Game Over for TWiT.TV's Game On! -- Is it an indictment of the interests of our audience?

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Bill Loguidice's picture

For several years now I've had a theory percolating that seems to have borne itself out one too many times not to now instead be considered a fact--videogame players will not support anything financially en masse outside of an actual videogame. What do I mean by this? Well, TWiT.TV's newest show, Game On!, is just the latest in a series of examples of videogame players failing to support something that on the surface should have been right in their wheelhouse. Game On! was slickly produced, had an attractive, personable and knowledge hostess in Veronica Belmont, and a similarly competent, over-the-top co-host in Brian Brushwood. Several days back, TWiT poobah and host extraordinaire, Leo Laporte, declared that the show's initial 12 episode run (it actually came to 13 official shows, counting the final episode, plus some test pilots) would be its one and only due to being too expensive to produce (it was easily the most elaborate TWiT production) and not gaining enough traction quickly enough. According to Laporte, without at least 50,000 regular genuinely engaged viewers/listeners, no one in the videogame industry would even consider advertising, making it financially prohibitive to keep running.

Now, I won't blame all of Game On!'s failings on the audience--after all, it was very me too and stereotypical on many levels, with fast cuts, silly skits, and loud noises seemingly targeted to the dated idea of the ADD teen hipster gamer, but in Laporte and crew's defense, he claims a previous attempt at a more thoughtful videogame show that also failed, arguably even more spectacularly (I never saw it/listened to it, but I'll take Laporte's word for it). Now, obviously, being one of the co-founders of Armchair Arcade and considering my own body of work, it's pretty clear which side of the fence my interests fall, but it may be a simple fact that no matter what your approach--crazy, intellectual, pandering, going-your-own-way, etc., it's never destined for anything more than niche success. It's great to carve out that niche, but when you try to go "big," the end result is the same--failure.

I often wondered why it was so darned hard to get a mainstream publisher interested in a videogame book. It took me years to really understand why--while you can usually be guaranteed several thousand sales of a good videogame book, that's nothing in comparison to other books on technical topics that can easily sell double or triple that amount. The economics just don't work out (in solidarity, most bookstores that still exist got rid of their videogame book sections long ago). Same thing with us lamenting the change in original vision of both G4 and TechTV, for example, in merging into the monstrosity that is now simply G4 and has only the slightest hint of videogame or technology coverage, instead featuring generic content targeted solely at a similarly generic 18-34 male demographic that is sadly far more valuable to advertisers. If gamers really supported these networks at even 25% of the levels they support the latest, hottest videogame, we'd still have the pure content ideals we all seem to crave. The fact is, not enough of us support these things with our eyeballs, ears, and pocketbooks to make a difference, and I'm not sure if the truly collective we - which based on the latest industry sales figures is a theoretically monumental force to be reckoned with - ever will.

Agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments!

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Bill Loguidice
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Disagree
Stardog wrote:

I'm a huge TWIT fan, but I disliked Game On! immensely. Veronica Belmont doesn't have a clue about video games. She was shocked when someone mentioned that Skyrim was built for the 360 as it's main platform. How out of touch with modern games can you be? Deus Ex: Invisible War was the most obvious turning point way back in 2004. And Brian Brushwood is a magician who fake smiles/laughs at nothing, constantly. Enough said.

I think you're not giving Belmont enough credit. She's definitely a gamer and has knowledge. I'm no fan of Brushwood's personality, but he is also knowledgeable when it comes to games. Honestly, no matter who they would have gotten, gamers are a prickly bunch and are all too ready to pull the n00b card on even the most informed pundits. It's not an easy business to be in.

The main issue is that gaming is so dense these days that you really can't do justice to gaming as a whole in a single show week in and week out, particularly with a relatively small staff like Game On! had. Again, while I did not care for the XPlay like atmosphere of Game On!, I thought content-wise it was acceptable and they scored some good interviews in their short time. I honestly believe that no matter what they did, though, they would not have gotten the type of traction Laporte and company required simply because of the vast amounts of competition and the time it take to build that type of audience. They would have been better off doing away with the flash and constraining the budget until traction could be gained, then slowly build up the sets and ambitions over time as advertising support permitted. I honestly don't know what the idea was to go top-of-the-line straight off.

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Matt Barton
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I haven't seen or heard the

I haven't seen or heard the show, so I have no idea whether Veronica is a good host or not. What I do know looking at her site, though, is that she's a babe.

Ordinarily, that'd be a good thing, right? But when I see a babe hosting a tech/gaming type thing, my kneejerk reaction is--"Oh, she's there for the sex appeal." That prejudice can be overcome if she proves herself, but it's a weird case where being less attractive would actually be an asset. I always think it was a case where the producer said, "Look, gamers/tech nerds are a bunch of horny virgins. Put a babe as the host and you're golden."

I also personally dislike those girls who where the "nerds are sexy" t-shirts and get off on all the attention from pathetic losers who think she's a girl who "understands them." shudder.

My basic complaint is (a) I don't want anyone assuming that I'm going to overlook problems because there's a babe involved, and (b) inauthentic crap. I'm very skeptical that any real babes are seriously into gaming, so there is a mountain of prejudice to overcome. In most cases, I find, the babes in question are just looking for a smaller ponds where they'll stand out better.

The classic case--hottie who walks into a comic book store and is "really into" Aquaman. Uhm, sure. :) Maybe they're out there, but it's gonna take some convincing.

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Bill Loguidice
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Well, it's not like Veronica

Well, it's not like Veronica Belmont doesn't have a long history with gamers and geek stuff in general. Just like Felicia Day, she walks the walk day in and day and out in terms of geek cred. You can't fake that. Certainly Belmont was chosen for her COMBINATION of knowledge, personality and visual appeal, but then that's how the show was constructed, so it's by no means out of place. Surely there could have been better candidates - that's almost always the case with ANYTHING - but it's impossible to argue against her as a VALID option.

Absolutely attractive women with zero credibility are used as talking heads many times and that does bother the heck out of knowledgeable people like ourselves who are beyond the hormonally challenged teen stage, and in fact does make us biased even when we shouldn't be. However, in that case, it's OUR problem, not anyone elses. Seriously, if they have the physical/personality appeal AND the knowledge, that's better than just having the knowledge. ALL media is based around some level of superficiality...

By the way, I'm no great supporter or fan of Belmont's, but fair is fair with this stuff... She shouldn't be unfairly penalized for being geek attractive... Certainly those looks have HELPED her career immensely - I don't even think she would argue that - but again, to be fair, she is genuinely interested in this stuff and has put in the time, so she can back up that advantage.

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Matt Barton
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I'm definitely not suggesting

I'm definitely not suggesting that attractive women are in anyway unqualified to do this sort of work, all things being equal. The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing, I detest is when looks trump expertise and knowledge. I'd rather listen to a butt ugly nerd who knows his or her shite than a supermodel. Especially given that this was an audio podcast, right?

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Bill Loguidice
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TWiT format
Matt Barton wrote:

I'm definitely not suggesting that attractive women are in anyway unqualified to do this sort of work, all things being equal. The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing, I detest is when looks trump expertise and knowledge. I'd rather listen to a butt ugly nerd who knows his or her shite than a supermodel. Especially given that this was an audio podcast, right?

No, full video like all TWiT shows, but also like all TWiT shows, there was an audio only feed. Really, all the bases were covered, I just think Laporte and company went all in too fast.

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Chris Kennedy
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Heh
Matt Barton wrote:

I'm definitely not suggesting that attractive women are in anyway unqualified to do this sort of work, all things being equal. The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing, I detest is when looks trump expertise and knowledge. I'd rather listen to a butt ugly nerd who knows his or her shite than a supermodel. Especially given that this was an audio podcast, right?

The funny thing about this is - you are in the minority despite the fact what you say makes a lot of sense. I don't think most people are interested in encyclopedic knowledge as much as they are a "party" of sorts that centers around something that interests them. The obligatory sexy girl that gets thrown into (fill in the blank) serves as eye candy and generates more viewers.

I don't really know of anything broadcast that has ever been informative to me outside of the History Channel. It seems like I have watched specials from over the years for various items and come away thinking, "hmm. I already knew all of that."

They capitalize on the subject matter, throw things into a show that grab viewers, and milk the sponsors. Money running things yet again.

I saw Veronica in an episode of Qore or something several years ago. The episode didn't really hold my interest. I don't remember the subject matter. My problem is that I don't play FPS games, so I immediately lose interest when they start talking about the next Call of Duty, etc.

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Matt Barton
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I don't think I'm in the

I don't think I'm in the minority, though not to the extreme way I put it. I guess there's a lot of people who would refuse to watch (perhaps not consciously) a program that had an ugly host. Obviously, you need a host that is both knowledgeable and charismatic, not necessarily a "babe" but at least someone who doesn't hurt to look at.

I know there are folks who simply "need" sexy babes to enjoy a program regardless of how informative or entertaining it is, but I have less respect for those people. Watch some porn, get it out of your system, then come back and try to watch an informative program. ;)

Keep in mind I'm talking about a particular niche of programming here, not entertainment shows. That's arguably altogether different, though we could get into whether Seven of Nine enhanced or detracted from Voyager, for instance. ;)

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Oldcastle (not verified)
Why it failed

I'd be curious if anyone that has commented here (Bill included) actually listens to any video game podcasts. I'm not presuming either way, but no one has made any claims to regularly listening to any. The average age of the gamer is getting older and older, and the market is saturated in game podcasts. I'm no media guru, but I'm not sure the market really wanted another gaming podcast. If it did, these two hosts were the absolutely worst choices for hosts (at least as a pair).

Because of the increasing age of the average gamer, they are less willing to put up with immature on-screen antics. I would also guess that the average age of a TWiT viewer who was interested in this show skewed at least in the mid to late twenties (if not older) and to be blunt this show was so full of anachronisms that I felt like 1999 was crawling out of its pre-millenial grave and trying to get me excited about Duke Nukem Forever.

I think if Belmont had been paired with, or more ideally brought into a threesome (at least), with more serious-minded game journos, or people with a better feel for the industry, the show would have done fine. And whoever thought up the segment/show intros needs to be fired immediately if they have not already.

Matt Barton
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I admit to rarely listening

I admit to rarely listening to gaming podcasts. I'm already so immersed in the material that a podcast would mostly just be re-treading, and worse if I disagree or find the content objectionable. I like to spend my podcasting time listening to stuff I'm not already so over-familiar with, like history or science stuff.

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Bill Loguidice
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Good points, Oldcastle

I listen to several gaming-related podcasts, though, befitting my more mature interests these days, I'd admit to being more dedicated to generalized tech news and analysis shows. Like Matt, I can keep up with the gaming stuff on my own and can get more benefit from deeper analysis of high level tech trends and events with the podcast stuff.

I also agree with you Oldcastle and have stated on the record that I believe the last TwiT gaming related videocast, Game On!, was ill-advised on many fronts. Laporte and crew did something against the norm and threw a huge budget at the show right away before working out the kinks. That clearly backfired as the all-in approach didn't allow time for it to find its groove. Again, the hosts were reasonable enough, it just tried way too hard to be edgy. With that said, even on the TwiT network itself, some shows are light years ahead of others in terms of quality, and a lot of that has to do with who the host(s) is/are and/or the quality of the panel. Certainly it's possible that Game On! could have succeeded then with different hosts, even if the same over-the-top format was retained, though I still believe it was the styling that was the primary issue (cloning shows like X-Play, which is completely unecessary in this day and age), which, as you correctly stated, does not really fit that network's demographic. The closest thing on there is NSFW, and to a far lesser degree, The Giz Wiz. The former format wouldn't have worked for it, but certainly the latter format could have.

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