More thoughts on the Escapist

Extra Credits The Escapist

I’ve talked about the Escapist before. Specifically, when I mentioned I would no longer be visiting their website. My reasons then were essentially practical - they had simply made viewing content more annoying than it was worth.

Recent events, however, are making me re-evaluate that post. In that post, I didn’t really analyze why the Escapist had such awful ads. But now I think it’s worth doing. The most obvious explanation, which was more or less implicit in my earlier angry rant, is that the annoying, screen-filling, content-swamping ads didn’t show up because of incompetent programming or oversight, but rather through a complete disregard for the consumer.

The Escapist (well, Themis Media) is a company. Companies exist to make money. Basic economics. Themis media makes money by selling advertisements; the more advertisements they can get to viewers, the more their advertisements will be worth to advertisers, the more advertisements they can sell, and the more money they make. Again, nothing ground-breaking here, just basic mathematics.

There are two basic ways to get these ads to the eyes of more viewers (and thus up their potential value, increasing profits): show more or larger ads per page, or attract more viewers (to create more page views). As a company that wants to Maximize Profits™, ideally they want to do a whole lot of both of these things.

The problem is that these two goals are counter to each other. The more (or more obvious) ads you display, the more people will start to say ‘too many ads, see you later’. Like I did in my previous post on the subject. The trick, and the thing that most websites eventually figure out, is that there is an equilibrium - a quantity and size of advertisements that will not produce a significant hit on the number of viewers you attract.

Now, the way to actually attract more viewers is to have content that people want to view. And the Escapist has been damn good at this. They have a great deal of very good content, much of which is very popular. They have attracted a lot of grade A talent to work for them. And that may be the problem - they’ve got such good content, their equilibrium point has tipped so far that they can pull off obnoxious full-screen ads without driving away a significant number of users.

However, at some point, the volume of ads you display becomes anti-consumer. There’s a point where you are failing your customers, where suggesting that what you are asking is a ‘reasonable price to pay’ for the content is farcical. Many modern magazines have fallen prey to this: I flipped through a fashion magazine recently, for instance, and counted 12 pages of ads before reaching the table of contents. That’s patently absurd, and what it shows is that the company that produces the product cares more about money than they do about the consumer’s experience.

But all of that was an overly long prelude to what I really want to talk about: Themis is now being accused of being anti-creator as well. Extra Credits, one of the Escapist’s video features, has left the Escapist, with some very troubling accusations about Themis’ payment practices. Basically, the Extra Credits crew says they haven’t been paid for a long time, and that Themis is claiming that Extra Credits owes them money from a fund raiser that they ran to keep the show alive (and to finance surgery for their artist).

Now, in fairness, Themis has some counter-claims, which are enumerated at the second link above. However, given Themis’ anti-consumer ad practices, I don’t have much difficulty believing that they might be willing to cheat their creative people as well. Of course, this doesn’t constitute proof of wrongdoing on their part, but it is certainly useful to observe that they already have a pattern of preferring money to delivering a good experience.

Of course, the upshot of all this, for us consumers, is that Extra Credits is no longer encumbered by the horrible pit of a website that is The Escapist. So I watched the most recent episode. Based on this one episode, it seems like a pretty good show: smart and engaging, with enough humour scattered throughout to keep it from feeling dry. They point out a lot of things that may be obvious to (some) people in the industry, but that many individual gamers are unlikely to have ever had reason to consider.

I’ll probably watch it regularly now that I don’t have to risk a stress headache just to watch it.