11. Chris Plante (Editor-in-chief @ Polygon; The Besties podcast)

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So I think being able to kind of step in the shoes of a character and move around a world where people aren't looking you, you know, and in a way, whether it's a good way or a bad way, I think that was probably really appealing to me.

Hello, and welcome to Y-Button, the podcast that asks why we care about video games.

I'm your host, Kyle Starr.

On this show, I interview creators, enthusiasts, journalists and media personalities about their origins with video games, what keeps them so interested in the medium, and what excites them about the future.

On this episode, I'm joined by Polygon's editor-in-chief, Chris Plante.

I've been a huge fan of Chris' work since he co-founded Polygon in 2012.

I'm also a huge fan of his work on The Besties podcast, a video game show with McElroy brothers, Justin and Griffin, as well as fellow Polygon co-founder Russ Frustick.

Full transparency, I was a bit under the weather when I spoke with Chris.

This is also my first episode back since taking a little break for work.

Needless to say, I felt pretty rusty and not entirely on the top of my game, but thankfully, Chris has a wealth of podcasting experience and deep knowledge of various entertainment mediums, which is kind of necessary when you run a website like Polygon covering not only video games, but film, TV, books, comics, and the culture surrounding all of it.

All right, enough preamble, on with the show.

Chris Plante, welcome to Y-Button.

Thank you for joining me.

Thank you for having me, it's a delight.

We've known each other for a deceptively long time.

It's been at least 11 years, I think.

Yeah, definitely.

I bet it's like when Besties started, I met you.

You were one of the first people who was like, oh, you exist, and you were like, wait, people listen to this?

What the hell?

Like, what is wrong with people?

We thought we were just gonna put it out into the air.

This is more of a vanity project.

I worked in podcasts, I won't be specific about it, but I worked in podcasts about 10, 11 years ago.

Before that, I was an avid fan of Polygon, and I really got to know a lot of the writers.

My wife and I had moved, we moved from Orange County up to San Francisco around that time 10 or so years ago.

I found myself in this kind of lonely place.

I didn't really know anybody.

And I started listening to more podcasts and found Besties.

And I was like, this is amazing.

And it's all the guys that I like.

And really, because of you all, so I should just start and say, thank you so much.

Because of Besties, I felt like I had a community and I felt like I had this group that I could connect with, even though it was a one-way conversation, and really got to know your work through that.

And then I think, again, we started following each other on Twitter or something like that.

And we ended up meeting up, I think you and I met up at the...

Couple of E3s, I think.

It was one E3.

It was the late E3, bless his heart, RIP.

But yeah, we met at E3 and just had a coffee and a chat.

And I appreciate that and just thank you.

So you have been really what it comes down to is you've been a voice literally in my ears for about 11 years.

We've been chatting on and off here and there.

I really value your opinion.

I admire the work you have done over the course of your games journalism career, I guess.

And we can talk more about that.

But with all that said, quick question.

Your last name is a noun and mine is two.

Does anybody ever ask you or tell you your name is so cute or they have a fun little like anecdote about a plant?

Not only, I love that this is where you start because I'm recording this audio on my end.

Just be careful, real podcaster habit.

And I named the file Star Plante because I was like, oh, you gotta make it something cute.

If we're gonna be here together, you're gonna make something just so adorable, even if it's a stupid file name.

I have an aunt whose maiden name was Human, and I'm forever crushed that they did not keep both names for their child, so they could have Ian Human Plante.

But they decided that was quote, too far.

So she just became Aunt Plante, is what you're talking about.

Exactly, she just became Aunt Plante, thank you.

Yeah, so Chris Plante, I alluded to this.

You've been in the games journalism for a long time.

The premise of this show Y-Button is to really figure out why people care about video games.

I am a person who just surrounds himself with video game, industry news, cultural goings on, and I play the occasional game here and there, but I don't get a whole lot of time to actually play and end up immersing myself in everything else around it.

But I can't get enough of it.

Like, it's all the podcasts I consume.

It's all the news I consume.

And I gather there are more people out there that are like me that do this as well, that are just enamored with this medium, but don't really know why they're so consumed with it.

Maybe this is true of other hobbies, but I'm specifically focusing on games because that's my deal.

You, being in games journalism for so long, I thought might have a very interesting opinion on what your own journey in games looks like and why you're so connected to it and care about it so much.

If you don't mind, I could run down the list, but I would love to hear your story about getting into games journalism, why you even started in games journalism and where it's taken you.

And for the record, I should also just say, right now you are currently the editor-in-chief of polygon.com, the best video game website out there.


Thank you.

I appreciate that.

I am a little surprised to be here because my origin story is so short and you're good at research.

You know that if you just go to Kotaku in action and you look at the Wiki, you will find out that I had never played a video game in my life until co-founding Polygon and the entire attempt to destroy the video game industry.

That's, I mean, that's really it.

I've actually never played a video game.

No, no.

I do have a more detailed industry, but I like to imagine that it's much, because if anybody sees me, that I think if you look at me, they're like, oh yeah, what else were you gonna do with your life?

Like, you kinda got filed into a hole.

You weren't even trying, and it just, you sifted through.

Yeah, what is my journey?

Maybe the better question to start with is you obviously work in games journalism.

You are, okay, again, currently the editor-in-chief of Polygon.

You've spent some time at The Verge, I think, in between some Polygon stints.

You actually co-founded Polygon, which was a big deal.

Again, when I saw Polygon for the first time, my mind blew up, it was crazy.

You've done instructing at NYU.

Before Polygon, I understand that you were at UGO and helped with OneUp, oneup.com, all that.

And so again, you're living in the games journalism world.

Maybe the question is, why did you pick games journalism and why not make games?

There's obviously, you're obviously interested in games, so you go this direction of journalism.

Why is it journalism and not like making games?

I have the most insufferable answer for that, especially because getting a job in games journalism is really, really tough these days.

But like the just being fully honest, I had no intention of doing this.

I honestly didn't have a lot of interest in doing this.

I guess my origin story is I loved video games as a kid.

I loved playing them, but I wanted to be a writer and I didn't know what that meant.

I grew up in kind of like rural area outside of Kansas City, Missouri.

And I didn't even know like what you could possibly get paid for to be a writer.

I don't know, I guess you could grow up and be Mark Twain.

Like it was a very hard thing for me to conceptualize.

But as I got into junior high and then high school, I found that I wasn't even like good necessarily at writing, but I just like, I really enjoyed it.

I really enjoyed theater.

I enjoyed being a performer.

I enjoyed the arts.

I was the kid who like, we've talked about this off the show, who found himself like very deep in the Midwest emo scene in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

And I think all of that kind of opened this door of like, yeah, you can go do something.

Like who knows what it is, but you can go figure it out.

So I applied to a whole bunch of different schools for college that were like nowhere near where I lived and ended up getting into NYU and went there for writing.

They have a program that is like focused on television and film and playwriting.

So I did that for college.

While I was doing that, I still never fully understood like where that would take me.

I just knew I had to make money.

I have a hairdresser for a mother and a firefighter for a father, which I think is a great hell of a way to grow up, but it's not necessarily the most financially, you're not drowning in cash.

So I knew that I needed to find some money.

So even during college, I was taking gigs here and there.

I interned at The Onion and then kind of fell my way into a art director gig on The Onion News Network, which was this video series that they were doing for a long time.

I did a thing at the BBC in London that was hopefully going to set me up for a job.

And that kind of went sideways, but it gave me a kind of a real taste for journalism.

I did some work on TV pilots and then I graduated.

And I graduated in 2008 into the recession and it was horrible.

And even just getting like TV stuff was hard.

I got a crappy job on a TV show, like a PA or writer's assistant or something.

And that show got canceled after like four episodes.

And I was like, I just need to find something steady so I can stay here right now.

So my friends are like moving to LA.

I was like, man, I can't think about moving to LA.

I can barely think about staying here.

So I was like, well, what am I competent at?

I was like, well, I played a lot of video games.

I know how to write, kind of.

And I found a job listing for the lowest of the low and of entry jobs at UGO.

It was kind of like an IGN competitor.

A long time before I started there, by the time I got there, it was, you know, like, I don't know, it was just publishing because I guess it had enough accrued ad deals that somehow it could justify its existence.

And yeah, I went into the interview.

They asked me how to correctly spell Matthew McConaughey.

I got it wrong.

And then I told them that's a really stupid question from a bunch of people who couldn't get 50 other typos that I had found on the home page that day.

And the person who hired me, fortunately was the type of person who liked that talk and was like, the gall of ya.

I would never talk that way now.

I mean, what a, talk about just total bullshit that I pulled off and yeah, I got a job in for the first year.

Honestly, I mostly, I uploaded XML sheets.

We didn't, people when you publish now, you think of it like Twitter, right?

You press post and ours was you wrote the actual code into sheets and then you uploaded those files and then you waited for a half hour for all of them to hit the server, holding your breath because if there was an error, it killed the site and then you had to be there to go through it all again.

I mean, it was, it's funny because it's so similar, not similar, but it is an echo of the early print days where you actually had to publish.

So yeah, I guess that's my like walking uphill, but I did that mostly to pay my bills and paid awful.

Paid, I mean, truly horrendous.

Was barely, it wasn't enough honestly to like get by, you know, it was like, you know, you eat ramen and beans for a year.

And then I just kind of kept climbing.

I don't know, it was, it was so, I had so little money in so little time that it's what they tell you in art school, is like don't have a plan B because your plan B will become your life.

I just got very, very, very lucky in that while that beginning part was like really hard, it ended up blossoming into this thing that I've like loved.

And I'm so glad that like I took a job at a place I kind of hated, doing a thing I kind of hated and just kind of like wasn't thinking about it during that period.

I was just thinking about getting through the years.

And by the time I kind of worked my way up, I was there.

Well, I was writing things that I actually cared about and had a little bit of an audience.

So sorry, that was a long, long walk for a small glass of me, but.

No, I think it's very insightful.

And I'm then curious, how then does Polygon happen?

So you're still at this, you're still at UGO and then you move into it just one day.

Hey, we're gonna set up a new website with some friends.

What's the deal there?

Yeah, I wish it was that.

So when I was in college and again, I was kind of experimenting with journalism and just how can I write in a way that entertains myself?

I had written a few kind of opiniony things for a site called GameSet Watch, which was run by the absolutely fantastic Simon Carless.

There is a generation of people in this industry that owe their careers to this man.

He helped to run GDC, I would say, during its prime.

By helped, I mean like, was like a key part.

He ran a poorly named, but extremely important at the time, Gamma Sutra and GameDev, just so influential.

Now he runs a great, great consultancy kind of group slash newsletter slash tool called GameDiscoverCo.

It's a great newsletter.

I love it.

Shout out, it's so insightful.

But yeah, while he was in college, he was like, hey, I'll pay you a little bit of money and you can write something once a week and you can get some experience.

And another writer named Lee Alexander was there at the time and she kind of took me under her wing.

And because of that, I knew what I thought good work looked like.

I had a taste of what my mind at the time was like good critical thinking and reporting.

And I craved it.

So even when I wasn't doing it, I had this kind of like, I really want to do that.

Like how do I get people to pay me to do that?

I'm probably not going to go back into TV production.

That's a bust for now, maybe one day.

But I'm starting to enjoy this and I would enjoy it even more if I could write something that I believed in.

You know, not just like captions and galleries.

So at UGO, after about probably like a year and a half, two years, it had been acquired by Hearst.

We had then acquired OneUp and EGM.

It was just kind of all over the place.

I, the writing was kind of on the wall.

You know, the recession had just kind of lingered and my boss had like suggested, you know, I don't know if layoffs are going to happen, but if they do, I think it'd be great if you like stayed still and you could like help, but there would just be like fewer people here.

And one of the like most not me things I've ever done, I'm so forever grateful to this very brief, wise version of myself, was I said like, please don't.

I was like, please, please lay me off.

Because if I get laid off, we had been acquired by Hearst, I'll get a good exit package for a few months.

And I, and since really my entire adult life, since the day I moved to NYU, I hadn't had two or three months just try to figure something out.

I'd always been chasing some money.

So I was like, this is it.

I need that chance.

And then if that chance doesn't work out and I need to move back home or something, so be it.

But at least I'll have gotten the chance.

So yeah, so they ended up laying me off basically on my birthday.

It was nice.

It was a perfect present.

I felt very lucky.

I was very young.

I felt very spoiled because I was young.

I didn't have kids or anybody relying on me at this point.

So a lot of people on my team had it much worse.

But for me, it was an opportunity.

And I, from there, just took every dollar I could find because I knew that if I could start to become self-sufficient as a freelancer, then I could start to actually pick my battles.

So I did a lot of like, there is an entire era of how to do social media templates at Scholastic, where if you want to know how to use Reddit, and you worked at Scholastic or you're an author, you read my document on how to use FARC or whatever else.

It was a lot of like that sort of writing.

And around the same time, a publication called The Daily, which not The Daily, The New York Times podcast, the iPad-only newspaper launched and an editor there had somehow seen some other various freelance work I picked up and was like, hey, I need somebody like right now.

Can you start writing?

And they needed to fill a lot of pages fast and I could do that.

So I started writing kind of features there on a weekly cadence.

I was just, I mean, it was just nonstop.

I felt like it was just writing or it was a great like exercise and that it got me fast.

It got me to like really, really produce a lot of work and really go out and do interviews.

That was the other thing.

It's like, I need somebody who can be in New York and go and talk to people every day.

So every day I was walking in and just finding, trying to find a story in New York that was related to entertainment and putting it in their newspaper.

And I don't think anybody read it.

Entertainment was the beat you were after for that publication?

Yeah, it was entertainment, I mean, very games focused, but like kind of games in the world.

So like going to like a pinball bar, stuff like that.


But yeah.

And then from there, I kind of was able to build up a portfolio and I knew that I eventually wanted to try to get back onto staff because while I enjoyed it, it was unrelenting in how much I had to produce just to, you know, again, pay my bills.

And there were a few different options that I had.

And the one that seemed the biggest gamble is the one that I ended up taking, which was Polygon.

And I got, which is in hindsight is so funny because the other options, I won't go into it, but like not, they would have been the wrong choices.

But at the time, so many people let me know that I was making a huge mistake.

And now I, that's a great thing to get a carry with you.

I will say that.

That is the great thing about following your heart is when it does work out, it feels really good.

I told you so.


I told you so.

It's a powerful thing.

So yeah, that's kind of like how I got from a bad place to a better place.

That's awesome.

And we haven't really even touched on it yet.

I know we've been talking already a lot.

And I do think your career in journalism is important for actually specifically talking about games.

There wasn't a whole lot there about games and games journalism specifically, but I imagine throughout all of that, you were not only covering games for the daily for eventually Polygon, UGO, all this sort of stuff, but you're playing games on the side throughout this or could you, you know, maybe that's a good question is like you're focusing on paying your bills.

Are you even able to play games during any of this time?

Yeah, I mean, you are.

But what you would play at that time was like the worst you were you were truly picking through the sludge pile.

It's kind of hard to imagine now because I think one, there's just so many games out and there's so many good games out that you could every week publish a couple reviews and you would never have to really review anything that's below like a six out of ten.


If you're using the score system, people always say like, you know, why is IGN not have lower scores?

There's any reasons for that.

But modern day, like just because everything's like pretty solid and there's a ton of it, you know, you don't have time for the sludge.

But when I was getting started, you know, you had really big good games come out in November, and that was kind of the thing, you know, maybe you got a few throughout the year before that.

If you were lucky, there were some surprises.

But like week to week, you're reviewing, you know, like Jerry Rice's dog football on the Wii or like, you know, some I reviewed a zombie car racing game that Activision put out for joystick that I swear was totally incomplete.

But my favorite thing about it was when you hit the pause of any, it just started playing like really delicate acoustic guitar and I was like, sure, like this is so clearly somebody got away with one, you know, like this game was so unchecked that somebody's like, yeah, whatever.

Like I'm going to put my cool, my extremely cool guitar music in this otherwise completely forgettable game.

00:20:18.900 --> 00:20:21.360

Creators and Guests

AJ Fillari ✨
AJ Fillari ✨
podcast producer/editor FOR HIRE • host of @AsynchPod & @tenverybigbooks • editor @intothecast, @weeklyfrogpod & @slice! • prev. @anchor • he/they • 29
Chris Plante
Mostly dormant except RTsEmail to reach me------EIC and Co-founder, @PolygonCo-host, @thebestiespod Editor, @questrpgHe/him
11. Chris Plante (Editor-in-chief @ Polygon; The Besties podcast)
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