Goodbye, GameTrailers: A Look Past the Fall of One of Gaming’s Most Iconic Sites
If you still haven’t heard the news, GameTrailers.com, a staple in the industry for thirteen years, has officially closed down. The news came via the site’s twitter account in a short message to their fans, and quickly confirmed by the sites’ co-creator, editor-in-chief, and voice Brandon Jones. It was heartbreaking to watch another iconic site like theirs fade into history, especially since I consider myself such a big fan.
It’s undeniable that GameTrailers was a place with a great legacy of content. Their identity extended past just an online archive of trailers, but a place that respected them as an artform — something no other outlet did.
For many the news came as a shock. GameTrailers was a giant in the industry, one of the few sites to cross media landscapes and have both television and digital centered content. They were closely related to the Video Game Awards (for better or for worse), and were well known for both inside the industry and in the mainstream world. GameTrailers were also known for their unabashed love for games themselves, most notably shown through their Retrospective series.
I cannot think of a better way to say goodbye to such an important site than to give GameTrailers a retrospective of their own. While they are deserving of a better writer to put their history down to paper, I can’t walk away from the opportunity.
If You Build It, They Will Come…
It was the turn of the century and the internet was in its infancy. Dial-up modems were still common-place, CRT monitors projected tiny 680x420 images, and the idea of finding a video game trailer online was still a distant dream to many of us. While it may be hard to imagine now, in the first days of the new millennium there was no de facto location for video sharing, let alone video game trailers. Instead we had to settle for peer-to-peer networks that shared videos or the very occasional download link on IGN.
It wasn’t until 2002, when Geoff Grotz and Brandon Jones discovered the golden opportunity in front of them. Jones, who worked for family friend Jon Slusser’s Hornet Animation at the time, was among the first generation of gamers to be able to dig their teeth into trailers. Completely captivated by the first full-screen videos beaming across the internet to his computer, Grotz, a friend of Jones’, proposed the idea of a universal hub for video game trailers that everyone would think of as the place to go to. For fifteen dollars, Brandon Jones was able to secure a web address for Gametrailers.com and Geoff took care of server space and the site’s design. The two provided Jon Slusser and three other partners from Hornet a 50% stake in the new site in exchange for management responsibilities. They would also name Slusser as their CEO. Within August of that year, GameTrailers.com was born.
Grotz had left the site to Jones who contributed work for free, until he eventually re-joined to work full-time as a manager.
The site launched as what would be expected of a small, early millennial site like theirs. A blank black background with gaudy digital text over-top displayed the names of upcoming releases across its front page. Along with the latest trailers, they also hosted “homegrown” trailers they cut together themselves for fun along with a mission statement written by CEO of GameTrailers.com Jon Slusser himself:
“Over the last two years the interactive entertainment industry has seen the birth and growth of the gametrailer as a means of providing gamers with a first look at an upcoming game. Gametrailers.com has been formed in order to provide gamers with a central location whereby they can have access to a comprehensive collection of new and archived trailers. As fans of trailers ourselves, we’ve also included a page that contains our own homegrown gametrailers. With dedicated servers hosting media from a variety of game publishers and platforms, Gametrailers.com is committed to providing the newest trailers at the highest possible quality and speed. Enjoy”
The site would continue to archive trailers throughout the following two years. From StarFox Adventures to Halo, they held no prejudices in their pursuit of becoming the premiere trailer service on the internet, and it was all for free.
While GameTrailers were successful with their initial formula, it didn’t take long for them to think outside their own namesake and spread their wings. In 2004 the site began doing industry coverage as members of their video editing team would begin producing their own reviews. This forward momentum caught the attention of multiple investors looking to buy the company like Ziff Davis among others. For the infant GameTrailers it seemed as if they were graduating from preschool to college as the staff deliberated what move would be their best, though it didn’t take long. In August of that year, Viacom (known as MTV Networks at the time) acquired the site with 100% ownership. Jon Slusser would later make the move to Viacom the following year, where he still finds himself today.
The Viacom Years
For many within the GameTrailers fanbase the Viacom Years were when the site truly came into its own. With the support of a larger traditional media company behind them, the site’s reach and resources grew overnight. A relaunch and rebranding of the site created a fresh, professional, and sleek look that replaced the home-grown design of GT’s original iteration.
Immediately, the site began hiring new staff members with the likes of Shane Satterfield, a later heavyweight at the site. With Shane’s arrival to the site came his decision to split up responsibilities amongst the staff. His distinction between video editors and writers gave the site a more focused approach to reviews which would become even more important as the site would slowly become more of a traditional gaming press site.
The following year premiered their first show GT Weekly, which proved their ability to produce high-quality video content. With Daniel Kayser and Amanda MacKay as hosts the show presented a television-level of quality that immediately distinguished GameTrailers apart from their competitors. It was the beginning of the site’s identity as a professional in video games content, only rivaled by the likes of G4.
In 2007, Viacom restructured their digital entertainment branch in an effort to pull their different sites under the same roof. The result meant even more support from Viacom themselves as GT became more closely associated with Spike TV. They soon began airing GameTrailers TV (formerly known as GameHead) on the channel in January the following year.
That year also saw GT host other sites’ content. Shows like ScrewAttack’sTop Ten and The Angry Video Game Nerd, both of whom would go on to have great success, grew their respective audiences exponentially. Their willingness to openly host new creative content proved extremely successful for them, as outside content would outperform their own on occasion.
It was their own writing staff however that would gain popularity in their own right as they began gaining a reputation for brutally honest reviews. Their 100 point scale was taken seriously by their writers, notoriously never giving out a perfect 10.0 score throughout their thirteen-year lifespan (excluding their post-mortem “fixed” Bloodborne review).
However perhaps the site’s most iconic legacy would be from their original content: Pach-Attack! put industry analyst Michael Pachter in front of the camera as he answered questions about the gaming industry. Bonus Round, hosted by the famous Geoff Keighley and three guests, would cover numerous industry-related topics. Pop Fiction, run by writer Michael Damiani, would investigate rumors and video game urban legends. Retrospective provided an extensive look at the history of specific games and franchises, often taking months or even entire years to compile and complete. Level, run by writer Daniel Bloodworth, would analyze the staff’s favorite levels in games. Annoyed Gamer, hosted by Marcus Beer, was one of their most controversial as Beer would discuss the most upsetting trends and news in games from week to week, leading to the infamous debate between Fez developer Phil Fish and Beer that ended in Fish’s retirement from game development and the cancellation of Fez II.
These shows were quintessential to the identity of GameTrailers. Professional and uncompromising, these shows made waves in the industry, and even sometimes broke news themselves.
Shane Satterfield’s podcast Invisible Walls became legendary over the following years gaining a reputation for their insightful discussions. The show covered everything from recent news and releases to the hottest controversies in gaming. While IW would begin life as an audio-only podcast, they began recording episodes on-camera after their 150th episode as more and more staff members became personalities of their own. The show would run for 284 episodes in total ending in 2014.
It was the impressive staff at GT that were able to produce such extensively informed content over the years. Members like Patrick Morales, Miguel Lopez, Chris Nguyen, Justin Speer, the aforementioned Michael Damiani, Daniel Bloodworth, and Shane Satterfield as well as many others (a list that is too long to even remember, honestly) who were able to make their marks during this era of the site, as well as GameTrailers founders Brandon Jones and Geoff Groetz who were still with the site, until Groetz left in 2008.
It was within these years that GameTrailers remains in most people’s memories outside of their hardcore audience. A site with a large community, strong writing staff that produced detailed and high-quality content. They were in their prime. Yet as time passed the old adage nothing stays gold forever proved true as GT’s audience numbers slowly dropped and Viacom’s interest in them began to dwindle.
The staff however were aware of shifts in the industry and made efforts to fight for their views. As Shane Satterfield left the site and Ryan Steves, Jeremy Hoffman, and Brad Winters took up leadership responsibilities, the site pivoted towards more personality driven content. Thanks For Playing! replaced Invisible Walls as their weekly show as well as their I Love Last Gen series that explored moments from gaming’s 7th generation through a format akin to VH1’s I Love the 80's.
Unfortunately even with all their efforts, Viacom’s lowered interest in the site showed by GT’s loss of resources. Thanks For Playing! was cancelled shortly after its premiere. There weren’t many good signs left for GameTrailers in 2014 and it seemed things were going to get worse before they got better.
The DEFY Media Buyout
It’s E3 2014 and the GameTrailers staff are running a mile-a-minute just as any other outlet would be. Among the announcements and interviews, the GameTrailers staff were blindsided by devastating news: Viacom had ended their relationship with the GT and sold it to DEFY Media, a Mulit-Channel-Network home to Smosh, Screen Junkies, and The Escapist. The buyout would go down as a turning point for the site as more than two-thirds of its staff would lose their jobs due to layoffs. Many of the people that helped shape GT into the place it had become were suddenly absent from their cubicles and offices. For the rest of the staff that remained their future seemed uncertain — something Kyle Bosman, host of GT’s The Final Bosman, used as an opporunity to serenade President of Sony’s Worldwide Studios Shuehei Yoshida in a particularly memorable moment.
Yet somehow what seemed as the sign of the end for GameTrailers looked differently only a few months later. Without the lead of Ryan, Brad, and Jeremy moving forward would be difficult as co-creator Brandon Jones was forced to take the mantle of the site and steer it out of the ashes. GT began to then redefine itself in these following months practically recreating itself from the ground up.
All that were left were Don Casanova, Matt Blair, Elyse Willems, Ian Hinck, Ben Moore, Michael Huber, Bradley Ellis, Kyle Bosman, Michael Damiani, Daniel Bloodworth, and Brandon Jones to hold the ship. This ragtag crew started creating even more personality driven content that was easier to produce and more transparent to their audience. While the buyout had taken away most of the site’s staff and resources, those that were still with GT presented a sense of charm that permeated through their new shows as the site naturally began to take on a more optimistic tone.
It was in these last few years that GameTrailers proved their metal. A crew only the percentage of their old staff were somehow able to take the site and mold it into something entirely fresh and new, still competing with sites like IGN and Gamespot with staffs that could multiply theirs many times over.
The final years of GT had enough shows where they could produce content every day of the week. Mandatory Update, which continued from prior the acquisition, lampooned the week’s news stories, akin to SNL’s Weekend Update however would evolve to its final iteration that would resemble more a late night talk-show environment. The Final Bosman, which also continued from prior the acquisition, found the perfect middle-ground between relevant opinion and irreverent humor. Just Played would gather random staff members from the office to quickly discuss either upcoming or recently released games and acted as a quick review/preview discussion show. Huber Hype, which was the final show added to their programming, showcased Michael Huber as he would famously wax poetic over his favorite games hyperbolically.
These shows alone would compile an impressive schedule for any site, however they went even further and took advantage of Twitch, streaming Monday through Friday every week with shows like Dumb Game Mondays,Toybox Tuesdays, GT Live, and Full Playthrough Fridays. Their audience were finally able to interact with the writers via Twitch’s chat room, building a more personal and open relationship between the staff and the fans.
Yet perhaps their biggest new show (in this writer’s humble opinion) was their revival podcast GT Time. Akin to their famous Invisible Walls, GT Time was a conversational show hosted by Kyle Bosman with co-hosts Brandon Jones, Daniel Bloodworth, Michael Damiani (until his leave from the site in 2013 and was replaced by a rotating guest seat), and Ian Hinck from their editor booth, GT Time featured discussion over weekly news stories from the industry.
With their programming packed from Monday to Friday with original content and daily streams it seemed that GameTrailers had figured out a formula to work within. Their shows were able to present their personalities and persistence in the face of lowered odds that drove me back to their content every day. They were unabashedly genuine, wearing their love for games on their sleeves. This was cemented in internet history in one of their most famous moments, during their E3 2015 Livestream where their reactions to The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake and theShenmue III Kickstarter caused the staff members on camera to completely lose it. Their reaction gained so much attention that it was used by Sony in their December PSX event later that year.
The new year came and went and things seemed to be looking well for the site in 2016. The staff shrank by a few people more but in the middle of January the remaining crew gather for an off-work meeting at Dave and Busters to discuss their future plans. All hands were on-deck to carry the site onward until on a random Monday in February the team is blindsided yet again. Only this time the news is even more heat-wrenching. While their managing editor Daniel Bloodworth was away on honeymoon, the staff received word that February 9th, 2016 would be their last day in operation. A simple tweet would confirm the news to their audience later that day, and a small farewell stream would be the final word in the epic that was GameTrailers.com. The site’s final moments were encapsulated in a tearful goodbye from co-creator Brandon Jones and a group hug surrounding their Final Fantasy XIII cutout of the character Lightning.
So What Happened? Why? And What’s Next?
There were a lot of reasons GameTrailers.com succumbed to the fate it did. While may were surprised by the news in February, it’s hard to say no one saw it coming. GameTrailers had suffered for years as shifts in the industry and things out of their control forced them to make decisions against their best interest.
What GameTrailers’ closure means for the industry at large, is that the medium itself is moving in directions not many could have predicted. Where once there were multiple large sites staffed with writers that covered the industry, the advent of twitch and YouTube have lowered the barrier of entry to the point where teenagers in their bedroom are able to gain larger audiences than the sites that inspire them. The depressing truth of the matter is that the industry has moved past sites like GT.
Perhaps the biggest culprit of GT’s demise however, would be Viacom’s legal battle with Google in 2008. Due to copyright claims on videos posted onto YouTube at the time, Viacom began a long and brutal legal battle with Google that resulted in the infamous Content ID system the site uses today. Because of Viacom’s relationship with YouTube, their sites were discouraged from using the service. Since GameTrailers content focused so heavily on video, not being able to use the biggest video sharing platform on the internet proved deadly. Couple this with GT’s own site and video player becoming obsolete and frustrating, thus forcing their remaining audience to put up with frustrating platforms just to consume their content.
Luckily their move to DEFY meant that they were able to spread their reach and finally take advantage of YouTube. However it proved too little to late, as most of GameTrailers’ audience had already moved on. It’s a difficult truth in the industry that if you’re not quick enough to capitalize on changes you may be sentencing yourself for a premature death.
While it may be easy to put the blame entirely on DEFY and Viacom for GT’s eventual fate, I’m not sure what anyone could have done differently. It’s this sort of relationship that has forced so many outlets to close. 1up.com, GameSpy, and Rev3 Games are only a few of the sites that have been shut down in recent memory. That number grows even larger however when you include print media, which have almost been eradicated completely. Places like Edge, PC Gamer, Nintendo Power, OXM, Official PlayStation will all never be seen again — and the list goes on.
Nothing is certain at the time of writing, but it seems that this isn’t the last we’ll see of those who were at GameTrailers. Brandon Jones has been vocal via his communication to the fans, providing frequent updates via Twitter to express that plans are in place for something in the future. It’s exciting to know that in some way, things may continue onward, but at this point it’s all just hearsay. It’s just as likely that the ex-GT staff members will receive calls from other places offering more secure positions.
All I know is this: GameTrailers.com was one of the most influential sites of my youth, and a big part of my decision to get into games media. Their capacity for their trademark jolliness persisted even in the face of disaster, never letting the odds against them get in the way. Their unwavering passion for games championed the ideas of pursuing your dreams. Whether they (hopefully) stick together or go their seperate ways, what they did will never be lost on this writer. Goodbye, GameTrailers.