Buried Treasure: State Of Play 2020

Hello. I wanted to do a sort of state of play update, as Buried Treasure heads rapidly toward its first anniversary. Admittedly, that’s technically in December, but I started work and registered the URL in October 2019, so it’s almost been a year for me! Shush.

Headlines:

  • Buried Treasure is doing incredibly well, and I’m so delighted, but I need it to do better to let it become what I believe it can be.
  • I am hell-bent on reaching a point where Buried Treasure can become a place where new writers get support, guidance and paid work.
  • I shall be uncomfortably frank and open about money.
  • I desperately need a better designed site. Please get in touch if you can do that – I will pay you.
  • I’ve covered over 100 games in the last 11 months, which is a LOT of games.

First of all, I’m so honoured and delighted that reaching a first year has happened at all. I’d no idea if this project would work, especially funding it by throwing my hat on the floor and hoping some people would drop in their spare change. Having come off 12 years on Rock Paper Shotgun, with an audience of millions and a budget to match, it felt weird and frightening and potentially irresponsible to go all the way back to the start again. But my passion in the later years of RPS had really become focused on bringing attention to excellent games the rest of the industry didn’t have the time or the inclination to cover, and I really wanted to carve out a way to do that full-time. I’m so utterly thrilled and humbled that over 350 patrons are helping to fund my doing that.

Right now BT (yes, clearly, I should have picked a name that didn’t abbreviate to one of the UK’s biggest companies) is bringing me about £1000 a month (after fees but before tax), and that’s completely amazing! It’s also about the most confusing figure possible, in terms of what I do with the site. Let me explain…

£12,000 a year, you might have heard, is rather hard to live on. Especially with a kid. I am in awe of those who do. It’s significantly below the UK’s minimum wage. So I have to do other work too. Right now I’m aiming for three or four features a week on BT (yes, the last couple of weeks have been a miss), spending three hours a day editing Kotaku, co-running a fantastic consultancy company called Quick Save with Craig Pearson, and writing as much freelance as I can in the no gaps. Often all at the same time. Essentially four different jobs. I’m still making quite significantly less than I was in my last few years at RPS, but I’m also enormously grateful to have work at all. I’m very much one of the fortunate ones.

The issue is the amount of time I can dedicate to Buried Treasure. It’s splendidly successful enough to be an ongoing endeavour, but not successful enough that I can give it the time and energy it needs to grow. So I need to figure this out.

Ideally, and gosh this is easier typed than achieved, I need to cross that $2,000 a month barrier. Currently things have stalled around $1,500 for the last couple of months (and believe me, I am so damned aware how much that is, and how much so many Patreons would give arms and legs for $1,500, but I can only speak about my own situation), and to start being able to do what I want to do next, it needs to keep going up. What is it I want to do? It’s to go farther, deeper, with the ethos behind the site: help unknown games get the attention they deserve. And on top of that, help unknown writers do the same.

I so desperately want Buried Treasure to be a site where new writers can cut their teeth, get paid and published, gaining a credit they can then take with them to other bigger sites. I want to work with creative people, to help them hone their writing, develop their skills, and become better equipped to find more paid work. It’s something I’m good at, have done a lot before, and have the experience and knowledge to do well, but just lack the budget to pay the writers. And there’s no way on Earth I’d do this without paying the writers.

At $2,000/£1,500 a month, not only would BT be making me a foundational £18k a year, but it means a portion of that can go to paying for contributors. At $2,500/£2,000 a month, which seems ridiculously high but is completely possible, we can start really having fun.

What I have to work out is, is there a paying audience out there I’ve yet to reach, another 300 or so people who would be willing to hand over $2-$5 a month to let this project flourish? I need to work out how to reach them, because I’ve seemingly exhausted the potential of as far as my Twittery arms can stretch. Or I need to work out another way to bring money into BT that doesn’t compromise the vision. (Advertising isn’t a particularly likely route, because while the people who read BT are very likely to spend money on the games, the numbers are currently far too low to attract businesses.)

This is all very frustrating, because I of course know ways I could make money. I know how easy it would be to set up affiliate links, or do sponsored posts – they’re just not things that feels right for the site. I am very open to suggestions.

And yes, the site isn’t fit for purpose. It’s my own botched attempt with WordPress, and currently the “load more articles” button has completely broken after one click, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to fix it. I desperately need a better/heavily patched up site, and if anyone is interested, get in touch. I will pay you for your time.

That’s where things are at. I’m trying to be as transparent and truthful as I possibly can, because, well, what’s the use of not? I’m very happy to answer any other questions. And gosh, if you can convince anyone else to back the Patreon, perhaps an eccentric millionaire aunt or similar, that’d be great too.

As much as I want to make some money doing this, I hope it’s clear I want to promote buried games more. I mean, I could go get a proper job. But this feels a worthwhile use of my skills. I want Buried Treasure to grow into a respected site within this industry, a place the bigger sites care about enough to nick games from and cover themselves. And be a place where new writers get to develop and show their talent. That’s all. But I believe we can do it.

All Buried Treasure articles are funded by Patreon backers. If you want to see more reviews of great indie games, please consider backing this project.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for your transparency Jon, wish I had a solution but I’ll keep funding until you get to where you want the site to be.

  2. About the audience: Can you get data from patreon like what other creators are supported by your patrons? That might show some potential overlap.
    I’m currently supporting both this site and Game Maker’s Toolkit because I like to read about weird games and innovative designs.
    Also… Do you have a Steam Curator account that I’m missing? I’d like to see the John Walker seal of approval in that mass of content.

  3. I know you said it isn’t something you’re considering at the moment, but I never saw affiliate links as a tiresome commercial thing unless articles were clearly being written just to get people to click through and buy things. When there are convenient store links to the games you’re discussing, that just happen to be affiliate links, using them is like leaving a tip for the people who helped you find something cool IMO.

    I’m assuming, of course, that the money comes out of the store’s pocket, and not the developers’, but I’m fairly certain that’s how it works.

  4. Well, I’ve been using the site and appreciating your fantastic work since you set it up, and have discovered a handful of wonderful games I certainly would never have stumbled upon on my own.

    …So high time I joined the supporter ranks. I appreciate the frank discussion about finances, and I know well enough how little even £20k covers living the UK.
    It’ll have to be just the $5 tier until my own industry picks up post-pandemic, and I start getting some work in again 🙂

    I really hope you reach your goals, I’d absolutely love to see more writers here. (Get Sin Vega involved since she just got dropped by RPS, she’s great! :-P)

    Best of luck dude!

  5. Would it be possible to allow for support through platforms like steadyhq.com for people like me who have troubles with Patreon (problems with some debit cards, no other currencies apart from USD involving exchange rates, no SEPA)? I’d really like to support you for all the interesting games you dig up but are currently unable technically.

  6. The financial discussion is fascinating, and much appreciated. I’m an entrepreneur myself (in a completely different space), and too few people have this kind of conversation, even with themselves! It’s great that you have a specific target and are willing to share it with us.

    I think upgrading the site itself might end up paying dividends. Ideally a project like this would live or die based on the content, which in BT’s case is excellent. But having a polished first impression matters maybe more than it should. It’s the design version of dressing for the job you want, rather than the one you have.

  7. Hi John, not a new idea but maybe you could bring a video element into it? Finding ways to manipulate whatever algorithms are around that accumulate traffic and they tend to have pretty good conversion to patreon as well.

Leave a Reply to hayvac Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.