Best Baked Ziti Recipe…Ever!

Every once in a while I like to make something a little more elaborate, and when a friend of mine posted this to her Pinterest wall it looked delicious, and I couldn’t resist. Here’s a recipe with process photos for a nice baked ziti!

Shopping list:

  • 1 tbsp parsley, fresh
  • 1 egg, large
  • 4 cup(s) homemade tomato sauce (I cheated and used Ragu)
  • 1 package (16 oz.) ziti
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, part-skim
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese, part-skim
  • 8 frozen meatballs, lean (the recipe recommends making your own meatballs, I substituted sweet Italian sausage)

 Ziti ingredients

Start by preparing your ziti (or penne, they are pretty much the same thing). I like to bring the water to a rolling boil, then add the pasta, wait until it boils again, then start a timer for 12 minutes.

cooking pasta

While the pasta cooks, you should be cooking your protein. I used sweet Italian sausage but you could easily use ground beef, chicken, meatballs, or any number of other meats. I just browned it in a pan:

uncooked sausage

At the same time the pasta and protein are cooking, heat up 3 cups of your sauce in a saucepan:

warm tomato sauce

Once the pasta is nice and al dente, drain it:

drained pasta

and set the oven to 400 degrees.

400 degree oven

Now toss the warm pasta with 3 cups of the sauce, reserving one cup for later:

Ziti with sauce

In a bowl, while the meat finishes cooking, start with the ricotta:

ricotta

Then add the parmesan:

ricotta plus parmesan

To that, add an egg, and the spices (fresh parsley, salt and pepper):

Ziti Spices

Ricotta mix ingredients

Then, beat all of those ingredients together until they form a doughlike consistency:

Ricotta mix

Then, layer the ingredients in a casserole dish. Start with half of the pasta:

ziti layer 1

Then add the protein:

ziti layer 2

Then the cheese mix:

ziti layer 3

Then the rest of the pasta:

ziti layer 4

Followed by the rest of the sauce and the shredded mozarella. When the ziti is ready to go in the oven it should look something like this:

finished ziti before baking

After it’s in the oven for 25 minutes, it will look more like this:

finished ziti

Serve warm, and enjoy!

plate of ziti

Original recipe on Good Housekeeping.

Easy Mass Back Link Evaluation for the Non-SEO

Bad Links

Some of those links are gettin’ a little rusty.

Have you seen traffic dip in the wake of Penguin 2.0? Are your rankings for converting key terms slipping from where they used to be? Even worse, have you received the dreaded Google Webmaster Tools notice about unnatural links? Do you suddenly have a reason to review each and every one of the thousands or tens of thousands of links pointing to your site? Are you perhaps vetting a new linking vendor who’s providing you with a large inventory? How do you ensure that you’re getting what you’re paying for, and that your vendor isn’t simply giving you links from a site with a bad design hosted in a nasty neighborhood, or a site that just started last month whose PR has been inflated well beyond what the site’s actually worth? With this post I will give you some insight into how to evaluate a large number of back links, quickly.

Get it? GET IT?!?!

First, you will need a tool that will show you the PageRank of a site in your browser. I use SEO Book’s SEO Toolbar. I’m not going to go on at length here about the general uselessness of PageRank, but in this case it can be useful. (Even tools that don’t give an exactly accurate measurement can be useful for comparative analyses, sort of like what we’re doing here. Google Analytics, for example, once your site gets big enough, just shows extrapolated data based on a percentage of visits. That doesn’t make the data it provides meaningless.) Along with PageRank, you will need a tool to measure the approximate amount of traffic to the site over the last two years, encompassing the time frame when Penguin 1 and Penguin 2 hit. I use SEM Rush.

So how do you know what’s a good link and what’s a bad link? It’s a mixture of common sense, intuition, and experience. My general procedure is this:

1. Open a browser with two tabs, one with SEM Rush, one blank. Copy the root domain of the URL you are evaluating into the blank tab, and into the SEM Rush search field also. While SEM Rush churns the data, watch the site load. Is it really slow? Is there an intrusive popup ad, or autoplay video, or anything else that would indicate shoddy quality to a person and consequently a search engine spider? Then disqualify the page. Are there too many ads above the fold (meaning, do you have to hunt for the content?), are there ads to poker/pill/porn sites, is the site very generic, is it just a list of links- there are too many reasons to list to disqualify a link here, so I will use Google’s language for “what to look for”:

Cheap spam links, paid links that pass PageRank, link exchanges, links hidden in CSS or   Javascript, homogenous anchor text, excessive links in too short a period of time, links from sites in other languages, links from blog networks, links that appear sitewide in side bars or footers, links to and from “bad neighborhood” sites, broken internal links, over-optimization of the site itself, excessive website downtime, duplicate or scraped content, low value or spun content, too many ads, meta keyword tag stuffing, cloaked pages, doorway pages, multiple H1 tags per page, hidden content, using automated query tools (rank checkers), being hacked, or promoting black hat techniques. (I know, this looks like a lot to look for but you won’t have to get this granular with every site. These very specific critiques are meant to tip the scales in the frequent occurrence of an “edge case”.

2. Check out the site’s traffic profile in SEM Rush, and compare that to the site’s PageRank. You may have a different standard than I do that you will develop after much practice, but my personal standard is that if the site is anything more than a PR 2, it needs to have some traffic to support it. I figure that Google could conceivably give an ungamed site with good content but no traffic up to a PR 2, but I think once you hit PR 3 range, the site was gamed to that PR unless it has traffic to support it. So if SEM Rush says the site has only seen 5 visitors a month for the last 3 years yet the SEO Book toolbar shows them at a PR 5, I would not use that site.

3. Again, looking at the traffic profile in SEM Rush- are there any huge craters where the site lost a great percentage of its’ traffic over the course of one or two months? That site was severely penalized! Don’t use it!

crater

4. Do the words “seo”, “link”, or “rank” appear anywhere in the URL? Don’t use it!

The thing to keep in mind when doing these reviews is to remain highly skeptical. You want to look at every link with a critical eye and assume they are no good. Assuming they are fine will get you in trouble. Penguin-proof yourself- only accept legitimate links moving forward! Your rankings, traffic, conversions and clients will thank you.

photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregoryjordan/,  http://reverendmommy.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html

I Wish I Weren’t Writing This Article- a SimCity Review from a Marketing Viewpoint

I didn’t sit down at my PC today planning to write this article, I actually had some pure leisure time in mind. However, I haven’t been able to do what I planned to do quite a bit this week as much as I’d hoped- play the latest version of SimCity, released Tuesday, March 5th. I’ve been able to play the game some, but as I’m going to get into, there’ve been some technical hiccups to say the least. In between bouts of trying to play and weeping softly at all the wasted time I’ve had a chance to monitor a lot of different channels of sentiment and also watch EA’s response with an involved but sort of dispassionate perspective. See, I buy games like these expecting to get screwed. It’s a lot like going to the casino- if you plan to lose you’ll probably have a pretty good time.

Roulette is FUN, who cares?

Before I get into what I’ve seen other people saying, and then into what EA’s response has been (pretty good, actually, considering) I want to explain what my personal experience has been. In a nutshell, the SimCity servers are lying whores:

 

lies

 

…but I still love them so, so much.

I preordered after applying to and playing in the second of two one-hour betas; I literally went to the page and ordered the deluxe digital download directly after playing it. D. Then, I played in the 4-hour “stress test” beta and realized the potential the whole game had- and that’s when I started getting really excited. I got the game early, Monday night because I live on the West Coast. I started stabbing the button at 9 PM and started downloading the unlocked game at 10:01. It took about 40 minutes to download and unpack, and I managed to get a good 2 hours in with the game before forcing myself to go to bed as I had work in the morning. It was only enough time to set up a region, claim a city, and noodle a little.

I went to work on Tuesday, then watched RAW from Monday night, then sat down at about 9 PM to play SimCity. A ha ha ha. I sat there for the next three hours Alt-tabbing between servers that were melting and several forums that were exploding. I didn’t get to play. I did manage to play Wednesday for about 3 hours, and Thursday for the same. I was completely locked out last night and as I write this on Saturday afternoon, I am also currently locked out.

Here’s what I know about SimCity in easy to digest bullet points:

1. This is not the SimCity you are used to. It’s much more dynamic, there are things to do beyond just “grow your city and make Simoleans until everything is   arcologies”, as fun as that was:

The disasters can’t be turned off (unless you want to disqualify yourself from leaderboards)- but there is a sandbox mode that I haven’t tried as it just seems very unsatisfying to consider.

 2. YES THE GOD DAMN CITIES ARE GOD DAMN SMALLER,WE KNOW, STOP POSTING IT. It’s a very deliberate decision EA made so that your dad’s laptop can also run SimCity, and not just your mechagodzilla of a gaming rig.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Cities are all part of a larger region now- and if you want to, you can set up a 16-city region and run ‘em all yourself, go nuts. I think          however, that would be missing the point because…

3. SimCity ’13 or whatever we end up calling it is essentially a multiplayer game at heart. Amidst the cries of “I can’t wait until they hack in offline single player” (impossible, the games are saved server-side) or “I’ll play it when someone cracks the DRM” (not going to happen, Diablo III for example is  almost a year old and hasn’t been cracked and won’t be cracked until the server code is leaked, same as SimCity) what’s being lost is that people are pissed that it’s not the                 same game. Wanting the game to be single player only, wanting to be able to save games, wreck your city, and go back again and start from before the disaster are things this game simply is not about.   It’s a reboot, and it’s going to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. The good news is, there are  still plenty of alternatives, including the last SimCity game which no one played until modders got their hands on it and made it not suck so bad. I, for one, can’t wait to unleash hordes of pollution and villainy on my neighbors in the region, then bulldoze, start again,  launch a rocket,build an arcology- and so on, and so forth.

4. They almost assuredly have teams that started working on DLC and/or expansion packs- I really hope it’s the latter- in parallel to the team working on the main game release. It’s going to be expensive to buy everything that comes with this game, as proven by the first DLC, which already represents an extra $30 to spend to “have everything”, if you didn’t get it for the discounted $20 by spending $80 on the deluxe version. This is not the whole game.

          5. This is a beautiful game. There’s no way around that one, I love to watch this game. These pictures don’t even do it justice, it is so pretty in motion.

 

 

6. The long term “endgame” of SimCity is the leaderboards.  The “Simulation” aspect of things isn’t something I am interested in particularly, min-maxing traffic through gaming the system by building huge cities with only one road, for example, doesn’t interest me. I’m more interested in building up huge regions with other friends and working together to take on the leaderboards.

7. This is a very fun game that’s not ready for prime time yet. Hold off a week on buying it. I’m really enjoying it;  I’m just tired of having to wait and roll the dice for 45 minutes to see if I get to play it or not. This is in spite of them supposedly doubling server capacity already- I haven’t noticed an appreciable difference in my ability to connect and now that it’s the weekend things are getting even worse.

So what are people so Angry about?

1. Always on DRM- you have to connect to EA’s servers to play the game. You can’t boot it up on a laptop on a Navy submarine, and you can’t use it to relax on a plane without paying for wifi. Does this suck? I’m not really bothered by it, I have a fast and consistent connection to play on, but that’s ignoring a lot of other people that don’t have one. It seems greedy and stupid but a retailer wouldn’t let thieves walk out the door without paying for merchandise, EA is not going to willingly let people pirate their games if they can help it by any means. I know it’s a  controversial opinion but DRM is something gamers brought upon themselves.

2. The servers are melting- the game is pretty much unplayable for a large portion of the people  that bought it. This is clearly the biggest issue, people paid anywhere from $45 to $80 for the game and can’t play it. The most common conclusion being drawn is that if the game simply had a one player offline mode- which is what a lot of people identify SimCity with, none of this nonsense would have happened. I’ve been around for some pretty big launches and it is getting irritating that companies are all “We didn’t know so many people wanted our product” when they know damn well how many people are going to play based on preorders. It’s hard not to think they aren’t just being greedy or stupid by not scaling up at first to meet demand.

Whaddya mean, people want to buy this thing we marketed and hyped the shit out of?

3. EA has flatly stated, “no refunds for Origin downloads”. This really pisses people off too because no one, anywhere, anytime said WE NEED ANOTHER DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SERVICE  and the service has frankly sucked like a Hoover since it was launched. It’s seen as another money grab by EA, an inefficient, buggy system when they easily could have adopted Steam, a system that has had time to mature and already does work.

4. There’s no single player, offline mode- this is less a reasonable consumer complaint, and more a “waah, my game changed” complaint. I’m not saying it’s not legit. I’m saying I have no sympathy for you if you bought a game unresearched and didn’t know what it was going to be in advance. There are 105 million results in Google’s index for “simcity review”- there’s something in there about the game, probably, somewere. Just a hunch.

The SimCity launch has been the perfect poop blizzard of poorly estimating consumer demand, a beloved franchise that changed a lot, and a seemingly soulless corporation greedily and clumsily implementing DRM ostensibly to help gamers, but ultimately perceived as “to fatten those margins”.

The other side of this coin is that as a marketer, it’s interesting for me to study a trainwreck like this from a PR/marketing/crisis management perspective. EA has done a lot of things right but I don’t know if A) there’s going to be any lasting damage or B) what the scale of said damage might be. At the time of this writing EA’s stock has not moved since the game’s release on Tuesday. I think what we’re seeing is digital Funzo trampling

If you get this reference you are as big a dork as I am.

I don’t think it bothers EA at all that there is so much demand for their game that it’s breaking their infrastructure- to your average stockholder, who doesn’t play games or give a crap about a server queue, that looks like you have a product that the consumer really really really wants to buy. And they’re right to think so, in spite of this fiasco the game remains the top selling PC game on Amazon. However, they have to respond. Here’s a brief summary of their response so far.

The company and its reps have been active on Twitter, as has Ocean Quigley, the Creative and Art Director for the title. Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis also posted on the official blog:

” You, the fans, are important to us. It’s why we got into games and it’s because of you that we  here at Maxis were able to complete our dream of making another SimCity. This has been an exciting week for us, but as you know there have been some bumps along the way. We want to shed light on one of the most significant issues that we are facing right now, as well as the steps we’re taking to resolve them so that we can provide you with an enjoyable experience.

 Server capacity is our biggest obstacle. We launched in North America on Tuesday and our servers filled up within a matter of hours. What we saw was that players were having such a good time they didn’t want to leave the game, which kept our servers packed and made it difficult for new players to join. We added more servers to accommodate the launch in Australia and Japan, and then more yesterday to accommodate the launch in Europe. As of right now, we are adding even more servers which will be going live over the next three days. And, our plan is to continue to bring more servers online until we have enough to meet the demand, increase player capacity and let more people through the gates and into the game.

Earlier today, we released a patch that temporarily cut off some features including leaderboards, achievements and Cheetah Speed to reduce data stress on the servers and effectively free up space so that we can let more people into the game. These are great features that we’re proud of and we’ll turn them back on soon, but our number one priority is to bring stability to our servers. This update also resolved some of the bugs and issues that have been frustrating players. You can read all about it at http://forum.ea.com/eaforum/posts/list/9341807.page

We will be posting regularly to keep you up to speed on developments, so please check back for updates. We are committed to doing everything we can to deliver a stable and enjoyable experience and we thank you for your continued patience and support.”

EA has also added 8 additional servers and patched the game- but they aslo removed the fastest gameplay speed, cheetah, which messes with the way a lot of people play, and they removed features such as sorting on the Join Game screen as well.

In addition to getting on a sort of filtered Reddit-style AMA on Twitter today, Maxis SVP Lucy Bradshaw has also posted the following on the SimCity blog:

“Here’s a quick update on the problems we were experiencing with SimCity – and a little something extra for people who bought the game. The server issues which began at launch have improved significantly as we added more capacity. But some people are still experiencing response and stability problems that we’re working fast to address.

So what went wrong? The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta. OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it. In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent. It’s working – the number of people who have gotten in and built cities has improved dramatically. The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent. So we’re close to fixed, but not quite there. I’m hoping to post another update this weekend to let everyone know that the launch issues are behind us.

Something Special for Your Trouble

The good news is that SimCity is a solid hit in all major markets. The consensus among critics and players is that this is fundamentally a great game. But this SimCity is made to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re NOT having a good experience. So we’re not going to rest until we’ve fixed the remaining server issues.  And to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio. On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.

I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy. But we feel bad about what happened. We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent. SimCity is a GREAT game and the people who made it are incredibly proud. Hang in there – we’ll be providing more updates throughout the weekend.”

So in summary, they have apologized, made changes to the product that will instantly help with sentiment towards the game and brand, are being responsive on social media, letting customers vent on their Facebook page, and ultimately will be offering a free product in the future.

EA is doing many things right, but they should have avoided this disaster in the first place. Companies have to start anticipating this demand, and leasing servers for overflow, or they will have complex PR issues such as these to deal with when similar titles are launched. EA was already voted the worst company in America, and SimCity is a game that everyone, not just gamers, knows and loves. This was a bad miscalculation but ultimately, I don’t think it will hurt EA at all. Until people stop buying these games en masse- and the marketing is just so good that it’s not going to happen- we’re all at their mercy.

I’m gonna go try to play again…*crosses fingers*…damn.

I hate you EA

Now what am I supposed to do- go outside?

I’m Back, but Moz and Raven’s Ranking Tools Won’t Be

Hi! Nice to see you! It’s been a minute!

I shuttered the blog back in July after I decided to publish the first year of my rantings as a Kindle e-book on Amazon. They have a program for Publishers that lets you make royalties if you make your book available to Prime members for borrowing, but you have to give them exclusive access to the digital format for 90 days, so I looked on it as a good opportunity to take a break. I was actually stretching to have things to write about, but now, like Kramer said to Jerry, “my brain, is mossy!” A Very Big Deal happened this past week in the world of search engine marketing, as such, I was inspired to write again!

(Oh, I also received a promotion at work, to Director of Retail SEO, so I haven’t even been able to catch my breath. Feel free to congratulate me in the comments J )

So the Very Big Deal that happened was that popular SEO tools SEOMoz and Raven Tools both were forced to discontinue the aspects of their products that check rankings, for violating Google’s TOS. From said TOS:

“Except as expressly permitted by Google under a Google product or service feature, you shall not use any automated means (for example scraping or robots) other than the AdWords API to access, query or otherwise collect Google-related information from Google, the AdWords Program or any website owned or operated by Google or a Google partner site that displays Google advertising (collectively “Google Scraping”).”

What it comes down to, is that Google doesn’t want people scraping the SERP to figure out exactly what their rankings are for exactly what keywords at any given time, for two reasons (at least):

  1. It would make it way too easy to reverse engineer the algorithm, if you could have accurate, instant rankings for too many keywords.
  2. It’s a lot of work for their servers to keep up with automated requests for thousands of database calls, and a lot of wear and tear on the hardware as a result.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Raven and Moz were able to get away with this as long as they have, and I expect many of the other tool makers to disable the parts of their software that “scrape” or face extinction.  The writing is on the wall, here- between this change and the ever-expanding percentage of (not provided) keyword data in the Analytics, SEO’s are getting less and less data all the time. Of course, if you pay for PPC ads, some of that data comes back. Yes, Google has a profit motive. Shocking, right? I mean, who the hell are they to protect their business interests?

Anyway, the writing is on the wall. Stop focusing on the number of keywords you’ll work on, and stop focusing on rankings. Search Engine Optimization isn’t about either one of those things- it’s about effectively going after missed opportunities so that the client doesn’t leave money on the table. Optimize the clients’ entire online marketing, not just their site! Focus on traffic and conversions, not rankings! Think ahead! Plan and strategize, if you always do what you’ve always done you won’t necessarily get what you’ve always got- in the SEO world, at least.

This is an opportunity for we marketers, a bulletproof reason not to ever send another ranking report. Let’s use it, shall we?

How To Handle Blog Comments- Once You Start Getting Them

It’s tough to get a blog going! From a technical standpoint, getting everything set up the way you like it, making sure all your social media accounts and RSS feeders are hooked up, and installing all the right plugins and scripts for analytics and social sharing you’re looking at a good 8 hour day, unless it’s heavily templated or you’re just ripping off an existing design (nothing wrong with either of those, for the record!) Then, after that, comes the really difficult part, which is actually writing something! Anyone who’s written a blog for any amount of time knows that eventually you run out of topics, or out of time or steam, and the really hard part is that you have to keep going, even when you don’t have any ideas or just plain don’t feel like writing anything.

Congratulations, you’ve gotten over those hurdles and now your blog is starting to pick up a readership! Your articles are getting retweeted or shared on Facebook or Google+ and people are actually engaging you through those channels. You’ve got people commenting on your blog now- after a while in the desert, finally, you’ve reached an oasis! So, what are the different types of blog comments you see, and what should you do with them?

1. Spam

2. Criticism

3. Legitimate discussion

4. Pingbacks

5. Gushing praise

1. Should be deleted, it’s a poor quality signal to the search engines. Having comments on the blog just to have them is no good, and beware of 2 especially tricky types of spammers, both of which have hit this blog at some point. The first is the one who writes a comment effusively praising your blog or comment or topic, but then he’s named ‘viagraforuxxx420’ and links to some shady site. The second is someone who will write something seemingly helpful like “I can’t get the RSS feed to work, mind helping me out?” Beware of these seemingly beneficial comments; neither is real and therefore neither is valuable. Lots of spam tends to pop up on blog posts that have a good response as the spammers think they can piggyback off of your hard work.

2. Any product with a large volume of sales is going to have some criticisms. This can be countered with excellent customer service as well as- this is tricky- handling the issue publicly, responding to comments. If the overwhelming majority of comments are negative or even hateful, consider turning comments off altogether- hiding negative comments won’t help you seem authentic, but having 300 vitriolic posts about how your product is a scam or your service sucks is clearly pretty detrimental to the success of the site as well.

3. This is very helpful for SEO but these types of comments tend to be few and far between, at least on a small scale blog with maybe 100 visitors, such as this one. Make sure to let these through and respond with a thank you, or address the commenters’ point- healthy debate and discussion will beget more healthy debate and discussion, and since the search engines want to see engagement, what better way to show it than to actually, you know, engage your readers?!?

4. This is a search engine bot posting a comment to validate that the blog is real. This can be deleted.

5. Be wary of gushing praise, some is clearly fine as it’s an endorsement of your product or brand, but if there’s too many comments outright praising you, with nothing negative to balance it, it looks bad. Also remember, Google is a domain registrant- they know if you are commenting on your own properties to make yourself look better. Don’t do this!

Encourage commenting when you post what you write to Facebook, or Google+, or whatever forums you inhabit- there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a little feedback from your regular readers! The key is sincerity.

Tout and the WWE Universe- a Match Made in Heaven

The WWE began promoting Tout like crazy last night on the broadcast of Monday Night Raw (make sure to watch RAW # 1000 next week, at the very least we’re getting a title match between John Cena and CM Punk) with various interstitial commercials and numerous references from the commentators encouraging the WWE Universe to use the new service, which is, in a nutshell, “Twitter for video”. Tout, which was born at the Stanford Research Institute, is a new social media channel using both web based and mobile applications to allow users to make real-time status updates designed for instant sharing through other social media platforms. Users record short 15 second videos using their PC, tablet or smartphone, and then “Tout” them to other users a la Twitter. Right now, Tout has about 25 million users, and the CEO claims that 6 million of those joined after the WWE began promoting the service. The WWE is all in on this one, with a dedicated page showing users all about the new service.

Tout recently closed a round of funding for over $13 million, and the WWE contributed a big piece of that pie, which explains their heavy promotion of the site/service. Zack Ryder (the WWE Superstar best known for “getting over” using Twitter and social media (check out 1:15, since I can’t seem to get the embedding to work, grrr):

…is featured heavily on Tout’s home page:

…and when I signed up (I’ll likely never use it, but what the hell, better to have and not need than need and not have) all of my recommended followers were WWE personalities, likely because of the search history on this machine while writing this article:

The WWE is purportedly going to let the WWE Universe determine some of the creative direction of the show and help steer programming- by Touting to the WWE, of course! Touts will be added to both live and pre-recorded broadcasts.

Personally, I think this is a smart move by the WWE. Consumption of online video is only growing; a study in 2011 showed that people watching Netflix were accounting for as much as 30% of all Internet traffic during primetime:

 

 

Not only is Netflix 30% of primetime traffic, but look at what else is up there, with YouTube at 11% and Flash video at 5%. That means that nearly 50% of all traffic during prime time for March 2011 was essentially “people watching videos”.

More and more phones are being released with front-facing cameras, more and more tablet devices include similar cameras, and the price of webcams has dropped to the point where an HD webcam can be had for as little as $35. The speed at which video can be uploaded and downloaded on mobile devices is increasing all the time as faster, cheaper better phones come out and the major carriers upgrade their networks. The Kindle Fire 2 and Google Nexus 7, the summer’s splashiest entrants into the small-form tablet fray, both have front-facing cameras- the only practical application of which is really video chat, as taking pictures with a front facing camera is sort of a ridiculous proposition.

People love to consume video because it’s easier than reading, and you can be a lot more creative with video than you can with text. We are moving towards a web primarily composed of video, and getting in on the ground floor allows the WWE to remain in its position of relative dominance of social media, when compared to other entertainment brands. The WWE is especially good at using social media to maintain intimacy with the fans even when they aren’t watching the show or interacting with the various digital properties, and since pro wrestling is such a visual medium, Tout seems like a perfect fit for their strategy of continuing storylines and fan outreach and promotion through social media. A service like Tout is also right in the WWE’s wheelhouse demographically. Let’s look at some data about video sharing:

 The age of users engaged in social networking:

 

and finally, the WWE’s audience demographic, straight from the WWE Ad Sales page (the data is from 2009, so take it with a grain of salt):

Demographics

61% are male

15% are ages 12-17

67% are ages 18-49

41% are males 18-34

33% are non-white

29% have a HHI of 75K or higher

15% have a HHI of 100K or higher

Internet Activity

63% played games online

52% listened to music

51% watched streaming video

Mobile

87% of our visitors own a cell phone

32% downloaded something to their cell phone within the past 30 days

15% downloaded a ringtone to their cell phone within the past 30 days

 

The service, the brand and the demographic all intersect nicely, making this practically a no-brainer. I’d be willing to bet that they see a better return on their Tout investment than they do for the WWE films division in 2013- especially if the site takes off.

As an avid WWE fan, the constant references to social media during broadcasts have become tiresome- maybe because I work in marketing also- and adding Tout is only going to irritate media-savvy viewers even more; though it’s not likely many will even realize the WWE’s financial interest in Tout. For the company and stockholders though, this is a very smart move.

Tout and the WWE Universe are a perfect fit!

 

 

SEO 2.0- What’s a Traditional SEO To Do?

Have you ever heard the expression “if you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got? Usually, I find that to be very much true. However, when we look at the process of SEO after the earth shattering Penguin and Panda algorithm updates from Google, it’s pretty clear that SEOs are going to have to change to adapt.

SEO to this point has been a pretty straightforward process of onsite optimization, content syndication, and back link acquisition. Many agencies and SEO professionals even have a routine down for doing this kind of formulaic SEO, however, it’s simply not going to work any more- at least for Google. In fact, it’s almost as if Google looked at those tactics and specifically decided to smack them down as part of these latest “P” updates (is Pirahna next? OH NO!). Many of the SEOs that I know are really struggling, as the way they’ve done SEO has always worked, basically, if you were doing SEO and your competitors weren’t, you’d have the upper hand on the SERP. Not so any more; so, what do you offer clients in place of those “old school” services? It’s time to change the model, and I have some suggestions here that I think can replace “traditional” SEO services.

Before I get into the list, I definitely want to point out that I do think there is still a place for on site optimization; that will never change, but it’s really a commodity now, nearly everyone does the same type of onsite optimization of meta tags, navigation, internal linking, and the like. The only real opportunity for creativity there is the keyword research, after that part is done the rest of an SEO campaign generally plays out the same way in most cases. Content production and distribution also have a place but the way we do that has changed, as well- Ezine Articles doesn’t work any more, folks! Linkbuilding, which I, in white hat SEO snob mode, have never really considered to be SEO, is (thankfully) going the way of the dodo- at least the old way of getting hundreds of crappy directory and comment links every month is.

The biggest piece of advice I have for SEOs in the Post-Penguanda era is STOP TRYING TO BEAT THE ALGORITHM. Let me repeat that- STOP TRYING TO GAME GOOGLE’S ALGORITHM. You are a marketer now, you always have been, but you are going to need some new techniques to fill the gaps of all the old crap you used to sell that worked only because Google hadn’t caught up to it. Here are some services you can offer to keep the value of your services in your clients’ minds.

Back link audits and removal of poor quality inbound links- I really feel that all SEO campaigns should be taking a month off right now, to audit all the inbound links to the site and spend some time getting any shady ones removed. You need to start fresh with a clean link profile. This can be a long and arduous process, and it might not show much fruit as it can be very difficult to get bad links removed (when you can find them) but especially if your client has received a notice from Google in the form of a Webmaster Tools message or even a letter, you must scrub that profile. This could take months but it is totally worth it moving forward. In fact, I would take the drastic step of halting all SEO work to solely commit to the backlink audit, until it’s clean.

Social marketing integration- Social signals are being used in the major search engines’ algorithms and most clients are clueless about how to use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube to send the proper signals. Using an application like Buffer, a client’s social media campaign can be largely automated, and it is about an hour’s work to write 20 Tweets, 2 G+ posts and 2 Facebook posts to then trickle out over the course of the week. You can’t make them participate but you can give them a voice, if nothing else. Showing clients how to connect with a social media audience using appropriately hash tagged and linked content is a very valuable service, and it’s not separate from SEO. In fact, I’d like to get that out there right now- social media and SEO can’t be placed in separate buckets any more. They are one and the same.

Blogger Outreach- this is the new linkbuilding. Spending time building an inventory of bloggers that are willing to write (and disclose) sponsored posts, with inline links back to your site, is the new linkbuilding. Stop thinking of how to get 100 links in a day and instead focus on getting 2 really good ones, if you insist on retaining the “linkbuilding” title for your job. Some of the old techniques still work here, as well, such as contacting webmasters with dead links on their pages and asking them to replace those links with links to your site, but in the future “linkbuilding” is really going to be about relationship building.

Conversion rate optimization- what good is it bringing a horse to water if you can’t make them drink? By using advanced techniques such as geotargeting or behavioral segmentation, you can make the traffic that does come to the site more valuable. A/B testing and multivariate testing are also very valuable, and can provide insights into the client’s customer base that they’d never be able to get anywhere else but online.

Business analysis- a good SEO makes themselves a partner with their client. It’s not about squeezing another month of fees out of them with a song and dance about the latest update and how valuable your knowledge is, it’s about partnering with them to learn their industry, learn their customers, and learn their demographic. Again, this requires a lot of work, and you might have to get outside your comfort zone. I’m always surprised at how many SEOs claim to be able to help their clients make more money and do better business, yet lack any basic business training themselves.  This sort of business analysis also requires regular phone calls with the client, but don’t go too crazy- anything more often than a biweekly call is probably pushing it and is going to strain the relationship. Nothing drives me crazier as a marketer than having meetings just to have them, it wastes everyone’s time as both sides scramble to have something to talk about. Every two weeks is plenty; and regular meetings should be counted as a very valuable deliverable.

Multi-channel attribution- Google has made this even easier for us to do with their new multi-touch reporting, which is able to give insight on what the purchase/conversion funnel looks like. From “the percentage of visitors who touched the site first via PPC, but then purchased via organic search” to “how to drive traffic to the site using social media”, SEOs can provide business owners great insight about how their clients behave online. For example, if you have a product that skews young, there’s a good chance that people are first discovering your brand on Social Media- how can you capitalize on that? How can you optimize for the right channel and purchase path? How can you keep that sales funnel full? Multi channel attribution and the resultant optimization can answer all of these questions and many more. This is a newer area of SEO/marketing- unless you have an analytics solution that does these things already- and it’s a great first step towards selling an integrated campaign, as well.

Content Creation and Marketing- Wait a minute, didn’t I say that wasn’t going to work any more? Well yeah, but not the way you’ve traditionally done it, which is likely to pay someone in Asia or India $2 an hour to put out some terrible content that barely makes sense with a few exact match anchor text links back to your site, then put the content somewhere like eZine Articles or Article Alley. Content marketing now is about the same thing I’ve always personally advocated- give people some value! Give them a reason to come to your site, give them a reason to click that inline link. Infographic link bait, guest posts, and at the heart of it- good, original, valuable useful content- are the future of content marketing. Google needs good quality content to wrap its ads around, and the best way to get to the top of the SERP isn’t a secret to be figure out- it’s to be the most valuable resource. Part of our job as SEOs is to inform clients when they simply don’t deserve to rank higher for a given term, and then propose solutions such as going after longer tail keywords to make up the shortfall. Content marketing also includes SEO optimizing Press Releases when the client actually has something interesting or valuable to say. Optimzation or re-optimization of existing content can also be quite a valuable service, especially if the client has “old” content that hasn’t been updated in a while.

Adaptive/Responsive design recommendations- It’s important that client sites are flexible, as web content is being consumed on a dizzying and ever-increasing array of devices from phones to tablets to desktops. Architectural recommendations about how to build a site to scale properly so that all visitors see  all the clients’ content, in the best possible presentation, is part of both SEO and the previously mentioned conversion rate optimization. Schema.org markup is also very important, as Google builds its semantic web sites that feed the beast are going to get better SERP placements. This is also important as different devices proliferate- who knows what a browser will look like 5 years from now? Semantic markup is what the web was meant to be, if we’re only getting around to it 40 years later, so be it. Be on the cutting edge! Use the schema.org markup data to ensure maximum visibility.

Mobile website recommendations-  It doesn’t make sense for every brand to have its own mobile site, but it does make sense to build the site in a way that maximizes visibility across a lot of different devices. There’s a whole separate mobile algorithm that takes things like scalability and site speed into account; so it’s important to optimize for that algorithm. Some clients would be better served by building an App for their customers- it’s an SEO’s job to make that consideration/recommendation as well.

Site speed optimization- Regardless of what you sell or to whom you sell it, the Internet is getting faster, connected devices are getting faster, and mobile website access is becoming more common. Site speed is an important part of the algorithm and an especially important part of the mobile algorithm. Any recommendations to make sites load and parse faster are very valuable, and while most SEOs aren’t programmers, there are lots of resources out there that can tell you in plain English what’s causing a site to be slow.

Have you noticed a theme to these recommendations? They all require actual work :) SEO has always appealed to people because hey, it’s on a computer, that means you can automate and replicate and duplicate and not really have to do ACTUAL work, right? Wrong. SEO has never been about that, and now,  those SEO chickens are coming home to roost. Get on it! Improve yourself, improve your knowledge, improve your techniques, and improve the service you give your clients to be an SEO 2.0 superstar.

Diablo 3 Review- One Month In

It’s been approximately one month since Blizzard unleashed Diablo 3 onto the world, and if you’re staying off of the official forums and playing the game less than 12 hours a day, you’re probably having a good time. If you’ve been on the official Blizzard forums you likely think the game is an unmitigated disaster, but I’d urge you not to read the official forums as just like any other game, they are total trash, full of racism, immaturity, and a sense of entitlement that all the iPhone 5’s in the world wouldn’t be able to sate. A lot of this stems from the initial release of Blizzard’s first “online only/always even for single player” game and the massive crush to get on the servers at launch. A lot of people were locked out at the very beginning- I couldn’t play until nearly 90 minutes after the servers first opened, for example- and this got the game off to sort of a rocky start, despite the fact that the game has largely been up since launch, with an expected rough patch at the beginning. To listen to some of the whiners talk, the fact that the game hasn’t had 100% uptime since the first minute is enough of a reason to write the game off as an utter and total failure.

I’d like to say a word here about the always-online nature of D3. Gamers…we did this to ourselves. I had a Kazaa phase in the early 2000’s where I simply “acquired” every single game that came out and if you say you’ve never played a game you didn’t pay anything for, I’d be inclined to call you a liar. Blizzard wants to be paid (rightfully) for their game and as such, the persistent Internet connection you need is for two reasons, as I see it- one, to combat the rampant piracy of Diablo 2- did anyone actually pay for that game? Two, the Auction House. I’ll cover that a little more in detail later in the post but the nature of the Auction House- especially the much lauded AND maligned Real Money Auction House- means that Blizzard can’t trust users with client-side data, otherwise, D3 will devolve into the same dupe-and-hack-fest that Diablo 2 was. There’s no way to make a game like Diablo III- by which, I mean, a game where the Auction House is a fundamental part of the design and experience- into an offline game. This has pissed off a lot of people with say, crappy or metered internet, and in particular, quite a few servicemen have chimed in that D2 was the game they played when deployed on a submarine or overseas, and now they are totally unable to play as they obviously can’t get an Internet connection. I mean, that’s a tough one…but there are tons of other games out there that don’t require a persistent connection. I’m just saying.

My main character is a female wizard named Teevo, here’s what she looks like and her stats and skill buildout:

I’ve also been running a Witch Doctor that’s up to about level 34 and a Monk that’s hit level 14. I run all these toons because I have at least 3 or 4 different groups that I play with, so I like to have toons at a lot of different levels. I eventually plan to have a 60 of all 5 classes- Monk, Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor and Demon Hunter- so that I can fill any role that may come up. I’ve also been playing a Hardcore Wizard but she’s only at level 7 or 8- the current lag and lag spike situation has made Hardcore- where if you die once, that’s it, your character and gear are toast- a proposition for masochists only. There was a lag spike last Sunday night, in fact, that caused my ping to go over 1500 ms:

-and I live about 9 miles from Blizzard’s servers. I rubberbanded around for about 30 seconds and luckily was in a safe spot but I can only imagine how many Hardcore players lost their hours of work. Grr, frustrating. I ran through Normal difficulty solo and it was a serious cakewalk- I think I died maybe 2 times, due to being interrupted or not paying attention. In Normal, your build doesn’t matter, your gear doesn’t matter, you don’t even have to pay attention. Since skipping it isn’t an option, use your Normal playthrough to check out the *teehee* “story” and awesomely done cutscenes- you can skip them on your subsequent Nightmare, Hell and Inferno difficulty-level playthroughs by hammering the Esc key. And you will- because the plot is ridiculous and the voice acting is laboured, but I seriously hope that’s not what you bought or might be buying D3 for. D3 is about clicking on stuff until it dies, and complaining about the “plot” is ridiculous. As I mentioned, though, the CGI cutscenes are top notch, which we’ve come to expect in Blizzard games.

The game really starts to pick up in difficulty after 2 playthroughs, one on Normal and one on Nightmare. When you get to Hell difficulty the game really ramps things up- you were probably able to get by without the auction house until now and you were probably able to solo up until now as well. However, with the steep ramp up in difficulty between Nightmare and Hell- you’re going to be spending some money on gear at the Auction House, or hitting up your friends for their old weapons. Otherwise, you are looking at a very serious grind- anecdotally, I’ve only had useful items drop maybe every 3 Acts, meaning that I potentially might not see a drop I can use in all of Nightmare. However, the AH has lots of great gear, and for cheap- just set a max buyout of 10 or 20k and you’d be surprised how much of an upgrade you’ll be able to get. When I went from Nightmare to Hell mode I dropped 40k on a weapon that effectively doubled my Wizard’s DPS, and that was maybe 12% of my total gold stash. By the way…spend your gold. What are you saving it for? The Auction House can be as interesting as the game to play- I have already flipped a knife that I found for 750 gold for 110k gold. I find myself logging in at weird times, before work, before dinner, before bed, etc. just to see if I can spot an undervalued auction to buy and flip.

Oh, and get an authenticator. It’s either free if you have a smartphone or like $6 if you don’t, and even if you don’t plan to use the RMAH, do you really want to log in and find 120 hours of your game time negated by someone with a keylogger? GET. AN. AUTHENTICATOR. There is literally no reason not to have one. Here are links to download the apps:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.blizzard.bma&hl=en (Android)

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/battle.net-mobile-authenticator/id306862897?mt=8 (iPhone)

The game is definitely a lot more fun with friends, it just feels like loot is better, even if it isn’t. It’s also nice to have someone there to rez you if you die- however, if you haven’t played the game once, I recommend soloing Normal just so you can see the plot and flavor dialogue, as subsequent playthroughs will largely be everyone in the party mashing the button to skip the conversation or Esc to skip the cutscene and get back to the demon smashing. Beware that 4 people in a party will cause A LOT of enemies to be on the screen at once, my 550ti has choked a little bit in places when the game essentially turns into a bullet storm/bullet hell type of screen for a few moments (I love it when the game goes that way, personally). It’s easy to jump in and out of friends’ games, but beware- if you take a character into a friend’s (or public, for that matter) game, you will lose any checkpoint progress you’ve made in “your” game and will have to restart at the beginning of whatever chapter you were on last. If you’re playing Hardcore or Inferno, you might want to disable the option for friends to quick join your games- you don’t want to face down mobs geared for 2 players while the late joiner repairs gear or buys potions.

Hopefully, you didn’t buy Diablo 3 for the crafting aspects, which right now are pretty crappy. You can break down items you find in the world for materials and then craft items with random magic properties; these items could be great and sell for millions on the Auction House, or they could be horrible Wizard-only weapons with +STR stats. You’re literally rolling the dice, and it’s expensive and time consuming to gather the drops and the gold to level your Jeweler and Blacksmith to the max level (10). At the time of writing this, my artisans are at level 6 and are likely going to stay at level 6 until I have 5 fully geared level 60 characters and I’m looking for a money sink.

I don’t know if Diablo is going to stand up to the thousands of hours that people played Diablo 2, especially if they don’t add a PvP aspect to the game so that people have an arena in which to flaunt their e-peens, but it’s off to a good start, in my opinion. The RMAH went live yesterday and that should lead to some interesting shennanigans, as well.

Play with me, won’t you? I’m SonOfADiddly#1736 on Battle.net. I’ll see you in Inferno!

 

Fran’s friends say:

“It’s definitely great, mindless fun. And has sucked away even more of the SWTOR subscriber base. ” -Scott

“Needs more polish, Blizzard needs to stop paying mediocre, lazy programmers minimum wage and start paying skilled programmers decent pay; otherwise, it’s an enjoyable time passer until Guild Wars 2. Also, the crafting system is supposed to mirror the gambling system from D2, if you think about it that way, the implementation makes sense.” -Nik

 “There are a lot of good and bad things to Diablo 3 (D3). A good start is comparing it to Diablo 2 (D2).  Whereas D2 required you to group and compete for single drops, D3 gives everyone their own loot. This is both good and bad. Good in that I don’t have to worry about getting drops. Bad in that there’s no sense of competition. 

Crafting is crap. You’re basically forced to gamble. What’s so ‘crafty’ about that? At least in D2 you could manipulate gambling. In D3 you’re at the mercy of your 100th+ INT items as a Barbarian. Oh, look at that, I’m going back to the auction house now. In D2 gold was worthless. D3? It’s more valuable (arguably) to gold farm and hit the AH for what you need. As a result, there’s less of a sense of accomplishment (but perhaps more of a sense of moving forward?). It still feels very awkward. Oh, yeah, the AH interface sucks balls. Terrible. Absolutely terrible. The search sucks. The sorting sucks. The layout sucks. The number of active auctions you can have sucks. But, at least it works (well, most of the time). Still, it’s a great idea. Let’s just make it useful?

D2 had game names. D3? Nope. You browse by quest you’re on. This removes the sense that there are ‘other’ games out there besides the people on your battle.net friends list or when you open a game to the public. I used to love game hopping in D2 from game to game on Baal runs. No more of that! Your Nephalem buff keeps you in one game re-running the same quests and storyline in long format.

The game is just very… a lot like WoW to be honest. The combat with procs and cooldowns–this is not uncommon to the Diablo franchise, but if you’ve played both D3 and WoW, you see it -everywhere-. But they didn’t go all the way. It’s like they got lazy. But, still, the crucial things are there: you click a lot and kill a lot of demons. There’s magic. Check.

In the end, you still zone out and have fun, but as soon as you wake up, you start to see some of the imperfections.” - Gary (wow, thanks Gary!)

Publish or Perish- Internet Marketing in the Post-Penguin; Post-Panda Era

Ever heard the phrase “the attention economy“? Here’s a little primer, a hand-picked part of the definition from Wikipedia, as it relates to advertising:

“Attention economics” today is primarily concerned with the problem of getting consumers to consume advertising. Traditional media advertisers followed a model that suggested consumers went through a linear process they called AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Attention is therefore a major and the first stage in the process of converting non-consumers. Since the cost to transmit advertising to consumers is now sufficiently low that more ads can be transmitted to a consumer than the consumer can process, the consumer’s attention becomes the scarce resource to be allocated.”

When you advertise on the Internet, you’re not competing for billboard space, or bidding against competitors on TV airtime, or trying to get a good ROI on a radio spot or newspaper ad. The means of transmitting your marketing message has become inexpensive almost to the point of triviality and for about $30 a year- a dime a day- anyone can buy a domain with hosting and start putting out any message they want. What we are all really competing for is the User’s attention. The world of information and entertainment has become increasingly fractured into multiple streams, channels and verticals. Users consume all kinds of content on all kinds of devices, which are no longer bound to a specific geolocation.

What this all comes down to is that Google and the other search engines are having to change the way they grant authority to pages. I’ve written many times on this blog in the past about how linking used to be an extremely effective strategy; at the end of the day if you’d tried all the white hat techniques and explained to the client that these things take time but they are going to leave if you don’t do something RIGHT NOW, well, you could always as a last resort head over to TLA or TLB and buy some nice, exact-match anchor text from a somewhat relevant blog, and you would almost certainly see a bump in rankings. It was a sure thing. However, the search engine algorithms are more than ever accounting for the fact that links can be really easily gamed, and as a consequence, we are seeing social signals factor more and more into search results; with Google even having taken the bold step of laying the social strata right over top of the SERP with Google+. It doesn’t matter how resistant we are to these changes- we have to accept that the “old way” of doing SEO is simply not going to cut it any more.

If we’re competing for User’s attention, it follows logically that it’s not enough to put up a static website and throw links at it. YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ATTENTION ECONOMY. That means getting on Google+ (why are people so resistant to it anyway? You can maintain an active presence there in about 10 minutes a day). That means having a section of your blog where you update frequently with stuff that YOU write. It means Tweeting. It means getting the social signals that are supplanting links in the algorithm coming in to the site, and I hate to say it but the dirty secret here is that takes work. It takes a lot more work than linking did, but we can’t all just throw up our collective hands or worse- stubbornly stick to the way we’ve always done things- we have to move forward. Moving forward means being a publisher.

So how the hell do you do that?

1. Write regularly. Write high-quality content, that comes from your background in whatever it is you are writing about. Conversely, if you are writing about something that you don’t have any expertise in, do your research and credit your sources with outbound links- this is a great way to build community. Quality is more important than quantity; as a personal example I have been writing less and less frequently on this blog as I run out of things to say- but I’m branching out to write about other things to maintain the momentum I’ve built over the last year. Don’t write just to write- write because you have something to say and want people to listen.

2. Audit your old content and see if it can be refreshed, reshared, repurposed or somehow made more relevant for the User. I have stuff on this blog about The Old Republic MMO, for example, that is incorrect information. If I want to be considered authoritative about the game, shouldn’t I have all relevant, proper and correct information here? Of course! Otherwise, why would anyone read me- they’d just go to Darth Hater, as they’ve built a reputation for high quality relevant content.

3. Build a community by hosting guest posts and really engage your community; that’s how you command attention. Give away one of your best secrets, take the opposite side of an issue, create a little controversy! Give people a reason to pay attention.

It pains me to say it, but throwing links at a site doesn’t work any more. We are fully in the thick of socially-influenced search, and on the way to “semantic search”, whatever that turns out to be. The bottom line is that if you want to participate, you’ve got to publish or perish.

Diablo 3 Launch Party Report and Initial Game Impressions- with Video

So unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you know by now that Blizzard’s Diablo III has been released. This is a huge thing, obviously- people have been waiting over a decade for the third iteration of Blizzard’s classic “click on stuff with your mouse until it dies” franchise. The game is going to make Blizzard a pile of money, especially since they have brought the ability to buy and sell items for real money, which of course they will see a small part of.

I was in the beta for Diablo III, thanks to an inside hookup I have with a producer friend at Blizzard. I played through the beta one time with one character, and then proceeded to share my early access with every single person that asked for it :) I didn’t want to spoil anything too great past the first boss- the Skeleton King- and so even though there are lots of people out there with 100 hours in (in a 90 minute beta!), I’m not the poopsocky type. I did get a Collector’s Edition of the game for $10 through my Blizzard pal, however, and who doesn’t love a good hookup?

Monday night my friend Pat and I went to the launch party for Diablo III in Irvine. It was a pretty sweet setup, with a big stage, lots of signage, and tons of Blizzard employees. We were all the way at the back near the press area, and security kept telling us to move along, but we had a pretty decent vantage point for the show:

You had to buy the game from GameStop on site to be let into the big holding pen where everyone was lining up in front of the stage they had set up. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me- I mean, I had the game at home sitting on my hard drive already, why would people line up for 4 hours to get a physical box unless they wanted it signed? Why do people buy physical boxes anyway? And with the collectibles market being what it is- namely, finished, now that eBay is here- I was frankly surprised that people would want to wait that long. Still, it was very interesting to watch the cross-section of people who excitedly approached the harried GameStop clerk to buy the game- old, young, male, female, black, white, asian, hipster, yuppie- Diablo III really seems to have kindled something in a lot of people. I know personally people who basically quit playing video games 5 years ago that are making an exception for Diablo III! The party featured giveaways including new PCs, copies of the game, shirts, and the like, as well as live sessions with game producers and artists, including a half hour live drawing session that culminated in the artist chucking the sketch into the crowd. They showed lots of videos and cinematics from D1, D2 and D3 throughout the night- but we left after they brought the cosplayers out.

This put me home at about 10:30, plenty of time to watch Monday Night RAW (which was horrible, for the record) before diving in.

However, I wasn’t able to dive right in. The servers for the US launch, much like the servers for the Australian, Asian and English launches, didn’t work properly or they simply didn’t anticipate half a million people all trying to log in at 12 AM (though I doubt that, the hype surrounding this game has been insane). So, I ended up twiddling my thumbs until about 1:30 AM, then I finally got in but played for only 20 minutes before I had to go to bed. A lot of people are screaming about WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT FOR SERVERS TO PLAY A ONE PLAYER GAME and to be fair, they have a point- but in 6 months no one will remember how bad the service was for the first 48 hours, so just chill out folks.

I have some friends who were able to play sporadically yesterday, I myself was kicked out after about an hour, and told that the servers would not be back up until midnight. What I did play was visceral and satisfying, classic Diablo- and it’s tough, too! I basically steamrolled all of act I only to get one shot by the first enemy in act II. All of the classic Diablo stuff is there- foreboding music, gritty visuals, the visceral punch of your character’s abilities. I’m just waiting for a period of server stability to get a couple characters going with some friends, but I have no doubt that we’ll all be playing D3 and its expansion packs for a long time to come. Check back in a few weeks for a more fleshed-out review. Thanks for reading! Bonus video coverage of the launch party: