The recent shocking, but not surprising announcement of AOL shutting down online gaming publications Massively, Joystiq and WoW Insider stopped me today. Like, literally stopped me.
I think it was quite obvious from the blow and the hand-over-mouth pause that a mental spiral had taken flight and came crashing down on a big fat “Why?” that forced me, while in my place of work, to just stop.
I think as a gamer I’ve often taken for granted those that make it their life to report, comment, criticize and more importantly CREATE content about that which I have chosen to pursue as a career.
So before I comment on the situation, I wish to be reflective and retrospective. For that I’ll *clears throat* put on my best Sophia Petrillo voice. Picture it:
A bored Sailor who was months from a pending 7-month deployment to Afghanistan was sitting in a bookstore in Meridian, Mississippi chatting with one of his friends who worked in the café side of the store. After weeks of convincing, the bookstore employee friend had managed to convince the Sailor to get into the latest craze in online gaming, World of Warcraft.
So the Sailor bought the battle chest that consisted of the original game and its first expansion, The Burning Crusade, and spent an entire evening installing patch after patch until low and behold he was ready to discover the world of Azeroth and the mysterious realm of the Outlands.
Yes, that Sailor was myself. Wide-eyed at the expansiveness of the game. Anxious at leveling my character (bounced between Paladin and Druid before deciding to see the Druid to the then level 70 cap).
The beginning months were rough. Completely clueless and utterly nooby. Quite frankly if I had not bumped into one of the very people who I still consider a friend, I probably would have given up on the game. But that friend was awesome. She pointed me in the direction of useful resources that helped me understand the mechanics of gameplay a lot better than, sadly, what Blizzard had to offer for its own game.
Two websites became my best friend: Curse’s MMO Champion, and AOL’s WoW Insider. They were later joined by WoW Insider’s sister site, Massively, as my interest in MMO gaming in particular became that benchmark with which I defined my gaming interest and persona.
For as one can see, as long as I’ve been an MMO gamer, I’ve had both Curse and WoW Insider in my life and it goes without saying that AOL’s decision to close down its host of blog enthusiast sites that include WoW Insider, Massively, and of course, Joystiq, was met with utter sadness.
When I was deployed to Afghanistan, access to World of Warcraft was expectedly limited (logging in during very late night, early morning off peak hours) and so to fill in the time in between log-in sessions, I spent my time reading up on the game and conversing quite frequently on sites like MMO Champion and WoW Insider, equally. With WoW Insider though, it continuously pointed me to fun, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable people that helped me be a better WoW gamer:
- A profile post on WoWI referred me to Lissanna, an expert Druid player starting up her own blog from whom I gained much knowledge during the five or so year stretch I played my Restoration Druid as my spec/class of choice.
- The movie watch column pointed me to hours upon hours of creative machinima edited by some wickedly talented artists, some of who were featured and ultimately landed jobs at Blizzard in its cinematics department. Not to mention some of my favorite WoW-parody singles and their videos (like Achievement Whore, and Ninja Raiders).
- A former shadow priest columnist who I probably had a crush on for the better part of five years who showed me a completely different world of WoW gaming when I had finally leveled my first alternate toon with whom I became quite proficient and enjoyed as a pvp character.
- And the mistress of lore who time and again, presented well-researched, equally informative and entertaining articles that explored my favorite part of WoW, the story. Lest I forget her most intriguing Tin Foil Hat editions that made speculating about the direction of the story almost as engaging as a high-impact sport.
When my interest expanded beyond WoW, and I decided to try out other MMOs, like Rift, Star Wars the Old Republic, Aion, and Final Fantasy, Massively became my go-to source that compounded all my interests into a single publication. Massively writers were dedicated to sharing their passions for the games, and not simply writing to enrage or bait-click readers for traffic as I’ve seen a few current publications do time and again.
In essence as the years went by and I still continued to turn to sites like WoWI and Massively (and a few other additions along the way), I found myself desiring more and more to become one of those that I considered to be elite. Even if it was just myself and a few others that saw them that way. I started blogging on my own and found a passion about communications within the gaming industry.
See, for years I struggled as a Navy communicator (on the photojournalism side and the Public Affairs planning side) to discover what I wanted to do with my life. And one day I discovered what it was.
In 2009, I was sitting at my desk in Bahrain. It was my second Middle East deployment that followed the several months I spent in Afghanistan as a traveling military photojournalist, only this time my assignment was 14 months. I was nearing the end of my day when I decided to kill the remaining free time I had with perusing my usual batch of gaming news sites that included MMO Champion and WoWI. And I noticed WoWI’s recent post…
…they were hiring…well, sort of. WoWI was seeking out knowledgeable columnists to take over a few of the class-specific columns and there was an opening for a Druid blogger.
Of course, I couldn’t apply. The reality of being in the Middle East, working for a regional command 3-star admiral hit me like a brick wall. But all was not lost.
See, a seed was planted and when I trekked over to Blizzard’s employment page, a PR opening resided there as well. It was then I knew.
I wanted a career in communications in the gaming industry.
Over the years while I finished my military service and my bachelor’s degree, I met some of the WoWI writers, present and former (well, I guess they’ll all be “former” before long), and every single one of them had nothing but encouraging words for an aspirant such as myself. People like Fox Van Allen often asked me questions that challenged my thinking and my actions (or inactions as some of the cases were) about seeing my dreams come into fruition. And for that I’m eternally grateful.
While I currently find myself still pursuing that dream (alas, when I did finish my naval service, there weren’t any opportunities open at the time), I still look back over the years with nothing but admiration to the wonderfully talented people that informed me, entertained me, and INSPIRED me.
Shutting down these publications means AOL is losing its community voices. Time and again I have found myself in front of major business people (including most recently the VP of Marketing at Curse) advocating the need for dedicated and intelligent community development and engagement for respective brands because that in essence is what made the gaming industry as a whole so successful during the economic recession (2009-2012) where all other industries were hurting. I mean, LOOK at this chart:
Source: EEDAR via GDC Vault
The gaming industry is known for its loyal consumers because gaming in itself is an opportunity to band together as equals (company to customer, brothers and sisters, etc.), especially since technology is at the forefront of innovation in today’s society. The death of AOL’s gaming publications was painfully slow as we saw content slowly disappear, writers accept opportunities elsewhere, leaving those who heroically stayed behind to pick up the slack and STILL manage to be successful.
For an outsider like myself to see this happen is heartbreaking if only because these publications have been a STAPLE and they weren’t exactly suffering in terms of web traffic, or interest. Everyone needs to say this and say it with a raging determination that if said it might change things (even when it won’t):
THERE IS NO GOOD REASON TO SHUT THEM DOWN.
We all suspected this was coming eventually a year ago when a VP whose name I don’t even know and who never read our site chose to reward our staggering, hard-won 40% year-over-year page view growth by… hacking our budget in half.
It’s beyond boggling to understand the blatantly idiotic management decisions AOL made with its own web properties.
I think what angers me the most is I represent the very kind of person AOL wants as a consumer. I’m relatively young (34, so not too young but not too old which means I have money and could spend it if properly persuaded), tech savvy, frequent online trafficker, up-to-date on the latest trends in the industry, and yet, in the last year alone up to and including the closing of its gaming publications, they have consciously made every effort to alienate me. And I’m just one person. Think of how many thousands and possible millions of people they have and are affecting with their incompetent decisions.
For a struggling company still trying to find relevance in the new Internet landscape it helped shape, it’s unfathomable to see it ditch the very types of products that appeal to a group of consumers in one of the most successful subunits of the tech industry. EEDAR showed you the numbers.
So that’s that I suppose. The wonderfully talented, ethically-minded, and highly entertaining writers will wander off hopefully to create their own similarly structured gaming news publications, even if on a smaller scale. Others I hope will land at other gaming publications. Luckily Twitter allows me as a loyal reader to follow them wherever they land.
Specifically, Bree, Dawn Moore, Fox Van Allen, Anne Stickney, Olivia Grace, Alex Ziebart, Elizabeth Harper, Mike Sacco, Adam Holisky, Tyler Carraway, Allison Robert, Matthew Rossi, Michael Grey, Christian Belt, Dan Desmond and the slew of writers over the years I’m unable to through the tears that fall as I write this cannot remember at the moment:
You gave this former Sailor plenty to read, ponder, wander, respond to, write about and most importantly, enjoy about the very thing that has brought joy to my life: gaming.
Be well guys.