Editorials and Features
Article by: MrCHUPON
Editorial: Why the 1up Sale to UGO Makes Me Sad [Written 2009-01-07]
It was announced on Tuesday, January 6th, 2008, that media giant Ziff-Davis sold its 1up.com properties to fellow media giant Hearst, where 1up.com will now be operating as part of Hearst's UGO.com network. Ziff's videogame magazine, Electronic Gaming Monthly, whose staff and content largely overlapped with 1up.com, was not part of the deal, and will assume the dubious distinction as "Last Ziff-Davis Videogame Mag to Shut Down". Oh, and by the way, MAD PEOPLE WERE LAID OFF.
There are a few elements of this news that will come as a bummer to fans -- such as myself -- of the 1up/EGM family. Here is my reaction to each:
* Electronic Gaming Monthly is dead -- a sign o' the times.
I was an avid game player throughout my youth, and without the wonderful siren song of the internet, the primary source for videogame information was print media. As a junior high kid, my videogame news and reviews diet consisted of Gamepro, Diehard Gamefan (gone), Ultra Game Players (gone), Nintendo Power, and of course, Electronic Gaming Monthly. For years, I regarded EGM as the best in its class. There was a time during which my interest in it fell off in favor of Gamefan (I was lured by its insane and, in hindsight, blinding art direction) and Game Informer (when I didn't hate scores, and 0.25 denominations somehow sounded more awesome than whole numbers or 0.1 denominations). As the Ziff crew further developed its very distinct editorial voice, however, EGM quickly started to win me back -- with its pièce de résistance (or at least the one that fully convinced me to subscribe) being Dan Hsu's interview with Peter Moore. That's right -- the one in which he "found his testicles" as so lovingly put by Penny Arcade.
Whether or not you actually liked EGM's content, you can't deny its place in the game writing industry. If anything, EGM's closing would be more a symbolic loss than anything since you could argue that its content -- or at least, its staff -- was readily available online. (I'll get to that in a second, too.) I know that the impression that print media is struggling to stay alive, and that this comes as little surprise, but such a closing still gives off an impact when it happens, particularly in this climate where there aren't as many American gaming rags as there were before. I felt it when Games For Windows Magazine (formerly Computer Gaming World) shut down. I felt it when Official Playstation Magazine was given the boot. Even during the time when magazines were more prolific, fans of Diehard Gamefan, Next Generation and GMR surely felt it too.
There are those saying, "About time," or "They were Sony-biased anyway," among other things. Whatever. For those of you in that group, don't look at it as a loss of a magazine you disliked, but instead as further writing on the wall. That print media as a whole is dying is up for debate, but as far as videogame publications go, the pool is slowly drying up. Will we one day wake up to find that Game Informer is the one and only gaming magazine left in the U.S.? (By the way, I mention GI not because I'm for or against it, but because it's backed by what I assume to be, and will be, a financially stable corporation for years to come: Gamestop.)
* Much of 1up's editorial voice is now gone.
Along with the annihilation of Electronic Gaming Monthly comes the elimination of jobs -- over thirty of 'em. There's a long list of names of the layoff victims circulating around the internet. Among the names of the magazine's hard-working art and copy staff sit the names of writers who contributed to both EGM and 1up.com, names such as James Mielke; Ryan Scott; Philip Kollar; Shane Bettenhausen; Andrew Pfister; Nick Suttner; Anthony Gallegos and Andrew Fitch. Pardon me if I've forgotten a few editors, as these are the ones that immediately came to mind. For a magazine-website combo that operates as EGM and 1up.com did, a huge part of its appeal comes from the distinct and diverse personalities that generate the content, as opposed to those publications whose writers are very hard to distinguish from each other. Remember that these people contributed to both the magazine and the website; now we can see that 1up.com has lost a huge chunk of its editorial personalities.
That Jeremy Parish, Sam Kennedy and others remain behind is somewhat irrelevant to me because a lot of what made the editorial content sing was the team chemistry. It was all about 1up's culture. When people left to pursue other opportunities, the new recruits fit into the environment. With UGO being 1up's new overlords, will we see that same bond? Will Sam, Jeremy, Thierry "Scooter" Nguyen and the others have to struggle to fit in with UGO's environment? When Jeff Green and Shawn Elliott left 1up almost immediately after one another, they left a great podcast, GFW Radio. Luckily, they didn't leave before integrating new cast members from the rest of 1up's staff into the mix. So, while I felt a gap left by Jeff and Shawn, Tina Sanchez and Anthony Gallegos -- and later appearances by Matt Chandronait and Alice Liang -- kept what was a well-oiled machine running very admirably. The remaining 1uppers simply might not get that opportunity.
* No more 1up Show, potentially no more podcasts?
I wasn't done with that layoff list, though. Look around the news articles and you'll see that the Gamevideos staff got the axe as well. This means no more of producers Ryan O'Donnell, Matt Chandronait, and Jay Frechette, and no more 1up Show. For quite a few people, The 1up Show seemed to be the single biggest reason to check 1up.com every week. It was a well-produced, well-planned weekly show that offered the same distinct insight you'd expect from 1up.com in a neat 35-minute video package. Now it's gone. Oh, and guess what? Since Skip Pfister was also 1up's grand puba of podcast production, it's a widely held belief that the entire podcast lineup is gone too -- 1up FM, 1up Yours, Retronauts, LAN Party (what was GFW Radio) all dead and buried. I call it a widely held belief rather than fact because Garnett Lee, host of 1up Yours and (surviving) managing editor at 1up, said on his Twitter feed that "yes, there will be more weekend confirmations" -- a reference to 1up Yours. So, we'll have to wait to see what happens with 1up's podcast lineup.
I'll say this: My favorite podcast for the last year running was LAN Party / GFW Radio, though the Giant Bombcast had been quickly gaining ground. Still, the entire repertoire of 1up Podcasts completely dominated my MP3 player. At any one time, 1up-produced video and audio podcasts took up half of all podcast listings. Frequent mailbag contributor and friend to Trigames HQ, Gideon, just recently texted me that aside from the Trigames.NET podcast, 1up's catalog offered the entirety of the podcasts he listened to. To have almost all of your podcasts gone in an instant must utterly stink.
* What about UGO.com?
I'll be frank: I never visited UGO.com before Tuesday. Ever. This wasn't out of spite, but rather because it simply never came to mind. Because I was looking for anything to keep my optimism level above zero, I decided to check it out in hopes that it would be a good, wholesome home for 1up. What I saw in the "About" page was this:
"Today's Gamer is a highly influential trendsetter and lifestyle maven whose passion for 'what's next' is virtually unparalleled in the marketplace. Their interests expand far beyond the Games realm. They are first adopters and heavy consumers of media, technology, gadgets and gear.
UGO Entertainment has devoted the last 10+ years to serving this audience... [providing] content and editorial ... around all things central to the Gamer Lifestyle: Movies, TV shows, Music, Comics, Technology, Gadgets, Gear, Girls, Sports, and of course, Games."
There's nothing wrong with choosing an audience and catering to it, but I'm sure, to you, that something smells absolutely putrid here. Believe me, I know; I graduated with a marketing degree, so according to some, I'm one of the sinners (even though I don't work int he field). This smells just like when IGN underwent its gradual but noticeable transformation from a bunch of dedicated N64 fans to MySpace Model hunters (you can thank Rupert Murdoch for that one). Whatever editorial talent and voice is housed at IGN potentially gets diluted, for some gamers, because of all the frontpage attention being paid to hot babes. So, as I decide to explore UGO.com's content, one of the first noticeable things I see under the front-page videogame feature was -- you guessed it -- a hot babe. Here's where things could get a little dangerous for 1up's image.
I'll borrow what Jeff Green said on his blog, "Greenspeak", to kickstart my point: "...their own website [UGO.com] values lowest-common-denominator pandering over quality content." Again, I understand the business value of pandering. It's sad but true: Hearst probably makes more money this way. From the standpoint of someone who wants 1up to remain pure in its game coverage however, my immediate worries are: How is UGO going to try and influence 1up's image? Or, how will it influence 1up's image, without necessarily trying?" Will UGO overlords try to dictate how 1up's content flows, despite the claim that 1up would remain its own entity? Will UGO's "pandering" image turn away 1up readers who would have stayed to support the remaining staff, even if 1up's editorial voice somehow stayed true? Would new readers looking for something like the OLD 1up not even consider looking at 1up in the years to come, simply because they don't want to read something associated with UGO? And if the UGO stigma does turn people away from 1up, will it dwindle away into nothingness?
However, let me make one thing clear. Before you pick up your pitchforks and go burn down UGO's house, bear in mind that my qualms with UGO in particular are more with its image -- brought on by the super-over-overlords there -- than its editorial staff. As I said, I've never read UGO. I don't know what their reviews bring to bear. Is it possible that UGO's editorial content is as valuable as 1up's? Sure. I think it's equally sad that the pandering image of the corporation could affect their image, just as my freelancing for Gamespot might be affected by the cynical moneyhat viewpoint that Gamespot gets. There's some damage control going around, and everyone has a right to be skeptical about it -- but there are two sides to every story. Let's just be cognizant of that, even if it doesn't change the fact that the layoffs and loss of media really, truly stinks.
I plan to do a little legwork to see what the other side of the story was. The last thing I need is to make hasty conclusions and then rile up unnecessary hatred for nothing. For now, let's weep for what was.
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