IGN’s ambitious president Roy Bahat tells Christopher Dring what the recent UGO acquisition brings to its business, why it sold Direct2Drive and how it plans to grow the entire video games market.
IGN’s Roy Bahat is one of the most powerful men in the games media.He is in charge of a network of sites that reach 70m unique users, a number recently bolstered by the acquisition of UGO – a media outlet which also owns 1Up.com.
But there is more to come from IGN. Having sold off its digital distribution business Direct2Drive to Gamefly, the media conglomerate is now planning to break away from its parent – News Corp. We catch up with Bahat to find out more.
How has the UGO acquisition impacted IGN’s business?
It’s opened up a bigger audience for us. Our global audience is now 70m unique users. We have this vision of a new kind of company anchored in games that makes games media a mainstream form of entertainment in the same way as sport and film. Despite the enormous number of people playing games, it still has to reach that degree of success and we’d like to be the company to deliver that.
You’re the number one games media outlet. How do you stop yourself from getting complacent?
We still have a long way to go in becoming truly mass market, so we need to redefine this category. That means getting celebrities involved and making clear how many of them play games. It means reaching people on every platform whether that’s YouTube, mobile or consoles. The entire category is too small relative to its extraordinary potential.
You sold Direct2Drive in May.Why move away from downloads?
To be great you can’t be all things to all people. We’re happy to partner with retailers but it’s a different set of skills from ones we have.
Is digital distribution a lot more challenging than you expected?
Retail has different competitors from media and what’s challenging is to fight a two front war. But part of this is recognising your stengths and limitations. We believe we can be the best in the world at creating a games media service. Anything that’s a distraction from that makes up less than what we can ultimately be.
You touched upon partnering with retail. What are you aiming to do?
We have a partnership with GameStop, and that includes us providing content to GameStop.com and representing advertising on that website. Similar retail partnerships around the world is something of great interest to us.
Is the split from News Corp still on the cards?
It’s something we’re looking at and there’s been a lot of interest in it. We don’t have any specific timetable.
What will be the benefit of that?
News Corp has been incredibly supportive of us in looking for a way to go big with IGN by seeking additional partners. I think News Corp sees an opportunity to take something that’s working and invest in it to make it bigger.
How hard is it for IGN to stay relevant in a market where the trend is moving towards social and mobile gaming?
We need to invent new kinds of media services for these platforms. Nobody has yet created a great media service for mobile and social. We’d like to and we’re experimenting, but it’s hard. We need to be broader.
The biggest games are now much bigger, so you have people who are not necessarily gamers, but are FIFA gamers or Call of Duty gamers or Minecraft gamers. We need to serve the people who are hyper fans of some of these gigantic franchises.
The UK national press has blamed Xbox for a boy dying from deep vein thrombosis and GTA for inspiring the riots in London. Do you think games will ever be accepted by the mainstream press?
There’s a long history of when new forms of entertainment arrive, some wings of the media blame them for social ills. Games, like any other form of culture, has the ability to speak powerfully to people, so people will ask if they’re influencing social behaviour. It’s a sign of how important games have become that society is appropriately asking those questions.
I’m not sure our national media is appropriately asking it.
Any individual journalist might be way off base, but in the same way I don’t think rock ‘n’ roll music was responsible for the social upheaval of the 1960s, I don’t think games are responsible for what we see happening right throughout the UK.
In what ways is IGN attempting to attract new talent?
Many of the best gaming content creators and bloggers are contributing on a section of our site called My IGN. And when it’s great we’ll feature it on the front page of IGN.com. We’re not the be all and end all authority but we’re the centrepoint for all this passion in the community of experts.