Hi everyone. You may have noticed that GameSpot is starting to look, sound, and feel different these days. GameSpot's content group is actually being reorganized to focus more on video and to explore new directions, and as it turns out, I'm not going along for the ride. As of today, Friday the 11th, 2011, my job has been eliminated.
Up until today, I was the managing editor of GameSpot. But it began for me in January 1998, all the way back from when GameSpot was a small startup company based out of a cramped two-story San Francisco building that used to be a travel agency. For 14 years, I've been covering PC games, console games, handheld games, and game hardware through reviews, previews, newsletters, customer service, news developments, press conferences, trade shows, video shows, special features, op-ed columns, and strategy guides, among other things. During those 14 years, I never took a step back. Not in the good times, not in the bad times, and not even in the weird and scary times. To make a long story short (too late), I did everything I could to make contributions that were valuable, useful, and even crucial to the site's prosperity, its editorial integrity, and in some cases, its survival. Anyone who says otherwise either doesn't actually know anything about GameSpot, is a liar, or both.
So you may be wondering why you've never heard of me, but as a programmer might say, that's working as intended. Let me explain, and even less briefly this time.
I signed on at GameSpot at a time when anyone could get rich by buying any old stock in the market or by "doing something with the Internet." As you might expect, with people everywhere starting to get rich, they also started getting a little big for their britches. Everyone outside the game industry, and also in it, considered him/her/itself to be a genius, and proclaimed their greatness to the heavens. Game magazines and Websites scored juicy exclusive stories on upcoming games by gushing not just about the games, but also about how awesomely awesome the developers were. You know--stroke the old egos a little bit. It often worked. Then the year 2000 came along. The year of the Tech Wreck, when the bubble burst, etc.. Advertising budgets, particularly for Internet companies like ours, dried up seemingly overnight and sites like GameSpot really started feeling the pinch. With the American economy already contracting going into the following year, we then had a certain series of events happen on September 11 of 2001, which made having a job writing about video games seem trivial and petty, and also not very practical or stable, what with the stock market also tanking and everybody on the TV claiming the end times were upon us.
That's when it dawned on me...there might be something to that old saying about pride coming before the fall. I've never cared for selfishness or self-importance, but it became very clear just how many people were making it their mission to seek out the spotlight, and how there didn't seem to be enough people driven to build something that was useful or substantial. I made the conscious decision, there and then, to go the exact opposite way, to double down on what I felt was truly important: Holding myself and anyone who worked with me to a higher standard of writing, and doing whatever I could to ensure that GameSpot's content was as good as it could be. To try to help build something that actually was great, rather than stand around talking about how great I was or wasn't.
If self-aggrandizing bloggers with diarrhea at the mouth were the problem, I wanted to be part of the solution. I wanted to share the most interesting games, and the most interesting aspects of these games, with the readers of GameSpot, so that they could discover games they might otherwise have missed, and so that they might share these games--which were, you know, only for losers who live in their moms' basements--with new people, and maybe have these new people discover that video games aren't just for loser basement-dwellers. That these so-called "video games" are actually pretty cool. And the whole time, I wanted the games themselves to be front and center. I wanted the games to be the stars. Because it wasn't about me. It's never been about me.
At this point, I'd like to shift gears and comment on the current state of the game biz. You could say it has some problems right now. Publishers who produce retail products are at war with retailers who sell used games. On the one hand, several game publishers are now offering preorder "bonuses" (such as day-one DLC) that effectively penalize customers for not buying new games, while resellers continue to grow fatter and fatter by buying used/trade-in games at $20, then turning around and reselling the same used game for $40-50 and pocketing the difference. As a result, digital distribution is clearly the future, except that digital services keep getting hacked and spiraling bandwidth costs are making widespread distribution of large digital files seem increasingly untenable. (Don't take my word for it. Ask Netflix.) Or maybe the real future is in social, free-to-play, and mobile games, except that many of these games nickel-and-dime their customers to death with microtransactions that are baked directly into the actual design of the games themselves. The only common thread here is that paying customers lose. Want to get this new game? You either pay full price+ for it, or you pay slightly less for a "used" version lacking content and often with crippled online capabilities. Go social/mobile/free-to-play and enjoy a new breed of games that are specifically designed to be mind-numbing unless you pay money to make them less so.
Sadly, I don't have any good solutions to these problems off the top of my head, other than to point out that smart customers will really appreciate it when game companies present their products in a way that doesn't burden said customers with these problems. (Hint, hint game companies. Also: Hint, hint, customers.) However, if you, like me, work, or worked, in the actual game industry and have begun, like me, to wonder exactly what you've been fighting for, let me point out that there are still good people writing about and covering games, and that there are still great development houses out there looking to make games that are actually enjoyable as games, and also that the barrier to entry on actual development has never been lower for those thinking about crossing that line themselves.
I'd also like to remind my brethren (or, former brethren as it were) that even though games are increasingly being considered a "business" in the sense of being cash cows to exploit, they've actually always been a business. Your hard work, professionalism, integrity, and willingness to contribute to something that's bigger than yourself are not only what got you here--they're what made the game industry so successful, and they're what will continue to ensure that you, and games, thrive. You writers and reviewers and news reporters, you video producers, you graphic designers, you programmers, you testers, you producers, you game designers, you artists, you musicians, you sound technicians, you voice actors, you product managers, you community managers, you publicists, you Web page builders, you copyeditors...each of you is an important part of this business. And there's no shame in being part of a business, especially one that's produced so much enjoyment for so many, and for so many years.
The very best people to do business with are knowledgeable, productive, detail-oriented, solutions-focused, considerate, easy to work with, and always learning. I've met countless people who evince these great qualities and I'm sure there are many more in this industry out there that I simply haven't met. These are the qualities that will serve you in good stead, regardless of whether everyone is making tablet games now (or "freemium" online RPGs now, or big-budget first-person shooters now). These qualities are what give you real value, both as a creator and as an employee/employer. These qualities are what will give you staying power out there, even when times are tough, and when it seems like the whole world's gone crazy, and that there are no opportunities and no real hope. Regardless of whatever irrational decisions come down from on high or whatever unfair market forces try to cut you off at the knees, there will always be a place for people with your skill, creativity, talent, drive, and relentless pursuit of self-improvement.
I think I've said enough at this point, so I'll be signing off now.
Goodbye and good luck to all of you.