What happens when you bring game journalism talent from big sites like Joystiq, Kotaku and The Escapist together to launch something completely new?
You get Polygon, a gaming website from Vox Media, the brains behind The Verge and SBNation. Polygon launched Thursday morning, after spending months with its content housed in the gaming section of The Verge, a training wheels period for their editorial team.
The game journalism field is a crowded one, so Vox and Polygon‘s editorial team, headed by former Joystiq editor-in-chief Christopher Grant and managing editor Justin McElroy, have to differentiate their new site. McElroy says they’ll do this by making the coverage more about who is making and playing games, not just the games themselves.
“We want to focus on the human side of development, and focus things on people. I want people to feel the respect that we feel for them,” says McElroy. “I think most video game websites have gone for that very narrow sliver of people for whom gaming is their main hobby. I think that’s awesome, but there are other people who like video games, but have other interests, so those websites don’t serve them. I think they want to see how gaming can dovetail with their other interests.”
McElroy says Polygon isn’t out to “unseat” other websites, but to provide things they aren’t providing. While he, his brother Griffin McElroy, and Grant all departed Joystiq at once to create this new site, they said it was not because things were rocky at Joystiq, but because the opportunity to build something new was too good to pass up.
“It was not a question of us wanting to leave, it was more of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. The chance to do something like this is something you wait for and you hope for. We won’t get another opporutnity to start from the ground up,” he says.
The Polygon team has been working since January on their new site, and strategizing how it will be different. The editorial team says they’ll have several long features a week, between 2,000 to 6,000 words.
“There are not a lot of outlets doing magazine-style journalism about games,” says Grant. “We want our features to feel like a cover story of a magazine, and draw people in in the same way.”
Grant also says these features are something he thinks readers will consume on their tablets, a format more conducive for long-form pieces.
Having longer features that take writers several days isn’t a product seen as frequently in web journalism, where metrics like page views and daily traffic carry more weight. Grant says Polygon is taking a different approach to luring advertisers, instead pitching them on the fact the publication will deliver consistently high-calibre content.
“For an advertiser, the appeal is being associated with something that is very high quality is important. It’s not normally viable for a web outlet to do. We want to get them to come back to Polygon because of the brand identity,” Grant says.
Dynamic Game Reviews
Polygon‘s editorial team also plans to disrupt the game review, a institution Grant says needs to adapt as games change.
“When you reviewed old games, that game was never going to change over time. We still review games like we do movies, like a static piece of content,” Grant says. “Most reviews are just reflections of a game on release day.”
That could include updating the score based on content updates, downloadable content, or even how the multiplayer environment affects a player’s experience in the game.
“This is more about reviewing games as a service than as a product. We don’t want our reviews to be indistinguishable from a review of a vacuum cleaner,” says McElroy.
McElroy says Polygon will also experiment with what a score actually means, a tricky subject for everyone involved. Critics’ numeric scores can greatly impact game sales, but McElroy points out that “bad games don’t make it to market anymore, so most games score between a 7 and a 10.”
According to Grant, almost everything at Polygon will have an evolution, and what we’re seeing at Thursday’s launch is only the “minimum viable product.”
“As you get older, you want to be really proud of what you do, and you want to point to the stuff that you make. It’s not that I’m not proud with the work I did at Joystiq. This is an opportunity to do something that is bigger and more ambitious,” Grant says. “I’ve grown up with games journalism, and I am excited to see it evolve.”
Thumbnail image courtesy Jeffy Can, Flickr.
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