There's no mistaking that Giant Bomb has meant a lot to a lot of people. Over the past several days, I've heard community members say that the site helped them overcome depression, survive the isolation of the pandemic, and come out as trans. Even plenty of us who weren't carried through some personal struggle by this goofy-ass publication feel deeply attached to the antics here and the people behind them. And crucially, the love comes with support for the staff, not just obsession with them.
Passion in online fandoms all too often translates into anger, factionalism, and a sense of ownership over creatives. In this community, however, users want the staff not just to produce entertainment for them but to pick the career decisions that will make them happy. That makes me really satisfied with the fandom we've built here. There's been no shortage of words expended on the potentially problematic nature of parasocial relationships recently, and a lot of that criticism is valid. However, I think our community, on the whole, is grounded and caring when it comes to interacting with the figures it admires.
I've also seen a lot of you say that it's hard to explain to friends outside this bubble why Giant Bomb means so much to you. What's emotional about knowing you won't be seeing some people playing video games on the internet together anymore? Part of the answer lies in that they are people, and this is a site in which personality has always come to the forefront. Humans are social animals; we feel attached to others who communicate in a way that gels with us, and videos, streams, podcasts and articles are all communication. Plus, social circles have always formed around activities, whether that be a weekly card game or the whole library of video games.
There's also been a consistency to Giant Bomb that has made it intimately familiar. For those of us close to the site, it's been there every week, no matter if we're happy or sad, busy or flushed with time, wide awake or half-asleep. Giant Bomb has existed for my entire adult life. Even when I've been in one of my less active periods, the warmth and persistence of the site have always made it feel like a home I can come back to. To hear that I can't come home again is very difficult. On some level, it doesn't even make sense to me because I'm so used to this site as part of my existence. Telling me there's no more Giant Bomb is like telling me there's no more breakfast or no more Wednesdays.
Of course, you might say that Giant Bomb isn't shutting down; it's just losing a few of its personnel. That's kind of correct, but we need to interrogate the label of "Giant Bomb" a bit to understand what we're keeping and what we're losing. This website isn't going anywhere, and it looks like the current community is in it for the long haul. But when we say "Giant Bomb", we often don't mean the domain or the fandom. We mean the collection of podcasts, videos, broadcasts, and writing with that name attached to it, as well as the faces who create and star in that media. There's a part of the creator in everything they make, but on a personality-driven site like Giant Bomb, that's especially true. What's more, the flavour of the site isn't just in the individual contributors that make it up, but also the chemistry between them. So, you change the presenters, and you radically change the end product. That human element that makes Giant Bomb so friendly and relatable is also what makes it so fragile.
Now, there's a bit of a Theseus's Ship thing going on here. Some of the staff who were part of Giant Bomb a week ago are still around, some aren't, and the site has always been a revolving door. On the back of that, you could argue that the original Giant Bomb is still extant or is long gone or that it's ambiguous whether or not Giant Bomb Classic exists now. However, I think that the recent shakeup cuts away at the core of the site to an extent that nothing before has. The original editorial team for Giant Bomb was Jeff, Ryan, Brad, and Vinny. With the exit of the latter two, the only original member of that squad remaining is Jeff Gerstmann. And while he's always taken a proactive role in directing the site, it's going to be Jeff Bakalar, a more recent collaborator with the team who will lead "content strategy and development, as well as partnerships". Jeff (Gerstmann, not Bakalar) has talked candidly about reimagining this place and bringing in people from backgrounds that have never been part of this project before. So, I feel comfortable in saying that while the Giant Bomb name lives on, what it will be applied to is going to be something new.
You can't rebuild a machine until you've stripped it down to its bare parts, and that's the state Giant Bomb is in at the moment. Everything feels a little delicate because we can see what we've lost and have little idea of what we're going to gain. There's no guarantee that this new plan will be enough to keep Giant Bomb running either. It reminds me of the period right before and then for a few years after the launch of this site. If you weren't with us for takeoff, you're no less a member of the community, but I think it's hard to imagine what it was like at the time.
On today's internet, you cannot move for low-fi and independent coverage of games. Most gaming content now comes in the form of a video or stream. That video or stream usually prioritises fun over criticism and presents the creator as a player just like the viewer. And subscription models are how plenty of online services, including games entertainment services, make their bank. Back in 2008, when Giant Bomb launched, none of that was true.
There was no Twitch or Patreon at the time. Netflix had only begun their transition from mailing DVDs to online streaming a year earlier and had no original content. YouTube had existed for only three years, and there was no PewDiePie, no TotalBiscuit, and no Ninja. Video game websites were mostly concerned with generalised news and reviews with on-video content affecting a professional, studio-produced look. The most notable platform on which people were having madcap fun with the medium was probably G4 TV which would periodically lean towards an MTV vibe.
So, when a bunch of guys started taking handheld camera of themselves talking about games in a basement in Sausalito, that was pretty punk. And allowing people to decide whether they want to buy a video game using the Quick Look format, making media as much about personality and humour as video game analysis, asking for a monthly fee for bonus content, all that stuff was cutting edge. And while Giant Bomb wasn't the only site to jump on these ideas, their support for these approaches helped popularise them in games coverage. Jeff, Vinny, Ryan, Drew, Dave, and Brad were trailblazers.
I don't think it's remembered vividly now, but at the time, there was a certain scepticism about Giant Bomb. Some people even looked down on it. Here, you had a group of guys who'd had cushy jobs at one of the most respected video game review sites heading out on their own to produce games media with far fewer resources. For some observers, it was the equivalent of an act that once packed out Madison Square Garden being reduced to playing backwater bars. There were no assurances that the results could prove the naysayers wrong either. Ryan himself stated that before starting Giant Bomb, he couldn't be sure it would work. And before that, things were even bleaker. Jeff (again, Gerstmann) has talked about sitting at home after being fired, thinking his career was over. But it wasn't. It incredibly wasn't.
So, when I see people saying that they believe this website's days are numbered and that the new approach is doomed, I don't share the same conviction because I remember when the gang were meant to be doomed before. That doesn't mean there's any guarantee of success this time, but it makes me willing to give the people behind the new Giant Bomb a long time before I count them out. And a key lesson in this origin story is that risk, like the risk the staff are taking now, is necessary if you want to break new ground.
Giant Bomb's current state is not directly comparable to how it existed around launch. There's no chance of the old Gamespot crew being integrated into the site as there was then. Giant Bomb also wasn't owned by a venture capital company at that time. However, it sticks strongly in my head as an example of how uprooting the old gives you a place to plant something new. There's a lot of empty space here at the site now, but you need space to house something fresh.
I have to admit, I've been a little nervous ever since Red Ventures took over. There's a long history of venture capital firms gutting the companies they acquire and of big business interests diluting the editorial rigour of online writing, swapping it out for clickbait or broadly popular tabloid fodder. In some cases, executives forcing journalists and critics to chase the zeitgeist has run sites into the ground. Perhaps the most notorious example of this was over at sports and politics hub Deadspin. The site had a dedicated and discerning fanbase that had coalesced around the deep insight and razor-sharp wit of its writers. Then Deadspin was acquired by a private equity firm that created a host of problems for the writers, including forcing them to abandon much of their previous editorial direction. That not only destroyed Deadspin's soul but also sabotaged the mechanisms that made it profitable.
Another great example of capital-driven destruction came in the "pivot to video" trend. Marketing metrics demonstrated that advertisers prefer to purchase ad space in video form rather than in banners. Plus, Facebook data going back to 2015 showed that users preferred to consume content in the video format. And, of course, what Facebook says goes because almost all publications use Facebook as a distributor. In line with these revelations, accomplished writers were laid off so that offices could be staffed with presenters and film editors. But in 2016, The Wall Street Journal worked out that the figures Facebook had published were false, and in 2017, a survey from Reuters revealed that 71% of people prefer to consume news through text rather than video.
So, on various sites, a bunch of talented people building beloved media were laid off for the sake of powerful financial interests. On a subset of those sites, even the captains of industry did not benefit as outlets like Mic took a turn for the worst, and businesspeople who'd invested in the wisdom of Facebook got burned. So, if you're feeling a little protective over Giant Bomb right now, me too. I see a few people saying that they trust the staff to keep the site afloat, and I love the support. Still, we must remember plenty of businesses crewed by obscenely talented people went under for economic reasons beyond their control.
But again, this is an area in which I feel surprisingly optimistic, at least in the medium-term. Giant Bomb being controlled by a powerfully profit-focused entity is nothing new. ViacomCBS, the former owners, are worth around $27 billion. The site survived that, and the way that the staff have been talking, Red Ventures are an economic entity willing to invest more in Giant Bomb. Maybe that climate changes a few years down the line, but that was always a risk. And Giant Bomb's subscription model could make it more profitable to cater to its committed audience rather than following the whims of the advertising market. It sounds like instead of being jeopardising, this purchase could be a shot in the arm for the site. And a shot in the arm might be what it needs. I've had a blast with Giant Bomb recently, but the most amped up I've been about the site was when they were doing something boldly new.
I also don't want to speculate too much about the future of this place because I don't think it's healthy for anyone involved. A minority of community members have made claims about where Giant Bomb is going next that aren't grounded in anything we know. I understand that this impulse comes from sadness over the death of the old site and from wanting things to make sense at a confusing time. But we also need to take stock of what we have evidence for and what we don't. Positing immediate futures where Giant Bomb crashes and burns without any real proof of them unnecessarily bums out other users, puts more pressure on contributors to the site, and also isn't going to make you any happier.
But those are thoughts about what's coming. As for what's happened before, I feel so thankful for everyone who has done something positive for this site, staff or community. It's wild that such a small group of people can build something this large and enduring. I think it says something about the character of Giant Bomb that even the engineers and designers are open, informative, and friendly.
As for the people on camera and who've written for the site, I don't think I'd know half of what I do about games today without them, and it's still a mystery to me how they manage to freewheel effortlessly between spontaneous humour and serious breakdowns of games and the industry. There are many online platforms for people loosely shooting the shit about video games; almost none of them have those discussions backed by as much experience and expertise as exists here. To the userbase, if you've shared some kind words here or some of your thoughts on games, posted some fan art or even just fired off a silly joke that made people smile, that means a lot. That's the stuff that makes a community, and I'm proud of having had a tiny role in creating a constructive, abuse-free space for it to grow.
Giant Bomb has left me with so many wonderful memories, too many to name. There was the rollercoaster ride of the Persona 4 Endurance Run, scraping the bottom of the medium's barrel with Game Room Quick Looks and DSiWare, and jet setting documentaries that looked at gaming across the globe. We saw a man discover live on camera that pirates steal cargo, another play the drums for 24 hours straight, and a third inexplicably become a popular online GIF. As we move ahead into a new era for Giant Bomb, I don't think we'll be forgetting any of these moments, but I hope we get many more just as special. Goodbye old friend.