A Massively Epic Comeback
A long time ago, when Gaiscioch launched its very first public community event, the Battle for Badlands, Massively.com featured the public community event on its site, driving even more attention and people to the event. Battle for Badlands was a wide success and launched a new Gaiscioch tradition of creating and hosting public community events.
The staff would continue to support our posting news about our Telara Saga in RIFT and our Great Tyrian Adventure in Guild Wars 2. Some of the staff members even came to join the Gaiscioch Family. For the better part of a decade, Masively.com has been there for our community both as a news source giving us the latest information on the games we play and as a distributor of our own news.
On February 3rd, 2015, AOL Inc., the parent company of Massively.com, Joystiq.com, and WoWInsider.com, pulled the plug on these sites. After almost 8 years of bringing news to gamers far and wide, Massively.com would finally close its doors. But this is not how the story ends.
Today I talk with Bree Royce, the Editor-in-Chief, about the all new Massively Overpowered. Thank you for joining us today, Bree. What can you tell us about what was going through your team’s mind on February 3rd?
February 3rd was a rough day. We actually found out on January 26th and were told to keep it quiet while Joystiq’s boss tried to negotiate for us a severance deal to which we were not entitled as mere contractors. We were finally allowed to announce it on the 30th, which was by far the harder day because of the rush of support: It was gratifying but also horribly sad. And we spent that entire week debating what to do next. By the 3rd, we had a plan, so while it was painful to see the lights wink out—quite literally—at least we knew there was a way forward.
Being laid off is never an easy feat. It doesn’t feel good, and a lot of people fall into a depression. Where did the idea of crowdfunding a rebirth come from? How did you manage to turn that negative upside down and within a week have Massively back online on massivelyop.net?
It was definitely depressing, doubly so when the cause wasn’t our fault, affected thousands of people, and was such a public spectacle (not unlike the layoffs we cover in the news). Crowdfunding was something we toyed with last year when we had to let go half our staff because of AOL’s huge budget cuts; we considered at the time to all of us quit and start a new site right then. So the idea was already in our heads from the moment we learned what AOL was up to this year. I admit I had to be talked into it, though. Over the past year, our stretched-thin team had managed to keep our numbers up, but it was an exhausting, grueling year, one in which I personally had a baby and moved from coast to coast just to add to my stress, and after that, to be told none of that hard work mattered, that AOL was “streamlining” and adopting a new “simplicity” mantra? I just wanted to walk away and take a vacation or maybe even a weekend when I didn’t have to work and just enjoy my kids. (When game developers say things like that, I believe them – I know exactly how it feels to be secretly relieved that well, at least this bullshit is over. You’re scared because you don’t know what you’ll do next, but at least you can enjoy some time off and recuperate from an extremely stressful situation.)
So some of us debated a much smaller volunteer site, something we could do while we all looked for new jobs. But the support we were getting and the personal familiarity and success with Kickstarter that several members of our writing staff already had ultimately convinced us that we might be able to pull off something much bigger. And truthfully, while there are other MMO blogs, none is quite like ours. We weren’t quite sure ourselves what to read after Massively.com was gone. I think we felt a responsibility to our fans, the genre, and each other to at least try, even if we failed.
While this issue is laced with stories about living epic, I can think of no greater story that the epic comeback of Massively. You took a pink slip and turned it into entrepreneurship. In less than 2 weeks nonetheless! What was running through your head when you made that jump and put up the Kickstarter hoping for the best?
It was a crazy couple of days. Most Kickstarter advisors recommend three months of prep time before launch. We didn’t have it. We knew that interest in whatever we were doing would fizzle if we didn’t get moving (WoW Insider had a temp site and Patreon up on the 3rd, for example). We didn’t think that would work for us because of the ebb and flow of our readership and the variety of games we cover, and that meant a lengthy and detailed Kickstarter pitch, video recording and editing, a budget prepped months before we had any money – basically, an entire company with branding and promotional materials planned out before we went to ask our fans and readers to donate a penny. We literally finished writing and editing it at midnight on February 5th and pressed go first thing in the morning, launching on the worst day of the week in the worst month for successful crowdfunds. One of our staunchest supporters actually chewed me out – rightly! – for not warning him and other key backers ahead of time. More time to research and prepare would have been lovely.
And what was running through our heads? Terror and determination. Everyone had doubts, especially me. We’ve seen so many MMOs fail to fund, and I was sure that it would be embarrassing. But it was do or die. When you push that button, you’re committed. We pushed it. We’re all in.
Did you expect the support that you received, or did it catch you completely off guard?
Truthfully, I didn’t think we would fund to our minimum number, but there was no point asking for less because it wouldn’t give us enough time to try to put together our own ongoing funding otherwise. By then, I absolutely expected lots of love and moral support, just not lots of money! I wasn’t sure that people would pay for our kind of entertainment in the F2P and Let’s Play video era. I clearly misjudged how much the MMO community thought of us as an internet home and how much they wanted to telegraph their anger at AOL. I’m certainly thrilled to be wrong. But that was just me. There were Massively writers and supporters who were convinced we’d fund easily, and they were right! The internet met our initial goal within 48 hours. A journalism blog about niche video games! How awesome is that?
Well I guess it would be safe to say that Massively Overpowered is well loved and respected within the community. I actually found out about the project from Mark Jacobs, Founder of City State Entertainment. With legends like that pointing at your rebirth it’s no surprise how quickly it took off. What was the biggest challenge you faced in recreating the magic that happened on Massively.com?
Money and time. Kickstarter operates on such a delay that we didn’t see any money until recently, and it’s taken us a lot of time and personal cash behind the scenes to actually get set up as a real company, to replace the mechanical infrastructure that AOL once provided and do so in a way that is completely legal and above board (which also costs money). Everyone had to work on the promise of future pay just like a startup. That was a hard thing to ask.
Are there any changes you plan to make going forward to the way you report games?
For the most part, no. We’ll still be covering a wide variety of MMORPGs and fringe MMOs as we were before; we’ll still shoot for accuracy and timeliness in our news; we’ll still have insightful columns. In fact, so far we’ve increased our column loadout and have been able to cover more indies. But we enjoyed significant editorial freedom under Joystiq (my boss there was wonderful), so there isn’t a huge push to change much about the writing since we were already fairly happy with our content itself, though of course we’d always like to be producing much more and we’re forever striving for cleaner and more precise work.
Perhaps the biggest change editorially is that we are now allowed to accept travel stipends to studio events, provided that we disclose everything to our readers so they can decide whether we were unduly influenced. We had no such freedom before under our rigid network policy, which meant that our writers and our voices were left out of dozens of MMO industry events every year.
How many of the original team have returned for this project? Are you mostly intact?
Mostly! We lost two columnists to game studios, one before the Kickstarter launched and one recently, and I don’t blame them a bit for choosing full-time employment over a weekly column with us (both would have kept writing for us, but since they were working directly for MMO studios, we couldn’t keep them in accordance with our ethics policy). We were able to add back someone laid off a year ago and will probably add another. That’s in addition to the tech engineer and sales manager we brought on. Our core news team has all stuck around. That’s been tremendously helpful because everyone knows what to expect and how to make a site go ‘round. And there’s a shared personal loyalty. We’re friends. That’s priceless.
What are the major differences you see with working for a major media outlet to working for yourself? Are there tools and resources that you miss? What advantages have you found?
Oh yes. We were running the editorial end of the business at Massively.com, but AOL was at least ostensibly providing tech support, site design, the content management system, legal support, payroll, and all of the ad sales and implementation going on behind the scenes. Those are not insignificant roles, not at all, and we’ve had to find ways to replace all of them (and a lot of those ways involve my working 16-hour days!). On the other hand, because we were off in a corner of the Joystiq network, we were usually neglected. Our site was outdated and broken, tech support was a frustrating game of email tag, our CMS was easily 10 years old and hacked together, pay was often late with no warning, archaic travel reimbursement resulted in at least one person being stranded at a con per year, and multiple advertising experts now have told us that AOL was mismanaging ad placement and sales on our behalf. So on one hand, it’s awesome that we can take a stab at fixing all of the things that were wrong with the site that we had no power to control before. On the other hand, now we have no choice but to take on all of those tasks, and none of them comes cheaply. Just having a lawyer craft custom contracts that will stand up in court has cost a small fortune.
What would you recommend for others who are placed in similar situations?
I am not a risk-taker. I am a careful planner and a worrier. Without at least one risk-taker on our crew, we might not be here today. A strong team needs lots of talents and personalities. Make sure you’re diverse and that you challenge each other. And of course, if you have the time and luxury of planning well in advance of an adventure like this, take it. If you don’t, and you get only one chance, go for it and have no regrets. Prepare for failure but work your butt off anyway and be pleasantly surprised if you succeed.
Now for a fun question, How would you describe something “Epic”? What does Epic mean to you?
Our lawyer helped me register our company as Overpowered Media Group, LLC (OMG) and never even batted an eyelash. That is epic. The Firefly-inspired crowdfunding video that Jef designed and Larry narrated is pretty darn epic too!
Thank you so much for sharing this amazingly epic comeback that is Massivelyop.net. Do you have any final words for our readers?
Thank you all so very much. Without the literal and figurative support of the MMO community, we wouldn’t be throwing our everything into this site. It’s renewed my passion for the genre and convinced me that it’s still worth championing. And it’s showed me that our community isn’t really “us vs. them” the way it can sometimes feel in the comment section. Ultimately, we’re all on the same side of loving MMORPGs.
Check Out This Massively Epic Gaming Site At: http://massivelyop.net/
About the Author
Benjamin "Foghladha" Foley
Benjamin founded the Gaiscioch Social Gaming Community in 2001 and has since been the founder & activities director for this well known community. His role has gone beyond just running the Gaming Community and now includes running the Athletics Program in Portland, Oregon, as well as acting as the Managing Editor of the Gaiscioch Magazine, and is the Lead Producer on the Gaiscioch Livestream Productions. Additionally he networks with game developers to form relationships between Gaiscioch and development studios.
His experience in publishing dates back to helping his Grandparents who operated a printing press for over 40 years. In high school and college Benjamin excelled in journalism and played an active part in the school newspaper. Benjamin currently works full time as the director of technology for a franchise trade publication & education company.