If you’ve been following the site, I kind of make a big deal of not having any affiliates or anything that can interfere with the solemn duty of dispensing gaming critique. So why would I let such dirty mongers sully the otherwise pristine pages of this site? I like the service and think it’s a good deal and it seems dumb both not to tell you, and not to make a few dollars if you decide to use it.
06/17/18 Update: I had a change of heart. Although Utomik has done nothing wrong we will no longer use the affiliate link because I built a vegetable garden.
Where the money is
When I started this site I had no real plans to monetize it. I had a vague notion that websites made their money from advertising. Looking at the numbers, it didn’t seem lucrative enough to ever be worthwhile. You earn roughly $1 per 1000 views. The amount of effort it takes to get a blog from zero to a million views/month is massive and can take years. And when you reach that magical, far away milestone you make $1000. So a niche game website has to be one of the least efficient ways to make money.
Then I got a few offers and did some reading and realized that’s not where the money is at all. The money is in affiliations. For some industries the commissions are broad and massive. If this was a furniture review site I could get between 10% – 30% commission for every sale that came from my affiliate link. The games industry is meager in comparison. The number one product we review is games. Games are cheap and mostly sold by Steam, who doesn’t offer an affiliate program.
Now I understood why I kept seeing so many fucking chairs. I curated a news feed for the site for a while and it seemed like every 5th review was for a gaming chair. Gaming chairs have well established affiliate programs, and unlike a $30 indie game, they have a high sticker price. I still have no plans to monetize the site but certain things I saw online started making sense.
The slippery slope
If I served ads and got 40,000 visitors to come to the site that would equal the profit from a single chair sale. I’m not sure what the sell through rate is but I’m guessing if I have a trusted audience, it’s higher than 0.0025%. And it’s not like I wouldn’t still sell ads, the site needs content anyway. I need a new chair, I look for a good one and grab an affiliate link while I’m at it.
I review it honestly, happen to like it, and some of my readers who trust me decide to buy one too. Shiny affiliate loot pours in, my website makes a profit for the first time ever and I buy a snow cone. Life is cool and sweet.
A few months later a different chair company approaches me, but this time with a 30% commission instead of 10%. I do the math. I could buy three snow cones. I agree and a few days later my tester chair arrives. It’s not a good chair; more expensive, difficult to assemble and after a few hours of gaming my back hurts. If I give an honest review no one will buy the chair through my link, especially with the original review for a better, cheaper chair still up on the site.
It’s not hard to see how temptation grows. Maybe I straight up lie and say the chair is great. It is a chair after all. Everyone’s body is different. I can counter any complaints by just saying “it was comfortable for me”. Maybe I just nudge the score up a bit and take down the old review so it’s the best choice on my site. And down the slope I go, dreaming of snow cones and ignoring the lamentations of my readers’ backs.
So how is this different?
The affiliate link I’m letting in is for Utomik. It’s a new service that hopes to become the Netflix of gaming. Chris asked me to review it a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure but he assured me they have lots of indie and games in the niche. I took a look myself and was surprised at how many titles they had that I’d actually want to play. Good, known games that I missed then forgot about and indies I hadn’t heard of that look interesting enough to try. And since it was a subscription model I also noticed a bunch of games that I know I don’t want to play for long, but that I want to check out because people kept referencing them or because they have a single clever mechanism and I like game design.
Their affiliate program is also appropriately tiny; they can only give a percentage of a very small fee. And they have over 700 titles. Us artificially inflating a review score for a single game isn’t really going to make a difference for them. So as far as affiliates go, it’s pretty hands off. If I could get an affiliate from Steam, I would for the same reason (and I should get around to grabbing GoG and Amazon links while I’m at it). The point of the site is to always be honest but it’s expensive to run and I don’t need to be all “holier than thou” about it.
How we’ll deal with it
The one place where even an inoffensive affiliate like this might tempt us is in the coverage. Right now the writers choose games from a big spreadsheet where I add every game I see that fits the site’s niche. Asking writers to cover Utomik games instead of going off the spreadsheet would translate into more sales. But it would kill the natural balance we get by letting the writers choose themselves.
To fight that, I’m going to continue not asking the writers to cover specific games. Utomik will become just another source for games I check daily, whatever fits the niche will go into the spreadsheet. If it’s available on Utomik they’ll be listed along with the other sites on the “Available from” list that ends each review.
How does it work?
If you join from our link you get the usual 30-day free trial plus an extra two weeks. We get a little bit of money which 100% goes back into the site. For a single user you pay US$5.99/month and it works like Netflix. You choose a game, hit play and it starts after a bit of downloading. Unlike fully streaming services it installs locally as you play so there’s no future lag like cloud based services. There’s also a family plan for a bit more per month that lets up to four people use the account.
While I was looking at the service, just trying to decide if there’s value in Chris reviewing it, an indie game caught my eye. It was honestly liberating to just click play and start playing in about 20 seconds. I’m lazy enough that buying a game on Steam is a sufficient hassle to make me discerning. Sure I can refund but that takes like, three clicks. So I only buy stuff I really think I’ll like. Remove those clicks and my willingness to experiment goes up considerably. It’s the open bar of video games.
Anywho. That’s why I don’t think it will give you lower back pain or any reason to mistrust the site.
10 games I know you should play if you haven’t
- Tropico series – I buy each Tropico as soon as it comes out, sight unseen. I love city builders but this one’s ridiculous banana republic antics is mucho fantastico.
- Defense Grid: The Awakening – Still the best TD game ever. It single handedly made me like the genre.
- Blackguards – I think I liked the first one better than the sequel. Decent mercenary turn based game. Pretty hard.
- Elven Legacy – Just an old school, hexy thing. Panzer General with fantasy units.
- Batman Arkham series – Sure you can do OK just mashing the buttons. That’s not the point. There are many sublime levels above that, and climbing them is bone crunchingly satisfying.
Metro 2033 – A first person shooter but thoughtful (based on a great book) and scarier than most horror games.
- A whole mess of Star Wars games. I’ll list a few:
- Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy – The title is enough.
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Ultimate Sith Edition – Yup.
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 – Then play this one.
- Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic
10 games I’ve been meaning to try out
- Railroad Pioneer
- Dungeons 3
- The Guild 2
- King’s Bounty The Legend
- SuperPower 2
- 7.62 High Calibre
- The Saints Row Series
- Metro Last Light
- Gothic 3
- Dead Island: Riptide
- And another whole mess of Star War games:
- Star Wars: Empire at War – Forces of Corruption
- Star Wars: Battlefront II
10 games I know nothing about that look interesting
- East India Company
- Mini Metro
- Star Wolves 3: Civil War
- Blue State: The Game
- Bound by Flame