The recent news that at The Escapist had layoffs followed by resignations of a number of other staff members, most notably Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw means the end of Zero Punctuation, the game review video series he had been producing for over sixteen years. As of writing, the site is still running and being updated but the staff who were either sacked or resigned have formed Second Wind. Croshaw does not have the rights to Zero Punctuation but the series will more or less continue as Fully Ramblomatic which is also the title of his personal website dating back before Zero Punctuation. The sardonic video series is undoubtedly behind The Escapist’s success though it also had a number of other worthy writers and features over the years that I don’t wish to belittle. I expect the site will be eventually shutdown permanently as I can’t imagine it recovering after this. Zero Punctuation will now continue more or less with a different name but the ending of the original series is still something like the end of an era that is worth marking.
I have mentioned the series and author twice on this blog when reviewing two of Ben Croshaw’s books. I did not think well of them (and still don’t), but he is still publishing them. As he is a male with European ancestry this means they must be selling well enough to turn a profit so he certainly has an audience. I have always enjoyed the Zero Punctuation reviews though and watched them beginning with his review of Fable: The Lost Chapters before he was quickly (and smartly), picked up by The Escapist. I fell of regularly watching the videos around 2010 or so but I did still check them out from time to time right up until the present.
As I noted in one of the reviews, the series has had remarkable staying power. If you watch the original video and then the most recent straight after, the only noticeable differences are the video and audio quality as the format is almost exactly the same. This series began when video content was becoming easily accessible on the Internet; most notably through YouTube but also other video content hosting services that are now forgotten. The early pioneers in online video reviews were Classic Game Room back when most people were still on dial-up. Then you had ScrewAttack and GameTrailers before YouTube made it possible for many more creators to easily upload videos. Zero Punctuation arrived in the middle but has outlasted almost all of these original shows. That the series has remained popular when so many other creators and even websites have declined in popularity or closed altogether is high praise.
The announcement that Zero Punctuation would be moving to The Escapist was revealed in a video on the 13th of August, 2007. The first review on The Escapist was Heavenly Sword which was a big early PlayStation 3 exclusive by Ninja Theory though one that is largely forgotten today. I remember enjoying it as well as being incredibly impressed with the visuals though I am sure Yahtzee’s review was less enthusiastic. The series became popular at the perfect time in the seventh console generation. The Xbox 360 had already been out for two years but it was only in the latter half of 2006 when the generation really got going and the main three competing consoles were widely available. 2007 was also a huge year for gaming releases in general. To put this into perspective, Zero Punctuation reviewed BioShock, Halo 3, The Orange Box, Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect in 2007. Early into 2008 Croshaw reviewed Super Mario Galaxy which also released in 2007. So in the first six months on the job, he reviewed many modern classics and would subsequently review a great many more. 2007 is the year that David V. Stewart called ‘Gaming Ground Zero‘ which borrowed the idea of Brian Niemeier’s ‘Cultural Ground Zero‘ being 1997. This is something I have considered too from a different perspective and though you could quibble, there is undoubtedly truth to it.
So the convergence of a the rise in Internet video content at the same time as a number of significant game releases was fortuitous but this isn’t the only reason the series has been successful for so long. What made it successful was that Ben Croshaw knows what he’s talking about and could deliver it in an entertaining way. He knows game design and has even dabbled in it himself. Though each video is filled with hyperbole as well as crass language and somewhat disturbing sexual preoccupations, there was always truth to what he was saying. Even when I liked the game under fire, I could generally understand where his criticism was coming from. I love Fable, the subject of his original review yet his criticism was still on point. He was even savage to games he liked so the rare moments when he was effusive with praise though genuine, made it seem like he was breaking character.
This is an aside but a relevant one. Something often forgotten in the comment sections is that even the people presenting as themselves on YouTube or other video sites were still playing a character to some extent. Genuinely being yourself would not make for interesting viewing unless you’re a schizophrenic or Chris Chan. I’m sure Croshaw is quite the cynic in real life but this series still presented an alter ego.
So the end of this series as it has been known since 2007 is certainly an end of the era. I am sure new home and format will continue to be popular but it is sad to see one of the few remaining legacies from (what in hindsight) is looking more and more like a golden age is a shame. I wish Croshaw and the new venture the very best.