GameDaily EIC Talks AOL Buyout

I could have sworn I mentioned AOL’s buyout of gaming portal GameDaily when it happened, but all I can find in my archives is a passing reference to it last week. Despite my failings as timely news repeater, I did want to follow up on the effect the buyout would have on one of the industry’s largest remaining independent game sites. To that end, I had a quick conversation with GameDaily Editor-in-Chief Chris Buffa about editorial independence, team integration and the wider game journalism business:

Kyle Orland: So how long was this AOL buyout in the works?

GameDaily Editor-in-Chief Chris Buffa: I think it was a months-long process. I found out about it over the summer and had to remain quiet until it was announced, but I’m pretty sure both parties were having talks well before then.

KO: Do you know who approached who? Were you looking for buyers, or was it out of the blue?

CB: I don’t, actually. I think there was a point where GameDaily was looking for a buyer and AOL was interested. But we’ve had a good relationship with people from AOL for a couple of years now, so it’s possible that a comment made in passing snowballed into the eventual deal.

KO: A good relationship… how do you mean?

CB: We’d meet employees and keep in touch, just as we would with PR. Even before we knew about the deal, we’d have lunch with some people from AOL while spending time in San Francisco and just discuss the videogame industry.

KO: What did you think when you first heard about the buyout?

CB: Do I still have a job? I think that’s what most people in editorial think when such an announcement is made. I had mixed emotions. I knew this was going to be good for the website, but I also wondered how it would affect me. Naturally, I wasn’t alone, but luckily, AOL was very interested in GD’s edit team. I think that had a lot to do with the work we’d done for a couple of years now as well as the relationships we’d formed well before this deal was even a thought.

KO: How will you be working with AOL’s games team? Will you remain separate, or integrate together?

CB: We’ll going to work together, so we’ll both have access to the other’s resources.

KO: So we’ll be seeing GameDaily content on AOL and vice versa? How will the branding work?

CB: Basically, AOL Games will become I’m not sure of the exact target date, but once everything’s integrated, once you go to AOL Games you’ll be redirected to our site. For now, both sites will share content.

KO: Will it be “GameDaily presented by AOL” or “AOL games presents: GameDaily” or anything like that?

CB: I doubt we’ll see wording like that. I think it will always be, but the AOL logo will be floating around somewhere. I doubt anyone will miss it, but I don’t think it’ll dominate the page.

KO: Are you worried that you’ll be forced to change the editorial of the site in any way?

CB: Not really. But I think there will definitely be a feeling out process. I’ve cut back on some of my language, but that’s more of a personal decision. As for whether or not we’ll post more porn star interviews…we’ll have to see when the time arises.

KO: This buyout is the latest in a series of game publication purchases by big corporations such as News Corp. and MTV. Do you see this trend continuing?

CB: Definitely. As the videogame industry becomes more successful various corporations or outside entities are going to want a piece of the pie. I think that’s only natural. I just hope that each website is able to retain its signature voice.

KO: So you see the potential loss of independence as a problem for some sites?

CB: Well there’s always a possibility where other sites are concerned. With us, I think we’ll be able to continue to say and do what we want, within reason. Again, I come back to the porn interview example. There will be a feeling out process. But that’s a real extreme. I think there’s a difference between writing a piece on how third parties are ruining Nintendo systems and slapping Jenna Jameson on the front page.

KO: Outside of the AOL buyout, your recent series on problems with game journalism provoked some strong responses. Is there anything you’d like to add in defense of your pieces?

CB: I’m quite the popular guy, or at least I was for a day. Made plenty of enemies. It’s easy to look at forums and blogs and say that everyone’s against me/us, but the reality is we received a lot of positive feedback and it came from all places. Journalists bashed me for talking about PR, but many PR contacts got in touch with me and supported what I’d said. And the same goes for readers/fellow journalists. So reaction was more mixed than anything else.

KO: What’s in the future for GameDaily?

CB: Just lots of fantastic stuff. One thing most people don’t know about is is we’re a very scrappy bunch. We’ve built a fantastic brand using very little resources. But now we have those resources and it’s a great feeling. It’s tough sometimes as a writer/journalist. I’ll be working on an article and think of some great addition, some video or an interview…but our standing in the industry or the lack of money would keep that stuck in my head. Now I’m able to work with AOL to make these things a reality. It’s going to be something else.

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