UsVsTh3m and Ampp3d are being cut back…

… and that’s a sad thing. Per Buzzfeed:

UsVsTh3m and Ampp3d are more niche areas and have very high costs for the volume of traffic. It is therefore more sustainable for us to invest resource in an integrated digital team, focusing on the main areas of the Mirror site which have more mass-market appeal.

“We remain committed to digital and will continue to invest and innovate in this area, including with new roles both now and in the future. The sites will remain for the time being.”

Paul Bradshaw has an excellent overview of the legacy of those sites for British media – they have had a huge and surprising influence on the way the Mirror tackles the internet, for sure, but also on other legacy media in the UK, spawning copycats on both content and workflow terms – to which Buzzfeed’s Tom Philips has added an insightful comment:

“Quite where it went wrong is a matter for another day, but my guess would be that Trinity Mirror didn’t know what they had – they seemed to limit funding for it at exactly the point they should have aggressively expanded. TM’s current explanation (that they weren’t delivering the traffic given their supposedly high cost) may be true right now, I’ve no idea, but it certainly wasn’t back in late 2013 when a tiny team was delivering 10 million unique users a month. If the Mirror weren’t able to make something sustainable out of that, then I don’t think the blame can lie with the talented staff who produced it.”

And Adam Tinworth points out that the world doesn’t necessarily need more Mail clones, which seems to be the way the Mirror’s going, and notes that there are a lot of superb digital journalists about to leave the Mirror.

Both UsVsTh3m and Ampp3d did pioneering work – often silly, often irreverent, often light and bright, but always and unfailingly digital. Ampp3d created the single best interactive I have ever seen for mobile. UsVsTh3m had the strongest integration of games into journalism that I’ve seen, using them for satire and for commentary rather than for news delivery. Both hired fantastic new digital journalists and let them talk in their own voices, to the communities they came from; the result was probably the most successful legacy media project to build youth voices and young readership that the UK has ever seen.

Those voices were important, and they changed a great deal. They will be very much missed.

Libraries, games and books

There’s no need for physical media any more, not really, not unless it is a beautiful and delightful object that requires physical existence in order to truly accomplish what it sets out to do.

I am thousands of miles away from my McSweeney’s quarterlies, my copies of the Codex Seraphinianus and House of Leaves, but I kept them, when we moved; they live in boxes in my parents’ spare wardrobe along with the textbooks and miscellany I couldn’t bear to get rid of. Since we landed I’ve bought three books: The Norton Anthology of Poetry, a Bible-sized chunk of literature that I pick up maybe every week or so for a hit; a field guide to Australian birds, because it helped me feel less like an alien if I could identify the stuff in the sky here; and S., a gorgeous full-colour library book full of fake marginalia and individually-produced inserts. A formal experiment of the sort I can’t devour enough of.

I can’t remember the last time I bought a physical copy of a game for the PC. Digital downloads have supplanted physical games for the PC, and in doing so they’ve freed a vast multitude of new, small, interesting games from the strange tyranny of the physical product. (Except possibly in Australia, where you can actually buy things like The Basement Collection on disk, presumably because the internet here runs about the same speed as a smoke signal.)

Now Steam sales and Kickstarters have turned my PC gaming library into the same sort of collection as the bookshelves I tore up before we moved to Australia. It’s loosely organised by genre and by ‘feel’, in a way that’s intuitive to me but makes little to no sense otherwise. Its construction and contents reflect a lot about me; the things I’ve chosen to dedicate time to, the games I want close at hand for replaying.

It’s also full of games I probably won’t play to completion, in much the same way as the Shelf of Shame I used to keep my unread books on. For most of those games it doesn’t matter – the concept of ‘completion’ is pretty fuzzy on games without linear narrative – but there are more that I haven’t started than I feel entirely comfortable with.

That never stops me from buying more. It reminds me in some ways of the glory days of the PS2, when publishers produced the most astonishing array of strange and wonderful (and often utterly awful) games, and you could pick them up relatively cheaply knowing you would get a flawed but often interesting experience. (The collection of interesting PS2 games is also in London; the bad ones we traded in, so some other poor sucker has the joy of playing Air Rescue Rangers and America’s Top Ten Most Wanted now.)

I’m also now part of the friends and family sharing system, which means I tend towards buying games that I might have been on the fence about, so I can share them with others who will probably get as much from them as I will. But it also means my Steam library has an extra 200 or so games in it that I didn’t put there, that don’t fit the system. Like merging books with housemates or lovers whose tastes overlap but don’t entirely cohere. I had to make a new category for games I don’t want to play – not the same as games I haven’t played yet but will, one day. Games I just don’t want.

But that sharing is a joy, and not just because we don’t need to pay twice for two people who share the same computer to play the same game. It’s joyous because I get to explore and discover games I’d never have thought to try, and because I also get to explore someone else’s library, the way I used to wander through bookshelves when I visited friends. It’s joyous because that library even in its barest form – as a list of names without categorisation – is a sort of access to someone’s identity, a carefully chosen stack of media that says, at the very least: this is how I like to spend my time.

Media consumption, especially conspicuously, is a way of constructing identity; it follows then that Steam sales are cheap ways of being people.