JoystiqSorryWe-reClosed

Even though I had heard about the possibility of Joystiq closing nearly two weeks ago, it wasn’t until earlier this week on Tuesday that avid conjecture and speculation finally gave way to a more concrete reality borne out of AOL’s decision to pull the plug. And to be honest, I still don’t know how I really feel about Joystiq’s closure as I had always thought of the media organisation as being rather low-brow and sensationalist in terms of what it offered – i.e. poorly spun articles that were designed to elicit feverish hyperbole via click-baiting tactics. Certainly this was the case with Joystiq when it was first starting out ten years ago and when the internet was still in its infancy as the poor quality of its earlier output prevented me from wanting to stick around in an age when print was still largely relevant.

While it is true that the paradigm shift away from print largely started occurring around five years ago, it wasn’t until Edge had its anti-climactic “re-design” that the shortcomings of print were finally laid bare. Truth be told, it wasn’t the internet itself that killed off print, but the ease of access to it once smartphones and tablets hit critical mass. Take myself for example: why would I waste my time and energy to travel to WHSmiths (and then spend £5 for the “privilege” of owning either Games TM, Retro Gamer or Edge), when I could so easily just whip out my iPhone or Nexus 7 and then proceed to browse my regular go-to websites from the comfort of my favourite easy-chair (thereby saving £5 in the process)? I wouldn’t need an “editor” to help filter content for me, and could instead just take the onus to be the curator of my own digestible content.

With internet-ready mobile devices paving the foundation for gamers to migrate to digital content portals en masse, it was only really a matter of time before sites like Eurogamer and Destructoid started benefiting from the extra influx of new and recurring visitors on an ad infinitum basis. And whilst Joystiq would also benefit from this trend, its reputation was too repugnantly mired in a field that had already matured and was become heavily congested.

Much like how certain titans had at one point presided over their respective fields, arrogant mistakes borne out of complacency saw to it that their inability to adapt would lead to frustrated customers eventually abandoning them. Such was the case with MySpace, Blackberry and Nintendo as competitors rushed to fill the void left by their inability to cater for their customers’ needs and requirements – with the punitive effect being that these once great industry leaders ended up losing their customers forever. Likewise, as I discovered sites like Eurogamer, Destructoid, and (most recently) Polygon, their steadfast commitment to maintaining quality ensured that I would not need to look elsewhere as they were able to adequately cater for my needs. And if I ever did need to visit another site, my previous experience with Joystiq (and its earlier days) would ensure that I would place it at the end of a very long list.

Which is a shame really. Because as one discovers in their dealings with people, everyone deserves a second chance (up to a certain point). And like the games industry, I too only recently discovered that Joystiq’s editorial policies had evolved and changed beyond all recognition after I had stopped visiting the site during its formative years. Was me leaving their wake-up call, or had I been a little too hasty in my judgement?

No, I think a more appropriate explanation as to why I had stopped visiting the site was because Joystiq just didn’t cater towards my intellectual tastes then. As a gaming connoisseur with exquisite tastes, Joystiq’s flame-baiting attitude was simply too asynchronous with my own refined sensibilities, and it didn’t fulfil my needs and requirements (at all) with regards to its own editorial output. The website was too immature and fan-boyish in terms of its coverage, and it wasn’t until I had left for other alternatives that it finally started to mature and grow up a little. Maybe that was it. Or maybe I had been the problem all along. After all, Joystiq had never outlined its intention to court my attention, engender my loyalty, or even have me as part of its captive audience. But with AOL recently closing down the site, maybe we were always destined to have the briefest of flings.

For reasons normally associated with time and mental bandwidth, I’ve only ever really subscribed to two gaming podcasts – these being ‘Rebel FM’ and another – with ‘Gamers With Jobs’ only really filling in once all other alternatives had become truly exhausted. Certainly, some business analysts would support my listening habits by arguing that there are only ever two main competitors that vie for one’s psycho-social attention and mind-share, with the unfortunate effect being that this duopolistic characteristic plays itself out in the marketplace where (aside from the Big Two) other entrants face being sidelined as mere after-thoughts and also-rans – i.e. Liberal Democrats in the face of Labour/Conservative, Virgin Cola in the face of Coke/Pepsi, Rakuten in the face of eBay/Amazon, Homefront in the face of Call of Duty/Battlefield, Wii U in the face of PlayStation/XBox, Retro Gamer in the face of GamesTM/Edge etc.

When I was first introduced to podcasts (after the “1UP-ocalypse” in 2009), it was ‘Games Dammit’ that came to occupy the second of my one-two listening habits. After that particular podcast dissolved (due to 1UP ceasing operations), and whilst still mourning its loss, I briefly flitted with ‘Giant Bombcast’, ‘Idle Thumbs’, ‘Weekend Confirmed’, and a few others. However, none of these seemed to quite fit. Eventually, my gaming podcast listening pastime came to resemble a highly regulated digestible stream of ‘Rebel FM’ – with ‘Gamers With Jobs’ temporarily filling in as the convenient “second” substitute whilst I sought a more permanent replacement..

It wasn’t until December 2013 that I decided to overlook my long-standing prejudiced beliefs and give ‘The Super Joystiq Podcast’ a listen. And I’ll say this now… The act of downloading ‘The Super Joystiq Podcast’ is probably one of the best things that I’ve ever committed myself to in recent podcasting memory. Not only did Joystiq’s podcast make me fall in love with the site and its editorial staff, it also made me realise as to why personalities are so fundamental to a site’s success, and why words alone cannot single-handedly endear a reader to a site and make it sticky. After all, if a picture can paint a thousand words, then shouldn’t the intonations of the writer also help fulfil a similar function? For if the DoritosGate and GamerGate scandals have had the cumulative effect of undermining public faith in the journalistic press, then surely seeing and hearing the people affected would ensure to alleviate and allay some of the fears regarding the profession’s integrity. After all, and as an example, it was his televised showdown with Nixon that led to Kennedy decisively winning the popularity stakes and (in the process) enamouring himself to an entire nation whilst simultaneously causing a chain of events to occur that led to his opponent being impeached. This audience “cheater detection module” technique was also successfully utilised in Rockstar’s LA Noire game when players were tasked with examining a suspect’s overall demeanour during police interrogation scenes. In short, whilst words do often go some way towards painting a full picture, people are much better at sensing as to whether someone is genuine through visual facial expressions and vocal tonality.

I guess there’s a scientifically valid reason as to why gaming audiences are beginning to eschew written articles in favour of Youtube videos and podcast radio shows, with the consequence being that instead of traditional journalists (like the eminent Simon Parkin) receiving reverential attention for their work, we are beginning to see smaller (sometimes one-man) organisations act as influential noise-filtering taste-makers – such as Mark Bussler from ‘Classic Game Room’, Joe Vargas from ‘Angry Joe Show’, RazorFist from ‘The Rageaholic’ etc. All of which begs the question as to whether gaming journalists should now be looking towards becoming the next PewDiePie?

Back in 2011, I spent four sleepless nights on what I hoped to be the intro for my very own internet TV show.

Prior to listening to my first episode of ‘The Super Joystiq Podcast’, I had the pre-conceived notion that the Joystiq staff mostly consisted of obnoxiously loud frat boys who put the Royle family to shame in terms of their unabashed dysfunctionalism. After all, the site had the long-standing reputation for being on par with some of the very worst internet sites, with its entire existence summarily derived from relentlessly churning out tabloid fodder that was devoid of any substantive worth. Needless to say, this publicly reinforced opinion was soon tested and assuaged as my critical faculties undertook a major upheaval after witnessing the “truth”. Had I really been so blinded by my ignorance so as to adopt the common heresy as dogma where my blinkered views now bordered on the realm of bigoted fanaticism? And if so, weren’t these alarmist beliefs symptomatic of a much more pervasive problem with how Joystiq presented itself and conducted its affairs in the public domain?

Much like the people within this video, I’d always thought of Joystiq as consisting of those who represented the very worst aspects of bro-culture in gaming.

The truth is that since its inception, Joystiq has always been perceived as being a news-site whose main shtick was to re-purpose PR news-bites for bottom-feeders. Whilst its blog-oriented and fan-boy driven musings would have been fine for a forum or a less professional outfit, it was these roots I believe that caused it to lose face and be taken less seriously as a legitimate gaming authority. Since then, and whilst the site did make a concerted effort to move away from its angst-ridden beginnings, its attempts to branch out and gain credibility often yielded scant respect from a sizeable majority of the gaming populace who often chose to remember its origins as a means to undermine it. Indeed, so ingrained was this negative perception in the public consciousness that it even prevented me from wanting to visit Joystiq and take it seriously for a number of years. But to be honest, I’m glad that I eventually relented, despite having only changed my mind about the site in its final few months.

Like an estranged friend, we had a blissful reunion that was unfortunately cut short all too soon. And on Tuesday, as the site lay stricken in its final moments, I (alongside many others) maintained a vigil as Joystiq gasped its last dying moments over on Twitch. It was extremely sad to hear Ludwig and his team all together for one last time, and as Anthony John Agnello teared up towards the end, I too mourned what was to become the passing of Joystiq. I didn’t want the team to go, but (silently) begged for the members to stay. Just a few more minutes to savour those precious moments, because at the end, that’s all we have… You think someone will be in your life forever, and before you know it, they’re gone – just like that. And if the passing of Joystiq taught me anything, is that one should really make more of a concerted effort to cherish the people and relationships that one has in their life.

Gamergate would have you believe that journalists are unethical and inhumane monsters. However, secretly obtained footage suggests that they’re just ordinary people who bleed like you and me.

With a growing trend for established websites to close (such as 1UP and Joystiq), their failure masks a much more pressing problem whereby the traditional website industry is becoming increasingly prone to risk in the face of more disruptive influences that are having a volatile and fragmenting effect on the market. Certainly, the old business model for websites relying solely upon advertising revenue is becoming increasingly outmoded as media enterprises urgently begin to consider other viable alternatives. Some are even suggesting that the old established norm for freely giving away content is now passe, and that content creators must look towards monetising their efforts via paywalls and subscription services if they are to ensure that their collective effort isn’t devalued any further and that the profession of journalism is able to claw back some semblance of respect.

As an example, Rupert Murdock successfully implemented pay-wall strategies for his The Times newspaper, and renowned videogaming website Giant Bomb also opted to erect subscription packages once it realised that the traditional advertising model is quickly becoming obsolete.

But just like in any healthy relationship (whether it be business or personal), there is always a constant tug of war as both parties continuously test each others boundaries whilst encouraging the other to grow. And with Joystiq having followed the trend of giving too much of itself away for free, it was only a matter of time before this industry-wide practice ended up creating feelings of self-entitlement and resentment amongst readers – with GamerGate being the obvious manifesting result.

Maybe Joystiq should have valued and respected its editorial efforts a little more, for to paraphrase Rami Ismail… You know what is a failure? That rather than pricing our content at the price we believe is right for our work, we price our content where we believe it’ll sell. In our blind rush to make ends meet, we’re continuously hurting both ourselves and others. The expectation of what you’ll get for free has gotten so out of proportion, that on websites and blogs you can’t even say ‘what you’ll get for free’ anymore, because that’s too expensive already.

Now that Joystiq is no more, with its editorial team having been scattered to the four winds, one really does wonder as to what the future holds for the members of the old editorial team. Certainly, Jessica Conditt will be retained as she heads up the ‘Joystiq X Engadget’ merger. But what will some of my more perennial favourites (such as Ludwig Kietzmann and Anthony John Agnello) go on to do next?

As magazines once gave way to websites, so too are websites now beginning to give way to personal (one-man) blogs and Youtube videos as the market becomes increasingly fragmented. And if pay-walls and other monetising alternatives (such as Kickstarter and Patreon) are the business models of the future, then maybe some of Joystiq’s old editorial staff could consider going down the same solo route as Jim Sterling and ‘The Jimquisition’ after he unshackled himself from all the corporate (mis)management and red-tape that surrounded his previous tenure at The Escapist.

Jim Sterling and his desire to leave 1

Jim Sterling and his desire to leave 3

Alternatively, and if the solo route doesn’t inspire, then Ludwig Kietzmann et al could easily set up their own site and take the old Joystiq editorial staff with them – much like how Alex Navarro, Ryan Davis, Brad Shoemaker and Vinny Caravella all followed Jeff Gertsmann to ‘Giant Bomb’ after he was unceremoniously fired from ‘Gamespot’. Indeed, and given that Ludwig himself stated that “there is no end, but there is a bump”, I certainly think that he can pull something like this off as not only does he have a proven track record as Editor-In-Chief, but also has the necessary industry knowledge and connections after his association with Joystiq.

To conclude, Joystiq’s closure not only highlights AOL’s monumental failure in conducting proper business, but also symptomatically maps out the beginnings of a seismic shift in how websites will most likely operate in future (as old business models become increasingly redundant and untenable). That the casualties in all of this were not the equivalent of Apple, but instead The Beatles, is truly disheartening as I am extremely sad to see Joystiq’s equivalent of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr et al go their separate ways.

Watching the ending to ‘American History X’ recently made me consider the notion of wanting to end with a quote as one usually can’t top what’s been said before. But given that Aristotle once allayed to the notion of mastery and evolution only ever occurring after the pupil had built upon the foundations set by their teacher, I find it interesting to pontificate that even though Joystiq had started out as a scrappy young upstart, its ensuing years saw the website redeem itself by growing into a highly professional powerhouse that soon came to dwarf some of the more established gaming media organisations that it had sought to emulate in its earlier days.

From the site’s earlier adoption of the (now popular) blogging format, to its recent decision to eschew scores in reviews, Joystiq truly was a pioneer in many ways. And as Ludwig and co continue to look towards the future whilst fighting the good fight (knee deep in the trenches), it’s reassuring to know that even though Joystiq is no more, they are still committed to pulling the trigger in their very own form of “Advanced Warfare“. For that, I’ll always have the sincerest form of admiration for them.

Even though I never did congregate with Joystiq’s staff on its own forums, listening to the team in ‘The Super Joystiq Podcast’ always made me think that I was sitting around a camp-fire and was among friends. Truth be told, I grew to love the old Joystiq gang and miss them very much. And now that the end is here (with Joystiq having faced its final curtain), I’d like to bid Joystiq’s editorial staff farewell and hope that we can one day meet again soon. But until that day comes, and much like the main character who pays tribute to a fallen friend in Activision’s latest Call of Duty, I’d like to take this opportunity to “Press X to Pay Respects”.

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