There can come a time in a young man’s life when he wonders why he hasn’t been using his talents to create something meaningful and that has value. Something that resonates within the collective consciousness of those like himself.
I come from the world of Big Gaming Press. It’s been around for some time; you know it as GameSpot, IGN, Game Informer, Kotaku, Joystiq, and the like. After years spent in and of it, I’ve come to realize that, at best, Big Gaming Press has become irrelevant. And more often than not, it’s actively harming the future of games. No, hear me out! It’s somewhat interesting!
Irrelevancy is always a fun place to start. The thing about Big Gaming Press is that it is almost entirely enthralled to game publishers and platform holders. This wasn’t always the case. Rewind 10 years, and what you’ll find is that Big Gaming Press and the games industry had a health(-ier) relationship because the games industry actually needed Big Gaming Press to disseminate its message. As such, Big Gaming Press had some editorial freeplay, a certain slack in the rope, to do the job its audience wanted it to do.
However, this freeplay is not what the games industry wants. For them, it’s all about controlling the message, and they’ve now found a way to do so that doesn’t require Big Gaming Press. If you look at, say, the PlayStation Blog, Major Nelson, Capcom Unity, Steam, Battle.net, and EA Origin, or even Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, you’ll see exactly what I mean. They’re breaking news. They’re doling out developer access. They’re building communities. In short, they’re doing what Big Gaming Press used to hang its hat on. And all of that might be fine, so long as you don’t mind being fed information designed to make a sale.
Backdrop thus established, where does that leave Big Gaming Press? Well, for one, and as its name suggests, it’s gotten really, really big, with a lot of expensive mouths to feed, and the only way to sustain itself is by hitting ever-larger audiences. However, by attempting to speak to everyone, they’ve ended up speaking to no one. By that I mean they’re not creating content for an audience anymore; they’re creating content that will be picked up by search engines. They’re reacting to and defined by what’s trending on social media channels.
When you treat the content-creation process this way, not only does all of the content look and work functionally the same, irrespective of which Big Gaming Press website you choose to call home; not only do you shit all over the audience you should be holding in the highest esteem; but you also give up the only thing a journalist ever really has: editorial integrity. All that Big Gaming Press is doing at this point is perpetuating its own failing business model. What we see as a result is a lot of negativity, a lot of whining, and a lot of pandering. It’s a bad scene.
But enough of the angry man. Allow me to back up a bit.
In the six-plus years that I worked in Big Gaming Press (specifically GameSpot, from January 2006 to March 2012), I wrote some 3,600 news stories, and spouted off op-eds on a variety of topics, several 10s of times. I’ve covered every major gaming convention and/or tradeshow, including but not limited to E3, GDC, DICE, CES, and PAX, a plurality of times. I’ve launched whole video shows from the ground up (and with a little help from my friends). Once they’re airborne, I’ve handled the part-and-parcel minutia of preproduction, hosting, and postproduction. I know how to work a TriCaster. I know what a TriCaster is.
But then, oh but then. About a month and a half ago, I was shitcanned. Laid off, actually, but from my perspective the two are functionally equivalent. (However, if EDD asks you, it was most definitely the latter!) How? What? Why? I honestly don’t know, but here’s a bit of my speculation, as well as the speculation of people clearly attempting to help me feel better:
a) I’m bad at my job
b) I’m an asshole and everyone hates me
c) I’m bad at my job and an asshole and everyone hates me
d) I’m good at my job but have too many rabble-rousing tendencies
e) I’m good at my job, perhaps too good, and the inadequacy issues of Those in Charge got the better of them
f) I’m good at my job, but the projects I pursued didn’t jive with the trend-chasing, tabloid-esque style of content that drives clicks
g) Traffic at my former employer is down, oh, say, 53% year-over-year (Hi, compete.com!), and I was deemed the least likely to help reverse that course
My money’s on c), but regardless, the separation has afforded me some perspective. Some time for introspection, we’ll say. I’ve come to realize that nearly everything I’ve done within the games industry thus far has been a waste of my time, and a waste of your time. And for that, I apologize and I hope to make amends.
Here’s what I’m thinking: Rather than perpetuate the sadomasochistic love triangle that currently defines the relationship between game creators, game publishers, and the gaming press—one that seems to be actively attempting to alienate their audiences—I’m going to try something different. My vision involves opening a window into the game development process. It involves getting to know the people who make the games we play and the circumstances that led to those games’ creation. It involves creating a collaborative environment where we can constructively work toward advancing this medium. And it involves actually treating you all as enthusiasts, not consumers. If there’s something you want me to write about, I’ll straight up do it for free.
But before all of that can happen, I need to build a place for all of that stuff to live.
First, the name: ab-yx. For those that don’t immediately get it, go take a look at one of Microsoft’s or Nintendo’s controllers. (Sorry Sony, but there isn’t even HTML code for a triangle.) Anyway, go ahead, I’ll wait. OK, get it now? No? Damn it, well, go look again because it’s staring right at you. I’ll say it’s surprisingly difficult to conjure up a good name whose domain hasn’t already been squat upon by some son-of-a-bitch Internet speculator. Seriously, if you are currently squatting upon an Internet domain, you’re a real asshole.
What else? There is the face-button connection, obviously, so we’re oriented in the realm of gaming. Also, its esoteric meaning has some precedence, and I’m thinking of the inimitable XKCD here. As for the hyphen, Penny Arcade did it, and they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.
The name also lends itself easily to a logo. Right now, I’m envisioning Bomberman (aka my own, personal Jesus) either juggling circular gems with the letters A, B, Y, and X emblazoned upon them, oriented like they are on a gamepad, with lit fuses, or Bomberman lying the lit A, B, Y, X gems in a trail behind him. Needless to say, copyright and/or trademark violations are a noted concern.
You may be wondering why I’m dwelling on this whole naming business. Well, that’s one of the big precepts of ab-yx: demystifying the process through experiential documentation. In the lead up to ab-yx’s full launch, I’m going to chronicle here on this blog all of the various steps that go into launching a gaming website, from finding a beat to devising an editorial plan to picking a color scheme for the site to figuring out just what it is that business people do that warrants remunerating themselves at a rate that far outpaces that of the creatives. (Totally not bitter.) Expect these updates every Tuesday and Thursday for the next three months, with video blogs interspersed throughout as well.
It’s important to me that you all see the messy, ugly junk that goes into building, pretty much anything really. Expect to see mishaps, naïveté, faulty presumptions, way-off-the-baseness, fear, trepidation, etc. Why? Because I feel like one of the primary reasons why people don’t follow through with pursuing their passions is this unrealistic expectation that everything comes out exactly right the first time.
All of the content you’ll find on this blog (and its successor website) will operate with this full monty ethos (minus, you know, the genitalia exposure), and through my mad thrashings-about, I hope you all will find something constructive, something to empower you to try this type of thing yourself, whether that be covering the games industry or making games themselves. (You’ll get a bit of both here.)
Of course, I’m also keeping this open diary on the theory that there are some of you who delight in the misery of others. This audience includes my future self, who will with little doubt find himself laughing his ass off at these posts several years from now, at a public library, wearing a filthy I Rocked the Bitches in Cancun t-shirt, twice divorced, high on an entire can’s worth of paint fumes. Yes, expect paint-huffing jokes here as well.
Confession: I totally got sidetracked for a second there. Let’s get back to what I was saying about Big Gaming Press with my whole rant and bulleted list above. The truth of the matter is that I’m really not one for impotently wailing at the heavens, and it’s really difficult for me to issue some sort of polemic, condemning my former employer and its Big Gaming Press peers. Yes, they have problems. Decisions are often motivated by fear, mostly due to the profit motive, and there is a proliferation of business-minded executives who don’t particularly care about the long-term health of this industry.
So what I’m going to do is close with this: One decade over, the games industry was dominated by a handful of major players, who, squeezed by the rocketing cost of game production, doubled down on yesterday’s successes. These risk-adverse, big-business types are the reason, say, Call of Duty 3 exists. However, times are a changin’, thanks largely to that young god colloquially known as The Internet, and independent, creatively disposed game developers have carved out a place for themselves outside of the stifling sameness of one-size-fits-all game development.
Right now, Big Gaming Press is having its Call of Duty 3 moment. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a demand for that kind of content, and so to Big Gaming Press I say, keep on keepin’ on. But as for me, I want something deeper and more valuable. What I hope to do next will bring us all closer to the people who are responsible for creating the games we play. I want to hear the stories they have to tell. I want to know how the magician does his tricks. And I’m willing to bet there are at least a few of you out there who feel the same. So let’s get to it.
Up Next: Holy fuck, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Quick, someone find me a For Dummies guide.