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Blizzard WatchFeb 3, 2015 9:00 am CT

Welcome to Blizzard Watch

(Please excuse our dust. We’ve only recently moved in and haven’t had much of an opportunity to spruce up the place. No aspect of the site’s current design is final. Consider this an opportunity to see us build our home from the ground up.)

Hi. I’m Alex Ziebart. You may remember me in such positions as Editor-in-Chief of WoW Insider and … well, that’s all that’s relevant right now. I served as member of WoW Insider’s staff for just over 7 years and as Editor-in-Chief since October 2011. Our former parent company recently gave us the boot for reasons beyond our control.

We don’t think we’re done yet.

For those not familiar, WoW Insider was a World of Warcraft news site that bore the tagline: “WoW News, Guides, and Analysis.” We strove not only to provide the news, but provide its context and continue to explore its impact. We were fans willing to show our passion in both praise and criticism. We provided guides to content not aimed only at the hardcore, but players on every point of that spectrum in the vein of Blizzard’s motto: easy to learn, difficult to master.

We want to keep doing it. We want a site to call our own. We want a fresh start. We need your help. That’s why we’ve started a Patreon, where you can directly support this site and its staff.

To match the level of content generation we previously sustained at WoW Insider, our minimum operating requirements are $8,000 per month. Running a website with the ambitions of WoW Insider, providing regular, daily content, is a big undertaking. Maintaining professional quality necessitates at least part of the staff can dedicate themselves to the site as their full-time job. They need to be paid for their time, and more importantly, we need the ability to pay for the volume of content a site like ours produced. To reiterate: that $8,000 per month will cover the cost of a full-time editor, a part-time editor, and a schedule of daily content. That daily content will includes news, editorial, community-driven features, guides, our podcast, and fan favorites such as The Queue and Know Your Lore.

That number does not include class columns. If we want to revive class columns, we need to move the goalpost. Delivering class columns on a consistent basis is itself a significant undertaking. World of Warcraft currently has 11 classes, and within those classes, a wide array of specializations and playstyles. Given that columns are feature-length articles that often require significant research, making them cost more to produce than your standard news, there’s a price tag attached that can’t be ignored. If we reach $9,000/month in funding, we can begin bringing on columnists to produce class content at a rate of one column every other week per class. If we can reach $10,000, we can either push that to weekly publication or make greater efforts to ensure all class specializations are covered.

Anything north of $10,000/month will be determined when we get there. First and foremost, we would build a nest egg to futureproof us against any unexpected expenses or a dip in funding during a lull in World of Warcraft’s development period. Traffic and interest has a habit of dips and spikes with the cycle of patches and expansions and if we can smooth out the financial ramifications of that with the additional funding, we will be healthier for it. Beyond that, one option would be to expand our coverage of other Blizzard games such as Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft, Diablo, and the upcoming Overwatch. While we attempted some of this at WoW Insider, we never had the resources to do it particularly well, nor did we have the resources to design a site in such a way that readers could choose what they did or did not want to see on their front page. While our new site’s design is obviously incomplete, we’ll be designing it with features like that in mind.

Time for some FAQ:

What the heck is Patreon?

Patreon is a crowdfunding service where, rather than having one lump sum up-front total like a Kickstarter, you sign up for monthly, recurring payments. Think of it like paying an optional subscription where you choose how much the subscription costs. If you’d like to give us $1/month, that’s fine. If you want to give us $5, $10, $25, or whatever other amount per month, you can do that, too. Pay as much or as little as you’d like.

Will this site be any different from WoW Insider?

The key point is we’ll have more freedom. Freedom to change our structure when the situation necessitates it, the ability to fix our own technical problems without jumping through support hoops, and the freedom to have other types of content if we think they’ll be fun. We can choose which technologies we use in our content production rather than the media avenues provided by a parent company. We can generally be more agile. Free of our corporate shackles, we’ll be able to dive back into creating awesome content with renewed passion for what we do. Most importantly, we can cover all aspects of WoW and Blizzard games that you know and love without limitations.

Which staff members are coming over from WoW Insider?

We currently have Alex Ziebart, Adam Holisky, Anne Stickney, Matthew Rossi, and Elizabeth Harper slated to follow us. We will reach out to more of our alumni as funding allows — and based on their personal interest in joining us.

Will you have a podcast?


Will you still run ads?

We currently intend to run ads, yes. Without a dedicated salesperson, ad revenue isn’t enough to sustain a large website of professionals, and we aren’t in a position to hire a dedicated salesperson (as in a person who has sales as their only job) without first having the revenue. Hence Patreon. However, we intend to put as much of our Patreon funding as possible toward content generation. Our ad revenue would supplement our funding from Patreon and cover expenses such as hosting, design, and ongoing technical support. If ad revenue exceeds expectations, we would put that funding into a pool I’d like to simply call “extras.” Extras would include expenses such as sending a team (or individual) to BlizzCon each year for liveblogs, photography, and so on. It would also contribute to the aforementioned nest egg to smooth out any unexpected financial hiccups. Double also, it could act as a safeguard against catastrophic equipment failures. This is a profession where it’s not possible to perform your work without some expensive technology at-hand. With a bare minimum income, replacing that equipment if it fails can be a terrible setback, potentially impossible to recover from. We care about our people and don’t want that to happen.

In addition, we’d really love to give away more swag on our site than we were previously able. It’s just a fun thing to do. We love it and you love it. We don’t think it makes sense for our backers to bankroll toys we’re going to give away. We want all of you to know your funding is supporting content above all.

We will also explore the possibilities of affiliate marketing and sponsorships. Advertisements and sponsorships will never dictate our editorial, however. Sponsors will never choose what we do or do not post or say. A sponsor will not dictate our opinions. To be clear on that, here are some sample scenarios:

  • A sponsor may pay us to have our ad boxes for a day
  • A sponsor may not pay us to review their product
  • A sponsor may pay us to give their product away in a raffle
  • A sponsor may not pay us to let their marketing team write content for us

We will be as transparent as possible on this point. You’ll know when someone has given us something to give away in a raffle rather than that item being something we pulled out of our closet or acquired with our own operating budget.

Continuing to run advertisements is purely a matter of financial responsibility. We want to ensure a healthy site. If all of you are willing to back us, we also need to do our part to make sure your investment stays strong. We don’t intend to simply cash out our revenue and put it in our pockets. We will invest in our website above all.

Will your financials be made public?

To a degree. You will always be able to see how much we earn through Patreon. That’s public by default. The specifics of how that money is used will be public only in broad strokes. It wouldn’t be fair, for example, to make the salary of every staff member public. If we were making billions, then we would make salaries public because it would be of significant public interest, but we’re not. Some degree of privacy is required to make a safe and comfortable work environment. The simple fact that you can see what we earn through Patreon should be some assurance that we aren’t making bank and cashing out. And given our team has worked together for years, I think you can trust that none of us would be out to screw one another over. If thousands of dollars were mysteriously disappearing, one of us would notice. Our staff isn’t simply composed of business partners. We’re friends.

We’ll also offer as much transparency into our ad revenue as possible so you know it’s being invested back into our website.

Will your content be behind a paywall?

No. Our content will be free to all. We need your support to make sure we can do that. We don’t think a site like ours would be viable whatsoever with a paywall – and frankly, we’re generally not a fan. Rather than making our content exclusive to Patreon backers, we’ll be exploring bonuses we can offer our backers. A very small example is, in the case of a giveaway (sponsored or otherwise), some of the items would be available as prizes to the general public and some would be available to Patreon backers. Theoretically, the pool of Patreon backers would be much smaller than the general audience, increasing a backer’s chance of winning.

That isn’t necessarily something we’ll do. Is it a good idea? You tell us. It isn’t the only thing we’ll do, either. This is a brand new frontier for us. We can always add bonuses over time. There’s nothing stopping us. And if you choose to back us, you’re welcome to suggest bonuses that would appeal to you. Taking you out on a romantic candlelight dinner is not an option, I’m afraid. Unless you’re paying. Other than your Patreon contributions, I mean. Then we might consider it.

We’ll explore backer benefits further in a question below.

Can backers tell you what to post?

We’ll always listen to feedback, but we won’t let individuals dictate our opinions, just as we wouldn’t let sponsors do that. One of the good things we can say about having corporate backing is they never interfered with our editorial prerogative. They never told us we couldn’t say something. They never told us we must say something. They never told us who we could or could not have on our staff. That’s a healthy editorial environment and we want to maintain that. If you’re willing to support us, you probably know what sort of people we are already. We’ll praise when we feel it’s due. We’ll be critical when we think it’s needed.

Feedback is different. Feedback will always be considered. We won’t always do the precise thing you ask, but if there’s a problem, we will take it into consideration. If you’d like to see more of something, let us know. If you’d like to see less of something, tell us that, too. We are who we are and we feel the things we feel. That’s what you’re supporting. If you trust us, give us your support. If you don’t trust us, then don’t.

One of the benefits of this business model, however, is we don’t need to base our decisions on corporate demands of traffic generation — that is, we don’t need to determine what is profitable in the traditional sense. Those features that had small but passionate fans become a possibility again. While our backers can’t tell us what we can or cannot post, there’s potential to resurrect columns and features previously cut from WoW Insider if our backers are vocal about wanting them. Again, that comes with the caveat of our editorial freedom coming first. If we don’t think a particular feature fits our vision and our voice, then it won’t come back.

Will your new outlet incorporate wider multimedia?

That’s a possibility that relies heavily on funding. We’re open to it, but video can get expensive. One of the major challenges of video is content producers can easily go independent on YouTube and immediately start building their own base. An outlet running on a tight, shoestring budget is going to find it hard to compete. That isn’t even getting into the cost of good equipment. That can be expensive stuff. That’s why we previously partnered with existing YouTubers such as Panser of TradeChat, who has moved on to doing Wowhead’s Weekly Recap. Those were mutually beneficial arrangements based on sharing each other’s content with our respective audiences.

TL;DR: We will if we can. It depends on funding. It’s something we will explore if the money is there.

What are the backer benefits?

First, to reiterate what is sprinkled throughout earlier sections:

  • Transparency with our financials to Patreon supporters to the extent that it does not infringe on basic privacy for our staff
  • Tiered giveaways wherein a portion of prizes will be reserved for Patreon supporters
  • A direct line of feedback via our Patreon page
  • The ability to help us tailor our content to your interests — within our editorial discretion

Our backers will also be the first place we’ll look for questions for The Queue and our podcast. We will not take questions exclusively from our backers, but our backers will be the first place we look.

At the moment, we don’t want to promise a ton of bells and whistles. We want to promise you that if we meet our goals, we will deliver the content you’re paying for. We would love to add more backer benefits, but committing significant resources to those benefits at this stage is premature, and depending on how funding pans out, could end up being dishonest. If we promise X thing to backers that will require Y resources or Z staff but fall short on funding, we won’t be able to deliver that bonus that may have inspired you to donate.

This is a place where we’d like to reserve some spontaneity, too. If we have a cool thing we want to share exclusively with our backers, we’ll do that. Not promising that means we can deliver it when we truly think it’s cool rather than doing the same thing over and over again until no one is enjoying it anymore because we put it on a list. We can do different, fun things with the freedom this model offers.

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Filed Under: Crowdfunding, Patreon

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