The End of an Era


Today Matthew reflects on the closure of Joystiq, Massively and (most importantly to him) WoWInsider. Spoiler alert: he thinks AOL is run by a colossal bunch of morons.

Last week the gaming community received some bitter news. It didn’t come as a shock, but it was nonetheless unwelcome.

In what can only be described as a poorly-thought-out choice by old people who don’t know any better, AOL has decided to pull the plug on Joystiq and its subsidiaries Massively (an MMO related news site) and WoWInsider (a World of Warcraft news site). According to Massively editor Brianna Royce, AOL decided they were no longer interested in the enthusiast blog genre.

Joystiq will be folded into another project AOL has running at the moment. This is of great comfort to the talented writers who are being laid off, I’m sure.

This hits particularly close to home for me, both as a writer and as a fan of World of Warcraft.

Even now, while my WoW subscription languishes in disuse, I drift to WoWInsider every day to read a few articles. Two of my favourite columns are Know Your Lore and The Queue, both by Matt Rossi and Anne Stickney.

WoWInsider has been the major news source for the majority of WoW players for some time now. The staff have always been kind, friendly and interactive both on the site and on their individual Twitter accounts.

I’m trying to imagine a world in which this site doesn’t exist and I’m finding it difficult. There are other WoW and Blizzard related blogs, but none have the same degree of recognition from both the players and Blizzard itself.

It could be argued if these sites were so important, Blizzard could’ve helped keep them around. This makes sense in theory, but it would’ve led to a new set of problems. It’d be hard for a site to critique the very company that pays its bills, after all. And we’ve already had an issue with ethics in gaming journalism over the past year.

The real question arising from all of this is why now? Why not a couple of years ago when the video game market was in a bit of a slump? Of course, I can only guess. But I’d like to think I can make a reasonable, well thought out one.

To understand why companies close, two things must be distinctly understood and answered:

  1. Does the parent company actually care about the product or material being produced by their employees?
  2. Is the business venture profitable?

I think it’s pretty clear when you’re owned by a corporation the first question doesn’t matter much. We live in a world where capitalism is the name of the game, and those who can’t play are benched. I understand and I appreciate that. It’s the reason I can buy products cheaply at Walmart, it’s why I can trade games in at EBGames, and why I can run this blog.

So we can just go ahead and write number one off the board there, I think.

That leads to the second point, profitability. I believe this is the main reason we’re seeing this closure. Someone has just decided the “enthusiast” blogs are not profitable for this sector. They looked at their metrics and compared them across the board with their other sources of revenue and with other similar outlets. That same someone didn’t like what they saw, made a recommendation to whomever controls the purse strings at AOL, and poof! Done.

I don’t think this is a valid approach, however. Instead of asking, “Is this venture lining up with our other ones?” AOL should’ve asked, “How do we make this as profitable as some other companies do?”

The trick is to diversify.

Joystiq covered gaming in general, and this is fine. There’s nothing wrong with a general gaming-related blog. (At least, I sure hope not.)

The problem is the subsidiaries in this case. Massively is a blog dedicated entirely to the news surrounding the MMO genre. WoWInsider is dedicated to World of Warcraft, which is obviously also an MMO. Granted, it’s a large one, but this doesn’t quite justify the need for a separate site.

There are lots of articles on WoWInsider I didn’t read, but I read the majority. And the truth is, given the volume of overlap between it and Massively, there’s no reason I can think of for the sites to have been separated. Many of WoWInsider’s main news articles also appeared on Massively, written by the same authors and often posted at the same time.

My suggestion is, I hope, simple. Occam’s razor right? A restructuring was required, not a closure.

Massively should have absorbed WoWInsider. You keep the writing staff, and also divvy them out to other projects. They get to continue to work on the news articles in addition to several of the more superfluous subjects like “WoW Archivst” for example.

Massively then organizes its website a little better. Instead of having a splash page which shows all the new articles, you offer a choice. You click for your subject matter or MMO and off you go.

Granted, even in doing this, some layoffs might still have been necessary. It’s a terrible thing to lose one person due to layoffs (I’ve been laid off before). But it’s worse to lose a whole staff.

The result here, however, is an uptick in overall traffic to one space and a reduction in cost of hosting. In addition to this, you diversify what’s on the blog – the type of content being produced.

And here’s another thought. There’s always room for the written word, but since these blogs already have a following, why not capitalize on it?

As an example, WoWInsider used to have articles dedicated to each class. These were great for figuring out minute changes to the class, getting explanations of mechanics, and seeing the direction Blizzard was going to be taking your character in. There were also articles pertaining to PvP and raiding.

Now, consider those articles being tied in with Twitch and YouTube. Why isn’t it possible to have the authors also streaming? Or doing video previews? Or video explanations? YouTube and Twitch are major sources of revenue, as evidenced by the number of streamers currently using them.

In addition to this, because you’re a corporation, you have the ability to put your own advertisements on the stream and even charge other companies who want exposure to your audience.

You’re an AOL marketing executive, and Razer comes to you to buy advertising space on the Paladin stream. All they ask is a small banner, and for the streamer to say the broadcast is brought to the viewer with support from Razer.

And this, folks, is just one idea. There are probably a million more out there and most are likely better. But when you have a massive following like WoWInsider does, it’s hard to not find ways to capitalize on all those page views beyond the simple ad revenue from the site itself.

I hope AOL realises this before February third, the date these sites are scheduled to go offline. And if they don’t? I hope the folks from WoWInsider and Massively land on their feet. If they manage to get a Kickstarter or a Patreon going, you’ll be able to find links to it here, as well as in my Twitter feed.

Until then, thanks to the WoWInsider crew for all your hard work over the last 9 years, and I hope you manage to keep the staff together and the blog intact in some way, shape or form.

And to all my readers, thank you for your support. I’ll see you next time. Take care.

The End of an Era

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