1988, Game Piracy, and the End of an Escapist Era

It’s been awhile since I last wrote for the Escapist, so I’m glad it appears I haven’t forgotten how to do it. “1988: the Golden Age of Game Piracy”, went live today. Many thanks to Paul Reiche for providing insights; in addition to his actual quotes, his perspective pivoted the article away from a first draft that had a rather different tone.

I had intended to post about the article with some “bonus features” in the form of a section that was ultimately removed (rightfully) for being too academic. Maybe I’ll post that another time, since I’d really like to know whether I was properly applying some economic theory.

But instead I’d like to draw your attention to this post from Russ Pitts, “Goodbye is Still Goodbye”.

As you might gather, Russ is moving on from the magazine, and while I’ve worked with a great number of wonderful folk in the last five years, I don’t think any of them would disagree that Russ’s departure in particular marks the end of an era.

My first article for the Escapist back in 2006 was a rather impetuous call to arms for the modern game industry, when the E was quite a different place. It had almost none of its current features and was instead “purely” focused on what would become its “feature” articles; there was a beautiful graphic cover and full spread art for each feature. Even then, in the magazine’s youth, I thought it was a tremendous honor to write for them, and over the years I do believe they remained the best and most thoughtful source of game journalism in the US. They aimed to set a standard of excellence, and Russ was a big part of that success.

Joe Blancato and Jon Martin (both also by now departed) made my introduction to the magazine, but Russ was the consistent editorial steady hand on the wheel throughout — even, interestingly, when he’d moved on to fresher pastures to grow the magazine’s new video content. Where many game magazines have a very well-intentioned but limited tunnel vision view of the industry and the market, Russ had a worldliness that gave the magazine breadth and, I think, greater relevance. He published some tremendous stuff, and as the magazine grew and changed — even when it transitioned away from some of the thoughtfulness and cultural forward-thinking that had first earned it my loyalty as a reader and a writer — I always respected his ability to ride the leading edge of a wave that made new careers even as it destroyed many others.

So, as Leah would say, tip your hat, folks; the times they are a-changin’. There is little doubt that the Escapist will remain a powerhouse in game media for many years to come, and even less doubt that Russ will go on to even greater adventures. But among other things, Inside Job, the quality of life column I wrote from 2007-2008, wouldn’t have existed without him, nor, I’m sure, would many of my feature articles. I am a better writer as a result, and I will always think back on the production of each — even when edits and deadlines plus a “real” job resulted in all-nighter catatonia — with great fondness.

You can keep up with Russ’s rather strange blog here, and peruse records of his own odd internet notoriety.

The power of the multitudes

I have an Escapist feature up this week, “Someone Stole My Magic Sword”, with many thanks to Dave Weinstein and, of course, to Michelle, for coming forward and sharing her story. There was a lot to compress here — my interviews with Michelle alone totaled over 5,000 words — but hopefully we got the meat of the story across. I know I say it for just about every one of these things, but this one was difficult, due to its importance. It’s getting some interesting feedback on the forums, all naturally flowing into much of what we’re dealing with with Settlers of the New Virtual Worlds, so it’s cool to see these conclusions being drawn ‘live’ in the interactive space. But Michelle’s story itself is worth reading — I’ll be including an expanded version of it inside Settlers itself. After awhile you get to thinking you’ve seen it all when it comes to the behavior of big game companies, but I was astonished at some of the things she went through with Square Enix.

It’s also been interesting to watch the Escapist’s effect on pagerank. Prior to the article going up, I googled “someone stole my magic sword”, and of course all of the news-feeds from Dave’s interview popped up — many from high profile sites like Slashdot and the Washington Post. I thought, crap — it was the perfect title for the article, but I assumed it would be buried beneath the bigger sites.

Not so. It’s only been up for two days and it’s shot to the top of the page-rank, likely due to the number of times the Escapist syndicates across various blog feeds, and how many hits it racks up on individual articles and every time someone accesses its forum thread. I checked out “Slave to the Beat”, and sure enough, it’s there on the first page, despite being a relatively common phrase. Conclusion: the Escapist owns at the pagerank game.

Determined to foment a rebellion 2008-06-17 18:39:22

So, I am sitting here in my silk kimono robe (don’t get too excited, I’m also wearing a t-shirt and jeans) and my slippers and I’m feeling very writerly. It’s a nice feeling considering that over the past few days I’ve been going through one of those crises of conscience about what constitutes “important” writing (thanks, Time book). But now I have to go buy groceries. It’s a glamorous existence.

Sometimes, though, there is praise. The writing life is enough of a persistent beatdown that I am always shocked when this happens.

First, Kieron Gillen enjoyed “Slave to the Beat”, which went up a week ago and I kind of forgot to tell you folks about (oops):

Erin Hoffman writes about Audition Online for the Escapist. I’ve played a little of this MMO rhythm action game, and went away a tad depressed, but Erin goes completely native in an entertaining fashion. I’m probably alone in my wish for an actual game-of-the-film Audition though, in a kirri-kirri-kirri kind of way.

Kieron recently made yet another top-game-journalists list; he’s certainly one of the better guys working in the field, so anything from him feels like high praise while I trudge along as a sort of confused non-game-journalist.

And Alvaro Zinos-Amaro Reviews issue #27 of Lone Star Stories at TheFix, including “Whatever Shall Grow There, Dear”:

Annamarie’s viewpoint is expertly developed. The way she catches fragments of conversation and meaning from her parent’s arguments but is completely sensitive to the underlying emotional reality of which those arguments are symptomatic rings true. There are numerous images that are beautiful without being ornate, touching and innocent without being sentimental (“Pale late afternoon sunlight filtered through the gauzy white curtains in the living room and made the oiled oak floors glow burnt orange.”) They place us in Annamarie’s world and convey a sense of ethical sensitivity, an almost ennobling naivete, by acting as metaphors for her thoughts and emotions.

The storytelling technique is deceptively simple, and the characters all fully realized. Hoffman centers the tale around Annamarie’s coming-of-age, to great effect, and delivers a knockout ending that bears the bountiful fruits of transformation.

As mentioned when I announced the sale, it’s a special story and a difficult one for me, so it’s extremely gratifying to see someone “get” it, reviewer or otherwise. I would say there’s even a difference between “praise” and when someone “gets” your writing — they extrapolate meaning from the original work that was there in your heart but not obviously stated on the page, painting a picture that resonates with the emotional framework of the story’s origin. It’s a feeling of kinship, and it’s at the core of why I send this stuff out, to test for those precious connections between experiences and minds. Otherwise it could all just stay in the trunk; it’s dangerous, after all, to dissect a part of yourself and spin it into something that you invite people to poke with sticks. But I’m glad this one got out.

Alvaro’s review is worth note because he actually covered the poetry in the issue, too — something that I wish more reviewers would do on The Fix and in spec-fic reviews in general. The poetry in that issue was terrific and well deserving of contemplation and highlight.

Okay, groceries now.