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Am I Destroying Games Journalism?

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I was propping up the bar tonight after a games event, as I am wont to do. Got chatting with a few freelance journalists in games and other industries when the conversation came around to how bloggers are now being invited to PR events, writing about games for free and thereby destroying the career option for freelancers.

I am paraphrasing, of course, but that’s the gist of it. So, always one to gather opinions from my personally-curated echo chamber, I put the question out to Twitter:

Quick question: Are blogs destroying games journalism?

Perhaps I am naïve – I was honestly expecting this to float away into the ether like most of my off-the-cuff questions. It’s hardly an original debate but responses came back thick and fast from gamers, consultants, bloggers, freelancers and non-games copywriters. I got several flat-out “No”s and a few more nuanced opinions.

No. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the cream always rises. Bad games journalism is the only thing bad for games journalism. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, be it in blog form or otherwise. The good stuff gets spread by word of mouth… the bad stuff fades into the eternal din of the Internet. I can’t see any link to a degradation of games journalism. The notion that it does smacks of elitism if you ask me. Some of the most well rounded opinions come from amateur bloggers & podcasters IMHO :)
@TheSonicMole, 2, 3, 4

I’d say bad game sites are destroying games journalism, and bad game blogs are destroying good ones.

There are too many of all of them. Neither are destroying each other, but the numbers of them might.

You could ask the same of all sorts of journalism. Surely the two should exist side by side in holistic bliss.

Depends on the blog me thinks. One or two of the big ones have gotten awful of late but there are still some good ones.

I don’t think so, I usually read mainstream gaming sites first over blogs.

Is FOX News destroying mainstream journalism?

Blogs is a loose term. Major newspapers, magazines & corporations all have blogs. Quality ranges as wildly as their respective topic

Only the bland ones rehashing press releases, but the same is true of the big sites

They have been for years! Thankfully sites like AVGamer & various others are pushing on with a quality threshold. That’s all that’s been missing. A blog has no editor, no one to moderate, fact check or verify content for accuracy etc.
@origamikid, 2

All very interesting and valuable information. On the topic of blog vs mainstream, I think Jo’s and Si’s opinions (@whatjosaid and @TheSonicMole) are probably closest to mine – we can coexist perfectly well as entities and quality work will shine. That’s not quite what I meant though – the issue lies on the business side. Is the plethora of coverage garnered from unpaid games bloggers ruining careers for full-time freelancers and journalists by providing an alternative, potentially cheaper venue for PR teams to flog their wares?

I rephrased my question but here’s a bit of background info. I’ve been told that over the past few years, RyanAir has introduced a practice where new pilots have to do 500 hours of unpaid flight time for the company before they will be offered a permanent contract. This takes about 9 months of real time. At the end of that service, the pilot might be offered a permanent role, or s/he could be turfed out to make way for the next poor sap willing to work 9 months for free. Other airlines have seen this practice work and followed suit. Glad I never wanted to be a commercial pilot.

Question 2:

Different take: are blogs destroying games journalism as a viable career option, the way RyanAir has broken aviation? – @weefz

Here are some of the responses:

Blogs aren’t, crap games & over zealous PR firms/ marketing departments are.

They just need to buck their ideas up. Because there’ll always be someone on their tail. Just like any business…

I have to say yes :). It’s sad really but when it is so easy to do as it is now it is inevitable that it would happen.

Only for those who think ‘games journalism’ is rewriting press release emails and ‘sourcing’ news from other blogs. It’s a filter.

No. Manipulative PR people strategically granting access only to outlets likely to praise their game, is ruining games journalism.

No. Games journalism only has itself to blame.

Lots of disdain for a certain type of PR attitude here, even as we all depend upon PRs for our content. And that’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? As I understand it, most games websites depend upon advertising for revenue. Some also get money from syndicating their content to other media sites who, in turn, generate money from advertising. Who advertises on games websites? Games companies. Who provides the content? Games companies. Everybody knows this.

So ultimately, we’re either in the pay of games companies or we’re not being paid at all. Yes, some of us bloggers and independent sites are lucky enough to be invited to events. That’s content-side. It’s not the same as diverting revenue. Freelance journalists may be getting paid less than they were 5 years ago but that money certainly isn’t going to the bloggers. We write because we want to. We write because we don’t feel represented by the work published on established games websites. Hell, I started The Average Gamer in 2005 just to share my thoughts and only this year have started working with PRs and turning it into a profitable source of income.

Independent blogging isn’t destroying games journalism as a career. We’re just shifting the focus.

Is everyone being overly dramatic or are we all on the threshold of mutually assured destruction? I’d love to see your opinion in the comments section below..


Written by Weefz

23 May, 2011 at 11:57 pm

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Variable Boobs

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Made me laugh to realise that certain types of armour in Dragon Age 2 come with larger breasts.

Written by Weefz

13 March, 2011 at 9:31 am

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More on Addiction

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Saw this in The Guardian:

“I’ve got very strict criteria that I use for video-game addiction: it has to be the most important thing in that person’s life. They have to use it as a way of consistently and reliably shifting their mood.” An addict, he says, is unable to stop playing even when they know they ought to, with knock-on effects on their work and their relationships. “If you’re unemployed with no partner and no kids and from the moment you wake up you play video games, and you play all day, that’s not an addiction. Addiction has nothing to do with the amount of time you spend on something. If an addict is unable to play they’ll get withdrawal symptoms.”
– Mark Griffiths as quoted by Tom Meltzer, I was a games addict, The Guardian

I quit my job to set up a food and nutrition website. Instead, I write about games even though I know the food website would be more profitable. 90% of my socialising in the past month has been with gamers and games journalists. I talk about games on a daily basis through Twitter. When I’m sad, angry or bored, playing games makes me happy. If I don’t play any games for more than a week I get headaches that are cured by playing games. True story; it’s happened twice this year already.

Lucky for me, I’m saved by this line:

“So long as you can stop when you have to for school, work, meals, friends and family, intense game playing is just like any other hobby.”

Even though I’ve successfully redefined work and friends to be centred around gaming, it’s all okay :)

In a few weeks the BBC World Service will be airing a documentary on Internet addiction which should include a component on games. They interviewed couple of my friends and me for the games segment; I didn’t talk very much and don’t know how much of my stuff will make the final cut but we’re expecting it to be a nice, balanced show. It’s called Internet Addiction – Caught in the Web and is scheduled for for 23rd March 2011 at 10:32, 15:32 and 20:32. I’ll post something on the The Average Gamer when it airs.

BBC World Service Programme Guide

Written by Weefz

11 March, 2011 at 3:12 pm

#OneADay 9 – Tron Legacy WTF?

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So, I enjoyed Tron for the most part. Shiny lights means SCIENCE and we certainly got plenty of lights. Also some fabulous costumes, amazing disc battles and very cool multi-dimensional light cycle battles.

Medium-sized spoilers follow. You have only yourself to blame.

On the other hand, the story of an epic struggle across a foreboding landscape was rather marred by a train which took our intrepid heroes straight to their destination. Also, the penultimate battle between the corrupted Tron and Sam Flynn was… well, as far as I was concerned, it was a complete what-the-fuck-just-happened? Tron is pulling off some incredible flying pursuit moves, is on the verge of blowing the crap out of these evil invaders and then suddenly… Oops! My bad. I’ll go kill this other guy instead.

As usual, I asked The Internet what had happened – maybe I blinked and missed something? Had forgotten that one of my old school friends (who has chosen to remain anonymous) spent a year working on the Tron game. Here’s her take on it.

What was unclear in the movie was that unlike Flynn, CLU can only alter existing code, not rewrite it. So, when it came to Tron, CLU couldn’t take full control of him. The idea was supposed to be that Tron was the most resilient and powerful Basic out there, so CLU could only hack a hotfix that was just barely containing him. Hotfixing works well when the Creator is hiding in the Outlands, but have the Creator barking your name at you and stuff starts to unwind. I don’t think that was clear enough in the movie, which is a shame, because it ties into that whole idea of Flynn reuniting with everyone important that was pushed away by his mistakes/ego.

Incidentally, the whole Tron-falling-into-the-sea-of-simulation thing at the end, which hints that it revives his energy, is a huge deal because the Sea of Simulation was supposed to be poisoned (presumably by CLU). If it’s working again, that could mean that more ISOs can be born, which changes everything. (Of course, the whole importance of the ISOs thing — and the horror of the purge — was skimmed over in the movie as well. Sigh.)

…There are a lot of subtleties in the timeline/history that the movie didn’t dive deeply enough into, in my opinion… I was shocked that people thought the movie storyline was thin until I realized that I was filling in a ton of gaps from my head. :P (The Zuse scene, in particular, is far more powerful after dealing with him in the game. Also, the two ISOs that are shown emerging from the Sea in the flashback are two very important characters in the game/comics.)

… the Sea of Simulation working again thing is just a theory…one that I hope is correct. ;)

Yeah, CLU barely containing him with a hotfix? Code being repaired just by shouting a name? Not communicated in the film so much.

Does this help shed some light on your understanding of the Tron universe?

Written by Weefz

17 January, 2011 at 8:39 pm

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#OneADay 3 – Selling Out?

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I sold out today. I guess. That’s how some would describe it.

I know more than a few people who refuse to accept advertising or payment for websites because it would dilute the integrity of their art, or some shit. I don’t know what they really believe but I honestly, truly and with all my heart simply CANNOT understand how taking money for doing something you were going to do anyway is selling out. Even better, taking money for something you love to do. Reviewers are paid for their opinions, are they not?

[Questioning aside: Is it possible to write a review without expressing your personal opinion? If all you do is describe features, well… that’s not a review. It’s marketing copy.]

Of course there are plenty of ways that you can sell out. In the NHS we have strict policies on this. Obviously you can’t have doctors in the pay of pharmaceutical companies. Big pharma… how we put this delicately? Doesn’t always have the best interests of patients in mind.

Doctors and other employees are perfectly entitled to invest in pharmaceutical and medical technology companies; they just need to declare those interests and are thereby excluded from purchasing decisions. They’re also perfectly free to evangelise about the latest, greatest Guidant pacemaker or extol the virtues of Medtronic new equine heart valve and how it could lead to the lowest comorbidity rates in the hospital’s history. They’re medical consultants after all – they know what’s best for our patients.

When it comes to gifts – well, any gift to an individual that’s worth over £25 must be declared to the Trust. Around Christmas time you’ll see a plethora of calendars, mugs, pens, letter organisers, all lovingly embossed with Spiriva, Crestor, Viagra, Procoralan. All perfectly reasonable, m’ludd. We’re just popping off to lunch now, would you like to come along? You don’t have a clinic scheduled this afternoon, do you?

But let’s face it – I’m running a games review site. One of my must-preserve-my-artistic-integrity friends was running a site that showed you live indie band gigs according to the nearest Tube station. We’re not exactly dealing with life-or-death here, nor spending millions of pounds of public money.

[Fun taxpayers’ aside – Did you know that an NHS coronary artery bypass graft (heart bypass) costs between to £8,000 and 12,000 per patient? God I loved it when those patients came down in the lift after being discharged and went straight to the vending machine for a king-sized Mars bar >.< ]

This is the thing about games review sites. We all appear to be funded by games companies. I've seen some objections to free review copies of games but the reality is that if we had to buy games at retail prices, we'd all be bankrupt. Return on investment would mean that indie games don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting coverage and the games press would be even more biased towards those with a large marketing budget. How about accepting payment for impressions? Sponsored posts – accepting money to write about a specific game? It's entirely my decision as to whether or not I give an unwarranted positive review – money changing hands does not equate to a loss of "artistic" integrity.

Rather more nebulous are things like the COD:BlOps helicopter holiday. I must admit, I find it strange that they praise Joystiq for choosing to pay for a smaller hotel room. How the heck is having your company pay for a small hotel room any different from having Activision pay for a large hotel room? A free holiday is a free holiday. At the end of it all, it still comes down to one person playing part of a game and making a choice as to whether or not it is worth £40, does it not? Isn’t that why we read reviews?

What I really don’t understand is why the tech/family/ethnic minority marketers aren’t working in the independent games blogger space. This is where the damage is done, of course – games sites being pressured to pull negative articles under the threat of losing funding. Looking at Quantcast (and how they get their numbers is a mystery to me) the US segment of my games site has a clear market appeal towards parents, people who earn under US$30k, Asians and Hispanics and people who have no college education. Surely somewhere in those segments is an interest that goes beyond gaming? Are we all so conditioned by Google AdSense that we compartmentalise our browsing habits to the extent that there’s no value in running non-games ads on a games site?

[edit: Good lord, Rock Paper Shotgun has an Intel advertisement running. More of this, please]

However you feel about journalist ethics and advertising, I ran my first site takeover advertisements today. And BioWare fangirl that I am, I’m glad that I popped my cherry with Dragon Age 2.

Written by Weefz

3 January, 2011 at 11:57 pm