Press Reset: On the End of GameFront

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Age 14 was about the height of my love for video games, and at the time nothing seemed more amazing for a fan of games than the yearly Electronic Entertainment Expo.

E3 was always one of the craziest things about which to read — or more accurately, of which to see photos in glossy gaming magazines. Gaming’s biggest event seemed enormous, flashy and insane: Vegas for nerds like me, who found in video games both an escapism and some kind of cultural and social fulfillment that was hard to come by in the meat grinder of adolescence. E3 was always a thing I wanted to experience myself, where I could get an early taste of all the games I could play, and maybe a chance to speak with those people who managed, somewhat magically, to create them.

Just more than a decade later, I finally made it to E3 as a reporter for GameFront.com.

The first time was pretty incredible. My inner 14-year-old was blown away by the sight of the place: ads and trailers and booths and noise and lights and games crammed into the LA Convention Center, and everywhere people, like sand filling in the cracks and gaps between screen-covered boulders crushed tightly together. I played a lot, I spoke with many developers, and I wrote as fast as I could, every day, about everything that I had seen and touched and heard.

On Jan. 20, I filed a review of Capcom’s Resident Evil HD Remastered. As far as games are concerned, few have had as big an effect on me as Resident Evil (I even got a gig writing a trivia book about the franchise). Resident Evil stirred my fascination with zombies, solidified my love of horror, and was part of what made me excited about games years ago.

My Resident Evil HD Remastered review was the last thing I wrote for GameFront. It was never published.

Jan. 20 was the day Defy Media, GameFront’s parent company, notified us the contracts for the GameFront editorial staff were being terminated. Everyone on the editorial side was being laid off, effective immediately.

I met Ron Whitaker, GameFront’s managing editor, for the first time in 2014. I’d been talking to him just about every day for years, but it wasn’t until PAX East in Boston — my first PAX — that I actually got to spend time with him in a physical space. It was also my first time meeting Janelle Bonanno, who had come on to be GameFront’s editor in chief after a merger between GF’s old parent, Break Media, and Alloy Digital.

Sometimes I do this stupid thing at conventions where I buy cigarettes. It’s a point where I tend to relapse after having given them up; cons are lengthy affairs consisting of heading to an appointment, seeing a game, talking to the people making it, taking furious notes, and then repeating the process over and over again at a brisk clip. It’s nice to have a reason to take a five-minute time out and step outside, or have a conversation with someone.

The smokey conversations I had with Ron and Janelle, as well as Janelle’s husband Josh (then managing editor at our then-sister site, The Escapist), were the highlight of the convention. Across all the cons I attended, those times actually hanging out with GameFront compatriots Mitch Saltzman, James Heaney, Ron and Janelle, those were easily the highlights of my final year as a games journalist.

The thing I’d always loved about GameFront was the people with whom I’d worked. Over the years, our staff had grown and shrunk — we picked up some speed under Break, endeavored with our original team to be something a little different from the mainstream games journalism establishment, then spent time reacting to the merger and dealing with the loss of about half of our staff. Through all that, GameFront had been home to some remarkable talents, some extremely hard workers, a group of people who had interesting things to say and interesting things to write. We’d hoped to push the site even further, expanding and diversifying its voice, but it wasn’t to be.

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There was a time around 2012 when things really shifted for me at GameFront. Up to that time, I’d been fighting to climb the ranks on the staff. I’d started as a walkthrough writer, but for my entire first year of churning out painstakingly detailed guides — the kind of games writing, and game playing, that has the potential to cross your eyes and exhaust your body with its mundanity — I’d asked for chances, opportunities, work. When there was a gap, I covered news, then started picking up the odd review, then started throwing pitches at the editors.

In my second year, I became extremely prolific on GameFront as I just took on all the work I could get my hands on, and I was pushing, along with the rest of the staff, to make the site into something more than a place to regurgitate press releases and chuck up reviews and previews.

And then — we started to make it happen. We started digging deeper into games. We started taking steps away from the “everyone else does it” sort of coverage. We tried to adopt a mandate of being the “thinking gamer’s” website. We developed new columns that sought out people from the wider community of people interested in games, to move beyond endlessly interviewing developers about products. We pushed in some different directions, and I was excited to be a part of it.

Best of it was the lasting friendships I made with the incredibly talented people who made up the site’s staff. Ron Whitaker, Janelle Bonanno, Ross Lincoln, Phil Owen, Mitchell Saltzman, James Heaney, Ben Richardson, Mark Burnham, Jeff Mills, Devin Connors, Marshall Lemon, Stew Shearer, Shawn Sines, Ryan Marsh, James Murff, Mike Sharkey, Jon Soucy, Matt Low, Chrystle Mealing, Leif Johnson, Nathan Meunier, Scott Nichols, Andy Chalk — all are great folks with whom it was a blast to work, for whatever length of time our paths crossed. Those people made sitting around and talking about video games worth doing for years.

My last E3 was in 2014. I doubt I’ll attend this year. Right now, I won’t have any reason to do so, or any credentials to get through the door.

I don’t think I’ll miss the convention part of it. But I will miss the smokey conversations.

After all the effort, all the talk, all the writing, all the interviewing, and all the hope, the editorial push of GameFront.com is essentially no more. After everything, it ended in a blink, and I can’t say that I’m not bitter about it. I am. For as hard as we all worked for our corporate overlords, we got plenty of reminders of how little we mattered — none quite so glaring as how quickly we were dismissed, however. It’s difficult not to feel disheartened on good days, crushed on bad ones.

But I don’t regret any of my time at GameFront, and I’m proud of the work I did. I’m glad I got to take a shot at doing something that, since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to do professionally. And I think I did a pretty good job of it while I had the chance.

Mostly, though, the best part is having met some great folks along the way. GameFront made that possible. Even if the site sinks beneath the waves of the Internet, even if all my efforts vanish into the inky depths of cyberspace, at least I have that.

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Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

4 thoughts on “Press Reset: On the End of GameFront”

  1. Good stuff, as always. Was a giant GF fan & have missed it every day since they shut it down. Watching Jame & Mitch’s walk throughs were how I first got into GameFront & from there it went to reading the reviews, articles, opinion pieces, etc. Loved the site as a whole & it was much better then most of the hundreds of other sites out there today just copy & pasting their coverage, style & ideas from each other. You guys we’re original, talented & didn’t treat the reader, or watcher, like a dumb kid &/or brainless bro. Like I said above, the game walk throughs were the start & I remember watching them with, at the time, my four year old son who, thanks to a shout out from James during his DarkSouls series (vid #120) has now started to slowly make his own videos & wanted to work for Game Front when he grew up! Hes seven now & occasionally we still go back & watch those videos together. Heres to hoping you guys will all end up on the same team again…

  2. Phil,

    Thank you for eulogizing something that meant so much to a lot of us. While I survived two shut downs during my tenure, I suspect this last nail in the Coffin will seal the deal.

    There was never a time I had more fun in the industry than when I was working with some of the outstanding folks you mentioned. While I continued to write for awhile after leaving I never recovered the spark to try and jump over to another site.

    You, Ron, Stephany and a cast of a dozen or so people in front and behind the scenes over the years ensured that I have some awesome memories of the way games writing used to be. I fear that world is dead now, but at least those memories are there to buoy me when I pick up the next game.

    I realized something however once I left the gaming press – games cold become more fun to play again. I could play any game I wanted and I could take any amount of time, I wasn’t chasing the deadline dragon.

    You are a talented writer Phil. Don’t let this bump set you back. Use it to charge forward… and the best secret in the world is, those friendships were lasting and real even if the website was not.

    Best of luck!

  3. It’s tough to witness a chapter in your life end suddenly like that. I think Ron had the toughest job – being the bearer of bad news. My attachment to that site is now ancient history, yet I was authentically shocked when Ron called me up and said “GF is no more.” The site had been through so many near death experiences over the years, yet somehow always seemed to bounce back.

    That said, you guys, Phil H., James & Mitch, represented GF at its finest hour. I think each and every one of you will look back one day and say “Hey, at least we went out on a good note.”

    Sure, they broke the band up, but that’s far from the last tune each of you will write. Press on, my brother.

  4. I still haven’t gotten over the loss of this wonderful gaming site.

    I totally agree that it was the “thinking man’s” game site, and I delighted in the lengthy coverage and analysis of various topics.

    I miss it daily and really can’t comprehend why it had to go. 🙁

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