And just like that, Apple may just have killed Mac Gamer HQ… But first things first. I’m sorry for the 2 months without an update on how the site is doing. I was actually planning to share some good news with you, but unfortunately, something big just happened. And it’s bad.
Apple strikes again
Last year, Apple decided to lower their affiliate commissions from 7% to 2.5%. That may not sound like much, but affiliate commissions can quickly add up and generate a few hundred dollars per month.
Going from 7% to 2.5% meant losing close to two-thirds of that income overnight. Long story short, the backlash from the community was huge and Apple had to back down. The whole episode was seen as a big misunderstanding and a serious scare, but it was only the beginning.
Yesterday, Apple officially announced that they would downright kill the affiliate program for iOS and Mac Apps. It seems they no longer need sites like ours anymore:
Call me cynical, but reading that email, it feels like a selfish and short-sighted middle finger to the many sites that make a living supporting Apple and its products.
And I don’t think we can recover
I think it’s about time I share some figures with you. For the month of June 2018, this is what the site earned:
- Mac App Store commissions: $368.25
- Humble Bundle commissions: $54.58
- GOG commissions: $22.85
For a grand total of $445.68 or around $310 after taxes (based here in France).
As you can see, things were tough already. That’s not even enough to pay for web hosting and tools, freelancers and the occasional game to review. Add to that the tens of hours I spend creating content every week and the fact I sometimes need to pay freelancers from my own pocket and you get a pretty helpless, tiring, and unpromising operation.
PS: In case someone wants to suggest adding ads or offering a membership, we tried both (remember Level Up Gamer?) and they generated so little revenue, it was sad.
And now that Apple is taking away more than 80% of our modest revenue, I don’t know what to think. I love creating content for Mac Gamer HQ. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have survived doing it for so long for free. But things keep getting worse and the dream that Mac Gamer HQ will one day replace my day job is slowly dying. This may have been the last nail in the coffin.
Apple to small developers and affiliates: “Thanks for helping make us a trillion dollar company. We’ll take it from here.”
— Russell Giesbrecht (@russgies) August 3, 2018
Guys, I have to be honest with you here. I don’t know what will happen with Mac Gamer HQ. It was already hard to put so much time and effort for so little revenue. I did it because I believed in Mac Gamer HQ and that maybe one day it would go to the next level and help me and others earn a living.
But now, I don’t know if I can continue believing in it.
Don’t take this as an official announcement that Mac Gamer HQ is no more. I don’t know what will happen next. Life is getting busier, my day job is becoming more demanding and I have a baby (our first) on the way. All I know right now is that I need to seriously reevaluate this site’s future.
Until then, know that you guys have always been great. You’re the reason I managed to persevere for so long!
And we’re not the only victims
In a way, I feel both better and worse to see that I’m not the only one hurting. This is how Eli Hoddap, from Touch Arcade, reacted to the news:
It’s hard to read this in any other way than “We went from seeing a microscopic amount of value in third-party editorial to, we now see no value.” I genuinely have no idea what TouchArcade is going to do.
I guess misery likes company. What’s clear is this change will, as Rene Ritchie perfectly explains it here, hurt the entire community.
With that, I will take this opportunity to officially thank you for your support. Hopefully, we will find a way to continue. Because even if I sound pessimistic and depressed, I know I still have some fight in me and Mac Gamer HQ will not go down so easily!
April 2018 report: This smells bad
Welcome to our monthly report. This is the place where we discuss in all transparency how the blog is really doing behind the scenes. As you know, 2018 will be a critical year for us and here is where we’ll track our progress (or lack thereof).
Let me get it out of the way: April was a bad month for Mac Gamer HQ.
At first glance, things seem ok. The site got almost as many visitors as it did in March. But the devil is in the details. We were hit hard by a Google penalty (which still makes no sense to me) back in March 2017 and the site has been bleeding traffic since. We went from getting up to 120,000 monthly visitors to barely 50,000 nowadays.
Last month was the first month Mac Gamer HQ stopped losing search traffic since the whole crisis started. The traffic numbers were still not great, but at least it meant the hemorrhage had stopped. Or so we thought.
Losing search traffic again…
In April 2018, the site received -1% search traffic compared to the previous month. 1% is not much, but taking into account that every week we spend tens of hours creating new content and improving existing articles, it doesn’t make sense.
The only explanation I have is that search engines still see Mac Gamer HQ as a low quality and unreliable source and prefer to show articles from basically any other site.
Plus, on top of creating new articles, I spend a lot of time auditing the site, updating it and doing everything I can to show the Google Gods that this is a trustworthy site. It seems it hasn’t worked so far…
It gets worst
Search traffic isn’t everything. I still believe that engagement metrics, such as direct traffic and number of comments, are more important than raw traffic. The important thing is that you keep coming back for more and want to participate because you enjoy what we do around here.
That said, most metrics went down, including the number of comments left on the site (excluding mine):
- March 2018: 44 comments
- April 2018: 30 comments
Is it worth it?
You probably sensed some frustration already 😅
Right now, I am pissed with last month’s metrics. Some may say they are just numbers, but to me, they are like taking a patient’s vitals. And right now, the prognosis is not promising.
Hence, this very important question comes to mind:
I’ve never worked this hard on Mac Gamer HQ, but am I working smart?
Or in other words:
Are we focusing on the right type of content?
To give you an example, we spend hours per week working on our Performance Reviews. I know that some of you love them (I do too), but are they worth it? Should we spend those hours creating something different?
PS: Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think. I would really appreciate it.
In the meantime, I have decided one thing. Instead of covering as many games as possible, we will focus on fewer more in-depth articles instead. We would love to do both but that is unfortunately impossible. I do most of the work myself, and because Mac Gamer HQ barely makes any money, I can rarely hire other writers.
A new schedule and a new way to cover the latest games
Don’t worry though. We will continue covering the most anticipated and important games. Lesser-known games won’t get dedicated articles (which, due to limited resources, was already the case), but instead of simply doing nothing, we will overhaul the New Mac games page to make it more useful and dynamic.
Expect better coverage of all those games that aren’t that famous but are still worthy of your attention.
And last but not least, now that I finally admitted to myself that we won’t ever have new articles every day, I believe you need to know what to expect and when.
Starting today, Mac Gamer HQ will get a new article every Tuesday and Friday. And if something big is announced in-between, we will drop everything to give that a proper coverage.
I’m sorry for the long rant but there’s one last thing: If I ever fail to meet that new schedule, yell and complain to me 😉
March 2018 report: Things are finally looking up
It’s been more than a month since we last discussed the state of Mac Gamer HQ.
Normally, this should be a somewhat boring topic. A “no news, good news” affair. Unfortunately, Mac Gamer HQ is in a state of crisis, with figures that continue to decrease each month. Many ask me if things are going a little better. They fear the end is near.
This is why I’m convinced I have to tell you, in all transparency, where we are today.
Traffic is finally stabilizing
Finally, some good news. After months of declining traffic, March 2018 had 8% more visits than February 2018! Traffic is still pretty low, with only 55,199 monthly visits compared to 120,000+ monthly visits end of 2016, but this is the first positive sign I’ve seen in months.
I have to admit good news was needed, especially after February, which was the worst month I’d seen in years…
Search traffic didn’t grow that much, but when you’re used to seeing it drop month after month, stable numbers are good enough.
In the meantime, it’s great to see the other traffic sources increase, especially direct traffic:
16% more direct traffic is great because it means more readers are coming back to the site. We must be doing something right 😉
The most important metric
It’s easy to become obsessed with metrics. Everyone wants more traffic after all. But there are other metrics that are just as important, or even more so. For example, the only reason I’ve kept it together for so long, in spite of declining traffic and revenue, are your comments and emails.
Last year, there were entire months with 0 comments. Last month, the site got 44 comments (not counting mine), the most Mac Gamer HQ has ever seen. That is amazing and I can’t help but feel grateful so many of you take the time to read our stuff and leave a comment.
Many sites take comments for granted but I can tell you they mean a lot to me. If you ever feel like asking a question or sharing something in the comments section, please do so. I read and reply to all comments on Mac Gamer HQ.
The fact that the number of comments increases at the same pace we publish more in-depth content can’t be a coincidence.
March was also the month with the most guides and reviews ever published in a single month. And I’m not even talking about News articles. I’m talking about in-depth articles that each took hours to create. This was only possible because I now get help from talented paid writers.
I now realize there’s only one way to take Mac Gamer HQ to the next level: next level content.
Building a community
We also launched a Discord server which already has 200+ members. I spend a lot of time in there and if you ever want to say hi, talk Mac gaming, or be informed when a huge giveaway takes place, that’s the place to be.
I won’t lie to you, I’ve never been so stressed out and busy making sure all this content gets done. But I have the feeling we’re heading in the right direction. And all the positive feedback I’ve received from you confirms that feeling.
I just began a 2-week vacation in El Salvador (my home country) but you can rest assured the good content will keep coming as planned. That’s the whole idea behind creating a site bigger than myself.
February 2018 report: Are we still sinking?
Published February 21, 2018 – Last month I published an article that wasn’t easy to write.
2017 was a tough year for Mac Gamer HQ and it made me seriously think about the future of the site more than once. It had tough moments and it was about time I opened up and shared everything with you. And in case you missed it, it was as bad as it sounds:
- Google decided to penalize the site
- The site lost 52% of traffic compared to 2016
- Apple almost killed the little revenue the site makes
You can read all about in detail here:
But the most important part of that article wasn’t the complaining. Sure, life is unfair, Google hates us, Apple too, etc. But that article was really about making a commitment to you and to promise I would invest as much time, energy and money as possible to give Mac Gamer HQ one last, decent chance to survive.
I also detailed my masterplan plan on how to recover and take Mac Gamer HQ to the next level. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice we’ve done everything we said we would. And by the way, I’m extremely proud of that and have to thank the rest of the team for their support (Steve, Camilo, Salil, Chris, and everyone else).
With this unprecedented quantity of good content, you might be wondering how the site is doing now. Surely, business is picking up, traffic is increasing and Google finally realized we are a trustworthy site after all. Right?
I’m afraid I have some bad news…
Traffic continues to go down (and fast)
When looking at the traffic from the previous 30 days, compared with the previous 30 days before that, the trend is quite clear:
Traffic continues to go down and I have a hard time hiding my frustration. That’s close to -20% visits in one month…
The hard metrics (traffic and earnings) continue to go down, but there is one important metric that did go up: engagement. In the past month, I’ve seen more comments, received more emails and got more tweets than during any other month ever, not even when the site would get 120,000 visits per month!
That has to mean something. We are probably doing something right…
What does it mean for Mac Gamer HQ?
This changes nothing. We won’t give up after just one bad month. We made a commitment to try our best for a whole year, not a whole month. We still have 11 months to go, which is a long time to fight back and turn things around.
In fact, I continue to invest all of my free time to create content and hire writers to help out. Since the beginning of the year, we have published:
- 7 Performance Review (we did say one every Thursday)
- 12 news articles
- 1 big guide (featuring every Metal games for Mac)
And the investments do not stop with hiring writers, I actually found myself buying gear exclusively for testing purposes.
Didn’t I tell you about my Saturday afternoon? I’ve been looking for a used MacBook Pro to use for our tests. And as you can imagine, Apple Stores don’t sell hardware that old. That left me with the French equivalent of Craigslist…
The only model I found belonged to a gentleman that sounded a little shady on the phone and lived in a bad neighborhood. But I really wanted that exact model.
I decided to meet in a public place though (I’m sorry, I’m from El Salvador and can easily get paranoid) and was glad I did when I saw him arrive accompanied by a friend, both looking equally shady…
Of course, it all went great. Both guys were really nice and even offered me a cup of coffee while I performed some quick tests in the coffee shop. 👍
Now I have this 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2013 with Intel Iris 5100 graphics. Why did I absolutely want this model? It’s a relatively old MacBook Pro with one of the most used graphics out there (according to Steam’s Hardware survey at least).
This model compliments my existing lineup beautifully and there’s a big change many of you will own this exact same Mac.
Mac Gamer HQ has a place. It has the potential to help readers take full advantage of their Macs. We just need to perfect our style and content, and we could definitely use your help.
As always, if you read something you like or dislike, leave a comment and let us know. Mac Gamer HQ exists for you. I can only try to create what you need if you tell me what that is.
Talk to you in March, hopefully with better news 😉
What to expect in 2018: Sink or Swim
In a nutshell, 2017 was insane. Unfortunately, it was mostly insane in a bad way, with many lows, disappointments and frustrating moments that continue to this day.
This means something has to change. Today, I’ll share our plans for 2018 and show you what’s really going on behind the scenes for the first time.
Google doesn’t like us anymore
The year started off great. I was just starting a 10-month vacation around the world. December 2016 was the blog’s best month ever in terms of traffic. Life was good.
Until it wasn’t.
In a few months, traffic to the site went down the toilet, going from over 120,000 monthly visitors to 55,000 in September 2017. That’s a -54% decrease in traffic, which needless to say, is a catastrophe.
What happened? Well, Google decided it didn’t like us anymore. Or more precisely, it decided we create spam that isn’t useful and doesn’t deserve to be read. When I looked under the hood, the issue was painfully obvious. Mac Gamer HQ stopped ranking for most mac gaming related searches.
In other words, Google decided to actively penalize Mac Gamer HQ and make it disappear from the search results, taking with it half of its traffic. Odd, as this is the last remaining blog that covers Mac gaming in-depth. And it replaced it with results from shady torrent sites instead.
Just thinking about this makes me angry. It was a low blow and because Google does what it wants without telling you a thing, why it all happened (or how to recover) shall forever remain a mystery…
This is all clearly horrible for business as Google rankings are one of the, if not the, most important factor in a website’s viability. And right when I thought we could still recover…
Apple almost killed us
Yes, you read that right. And no, I’m not talking about that copyright claim they sent (because of our old logo). I’m talking about the time they changed their affiliates program, moving from 2% of commissions to 7%.
Mac Gamer HQ does not make a lot of money, but the little it makes comes from Mac App Store commissions. That change meant going from earning a few hundred dollars to basically nothing.
Luckily, it was all a big misunderstanding or something (many, myself included, find it hard to believe it was a misunderstanding at all). But that was a huge wake-up call. At any moment Apple could change their affiliates program or simply remove it. And just as it happened with Google, there was nothing I could do about it.
This double blow made me realize how fragile we are. At any moment, it could all crumble down.
Yet we’re still standing
2017 was a tough year that got tougher each month; in fact, December 2017 had the lowest traffic and earnings in years… It basically felt like the whole thing was about to burn in flames.
But instead of calling it quits, I doubled down on creating more and better content. Because if there’s a way out of this situation, it’s got to be creating better content. Plus, getting friendly emails from some of you, thanking me for the work done, definitely helped me stay focused.
This is a non-exhaustive list of all the good things we did in 2017 (I say we because a lot was only possible with the help of the team):
A faster site
Speed isn’t the most exciting feature, but it’s still critical. And Mac Gamer HQ was a mess in that regard. But after hours trimming the database, switching to a better hosting company, hiring a CDN, and cleaning code, the site is over twice as fast as before!
To give you an example, our biggest guide, the 100 Best Mac Games, went from loading in 10 seconds to 4.2 seconds!
And this improvement can be seen everywhere on the site.
More long form content
I’ll admit it, sometimes Mac Gamer HQ lacked attention. Sometimes it would be weeks between new articles. I’m not proud, but at least some progress was made in 2017. Let’s take as an example our Best of guides which are longer, more in-depth, and much harder to create than your average News article.
Well, last year alone, we released 10 Best of guides. For reference, between 2012 and 2016 we only released 8 guides… This required a lot of work from yours truly, but it also required the support of paid writers. That was a great experience and it’s something I aim to continue in 2018.
More useful content
Speaking about our Best of guides, I decided it was time to upgrade them. They now include benchmarks for each game highlighted, so you can have an idea whether or not your machine can handle them. The Best Horror games for Mac guide is a great example.
This obviously takes a lot of time, but I believe it’s worth it and key to making Mac Gamer HQ the best, most useful Mac gaming site around.
Introducing Mac Performance Reviews
This is something I’m particularly proud of. For years I’ve suspected that many of you wondered: Can I play this or that game on my Mac? And for years I’ve tried to find a good way to answer, with no luck. After many failed attempts, I think I found it: Performance Reviews.
You don’t need me to tell you how good a game is, there are hundreds of reviews available on the web. But you’re probably wondering if your machine can run it. And no one is taking the time to answer that question.
We started with Dirt Rally, and with the team’s help, we benchmarked it on 4 very different Macs. While we obviously can’t benchmark every model, we covered four typical setups, so I’m confident one of them will be similar to yours.
We’re still perfecting the formula, but that’s the philosophy of our new Performance Reviews: to provide you with the information you need to decide if that game you’re thinking of buying will run on your Mac.
What to expect in 2018
A few years ago I realized how much I loved running this place and so I promised myself to never give up without a fight. And I haven’t changed my mind one bit, not even after the disaster 2017 was.
But I’m sure you’re feeling my frustration throughout this post. 2017 was a huge test and a reminder that Mac Gamer HQ requires a lot of work and will need even more sacrifice to eventually succeed. It also requires money for hosting, services and writers, and yet right now it earns a little less each month.
I now understand why all Mac gaming blogs have eventually died out. Having talked with some of their former owners, they confirmed my fears. It was because their blogs required way too much time and energy for very little growth or reward.
We’ve managed to keep it together for a while now. But I’m feeling the fatigue and frustration of seeing all your efforts go wasted. At the same time, I haven’t always given it the focus it deserves. You guys deserve more than.
This is why 2018 will be Mac Gamer HQ’s one last chance.
2018 will be its sink or swim moment and I promise I will give it my best. If by the end of the year I can honestly say I gave it my best and the blog stayed on its plateau, it will be time to call it a day…
And as I really want it to succeed, I will go for a realistic target:
By the end of December 2018, Mac Gamer HQ should get at least 120,000 visits per month and bring $2,000 per month to cover all costs.
What this means for you
I’m not saying this to make you nervous. I do it for two reasons:
- You deserve my full transparency: I don’t share enough of what’s going on behind the scenes. You have trusted me with your time (and some of you with your money with Level Up Gamer) and I owe you at least that.
- 2018 will be our best year yet: I will take everything I’ve learned over the years and work harder than ever to give Mac Gamer HQ the best chance to survive.
And continuing with the honesty and transparency. This is what I have planned for the year:
More Performance reviews
I know that figuring what your Mac can or cannot run is important for you and I trust Performance Reviews are the answer.
Therefore, expect a new Performance Review every Thursday, at Noon PST time.
By the way, I continue to improve and fine-tune the formula so please let me know what you like or dislike. I always listen to what you guys have to say.
Improved Best of guides
We talked about this one before. Expect new Best of guides including the essential benchmarks. But more precisely, instead of focusing on new guides, I’ll focus on updating existing ones to include newer games and benchmarks (after all, the most popular genres are already covered).
I know, the Youtube channel looked like a museum. Only dusty old videos to be found. In 2018, there will be much more new videos, like our Can your Mac run it videos.
I’ll be honest, doing high-quality videos is hard. But there’s no better way to show you how games run or why we recommend them.
The ultimate Best Mac for gaming guide
With the help of everybody on the team, we are working hard on running tests on every Mac sold today, comparing in-game results and seeing which Macs are the most powerful and which ones have the best bang for the buck. Stay tuned, this one will be huge.
This one has been on my to-do list for a looooong time… In 2018, Mac Gamer HQ’s podcast will finally be released. I promise. And to make sure it will happen, I’m looking for someone with experience producing podcasts that would like to help me co-host it. Could that be you? Let me know!
Level Up Gamer
Content is the most important piece of the puzzle, but I won’t lie to you, revenue is critical too. I still don’t want to ask for donations. I want Mac gaming to grow and if you have spare money to spend, buy games and support developers.
This is why there are only two ways you can support us:
- Use our links to buy your games so we can earn small commissions.
- Subscribe to Level Up Gamer (it will open again soon).
And by the way, the aim with Level Up Gamer (LUG) is to be a service so good, you’ll subscribe because of the great deals, not because you want to support Mac Gamer HQ. By the way, LUG will open again in 2 weeks with a pretty crazy offer.
The dream is that one day Mac Gamer HQ will earn enough to hire writers and become a powerhouse. LUG will be it’s only chance.
So here’s to a great year
I hope you’re just as excited as I am reading this. Remember, the takeaway here is that Mac Gamer HQ will receive more attention and dedication than ever before. That should lead to a fair amount of great content for everyone 🙂
As always, if you have skills and would like to become part of the team, you can reach out to me (especially if you have experience with Podcasts!).
Stay tuned for what should be a hell of a ride and if you ever feel like reaching out and just say hi, go for it, that’s what helps me recharge and stay motivated.