Playing games is fun and all, but when Michel (also called ‘Moz’ by his imaginary fans) started spending more money on videogame magazines than his actual collection collection of games, he knew where his ambitions were.
After following and successfully completing a design-education, where he learned all about the Photoshops and Macintoshes of this world, he went straight to Rotterdam, the Netherlands to enter a journalism education, which he is still following now.
At the innocent age of 15, he was reeled in by a Dutch journalist for he then still active videogame website GameNed, where he received some necessary experience for a couple of years. Before he turned 20, he started up Mozlapunk.net, a blog that was meant for expression of is personal feelings, but soon turned into a videogame website.
After the website enjoyed a year of success, Michel felt he lost the fun part in maintaining a website and brought Moz La Punk back to its roots; a simple blog. After all, when something is non-profit, you’d better assure that you have fun while doing it.
In the mean time, his columns appear weekly on the underground videogame website NiSuTe.com and he writes freelance for a Dutch magazine here and there. His absurd plan is to some day create a massive website network about videogames and harvest preposterous
success to give in to his ambitious personality.
Oh, and he likes to play games as well.
We interview each of our Blogging People to try and uncover what makes them tick. So a while back a sat down with a good strong coffee and pastries and interviewed Moz (OK, so it was over MSN with a glass of water, a guy can dream can’t he?).
I think you’ll enjoy what resulted. Thanks to Moz for being so candid about life, blogs and games in general.
Question 1: Apart from gaming what else do you do with your time?
MozLaPunk: I am mostly occupied with my journalism education and doing assignments for it. It’s heavily production based so instead of lessons I mostly do interviews, write articles and the sort. Of course, I put some time in Moz La Punk a few hours a day mostly, which includes writing articles and talking to the other editors on the forum (we’re international so there are no real-life meetings generally). When all that is done, I’d like to watch a movie, listen to some music, or spend time with my girlfriend. We have a pretty serious relationship for over five years now so you can’t just spend all your time on World of Warcraft.
AndyR: Yeah, unless she’s playing there to! Do you have your own house?
MozLaPunk: Hah, well my girlfriend really likes to play games, I infected her with that. She’s mostly into Nintendo stuff like Zelda, she is playing through Twilight Princess right now and kicking some major butt. I really don’t think she sees the fun in MMORPGs.
I still live with my parents, to be honest. I’m very ‘free’ so to speak and have my own department in the house, but since both my and my girlfriend are still studying, it would be very tricky money-wise to already live together. It should be happening in a year though.
AndyR: You mention movies and music, what are your top (or recent) favourites?
MozLaPunk: Well, I’m very happy with the recent new Deftones record, I’m not specifically into rock, just any music that I feel that is created with passion really. As for movies, it changes all the time, but some of my all time favourites must be Old Boy, Fight Club and Eyes Wide Shut. I’m also very fond of series (on DVD), like 24, Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Seinfeld.
Question2: What are your favourite games sites?
MozLaPunk: I never really think about favourite gaming websites. I see most websites as news sources that I need to use to get my information from. Gamespot and IGN are of course the ones that have major contacts with the big companies out there. I really enjoy the more independent websites that try to do something a bit different. Destructoid.com comes to mind. Game People also, the idea behind it is just as important as the articles on it. The Neogaf forums should be mentioned, it is just full with funny people and with the latest news. You also have to give credit to a website like GoNintendo. The work they put into keeping their readers up to date, that is admirable.
AndyR: How about when you want to sit down for a longer game related read, are there any sites (such as the Escapist) that you follow, or do you prefer print (such as Edge)?
MozLaPunk: Yes, when I want to sit down for a longer article, it mostly comes from magazine. I buy the Edge almost monthly, this is a very good example of how magazines can still have a place next to the internet. I myself wrote very long articles for the internet, but I have come to the conclusion that this only works rarely. It has to be ten times more captivating then when it is in a magazine, because the internet is full with distractions. I believe the internet has to be short and to the point, but that doesn’t mean an article can’t be fueled by opinion or originality. But for long articles, definitely a magazine like Edge is a prime example of what I would read.
Question 3: Which people have most influenced your games journalism?
MozLaPunk: First of all, there is Patrick Rijnders. He is a Dutch journalist that pulled me into his website, GameNed (it doesn’t exist anymore) to write for him when I was just 15. I have learned a great deal there. But if we are really talking about examples, there is a Dutch games journalist, Niels ‘t Hooft, who I’ve recently got to interview, and I’ve been reading his articles for years. He is really talented, and writes books next to it as well, something I want to do in the future as well. I see Matt Casamassina from IGN as an example as well. He is not afraid to give some criticism to the company he covers. He gets a lot of negative feedback from readers because of that, but I admire his persistence in that. He remains objective. And of course I believe his writing style is great.
AndyR: What is it about Niels ‘t Hooft that you find inspiring?
MozLaPunk: Well, not only does it seem he really makes every review a story in itself, so he writes captivating, but also he views that the videogames industry and thus the journalism industry covering it is captured in this little cage, and no one – neither journalists nor the game industry – is trying to break out from it. Of course companies like Nintendo try to do just that with their new consoles and handhelds, but it might not be enough. This way, the market will never grow.
I am not saying he has the answers, nor do I, but at least we’re on the same level. Plus, he seems a very ambitious person. I can relate to that. He writes freelance for some magazines, tries to create websites and magazines of his own, does some work for some gaming companies here and there. He is never doing nothing, which I recognise in myself.
AndyR: I can see a similar theme here to some Game People values. The need to move from fanboy to objective journalism. This frees us to consider the story that is created when we encounter gaming-experiences.
MozLaPunk: Exactly. On that note, by the way, being objective is a big deal and I think in the videogame journalism scene on both the internet and on a printed format, it isn’t there enough.
Question 4: (With that in mind) What are the stand out experiences you have had with video games?
MozLaPunk: Hm, let me think. While I play games online, I can’t stop thinking about how it seems that multiplayer games are a bit on the back-burner these days, which is a shame because one of my fondest memories remains the few years I’ve played countless hours of Goldeneye multiplayer with friends.
Now this was a game that was enjoyable for everyone, once they got into it, and you would spend nights upon nights playing it while having fun, laughing. You don’t get that as much with online gaming, it takes away the real element.
And I’m really fond of games that try to offer something resembling a work of art. I’m not saying games should per se try to be art, but when it works, it’s fantastic. Rez is a perfect example, and from the same creators, Lumines. Those games have truly captured my heart.
Of course, you can’t forget the first time you’ve played on your very own console, so that would be Super Mario Bros. I can’t leave that out of this answer.
AndyR: Interesting, what was it about those Goldeneye multiplayer sessions that was so compelling How did it make you feel, can you describe the experience some more
MozLaPunk: Yes, it is already fun before you start, you know. Me and my friends were probably a bit addicted to it, so before they came I would already have this thought in my mind, “alright, we’re going to play goldeneye tonight and have a blast”. So the fun started before you even started up the game.
Then when you played, it wasn’t just the game, it was the conversations you could have during them, next to of course showing off how good you really were in the game. And thinking about it now, it’s obviously fuelled by nostalgia. Nostalgia is always powerful.
So because of that nostalgia, it remains such an impressive experience years after.
Suddenly it’s not just a game, its a chunk out of your life, a time period. This is when games become more than just something to pass the time.
AndyR: I like the way you describe it, it sounds like a temporary community created each evening you played, with it’s own language and rhetoric and (for me at least) food and drink.
MozLaPunk: Exactly, of course you get running jokes and sometimes indeed a bit of your own language, and mixed with food and drink, it really becomes a social evening. With online, all these elements are replaced with virtual social aspects, and while this isn’t bad per se, for me it isn’t nearly as powerful.
AndyR: I am curious that you describe multiplayer formative experiences, but on your Blogger Card submission your Play Schema is Solo, can you reflect on why this is?
MozLaPunk: Certainly. Like I said, I feel like multiplayer is definitely on the back burner these days. I don’t think most games really pack a punch for multiplayer sessions these days, and you get carried away with the various online options there are now as well, so in turn people, including me, do not really get into long multiplayer sessions anymore.
Next to that, while the Goldeneye multiplayer is certainly the thing in gaming that made the biggest impression on me, I generally like single player games more. My favourite genres are platformers and adventure-type games, so that’s why I consider myself more of a solo gamer.
AndyR: I recently rediscovered my love for multiplayer with Halo2, but again this was people in the same place. Three XBox’s hooked up locally with three or four players on each, the team tactics that developed were magic! And I got that same “in it for the night” community feel.
MozLaPunk: Yes. Now that I think of it, I have another experience like that. Playing Unreal Tournament at school. There was a demo there in the class where everyone was behind a computer, and before we knew it, we were all playing it through LAN and laughing with each other. You don’t get that with online. Well, you can communicate with your voice, but it misses that extra inch that makes it feel all the more real.
Question 5: Turning now to talk about your writing, what is your favourite aspect of game blogging?
MozLaPunk: Well, since I began on my own with a blog, then turned it into a website and currently it has changed to a blog again, I find blogging highly attractive and it could very well take over the ‘normal’ websites we know now. I think with blogging, it takes a way some sort of officiality, something that makes people watch their steps. You shouldn’t lose your objectivity if you want to be a respected blog, while unfortunately this isn’t often the case, which gives blogs such a bad name, but it almost feels like on a blog you can experiment with more ways to write an article. You can do this on websites, but I think when you are writing on a website, it already changes your mindset. It makes you more wary of what you are going to say, and in turn, perhaps not everything that should be said, is said on a website.
And of course it is a cheaper way for everyone to put their opinions into words.
AndyR: You recently made the decision to use general “lifestyle” tags rather than breaking things down atomistically. I like the direction you are taking with this, but how else are you moving your content to deal with the game-lifestyle intersection?
MozLaPunk: That is a question I would love to answer, but truth to be hold, this is still in the very early stages. Me and my editor crew are discussing this pretty often, and everyone has different opinions which slows down the progress (but is entirely necessarily). I think in the end, I want to create something, a website/blog, that has maybe five to ten lifestyle tags, but the tags really are divided into main pages, a main page for each tag, so that different gamers can really read different things. Articles that they truly care about. For instance, there could be a ‘casual lifestyle’ page where people come that are pretty fresh to gaming or really game in a casual way. All articles would be written with that in mind, so without the difficult terms or industry knowledge.
And reviewing games with keeping that demographic in mind. Of course, it will take a long time before I can accomplish a place like this but I think this is the way that is needed if gaming and gaming journalism wants to move forward. There are more gamers, there are more categories of gamers. It might be a journalist obsession to categorize everything but in this case I think it is truly needed.
AndyR: It is interesting as this comes back to communities and groups. We need to enable visitors to feel like they can hang out and read in surroundings that they identify as their own. You see this in larger record stores that have different areas for different types of music, the people you find in each section are very different.
MozLaPunk: Indeed, and it is funny that you mention that because gaming is so behind in this. Why on earth are stores categorizing games by consoles? There is a Playstation section, a Wii section, a handheld section, Xbox section, PC section. You don’t see this with other types of entertainment products.
It could be a big advancement if stores start categorizing games on the sort of consumer they attract. And indeed, you can say the same thing about websites.
AndyR: As an aside, a move we have made at Game People, is to try and present ourselves as a general lifestyle blog. So the header images I use are from everyday life rather than gaming. This leads us to our next question.
MozLaPunk: That is interesting. Anything to break the general cliche is interesting, don’t you think? It’s important for a website or blog to have its own face, its own selling point.
Question 5: What is disctictive about your site? Perhaps you can expand on this for us?
MozLaPunk: That is a very good question, mostly because it really makes me think, which means this isn’t fleshed out enough on Moz La Punk. Before the recent lifestyle tags, we were much more faceless in my opinion. We do focused more on editorials and opinions than on news, that is for sure, and we never denied rumours either, because rumours are simply things most gamers want to read from time to time. I think the lifestyle idea we have can really push us forward, if we flesh it out in time of course. This is not something that you think up in a day or two, and to be honest, when I began Moz La Punk I wasn’t planning anything serious, but we attracted a good share of readers. Normally, you first think up your unique selling point and THEN get the thing online. So it’s the other way around for Moz La Punk and of course that has its disadvantages. It has not fleshed out far enough for my liking, mostly because we at Moz La Punk all have lots of things to do next to this. If I could somehow spend my daily time on Moz La Punk after my education, so that means, working for myself, then I can really bring this to the next level.
To conclude, I think Moz La Punk can bring you news in a laid back way, without avoiding opinions, as long as they’re placed in a context so people know they are opinions (there is the objectivity again), and a place where lots of editorials and columns could really shine.
Definitely made by gamers, for gamers.
AndyR: Let move on to talk about the games journo scene in general.
Question 6: You have said, “In order to stay at the head of the pack, one has to innovate, reshape to create something original.” How do you think game journalism needs to evolve?
MozLaPunk: I think this comes from a column where I said at the end, “I don’t have the answer myself or I’d be creating it right now”. That is true in some aspects, I do not really have the answer, but of course I have certain visions shaped by my own preference. It is true that the market is cluttered with websites and magazines, and especially with magazines, only rarely do they manage to survive the first few months. It is because generally, everyone tries to start out the same way, looking at others how they do something, and we just copy it. For the one copying it, it feels fresh because THEY do it, but not for the reader. If you really want to stand out in this market you have to really do something new in order to gain a healthy group of readers who can’t get their fix anywhere else.
So coming back to Edge, It’s one of the only, if not the only magazine that caters to the really serious gamer and industry folks, so they shaped their own market. It is funny that it seems that Nintendo is doing the same thing now, product wise. They are doing that with the Wii and the DS, cathering to new markets, the ‘red ocean’ strategy
The general videogame journalism market is a blue ocean where everyone competes for the same group of readers in the same style. To get above that with something fresh is the ultimate achievement and I think such a thing is rarely unrewarded
But, it’s all the more difficult for it.
So, no, I do not have the definition of how to do such a thing, but at least I respect myself and everyone else that is trying to do something new. At least try it, you know, so you don’t have to go home and think you haven’t done your best.
AndyR: Although you can’t define a definitive answer, it seems like you have some provisional ideas to be working with in the meantime. Like you say, at the end of the day that’s all we can do!
MozLaPunk:Yes indeed, but I feel I’ve already explained a large part about my own visions. The lifestyle thing, I have to hang on to that. Of course, thinking up other new ideas in the mean time won’t hurt.
AndyR: The lifestyle idea does seem pretty key these days. Let’s go back to get some details about Moz La Punk. Where does the name stem from?
MozLaPunk: Haha, if only I would get a dollar every time someone asks that.
Well, to begin with, ‘Moz’ is just a nickname I received from a lot of people, mainly on the internet, some years back. Because I generally listen to rock and punk someone pasted La Punk behind it and it kinda stayed that way. When I started out with a blog about gaming a year or two back, I was never planning to make it a website or a information-type of blog, just a general ‘what was I doing today’ diary-type of blog, so I chose my nickname as the name. Then I started talking about games and during E3 2005, WHAM! I got visitors big time. Then you just keep the name and of course, since Moz La Punk (MLP) grew since then, I have thought about changing the name to something more game-specific many times, but it really seems like a strange idea to change it right now. People know the name, associate it with the things we do and write. I feel kind of awkward to use Nintendo as an example again, but hey, they chose ‘Wii’ as a name for their console. Does it make you think about gaming when you hear it the first time? Not at all. But it is all about the name becoming familiar for the ones interested.
And I think Moz La Punk, the name, has done that.
So changing it now would be a bit too late, in my opinion.
AndyR: Yes, I think before we hooked up more formally, the MozLaPunk name was already there at the back of my gaming psyche.
MozLaPunk: Yes. It’s a totally useless name on itself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it grow into something else.
AndyR: What do you think has been the reason for the volume of visitors? Perhaps relate this to the user community and forums?
MozLaPunk: Yeah, and we weren’t afraid to post rumours during the E3 2005 period. There were a lot of rumours back then about the new Nintendo console, then called Revolution, and I was intrigued by them. I thought, if I am intrigued by them, why wouldn’t other gamers be? Just as long as you never place them as something that is confirmed, it is all for the benefit of discussion and plain simple fun.
So that right there, that one E3, attracted a few hundred thousand unique visitors a day. I wasn’t prepared for that of course, so my screen-shot hosting account kicked me out and I received angry e-mails from the blog service about the high usage of bandwidth. But I also got lots of e-mails from readers and even a few foreign magazines praising the blog, claiming I for one wasn’t afraid to mention the thing gamers are interested in. From there, I hired some enthusiastic crew members and it grew from there. Of course, after such a surge of visitors, the visitor count shrinks again, as is the case with almost all websites that start out. From there it was building to a more balanced base.
So we started to make a website with a very talented designer a year or so after, but it seemed that when we accomplished that, we sometimes lost track of what we were in the beginning. Recently I started a blog again to try and find out what we had lost, so it’s almost like I’m starting from scratch again. Not such a bad thing, as long as you enjoy doing it.
AndyR: And how have the forums reflected the change in the approach over the years?
MozLaPunk: Well, the forums have definitely been more silent than during the time of the ‘Revolution’ rumours. It is safe to say a good chunk of my visitors were only interested in that, and when the rumours were over, many people wanted to continue discussing the rumours that were already disproved. That goes against my objectivity and reason for writing. They can discuss on the forum what they want but I am not going to make up rumours on the website just to say ‘hey, we’re still here to give you rumours about some secret Nintendo conspiracy’.
So we lost a good chunk of activity on the forum because of that, which I do not regret. When something is disproved, you have to let it rest. But the last few months it seems the forum has become a bit more active again, with a few old members even returning and we have attempted to really get the discussion going again. It reflects the website; a core visitor base, but certainly not enough to be mentioned in one breath with the big boys. And that is OK, you know, I do not specifically chase for that, as long as the people who are there, have fun. But if we manage to expand the website, of course the forum will expand with that, that is just how it goes.
To conclude, it can be pretty easy to reach a wide demographic with a bit of luck, but keeping it up for a few years, now that’s a challenge when you do not have the financial benefits of a corporate-like website like GameSpot.
AndyR: Yes, I guess this is the challenge with any smaller enterprise. The larger corporates will always seem to dominate. However, I (like you) think there is value in doing something smaller if it creates a genuine community. It is often these groups on the margins of the mainstream that then push the industry forwards.
MozLaPunk: I can definitely agree with what you are saying. But still, even then, it can be difficult at times to keep that community alive.
AndyR: I guess there is a balance to be struck. What I have been realising at Game People, it is better to establish a handful of quality community dwellers than to have a mass of people who flit in and out.
MozLaPunk: Exactly, I am of the same opinion. At MLP there have always been certain members who seem to never go away even if you’d try, and I’m grateful for that. They are the base you start out with, and the trick is to keep expanding that while you keep that base satisfied.
AndyR: That seems like a good note on which to end. And that about wraps up my questions, I’ve been surprised how much there has been to talk about.
MozLaPunk: Same here, thank you for the interview, it was my pleasure to answer the questions.