USgamer will cease publication today, roughly seven years after it was founded with the intention of establishing a foothold for Gamer Network in North America. By the time you read this, Eric Van Allen, Mathew Olson, and I will be gone. The site itself will remain, but it will no longer be updated.
It is sadly, frustratingly, one more victim of the global pandemic that has shut down much of the world, killing nearly 2 million people in the process. It’s a particularly cruel break in light of how hard the team fought to make USG a success. We all cared desperately about making the site a bastion for great games writing. In many ways 2020 was our finest year to date.
In USG’s last year we launched Branching Narratives, a podcast devoted to thoughtful conversations with diverse voices throughout games; we told the stories of Devotion, Half-Life: Alyx, and Jet Set Radio, and we raised thousands of dollars for Black Lives Matter. Internally, we hit our stride as a publication, refining an editorial process that allowed us to consistently put out interesting and timely reporting despite being an extremely small team with few resources at our disposal. Our goal was to consistently find the industry stories that mattered; to give voice to the voiceless, and to cover games with the respect they deserved. I think we succeeded.
From the start, we mapped our own path forward; the concept of “USgamer” was basically a blank slate. Its first Editor in Chief was Jaz Rignall, a veteran of the magazine business; coincidentally, the person who gave me my first real games industry job at GamePro. Together with Jeremy Parish, Mike Williams, Cassandra Khaw, and others, the founding team worked to make USG a home for high-quality essays and features, with a special emphasis on retro coverage.
That thread persisted over the next seven years, even as the site expanded its coverage in other ways. We took a lot of pride in knowing our history at USG, and in using that knowledge to develop nuanced takes that went beyond the usual kneejerk reactions that tend to pervade the games press. Writers at USG can probably tell you about how maniacal I was in ensuring that we got lists like the Top 100 Games of the 2010s right. I couldn’t help seeing them as important, a snapshot in gaming history. I wanted to dig just a little deeper than other sites in compiling our choices, even if in the end we were still probably going to put Chrono Trigger at number one.
The rest of the team followed my lead, and that ethos came to be reflected in our reviews, our essays, our features, our reporting, and our guides. I wanted USG to be better because I wanted games coverage to be better. I took it personally when we didn’t rise to standard I felt we should be meeting, and I think everyone else on the team did too. Even if we didn’t always succeed—and lord knows we failed plenty—we could at least feel good about doing the work. I think others sensed that as well. It created a feeling of shared purpose at USG, and it made the site a magnet for high-quality writers. I’m incredibly proud of many of the freelance articles we’ve run on USG, particularly over the last year.
But while we fought to build up USG, the games industry itself was shifting beneath our feet. When USG started in 2013, influencers were still a relatively new concept in the games media, and streaming barely existed. The games media was in the midst of a vast upheaval as magazines fell away and legacy outlets closed their doors. A new ecosystem was forming, fueled by the transformative rise of smartphones and social media.
I’m not one to get overly-sentimental about the old days of the games media; after all, as Jaz so astutely pointed out, video game magazines were their own form of clickbait. But there was a certainty to the work of putting out a magazine every month that I found comforting. In the 2010s, the media for better or worse ceased to be the gatekeepers, with publishers hiring their own social media team, and influencers gaining vast audiences of their own. Navigating this new landscape was incredibly challenging; I can’t count the number of meetings I sat in where we tried to find the “right” strategy for coverage. USG’s own coverage priorities reflected that as we vacillated between prioritizing features and essays versus industry reporting. In the meantime, Google was its own mysterious black box, and Facebook was even worse.
Then there was the community itself. I joined USG in 2014, the year that a loose collection of aggrieved gaming enthusiasts and right-wing provocateurs calling themselves “Gamergate” basically declared war on the games media. I remember feeling like we were all trapped in the middle of a hurricane, just trying to hold on lest we get blown away. It was an eye-opening experience for me and many other women in the games industry, and we’re still seeing its effects today. Just a few weeks ago, one particularly infamous Youtube channel directed its audience of more than a million subscribers at a woman who dared to give Cyberpunk 2077 a middling review (this being before the gaming public as a whole turned against it). Little has improved since 2014; if anything, it’s gotten much worse.
Still, one thing is certain: gaming is a mainstream concern now. Gone are the days when gaming culture was treated as a weird backwater for shut-ins and overgrown teenagers. The Washington Post has a gaming vertical now. U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is playing Among Us for an audience numbering in the hundreds of thousands. When a real controversy erupts in the games industry, as it recently did with Cyberpunk 2077, it’s covered by the New York Times and the BBC.
Frustratingly, the broader culture of gaming doesn’t seem to have caught up with this shift. Games coverage is still mostly a marketing exercise, a neverending hype cycle in which underpaid journos and influencers battle for space in the Google news box. Nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than The Game Awards. After this year’s show, I tweeted my disappointment at how the amazing essayists, historians, and independent journalists on Youtube and elsewhere are consistently overlooked.
That’s my parting shot as I wrap up my time at USgamer: games deserve better. The media needs to be more thoughtful in how it covers games, and more knowledgeable about how games are made in general. High-quality creators need to be surfaced so they can receive the attention they deserve. Developers and media companies alike need to offer more competitive salaries and stop working their employees to death.
I would be remiss if I didn’t honor some of the journos, influencers, and developers who really are doing great work. They include Carolyn Petit, who consistently produces some of the best essays in the business, and Elise Favis, who has done brilliant work for Launcher. Studios like Creative Assembly show that game studios can be healthy places to work when managed properly, and historians like Frank Cifaldi are doing invaluable work to preserve the medium’s past.
Communities, too, can have a positive impact on gaming. It was a delight watching fans come together in their collective obsession over Blaseball, a social sports game that escalated through 2020 until a literal Peanut God descended from the heavens and raised legendary players from the dead for the ultimate final battle. In the run-up to the election, Spawn On Me’s Kahlief Adams organized influencers and journos for a streaming marathon that raised more than $17,000 for Vote Riders, an organization dedicated to getting Americans to the polls. At their best, gaming communities can bind together people who would otherwise have no other outlets, sometimes creating lifelong friendships.
USG worked hard to celebrate these positive achievements, and to highlight the many, many ways in which the industry could still do better. But you know, we also just liked games. It felt so good to surface a unique RPG like Disco Elysium, or to just geek out over the announcement of Star Wars: Squadrons (I still can’t believe this actually happened). Exhausting as it could be at times, it was so much fun to log in to the USG Slack and spend all day gabbing about games with the colleagues I felt lucky enough to call my friends. Sometimes I would even log in when I was technically on vacation simply because I always knew there was some interesting conversation happening, whether it was Caty and Tom Orry extolling the virtues of Succession, or Eric dishing weird memes, or everyone reacting to the latest industry news.
I would like to thank Jeremy Parish, my friend and mentor who pulled me out of the wilderness and gave me this job; Jaz Rignall, who got the site off the ground in the first place; Jon Hicks, who worked hard to get us the resources we needed until the very end; Nadia Oxford, who helped make Axe of the Blood God what it is today; Tom Orry, who started his job early just so he could start cranking out Breath of the Wild guides, and Caty McCarthy, a dogged editor who made USG so much cooler just by her presence.
I likewise have huge respect for the work of Eric Van Allen, Mathew Olson, and Matt Kim, who consistently punched above their weight and held USG’s news operation to a high standard. Mike Williams is one of the most knowledgeable World of WarCraft reporters I know, and his comics knowledge is unmatched. Finally, much love to the the UK team of Jake Green, Hirun Cryer, and Joel Franey, who worked harder than anyone to produce top-notch guides and news items while we slept.
I will always believe that this incredible team had some truly special potential, and that we could have accomplished so much more in the right cirumstances. Instead, it’s up to other journalists and creators to carry on the work. Thank you for reading USgamer over the past seven years, and for supporting us as we did our best to give video games the respect they deserved. Farewell.