The most devoted gamers are, unsurprisingly, also heavy consumers of games-related podcasts, videos, commentary and reviews, all things that make up the fabric of game culture to those who immerse themselves within it. The problem for the individuals and companies who produce such content for online audiences is figuring out how to monetize it and keep themselves afloat. Traditionally, such web-based content has been freely available, and even when supported by advertising revenue where audience attention is sold to marketers, free to access. However, for one games media outlet, that may be changing, at least in part.
The folks behind Giant Bomb, a popular American site offering original digital games coverage and a huge, editable games database, have recently decided to implement a paid membership service, revealing that their flirtations with an ad-supported business model have not worked for them up to now. Such attempts by a website to see positive return on its producers’ initial investments via subscription fees are not unique to this instance and other games media outlets have tried it in the past, but Giant Bomb’s fees are higher than many expected ($50 USD a year) and the perks for becoming a member are weak incentive for some, if only because they resemble features gaming enthusiasts have freely-accessed in the past.
Giant Bomb’s editors are touting their subscriber content as value-added, meaning much of their regular content will still be featured as is, remaining freely available to all. However, they have drawn significant criticism for plans to alter one of their site’s biggest draws: The Giant Bombcast. This podcast, which is part of a weekly ritual for thousands of gamers around the world (a fair number of whom are Canadians, according to the listener feedback), may be cut into two parts, the second of which may only be accessible to paid users, at least for the first week it is available.
A NeoGAF thread showing the severity of some of the negative fallout from this plan has generated, at the time of this writing, nearly 2000 posts in just sixteen hours.
This, more than anything else, becomes an opportunity to talk about what hardcore gamers, many of whom have grown up with freely-available, web-based games content, many of whom have never paid for a magazine or cable TV subscription, are willing to pay (if anything) to continue accessing their favourite cultural products. Do we who immerse ourselves in the culture of digital games, enough so it usurps much of our attention from ad-supported media like television or radio, expect too much from the producers who create this content for us? Is it time, as some in the debate have suggested, to pay up or shut up?
[UPDATE: Sept 11, 2010] Whiskey Media, parent of Giant Bomb, has recently tweeted this: “The Bombcast is officially free for everyone… Forever. Thanks everyone! A replacement for subscribers (something new!) coming next week.” Bomb diffused?