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Rolling Stone, Which Used To Have A Gaming Vertical, Launches Another Gaming Vertical

Ah shit, here we go again

Today, Rolling Stone announced the launch of Rolling Stone Gaming, a vertical dedicated to “taking a serious (or deeply unserious) journalistic approach to telling the story of games through the people around them.” You might be thinking, haven’t we done this before? You would be correct.

Rolling Stone had a gaming site, Glixel, which ran for a bit over a year before shutting down in 2017. Rolling Stone Gaming’s announcement notes this in a roundabout way, with senior editor Christopher Cruz writing, “this isn’t entirely new, Rolling Stone has been covering games for years. But with the launch of our new section, RS Gaming, we’re committing to meeting the community at its own wavelength to tell stories that matter, even if you don’t consider yourself a gamer.”

Cruz writes that RS gaming is "about community, from the modders keeping beloved games alive after corporations pull the plug to the cosplayers doing themed karaoke after a mobile game meetup.”

Does that sound a little familiar? Well, when Glixel launched in 2016, general manager John Davison said, “We want to make it very much about the people - not just the people that make games, but the people that play them.” Hm!

According to Game Developer, RS Gaming is a partnership with ESL FACEIT Group, though “the nature of the partnership… is unclear.” ESL is owned by Savvy Games Group, which Game Developer notes is funded by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, whose chairperson, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, has a pretty shitty record on human rights and journalism. So this sure seems like the latest volley in the regime’s attempt to spiff up its image through gaming, an attempt that has also involved the collapse of a deal between Savvy and Embracer, which in turn led to Embracer’s ruinous rampage of layoffs and studio closures. 

Despite this, Saudi Arabia still maintains minority investments in Nintendo, Take-Two, EA, Nexon, and Capcom, as well as Embracer. Last year, Savvy Games Group acquired mobile developer Scopely for $4.9 billion. In addition, it has set aside $13 billion "for the acquisition and development of a leading game publisher to become a strategic development partner." Saudi Arabia has also demonstrated a particular interest in esports, with companies like Riot rebuffing its advances (after staff outcry) in 2020, only to participate in the Saudi-backed Esports World Cup this year. All of this on top of substantial Saudi ventures in the worlds of sports, film, and even pro wrestling.

This is also not the first time Rolling Stone has launched a gaming-adjacent venture since Glixel. In 2021, the publication rolled out its own Twitch channel as part of a partnership with Twitch. The channel and its hosts were generally well liked on the platform -- a notoriously tough nut for traditional media to crack -- but once the partnership ended, so did the channel.

On the back of yesterday’s bad games journalism news, part of me really wants to be excited to see a mainstream outlet investing in gaming, but… well, we know how these things go. Here's hoping history doesn't repeat itself, or at least we get some good journalism out of it before it does.

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