The Saturday Papers – Empirical Results

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While it isn’t quite twelve months since the start of The Saturday Paper, it’s the end of the year and that always makes me want to start summarising things, so I thought I’d take a look at how The Saturday Papers had fared in the entries we’ve had over the last few months or so. I don’t want to name specific papers because it would imply that some work is more popular than others (which is the opposite really – it’s down to how I sell it, mixed with some good old Internet serendipity). With the names removed though, how about some numbers?

There have been 14 Saturday Papers written so far, for a total of 23,500+ page views (as of October 28th). That’s not including views over on Gamasutra, which I don’t have the numbers for. This figure is a bit misleading – the top viewed paper has over 5,000 views alone, while there are five papers with less than 700 views each, so there’s a range of attractions.

The Saturday Papers was designed to be a way of summarising work so developers are aware of what’s going on out there, but also to leave links for people to follow to papers in case they wanted to learn more. In terms of outbound links, the most hit paper has over 250 views, which is an amazing conversion rate on the post it was attached to (around 10% – I average 1% on the site normally). My calculations are a little rough, but I estimate that around 2,000 clickthroughs to papers happened as a result of the column, again not including Gamasutra stats which I don’t have data for.

As far as traffic sources go, the main contributor to the column on this site is Reddit. I post the link to /r/gamedev every Saturday, and it normally does pretty well (on one occasion it outranked Screenshot Saturday on the day it was posted). I also get a healthy dose of traffic via Twitter, particularly recently thanks to some very kind indie Twitter stars sharing the link around. On occasion I’ve sent in the column to Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Sunday Papers, which also gets a great response.

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What affects readership? This is purely anecdotal, but three things seem to impact viewing figures a lot. Firstly, referencing major games in the lead or headline. Minecraft and Monet is, to date, the only Saturday Paper to get coverage from outside my own postings, picked up by Kotaku. My writeup namedrops Minecraft heavily, and the paper itself is based on Super Mario – games that people understand and relate to. So that’s good already, but hard to control for authors of papers, so not the best metric to focus on.

Next up is applicability. One thing that caused a rise in interest recently was the work by Tremblay et al on the Unity Stealth Game Tool. Academic research that also doubles as a usable design tool is rare, and Unity is something that a lot of people across the industry can relate to. Having this work grounded in something that people understand, combined with the promise of an open source release, is really appealing.

Finally, something that affects myself and anyone else thinking about writing for this kind of thing – I initially started selling the work using catchy-sounding titles like Minecraft and Monet. One thing I’m noticing, on Reddit in particular, is that using a more descriptive, functional title for the work gets a lot more readers. This is totally understandable, and a stylistic thing that caught me off-guard earlier on. I still keep the fun titles on the site itself, but my posts on Twitter and Reddit now include more descriptive stuff, like the most recent column - Procedural Content Generation as a Game Mechanic rather than Dream Design.

At AIIDE I spoke to researchers that were keen to write similar columns themselves. I am toying with the idea of expanding the column, but I like the small size it has right now. Watch this space for potential expansion in the future, but for now I’d recommend anyone who is interested to start writing columns about papers they like – and let me know! I’ll plug them and share them around as much as I can.

One final note – 23,500+ views is an incredible amount of attention to bring to research that might not otherwise have reached developers and gamers, particularly indies. I’d like to thank all the people who have shared and pushed the Saturday Papers on Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere. You know who you are – I am really, really grateful. Thanks, and here’s to many more interesting papers on the horizon!

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