Brian Crecente, who recently took over as editorial director for Glixel, the ambitious video-game website of Rolling Stone magazine, following impressive runs at gaming-centric Kotaku and Polygon, is easily among the most accomplished alumni of the Rocky Mountain News, which cratered in February 2009 just prior to its 150th anniversary. Even though he left the Rocky a decade ago, when editors wanted to move him from the gaming beat into a more traditional role amid widespread staff departures, he gives the paper credit for being ahead of its time when it comes to covering his favorite subject. But today he doesn't see many dailies giving anything other than short shrift to video games in general, despite the industry racking up an estimated $91 billion worldwide in 2016.
"I think people savvy in the media world understand the importance of video games," Crecente says. "But most video-game journalism isn't tied to newspapers."
The first part of Crecente's career was dominated by work for dailies. He served stints at publications such as the Albany Democrat-Herald, the Palm Beach Post and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before landing at the Rocky, and after making his bones there as a news reporter, he was given the chance to write about video games — a topic to which the paper eventually devoted an entire page on a regular basis. But Crecente says this innovation caused some headaches from a business standpoint.
"You need to have ad salespeople who are aware of the value of video games and know how to approach their audience," he says. "And nothing against the Rocky's ad salespeople, but I imagine they had no clue about how to sell on that page."
This confusion may have contributed to the 2007 decision to ask that Crecente take a news gig left open by a reporter who jumped ship. Instead, Crecente quit to devote his energies to Gawker Media's Kotaku — a move that probably seemed crazy to veteran journos at the time but was clearly prescient.
Kotaku "had launched the site for video-game coverage, and it wasn't doing too well," he recalls. "It had about 10,000 monthly uniques, and I think it was dropping — so they wanted to find someone else to run it, and they told me I had a few months to turn it around or they'd shut it down. And with the help of some talented writers, I was able to do it. I stayed there for about seven years, and when I left, Kotaku's uniques were something close to ten million."
At that point, Crecente continues, "I went to work at what was SB Nation at the time and now is Vox Media. Chris Grant, who'd been running Joystiq, AOL's gaming site and a competitor of Kotaku, was being wooed by a number of high-profile editors and managing editors of other sites to help them create a new site, and six months or so later, we launched Polygon. Initially I was the co-founder and news editor, and I was eventually promoted to executive editor, which is a fancy way of saying that they let me do whatever I wanted. So I got to work on some big projects," including "Democracy in Cuba Is Smuggled on Thumb Drives, Spreads on Street Networks," published in May.
Such efforts got the attention of folks at Wenner Media, parent company of Rolling Stone.
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"They'd launched Glixel about a year earlier as a stand-alone site on the West Coast, and they wanted to move it to the East Coast and refocus it geographically so that it was more closely tied to Rolling Stone as part of the editorial group," Crecente divulges. "I was paying attention to it, because it was a big publication getting into gaming, and most people generally liked the idea — but some thought that by creating their own site, Rolling Stone was ghettoizing its coverage. So this seems like a nice middle ground. You can still go to Glixel.com, but it will redirect you to RollingStone.com/Glixel."
Today, video gamers can be found in every demographic, but Crecente says the median age is "in the twenties to early thirties" — considerably younger than the average newspaper reader these days. So why aren't more dailies venturing into this territory? "I'm painting with a broad brush," he acknowledges, "but you see newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat, and they try these new things, and if they don't work immediately, they retreat to the way things have always been done. And I don't think that's a safe place to be right now."
Indeed, a lot of the most innovative websites have what Crecente refers to as "a video-game footprint" these days, including Vice, via Waypoint. The powers-that-be at such operations understand that "we're in the video-game generation right now," Crecente believes.
And daily newspapers? Not so much.