Consider Kotaku. Our gaming site turned 10 this week. (As did Jalopnik!)
Kotaku is bigger than ever, reaching over 8 million people a month in the US, for a total of 14.5 a month worldwide. Huge success, right? By any measure, Kotaku is one of the biggest gaming publications in the world.
But gaming has changed over the last decade, as has the media culture around it. (I posit that gamers are the bellwether of new technology's success, not porn consumption; gamers are the earliest adopters of digital. It's their native habitat.) Most of the gaming media world has consolidated into a small number of publications—at least those that have survived. Independent gaming media exists in isolated outposts across every digital medium imaginable—video streaming on Twitch and YouTube; niche, genre-specific publications; and fan-led forums—and as recent minor scandals around game publishers co-opting YouTubers have shown, maintaining editorial independence while building a young brand is as much of a minefield as ever.
Kotaku, led by Stephen Totilo, looked at the landscape and made an inspired move: rather than use Kotaku's considerable clout to wheedle early access to publishers drip-fed PR schedule around game releases, Stephen listened to his audience, whose most interesting and passionate conversation doesn't even begin until the games are released. If video games are about escapism in an ongoing simulation, wouldn't the best stories come from inside the simulations themselves? Or to put it in a sports analogy: What's more interesting? A preview around the rules and uniforms of baseball, or watching an entire season play out?
Anticipation is fun, but Kotaku's new "embedded players" in various video games after their release has already turned over many stories that other outlets would ignore, presuming that an "old game" could only produce "old news."
And since the implementation of his experiment in June, Kotaku's numbers have been growing. It looks like they're on to something. In an industry where even well-funded gaming websites are flailing, Kotaku is stronger than ever. (Stephen does a better job of explaining the strategy in his post to his audience.)
What does that mean for the rest of us? Kotaku's pivot won't map one-to-one for each of our sites. But being unencumbered by tradition or legacy and making editorial choices that serve what our audience actually wants, instead of what advertisers and brands would like for them to want, seems universal. It's hardly a novel notion, but it's a useful lens for every editor to peer through. It might even give a glimpse of what you can only hope will be obvious hindsight.
(Though do think more about sub-sites and Recruits. They've been a big success, especially on Jalopnik, and we'll likely turn up the heat on both.)
In other editorial news, I'll be heading out to the west coast to chat to a few folks and will be gone from 210 all week. I'm using all the hotel time to scribble down some of the plans for editorial through Q4, as well as a general idea of where we'd like to go in 2015.
As our tech development has started to pick up steam, as you can see in the number of visible changes both on the pages and in the menus, not to mention bigger projects coming down the pipe, the management group is working to make sure that our core business—that's us—doesn't feel underserved, either in tech, design, or in support from the other parts of the business. Practically, that means adding more meta-level editorial staff that specialize in data mining, PR, creative services…roles that may be de rigueur in overfunded, slapdash media companies, but ones we've traditionally tried to avoid filling prematurely. (Part of the price of our independence is basic fiscal responsibility.) But we're growing up—or at least growing—and are finally at a point where adding these roles should show instant utility.
But don't hold me to anything yet. Give me a week to hole up in weird smelling hotel rooms and try to put some of these ideas down for everyone to see and respond to.
In the meantime, here are some of the best stories of the week, as selected by a bunch of puppy-mad weirdos.