Games journalists. Don’t make me laugh.
No developer likes the gaming press. I don’t think I have ever heard any games developer actually speak positively about gaming publications, printed or online, or the so called games journalists. I will refer to them as journalists throughout this post, because that’s what they call themselves. But few, if any, of the people currently writing about games or the games industry are actually journalists in the true sense of the word. In reality, most of them are nothing more than glorified bloggers given a bigger platform to stand on. I don’t doubt that there are some genuinely honest and good journalists in the industry, and there might even be the odd real friendship between a journalist and a developer, but I reckon those cases are rarer than a football trophy going to Arsenal.
The games press only exists because we developers make games. The games press lives and feeds off of what we produce and the buzz and hype we generate (through our own marketing and advertising campaigns). The games press lives from the money development studios and publishers pump into advertising on their websites and printed magazines.
And what does the gaming industry get in return for all this? Not really a fucking lot to be honest. If we are lucky we might get a good review. If we are really lucky, and there is no click-bait topic ready to be published, a game we work on might feature in a preview or article. But for the most part, we get criticized and antagonized by a bunch of (self) glorified bloggers. At times these “journalists” can’t even be bothered to fact check what they write about.
Example: A gamespot crew once reported on a game I worked on. After a demonstration session, where the game was shown and talked about, they got several elements completely wrong and, despite myself and others being fully available to them, they could not be bothered to ask ONE question. Any of the things they “misunderstood” could easily have been cleared up, if they had actually cared. But it was easier (and more sensationalist) for them to report “shortcomings” of the game.
And the worst part? We have to pretend we like it. We have to pretend we love the gaming press and want to work with them, because in a vast ocean of games released every year, we hope that by being nice to a journalist and sucking that blogger dick, we might just get a nice article and stick out from the crowd.
It did not always used to be this way. Before the rise of online games journalism (everyone and their dog with access to the internet can become a media critic these days), people reviewing games actually had integrity and often a background and education in the journalistic field. Admittedly there were also fewer games and stories to cover, so more time and detail could be spent on each piece. But articles felt well researched and balanced.
These days being first is more important than being factual. Writing the 100th article about Sarkeesian brings in more clicks (and thus money) than a review of an actual game (400+ comments vs. 18 comments). It no longer is about what the games press should do, but rather what they have to do. Money talks. Controversial topics generate heated debates and comments, they generate lots of clicks, they generate lots of revenue.
Barely a week goes by without major publications posting about GamerGate, Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn or Brianna Wu. Yet at the same time those same publications can’t find the time to review potentially great games. Freedom Planet for example has gotten 3 reviews in 8 months – none of them from one of the big publications (for small/independent teams this can be devastating)
No, unfortunately it’s the big titles, the big developers/publishers and the big controversies that matter. In many cases the gaming press does not even have to bother with the truth or research anymore. Just look at how often a “news article” has to be updated, as new (and different) information starts coming in. Week on week we see more “opinion pieces”. Unlike reviews or interviews, here the authors view and perception matter, and the author is not required to give equal representation to either side. Essentially most of these opinion pieces are just blog posts, but due to the space they are posted in, they are given far more credibility than they actually deserve.
This place here is a blog. Nobody is under any impression that anything I write here matters more than the opinion of someone else. I write it how I see it and I try to back things up where I can, but what I write here is still my opinion. I do not get paid for this, I do not have companies paying for advertising on this site. But when a publication which is meant to be all about gaming, and thus attracts an audience interested in that subject, starts mixing in more and more opinion pieces, the lines start to blur.
There is a perfect example of this – an article by Patrick Garratt, regarding a petition from Mark Kern (who is an incredible industry veteran). Not only did the article go to town on the petition itself (a petition which actually had no impact on VG247 at all), but neither the writer nor the website bothered to actually talk to Mark or give him any space to express his thoughts. Essentially it boiled down to this: Patrick Garratt disagreed with the petition and posted a long article about it, abusing the platform provided to him by VG247 and claiming it was journalism. #letmarkspeak was born and lets see where it goes – sign the petition while you are at it.
Another recent example of an opinion piece, abusing the platform provided to the “journalist”, is Ben Kuchera’s piece on game length. In it there is one paragraph in particular which irked me:
This creates a terrible tension in our hobby; $60 for a single piece of entertainment is a huge price, especially when combined with the fact that it costs hundreds of dollars for the console needed to play the game. Heck, each console only plays certain games on the market, and you’ll need at least three machines to play everything in our hobby.
I can’t expect Kuchera to have read my piece on entertainment cost from a few years ago. After all he is a busy man, turning his “hobby” (playing video games) into a job (writing opinion pieces, complaining about video games). But as someone a background as esteemed as his, working both in retail and in “journalism” for such a long time, I would have expected to see beyond the 60 USD price tag.
Yes 60 USD seems like a lot. For any product, it is a price tag which can make people pause and think about a purchase. However 60 USD for 7 or 8 hours of entertainment is still good value for money. Not to mention that, unlike say a cinema ticket (20 USD or more for a 2 hour experience), you can pass the game on to your friends or even trade it in again. Raising the cost of consoles, or the fact that 3 consoles are “needed” just shows that Kuchera is grasping at straws. Of course there are exceptions, and sometimes games can feel like a rip-off. If poor Kuchera felt that way about The Order:1886, then fair enough. But for the most part games are still incredible value for money. He complains about the price of games, but does not understand that his very salary also comes out of every single game we (those who MAKE the game) sell. And what is his contribution for that cut? Fuck all. A big fucking finger to the developer – that is his contribution. Well Mr. Kuchera: get off your high horse, make a game and sell it to the public. But please don’t complain about how unfair the industry is and how much we rip people off, while you suck on our tits for your daily milk.
There has been lots of talk about a “rift” between the gaming press, the developers and the gamers. That rift did not exist 10 years ago. Back then we developers created games, some good and some not so good, and the gamers bought them and enjoyed them. Games journalists played them and gave their (honest) opinion in reviews – the gaming press, in theory, was on the side of the gamer. But with the rise of opinion pieces, with giving people like Kuchera and Garrett and others a platform to write their ridiculous blog posts, that rift started to appear. And rather than try to fix it, games publications actually fan the flames and encourage the arguments – because that is exactly what generates traffic and revenue. I would argue that without the gaming press there would be no GamerGate and far less controversy and anger.
It feels like the gaming press feels entitled to something. After the whole DorritoGate episode, when games media outlets had to adopt ethics rules, perhaps they are missing the free handouts, the flights to special press events, the hotel parties and being treated like kings. I guess that could be it. Maybe it is because all those freebies were taken away, or could not be obtained as easily, the games press slowly but surely turned against us developers, and even their readership. Maybe drying up the free stuff meant they were more dependant on click-bait articles and the revenue stream those generate. I don’t know. But in the last 2 years or so the gaming press, in many cases, has become openly critical of not only the gamers, but also of developers.
It’s not all bad news though. There are some people who, independant from major publications, concentrate on what’s important: the games. People like TotalBiscuit built a following by focusing on games, being honest, being funny and (oh shock!) by researching what they talk about. That is why they are popular on youtube, twitter and other social media outlets. As a developer, these are the guys I would want to talk to about the games I make.
I think it’s funny in a way that people like TotalBiscuit, who started essentially with opinion pieces, are now more reliable, honest and more about games than traditional games publications. Websites like Polygon, VG247, Eurogamer etc. who were founded to be all about games, have changed to be more about opinion pieces. It comes at no surprise to me that Total Biscuit has close to 2 million subscribers, while traditional outlets close or try to reinvent themselves in an attempt to stay current and edgy, in order to stay relevant.
With the circus of shows starting up next week with GDC, another year of “be nice to the journalists and butter them up” is about to start. There will be hundreds of developers talking to thousands of these so called journalists. For the most part we won’t enjoy it. It will be a necessary evil and the best we can hope for is that what we say, is actually reported on correctly. But we will smile, answers some of the most stupid questions imaginable. This is not for the benefit of the gamer. This is purely to try and maximise the PR for our games, to stick out from the crowd.