As often happens, I'm writing this column on Sunday. It's slated to appear on Tuesday, which will be the last day for Massively. If you primarily see this as the closure of a key MMORPG.com competitor, it may not seem particularly unfortunate. From a broader picture point of view, however, I'm saddened because I want to believe the growing and deepening interest in the MMOG genre is sufficient to support more sites like it and this one, not fewer.
First off, let me say that aside from the statement made by Massively's EiC where she said its budget had been cut by half despite a sizable increase in page views, I know nothing at all related to its finances, So, I have no idea if it was profitable. I'll venture that even if it was, it may not have mattered to its parent, AOL, which apparently chose to shutter various properties it deemed as under-performing and/or otherwise not important enough strategically to retain.
This leaves considerable leeway for us to guess what the underlying situation actually was. The main ones that come to mind are:
For what it's worth, I would guess that Joystiq was either operating at a loss or at somewhere around breakeven with no projected improvement. If so, I further suspect that AOL never seriously considered whether Massively by itself could have continued to operate as a viable standalone publication. Corporations very seldom think at the level of granularity needed for such a possibility to receive any real consideration.
No matter what the specifics, I'm concerned because it's not hard to regard this situation as a signal that the MMOG market and audience are evolving away from the types of sites I want to read. I will readily admit that as a gamer, I'm not as hardcore as I used to be. However, on the overall spectrum of MMOG players, I'm still positioned toward the more serious end. This is reflected in the kinds of news and information I prefer. Unfortunately for me, the genre as a whole is trending toward less hardcore. Naturally, so is the way it's covered.
I suppose what troubles me most is that it's hard to envision the impending gap being filled, not completely anyway. As much as I wish it weren't so, I can't come up with a convincing argument as to why any major media company should want to have a site that focuses on serious MMOG enthusiasts. Frankly, it's not a business I'd recommend getting into.
The other obvious possibility is a new independent. For someone who has the required funding to step up, it would be more of an emotional choice than a sound financial risk-reward proposition, so it might happen. However, there are other significant obstacles, both to entry and to attaining the critical mass of audience, advertising et al necessary for a start-up to become a viable long-term business.
On the flip side, the loss of Massively reminds me of just how much I appreciate MMORPG.com. I say this with my player hat on, not as someone who writes a column here every couple of weeks. As a gamer, I hope this situation will have a similar effect on all our readers. Be happy this site is still here. And even though it's not going anywhere, try to remember, at least occasionally, not to take it completely for granted.
As a last thought, I trust there's room somewhere for at least some of the distinctive slants on MMOG coverage that Massively has provided over the years. It wasn't all to my liking, but that was a good thing. It meant the site had its own personality. I trust the day will never come when the main MMOG sites are so similar that there's little need or reason to have more than just one. Maybe it's just me, but sadly, it seems like every year, I see more editorial content that is generic enough to be easily interchangeable. Thankfully, the MMOG genre seems less affected... so far.