1UP

One of the worst things about 2013 was: The death of 1UP.com.

Not that we didn’t see it coming, but it was a tough pill to swallow nevertheless. We fought the good fight to the very end, despite ever-dwindling resources and active disinterest from a string of apathetic corporate overlords.

I started with 1UP before it launched, and rode it out all the way to the end. I can’t decide if that means I was lucky, stupid, or just averse to taking risks, but whatever the case my time with the site — nine and a half years! — represents about a quarter of my life.

It was a pretty fantastic site in its time. Really ahead of the curve in a lot of ways. That was also its downfall; it was just a little too far ahead of itself. 1UP had things like a community focus before the tools and techniques for properly cultivating an online social community were totally hammered out and properly understood by the world at large. We had a lot of high-quality original video content before it became possible to make money with such things; if I recall correctly, the 1UP Show and other similar projects were lucky to crack five digits, and they lost money hand over fist. These days, they’d be doing millions of views and raking in dough. But so it goes.

I guess 1UP in its heyday was kind of the Sega of gaming websites — breaking barriers, producing innovative work, having more “attitude” (for better and for worse), but always a little out of sync with the times and ultimately forced to go third party. By third party, I mean shuffled around from owner to owner until Ziff-Davis finally just killed it altogether. Except it’s actually not dead, and there’s somehow still a moderately active blogging community over there posting content and palling it up with their e-friends, not particularly caring that their party is taking place on the rotting corpse of a fallen giant.

I’m not taking any credit for 1UP’s accomplishments, by the way. It was definitely a group effort. The kind of thing that happens when you take 40 or so people who number as some of the most seasoned, experienced, and talented content producers the gaming press has ever seen and stick them in a room (well, cubicle farm) together. You’d better believe there were ego clashes and hurt feelings, but it’s hard to remember those amidst all the good stuff that the site produced.

I loved the direction we all agreed to take the site for its final year. We knew that focusing the bulk of our content around weekly themes wasn’t going to win us any traffic, but at the point we were more or less waiting for the headman’s axe to fall and figured we might as well go out doing what we loved. Which we did! And you know, IGN bought 1UP with the best of intentions back in 2011, and for a short while things actually did look bright. But in the quarter following the acquisition, the bottom fell out of the gaming market hard enough that even the giants were rattled, and suddenly building up the network’s smaller sites (1UP and GameSpy) mattered much less than simply keeping the IGN mothership from collapsing. I can’t blame the powers-that-be for making the tough, smart choices; I just wish the process hadn’t produced so much human carnage. Or better yet, that the number-crunchers had been more realistic about things before the merger. Their heads were the first to roll, but it’s hard to take pleasure in that — much better for smarter decisions to have been made and no one to have lost their jobs.

Actually, I’m going to tell you a secret. (I never signed an NDA, so I’m allowed.) About a year ago, I spearheaded a behind-the-scenes initiative to buy 1UP and spin it into an independent company. We wanted to give it the comprehensive visual and technological overhaul none of its inheritors could afford to invest in, to revamp the community tools, and to restructure the design to match the content we were creating. I collaborated on this with someone I know whose day job is basically to plan businesses and spinoffs; in fact, the whole thing was his idea. We’d made it pretty far into the process — IGN’s president was in our court, the mother corporation seemed about as interested as they could be for anything involving their unwanted and unloved IGN division (which is to say, “Yeah, whatever, as long as we don’t have to do any work on our end”), and we had an enthusiastic venture capitalist in our corner ready to make it happen. But right as we were about to reach the “serious talks with News Corp” phase, Ziff-Davis swooped in and bought IGN, sacked the company’s president, and stopped returning our phone calls. I figure they recognize the name 1UP has some respectable equity even if they don’t have a clue what to do with it. It’s a shame, you know? Our venture could well have crashed and burned, but it would have been fun to make the attempt. Provided it didn’t bankrupt us.

Here’s to you, 1UP, ya dumb bastard. You were too good for this world.

27 comments on: 1UP

  1. Aelfric

    It’s kind of heartbreaking to heat 1UP was so close to surviving, and in a form I probably would have really enjoyed. I still miss the site as it was in its heyday, and even in its more long-form final incarnation; for some reason no other gaming site seems to scratch the same itch. That being said, it’s reassuring to know that there are still quality writers covering the video game realm in both professional and amateur capacities. Thanks.

  2. Aelfric

    Ugh–”to hear,” not “to heat.” One day I’ll learn to proofread comments.

  3. Tom

    Nearly five years after the lay-off that gutted 1UP (not that the following years weren’t great, too), it seems crazy that something like that could have existed at all. I honestly can’t think of a dozen current enthusiast press personalities across the entire industry with that level of talent/likability that 1UP had in its heyday, much less at one site. I always hate to be a cynic, but I’d be truly surprised if anything on that level was ever assembled again.

  4. Josh

    Is the domain “1up.com” so valuable that not having it is keeping you from continuing your idea to fund and run your own site? Or perhaps the value was being able to overhaul 1up’s framework instead of starting from scratch?

    • J. Parish

      A name’s a name. The decade’s worth of content and loyal community were what made it 1UP.

  5. Josh

    @J. Parish That’s what I was getting at. Wouldn’t that community know to migrate onto 1up’s spiritual successor? I understand that it’s backlog of content would be gone; I don’t think I was aware that a site’s old content was so integral to it’s future success.

    (I’m not trying to make any point really, I’m just curious)

  6. The Sprat

    What a shame. So many good memories. And I really DID love the site in those last, anything-goes months with the weekly topics. I guess you’re right it isn’t exactly the most lucrative hit-getter, but it was a breath of fresh air and a great way to employ the diminished staff. I mean, do readers REALLY need to read yet another review of the latest CoD, Madden or licensed property game? 1UP slowly became a place to expect more creative and unusual content, and that made it stand out.

  7. Dante Ravenkin

    Man, I followed 1up.com religiously. Loved the social side, loved the content, loved the writers and editors. I remember finding the site because it was advertised heavily in GMR Magazine when I worked at EB Games. Was love at first sight, and I can’t think of one single site that had as much diversity and personality as 1up. I literally miss that site and what it was every single day.

    Parish, I really think you should keep trying to acquire the rights, because I firmly believe that the gaming world needs 1up.com.

    Now I’m sad so I think I’ll go have a drink…

    • J. Parish

      Thanks, but I like my current gig. It was good to have a clean break.

  8. Sean C.

    Man that day will always be a weird roller coaster for me. On that day the PS4 was announced, Kenji Eno passed away, and 1-up announced its closing. I think those things will forever be linked for me.

    Quite frankly I think that would be awesome if your plan had succeeded. I too really loved the direction the site was going in over the course of a the previous year. The cover story thing was amazing. And the most essential games list that year was fantastic, and well thought out. I never really got into the blogging thing but there were plenty of blogs that I would follow.

    At least Retronauts still lives. Would be nice if you could someday add a forum or something more than a straight blog page. But I’ll be happy for what we’ve got.

  9. touchofkiel

    I’ve bought a lot of older games recently (older meaning PS2 and DS), and I’ve always hit up 1UP for some older reviews. Many of them were DS RPGs, and so many of them were reviewed by you.

    Guys, there is a ton of great content floating around in that site. It might not be the easiest to browse for stuff like that, but go poke around you’ll find so, so much good stuff.

    And Parish, whether or not you think you were integral to the site’s accomplishments, I can sincerely say that your reviews and random blog posts were always what I looked most forward to.

    And give yourself a little credit: the Essential 50 and all those retrospectives were simply awesome. You still don’t see that kind of history-focused writing on a major game site that is intelligent, entertaining, and informative (it’s usually relegated to personal projects and “classic”-themed sites).

    And the fact that you were so easily able to cross-post stuff from your own personal blog/game website is pretty telling of how much freedom you guys had (i.e. as a reader, I think it was great). That kind of thing really showed (in its absence) in your IGN work, which, while not really your fault, suffered as a result.

    Here’s to 1UP.

    (And while we’re on the subject of 1UP memories, remember when it even had a Classics/retro page at the same time sites like IGN had a “Babes” page? That says it all. All sites should have a Retro page!)

  10. OtherMacGuy

    Since when do you write about video games? I’m just in it for the cereal mascots and kit kat bars.

  11. touchofkiel

    (Sorry for double post)
    Also, if I may ask, how is USGamer doing? I visit it regularly with my other favorite sites, but I’ve never heard you speak on it. If it’s been surprisingly successful or disappointingly slow or somewhere in between. I’ve been enjoying most of it quite a bit (not a fan of the design, but who cares about that), so I hope it continues to grow.

    • J. Parish

      It’s kicking ass. Traffic is already as good as 1UP in its prime.

  12. Stealth

    I liked the site

  13. Jerry Bonner

    I’m very proud that some of my best work was featured on 1UP. It’s a damn shame that you didn’t get to buy the site, Jeremy. I was on verge of doing the same thing with What They Play after IGN shuttered it. I would have loved to have seen “your” version of 1UP. As you wrote above, so it goes…

  14. Gorfabb

    Were you really at 1up before it launched?

    I seem to recall a guy from Next Generation running what was then Gamers.com before being fired and replaced by the original 1up.com staff, which did not include you.

    Please to explain.

    • J. Parish

      What a weirdly confrontational comment. I started at 1UP in Aug. 2003. It launched in Oct. 2003.

  15. pkb

    I absolutely loved what you guys did near the end. That was precisely the kind of content that I love reading. I was disappointed to see it end.

  16. Matt

    I loved the 1UP features and cover stories. No other gaming site has came close to matching them.

  17. Ben

    Can’t Kickstarter solve this problem somehow? I would throw money at “SAVE 1UP!”

    • J. Parish

      Again, money was not the problem. ZD doesn’t want to let go of the brand, it seems.

  18. Lloyd

    Glad to hear USG is going strong. A lot of great content popping up. I’m definitely not on the same page as Pete (and a lot of community members) when it comes to “niche” Japanese games, but diversity of opinion only makes things more interesting.

    Are there any plans for user blogs, forums or the like?

  19. karen

    Ya know, every time I have a blank browser open, my fingers always start typing out 1up.com out of pure muscle memory. Even after all these years.

  20. Ben L

    Man, the last days of 1UP were a bizarre roller coaster. Glad to hear you like your current gig, I enjoy reading it!

  21. John Learned

    I was really affected by 1Up’s ending; more so than I thought a website closing the editorial door probably should be. I guess I never thought I would be so invested in what you guys were when I got involved a few years ago and in what it became late in life. I’m glad that you and the other cats that were there keeping the lights on at the end are still floating around producing content (you and Bob, especially. Love that guy), but even though it certainly doesn’t have the same weight for me as you, yeah, 1Up’s finishing was a pretty lousy part of 2013.

  22. Discord_Inc

    I remember the layoff of 1up well, since at the time I was listening to a lot of the podcasts. Sometimes I would miss the announcement on the site, and learn about it through my podcast backlog. I’d be listening to an episode of Retronauts where everything was going fine, then I’d get to the next episode and wham, people are saying their goodbyes. It honestly made the loses hit harder than they would have if I was just reading a story online.

    Man, that would have been great if you could have pulled off the 1up sale. It’s sad to think that it’s languishing in corporate hell, though I didn’t know there was still user content. There is definitely something poetic about it.

    While we lost a great site when 1up died I do like to think that it hasn’t been in vain. A lot of the writers I liked from 1up, including yourself Mr. Parish, are still writing about games. Retronauts still exists and is knocking it out of the park. Plus like you said, all of the content from 1up is still there. It was only a week ago I reading about Super Hang-On and found a link to an interview with Yu Suzuki that I never read before (though on that note, I wonder if anyone’s trying to archive it just in case ZD decides it isn’t worth keeping the servers up?).

    1up may be gone, but with any luck it will never be forgotten.