What Is the Future of Video Game Journalism?

Shamus Young

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What Is the Future of Video Game Journalism?

Shamus addresses the state of video game journalism, while trying to decide if he is a journalist or not.

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Evonisia

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That broad appeal line, I'm sure such a future would be met with heavy disdain from many people. But it's an inevitability I suppose, and I thank you for the rest of the interesting article, you kind-of-but-not-really game journalist, whatever they may be.
 

vallorn

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Nov 18, 2009
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I really, really hope that Broad Appeal doesn't end up translating into Clickbait. Other than that I think you've just written some pretty good analysis on the subject. I really hope I get to read more on this from you in the future.
 

madigan

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I think 10 years for site-based gaming journalism to reach the point you describe (huge, broadly-reaching networks) might be over-estimating just a bit. We're already on the verge of seeing that right now as this very website is a potential example. Joystiq has popped and their cream will filter into the remaining, bigger sites. This will probably happen several more times this year to other news sites and the remaining strong contenders will take in a few of the star players from each closure. And as these remaining websites weather the changes to their industry, they will themselves change, finding new angles that work and draw in readers/watchers or not and fading into the background (or closing).

Ten years is a looooooong time on the relative scale of modern business, so I'd say that a safer estimate is more likely 3 to 6 years, but you're definitely right that it's going to happen (save for some new media form or technological shift upheaving everything). At the very least it gives us a lot to ponder, at least those interested in the history of the medium.

Great article, Shamus!
 

J Tyran

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madigan said:
I think 10 years for site-based gaming journalism to reach the point you describe (huge, broadly-reaching networks) might be over-estimating just a bit. We're already on the verge of seeing that right now as this very website is a potential example. Joystiq has popped and their cream will filter into the remaining, bigger sites. This will probably happen several more times this year to other news sites and the remaining strong contenders will take in a few of the star players from each closure. And as these remaining websites weather the changes to their industry, they will themselves change, finding new angles that work and draw in readers/watchers or not and fading into the background (or closing).
Who knows what technological and social changes will bring about the next decade either? No-one really saw the whole mobile and tablet thing coming despite them being around for a long time and the internet went from a limited business and nerd thing to being in the majority of homes in less than a decade, Atheismo only knows what will blow up next.
 

Morganan

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There is a simple answer to this, but I guess simple answers don't make for articles. A journalist would shy away from opinions where a reviewer is essentially giving his. A "Gaming journalist" would stick to getting stories that rely upon facts that could be verified and wouldn't "print news" until he had verifiable sources (normally at least 2 and don't confuse "verifiable" with "on the record") and wouldn't accept some of the BS answers given by publishers/developers and print them as fact. e.g. when the "gaming journalists" let developers talk about how well a game did without giving any numbers to back up their claims and then print those claims and portray them as fact.

The game reviewers are the "opinion" side of "gaming journalism", they are giving their opinion about the game, and opinions always vary. They don't have to cite "facts" as to why a game is good or bad, as there are no "facts" that support a claim either way to be honest, everyone has different tastes.

Why have I made sure "journalist/journalism" is always in quotes in my response here? Simple, because "gaming journalism" doesn't exist today, because the "journalists" always print supposition as fact. Writing an article doesn't make one a "journalist", any schlub can do that as evidenced by the plethora of blogs out there today. What makes one a "journalist" is asking tough questions and getting answers and doing the research required to ensure those answers are verifiable facts before they are printed. If such a "journalist" exists in the gaming scene today, please point me to him/her, as I haven't seen one yet.
 

Atmos Duality

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Shamus Young said:
But just like the internet didn't kill the newspaper, I'm sure that YouTube isn't going to kill traditional gaming news sites. In 10 years, we'll probably have fewer sites, and the survivors will be really big ones with lots of broad appeal.
Right now, the biggest things killing gaming sites, IMO, are:
1) A very turbulent time in mainstream gaming

SHORT VERSION: As AAA (mainstream gaming) flounders, it hurts everyone, both those directly involved and secondary figures (like game enthusiast sites) alike. The growing distrust and increasing reliance on "less-for-more" tactics by AAA are only making the situation worse.

Next gen consoles haven't been embraced with nearly as much enthusiasm as the previous gen. The causes are fairly evident, but the effects are more subtle. For the longest time, AAA publishers have relied heavily on consoles for control and (more recently) consumer arm twisting schemes that are easier to deal with on PC (legally or otherwise).

Business-wise, AAA is becoming more unstable each year, opting to put more of their eggs into one basket.
Second string games and lower, mid-budget titles have gone extinct, leaving only the games at the extreme opposite ends.

(Full-priced large franchise AAA titles with overblown budgets leading to them being stocked to the gob with DLC and micro-transaction opportunities
OR
Dirt-cheap, exploitative, mobile games ALSO stocked to the gob with micro-transaction opportunities)

The swap to franchise-only models has resulted in a LOT of talent being let go over the past console generation (despite all the yes-men bleating about how this is always "the best gaming's ever been").

Worse, when AAA leans heavily on big name franchises, they front-load more of their risk.
It hasn't sunk anyone yet, but just imagine if AAA had a really bad year and something like CoD, AssCreed, or whatever shitcrock EA is cooking up fails.

Though these publishers compete with each other, they also collectively prop each other up by generating interest in the medium as a whole. (a similar phenomenon occurs in the film industry. Hollywood studios HATE IT when a similar film bombs, even when it's their competition's, because it puts audiences off. This is a big part of why I *WANT* good game consoles around despite mainly being a PC gamer for 14+ years)

Basically, if AAA fails, that's bad news for everyone since those companies keep enthusiast site's cogs turning both with advertising deals, and by providing a source for news/articles that have broad-appeal.

Which is why I really wish they would stop trying to find new ways of screwing their customers and get their shit together.


2) Youtube, and Clickbait (part 1)
SHORT VERSION: I haven't really trusted game site or "professional" reviews with good reason, but have made due in lieu of more reliable methods...until Youtube and Lets Plays that is. Also, lead-in for the following part, since they are related.

It's funny; the gaming press only became more overtly political and critical of its own audience the more traditional ad-revenue shriveled up. One can say correlation doesn't equal causality, but once you find a cause that explains the relationship logically, that ol' chestnut no longer holds (a pet peeve of mine is how often the people that parrot 'Correlation=/=Cause' seem to forget that last bit in their attempts to sound smart).

THE CAUSE: When traditional publisher backscratching and enthusiast banter stopped bringing in the necessary ad-hits on their own, gaming sites turned to Clickbait (read: Yellow Journalism) to stay relevant. What draws a crowd more than sparking up some good ol' fashioned controversy? Even better: if said controversy leans on political-moralizing and mud slinging.

These past two years have yielded more yellow journalism articles from gaming sites than I can ever remember prior, and I've followed the gaming press since the early days of gaming subscription print magazines.

Now, Gaming Journalism (note the emphasis) has ALWAYS been a joke at large. Most reviews amounted to being little more than an extended publisher shopping catalog; to say that there isn't obvious collusion in a good chunk of the business is laughably naive. (to the point where game publishers started using Metacritic scores to judge availability of bonuses and future employment of their developers; you'd better believe that's a powerful incentive to grease some palms)

Lots of publications have insisted that their opinions weren't for sale, but every now and then someone rocks the boat and something spills as it were.

Even without those few, glaringly obvious cracks in their farce, I'm not blind; I can see who is advertising right there on the fucking page/site and what scores publications give even to mediocre retreads. The counter-rallying cry of "it's subjective" only goes so far. Years of witnessing horribly inflated scores and hype cause it to come crashing down because, c'mon, most games can't be that great.

That's how it's been for nearly two decades, consumers at large have been slow on the uptake to realize this, but it was happening. People were waiting for a more reliable source of information because, corporate BS and collusion aside, most of us still enjoy enough games (even if we don't all "buy it anyway", as some assert).

Also, for all the harping I just did on collusion, it didn't make the publications themselves entirely useless; there were still some insightful and interesting articles/comics/columns here or there that weren't just PR spin for AAA.

But as for Youtube killing the Gaming Press' reviews, that much is incontestable. 3rd party videos and Lets Plays provide a more direct, honest method for making purchasing decisions than an entire list of "professional" critiques on Metacritic; it's faster and far less prone to collusion.

So, what I'm saying: If gaming sites want to survive, they're going to need to step up their "other stuff" a lot, and rely much less on conventional reviews. Y'know, actual JOURNALISM here might help. Just a thought.

3) Clickbait Returns (part 2)
SHORT VERSION: Stooping to political controversy to retain viewership and changing the focus of your site towards one that blames/lectures your audience isn't a good strategy for a publication reliant on viewership. (read: all of them)

If it wasn't obvious, I don't come to these sites for reviews; I come for the other stuff, the articles, the comments and discussion. And it's here that I have some less than kind things to say about the state of the gaming sites, and why they might be driving folks like me away.

For starters: I have NEVER seen such flagrantly obvious favoritism for certain controversial political figures and movements/ideals being pushed onto the gaming community than in these past 2-3 years; some of whom/which are diametrically OPPOSED to the very culture of the audience that frequents these game sites.
Including parts of the culture that have done nothing to justify some of the aggression or misrepresentation I've seen.

The baseline defense for these people/entities is always a baffling "It's just an opinion, don't take it personally"; baffling, because that line is just a roundabout way of avoiding the issue entirely.

That sounds rather petty until you realize that I'm talking about the press and public forum; y'know, entities whose main purpose is provoking and having those kinds of discussions in the first place. "It's just an opinion/critique" only goes so far before it becomes a more convoluted form of the Sacred Cow fallacy. (or becomes a more polite way of saying "fuck you")

Combine that with universally positive press coverage for certain figures/movements, and the press goes from being "impartial" to "forging a narrative". There's plenty of literature out there on the subject matter (some more/less reliable than others) but fact is, many of these gaming sites experienced or pushed for a change in tone and purpose in recent years.

Now, pushing pseudo-intellectual, moralizing bullshit was bad enough, but I've also borne witness to systematic issues:
...running stories without even basic fact checking (i.e. always believing "the victim")
...re-purposing entire terms to damn the whole via genetic fallacy (including the audience, incredibly)
...issuing massive, intra-site-wide gag orders on certain topics or people
...instigating some very obvious smear-jobs aimed at an author's political opposition

All of this is just baggage; it's less about the games and more about the people that play them.
You can say "Just ignore it", and that works to a point.

But when the greater forum became a battle ground of echo chambers and consequently drowned all other topics out of discussion, that forces one's hand in choosing; and when one doesn't want to take sides in these pathetic squabbles the most appealing choice ultimately points towards leaving entirely.

And I don't have to say how that hurts a site's numbers.

I've damn near left the Escapist more than a few times on account of this toxic quasi-political environment (and the vile "opinions"/attitudes of certain content producers, whom I won't name). It's not just that certain issues are being discussed, it's that they're being discussed to the exclusion of other, less petty issues, and I feel less compelled to even try discussing them in the first place.

But I suppose this wouldn't be the Internet if it weren't "Petty", "Trolly" and "Hyperbolic". *shrugs*
I guess the lesson I learned is that: Internet Culture > Gamer Culture
 

oldtaku

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I always considered you more of an analyst or philosopher. Journalism these days is mostly just regurgitating something someone else wrote - you can see this very clearly in the games website industry - you've got a very few people who actually generate original content, then 30 sites rephrase and repost it, hoping to cannibalize the work. Often even the initial content generator isn't even a journalist - they just posted a cool thing to youtube, someone noticed and shared it on twitter, then gaming sites regurgitate it.

I guess analyst sounds like you're cranking sales figures, and philosopher no longer has the meanings it used to ('would you like fries with that?') but in the age of Buzzfeed, Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and HuffPo the term 'journalist' is so debased it almost seems an insult.
 

irishda

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See, people keep comparing gaming journalism to more mainstream journalism, like newspapers or broadcast. But here's the problem, gaming journalism is journalism on a specific industry, and that industry is entertainment. Therefore there's very little in terms of substantial stories. A more apt comparison would be gaming journalists are like People magazine journalists or Variety journalists.
 

cpukill

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Telling your audience that they are "dead" certainly didn't help. Gamasutra, you're next.

That said, nice column. Hope the Escapist will still be around.
 

RA92

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misogynerd said:
If I may offer my perspective: These places are closing up shop because they have been focused on issues that are divisive and have been taking the side of a small, loud minority of people and the vast majority of people are either tired of hearing about it, or think that their points of view are completely misguided.
Hasn't lowered Kotaku's or Polygon's traffic.

Joystiq is shutting down because the were owned by AOL who can run diddly squat.

cpukill said:
Telling your audience that they are "dead" certainly didn't help. Gamasutra, you're next.
Gamasutra is aimed at developers, not gamers.
 

Sylocat

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A few random and vaguely connected thoughts:

I wonder if part of the problem is that we're all talking past each other on what the word "journalism" even means. It's one of those arguments over definition [http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/04/ethnic-tension-and-meaningless-arguments/] that goes in circles[footnote]Of course, there's also the whole "Many people are just twisting the term to mean whatever they currently want it to mean to justify their own bullying and harassment of others, so it's a waste of time trying to argue the meaning with them" thing.[/footnote].

I'm not sure the traditional definitions of "journalism" can even really apply to the field of covering artistic mediums (other than the inevitable low-hanging fruit of behind-the-scenes tabloid gossip). Even "consumer reporting" seems a bit dry, since the very purpose of the products being reviewed is so subjective. Maybe the solution is to just stop pretending that it's an industry in which objectivity can be applied?

The rise of YouTube has supplanted traditional reviews for a lot of people, but the thing about "broad appeal" is that a number of the people who flock there don't take part in that sector of games media, they barely even know that YouTube playthroughs and indie gimmicky reviewers exist. And then there are people who just prefer text reviews, for completely arbitrary aesthetic reasons. Of course, one fun feature of capitalism is that, if not enough other people like the same things you like, you are forced to either change your tastes or do a whole lot of extra legwork, so text reviews are slowly fading out in these big high-profile aggregators and being relegated to niche blogs and that most dreaded of website features: reader-submitted columns.

I do think it's ridiculous that "games journalism" gets blamed for that Metacritic thing, rather than the rich assholes who hold the spectre of Metacritic over their serfs as an excuse to not be held accountable for their actions (but, as we all know, the people who claim to be angry about media corruption will always do everything in their power to allow the people screwing them to continue screwing them as freely and easily as possible, while tossing safer targets to the dogs).
 

Redd the Sock

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Surviving by broad appeal is an interesting paradox: yes, you're publishing, but you really aren't publishing what you wanted to anymore. Didn't we see this with TV networks like G4 and SyFy, or just about any former music channel now running reality TV, or even the history channel slipping in Indiana Jones movies and pawn stars into the lineup.

News outlets are capitalistic endeavors and survive of supplying the audience a desired product. Gaming journalism had issues well before a certain controversy lit a fire under everything. The news parroted press releases, the reviews were full of people that thought that since objectivity is impossible, subjectivity shouldn't be minimized, and the opinion pieces, well, let's just say they weren't being put out there by people with a relative level of background or fair mindedness of Paul Krugman. (Rush Limbaugh maybe) Mostly it's all became piecemeal and incomplete based on publisher coverage expectations and favoritism and bias on what gets the coverage. I mean, I don't come here for gaming coverage because most of the news I see here I've seen elsewhere first, and it isn't worth my time to sift through the TV show reviews and marvel movie rumors to find anyway. Reviews of games are rare, and never stood out aside from Yahtzee. It's no surprise I get more from gameplay footage off youtube, and more information on upcoming games of the gamefaqs future releases list.

Online game news sites may never die out, but if they don't step up their game they may be seen as a relic like the few remaining print magazines.
 

Redlin5_v1legacy

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I wonder what the content of this site will look like in the next decade... I'll probably still be around, collecting all the dust but its hard to ignore that gaming journalism is shifting.
 

Norithics

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cpukill said:
Telling your audience that they are "dead" certainly didn't help.
Especially when that stupid, drooling audience took a simple metaphor to mean they were literally too unimportant to care about anymore- despite being catered to by everybody constantly- then created a call to arms toward a battle nobody asked for and fewer understood.

Easily the stupidest thing to happen in years that didn't start with "Florida man."
 

webkilla

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Video Game journalism started as extensions of PR departments - gaming magazines were owned by gaming publishers.

Today its clickbait and drama-llamas VS dimishing returns on spending hours researching the truth behind internet drama.


I recall reading an article talking about how a well researched - but not sensational or clickbaity - article would ultimately NOT generate as much revenue as an article that read "HOMG Justin Bieber pukes on a puppy" featuring a poorly photoshoped picture or two.

To this end I can see why some gaming news and review sites appear to buckle to youtubers: A single (good) youtuber with a patreon can these days expect a more stable stream of revenue than a site that relies on ads, due to the prevalence of things like AdBlock for Chrome and Firefox.

Some of these sites survive by having sugar-daddies: Giant Bomb, GameFAQs, OnGamers, Gamespot and Metacritic are all owned by CBS Interactive (and the fact that Gamespot and Giant Bomb is owned by the same company that pays for Metacritic isn't shady all, no sir)

I have yet to see a 'big' review site go the patreon route - I'm not even sure that Patreon allows it - but that would only require a separate service being set up.

The solution for some sites is sponsored content - and that's not a popular solution among the gamers, since its a dishonest practice - but in turn it pays well, and some sites value economy over integrity for some strange reason. How long a business model like that remains viable is unknown. As pointed out in the article, then the gaming journo business is still evolving, with youtube reviewers blossoming up and using services like Patreon simply being the latest iteration.
 

arigomi

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There are claims that gaming sites are no longer trustworthy but that doesn't mean YouTube is better. Unfortunately, some people are relying on Let's Plays to inform their buying decisions. Let's Plays are not unfiltered looks at video games. Just like reality TV, editing decisions will direct viewers into a particular interpretation whether or not it was intentional. As a result, many Let's Players have been approached by publishers to do sponsored content. These brand deals end up being thinly-veiled infomercials.
 

IceForce

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cpukill said:
Telling your audience that they are "dead" certainly didn't help. Gamasutra, you're next.
Except, I couldn't find a Gamasutra article that calls gamers "dead". The only one I was able to find was one where they call the stereotypical 'gamer' demographic "over". And the word "dead" isn't used in that article at all, not once.

You used the word "dead" in double quotes, which means you're directly quoting it from somewhere. Can I have a source to this quote, please?