If UGO hadn't bought 1UP, things could have been a lot worse. That's what the company's CEO told me in an interview that began with me asking: "How do you like being a bad guy"?
How do you like being a bad guy? That's the first question I asked J Moses, CEO of the UGO Entertainment today, in an interview that I hoped would clear the air or at least tell the other side of the story that's been lighting up gaming sites for the last 24 hours: the shutdown of Electronic Gaming Monthly, the firing of about 30 1UP.com employees and the purchase of 1up by UGO.
"How am I a bad guy?" Moses replied from his end of the phone. "I'm a great guy."
On a day that many gamers are vilifying his company, Moses sounded upbeat. The reason: because he states unequivocally that his company just saved 1UP.
"We have just hired 24 people," he said. "At a time where all you read about is layoffs we have expanded UGO by 33 percent. I don't know of any content companies out there expanding their workforce. We did that because our business is robust and growing."
While some gamers are lamenting what they see is a UGO-engineered gutting of 1UP, Moses argues that that interpretation is wrong. "The simple reality is that we only wanted to buy 1UP and related sites. That was our interest. We're a dot-com company and that's all we've ever been for 11 years. I've personally have always been a huge fan of 1UP. I'm thrilled to buy it through Hearst/UGO."
But, I told him, some fans might argue back: why didn't you leave it alone?
"We really have largely left it alone," Moses replied. "We kept, we believe, the core editorial group that can continue to do great things. What we're adding is 1up.com as an editorial site that will sit on top of the UGO publishing site. And we kept who we believe are the critical people who can make up a great site."
Moses explains the departure of many of the people let go yesterday as the result of Ziff-directed cutting of EGM staff. UGO wasn't trying to buy EGM, he said, so he believes that "Closing EGM has absolutely nothing to do with UGO."
But what many gamers have reacted to is an apparent loss of 1UP's key podcasts, shows such as 1UP Yours and the 1UP Show. "I think you will continue to see video-casts and podcasts," Moses said. "It may not be on the exact same schedule that it was. It may not be the exact same people. But it will continue being a part of 1UP."
Asked if 1UP Yours and the 1UP Show specifically would continue, Moses said that those decisions are still being worked through between UGO and the 1UP editorial team. What's not encouraging for fans of those shows is the departure of the 1UP Show's producers and one of 1UPyours' key voices, Shane Bettenhausen. About those personnel, Moses deferred to continuing 1UP editorial director Sam Kennedy as the decision-maker about how and with whom those shows would continue. Moses did call out one person, though: "We would have loved to have had Shane join us, but Shane had other opportunities that we were informed of before we bought the site."
(Reached for comment, Bettenhausen said he wasn't ready to announce his new gig just yet.)
Interviewed by phone separately, Kennedy said that the Retronauts podcast will continue and that there are "some possibilities" with 1UPyours. The fate of the 1UPshow seems more up in the air.
Kennedy acknowledged that the loss of so many talented gaming reporters and personalities is a blow but drew an analogy to Saturday Night Live's many cast changes and rebirths. He said 1UP's voice can continue: "We're real. We're honest. That will never die with 1UP… We'll introduce new stars along the way. Well try to keep people in the family if we can... as long as I'm here and all the other great people who are part of 1up here we will continue to do what we have done."
Moses said he was expecting the reaction that has come, the anger and frustration online "I was prepared for it. The situation is what it is. A lot of people lost their jobs yesterday which was really unfortunate. But UGO was the cause of none of it. What we did is we offered 24 people jobs who may not have had jobs otherwise.
For now Moses says he thinks that most of 1UPs' audience is in a "wait and see" mode. He hears the vocal people who are unhappy but believes that, over time, UGO will keep 1UP's spirit intact. "Make no mistake about it, we are very intent on becoming the leader in the games space and we think, with 1Up, we are knocking on the door."
Moses said that the 1Up site will continue to function without interruption.