Friday, December 14, 2012

Information Access and Gaming Journalism

A recent "feature" article of dubious quality on SWTOR's new business model has prompted Scott Jennings to critique the state of gaming journalism.  The situation has not changed much since his comments from four years ago regarding coverage of Tabula Rasa's collapse.  I remember that post because I had planned to comment on it at the time but never got around to it.  Apparently this is a week for dredging up years-old relics, so here are my thoughts.

When it comes to publicly available information and analysis, the professional gaming press sites are always at a disadvantage compared to the crowdsourced masses due to sheer force of manpower.  The place where the media outlets have an advantage is in information provided directly from game developers/publishers.  This serves a valuable function for the gaming public, but it also puts the gaming press in a very different position from those who cover politics or finance.  When all the real information is coming from the people you are covering that - not the product placements or full-screen ads - inevitably affects the tone of the coverage.

It's not impossible to do real investigative journalism when it comes to online gaming - Unsubject's work to back up what many of us are thinking about Kickstarter with real numbers comes to mind.  It's also unavoidably subjective because the information you'd really need to make a correct call is not public and will never become public.  More often than not, you end up with something that looks more like my recent post about Turbine - the best speculation that can be cobbled together using old, vague, and limited data.

You could argue that gaming isn't actually important enough to deserve real journalism, but there is a real demand.  Whether a company is actually going to deliver what they're telling the press they plan to deliver matters, because it affects purchasing decisions.  When we get to the point where - even as my income has gone up to the point where I can reasonably afford as many games as I feel like playing - the default purchasing decision is "wait and see" for lack of information, it's the folks who made the product that doesn't get the sales or subscriptions it merited who are going to suffer.

4 comments:

Psychochild said...

Basically, the state of games "journalism" is an issue of money. We live in a capitalist society, so we measure something's worth by how much money it makes.

We have the confluence of four factors:

1. People don't like to pay for stuff online, so people who would use proper game journalism are unlikely to want to pay for it.

2. The ones who are willing to pay are the ones who want to reach the readers: the game publishers/developers. So, they buy ads.

3. Ads are sold based on views. To get more views, you need exclusive content or linkbait. This is why you see sensationalist articles all over the place.

3. To get exclusive content, you need access. To get access, you need to be on good terms with the source. Since the source also pays for the ads, the game "journalists" are basically beholden to the publishers/developers.

We might say bloggers could change this, but let's be honest: they've been co-opted into the system. The biggest sites often try to explain that they're really "just bigger blogs". And, a number of people who write blogs would jump at the opportunity to write for a larger site.

If we could figure out how to make the people who use the content pay for it, it would solve a lot of problems. But, if you could figure that trick out I think it would have a lot bigger applicability outside of games news sites. :)

UnSubject said...

I agree with Psychochild. Video games "journalism" is funded by the very organisations that the "journalists" are meant to be investigating. Print newspapers suffered to this to an extent as well, but they were also funded by classified ad revenue.

On top of this, there are some very vocal gamers who see bias and corruption everywhere. Game review was too positive? BIAS. Game review too negative? BIAS. And writers push back at the constant criticism and accusations they've been bought off. So we have a writer-reader ecosystem where no-one trusts anyone.

I actually think one of the major flaws in games journalism is that it is stocked with people who lack experience outside of games culture. For instance, having knowledge about finance or how businesses work or applied sociology or artistic criticism or something that means they can write from a point of knowledge rather than just rant from opinion. Currently it seems that a lot of writers lack any real understanding of anything other than "I like video games".

But obviously that's popular enough to gain readers. So perhaps we get the games writing we (as a gaming group) deserve.

Green Armadillo said...

@Unsub: It's a cycle. Why would someone with business experience want to work for what the current press can pay? But why would I want to pay for stuff that's no better than I can find on free blogs?

UnSubject said...

@Green Armadillo: Hey, I agree. Open access to information and easy dissemination makes hobbyists into the New Experts. Those who get paid don't get paid much and have to work the hardest.