Ultimately, this entry is only tangentially related to gaming, but it still has a strong effect on the industry that needs to be discussed.
The conflict between The Escapist and Extra Credits has been pretty nasty so far, and it doesn't look like there's an end in sight. Money issues are a huge problem in this economy, and the reports that several Escapist contributors have not gotten paid for their work makes the future of the website look grim. I am not here to take sides in this debate, but reading up on it has stirred up an issue that I feel needs to be addressed: advertising.
The reason I'm so shocked by this whole debacle is that I thought The Escapist was doing just fine for itself. It has several strong web series, including Zero Punctuation, Extra Credits, Escape to the Movies, and recently they added The Jimquisition to the mix as well.
Aside from that, they run a weekly podcast, keep up with all the latest news, and feature tons of editorials on a wide variety of subjects. How could a website with such a strong lineup of content be doing so poorly? After some thinking about it, I think I have come to the conclusion: advertising is becoming increasingly more ineffective in this online age.
Before the days of the internet, advertising was completely necessary in order to establish the relations with consumers. People would buy the products they heard about on TV, the radio, and newspapers because that was pretty much the only way they could hear about them. Now in the online age, if a customer wants something specific, he or she could just Google it to see if it actually exists.
Advertising these days just feels intrusive, or at best, a necessary evil consumers put up with. In order to view web content, we'll have to sit through 30 seconds of ads. Free iPhone apps have a bar at the bottom that showcases ads. Why bother with Cable TV when Neflix is ad-free? It may be beneficial for the content creator to place these ads in intrusive ways, as they generally get paid by the click, but to the company trying to sell a product, what good is it to have a consumer accidentally click the ad, then immediately back out?
Not only that, but consumers are also growing distrusted of ads. Earlier this year, The Escapist was plastered with ads for Duke Nukem Forever, while simultaneously showcasing a two-star review recommending that readers not pick the game up. Generally, this leads to some nasty results, such as the Kane & Lynch fiasco at Gamespot years ago that may or may not have resulted in longtime editor Jeff Gerstmann's termination.
Going even further back, Penny Arcade had been advertising Prince of Persia: Warrior Within on their site while simultaneously complaining about it in their posts. Since then, Penny Arcade has a strict policy of only advertising products or services they personally endorse, which in turn means I'm much more likely to pay attention. (I wouldn't have heard about the anime series Eden of the East had I not saw the ad on their site)
Extending outside of games, a huge marketing dud manifested itself last year with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The film was a huge hit at Comic-Con, prompting Universal to go all-out in their advertising campaign. However, the movie's ultimately niche appeal led to terrible box office numbers.
Then, in a surprising turn of events, the Blu-Ray sales of the movie turned out to be much more successful. In the end, the marketing campaign probably hurt the film more than it helped. Strangely, the franchise probably got most of its success by simply advertising itself, thanks to the comic book series, movie, and video game all being well-received by critics.
It used to be that consumers were encouraged to click on these ads and buy their products in order to support the content they loved so much, but these days it might be more effective to let the masses help you out. Extra Credits has a lot of supporters, and they made a lot more money asking fans for donations to help with a cast member's surgery than they ever got from The Escapist.
Similarly, Stephen Colbert's Super PAC has been a tremendous success, and I'm interested to see what the Colbert Nation does with the funds. It should be noted, however, that both of these donation drives were for a specific cause, and reckless spending of this money will lead to huge backlash.
While I think the era of advertising is slowly coming to an end, I don't think it's necessary to worry too much about it. I believe that as long as companies and consumers are friends with each other, everything will work itself out. Just look at the internet popularity of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Hasbro isn't making any money off of youtube videos of the episodes, but there's a significant number of adult fans who are willing to buy the toys to support the show. I vastly prefer that to watching the same ad over and over again when viewing The Daily Show.