So this stems from an article that Dan “Shoe” Hsu posted on August 25, 2009 as a copy from the Sore Thumbs blog that he used to co run. The title of it is “A Game Publisher on Gaming Journalism”, check it out, if nothing more than to make sure I’m not taking things out of context. The article in question had me seeing red the first time I read it and suffice to say, my demeanor had not changed the second time. Read my critique of the article after the jump.
Let’s get something straight before I do this; I am not a journalist of any type or calibre. I am not a developer, publisher, or a part of any of the above. I am a gamer. I am one of many who’s hobby fuels this industry. I have no love for bad journalism, nor do I have any love for bad publishing tactics. That said, one thing that irritates me more than seeing these actions occurring, is seeing someone trying to defend their actions. That said, for little more reason than to get my personal perspective across, I will counter the above article from the perspective that should matter to a journalists and development/publication teams all over the world; A gamer.
“But the strategy behind a publisher’s efforts to pressure publications in the interest of a game does make sense in certain instances. Sometimes the efforts to control the message of a game come from the most hardcore of gamers — the developers.
Right off the bat, it needs to be remembered that most serious games are projects that have involved dozens, if not hundreds of people for years (not talking about the licensed crap). The developer, in most cases, kills itself to get a game completed.
Any good PR people working for a game publisher understand what a developer goes through and should fight hard to get the game looked at by journalists fairly. This is not to say a bad game should get a free pass, but every game should be given a fair appraisal, with considerations made for target market and price.”
Here’s the first piece I have an issue with. I have no qualms with games getting a fair assessment by journalists. The issue lies twofold. First of all, rarely does the publisher answer to the developer, often times it is the exact opposite, so while a PR person might feel for the developer, that feeling rarely has their job riding on it, so there’s little effort applied in conveying the effort of the developers. Most often it’s conveying just how much money the publisher has invested, as evidenced by the last line in the above section. Second of all, invisible factors such as the developer’s feelings, target market, and price should NOT be defining factors in reviewing quality. A developer can sweat themselves putting out a AAA game that’s sold for top price range and for a huge market, but if the game is substandard at best, there is no reason it should get a free ride because of it’s perceived stature.
“What many gamers don’t understand is how busy journalists can be — and also how lazy. Let’s say you have a game that takes 30 hours to complete, and reviewer plays two hours of it and gives it mediocre review based on the first few levels, just because he has 10 other games to review and can’t put in the hours.”
Personally, I love epic length games that you can really get into and enjoy for days before you see the end. However, If said game takes 5 hours just to make you interested, I’m shoving it away or taking it to a used game dealer to recoup some of my money from. At that point, anyone that asks me what I thought about it, I’m not exactly going to be singing praises. Now a journalist doesn’t have the luxury of devoting countless hours into the title just to “get to the good stuff”.
“Or when seeing a game pre-release, the journalist complains about things in the game that are obviously works in progress.”
Yes, that must be really tough, especially when the journalist has no idea it’s a work in progress. Unless informed it’s still being worked on, you have to assume that that part is finished, otherwise you wouldn’t have seen it.
“Or when an editor of a big gaming website gives his FPS guy a sim racing game to review.”
Now this reads of sour grapes. The PR person has so carefully stacked the deck in their favour, and can’t stand a wild card thrown in so to speak. If you can’t convince someone who was indifferent about the title, then why should you be entitled to convince someone who already is drooling over it?
“Or when someone looks at all the other reviews online for a game, and just follows the crowd by posting a similar review (look at what’s happening to Too Human right now…does that game deserve scores that bad?). These things happen all the time.”
By the same logic, it happens with games that get higher than they deserve, and when you look at behind the scenes, it’s because a PR person like the article writer bribed or threatened enough journalists to start the trend. Crying when a shady tactic doesn’t work in your favour when you are known for doing it endears you to no one.
“And if they don’t act professionally, who can blame a publisher for fighting back with any means necessary?
Wouldn’t you try to protect a game you care about and feel is being slighted unfairly? The game journalist’s word means more than anything in terms of a game’s chance of success. “
Stacking the deck in your favour and limiting your options doesn’t help you. Journalist A gives game A a review you don’t like so you cut them off, going to Journalist B who gave a review you do like. Game B comes along and gets a poor review from Journalist B so you cut him off, and so on. Soon enough, you will have cut off anyone who’s opinion you value, and then you get games dying off because no one has heard about them. Suffice to say, acting like a five year old saying “give me a good review or I’ll take my ball and go home” isn’t going to help you get your word out.
“I think many developers believe that most game journalists know little about games (though to be fair, most PR people in games know even less). But people at game developers constantly complain about game journalists offering “ideas” in previews and reviews for how games should be improved, when they have no sense of how that is done. “
And yet I hear the opposite, of developers WANTING journalists to offer suggestions, considering that is whole point of previews and reviews, is to gather opinions and ideas. Well guess what? An idea that you don’t like has the exact same value as an idea you do like. So when you get a consolidation from all the developers about which way to go, let us know, but don’t assume you speak for anyone apart from yourself.
“A great unspoken truth is that those involved in games development and publishing feel that many journalists feel a sense of entitlement — that they deserve to have their asses kissed because of the power they wield over the sell-in (convincing retail buyer to take a game) and the final sell-through of games to gamers.
The fact is game journalists — of which there are hundreds at the moment — are living off the blood sweat and tears of creative people who love games and regularly work 100-hour weeks. The fact that they can casually rip on a game gives others involved in the development and marketing process good reason to get pissed.”
And a great SPOKEN truth is that all publishers care about is the dollar sign and how they can milk as much out of the gamer “sheeple” possible. See what I did there? I took the mumblings of people I dealt with every working day (I used to work gaming retail) and declared it a fact. Suffice to say, just because you say it, doesn’t mean it is fact, particularly when you talk in terms of absolutes. In addition, you are living off those same people, who expect proper representation of their work from someone who answers to someone else. Sound familiar? Yup, you are right in the same category as the journalists you bash. The only difference is your pay and job is based off the title’s success, while the journalist’s isn’t.
“The industry has been crying out for “real” journalism for a long time now. What this means to me is not harsher reviews, but thoughtful analysis about games, real knowledge of game development, and a deep history of playing games — and ultimately, gauging who the game would be fun for, and scoring it accordingly.”
No, according to this, “the industry” has been crying out for lapdogs. According to the article writer, game reviews should be compartmentalized and segregated from each other, given special considerations for their title status and dollars invested. Suffice to say this could lead to scenarios like Bubsy 3D getting a higher review than Castle Crashers because Bubsy 3D was a AAA title when it came out with thousands of dollars invested while Castle Crashers is a DL game with only a few hundred dollars invested. Yeah, because that’s fair.
Needless to say, something that seems to be missing from the argument is what I mentioned at the top of the article. Journalists say that developers and publishers want them to be lapdogs, while publishers and developers say the same of journalists. However, without the gamers that they make games for and review for, neither side would be in business. So, my personal call to developers and publishers; if you want a game to be granted a good review, make a game that would appeal to the gamers. As for journalists; If you want your reviews to be trusted, then review fairly and independently. Finally, for both sides; There is one factor that drives the industry overall, and that’s gamers. Leave the politics to politicians, because personally, I don’t want to have to deal with inter-company politics when buying a game.