Trouble at The Escapist?

It’s always uncomfortable to take a look behind the curtain at the realities of running a commercial media website, and never more so when accusations of running short of money and stiffing indie creators are brought into the mix. The Escapist is probably most widely known among gamers for hosting Yahtzee’s Zero Punctuation reviews, but they also host a lot of other high quality writing and podcasting.

The team behind Extra Credits (a series of smart, and deservedly popular video podcasts) are parting ways with The Escapist in acrimonious terms. The reason? Well, here’s the bboard thread where things play out. It’s a sad story of not being paid, offers that were made unofficially, and arguments over who owns which parts of a charity fund originally set up to help pay for one of the team’s medical costs.

My best summary would be:

  • The EC crew hadn’t been paid for months. The Escapist says that they were told, “”…you can put us to the bottom of the list for right now” so that’s what they did.
  • The EC crew started a charitable fund to raise money for a member’s medical costs. This was wildly successful.
  • There is a disagreement on what should be done with the excess funds after the medical costs were paid. (It looks to me as though the EC crew were fairly upfront about notifying their fans of their plans to create an indie game publisher regularly.)

Note the ‘hadn’t been paid for months’ part. This is what I mean about a glimpse behind the curtain. The Escapist is in trouble. Make up your own minds about the wrongs and rights of this one, but it’s more evidence to me that the economics behind some of these web magazines just don’t add up. It’s a shame, because I enjoy what I’ve read/ seen of the site, but comments on the bboard are very telling. “I’ll take my page hits away from this site,” is sad and all, but it’s not a very strong threat to boycott something you were getting for free anyway.

If you’d like to support Extra Credits, just follow their facebook/ twitter so you can keep watching the show and supporting it wherever it ends up. If you’d like to support The Escapist, go sign up for their site and consider a subscription. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

On another note, aside from exposing the teetering state of at least one popular gaming site, this story shows another angle on the balance between indie creators and publishers. The fact that EC is able to maintain its own brand, fansite, fanbase etc gives them a fair amount of pulling power.

Quitting vs taking a break

There are two types of gamer – and by gamer I mean people who would list gaming as one of their main hobbies. And this is valid across different sorts of games; board games, RPGs, computer games, etc.

1. One main game at a time. You might not actually get married to your current game of choice but your involvement is very deep. You probably spend a lot of time thinking and chatting about the game when you’re not actually playing it, whether it’s about running guilds or scenarios, or reading blogs or mailing lists.

2. Lots of different games on the go, possibly with a common bunch of friends.

If you are a type #1 like me (although I have bursts of type #2 and I think I’m drifting more that way with age also), then sooner or later you’ll get familiar with burnout. That game which has been an important part of your life for months/ years/ etc just … isn’t any more. Maybe it’s because the community has changed, maybe your life has changed, maybe something else caught your attention, maybe the game itself changed.

The first time, it may take you awhile to realise this has happened. People are resistant to change, especially when it might affect their social network, and moving on will leave a gap.

But does moving on have to be a permanent thing, or is it more like putting the old game on the back burner for awhile? I’ve done both before, and a lot of it comes down to the emotional situation you were in when you left, plus the state of the game/ community when you are thinking about returning.

Taking a break from WoW

It’s probably been obvious from the content here but my sub to WoW ran out a few weeks ago.

I’m not writing a long and impassioned post about severing all my ties to the game because I think it’s quite possible that I’ll go back sometime. It just won’t be in the foreseeable future. This did make me think about the difference between quitting a game for good (“I’m never going to play this again!”) and not making that final decision (“I don’t want to play it right now, but maybe sometime in the future…!”)

Clearly, developers would prefer the latter because it means that the people who were just taking a break can be lured back. It may not be until the next expansion but they’re still potential customers. And this is particularly key in F2P games because there’s no subscription fee to act as an extra barrier for returners.

On the other hand, we know how big a factor the social networks in games are in keeping people playing. By taking a break, even a fairly short one, a player is probably breaking off those social networks. No raid guild, for example, will keep a spot open for more than a few weeks (if that). Many players have short memories online and if you take a break for over a month or two, you may log back in to find that you are remembered by a few, but things won’t be the way they were before.

Why take a break?

For me, taking a break from a game is when I still like the game itself but I just don’t want to play it any more. It’s when I still like the guild but the burnout means I can’t bear to log in.

It’s not you, it’s me. Or maybe it is you (if you are the game) but I could forgive you in future, I just need a break. I don’t know what would have to change to make me want to come back. I just know it isn’t something I’m planning any time soon right now.

I’ve been through this before with WoW, personally. When TBC launched I was playing in a 40 man raid guild. It dissolved messily over a few months, and I was so invested in the guild (I’d been a class leader) that I just wanted to get away from the whole scene. I think I took about a year out, and when I did return, it was with a different server/ faction and I was astounded at being able to reconnect with my old guild (pre-40 man raiding on alliance, I mean).

It’s happened before, and it could happen again. So it’s goodbye, but not a final burning of all the bridges. I’ll miss my guild more than they’ll miss me; they’ll still be running the same instances and raids, chatting in gchat, working on guild achievements – just with one fewer grumpy person who was half burned out to take part. But then again, I have other things to do, games to play, people to meet. I wish them well.

Because this isn’t the first time I’ve taken a long break from a game, I had a rough idea what the issues might be in returning later. Those are mostly:

  • Can you pick up your old social network or is it time to start again? This is particularly tough for raiders. A casual raid group might be able to find a spot for a returning player, but you can’t rely on a more progression minded raid doing the same thing. This is especially true in a 10 man raid where they won’t be so big on having substitutes and rotations.
  • And can you catch up with your old character or would it be easier to start again? Blizzard are trying to make it easier and easier for a returning (or new) player to catch up with the current endgame, so as long as you don’t mind LFD, chances are that this won’t be an issue in WoW.

For example, I haven’t used realIDs in a big way in WoW, but once I decided I was taking a long break, I did swap realIDs with a lot of guildies and in game friends. It’s a practical issue at that point. If/ when I go back, they may be on different alts or in different guilds but I’ll still be able to touch base. It’s not quite like going cold into a new (or old) game where you don’t know anyone or can’t find anyone you know.

Plus I know I will want to play Diablo III when that comes out, and it will be cool to be able to chat to my WoW friends on when that happens too.

Have you taken a long break from a game and then returned? What issues did you face?