I was rather taken aback today to see word spreading like wildfire on the Twitters that a bunch of seasoned gaming press veterans are joining forced to create Vox Games (or whatever it ends up being, apparently that name is only a placeholder), an entirely new–and independent–enthusiast video game web site set to launch some time in the near future. Among the founders are Russ Pitts, Brian Crecente, Chris Grant, Justin & Griffin McElroy, Arthur Gies and other names whom will sound very familiar if you follow the enthusiast press in the slightest. A number of these people recently resigned from long-held positions at other prominent outlets, sparking rampant speculation on where they were heading which they put to rest with their announcement today. They were mum on details of what specifically they will cover or the way they will cover it (judging from the timing, I get the feeling this idea was conceived, pitched and is coming together in a spur of the moment kind of way) but they stressed that they are being funded by an independent entity and not one of the large media conglomerates that largely make up the copy-paste, drab, soulless content factories of the popular gaming press today.
I’m surprised and happy to see that in an era of plummeting ad spend, layoffs, all-time low journalistic integrity and lack of public confidence in the gaming press, that someone has stepped up and decided to fund a new initiative with the dollars needed to unseat some well known talent from long held positions elsewhere. Video games are an important medium that deserves meaningful coverage, the likes of which largely doesn’t exist and when it does, is usually relegated to niche sites that can’t pay their talent well, if at all. Most mainstream sites are little more than click farms and the type of content they produce often draws with it communities that I and many others simply can’t be bothered to wade into. With this new initiative, this power team of journos have the opportunity to make something truly great and give it a unique voice that will draw in a unique crowd who clamours for depth and dare I say it, art in what they read about our hobby. A few years ago, a smaller group of veterans decided to pursue a unique angle and created Giant Bomb, a site driven by unique personalities, passion, and a desire to cover the medium in a different, yet entertaining way with a mix of written, audio and video content. Their staff is less than a dozen people but they crank out buckets of high quality content every day. It’s my favourite video game coverage site by far and is one of the only ones I check daily anymore. I don’t know if the Vox Games team plans to pursue a version of this angle or if they have their own vision to bring to the table. If anyone has the chops to make something different, it’s these guys.
I do temper my optimism with a healthy dose of caution however. While these are all well known gaming journalists and some of them I have a great respect for (such as Russ Pitts), others have run sites that comprise big parts of the problem with games coverage today. Crecente was the long time Editor-In-Chief of Kotaku, a site known for poorly written, lazily researched content and rumour mongering that many would not use words like journalistic to describe. The McElroy brothers are funny guys with insightful things to say but they are the biggest purveyors to Joystiq’s snarky editorial tone, which often makes light of very serious matters and doesn’t foster a lot of serious discussion. And while Arthur Gies has cultivated a fairly big following from the inexplicably still popular Rebel FM podcast, he has developed an ego you could fill a city block with and I’m not sure his idea of how game journalism should work (such as stating how a review should be taken as one person’s opinion while also taking every opportunity to dump on reviewers he personally disagrees with) is an idea that should be adopted as standard practice. The thing is though, all of these guys operated under different–and much larger–corporate overlords before and likely had a lot of their editorial policies and their site’s “voices” if you will, dictated to them. When they are allowed to pursue an editorial vision that they are in charge of, the voices will become entirely their own and that is an exciting prospect. I doubt many of these guys would have so quickly left the otherwise comfy positions many of them held were they not enthralled at the idea of having real creative freedom.
Vox Media (the site’s backers) is not run by these guys and they will still have superiors to report to but like Giant Bomb’s parent Whiskey Media before them, if they are smart and forward thinking, they will run the business side and let the editorial team do what it does best. Even if certain members of this team bring with them traits I don’t personally care for, more voices in the gaming press and particularly ones without “corporate thinking” behind them are needed more than ever. I really hope they can pull it off and I’m very excited to see what Vox Games turns into. Good luck guys, don’t screw it up!