As someone who founded Eurogamer, and spearheaded the website into becoming one of the biggest (and many would argue – best) media portals in the UK, Rupert Loman is acutely aware of the challenges which media professionals are facing in an age where social media users are often first to discover interesting news. Indeed, many established media websites have been repeatedly accused of being lazy, and of repurposing findings from unpaid content creators who tend to post on sites like Neogaf, Resetera, Reddit, and X (formerly known as Twitter). And in an age where unpaid enthusiasts are arguably doing “better” work than established professionals, one really does begin to wonder as to whether more should be done to reward (and recognise) the efforts of “amateurs” – who routinely give “professionals” a run for their money, and who also get better news-worthy scoops in the process.
At the same time, and in light of the duplicitous manner in which Isamu Fukui (aka Cerium) underhandedly profited from all the hard work of the denizens of the “communist” forum that is Resetera (to the extent that neither the users nor the mods got paid), what’s even more egregious is the fact that a forum like Resetera would only have cost around $4000 on a bad day to set up (including all necessary site scripts and modifications). And yet, Isamu Fukui was secretly pocketing $700,000 in yearly revenues from the site (with an 80% EBITDA margin that amounted to a profit of $560,000), before going on to sell it for $4.55 million. And if one needed any more proof that Isamu Fukui was not interested in the long-term health and viability of the site, then one only needs to examine as to how many features (or lack of) were implemented since the site’s formation, and whilst he was in charge.
Considering that a license for a Xenforo forum can be had for $160 (with various Xenforo approved extensions taking the grand total amount up to $695), a forum that’s technically on par with Resetera could be set up for less than $4000 (on a really bad day). However, even though the set up costs for a forum can be relatively low (in the scale of big business), one still needs to examine monthly maintenance and server costs. And whilst it’s worth noting that monthly maintenance and server costs can be fairly low for a forum which doesn’t have a lot of members, these costs do get exponentially higher however as the forum attracts and retains more active members. With this in mind, and considering that Resetera earned yearly revenues of $70,000 (before its sale), and assuming that the site had an EBITDA profit margin of 80%, then in a worst case scenario, this would have meant that Resetera had a yearly expense of $14,000 – or the equivalent monthly expense (including maintenance and server costs) of $1166.67. In other words, Resetera was incredibly cheap to set up and run, but also an incredibly profitable endeavour.
Indeed, and if one were inclined to do something similar (on a much smaller scale), then one could easily just buy a Xenforo license for $160 (roughly £130) – which grants lifetime use – and then opt to buy a hosting package with a cheap website hosting provider (like GoDaddy). Indeed, with GoDaddy charging £59.88 to new customers for the first year (as part of their ‘Web Hosting Deluxe’ package – which also includes a free domain), one could potentially startup for a minimum total cost of roughly £190 (which is equivalent to roughly $240). After this, one would only need to worry about annual server and domain costs (as an absolute minimum), and this outgoing expense can be offset by charging everyone an annual membership fee (similar to what Resetera and Neogaf do when they charge for “Era” and “Gold“). Indeed, the idea of charging users an annual membership fee is akin to what SAAS companies do. And The Something Awful Forums also do something similar, in that the site charges all members a one-time registration fee, whereby the money helps pay for staff and infrastructure, discourages trolls and spammers, and also greatly improves the quality of registered users on the forum as well as their onboard discussion.
Given that Isamu Fukui failed to disclose as to how much money he’d received (from the profits generated from the site, and the sale itself) in his ‘Resetera Ownership Update‘ announcement, it could be argued that he lied by omission. At the same time, and after details of the site’s sale started getting reported by numerous gaming media outlets, his inability to be completely transparent lead many Resetera members to brand him as an incredibly deceitful and ignoble individual who had betrayed the site’s ideological roots – especially after he’d tried to gain sympathy by spinning the emotionally charged narrative that he’d been forced into selling Resetera as a result of the “pressure of being the sole owner of ResetEra”, as well as his own “personal health concerns”. A fact that didn’t go unnoticed when many Resetera members started calling him out on his lack of involvement with the site prior to its sale.
Given that Resetera’s community was never paid for its hardwork, and knowing that the site’s moderators were also not paid, was this situation the same for the rest of the site’s staff? And if so, were the remaining staff comfortable with this arrangement?
According to Emily Rogers who was part of Resetera’s launch admin, she clarified her stance on Famiboards (a forum that was set up after a large number of Nintendo fans had decided to leave Resetera and set up on their own) as to who was paid as part of Resetera’s staff roster. She stated that only the tech team ever had any sense of ownership with the site, and that the launch admin were never paid. This is one of the many reasons as to why so many of the site’s founding staff had decided to step down and leave early. She also mentioned that Isamu Fukui had actively sought to consolidate and buy out all of the shares in order to become Resetera’s sole owner – a fact that really bothered some members of Resetera and Famiboards.
According to BambooHR, staff members are motivated by the twin factors of recognition and reward. And if the vast majority of Resetera’s staff knew that there was zero chance of them ever being financially rewarded, then what would compel them to carry on? At the same time, why would so many people want to be part of Resetera’s staff roster if they knew that they wouldn’t ever get paid?
Knowing that the vast majority of Resetera’s staff don’t receive any tangible financial rewards, the only other factor which would explain as to why someone would want to be part of Resetera’s staff roster would be the manner in which the site “recognises” its staff. And British author, Alain De Botton (via his book ‘Status Anxiety‘) would agree with this, as he’d argue that “the desire for high status is never stronger than in situations where “ordinary” life fails to answer a median need for dignity and comfort”. At the same time, and if one is uncertain of their own value, Alain De Botton would argue that in the context of recognition, “to be shown love is to feel ourselves the object of concern: our presence is noted, our name is registered, our views are listened to, our failings are treated with indulgence and our needs are ministered to. And under such care, we flourish.”
Given that holding an important position within an organisation (or society) allows someone to have a semblance of self-worth, this is why so many people define themselves according to their jobs. At the same time, one is also aware of the belief that a “good job” allows one to play an important role within an organisation (and society), and that the “good job” brings with it certain social and materialistic (ie recognition and reward) benefits and opportunities. Nickleback would support this “want” and “need” by stating (via their ‘Rockstar’ song) that “we all just wanna be big rockstars, and live in hilltop houses, driving 15 cars”.
I’m through with standing in line to clubs I’ll never get in
It’s like the bottom of the ninth, and I’m never gonna win
This life hasn’t turned out quite the way I want it to be
(Tell me what you want)
I want a brand new house on an episode of Cribs
And a bathroom I can play baseball in
And a king-size tub, big enough for ten plus me
(Uh, so what you need?)
– Nickleback, ‘Rockstar’
Knowing that people ascribe their sense of self-worth from their jobs, then it’s arguable that holding a great position is often associated with the perception of having great power (where one has influence and authority over others). In this context therefore, it can be argued that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely… There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it” (Lord Acton). And Dr Robert Aziz (via his post on Huffington Post) would support this, as he would argue that power “corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness and neglect. It corrupts because it licenses individuals to unilaterally, unreflectively and thus arbitrarily impose their will on others. It licenses individuals to impose their will without having properly engaged and processed through the Reality at hand. Power inflates the ego and through it the ego is erroneously led to believe it has the power to make people, ideas and even Reality itself disappear without due process. In the big picture nothing is further from the truth. Power corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness, and in so doing it not only destroys the growth opportunity of the victim of such imposition, but no less the growth opportunity of the victimizer. Failure to engage another in consciousness, not only does the other individual harm, but it no less does serious harm to oneself, for in both cases the precious opportunity to extend consciousness by way of self-organizing nature is altogether lost, corrupted.”
The idea that power corrupts “people of influence” has long been levied at police officers, politicians, and anyone else in positions of power. Similarly, this argument has also been levied at moderators of websites that enjoy heavy traffic (such as Reddit and Resetera), whereby moderators have often been accused of taking up their positions for the sole purpose of having a semblance of power, and also because it allows them to have a bevy of self-centered benefits. This is in stark contrast to the utilitarian ideal, whereby moderators would utilise their position for the benefit of their community.
The huge number of instances where Reddit moderators have abused their power has resulted in a number of subreddits being established which aim to highlight these unjust practices. There’s r/RedditModAbuse which aims to be “A place to expose the abuse of power by Reddit Mods.” There’s r/ModBoners whose mission statement is that “As we all know reddit mods have a boner for banning and abusing power. This is a place where you can sharing experiences with mods and other subreddit staff that left them with giant hard on that probably lasted longer then your ban did.” And then there’s r/PowertrippingMods whose mission statement is that “Mod abuse is what makes this site a worse place. We document the worst of it. There’s loads of asshole mods out there, so make sure you showcase them right here for all of us to see. Come on, show us how much little power goes to these internet janitors’ heads.”
Although Reddit does harbour its fair share of power-hungry moderators, this situation also manifests itself on Resetera – a platform which describes itself as being “the most popular independent gaming forum on the internet as measured by traffic“. And with this in mind, there have been a number of instances where Resetera’s moderators have shown that they “have an agenda on how to steer the groupthink”, and this was acutely evident when the forum issued a “total ban on discussion of Hogwarts Legacy” earlier this year. At the same time, there have also been many reported instances where Resetera’s moderators have abused their power, and silenced / banned those whose views they consider to be contentious. And as part of this ideological purge (where the moderators have taken it upon themselves to prune Resetera’s userbase), their actions have also resulted in entire communities being driven off the platform.
With Resetera being called “trash” and “the worst gaming forum around“, one could justifiably argue that Resetera has a fairly unhealthy reputation amongst gamers. With this in mind, and knowing that Alain De Botton argues that “the more corrupt the community, the stronger the lure of individual achievement”, it’s interesting to note that not only did Isamu Fukui not do any work for the vast majority of the site’s lifespan, but he also sold the site in order to become a multi-millionaire (whilst ensuring that none of the regular site staff or users were paid). This shocking act of betrayal resulted in a number of Resetera’s users calling Isamu Fukui a sell-out, and arguing that Tyler Malka (also known as Evilore on Neogaf) possessed more integrity, and had proven himself to be the bigger man. Indeed, this also resulted in one of the users being banned under the pretence of them having a “troll account”, whereas in actuality, this was just another feeble attempt by Resetera’s moderators in trying to control the narrative, gaslight their community, and “steer the groupthink” into believing that they weren’t actually “slaves”.
With Resetera’s community being compared to “slaves” (insofar as “nobody here got paid”), and knowing that this comment resulted in Qwerty999 being banned, their ban suggests that when it comes to Resetera, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. And if this is the case, and knowing that one of the site’s moderators (Nepenthe) is black, then one could also look towards Malcolm X’s teachings, whereby the black civil rights leader argues that “during slavery you had two Negroes. You had the house Negro and the field Negro… The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master. He wore his master’s second-hand clothes. He ate food that his master left on the table. And he lived in his master’s house–probably in the basement or the attic–but he still lived in the master’s house… But then you had another Negro out in the field. The house Negro was in the minority. The masses–the field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority… So now you have a twentieth-century-type of house Negro. A twentieth-century Uncle Tom. He’s just as much an Uncle Tom today as Uncle Tom was 100 and 200 years ago. Only he’s a modern Uncle Tom. That Uncle Tom wore a handkerchief around his head. This Uncle Tom wears a top hat.”
Given that “nobody here got paid”, it could be argued that everyone on Resetera is a glorified slave who works to make their slave owner (ie Isamu Fukui) rich. At the same time, and if one were to consider Malcolm X’s teachings, one could also argue that the moderators (with their fancy titles) are modern-day manifestations of house negroes and Uncle Toms. Their designated titles (insofar as they’re “moderators”) diguise the fact that they don’t get paid, don’t have the ability to exercise any real power, and that their status is entirely dependent upon the slave owner(s). As part of this arrangement, it could be argued that since Resetera’s moderators are also “slaves”, they’re also exploited, and are not at all the legitimate leaders that they’ve been brainwashed into believing about themselves. Instead however, these “moderators” are complicit and sympathetic to slave owner wishes, and since they’ve been “handpicked” by their slave owner(s), do not represent the wants and needs of the ordinary slaves – as their job is to mislead and to also continuously keep ordinary slaves in check (via the threat of force). This has lead to numerous reports of Resetera’s staff abusing their power, whereby the moderators continuously abuse their users – much like how the prison guards continuously abused their prisoners in the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Given that “house negroes” (such as Nepenthe) have stated that “staff have always been able to see months and months into the future”, and that they’re privy to new “features, upcoming events, works-in-progress on the rules and so on”, it’s interesting to note that although Isamu Fukui had been earning $700,000 in yearly revenues, very little of that money ever went towards the establishing of new features. Indeed, and as Dunkzilla previously stated, the site has always looked a little “barebones”, and Qwerty999 also supported this by arguing that the owner “didn’t divvy any of the “taxes” to ensure that this forum would have better infrastructure and services”. As part of this growing contention, and bearing in mind that Resetera was sold (to M.O.B.A. Network) as it was “coming up on our 4th anniversary” in October 2021, PrivateWHudson and Dennis8K both queried as to why Resetera had remained so sparse in terms of new features – despite the community regularly asking for these features for years, and when Isamu Fukui had also earned a profit of $560,000 “in the last twelve months (up to and including 31 August)“?
Resetera was formed on 24 October 2017, and Isamu Fukui announced Resetera’s sale on 14 October 2021. During his (nearly) 4 year tenure as “slave owner”, him and his team hardly ever delineated as to what plans they had for the site, and how these plans could have helped improve the experience of the average Resetera user. In failing to provide a comprehensive roadmap on how the site could have been improved, not only did Resetera’s staff convey the impression that they were extremely lazy, but that they also lacked vision, and weren’t at all interested in the site’s long-term future. This lack of transparency, and cynical attempt at trying to keep Resetera’s community hostage, is something that a Neogaf user (by the name of Nush) picked up on in 2019 when they argued that “as time goes on it becomes more and more blatant that Isamu Fukui (AKA Cerium) the owner of Restetera only set it up in order to flip it to some corporation for a 6 figure sum that was offered to Gaf one time“.
Although news of Resetera’s sale was met with a lot of anger from the site’s users, there must have been a lot of anger from other people in the wider games community. As part of this, one can only imagine as to what some people would have thought about when they found out that Isamu Fukui had underhandedly pocketed $560,000 in the run-up to Resetera’s sale, and how they themselves could have used these funds to improve the lives of gamers everywhere. Indeed, when I found out about the site’s sale (on 16 October 2021), but before I was able to discover as to how awful Resetera’s staff were, I sent an email to someone which stated that “I would have tried to give back to the community by paying the mods first and foremost. Because it’s the mods / community that enabled me to earn $500k profit… I would also have tried to implement a program by which good content creators got paid. Therefore incentivising them into creating better content.”
One such person who shares similar ideals, and who also wants to ensure that good content creators get paid, is Rupert Loman. And as the Founder and CEO of Just About, he incorporated his company on 16 March 2022 (5 months after Resetera’s sale). As part of this, and although his community website is still only in alpha stage, he’s outlined bold plans for where he wants to take his website next. At the same time, and by articulating his vision, Rupert Loman has shown a level of transparency (and vulnerability) that is leaps and bounds beyond anything that Isamu Fukui has ever conceived with Resetera. And unlike Isamu Fukui, Rupert Loman has shown that he is able to handle the stress of maintaining multiple game communities (on multiple websites), whilst Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook fame) has also shown that he can do a better job of maintaining game communities, and has done so since the age of 19.
I interviewed Rupert Loman about his Just About project, and was also able to ask him a number of questions pertaining to his community website. As part of this, I was able to ask him as to how he was looking to differentiate his website from what’s already out there, and what prompted him in wanting to pay his users. Enjoy!
What was your reasoning in wanting to start Just About, and how do you think the community website distinguishes itself from what’s already out there (including Reddit, X, Resetera etc)? At the same time, what steps are you taking to attract users, and also get the word out?
I don’t share the vision that big tech has been pushing for the future of the internet over the past few years. Whether it’s corporate-led metaverses, “anything goes” social networks or the crypto-fication of everything, I don’t think a compelling case has been made that these are good things for most people.
We feel there is space for a new, differentiated platform that more fairly recognises the value created by community members, moderators and creators. We’re now in Alpha, but once we are happy that the basics are working well, we’ll be working hard to get the word out!
Community websites that enable users to voluntarily submit their own content are nothing new. From a videogames standpoint, Neogaf has been around since 1999 (as Gaming-Age Forums), and GameFAQS was formed even earlier in 1995 (as Video Game FAQ Archive). Why do you think there’s a trend for social platforms to take advantage of their content creators and not pay them anything? Even the “communist” videogames forum that is Resetera engaged in this exploitative practice, whereby its duplicitous former-owner (Isamu Fukui / Cerium) reneged on the site’s founding ideals by single-handedly pocketing $560,000 on a yearly basis, whilst making sure that neither the site’s mods or content creators were financially compensated, before going on to sell the site for $4.5 million. In light of this shockingly ignoble trend, why haven’t we seen the emergence of more equitable social platforms, whereby the site owners try to give back to their community members?
I think it’s only been relatively recently that community leaders and members have started to better understand the value they bring to platforms and how one-sided the value exchange currently is. How the power dynamic is shifting is demonstrated perfectly by the subreddit blackouts over the past few weeks.
Additionally, the big platforms have such powerful network effects. If your friends or favourite creators are on there, it really is quite hard to leave! That’s why we’re aiming to fit into and complement the existing ecosystem – for example by paying rewards for content that is created on other platforms – rather than attempting to force anybody to move.
That said, there are shifts in platform usage from time to time. Whether it’s through innovation from new platforms, or because of some other event that causes users to decide to migrate elsewhere as a group.
A major problem which advertising revenue funded websites have is that in order to reach critical mass, they often have to race towards the bottom, and appease the lowest possible common denominator. This is one of the main reasons as to why X has such an unhealthy reputation, as it attracts a lot of low quality people. With this in mind, what steps are you taking to attract (genuine) high quality people, who will act as high quality content creators, and who will be recognised and rewarded for their efforts? At the same time, what steps are you taking to ensure that the site doesn’t attract and harbour low quality people, who might resort to using AI when creating their content, and who might ruin the user experience (and the site’s reputation) by turning Just About into a hotbed for spam and clickbait articles?
I agree that attracting high quality people and content creation is vital to the platform’s success. We want to ensure that the rewards platform is meritocratic and recognises prosocial behaviour and original, interesting and entertaining content creation.
Guarding against inauthentic, AI-generated content and spam is going to be one of the big challenges for us, as well as for pretty much all platforms and websites. We think it’s possible by designing bounties that are answerable only if you have had the experience yourself. We’re combining this with the collective knowledge of the community in voting for those contributions and helping with content moderation and detection of bad actors. We’ll of course be doing copyright detection and other automated moderation as well.
There’s also an element of “the first people to arrive at a party set the tone”, so as we go through Alpha and Beta we hope to demonstrate what’s expected of Just About members, as well as recognise and reward those who are helping to make it a great community space.
Considering the financial pressures that Just About will be under (whereby it routinely tries to attract sufficient corporate advertising and sponsorship revenue in order to stay financially solvent), what safeguards do you have in place for users who might hold unpopular views and who want to express themselves freely – without fear of being censored and / or cancelled as a result of corporate and / or lynchmob reprisals? In short, what steps are you taking (that includes impartial moderation) to ensure that Just About will act as a safe space, and allow for users to follow in Jeff Gerstmann’s steps, whereby they’re able to score The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom a 6 out of 10? At the same time, what steps are you taking to ensure that you’re able to foster a community whereby users are able to hold disparate views, whilst also appeasing corporate interests and guidelines (such as Nintendo’s) who might not want to be associated with certain views? What sort of pressure does this put you under, and how will you be able to balance these seemingly opposing interests, without it necessarily affecting your (and your community’s) bottom line?
For anything that is against our Terms of Service, such as hate speech and libel, we have and will enforce a zero tolerance approach. There are plenty of online spaces where people can go for complete freedom of speech, but that is not our approach. We think this will make for a healthier community long-term.
Expressing honest opinions about a video game in good faith, whether positive and negative, is fine. Advertisers are constantly evaluating where to place their marketing spend, and ultimately will spend with platforms that have thriving, safe and growing communities if they see the value in doing that.
We believe companies supporting their genuine fans to express themselves is a positive thing and one where all stakeholders are aligned: players, games companies and the platform. Of course there will be occasional ups and downs. Delivering a great game that delights players is incredibly difficult, but ultimately is the responsibility of the games company. If there’s a big mismatch between player expectations and what’s delivered, you’ll get some negative feedback. But in those cases, an openness to genuine community feedback can help avoid it happening again and there’ll be goodwill and trust to build on from having that dialogue.
One other thing worth mentioning is that our name “Just About” is indicative of our mission. As well as underlining our core values of being Just, it’s also a nod to the fact that our community spaces are for specific passions and fandoms. So Just About Minecraft will be Just About Minecraft, and that will help guide us in terms of keeping discussions on topic and only showing a member the content they opted in to see.
As someone who played a pivotal role in shaping the online videogames journalism sector (via your founding of Eurogamer and Gamer Network), and having already mentioned AI and advertising revenue, what impact do you think improvements in AI and a trending decline in advertising revenue will have on the traditional online videogames journalism sector – especially in relation to attracting and retaining journalistic talent, whilst also upholding the credibility and financial solvency of media websites that will face increasing competition from AI generated blogs and content farms?
There have been challenges and pressures on traditional games media for as long as I’ve been in the industry – social media, mobile, influencers, adblock and so on. But I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is the biggest existential threat so far. Most games media is reliant on a combination of online advertising, Google search traffic and game guides!
That said, there’s an audience out there for quality and many fantastic journalists are now in sustainable roles, thanks to the likes of Patreon and YouTube and the support of community members who value what they are creating.
We think we can play our own part here too. By providing recognition, earnings, discoverability and support to writers and video creators via Just About, we may well find some talent for the future and give them a launchpad when it might be more difficult on other platforms or within traditional media. We’d be delighted if people built up their skills and reputation on our platform and it led them to successful careers in the games media or industry.
What are your future goals and aspirations for Just About, and where do you the site going from here?
We have an extremely ambitious roadmap and plans that’ll keep us busy for ages. In the short term, our focus is on creating a technical platform and sustainable economy, whilst proving that our new model can work for all stakeholders.
Ultimately though, we’d like to move beyond games to be Just About Anything. We want to prove that a fairer value exchange between platforms and their users helps to build and nurture better communities for the long-term.
Lastly, you’ve been part of the videogames journalism sector since 1999. Considering that you started in the industry 24 years ago, what would you consider to be your biggest successes and failures during this time, and where do you see yourself in the next 24 years? At the same time, what advice would you give to someone who considers you as their role model, and who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I’m extremely proud that the brands that we built (such as Eurogamer, GamesIndustry.biz and EGX) are still thriving after all of these years. We managed to create a successful business from scratch that attracted millions of readers, viewers and attendees from all around the world. They are well known globally for their editorial quality and independence, respected in the industry, and they have provided employment and kickstarted careers for lots of people over multiple decades.
Of course it wasn’t all plain sailing but looking back, we did it on our own terms and I think we had a lot more successes than failures. It’s hard to give advice without it being a cliche – so much of it was about being in the right place at the right time (see what I mean?!) – I’m very much hoping the same will be true for Just About this time around as well.