Know what got shut down yesterday?
Waterford Crystal. I saw it on the Associated Press newswire. I said to my mom, “Oh, man, hang on to those glass vases or whatever, because it’s all over for Waterford.” I mean, Waterford Wedgewood is only bankrupt, but you know what that means.
Mom and I were at dinner, still talking about Waterford vases and Wedgewood dishware, when Chuf’s roommate—why am I calling him Chuf now?—IM’d me. My phone buzzed; I spent the rest of dinner staring at it.
If you don’t know what I’m getting at, please catch up. If you don’t feel any sense of loss or regret right now, this isn’t for you; come back later. Or, if you want to hear from someone who actually suffered real loss today, that’s over here. Or all over 1UP.com. Take your pick.
Or maybe you’re looking for something really articulate. You won’t find it here.
Right now, on a popular games message board somewhere in the dark recesses of the Internet, people are posting direct download links to, and torrents for, complete collections of audio and video files, and to screenshots of EGM cover scans. The idea is to hoard them, the same way I hoarded Circus Animal cookies in August after Mother’s shuttered its factory. I went to the convenience store, looked at the bags, counted my cash, tried to Collect Them All.
My mom knows a lot of people in that office on Second Street, by the way. She’d periodically come to San Francisco, intending to ruin my life for a week at a time, and she’d start by killing my credibility in the office (thanks for the help). She’d take a cab directly to the building; she’d bring her rolling luggage right to my desk.
“Stay here,” I said to her once, putting her in my desk chair. “Play Solitaire. Here,” and then I pushed the mouse toward her, “I am giving you Solitaire.”
Other parents play Guitar Hero. Why can’t my mom play Guitar Hero?
“Where are you going? Can’t you leave work yet?” my mom wanted to know. Her rolling luggage was now in Alice Liang’s chair.
“No, play some Solitaire,” I told her. “I have to record a podcast.”
My mother looked at me sidelong. “Wearing that?” she scoffed.
Oh, my God.
Later that night, Sam Kennedy said—I think only teasingly—“Your mom has no idea what you do for a living, does she.” I laughed. I was heartbroken.
My mom is affable, and she has the best of intentions, but what she loved about my job was a magazine to put on the kitchen table, with a byline to show off to visitors. She is 77 years old. She is a willing patron, but she has no idea what you do for a living, does she.
My mom is the Betty White of corporations.
My mom reminds me, with a sigh, “Look. You need money to do what you want.” That’s true. I get that. It’s sad when you run out of money.
My mom wants to know how everyone is doing. My mom wants to know that everyone is safe. How is that nice young man, Sam? How is Garnett? (“He’s handsome and charming,” she once observed, “so stay away.”) Scott? Is Scott OK? Let’s just start with who is not OK. OK. So we go through secondhand lists of names, and she is filled with worry, even though she isn’t sure what’s going on. Me neither.
Print is dying. We all knew. “Oh, eyeballing pixels will never be as satisfying as the tactile experience of holding a magazine, book, or newspaper,” we said confidently, even as we canceled our magazine subscriptions one by one.
I don’t have a fancy business degree, but I will say they did everything right. Rule number one: Believe in what you’re selling. Done.
Rule number two: Be human. Reorganize your company quickly and carefully, so that when print media dies, you can all link arms on the lifeboats. Done.
Rule number three: All these shall be added unto you. A noble benefactor, a patron of your fine writing, will come.
And hopefully that benefactor will be a Daddy Warbucks 2.0. The alternative, of course, is a rich and stodgy Dead Tree Media Giant who pins all his hopes to the leaves of his old, dead magazines, who hopes your website will play pacemaker to all his old, dead magazines.
It’s easy to feel hopeless. This is not a culture, on the whole, that rewards writing or creativity willingly. (I don’t mean videogames’s culture, I mean Earth’s.)
Blogging for the sake of blogging does seem a little sad, doesn’t it? I thought to myself in December, shelving the Avatars drafts and dutifully feeling sorry for myself. I started work on my grad school application and on a kids’ book about head lice (based, of course, on my real life head lice trauma). I looked at my gaming blog and shrugged at it. In January I will casually mention that I’ve moved on to head lice, I thought. I will tell them that blogging merely for the sake of blogging is completely depressing, and then I’ll be done with it.
I’m glad I never typed that out in earnest, because I don’t believe it. I hope you don’t believe it. Rule number one.
Some people do believe that, though. They think that writing for the sake of writing, blogging for the sake of blogging, PageMaker and InDesign for the sake of layout, podcasting for the sake of podcasting, video-making for the sake of video-making, is total bullshit—but bullshit well worth capitalizing on, anyway—because they believe in money for the sake of money. In these hard times, it’s hard not to think about money.
But at this instant, it is also extremely difficult to understand how a noble benefactor could lay waste to so much talent. I am trying my very best to not sound angry.
Companies make money on other people’s passion. Some people make a lot of money by overseeing entire sweatshops of passion. I am trying my fucking damnedest to not sound angry.
I assure you that your favorite writers are not in it for the money. Some might be in it for the notoriety, maybe—to be fair, it is notoriety in an extremely small, sometimes creepy pond—but it’s safe to guess that most writers like writing, most filmmakers like filmmaking, most designers love bringing cosmological typeset harmony to the written word, and that we, on the whole, really do think video and computer games can change the world. Being liked, being respected, having a nice salary, this is all secondary and very unlikely: if you want to be respectable, become a travel writer, a broadcaster, do anything but this.
The blogosphere—the little blogs—are winning. Absolutely. Not this blog, because it’s not monetized and it’s too surly or too twee and the writing is awful and it has no schedule because it hates you, but some are. Low startup costs, sure, and the glass ceiling always has a sunroof, and then, of course, the credibility that comes of having few obligations to motherships. But more importantly, little blogs are gratifying to write for, and that makes them satisfying to read. Not this one, dickbags, but you know, some.
Sorry. I’m angry. Let me try again:
1UP, the website, started small. It sprang out of Gamers.com and, as the old campfire myth goes, some hotshot young branding team was paid beaucoup dollars to rebrand the site into a marketable Something. They tried to name it things like “He-Man Game Zone” or, no, I don’t know, but the point is, everything they came up with was awful. So Sam, who was in his mid-20s, maybe, paid the hotshot young company and dismissed them. And he gave his baby the first name that had occurred to him: “1UP.”
That’s the story. I love this story. Then 1UP gets acquired by a big publishing company, becomes EGM’s stepbrother, etc. It’s a real success story, really Arthurian. The tale isn’t special—it probably goes like every other website’s story—but it’s 1UP’s story, too. And I would tell this dumb legend breathlessly because, after all, it is our Camelot.
But like most true stories, the truth mostly depends on who you like and who you ask. You know, Arthurian.
I dare you to believe for an instant that 1UP’s invention didn’t do something for all of you. For you professional games journalists, it gave you a successful business model of community structure and, for better or for worse, of translating personality cults into monthly uniques. For a lot of you kids, it gave you dreams and aspirations. For all of us unprofessionals, it gave us a safe place to congregate.
Gaming community was new back then. And it was important that community finally for-real-happened, because gaming used to be such a lonely thing. The PS2’s online community was bogus, you had to “tunnel” the GameCube, and no, I didn’t have an Xbox until Jon’s Xbox moved in.
My friend Bekah would come over to Nik’s and my Chicago apartment to play Mario Party and Mario Party only, provided we invited her husband Jeremy along, but we needed beer and food and a day off, and the stars needed to align and Mercury needed to be in Neptune’s house. So there I was, a lonely gamer. When I saw a 1UP ad in OPM, full of smiling normal-people-gamer-faces, I ran for the computer. “WE KNOW GAMERS,” the two-page spread had said. This was it. And I blogged, and I made friends. And one day I was sitting at a retail toy store and I checked my email, and finally, my life would start! And I gave the most legendarily shitty interview you can imagine, with Milky and Garnett and John and Sam all sitting there staring, and then I put everything I owned into boxes into a car, and I sped off toward California with Nik.
And you’re right, none of this is about me. But for everyone who was laid off, or who quits or who stays, that’s probably their story, too: uprooted, and uprooted again. But it’s also my story, and I tell it breathlessly.
Also, this. My story, from user registration to being hired, is two years long. Get it? Everything always seems so abrupt, even when it isn’t.
But there was a culture of workplace paranoia—“You don’t make enough to be dispensable,” Shawn Elliott once assured me, early on—and that paranoia was inspired by Ziff Davis itself.
When I say Ziff Davis, I don’t mean to confuse that name with 1UP or the magazines, even though we called ourselves Ziff Davis, too. But in a way, Ziff Davis was just the family name that we took on when someone married someone: Ziff Davis proper was, in actuality, that distant father in the sky (well, New York City), that drunk daddy we were unsure of, but loved, but were scared of, who we avoided phoning unless there were legal issues or a payroll problem to sort out. Sometimes dad would visit us from New York and persuade us that everything was fine, that we would be OK, and then he’d congratulate us with free beer. We lived for that.
Do you understand? We longed for divorce. We hoped we’d be adopted by a new parent company soon. “I won’t give you up to just anybody,” Ziff assured us.
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. When we wanted divorce, we didn’t know what we were asking for.
I’m an industry outsider, just some peripheral character with alarmingly inaccurate anecdotes, so I think I can get away with saying all this. And I do feel credible in saying that Ziff Davis, our Ziff Davis, was a family. And that family—complete with its own black sheep, scapegoats, dysfunctional holiday parties, and total, unconditional love—that family did its very best. You couldn’t have done any better, guys.
I am so, so sorry.
And I’m angry. I keep expecting myself to suddenly type something encouraging or reassuring, but each time I try, I have to start over. I think it just isn’t in my nature. “These things happen,” that’s the only thought that helps me reconcile anything. “All good things, like all bad things, go the way of the buffalo”—that’s what I keep typing. “All castles are built on sand”—trite, depressing, frustrating. “You will always look back,” maybe.
But all small sites eventually languish and die (this one) or are gobbled up by bigger, faster websites (that one). Or, in limited, anomalous cases of lasting success, enormous moneymaking sites deftly masquerade as small, intimate sites, I guess. The point? The point. This is the nature of things, the perpetual rise and fall in which no matter is ever created or destroyed. This is, I fear, the furthest thing from reassuring.
If I could pretend to be wise, I would say: Be your own benefactor.
But I’m no fortune cookie, and anyway, easier said than done. Instead, here are some life lessons I learned from some very good people:
“You can’t expect anything if you don’t ask for it.” -Garnett Lee
“Family first. Family always comes first. And, uh, your pet rat—that’s family.” -the unbelievably compassionate Sam Kennedy
“Everyone, even if they don’t know how, everyone should make videos. Just… make videos.” -Cesar Quintero
“Watch out for stalkers. One guy followed Jen Tsao to her house.” -Shane Bettenhausen (I think—I’m trying to remember whether Shane or Jen said this)
[after having just met him, and after losing a long document on a computer without saving] “Do it again, and this time, do it better.” -Garnett Lee
“Are you ready to leave your life behind? It really tests your mettle, lets you see what you’re really made of.” -Demian Linn
Of course, these are transcribed from memory, the least reliable narrator of all—memory is sappier than real life—but I tried to get close.
In the interest of closure, here is a quick confession, and it is for Vanessa Alvarado, former Marketing Manager: I stole all of the black permanent markers out of your desk cupboard while you were out of town. We were upset because your markers were thin-tipped, but by God, we used them, assuming you wouldn’t mind. After we ran your markers dry, I carefully boxed your markers and put them back in your desk cupboard. I hope you hadn’t purchased them yourself. There you go, your mystery solved.
It was for a good cause, though.
I think, with the pressure of grief and the late hour, I might be typing some weird things, or maybe the conflation of feeling is just that hard to do justice. So I give up.
But this is what 1UP very literally means: you will always get to have one more life to play on, because you fucking earned it.