In July of 2007, a young British gamer calling himself Yahtzee made a short, swear-laden cartoon about the demo for the PS3 game The Darkness. While the presentation was basic and the format was a bit rambling and course, it was an instant hit with online gamers. After just one more breathless episode, Yahtzee was hired to make his Zero Punctuation videos for gaming site The Escapist. And he’s been making a new review almost every single week for the last sixteen years. Until now.
Late Monday evening, news broke across social media that The Escapist’s parent company had fired its video manager Nick Calandra. After a contentious split, it appears that most or possibly all of The Escapist’s current video team has quit in solidarity, including its longest-running reviewer and columnist Ben “Yahztee” Croshaw. Croshaw and many of his former coworkers confirmed their resignations on X, nee Twitter before the end of the day US time.
“Today, I formally resigned from The Escapist and Gamurs. I don’t have the rights to Zero Punctuation, but whatever happens you’ll be hearing my voice again soon, in a new place.”
Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
Croshaw notes that the title “Zero Punctuation” belongs to The Escapist, so it’s faintly possible that the company could try to continue the show. But Croshaw’s abrasive style, simplistic animation, and often deeply insightful thoughts on game design and the game industry won’t be a part of it anymore. It’s safe to say that Zero Punctuation, a small but well-loved staple of online gaming culture for more than a decade and a half, is over as we know it.
Nick Calandra had helped to revitalize the Escapist brand after it had withered into barely more than a landing page for Croshaw’s videos. With a focus on YouTube as its primary distribution platform and a new crop of excellent content like the short-and-sweet 3 Minute Reviews (which I’ve personally recommended before) and long-form documentaries and video essays, The Escapist seemed to have entered a renaissance of independent game journalism and criticism. The D&D live play series Adventure is Nigh, which used Croshaw’s original review doodles as a basis for its art style, recently completed a fan-funded season with players in a live studio.
Despite the positive reception from fans, dedicated viewers could detect some tension among the small, tight-knit crew. The Escapist had been experimenting with various funding methods for several years, transitioning from standard video advertising with debuts exclusive to its own site, then direct reader and viewer funding for ad-free viewing and bonus content, eventually opening up to YouTube’s channel membership system, a Patreon-style setup that existed separately from YouTube Premium. But the ever-shifting nature of online advertising was a stumbling block — only a few weeks ago, Croshaw and his producers began censoring his extremely not-safe-for-work animated videos to try and avoid YouTube’s automated and famously labyrinthian demonetization process.
Producer Calandra and what appears to be most, or possibly all, of The Escapist’s video and editorial team have opened up a Discord server for their fans as they decide where they go from here. It seems possible that the small team will stick together and try to go fully independent, echoing some recent online media trends seen on sites like Dropout.TV and Defector. At the time of writing their future is uncertain, but their dedicated fanbase is definitely a strong foundation to build upon.
As someone who’s been watching Croshaw’s reviews and longer-form content for almost his entire online run, I can’t help but feel shaken by the news. While I often didn’t actually enjoy the games that Croshaw recommended most heartily on Zero Punctuation (or at least spared from his most biting satire), I’ve always enjoyed his insightful thoughts on game design and industry trends. His voice is a unique if acquired taste, and losing it would be a loss to gaming as a whole.
Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. Some of the scattered Escapist talent and producers are planning to announce their initial plans tomorrow in a livestream. Croshaw and his former coworkers, including Sebastian Ruiz, Amy Campbell, KC Nwosu, Darren Mooney, and others both in front of and behind the cameras, microphones, and keyboards, intend to preserve their community of professionals and dedicated supporters.
Counting myself among the latter, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Update: As the fallout from the collapse of The Escapist’s video team continues, a new direction has emerged. Nick Calandra and Ben Croshaw debuted the team’s new, employee-owned company on a YouTube stream just two days after the former was let go. Second Wind will be the new home of the team’s video content, including either rebooted or reinvented versions of the channel’s former shows and a schedule of live game streaming.
Second Wind includes the entire video production team that was formerly at The Escapist, as well as several members of the writing team. Croshaw will debut a new short-form animated video show, Fully Ramblomatic, and several shows with intellectual property owned by their original creators will come back with original names intact, including Cold Take and Design Delve. The new company plans to fund itself with a mix of Patreon pledges, live streaming support, and sponsor advertising.
The new channel hopes to begin streaming content later this week, with Croshaw’s new review show debuting in his usual time slot next Wednesday.