Disclosure: Jared Petty has written in the past for 1UP, and currently freelances for IGN, 1UP’s parent company. He was also active in the 1UP community for many years, writing one of the fan games mentioned below.
Yesterday, 1UP.com closed its doors after a decade of publication, folding only weeks after being reacquired by the firm that founded it. The company’s collapse calls into question the economic viability of the games journalism models it helped create, but the legacy of innovation and excellence its staff composed over the years demands appreciation.
1UP differentiated itself from other entertainment media outlets by bringing the audience into the offices. The writers, editors, and even the support staff became community stars thanks to the site’s prolific podcasting output, which gave faces and voices to the people behind the news and reviews. The Retronauts podcast debuted just as Gen X consumers began to wax nostalgic about the NES days, and undoubtedly contributed to fueling a renaissance of eight and sixteen bit era cultural references in game design and merchandising. The video-podcast 1UP Show spotlighted the hijinks of a high-rise floor full of adorable, snarky eccentrics that viewers just wanted to hang out with.
The talent pool was extraordinary. Young authors weaned on Nintendo Power were eager to move games coverage beyond sensationalism and into substance. The conversational, humorous, and most importantly honest tone of the editorial copy helped make 1UP a place that gamers felt they could trust. The company’s motto, “Where Gamers Call Home,” was more than clever corporate shill. A loyal community formed around the site, contributing an almost obsessive wave of fan content, from techno remixes of podcast conversations to satirical video games
Ziff Davis sold 1UP to Hearst in January 2009. The company was gutted. The video departments and podcasts were slashed to a bare minimum, companion magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly closed, staff were laid off wholesale, and for a time the company suffered a bit of an identity crisis. Steeped in old-print origins, 1UP had always maintained a certain dignity and measured pace coexistent with its irreverence, an attitude at odds with UGO’s sexually exploitative and sometimes impulsive focus. Fortunately, the remaining staff succeeded in maintaining 1UP as a distinctive and mature brand.
1UP never completely cast off the roots in print. The reduced staff re-focused their energies on transitioning into a leaner, meaner news, reviews, and features organization. They also flirted with the possibilities presented by the burgeoning world of on-demand printing through the innovative 1UP Presents magazine. 1UP Presents lasted only three issues, but each was a remarkable essay on the best of what games journalism could become. The magazine’s art art direction was striking, clean without feeling antiseptic. The features inside embraced the strengths of the printed medium, the writing patient, the subjects timeless.
Following 1UP’s purchase by IGN in spring of 2011, the editorial staff was reduced again, this time to only four. Faced with severe manpower limitations, 1UP again looked to their print legacy. For a year, Jeremy Parish, Jose Otero, Marty Sliva, and Bob Mackey produced gaming’s first and best online feature magazine. The team adopted a strategy of weekly Cover Stories, umbrella topics under which they composed focused editorial. Misogyny, violence, pacifism, and the evolution of Japanese culture in the wake of Fukushima were all examined through the lense of electronic entertainment. The results were some of the best quality writing in 1UP’s tenure, articles of a caliber that challenged the fan base and the rest of the entertainment press to mature with them.
The termination of 1UP followed closely on the heels of IGN’s 2013 acquisition by Ziff Davis, a business decision reflecting the dire economic realities of recession-era America and contemporary uncertainty in the games marketplace. The future of electronic entertainment coverage and commentary in the online may hold exciting new possibilities, but something delightful and important just went away. I fear we’ll never see anything quite like it again.