sony Xperia J mobile phone.

I felt a sense of doubt when I first launched the WordPress app. WordPress has so many customisation options and is pretty easy to use, but I feared that neither aspect would translate into the app. What I found was a well crafted app, but one that didn’t totally confront my concerns.

The most striking aspect of the app is it’s simplicity. There’s a sideboard but no dashboard, which seems to signal the intended use of this app: it is for blogging on the go, not for intricacies. That said, you can pick themes and look at stats, meaning that this is probably all you need after an initial PC setup.

Thankfully, you can write a post and no-one would be none the wiser as to the fact that it came from the app. The options are fairly comprehensive, though lacking the ‘kitchen sink’ found in the browser. However, images proved to be a source of hassle, by not always ending up where you want them despite alignment options.

You certainly aren’t the target audience of the app if you are a blog reader instead of a producer. WordPress’ reader is fully functional and is good for reading the blogs you follow. You won’t be happy if you’re trying to find new ones, though, as you can’t search by tag.

The app is fully functional and is a recommended download. It can’t be recommended as an alternative to the browser version, as it lacks the extensive functionality of it’s parent version. 

2014: Why look back, not forward?

Many people will be desperate to hear more about this year’s big titles. It seems that the expectation will be realised of most gamers going online to play story-led games such as Destiny and The Division. Perhaps the precursor to this was LEGO Star Wars, which popularised the idea of drop in/drop out local multiplayer, or perhaps DOOM’s influence is more notable, a game which showed the potential for online multiplayer. Does the past of a form of entertainment matter for our readers, though? Why shouldn’t journalists purely set their sights on the here and now?

destiny

Destiny (Image credit to Currys, game by Bungie/Activision)

There is a need to keep present and up to the demands of the 24 hour news cycle. For instance, people clamour to hear any information about the next Uncharted release, and a relevant website that doesn’t report updates on time risks significantly damaging their credibility. The focus of games journalists, for most publications, needs to be on current issue if they are to serve the needs of their readers.

The readers are the ones who keep a website running, but they are done a disservice, however, if it is assumed that they won’t have an interest in the past. Many gamers might if they were exposed to it, and it’s clearly evident that many still are, with services like XLink Kai keeping games alive that have said goodbye to their servers. If we don’t provide recognition that gamers buy and play games in different ways, then readers will undoubtedly spend more time on sites that dedicate themselves to their particular passions.

Understanding the past and the small communities that still exist around old games can also help the crafting of news and features. Press releases are all well and good in providing news about AAA releases, but what about a developer who has disappeared from the mainstream for ten years? Won’t the audience want to know what they are up to? And researching the past can’t replace thorough knowledge because, like following anything change, one doesn’t follow a straight path to see the evolution of games.

Understanding the past also lets games journalists understand the future. You can see trends, and you can write pieces that contain analysis based on a wealth of knowledge. I have previously said that communication is the most important part of journalism. However, what’s the point in communicating ideas if it is merely regurgitation? What makes games journalism irreplaceable? Games journalism only is if journalists have insight that others may not.

Remember that your work has the side effect of serving the games industry. I don’t mean that the needs of PR should be served, but if journalists aren’t going to champion all corners of the gaming industry, then who is? Yes, you might tell a friend about that trilogy Bungie made before Halo, but writing an article about it lets many more people know about something they might not. You will have provided a gateway to people who may not be familiar with games before the last generation. You have stopped the overwhelming hype PR for upcoming releases from dominating the gaming conversation.

 A screenshot of DOOM's multiplayer (Image credit to Dedoimedo, game by ID Software/Bethesda)

A screenshot of DOOM’s multiplayer (Image credit to Dedoimedo, game by ID Software/Bethesda)

The year has yet to begin in earnest, with none of the big titles having been released. This leaves a good chunk of time to consider how we can serve our readers better. As long as there is cause and effect, the past will always play a part in the present.

My two personal journalistic highlights of 2013

It’s 2014, and I can’t quite believe it. 2013 was memorable, and I’ll sure all of you will agree if you’re looking on gaming terms, with massive titles such as BioShock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V, but both were arguably dwarfed by the release of XBOX One and PlayStation 4. The games journalist has had the opportunity to write about one of the most important years in recent gaming history.

I don’t just want to talk my thoughts on the year’s games, or purely about my writing games journalism. I’ll be looking specifically at my personal highlights as a writer across all fields.

2) Radio and Podcasting

I’ve done a lot of radio work in the past year, to my surprise, and it’s made me realise that I have an unexpected passion for it.

It started when I was unexpectedly asked to co-host the sports segment on Amplify, one of the shows on Bath Spa University’s student radio. It was an opportunity that I was keen to take up as I love sport. However, it was nerve-wracking entering the studio for the first time, with other hosts watching me from beyond the glass. I didn’t know if I could pull it off. Apparently I can, though I’m still learning.

My co-host and I had the idea to do something that combined news with analysis. The balance was a difficult one to strike, and I found switching from one to the other a little difficult. SpaLife has tested my talents as a speaker as I’ve not just done sports but experienced film review and chat too, and I’ve loved it.

Since then, I have indeed been in an episode of PSU’s podcast, PlayStation Unchained, which was great fun. It’s easy to forget that you’re doing work when you’re talking to a bunch of friends about your mutual and personal passions.

One of my great passions is the Star Wars franchise, so it was with no reluctance at all that I took the opportunity to guest on EUCantina’s EUCast. There has been a pan of Star Wars related information boiling in my head for years, and to be able to release some of it, to be able to seriously discuss something I have a deep interest in, was a real highlight of the year.

1) Working for PlayStation Universe

My highlight has undoubtedly been working for PlayStation Universe. It’s been a tremendous, exciting time, and I can’t believe I’m nearly at the point of having been staff for one year.

It is said that joining workplaces can be sometimes intimidating. I never found that the case at PSU. From the start it seemed a place where I could share my ideas and they would be seriously considered as if I wasn’t just new on the team.

Finding my feet took a little time as it does with anywhere. I had writing experience, but with any new environment, one has to get used to the way that things are done. I had to become familiar to the ideas of working with a team of people over the internet, making sure I posted regularly, etc. The thrill has been from trying to master all of this; I find no thrill in standing still.

Getting increasingly involved has been brilliantly, and I’ve loved taking the variety of stuff that I’ve done: covering the E3 livestream, podcasting, general day-to-day writing and, most of all, working with a creative and energetic group of people.

To sum up my journalistic year, the real pleasure has been tailoring it towards my passions. The last year was one of the first where I was able to go in my own direction and make what I believe to be a real success of it.

13 New Year games journalism resolutions for me (and possibly for you!)

New Year is the time for resolutions, and most of them are ill-considered and overly ambitious. I thought, therefore, I’d write some relevant to my personal career development that will have more of an effect than ‘life changing’ plan. They might be useful for you, too.

I aim:

(13) to be a more frequent networker. No human is an island, and a journalist must be the total opposite. Here are my thoughts on networking if you are an up and coming journalist.

(12) to use social media more creatively. This means communicating visually.

(11) to learn more from other games journalists. This means reading more, networking more–reminding yourself that games journalists are part of a community. On that note, here’s last year’s resolutions from Paul Tassi, a Forbes contributor.

(10) to read more academic writings on gaming. Games journalists should have an in-depth knowledge of the workings of games to be able to provide the most interesting analysis.

(9) to game for fun more frequently. Journalism is time-consuming, and balancing journalism and other commitments is a challenge requiring self-discipline and the ability to schedule one’s own time. Thus, there’s not much time to game purely for fun. However, it’s important to make time for it because a) this is essential for keeping the passion for my work and b) it reminds me of what it’s like to play a game as a consumer.

(8) to specialise. Xbox Live and PSN mean there are more games on consoles than ever before. However, a specialism can definitely improve a writer’s output, whether that’s specialising in a genre, an aspect of game-design, or a particular MMO. A specialism not only means that I can write more in-depth pieces, but that I can show more of my personality and have more fun, too!.

(7) to write more widely. I might have just said that I am going to specialise, but writing more widely helps you learn where you interests lie.

(6) to take more thinking time. This is limited just like gaming time, but it is worth it. One of my tutors at University, freelance journalist Rin Hamburgh, taught me that simply flicking through magazines is a good way to spark ideas. It really is, and if you don’t give yourself some time to let ideas develop, and then to carefully plan them out, you won’t be able to write truly excellent pieces.

(5) to plan the year ahead. No games journalists will forget the big things that will be happening in 2014, such as the release of Metal Gear Solid V. But what to write to mark the occasion? And what about the smaller things, such as anniversaries? It’s worth having some ideas and getting some work started now, which is obviously a necessity for in-depth features.

(4) to realise that as no human is an island, neither is a games platform. It might be asking a lot to invest in every console and to buy a PC capable of running high-spec titles, but knowing what’s going on in the industry as a whole can help a writer predict trends and write pieces that show an awareness of how their specialist area of the industry fits in.

(3) to spend some time doing stuff other than games journalism. No matter how much you love games journalism, humans aren’t machines and burnout is always a possibility if you push yourself too far. Pop Matters’ L.B. Jeffries points out that even playing games for your work can lead to burnout.

(2) to continue to work on basic writing skills. Journalism isn’t about what you know, or how insightful you are, it’s about communication. It was Rin who taught me that getting something across clearly is more important than being a great writer. I plan to make an stronger effort to constantly sharpen my grammar, structural approach to pieces and the precision of your vocabulary, by not just being aware of my own writing but by reading voraciously.

This was originally going to be twelve resolutions but I’ve realised that I have one final resolution.

1) to keep the passion for my work. For me, it comes from purely getting my head down and reminding myself why I’ve decided to be a games journalist.

When the work comes for me and for all of you, I hope you have a successful, productive year for me and that you enjoy the releases that you’ve been waiting for. In the meantime…

Happy New Year!

Every games journalist should use visual social media

mediascreen

It won’t take a journalist-in-training long to understand that social media is very important. The content you produce is the most important thing, of course, but the internet is saturated with gaming media. It’s therefore important for gaming websites to have a social presence, but for individual journalists, too. Poynter reports that Justin McIlroy, the managing editor of Polygon, told them that the video game industry lacks known personalities. Audio and video are infinitely more personal than text, and games journalists should use them to communicate with their audience online.

IGN is an example of a website whose social media presence is clearly working, with around 1.6 million Facebook followers at the time of writing. This is a hefty chunk of its estimated unique monthly visitors of 17.5 million (January-December 2012, eBizMBA). It appears that the number of Facebook followers is 11% of its monthly traffic. The followers on social media are very important, as they are people who are almost guaranteed to visit the site again and again.

However, IGN has it comparatively easy when stood alongside some of the smaller gaming websites that can’t trade off of reputation. In this case, it is important their journalists make themselves known. Twitter is a necessity, and you are certainly the odd one out if you don’t have a presence there. There are visual alternatives that aren’t always considered, such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitch – there are plenty of options out there – which should be also be used.

One of the most famous, if not indeed the most famous, video games journalists is Geoff Keighley, and that’s because he is a broadcast journalist. He’s not just hosted web shows, but has also appeared on American channel Spike TV. Most journalists don’t have Spike as a platform, and some mightn’t even have the confidence to feel like hosting a web show. But guess what? You don’t have to be a broadcast journalist. You just have to be yourself.

Being yourself is the way that you can gain an audienceYou do want to promote your articles, of course, but you’re not going to entertain existing fans of works or appear that exciting to people who’ve just stumbled across you by being a PR machine. Indeed, when I attended the ExPlay games conference this November, indie game developer Simon Roth stated that to be yourself on social media – an opinion that carries weight considering image is much more important for someone whose sales are undoubtedly significantly lower than AAA releases.

It could be argued that it’s a waste of time to try to broaden your social media profile. Why get onto YouTube when there are far more successful Vloggers such as Charlie McDonnell? Why get onto Instagram when IGN has less than 30,000 followers of their account (as of 17/12/13)? Well, you’re not in direct competition with Charlie, and IGN is a brand, not an individual. Especially on websites such as Instagram, you have the potential to reach that large percentage of the population who game but don’t consider themselves ‘gamers’.

You will have to do a bit of research to understand genre conventions. For vlogging, you’ll have to be familiar with the jump-cut editing style; on photo-blogging sites, you’ll need to be aware of the use of hashtags; for game streaming, you’ll have to decide on the format of your streams (length, structure, etc.). Take a look at the TotalBiscuit vlog below, which interestingly combines gameplay with unrelated discussion.

Bear in mind that high quality content comes first; there’s a reason why the VGX awards are mocked and Polygon is well respected. Unless a temporary monetary fix is all you want – which isn’t going to happen online – then your content is the most important aspect of your work. Just don’t forget that you have a face and a voice that an audience wants to see and listen to, and that there’s a whole other audience out there that wants to but just doesn’t know it.

UPDATE: You might disagree with my referral to the likes of YouTube and Twitch as visual social media. However, I believe it is appropriate to deem them as such based on your usage of those platforms. If it is about communicating with your audience, not just broadly through a video but through engaging in chat, perhaps even creating video responses to comments and to other videos, then they take on characteristics of social media.

The games video journalist: Is PS4’s share function a threat?

New technologies generally inspire fear in the old guard, and rightly so. The digital world is a looming threat over television, books and, most relevantly to games journalists, magazines. Games journalism is incrementally moving online, and the adaptation has been relatively smooth. However, the PlayStation 4 has brought the ability for gamers to stream gameplay footage online. Does expanding this ability to console gamers leave everyone who is called a games journalist in the lurch?

You might think that the construction of the last sentence is a bit odd. However, Jeff Jarvis famously wrote “There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism.” I agree, but that doesn’t mean that the term journalist isn’t still going to be used. Clearly, though, not everyone is going to be called a journalist by those who use their content.

There’s definitely potential for a successful, democratised video game journalism, and it has been displayed from day one of the PS4. The most notable example is a Twitch stream known as The Spartan Show, that began life as a show streamed from The Playroom (1). It’s been recognised to such a degree that they’ve managed to grab guests such as Shahid Ahmad, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Senior Business Development Manager, and staff from Housemarque, the developers of launch title Resogun. Cleary, this sort of broadcasting has been seen as something to be taken seriously.

Adam Boyes calls into The Spartan Show during its first night on air (Credit to WarioSixFour)

But let’s not act as if the ability to stream is something new. Anybody has the potential to stream gameplay footage with the right equipment . However, the PlayStation 4’s ‘Share’ feature isn’t about innovation, it is purely about democratisation via ease of access. Yes, there is stiff competition: YouTuber PewDiePie has over 18 million subscribers and 3 billion views at the time of writing. (Yes, I did mean to write billion) But it’ll mean that the likes of PewDiePie will have to work even harder to survive. Is this healthy for quality, though? Will it mean that mainstream sources have to try even harder to be heard?

It definitely means there will be more of an expectation to for gaming sites to be do forms of video broadcasting in order to keep up. Yes, even sites orientated around XBOX will face the pressure to do so when every PlayStation site is streaming gameplay footage, which will be a threat to the smaller sites that don’t have the human and technological resources. It could also be a threat to quality journalism, for it might distract attention away from crafting interesting long-form pieces.

However, it’s unlikely that quality journalism is going to see itself disappearing. Kieron Gillen proposed in his manifesto for New Games Journalism that the personal should be at the forefront of games. Chris Bateman provided an excellent rebuttal several years later, stating that NGJ has led to games journalism being too much about ‘I’. And yes, I (hah) concur. Subjectivity has it’s place but, if the people who conduct journalism want to be regarded as journalists, then they need to take their work seriously. This is part of the reason why IGN is the number one most popular video gaming site, as of December 1, 2013 (eBizMBA).

The crux of the matter is that, to produce high quality content it requires money. Up-and-comers might cause damage to some small content producers that don’t the quality journalism to keep themselves afloat. However, most games journalism websites have a repertoire of content, and the money to create a broad operation, that a YouTuber probably won’t have.

It is clear that game streaming is an increasingly important tool in the journalists’ repertoire, but it is merely supplementary. To maintain that distinction between the amateur and the professional, journalists need to use their experience, their knowledge and, in some cases, their financial resources to produce content that keeps the industry moving forward. They need to continue to provide work that others won’t or can’t. That is the role of a journalist.

(1) Streaming can no longer be done on Twitch via PS4’s The Playroom.