Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Random Shots: Games Journalism

  • It all started with a picture.
  • A carefully selected screengrab of Geoff Keighley, sitting amongst the paraphernalia of capitalism: Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Halo 4. It was quickly passed around the internet with much derision. It is an odd thing to see, but the internet didn't actually blow up until the issue was tackled by Eurogamer columnist Robert Florence.

  • You see, Florence is concerned about the state of games journalism. He has been for some time. He's especially concerned about the uneasy relationship between games writers and PR for the game companies. There is no shortage stories about how PR tries to influence reviews, with anything from fancy press kits to this amazingly crass presentation of the 3DS to Giant Bomb. The CGW crew talked about how PR so often crosses the line on this podcast about the firing of Jeff Gerstmann. And just recently, a disgustingly tone deaf letter was sent to reviews from the VP of PR for Ubisoft thanking journalists for their help promoting Assassin's Creed III.

  • Florence's main contention in the article is that it looks really bad if journalists are seen as promoting a product. Any product from a game down to a bag of chips. So when he pointed out that Lauren Wainwright's Twitter feed and page are covered with Tomb Raider, it's difficult to take what she writes about the game seriously. Then Eurogamer took that section out of article, Florence quit, and the internet exploded.

  • On his blog, John Walker of Rock Paper Shotgun discusses the situation in three separate posts and also hosts Florence's guest post about his firing. At the moment, probably the best review of all that has happened was written by Stephen Totilo of Kotaku.

  • Games journalism is in a crazy place. Kotaku quotes Florence saying "I think we're in a horrible position right now, where most games coverage is almost indistinguishable from PR." It is hard to disagree with that.

  • Integrity is important. I am not a games journalist and probably will never be. I would like to think that I uphold my own integrity here as best I can, but there is little temptation otherwise. Nonetheless, I find it important to write from a place of honesty so that there is no mistaking my intentions. Everyone we read should be held to that standard.

  • Not everyone is corrupt, and we do everyone is disservice by chasing down that intellectual rabbit hole. Even worse, we become the problem when we lash out at reviews with hateful, homophobic, or misogynistic comments in an attempt to silence opinions we don't agree with. Where we see corruption or dishonesty, we need to point it out and let them know that they are doing wrong.

  • But even more, we need to reward those writers and sites that do display integrity and intellectual honesty. That's why I focus primarily on sites like Giant Bomb and Polygon who are upfront about their policies and biases. Find the writers you can trust and stick with them. There is good games writing going on out there, no matter how much doom and gloom people perceive. You just have to look.

  • Credit where credit is due: a lot of these links are pulled directly from the mega thread over at NeoGAF. The posters there have done some amazing work pulling together the various pieces of the topic.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. I once accepted a "press" beta key to Gods and Heroes. I told them I would make no promises whether and/or what I would write, and my post about the beta fully disclosed how I had gotten in.

    I deliberately make no revenue off my site and only check my pageviews every other month or so (primarily to see if there's someone I owe a link-back to), so I had absolutely nothing at stake if I was forever banned from ever getting such an invite ever again. Even so, I agonized over that post, knowing that the PR guy who contacted me was going to have to go to his clients and say that the word of mouth they were paying him to generate was not positive.

    I can only imagine what it must be like to actually have expenses - bandwidth, editors, writers etc - when faced with this situation. Professional sites can compete on production values - having real editors and a legitimate content update schedules - but in the end you're competing with free if you're in the business of having opinions about gaming news. Unfortunately, the only other value you have to offer your readers is re-selling access that publishers are voluntarily giving you. It's frankly remarkable that journalists stay even as even as critical they do under the circumstances.

  2. Even on my barely read blog I have gotten a few offers for income in exchange for allowing advertising. I think the line between blogging and journalism is starting to get very fuzzy in the space we live in for some reason. It may be that bloggers, who tend to have zero financial incentives to bash or praise any given game, are starting to become more trusted than game journalists as judges of new games.

    The only MMO I have actively tried to promote on my blog so far is Project: Gorgon. Even there, I like to think I was being pretty clear about the strengths and weaknesses of the build I played when I previewed it. Being honest and accurate when I talk about a given MMO are important to me. That said, I don't consider myself even remotely a MMO journalist. The standards of "due diligence" I apply to my blog posts quite a bit more slack than what I would apply to reports I was being paid to produce on a topic. For one thing, you can't track every single statement I present as fact back to a source.