What’s in the Vox?

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I can finally talk about where I’m going next, what I‘m doing there and why, of all the possible things I could have done next with my career, I decided to hitch my wagon to a company few people have ever heard of and work for a guy named Grant.

Let’s tackle that last one first. When I left The Escapist in September of last year, my plan was to try and slip seamlessly into another EIC role at another gaming website. It almost happened, too. I was already mentally packing the house for a big move across the country and talking with my possible prospective employers about all of the great things we were going to do together after they theoretically gave me the keys to their kingdom. Then … fate intervened. I can’t go into too much detail about what happened without breaking a good friend’s confidence, but in spite of everyone’s best intentions – and through no fault of anyone’s – the deal fell apart, almost literally at the last minute.

Cue: Panic.

This was a month or so after leaving my once-secure job, and with no new opportunities in sight, I began working the phones, rekindling old acquaintances and trying to take the measure of the entire game media industry as rapidly as possible to see where my next best fit might be. I talked to everyone (almost). If there was an EIC level or equivalent position available, I interviewed for it and tried to scope out the people I‘d be working with and the companies I’d be working for.

After dozens of conversations and hundreds of hours of research, I came to a startling conclusion: There wasn’t a single job out there I really wanted, nor a single company with which I wanted to work.

Some people get into games journalism because they think it’s all about working in their underwear and playing games for cash. Others get into it because they believe it is an easy road into making games themselves. Both of these things are true, in part, but it can be so much more. I got into games journalism because I am passionate about games and passionate about writing and I wanted to see how far I could push the envelope with online media.

At The Escapist, with a great deal of help from some truly talented people, I pushed it pretty damn hard, and the awards, milestones and accolades that followed are all things of which I am exceptionally proud. But what I am more proud of are the hundreds of articles, interviews and reviews I wrote myself and the relationships I forged with the hundreds of freelance content creators with whom I worked; the writers and video makers who formed the backbone of the beast that broke through all those barriers. I truly believe the work we did at The E was some of the finest work that has ever been done in this industry.

So what next, then, after leaving my old job and finding myself adrift with no clear destination? I decided to take it back to the work and try to forge a freelance career, writing and editing and making videos. Recording podcasts. Taking advantage of no longer having to shoulder the success or failure of an entire website and doing the work that brought me to this industry in the first place, trying to rekindle that passion that led me here.

And then Chris Grant called me out of the blue to offer me a job.

Although I had decided that another full time job at a games publication was the last thing I wanted, I took it. Why? I’ll come to that.

The job, I can now tell you, is to be a Founding Editor at a new gaming website that Chris and I and the rest of the shockingly talented founding staff will build together, working for a company called Vox. My role, the job I was offered and that I accepted, is to be the editor in charge of features, both written and video. Basically the kind of stuff I’d been doing on my own – the kind of stuff that drives my passion – only working alongside a team comprised of some of the very best people working in games journalism today, and working for a company with the resources and vision to break whatever barriers happen to be left in online media. So … you know, a dream job, basically.

So why take another job when freelance was going so well? Believe it or not, this was the hardest part of the decision I made. Working for oneself is intoxicating. It is also, unfortunately, not very stable. The chance to do the kind of work that brings me joy – and not very much more than that – yet still have the kinds of opportunities to build something new and the stability of holding a larger role is just about the perfect arrangement possible. An opportunity that rarely comes along. I decided to take it.

So why take a step down to work for someone else instead of holding out for another EIC job or even starting my own website? Because after three years of sitting in Director’s meetings, living and dying by the pace of the back room machinations at a modern online media company, I’m perfectly fine with letting someone else wear that crown, sit on that uncomfortable throne and do the work of keeping the company in printer toner. And frankly, an EIC job that does not come with the authority to build something new, along with the full faith and support of the company for which I’d be building it, is not an EIC job I’d want to have. Remember, I talked to everyone looking to hire EICs. Most of them have no clue where game media is headed next year, much less next decade.

At Vox’s new gaming website, I will not be the EIC. Chris Grant has that job. I believe he will do a fine job with it. In the meantime, I’ll be doing work I enjoy and helping to build something that has every chance of changing the face of games journalism for a very long time. It’s hard to see that as a step down.

So why work for Vox? I’m going to paraphrase two things that were said to me about the company by its executives. The first is that they believe in building a large media company without sacrificing the quality of their content. The second is that they believe in hiring talented content creators and then getting out of the way.

Just words, to be sure. Words I’ve heard before, in fact, and that turned out to not be true. Some people working in online media today believe that quality is a four letter word. That crap is what people want, and therefore creating anything more costly than crap is a waste of time and money. Other publications pay lip service to quality, but don’t invest in it, creating “good enough” and calling it “great.” Still others just plain have no clue. All of them – every single one – use words similar to what was said to me by Vox.

So it would be easy to assume Vox was bullshitting me and selling a dream of rainbows and happy smiles just to pad the masthead – except for the fact that I believe them. Speaking with the folks at Vox, examining their operation and studying what they do, I believe they mean every word they say. Even better, I believe they can actually deliver on their promises. After all, they’ve already done it.

Late last year, Vox launched their technology website, The Verge, by attracting top talent and letting them do what they do best. As a result, The Verge is now rapidly becoming one of the top tech blogs. If you haven’t heard of The Verge yet, watch the tech news next week, during the annual CES consumer electronics show in Vegas. The Verge is an official media partner and will be all over it. The Verge is no accident. That team has been working on their site for months and the amount of support they have received from Vox to bring their vision to life is phenomenal.

Can Vox do the same thing with a games site? Why not ask these people:

Chris Grant, former EIC at Joystiq.
Brian Crecente, former EIC at Kotaku.
Justin McElroy, former Managing Editor at Joystiq.
Russ Frushtick, formerly of MTV.
Griffin McElroy, formerly of Joystiq.
Arthur Gies, formerly of IGN and Joystiq.
Chris Plante, formerly of everywhere.
And myself, formerly EIC of The Escapist and, once upon a time, a producer and writer on TV.

These are the Founding editors of Vox’s new games website. These are not people you attract with bullshit and happy rainbow PowerPoints. Neither are they people desperate to prove themselves. These are people at the top of their game. People who have literally built the world of games journalism as you know it and accomplished as much as there is to accomplish within it. Any one of them would be well qualified for any of the “lone guy with ten bucks” game blog EIC positions available right now. And yet all of them are here, working with Vox to build something new. And I’m with them.

It’s going to be some time before we can actually get to work writing and whatnot, and even more time before we have an actual website to call our own. Vox is giving us a year to design and build exactly the site we want and to get it up and running. We don’t even have a name yet, but come 2012, you’ll finally get to see what eight of the brightest minds in games journalism can do with a wad of cash and the generous support of people who believe in them. I have a feeling the result will change a lot of minds about how to grow a website, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as we will enjoy making it.