Monday, September 24, 2012

The Modern Gamer, by Think Google

This new whitepaper from Google highlights many of the trends that we've been seeing evolve for a while. There have been some huge shifts in behavior over the past couple of years, and many aspects of the whole business were slow to adapt to the way that the audience was changing. "Traditional" games media, and by that I mean pretty much anyone doing the "magazines on the web" thing (including includes blogs and big sites) was very slow to match some of the bigger shifts, and in many cases was simply adhering to the "grind" that I talked about earlier this year. The process of pushing out assets and going through the motions of previewing, then reviewing, and then (most often) walking away and onto the next thing is no longer what the audience wants. For games that drive the most engagement, the audience is seeking new information all year-long, and they're turning to other sources for this; Reddit, YouTube, forums, etc. If media sites (and stubborn games editors that fear change, and cling on to the way videogames were when they were growing up) don't adapt more quickly, things are going to get ugly.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Starting to trickle out information

Although I actually started working with the new company the Tuesday immediately after I left CBS Interactive, I've had to keep things pretty quiet while we lock down what we're doing with the product we're building (timeline, expected release date, and then the real pain in the ass; name,) and decide how we're going to present it to the world. It's an odd state to work in, to be honest. People know I'm doing something, but I've had to be evasive about specifics. Very soon that will change. Next week, I'll finally be able to say where I actually am every day, and then next month we'll start talking about the thing itself.

In preparation for this, I spent some of today prepping some press folks with some stuff about why I chose to step away from my previous gig, and why I'm so drawn to the mobile space. I've also been able to start putting some kind of form to what we're up to, even though I still can't talk about exactly what we're building. I'm sure it was really annoying to all concerned, as I've been on the receiving end of similar bullshit myself over the years. Hopefully I was able to provide enough information to actually give them something interesting to work with and not make them just thing "fuck this guy, there's no story here." We'll see on Monday, I guess. A lot of the reasoning is actually a bookend to some of the stuff I talked about back in January about the way that the media space has changed, how the audience is changing its demands upon content creators, and changing the way they consume these days. Large media companies built on the fundamental idea of being a "magazine on the Internet" (none of them expressly say that's what they are, but many are basically just that) are struggling to adapt quickly, and we're seeing an evolution of audience needs that's moving at a pace unlike anything I've seen in the past 20 years.

One thing I've noticed that I've had to make clear; I'm not working on a game. When people heard I was moving "into mobile" it seems the assumption was that I was making some kind of game. Presumably because I've been talking about iPhone games since the 1UP Yours days, and have been quicker to acknowledge that I find their "snackiness" satisfying than many. While the studio I'm now a part of does make games, that's not what my project is all about at all. It's for gamers.

Friday, September 7, 2012

And now for something completely different

I slipped away fairly quietly, in the end. After 21 years of performing variations of the same thing wearing a series of increasingly grandiose job titles, I finally moved away from pure editorial management this past week.

My next adventure is something I feel very strongly about, and I get to work with a very good (and old) friend in order to try and pull it off. It's still focused on the same audience - it's just tackling the challenges of meeting gamers' needs in a very different way from anything I've tried previously. We're not quite ready to announce exactly what it is yet, that will come in a few weeks. Hopefully when we do, it will be met with a chorus of "ooh, that's a good idea," rather than "that sounds fucking lame." I have, after all, just bet both my professional future, and my family's well-being on this decision. No pressure, then.

I'd originally intended this move away from pure editorial management to happen back in 2007 when I left Ziff Davis to start What They Play, but I ended up staying much more rooted in that world than I'd originally intended. My goal had been to spend a lot more time working on product and the business side of things, and slowly build a team of talented editorial folks and producers that would ultimately take the reins. Sadly, the business climate at the time meant that wasn't possible. Rather than build our humungous, family-focused empire and expand What They Like into a suite of parent-focused entertainment juggernauts-of-pure-awesome, we gave up on trying to raise more money and sold the thing to IGN/Fox who apparently didn't really know what to do with it. Then I went and sulked for a few months.

What followed was pretty serendipitous. The GamePro gig in 2010 was always intended as a very short-term engagement. "Come fix this thing," they said. Moving back to something with any kind of print component was never on my life's roadmap, but the luxury of being given complete and total freedom in an area that I know inside-out and backwards was incredibly appealing. To be completely honest, it was exactly what my fragile ego needed at the time; take something that was pretty awful and try to turn it into something...not. After a little less than a year, things appeared to be moving in the right direction. People seemed to like the new approach, and the team had gotten some swagger. So I moved along.

GameSpot was a very different creature. Colossal, but delicate. Because of past events there was a fragility to it that made things quite challenging. A victim of its own legacy. Could it be helped? Well, yes...but it was very hard work. Two of the hardest years of my career, I think. The first, particularly. I don't think I've ever felt as unwelcome anywhere as I did in my first few months there. And this is from someone that's stood in a divorce courtroom. I also don't think I've ever learned as much as I did while working at CBS Interactive. I've worked with folks in editorial, video production, product development, marketing, ad sales, PR, and product marketing for many, many years now, but working with a group that operates at the level of those guys was just awe-inspiring. Similarly marvelous was the opportunity to be a part of the highest-profile "getting the band back together" moment in games media history. Bringing the Giant Bomb guys back to be alongside GameSpot again was pretty magical, and I'm proud to have been a (very) small part of helping put the events that caused the fragility and delicacy behind everyone concerned, permanently.

But while all this was happening, lots of other things were changing. The audience was changing. The way we all interact with content was changing. The places that it comes from, the way that it's made, the priorities of the audience, the things we respond to, and the ways we want to interact with it. The games industry was turning itself upside-down, and media was going through an enormous upheaval. Not just games media, all media.

So when a close friend revealed over dinner one night that he and his business partner had been mulling over an idea very similar to something I'd spent a lot of time thinking about, it was clear that a "now or never" opportunity was presenting itself.

So...I took the plunge.