Diary of a Casual Gamer: year one

Sometimes, it’s possible to be too clever. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it’s possible to be too fond of what one views as one’s own cleverness. As an example, let me put forward the column “Diary of a Casual Gamer,” for which as much as I enjoy the title, and referring to myself as “The Casual Gamer,” I’ve written exactly one entry about a casual game: “Click, click, click,” about the Facebook game Mafia Wars.

In all honesty, I think “Click, click, click” is still pretty good, mostly because I spent more time writing it than most of the other pieces I’ve written for the site. I’ve tried to stay true to the “diary” part of my title, writing as much as possible about the games I’m playing at any particular time, giving my more-or-less off-the-cuff impressions, and trying to be smart and entertaining while doing so. Sometimes I do pretty well. Sometimes, I just do.

“Diary of a Casual Gamer,” however, got started while I was writing for a different site. Kevin Mattison had been doing some film writing for a site called Ditching Otis, and I jumped at the chance to reach out to a broader (or at least different) audience than was reading my personal blog. Ditching Otis seemed fun, had a couple of good writers, and used a photo of Nietzsche wearing steampunk goggles as its logo. Good times were had by all.

Until the dude who ran Ditching Otis shut it down, totally and without any warning. One morning it was just gone. I probably should have taken the ads selling gold investments on the side of the page as a warning. Kevin spent a day or two trying to talk the dude into giving it another go, but it wasn’t long before we decided that we could do a better job ourselves. And without tooting our own horn too much, we did. After all, had you ever heard of Ditching Otis before this column? (Seriously, eff that guy. He was a Ayn-Rand-loving, self-centered douchebag who shut down Ditching Otis because he decided that he wasn’t going to make any money off a site he wasn’t paying people to contribute to. Whereas I’m a charming, self-centered socialist who takes pride in not making a penny off a site I’m not paying people to contribute to. Totally different.)

I’ve already highlighted a number of my favorite Idler pieces from our first year, but if I’m supposed to be talking about the writing that has had the most impact on my own, then I really need to give credit to Andrew Simone, whose list of “Essential indie games” and link to Brandon Boyer’s GDC microtalk have had a huge impact on my thinking about what video games are and should be doing, and Kate Sloan, who reminded me how much I love comics, and that there’s a lot of really great, really smart ground left to cover in writing about Batman.

And dear god, you know, everyone else! I read everything that goes up on The Idler, and the fact that The Idler‘s writers still surprise, inform, and entertain me (and thus, hopefully, our readers) is what keeps the site going.

I know I asked everyone to talk about what they wanted to do in the next year, but I’m going to exert editor’s prerogative and decline to do the same. (Other than to say that the “Gamers’ Club” will be making a return in the next couple of weeks, and we’ll be playing the SNES game Earthbound.) What I’m looking forward to most about the next year is continuing to be surprised by The Idler‘s writers. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.

6 Responses to “Diary of a Casual Gamer: year one”
  1. Jason McCaffrey says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that Dan, founder of DitchingOtis.com, is a fan of Ayn Rand, annoying when he starts going on a tangent about the importance of gold, and showed a lack of grace in tearing down the site without warning to all of us writers. However, I still must rise to the defense of my groomsman in response to this article. You state he “shut down Ditching Otis because he decided that he wasn’t going to make any money off a site he wasn’t paying people to contribute to,” which isn’t exactly false, but it’s also misleading.

    Perhaps you’re not privy to the truth on this matter. He was in the process of trying to figure out a pay structure for writers. When only a couple people were contributing regularly (which I believe may have been just you and Kevin), he was having a hard time figuring out a pay structure to fairly compensate people. Since he would have found it easier to fairly compensate people if everyone was contributing evenly, he went on a campaign to wrangle his writers that were contributing less to contribute more (including yours truly). After a decent effort to get his writers to write more, he decided he didn’t intend to sign up for this level of micromanagement and wasn’t interested in putting forth as much effort as he was expending in what would only at its height be able to be labeled a hobby.

    So instead of saying he “shut down Ditching Otis because he decided that he wasn’t going to make any money off a site he wasn’t paying people to contribute to,” it would be more accurate to say he “shut down Ditching Otis because he decided that NO ONE WAS going to be able make any money off a site he ALWAYS PLANNED ON paying people to contribute to.” It’s an important distinction. You seem to imply Dan was hoping to make money off of your efforts, but he was trying to make money off of his own efforts and provide a way for you to make money off of your efforts. It was a failed experiment.

    I think he was a little delusional in the amount of work he thought it would take to generate an income from a blogging website. I personally felt a little betrayed the first time I tried to check ditchingotis.com after it was pulled down. But Dan is no self-centered douche bag. At worst, I think he is guilty of a lack of communication at the death of Otis. I have known the man for 17 years and while our politics wildly differ, I’m here to tell you that he is a fantastic human being whom I would go to the end of the earth for.

    I have enjoyed watching the successes of The Idler. I feel like I have a dog in this fight knowing this evolved from Ditching Otis. Kevin offered me a spot back when this glorious site got started and I only turned it down because my experience on Otis showed me that I don’t have time to be a contributing team member. But I’ve watched with a lot of pride as Kevin posts about some of the successes The Idler has achieved, being linked to from cool sites and increasing traffic. Congratulations on the fantastic community you guys have developed. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the contributing members of The Idler.

  2. Gavin Craig says:

    Jason, Thank you for the comment! And having been pressed, I’ll freely admit to giving too much weight to my own speculation and conclusions. That is, while I’ve given an accurate account of how I felt, I’m really pleased to have the story fleshed out a bit with a few more facts.

    Ditching Otis was a fun site to contribute to, and I’ve missed reading the people who wrote for the site. (Especially Chris Hooley’s video game writing.) I wouldn’t have railed against its death quite so violently had it not been a rewarding project to have been a part of.

    At the same time, while I’m happy to back off of my ultimate indictment of Dan, which is more than a little mitigated by the knowledge that he had always intended to pay contributors, I’d still make a criticism that’s a bit stronger than that he didn’t communicate well when he decided to shut down the site. Pulling down the site without any warning or any chance for the authors to archive their work treated the writing on the site as if it were Dan’s to dispose of. That is, as if it had been actually paid for instead of having been intended to have been paid for. (Which is, to be fair, nowhere near the level of the douche-baggery of the Huffington post, where a few people make a lot of money off not paying a large number of people for their work.)

    But all in all, as I’ve hinted at if not stated explicitly, I do owe Dan a genuine debt of gratitude for having gotten Kevin and me off our respective asses. The Idler wouldn’t exist without Ditching Otis. So thanks, Dan, wherever you are.

  3. Jason McCaffrey says:

    Gavin, I can totally see that frustration about not having the opportunity to archive work. To be honest, it never crossed my mind and I would have been pissed too if I lost all of my work. While I was writing my first article for D.O. the editor crashed and I lost an hour or so of work. At that point I decided to do all of my writing in Google docs and then cut and paste the content over to the D.O. editor. So I’m sitting from the comfy position of having a back up. I’m sorry you lost all of that writing. That is a total bummer.

    • Gavin Craig says:

      Actually, happily, I was posting my D.O. pieces to my personal blog after the fact, so I didn’t lose anything that time–except the comments, which is sad. But not that sad.

      But it’s not a totally abstract argument. I have lost things before, and it’s still kinda not cool.

  4. Dan Reiff says:

    Hi kids, what up. This is douche-bag. Glad to see you are enjoying blogging and I had a hand in that. A few observations:

    1. The internet is a fairly public venue, so it’s probably best to play nice.
    2. I busted my ass on Ditching Otis, it took a great deal of my spare time.
    3. I never expected it to be a great money making venture, it was mostly for fun. If money was ever to eventually come, that would have been welcome & cool, but D.O. was most definitely a side project. Like Jason said, I was earnestly trying to find a way to compensate participation.
    4. While D.O. had a respectable spike in traffic for a few weeks, for whatever reason that dwindled. Both traffic and contributions slowed to a crawl at the end there. (as I suspect is the case with many thousands of other websites and blog attempts).
    5. The discussion regarding the why and how was open and frank. It took place on a public Google Wave, which was where all D.O. business was ultimately conducted (including it’s creation).
    6. Glad to see you didn’t lose any content. I warned everyone to have a backup on the writer’s guidelines which I published on wave and distributed via email. Of course, I still had access to archives for some time, so in the case anybody did need something, all one needed to do was ask.
    7. I wasn’t aware that I owed anybody anything or any contracts were violated. On my end, the site was virtually dead. It become a drain of my resources. Certainly, no breech of trust occurred that warrants me being publicly denounced as a douche-bag.
    8. I don’t specifically remember making any references to Ayn Rand in particular, (though I could be wrong), but I will concede to citing the Austrian school of economics and leading with a libertarian influenced bias. Further, it’s not fair to call me “Ayn Rand loving” in an ad hominem nature. I do not even consider myself an objectivist – on the contrary, I am more of a transhumanist with pancritical rationalism as my epistomology. But I respect Ayn Rand, just as I respect many other authors and viewpoints.
    9. The ads selling gold investments are what paid for the site in the first place. And as annoying as I may be when I talk about gold, the metal is worth more right now than it ever has been. Gold was and is an excellent recommendation for financial security.


    • Gavin Craig says:

      Dan! However unreasonable or ill-considered my ad hominem attacks may have been, I’m genuinely pleased that you stopped by. Whatever I feel about the way the site ended, Ditching Otis was a fun site to write for, and I do wish it were still around.

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