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Game over for Kotaku, Lifehacker and Gizmodo. Is this truly the end of Australian gaming journalism? | Jackson Ryan
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Game over for Kotaku, Lifehacker and Gizmodo. Is this truly the end of Australian gaming journalism? | Jackson Ryan

In 2006 I was fired from my job at EB Games. It was, with the benefit of hindsight, a well-earned dismissal. One Sunday I’d set up a camera and filmed myself jumping over a stack of boxes and hip thrusting at a stranger. Then I uploaded that highly pixelated video of an emo-fringed teenager in a black shirt and slacks to YouTube. Ah, the innocence of youth.

My area manager saw the video about eight months later. I was fired on the spot. (Today, of course, this would probably be some sort of TikTok trend.)

Ten years later I landed a job at the video game and culture website Kotaku Australia and its sister sites, Lifehacker and Gizmodo. Those brands kickstarted my career.

Now those brands are no more. On Monday Nine’s Pedestrian Group, which licensed the trio of titles from US owners, announced it would be shuttering all three, in addition to Vice and Refinery29. Forty jobs have been axed.

This continues a horror month for Australian journalism, with 200 redundancies at Nine, 150 at Seven West Media and a radical restructuring at NewsCorp. No layoff is a good one but the shutting of Kotaku, Gizmodo and Lifehacker marks a particularly tragic day for Australia’s tech journalism scene – one that will have lasting effects.

For video game journalism in this country it feels like the end. This is the asteroid-slamming-into-Earth event. There’s now a huge, smoking crater where video game journalism once was.

Many Australian mainstream publications employ journalists specialising in technology reporting, as well as culture beats including art, books, music, entertainment and sport. To my knowledge there is not a single one that employs a video game journalist.

It’s not as if there’s no appetite for this kind of content: the biannual Australia Plays Report from Bond University shows 81% of Australians play games in some form. The average age is 35 years old. The majority of players are between 18 and 40, and 48% are women. Australians spent $4.4bn on games in 2023.

And video games have crept into other entertainment mediums. The Super Mario Bros Movie? Massive hit. The Last of Us? Everyone was talking about it. Netflix and Apple have dedicated time and energy to building out gaming services. Or did you read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow? You probably did – and video games are at the heart of its story. Don’t forget YouTube and Twitch, which were practically built on video game content and are thriving.

By these metrics alone video games are one of the most important cultural products of our time. And yet the journalism hasn’t had the support or funding to keep up.

Video game journalism isn’t just news and reviews about the latest and greatest. It crosses over into all the streams of culture and business reporting. These are lifestyle and parenting stories; deeply researched explorations of the mental and physical health aspects of playing video games; the science underpinning video game addiction and screen time; the business of video game development studios and the cultural and social problems they face.

Journalists and reporters, the famed adage goes, write the first rough draft of history. For video games in Australia there is so little support for games journalism that very little is being written. Indie websites and blogs do an admirable job, and we’re lucky to still have GamesHub, but there’s little else. We’re leaving a few scratch marks in the sand. The tide is coming in.

How do we turn this around?

The quick fix would be for Australia’s major outlets to recognise the opportunity they have here. The closure of Kotaku Australia might be the worst day in Australian video games journalism – the death knell for a scene. Or, literally any masthead could help something new rise from ashes. The talent is there. I’ve seen the readership numbers and they’re there, too. Someone just needs to take the chance.

Finally, we’ve seen over the past five years, state and federal governments have really taken notice of the video game development industry. The Australian government’s digital games tax offset provides a huge tax break for developers, and many states have similar schemes. There’s Victoria’s VicScreen, which has often led the way, investing for decades in local development and resulting in global smash hits like Untitled Goose Game and Cult of the Lamb. These agencies too could support independent games journalism, as long as it’s not at the expense of funding for game developers.

Then there’s you. The most powerful force is the reader, directly funding this endeavour. Journalist-owned websites are having a bit of a moment. For instance Aftermath, started by former Kotaku US journalists, has grown a loyal subscriber base who are hungry for video games writing. If the audience wants video game journalism, then these direct relationships with the reader could offer a way forward. Would it work in Australia? Possibly!

I wasn’t fired this week – I left Kotaku and its sister sites in 2017 – but the closures sting. When I lost my job at EB Games, back in 2006, I felt as though my dream job had disappeared, that it couldn’t get better than that. But then someone took a chance on me. I want to see the same for video games journalism.

Source: theguardian.com