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?
I spoke with Ian Kelso on Sunday, August 29 at Fan Expo 2010, shortly after he was featured as part of a panel addressing the state of the local games industry in Toronto. Ian is president and CEO of Interactive Ontario, an interactive media industry trade organization dedicated to fostering the growth and prosperity of digital content creators within Ontario. We discuss here the role and mandate of Interactive Ontario, government funding opportunities for interactive media creation, digital games as cultural products, the state of games at Fan Expo and industry events like it and how changing models of digital content creation and distribution may encourage more social acceptance of video games as forms of cultural expression.
Brady Curlew (BC): Can you please introduce yourself, your organization and its mandate.
Ian Kelso (IK): My name is Ian Kelso, I’m the president and CEO of Interactive Ontario, which is an association of 250 companies in Ontario working in interactive entertainment, creating intellectual property for digital platforms. These companies make not only video games but also mobile media, online media and e-Learning products.
In terms of our mandate, Interactive Ontario is a non-profit organization and our purpose is to primarily serve our members. Our membership is made up of all growth companies, so a lot of what we are concentrating on is finding ways of accessing public-sector and private-sector financing for them, and we work a lot with the government on programs and tax credits but we’re also trying to train investors and venture capitalists about the industry. We’re also involved with cultivating talent and making sure our schools and universities are putting out the right kind of talent for the industry. Those are the two main functions – we do some marketing, working with the Interactive Ontario brand, going to different markets and shows around the world.
What better way to kick start an initiative exploring games, play and culture in Canada than with coverage of Toronto’s Fan Expo, a massive, multifaceted celebration of pop culture geekdom. Admittedly, the presence of games at the 2010 show was sparse when compared to the attention given to comics, sci-fi and horror, especially in terms of panel discussions. However, Fan Expo’s gaming focus did feature booths by Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Ubisoft, a heavy G4tv and Greedy Productions presence, and appearances by Victor Lucas of Electric Playground, Jeff Cannata of the Totally Rad Show, Felicia Day of The Guild, and Tommy Tallarico of Video Games Live, among others.
Add to this some board and tabletop game representation, a chance to try out indie games made by the talented members of Toronto’s Hand Eye Society, as well as the most Zelda cosplay you’ll see in one place north of border, and Fan Expo provides a stellar and multidimensional expression of gaming culture in Canada.
Play Till Doomsday is using Fan Expo 2010, as well as the upcoming IN 10 conference, to network with cultural participants, industry insiders and media personalities, all with the goal of launching this digital games, play and culture initiative with the strongest content and support possible.
Expect interviews and features from content amassed at both events to appear here in the coming days and weeks, and visit the about page to learn more about Play Till Doomsday.