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Goodbye Kotaku Australia, You Were A Very Good Website

A eulogy

Daniel Goh

Kotaku was launched in New York in 2004, and it didn't take long for readers (and advertisers) to realise it was a good website. So in 2008 the publication's owner at the time, Gawker Media, made a deal that saw the Kotaku brand licensed out to an Australian media company. And so Kotaku AU was born.

Based in Sydney and paying a fee to Gawker for the name and content, Kotaku Australia (and its stablemates Gizmodo AU and Lifehacker AU) served two masters. First, it handled the republication of the American site's content on a local masthead, where it could attract whole new ad deals. But it also hired Australian writers, who could publish their own criticism and do their own reporting.

This lent the site a voice of its own, an identity distinct from the American mothership, shaped by a succession of local (or at least locally-based) editors who were able to provide a softer tone and cultivate a community that, I'll be honest, was often the envy of the US site.

Kotaku AU was able to perform miracles relative to its headcount and budget, providing a constant stream of original reporting that held the local industry to account when needed, but could champion Australian games development and its community at the same time.

I’m tired of this heartless corpo bullshit. Fuck these dogs.

Anyway, you've read the headline already (and are living through 2024 and the media apocalypse) so you know why we're here writing these words in this tone: yesterday the owners of Kotaku AU--the embattled Pedestrian Group, part of the even more embattled Nine Network--shut down the sites and laid everyone off. Writers weren't even allowed to access their CMS to say goodbye, leaving the site's last posts (at time of publishing) to be a report on LA Noire weirdness and a Final Fantasy XIV tip.

Denied even that last dignified act--and disclosure time, because I've worked closely with many of these people and think they're all amazing--I've turned Aftermath over for one blog to former editors and writers of Kotaku Australia, so that they can share their thoughts and say their goodbyes. 

First up is David Wildgoose, an elder statesman of Australian games media and the second Editor of Kotaku Australia:

Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that the Pedestrian Group would slow-walk to death a formerly vital hub of Australia's games community. Perhaps, as we survey the wreckage of the games media landscape over the past five years, the surprise is that Kotaku AU survived as long as it did. Regardless, the masthead and remaining editorial staff deserved a kinder fate than to be chewed up and spat out by an uncaring corporate machine.

Next up is the site's third Editor, the decidedly un-Australian Mark Serrels, whose eight-year tenure perhaps marked the site's high-water mark, at least in terms of the resources allocated to it:

News that the Australian edition of Kotaku has come to an end has been sitting heavy on me all day. It almost feels like the death of a distant, beloved relative.  

Over the course of eight years I published 11,000 posts on Kotaku Australia. The happiest times of my professional life were spent working on the site, publishing everything from news, reviews to unhinged shitposts. Every now and then I’d also post stuff that felt important. Those days were the best.

I’ve worked at a number of places – and loved it – but I don’t think I ever feel as aligned with a website’s purpose like I did at Kotaku Australia. At the time it was simply tailor-made for me and the way I wanted to write. I could do pretty much anything I wanted. I walked around Sydney wearing a sleeping bag all day. I did a completely cooked polyphasic sleep experiment so I could play more video games. It was a wild time and I’ve tried to replicate that energy to every place I’ve worked since. 

Kotaku Australia had its own unique identity, and a truly powerful community. They welcomed me with open arms and those first couple of years were magic. The TAYbies as they called themselves (it’s a long story) were endlessly supportive of the work I wanted to do and drowned out the gross mess of gaming discourse during dark times. In the depths of Gamergate that community got me through some truly challenging days. I met lifelong friends through Kotaku Australia. In fact, I just caught up with one of them at the pub last weekend. (Hi Ruffleberg!)

It was also a wicked conveyor belt for talent. I hired Jackson Ryan not once but twice and first met him through the Kotaku community (he once won a competition for writing a story about pissing himself while playing Super Mario World). I met Dan Crowd, who now looks after gaming content at the ABC, at a Kotaku meet-up. Zorine Te, who went to Gamespot and became an esports superstar, used to be a community mainstay as well! And hey – did you know that my old Dep Ed Tracey Lien is now a famous best-selling author?

That’s not to mention all the incredible people I worked with across all three sites. I hesitate to name names because I’m a moron and I’ll miss someone important, but almost all of the best games and tech journalists in Australia had a stint on these sites at one time and we all learned something important from one another. It was a melting pot for “good shit” before I arrived and it was a melting pot for “good shit” long after I left.

And on that note, a special shout out to the folks who steered Kotaku in its final days. David Smith, Emily Spindler, Courtney Borret, Lauren Rouse and Chris Neill among others were killing it. It absolutely sucks they’ve been cut off at the peak of their powers.

I’m gutted, absolutely gutted. 

...the masthead and remaining editorial staff deserved a kinder fate than to be chewed up and spat out by an uncaring corporate machine...

Tegan Jones, an award-winning tech journo who worked across all three Gawker-down-under sites (and was Editor of Gizmodo Australia) says:

I’m beyond heartbroken over the demise of Gizmodo, Kotaku & Lifehacker Australia.

The people working across these publications - some of the last bastions of paid, niche tech journalism in this country - were powerhouses who deserved better.

I’m so sorry for them all.

Gizmodo was my life for so long. Being its editor was something I took very seriously. It was my dream job. I wore the title proudly. For better or worse, it was my entire identity for a while there. Perhaps that’s a good lesson in the importance of divorcing one’s sense of self from the thing that pays their rent.

Because in this business, one day, it probably won’t.

Still, I’m not the only former editor to express such sentiments about Giz. There’s gotta be a reason for that. I will always love it for changing my life and the part it has always played in local tech journalism under so many wonderful and talented editors.

The same goes for Kotaku and Lifehacker.

Just look at the public lamentations of all former editors and writers across these publications - some of whom haven’t worked there in years. They weren't just jobs or websites for us. Gracing the digital pages of these sites will always be career highlights. Life highlights even.

For many of us, they gave us our first big breaks. They were our homes. For Alex [Ed's note: former Kotaku AU Editor Alex Walker] and myself in particular, they were the catalyst for our nine year relationship. Kotaku is the reason we met - at a local Need For Speed preview, which is eternally hilarious.

Looking at the toxic flames engulfing the local tech media landscape, I honestly don’t see a way forward. Perhaps that’s the sadness of the day speaking, but considering the dire state even mainstream journalism is in, I’m afraid I may be the right amount of jaded.

Regardless of what the future may hold, I think we can all agree that the industry will be worse off without these publications. It’s a dark day for Australian journalism and tech media globally - something that is becoming alarmingly common.

Ruby Innes was a great writer and an even better illustrator for Kotaku AU. Few things brought me more joy over the site's 16-year history than seeing some weird little guy she'd drawn at the top of a very good post:

I started at Kotaku AU in November 2021 and finished up in July 2023. Yeah, I wasn’t there for yonks, but I like to think I made myself known in a way. Not a smart or intellectual way, but definitely A Way.

Thanks to my wonderful editor David Smith, I was allowed to go turbo. I wrote some bonkers shit, some bonkers shit disguised as real shit, and some very personal shit too. I got to draw all sorts of silly drawings to go along with my insane ‘illustrated guides’ too, and that was a treat. But most importantly, I got to talk to so many cool people both in and out of the games industry, and shine a spotlight on Australia’s local games industry. Writing for Kotaku AU opened my eyes to a world of local game dev talent that I hadn’t seen before, and boosted my love for games in a way I’m very thankful for.

Kotaku AU has been a beacon for writing about games in Australia in a unique way. So many talented writers, artists, game devs, and so on have had their work published on Kotaku AU. Sure, it came with baggage, but Kotaku AU very much stood on its own two feet as an Australian games publication that gave a shit about the local industry. And wasn’t afraid to dig deep or have a chuckle.

The loss of Kotaku AU is fucked. The games journalism world is fucking cooked right now, and to see one of the biggest platforms that Australia has in games journalism disappear in one fell swoop alongside other great titles is sickening. I’m tired of this heartless corpo bullshit. Fuck these dogs. Love to Kotaku AU and everybody that played a part in making it what it was.

Amanda Yeo, one of the smartest writers and critics I have ever worked with, says:

My early years at Kotaku Australia were some of the happiest of my career. Kotaku AU gave me my start in games journalism, enthusiastically encouraged by then-editor Mark Serrels (to whom I will always be grateful). I loved my time there, and in another universe where things went differently, I can picture myself having chosen to stay.

Unfortunately, one of the many lessons I learned there was that good things rarely last. I had hoped Kotaku AU would always continue on, enduring the ups, downs, and many challenges to remain a constant stalwart. In my more optimistic musings, I even imagined Kotaku AU growing beyond what it was in my nostalgic memories, likely while I watched enviously from the sidelines.

I simply couldn't picture an Australian games journalism scene without Kotaku AU. Even with it now a sombre reality, I still struggle to comprehend it.

Being a full-time games journalist was barely feasible when I began in this industry, and it's only gotten worse in the years since. Kotaku AU was a bastion for Australian games journalism, offering not only entertaining, informative, and heartfelt content, but also some of the few opportunities in the country for writers covering this beat. It's devastating to think of those opportunities now being turned to dust, leaving budding writers with one less buoy to cling to in increasingly rough seas. Without Kotaku AU and its sister sites Gizmodo AU and Lifehacker AU, my life would have been very different. Now even fewer people will get a similar chance.

I wrote some bonkers shit, some bonkers shit disguised as real shit, and some very personal shit too

Alex Walker, who joined Kotaku AU as a journalist in 2015 before spending five years as its Editor, says:

I loved writing for everyone on Kotaku Australia. Everyone I worked with did the same, and that applied to the other local wings just as much. And as we go full steam ahead into the AI-generated shitstain of a content world that is already upon us, I believe more than ever that human beings want that reverence, that love, that deep personal passion for the same things they love and share.

The question is, who pays for it? I haven’t figured out that part yet. But if they can, I know there’s a legion of folks who will go to the wire to bring that content to life. I just hope that this time they’ll be greeted with an owner and managers with a vision and a belief that lasts longer than a quarter.

Emily Spindler was one of only two remaining full-time staff writing specifically for Kotaku AU on the final day, and says:

Writing for Kotaku Australia has been a thirteen month whirlwind experience, and it’s honestly heartbreaking that the site as a whole and my time there has come to such an abrupt end like this. This was my first-ever full-time journalism gig, my literal dream job, the role I bent over backwards at university and beyond to get after growing up reading KotAU and dreaming of the day I’d have a byline there. When David offered me the role, I don’t think I’d ever experienced happiness quite like that moment before.

Since then, I’ve experienced that feeling writing for the site, and working with the most talented group of people, so many times. The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had have been life-changing (I know that’s cliche). The reality that I won’t be working with that same group of people and getting to tell the stories of an astoundingly talented industry is crushing. I’ve watched games media struggle along for quite some time as we all have, but I guess the optimist in me never imagined Kotaku AU would end up in the line of fire so soon.

This isn’t to say the last year and a bit hasn’t had its low moments – god, there’s been so, so many. Working in digital media can be soul-crushing work, having to fight to keep numbers up with the things people will click, as opposed to just writing the cool shit I’d want to see out in the world. Through it all, David has been an absolute rock and kept me going, even at the points where I wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into. There’s no other editor quite like him.

Our team was small – David and I were the only dedicated writers for the site, supported by an amazing wider team who wrote across multiple sites (shoutout to them), and many wonderful freelancers who brought their own brand of expertise to each and every story. Kotaku Australia was a place for deep dives, local games coverage, untold tales, and a whole lot of shitposting, and now it’s gone – the site likely to go down soon, not even allowing those of us who put our blood, sweat and tears into it to have a digital mausoleum to look back on what we achieved.

What is there to do next when the local games media pool continues to grow ever-smaller? I don’t know the answer, although I wish there was an easy one. I’m not done writing about my passion just yet, but working at Kotaku Australia is going to be a tough act to follow. There’s so many amazing stories to be told about video games and the people who make them, and if I could spotlight every single one of them and write about nothing else for the rest of my life, I would happily do so. Maybe I’ll get that opportunity again. For now, I can only look upon the work I was able to produce and know that we fought like hell to keep our little corner of the internet chugging along. And god, what a fight it was.

I've left the last word to David Smith, Kotaku Australia's final steward, who performed Herculean tasks to the end despite an ever-dwindling budget and precarious ownership:

Long before I worked there, I revered Kotaku Australia as the gold standard for Australian games coverage. Its features were the best. Its headlines were the best. Its writers were the best. I never thought I'd get to write for Kotaku AU, much less run it. But for two and a half years, I got to do just that.

I took that custodianship seriously and gave it everything. Its coverage of Australian games development was second to none. Serrels' stories about working conditions at EB Games still send shivers down the spines of those who worked there at the time. Alex's understanding of byzantine government process made it a leader in policy reporting around the games industry. Carrying that standard consumed my life, dramatically worsened my personal health, and required a considerable and surprising amount of my own money to get us to events or ensure our writers had review code due to being tarred with the US' many blacklists. I was up at 6am every day to get stories on the page for the morning commuters and I rarely logged off before 9 at night.

And I loved it. There were days I hated it, but I loved it.

KotAU was different to the US flagship in many ways, and it won us dedicated readers. Not just for our local coverage, but our tone too. We weren't as acidic as the US site could be, our takes considered more even-handed or good-natured. We still called a spade a spade and got ourselves in trouble with publishers as often as the US site, so I still feel we did our bit for the brand.

It was never easy, and often frustrating. Pedestrian Group never really understood Kotaku AU or how to get the most out of the brand commercially. Truthfully, it wasn't ever a good fit there, the PGroup voice and that of Kotaku AU couldn't have been more different. However, that lack of understanding had its benefits. Because they weren't really paying attention to us, we were able to publish a ton of cool shit. Sure, by the end, Google Discover plays were the only way to keep the SEO traffic hose flowing, but we fought to keep great stories coming. We even founded a TikTok (something the US site still hasn't done) and amassed a dedicated audience there by doing what we'd always done -- cutting the shit and talking to the audience like people, not consumers.

I'm still shellshocked that it's over. I don't know what's next. The shadow Kotaku AU cast is long and irreplaceable. I leave knowing I did everything I could to save and preserve it. I hope that, for the people who loved the site as much as I did, that will be enough.

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