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Game Publishers Contribute To Bad Journalism

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the can't-write-what-I-don't-know-about dept.

Editorial 16

AmpedIGO writes "1up editor-in-chief Sam Kennedy finally decided to comment on the ongoing discussion of games journalism. The interesting twist is that Kennedy's comments don't revolve around 'editorial integrity,' but rather delves deep into one of the issues that game journalists have known about for quite some time: developers and publishers don't help. 'That all said, I find our industry's reluctance to actually help push journalism forward a mighty shame. I can't tell you the number of times I've worked on potentially incredible stories that just fell apart because of the uncooperativeness from a publisher. Perhaps this speaks to Aaron's editorial in some manner, but it seems as though a lot of companies are simply reluctant to give you access to their talent unless it's directly tied to the promotion of a game.'"

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Journalism requires cooperation? Huh?! (2, Insightful)

potus98 (741836) | more than 8 years ago | (#14456326)

> I can't tell you the number of times I've worked on potentially incredible stories that just fell apart because of the uncooperativeness from a publisher.

Assuming "publisher" refers to a game publisher... Since when were the subjects of journalism required to cooperate on a story? The mainstream media (I hate that term) have been publishing solid, thought-provoking stories for hundreds of years -and not always with the cooperation of their subjects.

Assuming "publisher" refers to a game magazine publisher... Since when were the publishers of journalism required to cooperate on a story? Many journalists have been publishing solid, thought-provoking stories for hundreds of years -and not always with the cooperation of publishers- thanks to the Internet, copy machine flyers, and printing press pamphlets.

Re:Journalism requires cooperation? Huh?! (1)

badasscat (563442) | more than 8 years ago | (#14457616)

Assuming "publisher" refers to a game publisher... Since when were the subjects of journalism required to cooperate on a story?

Bingo. I was going to write the same thing but you beat me to it.

This strikes me as nothing but an excuse, and a whiny excuse at that. "Waaaaah, we can't write our stories because the publishers don't give us access!" Well, dammit, then get access. Wait around the elevators pretending to be a freakin' janitor until you see the guy you want to talk to, then corner him. Real journalists do this kind of thing all the time.

It's not the game publishers' job to help you. It is the publishers' job to look out for their own self interests, which in most cases are probably exactly the opposite of the interests of any decent journalist. It's the journalist's job to get the story regardless of what sort of cooperation is offered - and in some cases, maybe it's the lack of cooperation that is the story (though that's not the case here... in this case, this guy missed the real story, and is in fact a bad journalist himself for it). This is what being a journalist means. And the fact that so many in the gaming press seem oblivious to this fact is one of the reasons why nobody takes them seriously as "journalists".

Asking for the publishers to help you is tantamount to telling them you want to be their PR firm. That is not a journalist's job. If you have a story to tell, then tell it. Find whatever sources you need and get access to them however you can. And if you can't get the information you want, either tell a different story or shelve it until you can. But don't rely on the publishers to do your job for you and don't just take the little bits of info they "officially" dole out, print them, and then call yourself a journalist, because you're not. You're a PR man.

Re:Journalism requires cooperation? Huh?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14460891)

What you're omitting in this: we're not talking serious journalism here. The matter at hand is game reviewers defending themselves against the ever increasing (and completely justified) issue of "How come every preview in existence said this game was going to be god in game form, while the review says the exact opposite?".


Of course, that's only half of what publishers want - ideally they'd get a near-perfect score (*amem*Driver3*ahem*), buy they're still damn happy being able to buy glowing previews. The thing is, as much as people in the game magazine/website business hate to admit it, it's just as much their fault as the publishers of the games. The main difference is - you know why the publishers like glowing previews, but it's quite a bit harder to explain why journalists would act eh same way.

Re:Journalism requires cooperation? Huh?! (2, Insightful)

iocat (572367) | more than 8 years ago | (#14462101)

Disclaimer: I used to edit a videogame magazine, and I currently work at a videogame company (and I didn't RTFA; just commenting on the comments).

You are being far too hard on the 1up guy, and it could come from a lack of understanding. Sure, a game journalist could forgoe the publisher cooperation and call up a game developer directly to talk about something. But its extremely unlikely the developer is going to say ANYTHING unless the contact (if not the content) is approved by the publisher. Doing so could totally screw up the marketing plan -- really hurting your game's sales -- piss off the publisher, and no smart developer wants to do either of those things.

Plus, a lot of developers are afraid of game journalists. Despite the best journalistic intentions, errors sometimes creep in, the writer may not understand the context of a comment, the developers are (almost always) bound by multiple NDAs that cover different things, the developer may have trouble articulating himself -- all these things combine to make many, many developers feel much more comfortable when contact with journalists goes through PR people, at the publisher.

This comment doesn't go any way towards addressing the merits of the original article, just wanted to point out that it isn't like political reporting: in large part, journalists do require publisher cooperation to get good access to developers.

Having now read the article, I can further say that once a publisher cooperates in getting access to the team, there's also little a game journalist can do if the team blows it by not doing a good job answering the questions! That's irresponsible to the marketing effort for the game and disrepectful to readers and fans.

Of course they contribute... (1)

PhotoBoy (684898) | more than 8 years ago | (#14456377)

... bunging IGN a few thousand to tell us games like Halo 2, KOTOR 2, Madden 06, Burnout 4 are must haves games when in fact they have bugs or aren't finished is hardly how you contribute to good journalism.

This is ridiculous (2, Interesting)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 8 years ago | (#14456583)

I have never heard a journalist whine that their sources weren't cooperative as a justification for why they are mostly advertainment.

The real problem is the underlying business model, if you need advertising to generate revenue you're going to leave out stories and content that has the most journalistic integrity in favor of profitable material. That's just a fact of life. That having been said, don't try to defend the position as something else.

Journalists must posess a certain amount of leverage in order to get sources to talk, video game media doesn't have that leverage. What are they going to do, tell a publisher that they won't print a story about thier product in their magazine? Hideo Kojima would laugh that shit off in a second. Go ahead and take the loss in sales that month while I give exclusives to the competition.

Game publications have no leverage in the game world other than the review section, and even that is pretty minute and after the fact. Until a publication gains the subscription base to influence the market, getting good content will be an uphill battle. Unfortunately, alot of publishers think the way to get that base is by serving up content using demographic information - which causes a catch 22. How do you gain credibility and market influence when the only way to do it is by providing polished marketing fluff?

Peole like magazines like "US" because their trash, not because they're chock full of journalistic integrity. It's the same thing with video game mags. Publications with a percieved journalistic integrity will publish stories that will outright piss off the population with their content, but it will also cause the reader to think. All it takes is one game mag revealing a "travesty" in the gaming world to gain this type of credibility. They have passed on multiple opportunities (EA and the NFL; Jack Thompson) because they didn't want to loose advertising revenue or the ability to do reviews (EA).

Someone is going to have to grow a pair and lay it out there.

I don't frequent 1up because I don't like discussions consisting of "OMG! did u c the l8est scrns?" But, I do subscribe to OPM and their reviews tend to be pretty accurate and uninfluenced, so I think they're trying. Yet the harshest stance I could see on the EA and NFL was "It could stifle improvements and innovation." No shit. How about coming to the defence of the industry as a whole and calling EA out as the profit driven asses they are, then maybe a smaller game studio would see that you care about the industry in a more mature manner than fanboyism and would probably grant you some never before seen level of access. Rinse and repeat until you have leverage in the industry as an agent of journalsim.

Unfortunately this will never happen until a publisher decides to sacrifice short term profits for long term gain.

Re:This is ridiculous (1)

mwheeler01 (625017) | more than 8 years ago | (#14456878)

I'd like to second one of your points and clarify a bit. I think there are a lot of real good games journalists. I think there are two problems though.

a) they are scattered throughout a number of publications that have a lot of crappy writers. In an environment like that, it is easy to rise to the point of editor and then you're in charge of a bunch of no talent hacks but would you take a pay cut and a demotion in title to go work for another magazine? Probably not, so gathering up the good writers in the industry would be tough.

b) A majority of gamers just want to know if a game is gonna rock and what its production values are. It's the minority that cares about depth of story and the story behind the games (Id software is still in business and doing quite well!). To really grab the attention of this minority you've got to differentiate yourself from the other magazines and sites out there and that can be a very difficult thing to do.

If you want real good games journalism go check out gamers quarterly (gamersquarter.com). It goes beyond reviews, previews, screenshots and whiney editorials to really look at the game experience from a more artful perspective and its free (and no I have no stake in it either, I just think it's good).

Re:This is ridiculous (1)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 8 years ago | (#14457103)

I agree with both of your points, but it still doesn't defend the lack of "journalism" in th industry today.

As far as your first point, I completely agree. Not alot of people are going to self demote and take a pay cut to gain "journalistic integrity". It will probably come from a grass roots movement that grows in numbers and credibility over time.

I would like to add to your second point. I think you're correct in the fact that alot of gamers just want to know if a game is going to rock when it comes out, but this trend will change. Being a first waver (30 years old), I have been playing games since the beginning. The wave of gamers behind me isn't neccesarily interested in a more in depth analysis of the industry, yet. As TFA stated, the industry is still pretty young. When the demographics begin to stack up with a significant amount of people in their 30's 40's and 50's is probably when you will see a bigger demand for more thought inspiring content.

But there is another possibility. With all the comparisons between movies and video games I can't help but wonder, does the subject matter really deserve that level of journalism? Most of the movie industry magazines I see are focused around the cult of the celebrity. Game magazines seem to parallel this by substituting characters and developers. Does anyone know of any movie publications with a serious journalistic approach that provides quality content? Off the top of my head all I can come up with is stuff like Fangora, People, and Entertainment Weekly - not exactly the New Yoker if you know what I mean.

Worried about Video Game Journalism?? (1)

nevek (196925) | more than 8 years ago | (#14456696)

Have you ever looked over the car magazines?

I've never seen so many spelling and grammer mistakes; I can't believe they get printed.

Re:Worried about Video Game Journalism?? (1)

badasscat (563442) | more than 8 years ago | (#14457802)

Have you ever looked over the car magazines?

I've never seen so many spelling and grammer mistakes; I can't believe they get printed.


Coming from someone who can't spell "grammar", I'm not sure you're the right one to judge that. (Yeah yeah, you probably don't get paid to write and these guys do.)

But it does depend on the car mag. Some of them are trash. Others pride themselves on quality journalism (i.e. Car and Driver), in addition to their standard product reviews/previews, and they have a real editorial department that oversees everything and takes on major stories in every issue.

There's no equivalent to this in gaming. EGM sort of tried to do it for a while (they had a lengthy expose on Ralph Baer in one issue, for example, along with his trials and tribulations in the early days of gaming), but they gave up when they realized it wasn't making them more money than just filling up pages with ads would. Next Generation tried it for a while too and promptly went out of business. Same with Gamers' Republic.

So part of it is the fault of the readers, who are not nearly demanding enough - probably in part because many of them are too young. But the current focus on the lack of standards is coming from the older readers who are demanding more - problem is, we're probably in the minority, and we're not adding as much to these publications' bottom line as their advertisers are. When faced with the choice of filling a 12 page feature on a guy like Ralph Baer in order to satiate subscribers or selling 12 pages worth of ads, publishers these days will always choose the latter. Even if it means guys like me don't re-up their subscriptions later on.

The same is probably true online, where budgets are such that online publishers consider doing anything but reviewing and previewing new games to be pretty much a waste of resources and time.

Re:Worried about Video Game Journalism?? (1)

BremXJones (686805) | more than 8 years ago | (#14463354)

"There's no equivalent to this in gaming."

EDGE in the UK, which has been doing it for over a Decade and shows no sign of dying.

(EDGE being the magazine the US Next Generation was based off. But considerably more up-market)

"a 12 page feature on a guy like Ralph Baer in order to satiate subscribers or selling 12 pages worth of ads"

Worth noting that magazines, the more ads are sold, the bigger the magazine is. Sections are added if the Ads justify it, and removed if they're not. The healthier the Ad market, the more pages of editorial are possible. The fallacy of complaining that "this mag has so many ads" is based on the idea if the ads disappeared, they'll be pages of editorial instead. Generally speaking, no: if the ads disappear, the pages just disappear, probably taking editorial pages with them too.

KG

Re:Worried about Video Game Journalism?? (1)

iocat (572367) | more than 8 years ago | (#14463727)

Why you can have EDGE in the UK, but not a version of EDGE in America

In the US, great issues of great magazines, with great covers, sell about 30% of the issues they put on the newstand. So, if you want to sell 30 magazines, you have to print 100. This is not profitable. So magazines give away subscriptions (you know when they offer you 12 issues for $12 or even $20? That's not profitable either). So once you sell a bunch of magazines, at a loss, and convert some of those newsstand sales to subscriptions (at a loss), you can go to advertisers and say "golly, put an ad in our magazine and 200,000 people will see it!" And if you can convince them, that's where the profit comes from. To get your magazine all across the tens of thousands of newstands in America costs a lot of money.

In the UK, in contrast, there is a lot less space and not as many newstands (and not as many people). And there isn't really a magazine subscription culture. So if someone wants a magazine, they go buy it, at one of a managebly finite number of newstands. This enables companies to see, very quickly, exactly how many issues a given magazine will sell per month, and print exactly that many. To sell 30 magazines, you only need to print 32 or 34. This is profitable! Now you don't really *need* ads, and if you don't need ads, you don't need to pump up your circulation to sell ads, so you don't need to give away magazines to subscribers (this eliminates a source of loss). Ads a still great, but they are no longer required.

Now you can have a successful magazine that sells to a small, niche audience. That's why in the UK, there is a successful, monthly, magazine for fans of Vespa motorscooters. That's why, in the UK, with a fifth the population of the US, there are like 20 horse magazines (I recommend Your Horse! and Horse Answers!). And that's why the UK can support a smart videogame magazine that appeals to a small audience. By delivering fantastic production values and design, the magazine also enhances its feel and reputation in other areas.

The problem isn't the size of the market, or that companies are stupid, or that no one wants to do an EDGE clone in the US. The problem is that at teh end of the day, there aren't enough sophisticated, magazine-buying game fans in the US to support a magazine like EDGE, or even like an Entertainment Weekly of games. Yet.

As for edit pages, a magazine has a minimum book size (say 96 pages). It also has an idea ad/edit ratio (which is usually like 45% edit, 5% house ads (free ads, ads for other magazines, etc) and 50% ads). If the magazine has only 30 ad pages one month, it may have 66 edit pages (including house ads), but if it gets 45 ads, it will only have 45 edit pages. If it gets 60 pages of ads, they may need to increase the size of the magazine, to say, 120 pages (60 pages of edit), but they'd probably try to make the magazine 108 pages (48 pages of edit) and tell the edit team they were getting an "extra" 3 pages over the minimum, enabling the company to save having to print an addition 12 pages on non-revenue generating paper. (This always comes down to various factors, including discussion between the publisher, editor, and production manager -- and its not unusual for a magazine to changes sizes many times during its production cycle.)

Take them serious (1)

El_Muerte_TDS (592157) | more than 8 years ago | (#14456875)

Maybe the journalists should starting to take the developer more serious:
When one of the journalists asked me the proverbial 'how many weapons in the game' my feelings about most game marketing started uncontrollably bubbling to the surface. [...] When they market films do they say 'Coming soon: Citizen Kane 2: Rosebud's Revenge: The Wrath of Kane, now featuring 10 actors, 13 sets, and 8 writers!'? No, they don't.
Cliff Bleszinski [1up.com]

Game Magazines (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 8 years ago | (#14456955)

I think the problem with game magazine journalists is that they wait for everything to fall into their laps. When it comes down to it, what do they do all day? They wait for a package containing a new game to arrive. They play a while, then write what they thought about it. This is under ideal circumstances when they're not being influenced by a developer to give a positive review.

The most I've seen from these publications, both online and in print is when they interview soemone, and even then its either a phone call, an exhange of emails and a chat session. That, in my opinion, isn't journalism.

I think they've gotten too comfortable with not having to do much of anything. If they aren't seen as a credible source of information it's their own fault for not taking the initiative.

That said, it's likely that if you want that kind of news you wouldn't be going to your standard game magazines anyway. They cater to a specific segment of the game industry. All they do is inform you on what games are coming, whats available, and how good you can expect these games to be. That's basically the extent of it. For anything more in depth trade magazines are probably a better source of information.

Noticed one assumption (1)

hackwrench (573697) | more than 8 years ago | (#14457035)

He says:
"The Japanese representative for Konami made the condition that we were not allowed to run the interview in the magazine until they were able to properly read/review it"

and then just assumes that they intended their edits to be manditory as well.

The real problem ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14457189)

is that these overpaid executives rely on secrecy rather than honesty. This all stems from the fact that most companies exploit their customers, and their employees, rather than serve them.

IMHO, incorporation exists solely to allow personal irresponsibility.
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