Why I Left Cubed3

Inspired by an article shared by Jim Sterling, I’ve decided to tell my story about why I’m no longer affiliated with Cubed3. There’s a lot to go over, because I was affiliated with the site for two years. I want to be clear that I harbor no resentment toward the owner or the senior editors, and I’m sure they have plenty of negative things to say about me. Well, I don’t really have anything negative to say about them, but their behavior. As far as my behavior goes, there was a period in 2015 where I unofficially left the site for several months to deal with personal matters–that was when I began making The Transition, so I won’t apologize for that. In 2016 there were more periods of inactivity from me, and that’s really what I’m going to talk about.

Introductions & Reviewing

I was contacted one day via Gamefaqs by one of their senior editors, and he wanted to know if I was interested in writing reviews for the site. Apparently one of my user reviews had caught his attention, and I leaped at the opportunity. Just a week or two later, I was writing reviews for games like SDK Paint and Midnight. Shovelware, most people would call it, and not really games that anyone would be interested in playing much. I persevered through, though, and actually caught quite a few reviewers with their pants down, since SDK Paint routinely crashed after ten minutes, which proved that none of the other people who posted official reviews had actually played the “game” for longer than ten minutes.

Eventually I was able to pick the games I wanted to review, and the first among those was Venetica: Gold Edition, a game that I’d always wanted to like, but had never really been able to. There was no reimbursement for reviewing games, and none was expected. The “payment” for the review was the free game, something that I’m not particularly fond of anyway–it would later come with a few strings attached, as I learned with my 3D Gunstar Heroes review, when I was told that “Sega is nice to us, so be easy on them…” There was no monetary reimbursement or expectation of monetary reimbursement.

There were problems, though. I mean, how many people are really sitting around wanting a copy of Venetica? How many people are dying to play Blek on Wii U? Or Wind Up Knight? It wasn’t long and I had reviewed nearly every Final Fantasy game, having missed only Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy VII. When Final Fantasy VII was released on PS4, I was an editor, but I wasn’t even given the opportunity to review it. One of the senior editors had claimed it.

This trend was omnipresent. From Super Mario Maker to Pokemon Sun/Moon, any major  AAA title was going to be reviewed by one of the senior editors or the site owner, with no exceptions. It’s true that I was able to review Rise of the Tomb Raider, but this was a different animal. For one, Rise of the Tomb Raider was hardly a major release. It was not marked on calendars like Breath of the Wild or Final Fantasy XV. Secondly, Cubed3 had a hard time getting codes for AAA titles that weren’t Nintendo products, which meant they didn’t have a code for Rise of the Tomb Raider anyway. This wasn’t a big deal, because I intended to get the game. In effect, I did them a favor by purchasing a $60 game when it was brand new and pumping out a review quickly–a review they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

About a month prior to its release, I made my intentions to review it clear. Shortly before release, I learned that its use of DRM meant that pirating a copy wasn’t going to be possible. If I was simply playing it for my own sake, I wouldn’t have purchased it. However, I keep my word, and my word had been given that I would review the game. Rather than waiting on a crack to release six months or a year later, I bought a copy and reviewed it. This isn’t their fault, and I don’t mean to make out that it is. My point is simply that, for a “real” game, one of the $60 ones, the only way a non-senior editor is going to get a copy is to buy it themselves.

That’s quite a damper to put on the “You get free games” offer. It’s more like “You get free games, but the cap on them is realistically around $15-20, which is nice, but these are games that you’re probably not going to want to play that badly in the first place, like Devils & Demons and Spacejacked!

Writing Editorials

Eventually I was asked if I was interested in joining the editing staff, and at the time there was a mass email between the regular reviewers, editors, owner, and senior editors. The plan was to revamp the site and add more features. I opted to take on the Critical Hits! column, which basically consisted of gaming editorials. I told them that my intention was to have a weekly article there, posted each Monday, because predictability drives growth more than anything else.

It didn’t take long for this to just totally fall apart.

The first problem appeared almost immediately. Within an hour of being posted, any editorial I wrote was swarmed by the rest of the staff, who seized the opportunity to write their own articles in the comments section. On several occasions, comments left by other staff were longer than the articles I had written. It was clear that it was a case of “Someone posted an opinion! Quick! I need to post mine!”

While I have no problem with people critiquing my work or commenting my work, the problem I had was that this is terribly improper behavior for other staff members: if they want to write an 800 word article, then they should do so, not leave an 800 word comment. And while I don’t care whether people agree with me or not, it’s extremely tedious to post a gaming article and immediately have three or four staff members comment about why they disagree.

When I brought up to the senior editors that the rest of the staff was merely using my articles as a springboard to write their own articles in the comments–often not having read my own article completely–I was told that they didn’t see it as a big deal. It’s unprofessional. It’s also a really, really bad look for visitors to see an article on a site and a flood of comments by other people with “Staff” by their name arguing with the original article. If I went to a website and saw that, the absolute last thing I would do is leave my own comment. No visitor will jump into a public debate between staff members in the comments of an article, which raises the question: “Who is this website for? The staff? Or visitors?”

Like clockwork, I had my articles to the senior editors within a reasonable timeframe to be edited and posted, but they were never published in a timely manner. There was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t have the clout to tell a senior editor, “Hey–this is supposed to be a weekly editorial. You didn’t post my last one for three weeks.”

Between these two things, I simply stopped writing them. If they weren’t going to post them within a reasonable window, there was no reason for me to spend time writing them, not when I could just post them here and save myself the trouble.

It was also the editorials that made me aware that each time I used the word “while,” the senior editors replaced it with “whilst.” I can’t even begin to describe how much that bothered me. I didn’t say “whilst.” I said “while.” There is absolutely no context wherein the -st is necessary, and adding it is simply a cheap and gaudy way of making writing sound more formal. My editorials stood on their own as formal writings without having this suffix added.

Joining the Editing Staff

There was never any promise of rewards or anything for editing; it was simply something that one did if one was willing. They asked and I accepted. However, there were guest spots for other websites at this time. The senior staff would give the editing staff opportunities to guest write for other websites like Ebuyer, and that seemed a fair trade. I would use my time and energy editing and posting a few reviews for them, and they would provide an opportunity to write elsewhere.

These dried up, though. Every day or two, I received a new email in a long chain with 7 to 10 reviews attached to it, all of which needed to be edited and posted. One editor would claim a review and post it, another editor would claim another, and so on. I averaged about two each week for a while, but then I just began ignoring the emails. Apparently, so did the rest of the editing staff, because we always used Reply All. Sadly, I was the most active of the editing staff, and there were months-long periods where I didn’t edit a single review because I had better things to do.

However, about once a month they needed someone to post a review at a specific time, when an embargo lifted. Because they’re based in the UK, it was usually an American editor that needed to do this, and I almost always volunteered to take care of these. They would send such a request, and I’d ignore it for an hour or two, giving someone else the chance to step forward, but invariably no one else did. These timeframes usually resulted in my setting an alarm clock for 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, waking up and posting the review, and then going back to sleep. I did this no less than half a dozen times, because I’m a team player.

I simply expect other people to be team players.

My activity dropped off, though, as I said, because… Honestly, who doesn’t have better stuff to do than editing and posting reviews to a website when it brings them absolutely no benefit to do so?

Another new year rolled around, and in January a mass email was sent out that informed everyone that minimum requirements were being put in place: people would have to do a minimum of five reviews each year, and editors would have to edit and post a certain number of reviews. I wrote something like 27 reviews last year, and communicating directly with the senior editors they asked if I wanted to continue editing. I answered that I was willing to, but there were problems that needed to be addressed.

The editing thing is trickier, and this is what I meant to focus on when I discussed the priority thing earlier. When faced with a limited amount of time to do things, I focused on the ones that seemed most likely to yield a significant reward: writing a book, networking with other anarchists, and that sort of thing. There’s no reward whatsoever for doing it beyond doing a favor for [site owner] and the senior editors.

It’s not like there’s anything that can really be offered to reviewers beyond the free games, or to editors, and I’m not saying that there should be. At least–not in a direct way. But something like the senior editors being able to acquire more “Hey, this website needs a guest writer–anyone want to do it?” would probably do a lot to help people stay focused and motivated. Maybe the senior editors/[site owner] can establish ties with small-name literary agents [I’d be stunned if at least half the staff writers didn’t write fiction], or just forge connections with other gaming/tech sites for the editing team to take advantage of. I’m just spitballing, but the whole editing thing does more or less turn out to be “Hey, would you like to take on some extra work for fun?” I had no delusions that it was anything else, and I’m still interested in doing with the way that it currently is. And I may be the only one this happened with, though it does seem that most of the other editors dropped out around the same time that I did.

Anyway, just throwing this out there. Nothing’s changed for me, and either way I intend to go back to contributing on Wednesdays at least.

Thanks,

Aria

As you can see, I went through considerable lengths to politely state my concerns, offer up solutions, and explain my position. Rather than addressing anything that I said, I received an email back from one of the senior editors that–and I’m not kidding about this–honest-to-god bitched at me for not communicating much with them. The next day, the other senior editor more politely asked for clarifications about what I meant about the guest articles, but by then my primary thought was “Fuck this site.”

It was insane. I wanted to write back, “Excuse me? I’m doing you guys a favor. I wake up at 3 in the morning and post reviews for you guys as a favor. I edit reviews and post them–when I feel like it–as a favor. I don’t get anything out of it. How dare you reply that I am the one with the problem because I stopped doing you those favors after I politely explained why I stopped doing them?”

This second senior editor was much more polite, and seemed genuinely interested in wanting my input, but by then the bad taste was left in my mouth, that he would have the audacity to suggest that the problem was I wasn’t doing them favors quickly enough or routinely enough. It’s absolutely true that they went months without hearing from me. And why? Because they went months without offering me anything but more work to do.

As part of the other senior editor’s reply, however, he said this:

The [guest articles at other sites] were interesting, but the return for Cubed3 was very limited because they kept incorrectly linking in the articles. So basically we were just putting our resources onto work another site when it would make more sense to have those sort of special articles on Cubed3 directly.

“…the return for Cubed3 was very limited…”

Honestly, I don’t care about the return for Cubed3. I didn’t write those guest articles because I wanted to increase Cubed3’s standing in the world; I wrote them because I wanted to increase my standing in the world. It doesn’t matter to me if they link back to the site properly or not, as long as they get my name right. But this, more than anything, highlighted the fundamental disconnect.

The guest articles at other sites were supposed to help the editors and reviewers who wrote them. I was proposing that they use them as a reward for people to participate and contribute. This, apparently, was an unfathomable idea, even to what I would call the nice senior editor. If it didn’t help them directly, they didn’t give a shit. They were focused entirely on themselves, their own wants, and their own needs. If this meant they had to shift the blame onto you, then they shifted the blame onto you. It left them unable to fathom that it might be a good idea to offer the editors a reward for taking up the otherwise thankless and tedious task.

Not to mention, my entire point was that it would have benefit for their site, by offering an enticing reward for people who actively participated. Simply reach out to a number of other sites, secure a guest article, and offer it as a reward to whoever edited the most reviews that week. Or simply offering one to each editor once a month, as long as they were active. There are countless ways it could have been implemented, and such a small and trivial thing would have done wonders to keep people active. And the reply I received?

“We’re frustrated, and you should communicate with us more!”

“Meh. It doesn’t really do much for our website.”

Well, maybe it doesn’t do much for your website. But your website doesn’t do much for me, either.

I totally understand that a relatively small site receiving probably just a few hundred hits a day can’t afford to pay people for reviews and editing. This is part of the site’s problem, though: it has taken on way too much staff, and it has absolutely no way to reward any of them. Games? Are you kidding? Unless you have a niche interest for Japanime games or something, you’re better off simply buying your games, because they either can’t get a code for it or one of the senior editors or owner will claim it before it’s even ready to be previewed.

No one is asking for monetary restitution, though, at least to my knowledge. But even simple ways of rewarding people for taking up more work are shot down. I enjoy editing; I edit stuff for people regularly. I list Editing as one of my skills at Outsource.com. I also enjoy writing; you just about can’t make me stop writing. Whether my article goes to Cubed3 or this website or http://www.anarchistshemale.com or somewhere else is immaterial to me; I’m going to write it and put it somewhere. Really, all they had to do was give me a reason to do it for them.

When you ask people to do you favors, don’t be surprised when they eventually stop doing it and move on. This is not limited to me. One by one, every single editor dropped off through last year. There were people in those chain emails who had never replied or edited one of the reviews. I have no doubt at all that their reasons are the same as mine. When your reviewers slowly vanish and your editors drop off one by one, and then one of your editors offers you polite suggestions and explanations about why it’s happening, it might be a good idea to listen.

I edited two more reviews for them, and once more did the “wake up at 4 am to post a review for them” thing. Then I started ignoring their emails again, and pretty soon they stopped coming. Thank the gods. If I wanted to do favors for someone all the time, only to have them bitch at me when I got sick of doing them favors while getting nothing out of it, then I would still be with my ex-wife.

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