Having someone that made it big to look up to helps when trying to develop your craft in something as competitive as game journalism. We here at Ultra Mega Death Ray had the privilege to speak with someone who perfectly fills that slot as a role model.
Yanier Gonzalez, better known by his childhood nickname “Niero“, is the mastermind behind one of the most widely read video game news sites, Destructoid. This site, along with others he produced like Flixist (movies), Japanator (anime), and Tomopop (toy collecting), all fall under his Modern Method parent company. The combination of these channels has grown to receive over 300 million page views and 4 million unique visitors per month since 2006.
(UMDR) What was your earliest gaming-related memory growing up?
(Niero) I remember me and my family at the beach getting ready to head home. On the way to the car, there was a small room with a bunch of guys huddled around a Pong machine. I never got a chance to play that day but it was the first time I saw a video game. They were all elbowing each other trying to get a turn.
(UMDR) You started Destructoid as a WordPress blog (just like this one!) in order to gain access to E3. What compelled you to be a part of the gaming industry?
(Niero) In the long run, I’d say it was a quarter life crisis. It was mostly a consequence of happenstance. My first company, a web development studio, had recently failed. I was forced to sell it to this ad agency who was our biggest client and also where I was working at the time. On the eve of my birthday, a group of us were all sitting around playing Shadow of the Colossus when my friend casually suggests to me that we should try to attend E3 to see the Wii and PS3 before anyone else. That seemed like a killer vacation idea to me. We started to research how and began to hatch the plan that night. I try not to think about how fragile that moment was. Had I been asked to stay late for work, my friend been busy, or I hosted a big blowout party elsewhere, this site would never have existed. It’s like the probability of a very rare bird shitting on you.
(UMDR) How does the name “Destructoid” represent the tone of the website?
(Niero) We can be a bit polarizing, wouldn’t you say? The site was almost called “Angry Red Stick” and something else. We ultimately decided on Destructoid because it sounded like a robot and I’m a big Transformers nerd. My first articles were full of rage. I’m not sure where that comes from since I’m a pretty mellow guy otherwise.
I did run a video game club for years as a kid. As I recall, most of what we did was look at magazines and scream helplessly at the printed review scores. I guess it was a bottled up passion to criticize video games. We love to destroy PR hype so the name fits.
(UMDR) The mascot, Mr. Destructoid, has become a very infamous figurehead in the gaming blogosphere. Does he represent the silliness behind “hard-hitting” gaming news sites (IGN, G4TV) or is he just meant to be a champion for the common fan?
(Niero) The helmet became infamous when I wore it before an ESA (Entertainment Software Association) press briefing. GamePolitics (a LiveJournal blog at the time) turned into the poster boy of everything wrong with fan journalism during this event. To my surprise, most people that read the piece on this swiftly came to my defense and stated that gaming was taking itself way too seriously. That forged Mr. Destructoid as a man of the people. To this day, we lend the helmet to our fans at gaming events. Anyone can borrow it and experience what it was like to be me. The president of the ESA actually ran from me. He ran!
(UMDR) Destructoid was the original source on the story of Jack Thompson’s disbarment. His notorious campaign against video games had given our community a real life villain to root against. Do you believe his past efforts will have a staying affect on the industry or just be a blip on the radar?
(Niero) Honestly, I’m surprised we’re not dealing with another one right this moment. There will always be overprotective conservatives pushing that agenda. We’re lucky Jack Thompson embarrassed himself as that sets a negative precedent for those who may follow suit.
(UMDR) Your reviews editor Jim Sterling has grown as a prominent representative of the site. He is considered by many to be very brash and controversial with claims of misogyny. As the head honcho, how do you balance his voice while being a credible site with advertisers?
(Niero) Jim is a gifted entertainer, the likes of which the gaming industry isn’t used to facing head-on. He also used to do stand-up comedy which explains the tone of his videos. I bring this up because when you go to a comedy show in person, you’re going to hear material that’s aimed to get a reaction from you. That’s usually because the truth is sprinkled into what’s being said. I was just at a comedy jam hosted primarily by ethnic performers and most of their material was poking fun at sex and race. Since you’re there in person, nobody would reasonably call them racist or misogynistic. I agree that it’s hard to pull off that tone online and we do get in trouble when we push it.
As you said, Jim can come off as a brash alpha male. People that don’t take the time to understand his comedy or real personality can take that out of context. Early on, advertisers thought I was crazy for publishing him. Now they’re happy with the traffic his work brings and are asking me to find more of him. His freelance career exploded from there. Jim adds credibility to other publications now. He’s bulletproof.
(UMDR) Media presence for Destructoid has grown recently with a weekly podcast and video series (The Destructoid Show for example). Considering G4TV’s upcoming departure, is it possible we will see a move to television in the future?
(Niero) Nope. I rarely pay attention to broadcast television at all these days. I think people younger than me pay even less attention to it. I’d like to see the Internet gobble it up somehow and work my way in like that. It’s why we partnered with Revision3 since I think that’s where things are headed. I’m more interested in building a cooler mobile site for our readers while the Internet TV thing figures itself out.
(UMDR) Mr. Destructoid has had a number of video game cameos in titles like Bomberman Live, Raskulls, and Ms. Splosion Man. If you had your choice, which game would you most like to see the mascot make an appearance?
(Niero) I’d love to see Mr. Destructoid as an ultra-rare monster encounter in a Final Fantasy game. I think I would have a heart attack. We’ve been in about a dozen video games which is surreal. I’m always happy to license the character for cool projects. It’s fun for everyone involved and free publicity unlike any other.
Thank you Niero for taking the time to speak with us! You can follow him on Twitter as well as Instagram where he commonly posts images during his travels. He recently came back from Costa Rica for a 3 week expedition building houses for underprivileged families all while still doing the job he loves. As he famously exclaims, the man is “living the dream!”