Ziff Davis files for chapter 11, rebel journalists celebrate

So Ziff Davis, owner of the magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly and website 1Up, is finally going under. Last week they filed for bankruptcy (I hope you didn’t have any gift cards for their merchandise). This probably won’t mean much since companies have the amazing ability to survive even after they’ve lost all of their money, but for the sake of argument pretend it means that the 1Up network is dying.

Should this passing be celebrated or mourned? Forget that there are real people who need to eat running these publications for a moment – our capitalist system is harsh and we all implicitly agree that if people can’t make a living doing what they do then they are probably not good enough at that job (minus those of us who belong to the American Communist Party – I still believe in our mission comrades, this whole site is a ploy to gain the trust of the greedy pigs). Compiling a list of what we stand to lose is better left for annoying optimistic people. I will focus on the good that would come from the absence of ZD.

Video games are treated as consumer electronics – I complain about this one at least once a day. If games are ever going to be considered art or even artistic by the majority of the population, we need to stop rating them from 1 to 10 in categories X,Y and Z. My washing machine and my games are reviewed in a similar manner and that’s just stupid. EGM and 1Up (who has a new ratings system that may be slightly less stupid) are leaders in their field and as such should actually lead.

Compare and contrast Sean Baby of EGM to Mr. Biffo of Edge. It’s actually a lot like comparing America and England, actually.

Journalism is not taken seriously – The ZD guys are levels beyond Joystiq and Kotaku when it comes to journalism, but are still not particularly impressive. Here’s a hint EGM – respectable magazines don’t dedicate pages to insulting readers who send in stupid letters. For a comparison, read England’s Edge magazine. The articles are so well written that you’ll likely read the magazine from cover to cover, despite only about half of the content being on games that interest you. ZD writes for the widest audience possible, unlike Edge who clearly writes for adults. I understand you have investors, and board members and profits to be maximized Ziff, but I have a brain that enjoys reading articles written for college graduates.

The college frat mentality drips from many of their publications – The sophomoric humor and “huh huh she has boobs” mentality manages to both keep aspirations of being real journalists out of many of ZD writers reach and women far away from game rags and sites. Perhaps when designers shift away from a male dominated industry the writers will follow, but it likely will take pressure from writers and consumers first. ZD’s dick jokes do not exert the appropriate pressure.

As part of the establishment they have gotten too old, bitter and conservative – Not everyone needs to like odd open ended games like Endless Ocean, but it’s discouraging to see EGM treat the game as if it’s a leper (see this rant). That 1Up gave Wii Sports, what is perhaps the defining game of this generation, a measly 65 is also worrisome. I’d say they represent a hardcore audience but most of those gamers seem to have realized it’s an excellent title. (Also note the irony that if they reviewed games in the subjective manner I advocate, instead of pretending to use an objective scale, that 65 would simply mean one guy at the office didn’t like it and would be impervious to criticism.)

Other smaller sites are inspired by their work – And the final, perhaps most horrendous thing about this is that there are a thousand kids reading ZD publications who want to write about games themselves. I was one of them but for every annoying soap box standing whiner like me there are 99 people with carbon copy sites that lift everything from stupid review scales to college humor right from ZD writers. This dawned on me recently when I was contemplating the tragedy of new ZD writers arriving at their jobs full of hope and the desire to make changes, only to be crushed by the system – but then I realized the vast majority of writers grew up reading EGM and 1Up so likely they never even had that rebellious spark in them.

The last time I criticized ZD publicly – and had a huge and coordinated Digg push behind it – I was reprimanded by a high up at 1Up. Because no such Digg effort is planned for this piece I must finish by playing Devil’s Advocate:

DA: What are you, some kind of asshole? People may lose their jobs.

J: I know, that’s sad. What’s worse is that if anyone gets fired I’d guess it’d be the lower guys on the totem and not the high ups who make sure ZD media has all the problems I just mentioned.

DA: Still, it’s not like you could do better than those guys.

J: Probably not, but if someone paid me to do it full-time I’d be able to expand my vocabulary beyond the 500 words they are officially allowed to write with. If not, readers could at least look forward to my self righteous lecturing on the ills of the gaming world.

DA: Obviously writing crappy articles like this will prevent you from ever landing any kind of paid writing gig.

J: Yeah, I know. I couldn’t survive on minimum wage anyway.

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16 years ago

Of course it has been shown that EGM and crew are likely to be in a solid position financially in the future, and with their changing in staff structure and review scores there could be some good things coming in the future. However, I still find myself dissapointed in much that I have seen out of them in the past/present. The cover story features between EGM and 1up are a mix of solid historical articles, and buddy buddy interviews. They clearly write for a younger male audience in EGM, which is fine from a writer’s and business perspective, but I find it hard to consider some of these guys elder statesment/vets of games journalism when they write/edit content that seems destined for someone who has just learned of boobs.

1up has had some dynamite content in the past, but it is overshadowed by a lot of junk. Add the fact that we have a prof. games magazine being heavily associated with a website chock full of on and off the record comments and opinions in the 1up community, and lines start to feel blurred. It is like a bowl of gulag soup that you have to sift through to get the rare potato or piece of fish.

16 years ago

ok this has nothing to do with the article…I just have to tip my hat to Christian’s gulag soup metaphor. Simply brilliant. I’m putting it in my facebook quotes.

16 years ago

thanks shota, but don’t give me credit for getting the energy to finally read Solzhenitsyn.

16 years ago

Oh Christian, you are talking to a Russian Lit major here. I will very much give you credit for mustering the energy to read Solzhenitsyn. The brilliance is in applying it to video games.

Regarding the actual article. I am curious how many of you use Wikipedia for game information? Sometimes i browse the sub par gaming sites, then compile a list of games they have give A’s or Thumbs up or 10’s or erect penises to. (I don’t read a single written word of their blabber.) Then i plug those titles into a wiki search and get 90% of what i need to know. Perhaps this is a bit silly but it works for me and if i need an opinion i can always ask those whom I trust, yous guys.

16 years ago

Clearly the real victim in this mess is the vast readership of Games for Window: The Official Magazine:).

I’ve never been particularly fond of EGM, but I do like 1up (when I can get the site to load). The stable of staff seemed specialized enough that you could find someone you liked and agreed with consistently which helped a lot when you where on the edge about weather a particular niche game was right for you.

As far as your poll goes, Shota, I’ve never even thought to use wikipedia for serious game evaluation. I’d have thought the writing is to dry to properly turn me on to a game I’m curious about. What kind of information do you look for, exactly?