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.

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