Friday, December 14, 2007

Obligatory introduction post

I guess any inaugural post needs to begin with an introduction, and a bit of background information. Not that any of the 12 people inclined to read this don't know already. Back in August this year, I left Ziff Davis Media (where I was the SVP and Editorial Director of the 1UP Network, which includes 1UP.com, EGM, Games for Windows The Official Magazine, and Gamevideos to name a few of the properties) with my business partner to start a new company called What They Like. From the very beginning our goal with the company What They Like, and the first product we were launching What They Play was to help empower parents. At a time when it seems that everyone is trying to tell us what to think, or what to buy (particularly in the videogames space) it seemed that there were very few resources designed to help parents make smarter choices. Our philosophy from day one has been that the best possible parental control for any kind of entertainment is parents. Who is better suited to control media consumption? Who knows kids better? No one. Every family is different, and every family has a different set of rules for what they allow. The line in the sand for what is acceptable is difficult enough to establish when you’re the mom or dad concerned…so how can someone that’s never met your kids possibly make that call for you?

Videogames are an important part of entertainment, and they’re becoming a more and more significant part of the media diet. They’re demonized constantly, and characterized as “violent” or, shockingly (and inappropriately) “pornographic” by observers claiming to be “concerned.” There’s an ESRB rating on every game box that gives a broad indication of what age it’s appropriate for, and there are descriptors that characterize the content. What we do at What They Play is put that information into some context. If it says “violence,” we discuss the nature of the violence. Is it hitting things with a stick? Or shooting aliens in the face with a plasma rifle? If it mentions “language,” we characterize the words used. Are the characters constantly peppering their lines with f-bombs, or are you hearing words like “crap” or “ass”?

If parents have the resources and the information they need to make informed decisions, they’ll be more confident about the products being bought and consumed, and they’ll feel better about satisfying their children’s wishes. Kids know exactly what they want. As we all know, they’re unbelievably media-savvy, and they know better than anyone what’s cool and what’s not. As kids get older this becomes more and more of an important consideration. Parents need to understand the content of the entertainment that’s wanted, and make judgment calls accordingly. With a little research, and access to good information, there can be some surprises. That World War 2 shooter that you assumed was ultra-violent may turn out to be historically accurate, and not feature any blood or gore. That adventure game with the sexy girl as the lead may turn out to be a great exercise in lateral thinking and puzzle solving…and may not be quite as saucy as you feared. What could be more embarrassing for a 13-year-old boy than being bought a spectacularly uncool videogame by a well-meaning mom and dad? Better to get the facts on the cool stuff, than impose bad but well-meaning choices.

So...that's what the business is doing. Here on this blog, I'll give some background on the way the company is evolving, talk about some of the cool stuff we'll be doing, and maybe give a little insight into our (sometimes bizarre) day-to-day activities.
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