As part of our ongo­ing series look­ing at the Games Media, we recent­ly talked via e-mail with co-founder and General Manager of The Escapist Magazine and Senior Vice President of Defy Media, Alexander Macris, about the busi­ness side of games jour­nal­ism and the state of online media in gen­er­al. Part of this inter­view, and his pre­vi­ous com­ments on social media on this sub­ject, were includ­ed in “The Death of Games Journalism – Part 2: Business 101.”  It’s worth not­ing that the­se are his per­son­al opin­ions and do not reflect those of Defy Media and their out­lets.

I guess as a starter I would ask: Do you feel the eco­nom­ic real­i­ties of games writing/content have shift­ed since you made the­se com­ments in September? 

The eco­nom­ic real­i­ty con­tin­ues to be a case of too much sup­ply rel­a­tive to demand. There is far more con­tent being cre­at­ed today than any audi­ence is capa­ble of con­sum­ing. In a typ­i­cal indus­try, this would not occur, because the sup­pli­ers would be unable to make a prof­it and would leave the indus­try. But sup­ply­ing con­tent is no longer, strict­ly speak­ing, being done for prof­it. Many peo­ple cre­ate con­tent with­out expect­ing to make mon­ey from it. They may do so to con­tribute to a gift econ­o­my, or to pro­mote them­selves, or to share with friends, or as a means of self-expression, or out of bore­dom, nar­cis­sism, or oth­er motives. But their actions, regard­less of motive, impacts those who are cre­at­ing con­tent for prof­it by increas­ing the sup­ply of con­tent. If a con­sumer is using his time to read a great blog writ­ten for free by a col­lege pro­fes­sor, then the con­sumer is not using that time to read the con­tent writ­ten by the edi­tors of the NY Times. From the point of view of the NY Times as a busi­ness, the col­lege pro­fes­sor is a now its com­peti­tor.

Now, in any indus­try, under high­ly com­pet­i­tive con­di­tions, prices for its goods will tend to fall towards their mar­gin­al cost. The mar­gin­al cost of web con­tent is vir­tu­al­ly zero – the cost of serv­ing a piece of con­tent to 100K peo­ple and 10M peo­ple is triv­ial (rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing). And so we see con­stant down­ward pres­sure on the “price” of con­tent, whether that price be expressed as a sub­scrip­tion fee (or lack there­of) or as a price to adver­tise around the con­tent.

The trick, of course, is to escape that trap by find­ing a way to make YOUR con­tent not just be gener­ic “con­tent” but some­thing spe­cial, unique, must-have.


side macrisYou spoke in your TedX talk about “intel­lec­tu­al nour­ish­ment,” do you think that the inter­net is intel­lec­tu­al­ly mal­nour­ished?

The inter­net is not intel­lec­tu­al­ly mal­nour­ished. It’s not a mind. That’s like say­ing that a can­dy bar is mal­nour­ished. The inter­net is a tool. It can be used in ways that are intel­lec­tu­al­ly nour­ish­ing or mal­nour­ished. Many peo­ple – myself includ­ed – use it in ways that are mal­nour­ished, a lot of the time.

There’s an old adage that if you want to lose weight, you should get rid of the junk food in your house. Likewise, if you want to quit smok­ing, you throw out the cig­a­rettes, and if you want to quit drink­ing, you get rid of the wet bar. That’s because all of us are more like­ly to suc­cumb to vice when we have ready, easy oppor­tu­ni­ty to do so. The inter­net is like a gro­cery store that offers unlim­it­ed junk food, smokes, and booze, all the time. Sure it also has organ­ic leafy green veg­eta­bles but few of us can resist the beer and pret­zels.


Do you think it is unre­al­is­tic or naive for con­sumers to expect gam­ing pub­li­ca­tions to adhere to lofty stan­dards of prac­tice?

I think it is unre­al­is­tic to expect busi­ness mod­els or stan­dards or pro­ce­dures cre­at­ed in one time and place for one speci­fic medi­um to apply to anoth­er. Many of the stan­dards of jour­nal­is­tic prac­tice were devel­oped dur­ing the hey­day of mass media. We no longer live in the mass media era – we live in the social media era. We would be bet­ter suit­ed to think about the sort of stan­dards that should apply to social media. There are all sorts of prob­lems and issues devel­op­ing that our soci­ety isn’t even close to fig­ur­ing out. (Consider: Is it good for soci­ety that all of us are one bad viral tweet from utter social shame and career destruc­tion? Maybe it is, may­be it isn’t, but it’s worth think­ing about.)


In the face of ser­vices like YouTube grow­ing, is the decline of writ­ten media inevitable or are there new­er ways to secure rev­enue?

To thrive, media com­pa­nies have to deliv­er con­tent in a for­mat that the audi­ence wants to con­sume. If audi­ences prefer video to text, then text will con­tin­ue to decline in audi­ence share. It is consumer-driven. I per­son­al­ly much prefer read­ing to watch­ing videos. I can read and digest an entire page of text in sec­onds, where­as watch­ing the text pre­sent­ed on screen will take ten times as long. But clear­ly most con­sumers today feel the oppo­site. They’d rather watch a 15 min­ute video than, e.g., read a 5,000 word arti­cle. Therefore, video is gain­ing mar­ket share and text is los­ing mar­ket share.

The larg­er ques­tion is: Why are audi­ences more favor­able to video than text today? Many edu­ca­tors are begin­ning to talk about the post-literate soci­ety. Perhaps I’m a Luddite in this regard, but what oth­ers laud as a bright dig­i­tal future sounds to me like a dete­ri­o­ra­tion into an unlearned dark age. My TEDx talk has more on this.


Do you think the future of mass-market writ­ten con­tent lays with ‘Advertorial’?

Maybe. Ultimately if we are going to con­tin­ue to have pro­fes­sion­al­ly cre­at­ed con­tent, then con­tent cre­ators will need to get paid. In the Renaissance, that pay­ment came from patrons. In the 20th cen­tu­ry, that pay­ment came from adver­tis­ers and sub­scribers. I’m not sure where it will come from in the 21st cen­tu­ry. More and more phys­i­cal prod­ucts are being dig­i­tized. (Consider: Music was once a phys­i­cal pro­duct you bought. Movies were once a phys­i­cal pro­duct you bought. PC games were once a phys­i­cal pro­duct you bought. Now all three are just dig­i­tal. With 3D print­ing this will soon be true of, e.g., col­lectible minia­tures, table­ware, tools.) Digital prod­ucts tend towards zero mar­gin­al cost and hence over time towards being free (and, when not free, get pirat­ed). Thus cre­ators of free goods are sus­tained, at present, by adver­tis­ing. But if every­thing becomes dig­i­tal, who are the adver­tis­ers? At a cer­tain point, the vast major­i­ty of all eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty in our soci­ety is going to be in the cre­ation and exchange of dig­i­tal goods. If, by then, con­sumers still don’t think dig­i­tal goods are worth pay­ing for, we’re going to be in an awk­ward sit­u­a­tion.


What do you think of the idea, posit­ed recent­ly by David Auerback and oth­ers, that emo­tion­al­ly dri­ven ‘click­bait’ is on the decline?

David Auerbach is one of the smartest jour­nal­ists on the plan­et. When he tweets, I take notes.


side macris 2Do you think there is enough polit­i­cal plu­ral­i­ty with­in main­stream games jour­nal­ism?

Enough accord­ing to who? There is no reg­u­la­to­ry agen­cy over­see­ing polit­i­cal plu­ral­i­ty in the media, nor should there be. The media is a busi­ness. If there is a mar­ket for X type of media that speaks to X type of audi­ence, then even­tu­al­ly that audi­ence will be served by an entre­pre­neur who sees the oppor­tu­ni­ty. Anyone who doesn’t think main­stream games jour­nal­ism is serv­ing the audi­ence has the right to cre­ate some game jour­nal­ism they think is bet­ter. If they are right, they’ll find an audi­ence and prof­it. Just ask Rupert Murdoch.


Do you think seri­ous Games Journalism is “Dead”?

No. I think that it has frag­ment­ed, just as games have frag­ment­ed. It’s not a bad thing. There are more intel­li­gent peo­ple writ­ing about games than ever. What Erik Kain writes about games and what Leigh Alexander writes about games might be very dif­fer­ent, but they are both lit­er­ate, intel­li­gent peo­ple who are seri­ous about their craft.


Are crowd­fund­ing ser­vices like Pateron a viable long term solu­tion for deliv­er­ing con­tent prof­itably?

I think they are a part of the solu­tion. I think we will ulti­mate­ly move to a sys­tem of diver­si­fied rev­enue streams, where con­tent cre­ators have patrons and sub­scribers who sup­port them on an ongo­ing basis, come togeth­er to get project-based crowd­fund­ing, receive dis­tri­b­u­tion fees from media com­pa­nies, endorse­ments from adver­tis­ers, etc. The music indus­try has been the most dra­mat­i­cal­ly effect­ed of any enter­tain­ment indus­try by the dig­i­tal age, so look at the vari­ety that is flour­ish­ing there.


How account­able should gam­ing sites be to their read­ers? How do you strike a bal­ance between pop­ulism and clos­ing down feed­back?

There is no “should”. It’s not a nor­ma­tive issue. Some gam­ing sites will be very engaged with their read­ers and serve their needs close­ly. Others will take a mag­is­te­ri­al stance and cov­er what they see fit. Readers will decide to which they want to give patron­age. Either strat­e­gy can work – it depends on your per­son­nel and your edi­to­ri­al phi­los­o­phy. Are your edi­tors vision­ar­ies who intu­itive­ly know what the audi­ence wants, or ana­lysts who engage with the data to find out what the audi­ence does? I’ve had both types work for me.

Sometimes a bril­liant busi­nessper­son can be utter­ly scorn­ful of feed­back from con­sumers because the busi­nessper­son knows the con­sumers bet­ter than the con­sumers know them­selves – look at Steve Jobs as an exam­ple. Other busi­ness­es suc­ceed by turn­ing con­sumer engage­ment and account­abil­i­ty into met­rics that they can mea­sure and build on. Proctor & Gamble makes mon­ey every year by deliv­er­ing con­sumer prod­ucts that are pre­cise­ly per­fect­ly tweaked to be just what the con­sumer will buy – but you can’t name a bril­liant Proctor & Gamble exec­u­tive who is behind it all.

Thanks for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share my thoughts.


And thank you to Alexander for shar­ing his thoughts. You can find him on Twitter @archon, have a gan­der at his Escapist Profile or watch his TedX talk below. 


https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/HEADER1-MACRIS-880x290.pnghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/HEADER1-MACRIS-880x290-150x150.pngJohn SweeneyInterviewsAlexander Macris,Defy Media,InterviewsAs part of our ongo­ing series look­ing at the Games Media, we recent­ly talked via e-mail with co-founder and General Manager of The Escapist Magazine and Senior Vice President of Defy Media, Alexander Macris, about the busi­ness side of games jour­nal­ism and the state of online media in gen­er­al. Part of this inter­view, and his…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.