David Sirlin is a game designer and a competitive gamer who runs his own blog at www.sirlin.net. He was the lead designer of Puzzle Fighter HD Remix and Street Fighter HD Remix for Capcom, Kongai for Kongregate.com as well as Yomi, Puzzle Strike and Flash Duel for his own company. He also wrote a book Playing To Win.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi, I’m a game designer and competitive gamer. I was the lead designer of Puzzle Fighter HD Remix and Street Fighter HD Remix for Capcom, Kongai for Kongregate.com, and Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and Flash Duel for my own company, Sirlin Games. I also wrote the book Playing to Win as well as many articles on game design over the years.
What was your gaming/game design-related experience prior to Sirlin.net?
I started sirlin.net before I was a professional designer, but I had already been a gamer and thoughtful about game design for a long time.
What was your blogging/online marketing-related experience prior to Sirlin.net?
There was not even a term of “blog” when I started sirlin.net. It was just called a “website” at the time. I had no prior experience.
Why did you decide to start Sirlin.net?
I did not really know of many people who were thoughtful about game design, so I figured it would be a way to find other people with similar thinking. I also hoped to use it to find people to team up with to work on things. Also, there were several topics that when I met new people, I found it tiresome to explain the same concepts over and over, so I though if I wrote it all down, people could get on the same page with me so that if I later talked to them, we’d already be on to the next stage of thinking.
What is your process for creating a great blog post (..from the initial idea to hitting the “Publish” button..)?
I don’t think of it as a process. If I have an idea, then I write it down. I used to make the distinction between articles and posts, though I haven’t had time to write articles in years. To me, a post is something I proofread barely once at most, or maybe not at all. An article is highly edited and polished and intended to be read for many years. For those, I write a draft (sometimes after a paragraph or two I throw it out and start over), then I revise it and edit it, and add pictures. That’s about it.
What was your marketing strategy in the early days of Sirlin.net and what is your marketing strategy now?
A marketing strategy implies an outside focus. My focus is on expressing my ideas, and if 0 people are interested, oh well. If a million people are interested, great. So I never had marketing in mind. Now that I run Sirlin Games, I have to think about marketing though, and how to get the word out about my games. I consider it painful and horrible to have to think about that instead of thinking about creating real value. But for better or worse, marketing determines success even more than real value, it seems. So now I make ad images for boardgamegeek.com, I contact various board game press people if I have a new release coming up, and I try to write some about the process of developing my games. I update the product info and images at sirlingames.com, and appear on podcasts or whatever whenever asked. I don’t know if it’s a strategy, more like doing marketing at all now instead of not doing it.
How do you monetize your blog and what were the biggest lessons learned there?
I used google ads on my blog, and also amazon referrals. Neither of them really made very much. Selling my own products is much more risky because of the enormous investment involved, but also has potentially higher payoffs than ads and referrals.
What role did networking with other bloggers play in the growth of your business?
I don’t have a blogging business, so it never played any role. But now that I sell physical goods, it helps to be covered by other blogs and media. It’s been helpful to have been covered by Tom Vasel at the Dice Tower, Rodney from WatchItPlayed (on youtube), Ken at FortressAmeritrash, GeekDad at wired.com, and even Adam Sessler at G4TV.
What were the biggest mistakes that you’ve made throughout your blogging career that slowed down your progress dramatically and how can others avoid repeating them?
I don’t really have a blogging career, so I don’t know. If I were though, I would have had to write a whole lot more than I did.
When you look back, what do you think are the key reasons for your success in blogosphere?
I think it’s all about having an interesting thought and communicating it. That sounds like a nothing kind of advice, but it’s pretty legit actually. Most thoughts you or I have are not that interesting. Most news stories aren’t that interesting either. But if there’s some area you’ve thought a lot about, have expertise in, have a perspective that gives you a better angle than other people…then spending time on writing about that could be worth it. For example, Playing to Win obviously struck a chord with the entire world of competitive gamers, and is still often quoted to this day. My writing about “Yomi Layers” an unequal rewards in rock, paper, scissors are still often quoted, as well as my series on multiplayer game balance. Even my three part series about writing well. So in each of those cases, I actually had something to say, something that was worthwhile enough to spend time writing down. In other words, the first half of this is about your life and you as a person and how you can come have something interesting to say in the first place. The second half is about the discipline of spending time to actually write it and the craft of writing it well.
Last, but not least, what would you say to our readers who’d like to start their own gaming or game design blogs, but are at the very beginning of this path?
Just know what you want to do. For example, as I said earlier, I never had a marketing focus, so even though I knew that posting every day could drive more traffic, that wasn’t something I cared about. If it is something you care about, you probably want a lot of content. If you want to be noticed by smartest people, I don’t think those people want your constant content though. They want only your best content. Then you have to factor in if you’re doing this to directly make money or not. If yes, it seems like you can’t help but bow to the market pressures of going for as many page views as you can. If you have a longer plan in mind, it could be ok to build up a smaller base (from less frequent, but more in-depth posts) and then have those followers be even more interested in whatever you do next.
I’d also say that you should be yourself and take a stand. If you hate MMOs, tell me. In great detail exactly why and why the world is a worse place for them having brainwashed them with a sense of entitlement whenever spending time on things. Or if you love MMOs and think modern businesses could learn a lot from the teamwork lessons you can learn from them, tell me that. Whatever you believe, someone is going to be upset about it, but if you spend time caring about that, you’re not going to be interesting to anyone. So just say whatever you actually think, have a personality, and write some stuff you are proud of. If the stuff you write explains concepts to people in a clear way that they find helpful, then you have probably done well.