July 16, 2007 8:03 AM | Simon Carless
Time to point out some changes at The Escapist, where Julianne Greer has announced another major site redesign as part of the site's two-year anniversary - following a 2006 redesign which further de-emphasized the PDF-styled magazine layout, which never really caught on with advertisers (or enough readers to attract advertisers).
What's particularly fascinating for me is to see The Escapist's high-end print attitude to online production, complete with multiple dedicated artists and more edit/copy edit passes than we do for the magazine, hit a bit of a brick wall - here's a post from The Escapist's producer noting: "Working 'outside the box' was very difficult. We noticed it immediately in our production costs, dedicated manpower, and difficulty getting sponsors."
Given that the site is paying $250 per 1000 words for features from external contributors, has published 1 million words so far (!), and has a fairly large amount of in-house editors, art staff, etc, you can work out why the change was made. (For added reference, a recent comment by Alex Macris also reveals The Escapist's ad rates: "You can purchase a skyscraper, medium rectangle, or leaderboard for about $3-$6 per thousand views. One of the large interstitial ads costs $2,000 per issue.")
Mind you, I think parent company the Themis Group is broadly on the right track now, mixing up longer features in more web-friendly formats with news (wonder if they're still spending as much on production?) But I have to admit to being a bit irked by the borderline holier-than-thou 'we're saving the industry through our QUALITY' attitude, when The Escapist was clearly bleeding money. So what - it's 'outside the box', not needlessly extravagant? I guess they can spend their money how they want, though!
What I would love to see is more quality longform game journalism on the Web. So I'm not sure why it's easy for me to get baited by The Escapist. Possibly because there are still too many slightly pretentious, borderline rambling pieces, and too many writers allowed to get away with too much in the name of satisfying their own (often prodigous) virtuousity? And the weekly themed format is still deluging me with many similarly themed articles, when I want to read perhaps one of them.
Having said all that, I'd better end with highlighting two recent Escapist articles I enjoyed. Firstly, Jason Della Rocca does some genuine, good analysis on internal vs. external IP, although again, I find it needlessly judgmental against licensed IP, especially for someone running an industry association which should be fairly evenhanded. A good mix of licensed and original IP will ensure that major publishers don't crash and burn - see Majesco's near-death for a great example of why this is the case.
Secondly, Allen Varney is the most consistently readable and smart of all The Escapists' contributors, despite some controversy - and is at least straightforward, for pity's sake - and his interview with Magic The Gathering creator Richard Garfield is a model of well-researched rigor. Bravo, that man - more of this, please!