Game On’s Untimely Cancellation and the Future of TWiT

Leo Laporte’s TWiT network is the first podcast-centric network to become commercially successful. There are presently about 30 shows actively in production, and another dozen or so that have ceased production. Laporte and Kevin Rose’s Revision3 snatched up as many former members of TechTV as they could. Laporte still employs many, including Sarah Lane, John C. Dvorak and Tom Merritt. Many others are regular guests on his shows.

Laporte had long talked about adding a video game podcast to his fleet, but hadn’t found the right hosts or the best format yet. On January 16th 2012, the first episode of Game On! aired, with hosts Veronica Belmont and Brian Brushwood. Belmont is a well-known female geek, who has many admirers for both her nerdiness and good looks. She worked at CNET and then spent about a year working for Jason Calacanis’ Mahalo before joining Kevin Rose’s aforementioned Revision3 in 2008. She has co-hosted Tekzilla with Patrick Norton since then. She also has a couple of other hosting gigs around the web. She is also the longtime girlfriend of Engadget and gdgt founder Ryan Block. Brushwood is a magician (literally) and hosts shows on both Revision3 and TWiT as well.

To me, these hosts made sense. Belmont has a strong following and has long been known for being a video game nut. My history with Brushwood isn’t as deep, but he always seemed like enough of a geek to be able to host a video game show. The only other video game podcast I listen to is Weekend Confirmed, hosted by Garnett Lee and Jeff Cannata, and featuring a slew of rotating guests. I have watched/listened to every episode of both shows, and it’s safe to say they are both very different.

Laporte’s surprising decision to cancel Game On! after 12 episodes may not come all that surprising to some. According to that Technorati article, Laporte has said in the past that every show is given a 12 episode trial period to prove itself. In the same article Laporte also said that the cost per episode of Game On! was $7000 and “lost more in a week than any other show had in a year.”

The high production costs are not surprising to me. The show was very overproduced. It always seemed to include at least one pre-produced segment, ranging from Leo Laporte as a robe wearing, pipe smoking, fake mustache wearing dude talking about a particular game, to Belmont in pigtails and pajamas pretending to be a young girl who liked games. The latter of which also seemed to me like a cheap ploy to sexualize Belmont without crossing any lines. I was actually surprised they went that far, and she did not seem proud of it based on a tweet prior to it’s air.

The other recurring segment was an interview with some sort of person from the video game industry. This ranged from pre-record interviews with game developers, to live interviews with other members of the video game press. I have never been a big fan of these interviews. I have also found them to mostly be the wrong level of detail. Either they are way too inside baseball, or so generic that it’s just not compelling enough. When doing a weekly show, it’s hard to cover news. This is a problem with the internet age and 24/7 news cycle. Things are covered so intensely in the first 24 hours, that a weekly show will usually have trouble saying something that someone else hasn’t already. Because of this, Game On! seemed to have trouble finding the sweet spot.

The show generally seemed to be composed of a quick rundown of news, an interview about one or two recent or upcoming releases, a nostalgic countdown of some sort, and then one of the preproduced segments. I rarely found myself getting any insight into whether or not I should check out a new game, and the opportunity to use video to show gameplay was completely wasted, as I don’t recall the game ever showing any unique gameplay footage. One of the best parts about Area5.tv’s no longer in production CO-OP) podcast, was the inclusion of actual gameplay footage as they talked.

Laporte spent Friday replying to tweets about the cancellation. He took some heat from people who said the hosts were the problem, to which he followed up with “The previous tweet is why I can’t do a gaming show. There is no gaming ‘community.’ Just a bunch of warring parties.” I don’t have an answer/suggestion for Leo either. If I did, I would be producing a gaming podcast. As good as Weekend Confirmed is, sometimes it’s a little hardcore for me. They spend 20 minutes on some games, and constantly reference games I never played. CO-OP always seemed like the right mix of gameplay, reviews and nostaglia, but it only lasted 6 episodes. One of Laporte’s tweets talked about how it is hard to do an audio version of a video game podcast, but I didn’t find the video to be all that well utilized anyway.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the best news for TWiT. Although they undoubtedly are making a significant amount of money, the move to the new studio last year unquestionably put a dent in their coffers. I am a long time listener who has given up on all of their shows except Tech News Today. They spend a lot of time regurgitating hosts and trying new shows that are a little too close to shows they already do. Meanwhile, rising star Dan Benjamin has done a great job of adding existing shows to his 5by5 network, thus adding new talent the old fashioned way. Benjamin is always expanding his horizons to include things like sports. TWiT made a big gamble by building a new studio in an attempt to become the premiere online network. The problem is that these networks are popping up all over the place. In addition to 5by5, Myke Hurley has created the 70decibels network. Celebrities have taken up podcasting as a way to get directly to fans without much cost. It’s hard to say if there is room for an expensive giant.

It’s probably dramatic to say that this the beginning of the end for TWiT. But as someone who badly wants to see this network continue to succeed, it seems like they need to find some new hits soon, or do a better job of trying to repackage old favorites because I know I am not the only one finding the current offerings a bit stale.