Sometimes writers rebel against the norm, throw caution to the wind, break the mold, and make their own unique gaming blogs. Over the next year we will be interviewing, and featuring, people who have done just that.
First up: Ever felt like bitching about a game? Ever wanted to read, listen or watch other gamers call out the industry’s shit? Then meet the target of the first ‘Alternative Opinions’ series, the head honcho of Negative Gamer, John “wardrox” Kershaw.
Gamer Limit: Firstly: Why so negative?
John “wardrox” Kershaw: Because videogames can be really damn annoying sometimes and I think it’s important to not just pretend everything is fine and happy all the time.
Does it get depressing dealing with negativity every day?
Not so much surprisingly. Everybody at Negative Gamer is on the same page, so we can all have a collective bitch and a moan. If anything I’m actually a much happier person now than when I started. I have an outlet for my anger, and people respond constructively.
Is Negative Gamer your first website, and did you start writing elsewhere before creating it?
With gaming I think I started writing when I joined the Destructoid.com community. They let you have personal blogs and I just started one. Then, one summer when I was living in London, I met Jim Sterling (their reviews editor) and by November was co-hosting the European podcast and had also gotten myself writing for a site called Ripten. I learned a hell of a lot at Ripten, and left there after about a year to concentrate on NG.
Did anyone/any sites inspire you to start writing?
Books, authors and journalists have all inspired my writing since I started, but I don’t think it was anything other than just wanting to be read that made me first start. I remember seeing a post on Destructoid’s front page that had originally been written as a community blog, and, going off my dodgy memory, I think it was a combination of that and moving to London (giving me a summer job where I could get away with not doing any work) made me want to start blogging.
How many hours a week do you pump into Negative Gamer? Would you say you treat it as a full-time job?
It’s certainly not a full time job. If it was I would clock in at 9 and fuck off at 5. If anything it’s a hobby that I’m mildly addicted too. When I’m not doing things that my Mum would consider more important (eating, shopping, socialising, writing my dissertation) I’m probably writing or gaming. But I’m enjoying myself, chatting to people, shooting people in ultra graphic gore feasts. It’s not really work.
Are there any gaming sites you respect?
Nope. The ones with enough readers and money to matter are filled with lowest common denominator garbage and the ones that I really like are never successful. Actually, that’s quite harsh. I think I respect lots of sites, just not very much.
Now I’m doubting myself, your use of the term “respect” has me stumped. I really like a lot of sites and their staff; Giant Bomb, Destructoid, Kotaku, Joystiq etc. I’m not sure I respect many. Though that does all depend in what area you’re asking I respect them in. Do I respect their pro-journalism skillz? No. Do I respect their content output and, for the most part, writing skills and knowledge? Probably. I know I most definitely admire them.
(I think I just insulted most of my friends in that answer, oh well.)
What about publishers; you seem to be always on the attack… but are there any you actually “like”?
I don’t think I could ever “like” a publisher. They just fund game developers and sell their games. I can like games, people in a dev team or PR (Capcom’s PR is great), but to like a publisher requires something I don’t think I’m capable of.
Negative Gamer has been running for 1 year, 2 months.. is NG going according to plan? Is it the level you were expecting it to be at?
Although you’re right in when it was first started, I take Day 0 of Negative Gamer being September 1st, 2008. I wrote a couple of things prior, then then I sort of forgot about the site. It was at PAX ’08, at 2am in a hotel room, laying in bed with the girl who I would later go on to start dating (and still am) when I was inspired to really start Negative Gamer.
And it has fallen far short of my expectations. Disastrously short. I had this great idea about 30% growth every month, about advertising rates paying me a full wage within 9 months and having millions of readers within the year. I failed to reach any of the targets I set myself, but I don’t care because my expectations were for the wrong things. I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had, the site is growing at a phenomenal rate, sometimes breaks even, I’m not dead and what I now have may not be popular, but it’s fucking awesome.
The targets I set myself were all numbers, traffic and bullshit. It turns out those things matter, just not half as much as you think.
Since you have penned yourself as a negative website, how is that effecting your relationship with the industry?
We don’t have one. Ha ha. Most sites butter up to PR companies and get free games. We don’t. We can’t. If a dev, publisher or PR company wants to get in touch then we’re more than welcome to chat, but we don’t go chasing free games. How could anyone hassle a publisher for a free game, get one, then be honest in a review, not least a “Negative Gamer” review? It screws with your subconscious at the very least and generates more hassle that it’s worth.
Have you received hate mail from publishers/developers?
Nope. It turns out if they’re not sending you free games, and you’re not breaking the law or making shit up about them, they really just don’t give a crap. Which is fair enough.
Does a dinosaur eating a controlling somehow metaphorically represent your feelings on the gaming industry?
Oddly, yes. That logo came out of a several hour long conversation between me and a few close friends. I like dinosaurs. They’re strong, powerful, angry, old and extinct. I like to think NG is bold, angry, strong and like the dinosaurs, kind of old and only really spoken about in the past tense. Perhaps it also reflects my general pessimism about everything. The biting of the controller is basically showing us, the dino, trying hard to bite the thing we love, mostly out of anger. How many times have you felt your hands trying to snap a controller out of rage? However, if you notice the controller isn’t broken. Even though we are this powerful beats, we can’t break it. Meta.
Bet you weren’t expecting that, haha.
On your twitter you mentioned about attempting to get featured on MetaCritic, but as it stands your reviews… aren’t scored in a regular manner. Do you think you would sell out a bit of soul and go for a normal rating scheme to get featured on a review aggregator?
Naa, I once worked out some complicated maths that translated our “how bad is a game on 0 to -10” scale into the standard “how good is a game on 6 to 9” scale. If needed I would consider making that equation public, but the one thing I love about NG reviews is the way the score works. You can’t just add ten and think it’ll work. If you do you find a game like Battlefield 1943 got 2/10, which is obviously silly.
To conclude, what has been your biggest highlight of running Negative Gamer?
I’d like to say my occasional arguments with important industry people via twitter, but honestly, it’s the feeling of immense pride and optimism I get occasionally. NG has, for some reason, gathered up some fantastic writers, a great and growing community and meaningful, worthwhile content. Every so often I just take a step back and feel immensely proud of things, as well as very happy to think about my ideas for where the site is going and the impact it has on the gaming industry.
Many thanks to John for speaking to us today. Stay tuned over the coming months as we cover some of the other less (or maybe well) known voices in the media gaming landscape.