By Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman
ameSlice. Ever heard of it? Well, why not?! It's a HUGE gaming magazine, and one that has been around for a long time. As a result editor-in-chief, Geoff Keighley, is a very opinionated guy, who has been around the block enough to know what he's talking about. So being that we here at loonygames love to take advantage of a good thing, we sat down with Geoff to talk about his site, the community, and more!
Name/rank/serial number? Geoff Keighley here, editor-in-chief of GameSlice! I don't have a rank beyond that and my serial number? Hmmm. Probably something in binary, but beyond that, I have no idea what grouping of zeros and ones I'm made up of.
Why did you initially start up Gameslice? You know, GameSlice was an idea I had back in 1996. Initially I was working with CompuServe and our goal was to create a magazine or features site that really was more than just a bunch of demos sitting on a PC somewhere or a whole bunch of reviews. I'm not saying those sites aren't important, but from a competitive vantage point, we wanted to do something different -- bring high quality journalism to the Net in terms of in-depth interviews, features, and editorial. I always think that content is king and its what separates one site from another, and how can you compete if all the sites only offer demos? So, I started GameSlice to cater to the gamer who wants to know more about the people who make games in the industry -- the designers, producers, artists, musicians, etc. who all work on games, yet we seldom get to know them or their stories. This industry is really very impersonal. We talk about graphics, textures, and polygons, but we seldom get to know the people who make the games. The designers. The visionaries. The creators. GameSlice is an effort to educate the gamer about these people and also provide an insider's perspective on the industry with smart editorial that pulls no punches. I think we've been successful, but that's really up to the readers to decide.
Why the break with Compuserve? I wouldn't really term it a "break" from CompuServe. When we initially launched GameSlice in 1996, the goal was to always have a CompuServe component and something on the World Wide Web, because I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket, and I knew the web was going to be important. CompuServe has gone through a lot of transition in the past year or so, and the web has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, CompuServe technology for a while was really lagging behind the web. I should say that now they are really getting back up to speed after the acquisition from AOL, and we are looking at pursuing another venture with them down the road.
There has been a lot of speculation over the last few years that 'pay' websites will never be successful. What do you think about that, especially given your association with CompuServe? That's a great question, Bobbi. One of the reasons I wanted to launch GameSlice on the web and CompuServe is because I've never believed in the idea of banner advertising being the only source of revenue for a site -- banner ads aren't like advertising in magazines, no matter what anyone says. With CompuServe, we were able to have another revenue stream. And sort of relating back to the last question, when CompuServe went to a flat rate that posed another problem for keeping the site running on CompuServe. Still, getting back to your question, I think that people believe "pay" websites won't be successful because they haven't seen a lot of great content on the web that would make you want to pay for it. I mean, there have been some experiments, including Microsoft's Slate and sites like the Hollywood Reporter trying to charge premiums, and the results have been lukewarm. Why? I think part of it has to do with the fact that the content on these sites isn't that dramatically different than what you can get for free. For a site like Slate, people would rather go visit Salon than pay $19.95 a month or whatever it is they are charging. So, I think pay websites can work, but the content has to be there. Right now a lot of sites are experiment with other forms of revenue such as cross-promotion deals, links with retailers (GameSpot with Amazon, a lot of smaller sites with Chips and Bits, UGO with GameDealer), and I think this will take the pressure off banner ads being the only source of revenue. However, I am a firm believer that when the content is there on a consistent basis, people will be willing to pay. The problem is, few online sites really offer a unique product that is consistent. But I know of a few of my favorite sites that I would definitely pay a small premium for if it meant I'd keep getting the same quality of content on a consistent basis.
Just to play devil's advocate...the majority of gamers are still under the age of 25. Given the amount of money they already have to shell out just to be able to play the games (video cards, systems, ram, etc.), do you realistically believe they will pay more for a games website? I knew I small those two small pointy ears protruding out of the back of your head :) Well, I guess you're asking a more specific question now, not just about pay websites, but about pay websites specifically relating to interactive entertainment. You make a valid point. Conspicuous consumption among gamers is obviously lower than someone who is reading a business journal online or a trade publication. But, how many gamers buy magazines like PC Gamer or EGM? I mean, even a 15-year-old is still going to pay a few bucks a month to get the latest gaming news in a paper magazine. In fact, gamers are just about the only breed of consumer who are willing to pay $8 for a magazine with a CD (which I think is a complete rip-off and limits the size of the market, but that's another question). So, if gamers are buying hundreds of thousand of videogame magazines, what's to say they won't also spend a few dollars a month for a website? Again, I think they will, if the content is there. Unfortunately, the game industry online really has very few sites that consistently deliver a high quality product. But there are a few sites that I think could get away with a pay component and not limit their audience...in fact, they might even be able to improve their product. Don't get me wrong though -- part of the beauty of the web is how accessible information is; where else can you find 50 reviews of a game for free? I don't think anyone is going to pay money for reviews, but for some high-quality editorial that is equal to or better than what you'd find in print publications, I think the market is there. Then again, that postulate hasn't really been tested, so maybe the devil is right in this instance.
I have to jump on something you said there...about cd's distributed with magazines limiting the audience? Absolutely. If there was a campaign race for the President of Interactive Entertainment, I'd support whatever candidate would promise to abolish the cover CD. You see, game magazines used to be affordable -- 3 or 4 bucks. But once PC Gamer entered the fray with their demo CD, which was a GREAT idea, EVERYONE had to copy the idea, and the result? Game magazines are $8 at newsstands. Now I know you can get the non-CD version, etc., etc., but most newsstands I go to only have the CD version. I think one magazine with a DEMO CD makes sense, but for me, I buy all the magazines and I've usually either played the demo from the Internet or played it on another Demo CD. I throw so many of those away it's not even funny! How does it limit the market? Well, think about any other magazine on the rack for any other hobby. Whether it's Rolling Stone for music, VIBE for Culture, Guns and Ammo, or Car and Driver. Does anyone think they can get away with charging $8 a magazine? No way. It's absurd. I'm in the industry and every time I go to the cashier and ring up my computer game magazine purchases, the clerk looks at the little UPC label and can't believe I'm paying $8 for a magazine. No other magazines cost that much for any other hobby. It limits the market because people aren't willing to spend that kind of money to learn about games. We need a magazine that doesn't have a demo CD, is a reasonable price, and provides high quality editorial. I'd buy it. Unfortunately, the magazine market is still far too small to really make it cost effective to produce a magazine for only a few bucks with a Demo CD, and all the publishers are scared their magazines won't sell unless they have a CD with them. If you are going to sell a magazine with a CD, at the very least provide some extra content that enhances your product, not just the latest demos from all the publishers shoveled on a CD. It's just wrong.
You write a daily editorial for GameSlice. How do you come up with an original idea, day after day? :) Well, as of late I haven't been coming up with a daily idea, and that's my bad. Indeed when I started the daily editorials back in April, I was sure I'd have a topic to discuss each and every day. It got pretty hard in the summer when the whole game industry basically shut down -- you don't see much news on gaming during July and August. It's getting tougher and tougher to do a daily editorial, and as of late I've been doing a weekly one that's a bit longer and looks at things more in-depth, such as advertising. Right now I'm writing a large piece on Half-Life for an editorial -- A fantastic game. So, it's tough to come up with ideas, and when I look back at the archive, I'm amazed at how I pull topics out of my head some days. But I love to talk about this industry and explore issues with my readers. I think anyone who reads all my editorials will find that there's a lot of stuff this industry doesn't have a clue about...Maybe that's why I have so much to write about :)
There's been a rash of slash and burn websites lately, with editorials aimed at slamming one person or company or another. Where do you draw the line in your editorials? That's a very valid and intriguing question. There's no question that this industry was eventually going to breed information outposts that discussed rumors. In some ways it shows how far the industry has evolved. Now, truth be told, I've written some editorials that weren't very well received by some companies. I remember one I wrote in June that actually resulted in a death threat from a developer, but it actually ended up ok -- The developer was just really stressed out at the time, or so I'm told. Nevertheless, I think if you set out to "slam" another company or site you are asking for trouble. I don't have a problem with sites that want to explore issues and basically exist as a "forum for discussion." As long as there's a two-way-road of communication, I don't see a problem with them, and some of the sites have been doing a great job posting retractions, replies from people in the industry, etc., to clear up stories. To be honest, I love reading some of these sites for what they are worth, although I don't know how interesting they are to the average gamer. They really cater to a very small hard-core audience, mostly of game developers, so I think people overestimate their importance in the grand scheme of things. But everyone wants to create a competitive advantage, and some of these sites have done a good job at carving out the niche of rumors. So long as items are marked as "rumors," I have no problem with it. But when the line between fact and fiction is blurred, well, I start to get worried.
Where do you see Gameslice going over the next year or two? We're pretty excited about the future of GameSlice. As you probably know, we've been working with GameSpot on some of the larger features from the site, so their audience can enjoy them, and the results have been tremendous. The best comment I can get from a gamer is something along the lines of, "Wow, that was an intelligent story that made me forget I was reading the web and feel like I was actually cuddling up with a book or a story." That's really what I try to do: Write stories that are at or above the level of what you'd find in print publications and I think we've been pretty successful. So, as for the future, I think you'll see us keep doing extensive feature articles and editorials, the things we do best. You'll probably also see some announcements in the future about new ways we are going to try to expose my articles to larger audiences, even non-gamers. I have people read my "Blinded By Reality" story about Unreal who have never played a computer game and they still love the human interest aspect. So, I think that's the future for the site. As for the future of the online community in general, I think we are definitely going to see a shakedown in a lot of the sites out there. Content is definitely king. Everyone online is still super-competitive in many respects. A lot of webmasters of smaller sites just don't seem to want to work with other people because they are so scared their site of reviews and news is going to be lost in the shuffle. Well, I'm sorry to say, but the clue phone is ringing: Any site that doesn't have a clear focus is probably going to disappear in the future. But as a whole, I think the online community is healthy. It's a great debating ground for important issues to those in interactive entertainment, and I love how many different viewpoints are available on every issue out there. There's no lack of information and opinion. That excites me.
What do you think about the state of the gaming industry right now? I think the game industry is healthy -- we are growing and expanding and reaching a larger audience every day. I was just reading the latest IDSA report, and the statistics are incredible. However, I wish the PC business would expand faster than the console market, but I guess that's just an economic issue more than anything else. I go back and play some games on the PlayStation and say, "You know, I really can't handle these jagged graphics when I'm used to dual Voodoo 2 cards on a P2-400." However, I think the industry is still in its infancy. It's just like any product life cycle -- once rapid growth starts, tons of imitators jump on the bandwagon. Right now, our industry is just on the tail end of imitation, and there are a lot of really bad products coming out and a lot of people who think they know how to design games when in reality they don't have the faintest clue. Truth be told, there are very few people that really understand this industry -- Now I'm not trying to suggest even I do, but there are some game designers that really care about where this industry will be in 15 years, and don't just want to make sure their super-duper-3D-action-RTS title sells X thousand units when it ships. There's already a shakedown in progress, and I think we are going to see a lot of people start to realize just how important content is to the whole equation. Even today, far too many people think you "have" a 3D action game when there's a really nice 3D engine behind it with fancy lights and a lot of blood. That's not game design. That's the science of computer programming. People need to get out of their Bunsen Honeydew mode and move into the realm of sculpting art with the technology they create. Very few designers do this. But I think it's imperative for the future of this industry that we celebrate the talent that does make an art out of game design. That's why I write the articles I do about companies such as LucasArts and Westwood Studios and their designers. These are the people we need to learn from and learn about, so this industry can survive. Design and creativity aren't important enough to most gamers. We need to be more demanding in what we buy and what we support. A bunch of nifty polygons on a screen that amounts to nothing more than a technology demo just shouldn't cut it anymore. It can't if we want the art of game design to advance.
What do you think about the critics who point to sales like Eidos and Ion, etc. and say that smaller developers can't exist alone anymore? Well, I think it's nonsense that the "developers" can't survive without a big parent. This is rhetoric put forth by these people-who-think-they-are-game-designers who are really just greedy venture capitalists in disguise. This industry is stuck in the rut of thinking that you need $2 million dollars to develop a game. This is totally outrageous. People leave well known developers and knock on a publishers door and say, "Hey, I was part of the team for game X. I just left the company. Can I have $2 million to make a really awesome 3D game? I mean, I worked on the team for Game X, so surely I was an integral part of its success and therefore, I can make you a game JUST like that for only $2 million. What a bargain!" This just doesn't work. The art of game design is done in a cold basement at 4 in the morning; in a friend's garage with the radio blasting in the afternoon. It's not done in a huge skyscraper that overlooks a city. Now, let me qualify that, because I think some of the guys at Ion Storm, namely Tom Hall and John Romero are good game designers, and I'm not trying to put down their design skills. But I think Ion Storm is a testament to the fact that game design can't be "bought." People think you can spend your way to a good game design, and maybe that's partially true, but to a large degree the best games are made by those people who don't want million dollar advances. Sure, you need snappy 3D graphics and great cinematics to be competitive these days, but all of that can come after the fact and it will if you have a compelling game mechanic and a reason for making the game. All these 3D action games coming out are being made for one reason: because they are 3D action games, not because they really advance the art of game design. People think you can license a game engine, slap on some new textures, and wow, you have a hit product. (This is going to be very evident with a game due out later this month). The bottom line is that money doesn't create good game design. So to relate this tangent back to your original question about whether smaller developers can exist, I think they absolutely can because game design really isn't a very expensive proposition if the designer's heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, most of the people who think they are designers today really don't know what they are doing, and they think you need millions of dollars to create a competitive product. It's just not true if your heart is in the right place and you have the talent. This industry is far too greedy.
What is your background in gaming? Have you always been a fan, just writing about it? Well, I've been playing games for a long time -- I really started toying with old games in the mid-80s, such as the King's Quest series from Sierra, the Space Quests, Leisure Suit Larrys, Monkey Islands, etc. I was really into adventure games when they were really the bread and butter of the industry. So, from that love of adventure games I eventually became a beta tester for Sierra On-Line and helped them actually design and test the games and series I grew to love. It was fantastic. I was on CompuServe back in the early 90s, and Steve Wartofsky, then-editor of Strategy Plus, asked me to put my knowledge of games to work by reviewing and previewing titles for that magazine. Things sort of grew from there, but I've always kept my pulse on the industry because I'm a gamer at heart. It's really paid off because sometimes I'll meet someone at a trade show and I'll remember their game from the late 80s that I just loved to pieces. Because I've been playing games for so long, perhaps that's why I'm so disillusioned by what is out there on the market today: I remember what games used to be like. Maybe I'm not somewhat desensitized to the industry because I'm so involved in looking at it with a critical eye, but few games today manage to capture me like the old Sierra adventures or fun arcade games that were done on the PC Junior. A lot of games just aren't fun anymore unfortunately.
What are your favorite games? Wow, there's a loaded question. When I think of favorite games, I usually like to frame the answer in terms of games that have created "moments" for me in gaming. To me, your favorite game is the piece of software that you were playing and just became totally enraptured in the environment -- you loved it so much you lost track of time and when you stopped playing it, you couldn't wait to go back for more. Some of my favorite games are definitely adventures -- Monkey Island 2, Space Quest 4, Freddy Pharkas. I also was a big fan of some old action games -- Sierra did a great chopper simulator in the late 80s (I forget the name), and I played this game where you were a chef running up and down ladders trying to create hamburgers for far too many hours in the 80s (I forget the name of the game, unfortunately). But more recently, I was really impressed with Doom -- I still remember December 10, 1993, when I first played the game; it was a definitive gaming moment. Otherwise, I think the Command and Conquer series from Westwood really hit the mark, as did Age of Empires. In 1998, I haven't been impressed by a lot to be honest. It hasn't been a great year for gaming thus far, sub for Unreal, Sin, and Half-Life.
Last question. :) What are your favorite websites? Wow, that's a great question and my interests are pretty diverse.. First of all, I always visit Mark's Friggin Stern Show News every morning. He does this great multi-page update with details from Howard Stern's show each morning. I also read the Internet Movie Database StudioBriefing each morning. Otherwise, I frequently visit Mr. Showbiz, Drudge Report, Aint-it-Cool-News, and CNN. On the gaming side of things, I usually check out Next-Generation Online, GameSpot, and some of the news pages for 3D games.
Hmmm, not much else really :) I think that about sums it up in terms of favorite websites, except loonygames.
Thanks Geoff! Be sure to check out GameSlice!
- Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman is an associate editor for loonygames.
Credits: Community Profile logo illustrated by and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Community Profile is © 1998 Stephanie Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is just a bad idea. We have lawyers.