Is Aussie Games Journalism Dead?

Is Aussie Games Journalism Dead?

God, it has been an absolutely shit run for Aussie games journos. Closures, shrinking budgets and layoffs have been the norm for a while now. This was all topped off this week by the announcement that Channel 9 owned Pedestrian Media was shutting down Kotaku Au (along with its sister sites, Lifehacker and Gizmodo) one of the last bastions of paid games journalism in Australia. It is heartbreaking to see and really feels like an apocalyptic event for the local industry.

But is it? Honestly, I don’t know. It could be. I can only speak from my personal position here. A (very) long time ago I started games writing in an industry that had opportunities. Those opportunities led me to write for magazines such as Hyper, a personal highlight from my time writing about games. When those opportunities started to dry up, I realised that I was never going to be able to earn a living from doing what I loved, so I started Player 2. My reasoning was, that if I couldn’t get paid for doing what I loved, I would still do it because I loved it. Makes sense right?

Since that time I have watched masthead after masthead fall. Gamespot AU, Hyper, Games Arena, and now Kotaku Au fall to, for lack of a better descriptor, capitalism. Advertising revenue is down year on year, with advertisers looking to mediums like YouTube and TikTok as their preferred place to spend money. My gut feeling is this is primarily because the PR and Marketing teams can control the message through content creators. In contrast, Journalists and Critics give their honest opinions, which may lead to a bad perception of the advertised product. There is no doubt that other factors are involved here like media empire consolidation, a lack of understanding of the industry by media conglomerates and a general cost-cutting approach taken by just about every major business getting around. 

Each of these closures hurts. It hurts the industry, it hurts me and it hurts the future. The industry is in a poorer place without these mastheads, these publications that reached large audiences. From improving the rating systems to boosting local development to highlighting technological advancements, games media has played a key role in the games industry as a whole. I worry that without these major voices, the industry will suffer greatly. 

For me it is a more personal hurt, the hurt one feels when they see friends suffer, when they see people they admire have their dreams crushed. The games media industry in Aus has always been a small one and as a result, I have had the pleasure of calling many of its members my friends. Watching their livelihoods ripped away, their skill forsaken, their undying passion discounted as meaningless is heartbreaking. This is often called the enthusiast media and with good reason. No one wants to write about games unless they care about games and seeing that care, that love destroyed, hits me where it hurts. 

The future however is perhaps the greatest concern. Without, key informed voices, this industry will be left unchecked. A strong media both celebrates successes and holds failures to account. We need the media to call out bad practices, push for fairer conditions, to encourage bold choices and, not least of all, help readers sort out what is gold and what is horse shit. Without these balances and checks, what happens? One could argue that the increase in live service titles, aggressive monetisation and a push towards player count metrics already shows that major developers are no longer thinking of gamers, only their wallets, so how bad is it going to get? 

Now it isn’t all doom and gloom. After all, I am writing this on my very own games website. Australia is chock full of talented games journalists writing for naught but love. Places like Checkpoint Gaming, Well-Played, and the eternal Vooks are fighting the good fight. We here at Player 2 are in the same boat. We do this for love, we are self-funded, we aren’t going anywhere. But this indie approach has its drawbacks, for every positive there is a negative hanging over us. 

The two primary concerns for indie sites such as ours are money and opportunity. Money makes the world go round. Without it, we don’t function and everything on this good green earth costs coin. Let’s look at P2’s finances for a second. Last month it cost us approximately $390 to exist. That covers server space, web hosting, domain registration and a host of other small costs. Our incoming from the small amount of advertising you see on the site, YouTube revenue, a very neglected Patreon (which is on our heads) and the odd merch sale amounted to approximately $50. Where does the difference come from? My back pocket. To add to this, the more we grow, the more staying live costs. If we have a really good month for our reader numbers, this means my personal bank balance is going to take an even bigger hit. 

As a result, there is no room to pay writers (and they goddamn deserve it), no room to buy equipment that would help for coverage and certainly no room to fund trips to conventions or expos. We all do what we can in and around our real jobs, the things that keep us eating and the lights on. We write in our spare time between feeding the kids, going to uni or working extra hours. We do this because we care because we love it and because it is in our blood.

This leads us to opportunities. I can’t count how many times because of life or money we have missed opportunities for coverage. Without the backing of a major partner, we can’t get to Gamescom in Germany or Summer Games Fest in LA. These are events that will forever be denied to us, coverage opportunities that we will always have to forsake. Even locally, we have had to miss many preview, tech and industry opportunities because of the simple fact that we are all working other jobs. None of us could get away from our real lives to make it to these events. I say this not as some sort of sob story, it is just simply the reality and I am using it to show how important major mastheads of media can be. They have both the monetary means and the opportunities to cover all of these bases that the indie scene just can’t.

While we do our very best and we absolutely have our place in the media landscape, we will never be able to fill the very large shoes of Kotaku Au, Hyper or Gamespot Au. I will pour everything I have into this and still not even get close to what has been taken from us. That is the reality. Is our input, our small footprint enough? Hope says possibly, but the cold-hearted cynic inside me says it is not even in the same ballpark. We have achieved a lot over the years, a lot I am immensely proud of. From recognition at the Australian IT Journalism Awards (the certificate of which sits above my computer to remind me of what we are capable of) to the development of young, inexperienced writers, guiding them towards becoming excelling professionals, our journey has been one of genuine success. But it isn’t enough to fill the void of what has been taken from the industry as a whole.

I often feel like Player 2 and our contemporaries are the last people on the plane as it crashes into the ground. Everyone else has jumped out with parachutes (willingly or unwillingly) while we stubbornly hold onto the controls in the hope we can land safely. We are too pig-headed or, more generously, idealistic to realise our flight is doomed. It is a depressing thought and one I cannot shake.

So, while there is hope for the industry, hope that someone will have the resources to step in and fill the gaping hole left by so many amazing writers and journos that no longer have a place to spread their work, we on the indie side of things will keep on keeping on. We will give you our passion, our honesty and our integrity. We will try our very best to hold to the reasons we started our journeys in the first place. It may not be enough for many. But it is what we have to offer.

At least… that’s how I feel about it. 

In the meantime, I mourn Kotaku AU. I mourn the opportunities lost, the force for good it represented in the local industry and the pathways for aspiring writers it offered. I mourn for the good people who worked there and poured their knowledge and passion into everything they wrote. I mourn for our failing industry. 

I mourn

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