Back in October of 2004, a then little known blogging site came into existence called Kotaku. It was originally part of a network of sites, including Gizmodo.com, Lifehacker.com and Consumerist.com. The site is owned by Gawker Media and, at the time, was part of a revolutionary uprising in video game journalism. But that was then.
With the well respected, industry-savvy, Brian Crecente at the helm, Kotaku appeared to be an unstoppable force of growing proportions. Kotaku has covered standard-fare news, reviews, and previews and have managed to keep the average gamer satisfied, but by covering the nitty-gritty and sometimes defaming aspects of the industry with personality and flair, they managed to keep the compulsive gamer glued to the computer screen as well. Kotaku started, and has continued to be, the rogue maverick of video game journalism. Sites like Destructiod, 1UP, and even IGN have mirrored some aspects of their coverage after the likeness of Kotaku’s blogging efforts.
But as of late, gaming sites (and more than just Kotaku) have been taking nosedives in traffic. Despite adapting to opinionated blogging – even though blogging was a taboo in journalism a few years back – many of the bigger sites, according to a sensational, but alarming article by Slapstic, revealed that the drop has been fast and hard. For Kotaku – suffering the worst out of the bunch – it has been an estimated 50% decline in traffic over the past couple of months. If that’s not bad news for a news site, I wouldn’t know what is.
While many people might pin the problem on summer ending, or kids going back to school, or young adults going back to work, that doesn’t really explain why there was a surge in smaller blog sites, gaming news syndicates and even gaming sites like this one. Even the article on Slapstic points out that many of the smaller sites (including their own site) have seen gains in web traffic reaching up to 300%. I don’t have to argue the point of school being a problem if Blend Games and other sites are on the receiving end of more hits, despite the school year being back in full swing and everyone kissing summer goodbye.
Now one could argue the point of a margin of error from Alexa’s web trafficking stats, but whether you count it as a 3% or a 5% margin of error, that doesn’t excuse 45% or a 47% drop in Kotaku’s web traffic. But I can already point out the problem: Kotaku failed to adapt. While Gamespot, Gamerankings and IGN have seen a decline in web traffic, people will still go back to them as a resource for purchasing games, looking over reviews of past games, watching trailers or gathering information not usually found on blog sites. But think about how many other Kotaku clones are out there right now? Everyone now has an opinion; everyone is trying to establish personality; everyone wants to be the next big thing. Blend Games’ Editor, Pete Haas, even wrote an editorial about the absurdity of using crude Kotaku-esque tactics within the video game journalism circuit, which pretty much fits small sites the way criminal behavior fits on OJ Simpson.
In a sense, gamers no longer have a reason to chiefly stick with Kotaku as a source of news, gaming info, blogging or the nitty-gritty surrounding the game industry. Tact on the influx of back-to-school hours, the fanboy generated news from aggregators like N4G.com, and you have yourself a perfect ebb of hits draining from Kotaku, like the fat of an overweight actress in Hollywood getting liposuction.
See, unlike the movie industry, books or music scene – where artists and novelists can redeem themselves with old-school tactics – gaming always has to be fresh, new and creative. In the music scene, artists like Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones can still tour and make money on 25 year old songs (sometimes even topping the charts). With books, Frederick Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra or Fyodor Dostoyevky’s Crime & Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov continue to hold weight in sales despite being archaic. And regarding movies...they that don’t always have to use special effects or require big budgets to make money, gain recognition and win awards (i.e., Juno). Gaming and gaming journalism, however, can’t rely on what worked in the past. It has to constantly find ways to adjust and re-adjust to the changes in the market and the way the consumer responds to that market.
But don’t think that this is the absolute downfall for Kotaku. There’s still hope for them. But Kotaku can no longer rely on four-year old blogging techniques that have become the norm, which is the obvious cause of making the site seem dated, despite its originality within gaming’s journalism scene. It’s about stepping back and reinventing what they already started. It’s about giving gamers something every other gaming blog isn’t already doing.
Nevertheless, in the same way that video games require upgrades and evolutionary design paradigms to keep the interest of gamers, the same can be said of the coverage for said games. It’s a sad reality, but video game journalism floats in the same boat as the video games themselves, insofar that it also requires upgrading and creative ingenuity. More than anything, this is a wake up call for journalists to try different avenues when things start going downhill. It’s about trying to keep gaming a higher priority than “Top 10" lists or jocular time-wasters...and it’s about always seeking out a fresh take on the industry that the competition lacks. Otherwise, it will be more than just Kotaku who might plunge into the history books of fallen video game publications.