Internet Erupts as Extra Credits Leaves The Escapist

The internet has spoken. Extra Credits is leaving  The Escapist. James Portnow, a game designer and a writer for Extra Credits, alleged on the online show’s Facebook page  that Extra Credits was underpaid and mistreated. Furthermore, trio of Portnow, narrator Daniel Floyd and illustrator Alison Theus would be moving from the online magazine, The Escapist.

For those not entirely aware of what Extra Credits and The Escapist are, Extra Credits is a weekly program that analyses topics in video games, and The Escapist is an online video game magazine, known for publishing a variety of these programs.

The initial signs of trouble began several weeks ago, when Theus found that she had a 180 degree tear in her shoulder. The tear made her arm weak, and and if left untreated would make it impossible for Theus to continue being an illustrator. Her insurance company refused to cover the treatment $20 000. In response the Extra Credits team decided, with the Escapist’s formal approval, to set up a charity to pay her medical fees. Their initial goal was $15 000 within 60 days. To their surprise, the money came quickly. So quickly that within six hours they had the full amount, and a counter that kept increasing regardless of the fact that they had met their target.

Three weeks later, they had nearly $100 000 in donations and a series of messages on their twitter feed that ended with their resignation from the magazine.

“We don’t want to add to the damage done,” said the Extra Credits twitter feed, written by Portnow. “I’m already kind of heartbroken that things turned out this way. I had faith in what The Escapist stood for. That faith is in tatters, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t good people doing good things for The Escapist.”

As it turns out, The Escapist has had a hard time paying its employees. And while Portnow and Floyd don’t get paid for making their weekly videos, Theus does. Portnow had been paying her out of his pocket for some time, with the expectation that the Escapist would reimburse him. But a year later Portnow, now $20 000 in debt, had yet to be reimbursed.

“The lack of payment isn’t the main reason we decided to leave, but money issues did set things in motion,” Floyd explained on the ocremix forums, after the topic exploded on the Escapist forums and news spread throughout sections of gaming community.

“When we approached them about the possibility for working out a deal for getting our IP back in exchange for some of the debt owed (so we could make a little money through [T-shirts and a potential book] ), they countered that they were contractually entitled to a large percentage of the … donations, which would cover the debt they owed and then some. This came completely out of the blue for us.”

Specifically, The Escapist believed they were entitled to aprox. 75 per cent of donations. According to Portnow, the magazine intended to use that money to then fulfill its debts with him and a few others. Then it would take a further $9500 as future investment into Extra Credits. The trio, assuming that the money was thier own, and had begun to set up an organization called the Indie Game Fund. They planned to use the money to fund and publish independent games.

Portnow, Floyd and Theus found the pressure to transfer the majority of donations to The Escapist frustrating, and at best in poor taste. Portnow saw little other option than to hire a lawyer, eventually made the Extra Credits contract null and void.

Yet, Publisher and CEO Alexander Macris feels that Portnow’s explanation is one-sided, and replied to Portnow’s comments on The Escapist forum.

From November 2010 to June 2011, (Portnow) told us not to worry about paying him and to focus on paying other people,” Macris wrote, in regards to allegations that he had hidden and purposely tried to exploit Extra Credits.  “His exact words were, ‘I really don’t want to squeeze you guys if you’re in a crunch, so you can put us to the bottom of the list for right now'”

Macris added that when he heard about Theus’ injury he immediately paid as much money as he had at the time. The Escapist then contributed any sales made by t-shirts and their subscription service,  Publisher’s Club. Floyd agrees with both of these points, though points out that due to extenuating circumstances, they later backed out on this contribution.

From Macris’ perspective there was one more part of the agreement.  A certain portion of the excess donations would go towards paying for the wholesale t-shirts and Publisher’s Club subscriptions they did sell, an amount that totaled  nearly $40000.

“Our agreement was that we would be compensated for the wholesale cost of the t-shirts and Publisher’s Club, and that the funds would be used to save Extra Credits,” wrote Macris. “I reasonably interpreted “save Extra Credits” to mean that anything beyond what was needed for Allison’s surgery would be used on Extra Credits production.”

As for the $9500 Portnow owed them, Macris asserts that they never forced the Extra Credits trio to pay that sum. According to him, “We said he should use $9,500 to create more episodes of the show that the money was supposed to be used to save.”

Portnow has already responded to Macris’ criticisms, citing tricky business tactics and purposely misunderstanding his intentions with the Indie Game Fund. Furthermore, despite Marcis’ promise that he’s sent a cheque to compensate Portnow, the game designer says, “I still haven’t seen a dollar.”

The effort to justify either side’s actions sparked intense discussion and discord, as many people have decided to take sides. One need only look at the community forums on the Escapist page for evidence. The dedicated thread for this topic is long enough to be published as a novel. There has been some contention surrounding Extra Credits from the beginning, as some people have been hostile to their analysis of video games, worried that it will lead to games no one wants to play. However, many more have embraced it as a voice of a growing medium of art.

Older writers and correspondents are using the opportunity to speak out about their lack of payment as well, though they have for the most part been cordial.

“(The Escapist) has told me exactly what I am owed to date, without hiding it, even telling me my month’s entitlement without being asked.” Jim Sterling, producer of Jim(quisition) , another weekly program on The Escapist. “They’ve also been very upfront about their monetary situation and that payment would take some time to reach me. I cannot say I’ve been misled or cheated in any way”

As to the actual departure of the Extra Credits trio, Sterling goes on to say, “Whatever happens, I have a feeling that this might be the making of them, like how Jeff Gerstmann went from known game reviewer to megacelebrity after he left GameSpot. I have little doubt that they’re going to rock it after this. I just hope The Escapist remains a success as well. It’s easy to think of the corporate side as an evil empire that deserves death, but that’s rarely true, and it discounts the genuinely awesome people who stand to lose a lot.”

Extra Credits can now be found on Youtube under the account name ExtraCreditz. They continue to update every Thursday.

For all the original content (and way more than I could fit here) collected in one space, including the original e-mails, posts and replies sent between Portnow and Marcis check out this thread on The Escapist forum.

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Posted on August 12, 2011, in Games and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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