Massive Shutdown: Thoughts on AOL’s Impending Closure of Joystiq

Yesterday the rumors started circulating that media conglomerate AOL is planning to close down all sites associated with A day later, and without any evidence to the contrary (including from AOL), it would seem that a closedown is imminent and that we will soon be without one of the staples in the games news industry.

In what appears to be impeccable (or awful, depending on your viewpoint) timing, I recently interviewed a writer for Massively (one of the impacted sites), Justin Olivetti. The interview is to appear in the upcoming episode 14 of my Beyond Bossfights podcast (to be released Monday, February 2), and the subject we spoke about was blogging and games journalism. One thing that struck me about the interview was how proud Justin is to work for Massively, and how much he enjoys getting paid to do something he loves: write and play games. Indeed, the site seems to go to some lengths to provide transparency of their ethics policy, which is something that seems a bit nebulous throughout much of the rest of the industry.

I wonder, though, if this somewhat stricter adherence to a set of ethical standards in some ways contributed to the site being less profitable than competitors. It’s difficult to say without studying the ethical practice of each competitor, but you don’t have to go far to find numerous examples of games journalists behaving in an ethically questionable manner. Thanks to #gamergate, there are entire websites dedicated to such chronicles. In the hyper-competitive world of online journalism, there is a constant balance being struck between speed, accuracy, completeness, and ethical practices and those that err on the side of caution sometimes don’t get the bulk of the traffic that advertisers covet.

Alternative Chat dropped the word ‘paywall’ into her post this morning, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that this possibility had never crossed my mind. I assumed that AOL’s move was more of a cost savings gesture, or an attempt to streamline down to their core business. But in retrospect, isn’t ‘the news’ kind of AOL’s thing? Didn’t they already strip away a majority of their fringe businesses in order to focus on being an online content portal? And how much of a dent could the dozen or so full-time Joystiq staffers make in the relatively large AOL expense budget? We already know that converting a once-free site to paywall doesn’t work as a business model (unless you’re the NY Times), but launching an entirely new paywalled portal might be something they’d be willing to try. Entirely speculation, of course, but it makes more sense than completely walking away from a growing demographic.*

Lastly, I think back to something that Justin and I discussed on the podcast. I asked him whether he thought non-paid bloggers helped or hurt the paid game journalism sites. On one hand, having non-paid bloggers and enthusiasts pondering various aspects of gaming and leisure might tend to raise awareness of these issues on a grand scale, and keep people searching for, and reading, all game related content. On the other hand, the abundance of free content, unbound by such nuisances as fact checking and codes of ethics, and at times beating the ‘big guys’ to the story, might just be enough to pull eyeballs away from the sites that show up on a media conglomerate’s expense sheet.

Justin answered that he believes the relationship is mutually beneficial. I think I still agree with him.


Featured Image by nicoleleec on Flickr

*Update: Joystiq will be folded into Engadget. At this point I will stop attempting to make sense out of AOL closing a property that was actually growing readership

14 thoughts on “Massive Shutdown: Thoughts on AOL’s Impending Closure of Joystiq

  1. Very sad about this. 😦

    I first started reading Justin’s personal blog back when he was writing about Warhammer Online. He tends to be on the same gaming wavelength as I am personality-wise, and I’ve kept up with his writing ever since. He doesn’t know it, but he’s been a huge inspiration for my own blogging. I hope something works out for him that he can keep doing what he loves and getting paid for it.


  2. I wish paying for the news didn’t sound so ridiculous, but it does and I never would. Especially with an industry journalism like games journalism or something as hyper-specific as only MMORPGs, I would never in my life pay for that directly.

    Sadly, I am not so sure about a model to replace it …


    1. it sounds silly but I probably would. I used to have a newspaper subscription and enjoyed that immensely.. still get it on the weekend. And I’m not adverse to paying for something enjoy, whether that be written or not. I honestly don’t see what the difference is between a gaming news site and a world news site… probably just that gaming news has always been free… for us, rather costly to the industry though.


      1. I wouldn’t pay for either. Magazines and newspapers – the types of news I expect to pay for – are dead mediums to me. That is despite for paying for both when I was younger.

        I don’t mind paying for things I enjoy either, but there will always be free gaming news sites and I am just as content with “amateur” bloggers to the professional ones.


      2. I’d consider paying too, if I had the cash to spare, but I can’t really justify it nowadays, especially for news about things like games. Which logic is why paid news only seems to work nowadays for pretty high-value content aimed at rather well off audiences. Wall Street Journal and suchlike.

        Even if I could personally justify paying, I’d be reluctant to support a business model that excludes lots of people from getting access.


  3. I guess the best case scenario is that the Massively writers get together, create their own site, and manage to bring their audience with them. In which case not having to split the revenue generated from their work with a corporate entity might actually leave the writers better off.

    I hear that is what a lot of radio pros are effectively doing now with podcasts.

    There’s some big “ifs” in that scenario though, so hard to say it’s a realistic possibility.


  4. IMO, this has nothing to do with Joystiq/Massively/WI’s profitability. Bree @ Massively said sales were up 40% last year when that round of layoffs hit. Note also that AOL closed non-gaming sites (e.g. TUAW, an Apple related site, has been going since 2004 and it is also shutting down on the 3rd.) I believe there were 150 layoffs in AOL, which I guess means the majority were not from gaming.


    1. Very tough to say why these things happen. But it’s probably worth noting that we don’t know whether Massively was profitable or not. Bree actually talked about a 40% year over year growth in page views. That really doesn’t tell us anything about whether the site was profitable. Either way, I’m sad to see large companies gobble up smaller entities only to shut them down.


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