Jaggy's Corner - Game Journalism


This week I found myself disgusted with games media and it is in relation to last weeks post.

As much as I would like to rage on the big name websites because of their actions, I decided that I would talk about games journalism with the tie in of sites using the ArenaNet decision as an excuse to target them.

I want people to really think about media in general, and ask themselves why no one values it. Frankly, there is a lot of quality content out there that never gets read because most people only look at the bigger sites. So let's look at the gaming industry from the perspective of non paid sites and paid sites. What makes them different and what do they approach things differently? I will be very loosely talking about the ArenaNet situation so for the uninformed, watch this video (which I linked in last weeks article). It explains the whole ordeal in about 9 minutes.

Non Paid Sites

A couple of sites I have written for were unpaid positions. This was a fact I knew prior to working as a freelancer. I worked hard to learn what I could from those places. That said, I can talk about non paid sites with experience.

Part of what made one of these sites good, in my opinion, was that the editors consisted of people who went to journalism school. This means that I have great respect for my former editors. Their skills as writers far exceeded mine. Even our wonderful PR woman where I was had much better skills in writing than I had at the beginning of my journey. The position wasn't without its troubles though as I often ended up in discussions about whether something should be written. While I may have disagreed with them, (mostly because I was butt hurt with his criticism), I found a lot of value in those discussions.

The reality is, there are many websites that are not paid and that's a shame. What can be said is each site has loyal readers who care about integrity. To me, non paid websites feel more genuine because not only is there little to gain for the writers except *exposure*, but there is the idea that writers have nothing to lose (except perhaps time and sanity...) Readers are left with a hodgepodge group of people who love video games – some are gifted writers while others need more experience.

I recall an instance as an editor when a writer produced a piece that did not meet expectations. At times like this, I would message the writer to provide feedback or ask them to clarify a statement. I did this, not because I was paid, but because I could help others improve in the same manner that my editors helped me.

The tragedy about non paid media is there are many writers that are undervalued and underpaid when they shouldn't be. Often the reasons have little to do with intentions, but with a lack of resources. Smaller websites don't get the same perks as paid ones, which makes it much harder to produce quality content. (Yes, we can talk about Patreon or crowdfunding tools to help, but the biggest issue with smaller sites to get funding really boils down to marketing. It's all well and good to have a Patreon but if there are no backers, a site will still struggle.)

The main point is, non paid websites approach their work differently than paid websites when looking at the two from a macro view.

Paid Media Sites

Paid media is different. Writers for big game sites have more opportunities to write pieces that are worth while – that is to say that there is financial gain. They even have enough visibility to get some higher profile review codes from the biggest parties just by asking and are granted them without a second thought. What ends up happening is articles will be successful based on the traffic they generate. As a result, many articles tend to be clickbaity and are almost incentivized over producing quality content. The whole goal is to generate that ad revenue (although, even that is a challenge because of ad-blockers).   

From a business perspective, it makes sense to produce clickbait types of articles because that is what keeps the profits rolling in (as they would have you believe). In order to stay afloat in any business, the bottom line is always money. If there is no money, there is no incentive for companies to promote their products through affiliate programs. And if that is true, then websites crumble. So, in order for a games media site to succeed, not only do they need to meet their bottom line, they need to pay their writers, hosting, domain fees, etc...

From game company's perspective, a developer is not going to give free codes to reviewers if it isn't in their best interest (as in, if the reviews are historically too negative, or information has frequently leaked, or if the website isn't big enough to drive a substantial amount of traffic to a game, developers might not grant review codes.) And while it makes sense to have a business model designed like this, it means that games reviewers walk a fine line between writing something genuine and keeping their jobs. In fact, this isn't a flaw for only paid writers, it's true for non paid writers too.

In order to get the paid gigs, one must be mindful of a game developers time and efforts. Once a paid gig is acquired, the writer has to consider a whole list of factors like embargoes, technical issues, press kits, etc... In short, games media is not for the faint of heart.

Since paid media sites are more driven by getting in front of the largest audience, it creates more potential for backlash. It also creates dialogue surrounding big named topics. So on that note, let's revisit the ArenaNet/Jessica Price situation.

ArenaNet and Games Media

The big named websites jumped on one narrative, regurgitating information already released by other sites without consideration for the other side. Not only did these big named sites make a mockery of a company's decision, but they showcased exactly why gamers don't give a second thought to 'games journalism'. They tried to put one thought into readers heads and managed to do so successfully. In effect, these sites pushed their idea of what people wanted to hear and not allow people to see beyond the countless articles.

It is for that reason that people often classify journalism as a joke, and many have said it for years. I will plainly say that I don't disagree given the ArenaNet/Jessica Price incident.

The fact is, these big sites had the power to create real dialogue around various issues like company policies with regards to social media. Instead, I have yet to read an article that did not paint ArenaNet as the bad guy.

This is where paid media sites versus non paid sites acted differently. The big sites focused on sexism against Jessica Price who made herself to be a victim when she was really the bully. Non paid media focused on how one sided the big sites were and they produced a number of videos to explain the whole situation with minimal bias.

My point is, instead of writing articles that would look at the whole picture, the big sites honed in on one idea, knowing full well the reaction they'd receive, and they shoved their thoughts onto the public. Jessica Price wanted to push an idea and put herself into a position where she could get others to follow suit. And these sites were happy to do that because of the traffic generation.

As they say, "money makes the world go round."

This might come as a surprise but, 'journalism' is meant to be a medium that critically looks at every side of a story to shed light on both the good and the bad. Real journalism is supposed to provoke thought, allowing people to understand what happens between two different ideas. By only listening to Jessica's view, they did a disservice to readers, and sites joined the loud mob voices. While no written or verbal piece is ever completely unbiased, in order to promote real discussion, all sides have to be considered – the big named sites did not do this.

It begs the question:

Why Go Into Game Journalism?

The reason people write about video games is because they inherently love games. And despite the amount of flack that writers or critics or journalists get, these people pour everything into their jobs. But many fail to realize why these positions are underpaid and undervalued because it would be ludicrous to believe that any video game writer would take on a profession that makes them a target.

Truthfully, many of you have some preconceived notion of what is required in this job. Some of you may work in the games industry and understand the pitfalls while others have assumed truths. So, to squelch some of those assumptions about games media, here is a quote from the book 'Critical Path: How to Review Videogames for a Living' by Dan Amrich:
"You'll be able to pay the rent, but you won't be renting a mansion. And for a lot of people, that's okay. But don't come into this profession with dollar signs over your eyes, or you'll be sorely disappointed in short order."
Like with most writing positions, it's not about the money.

Anyways, not far into the book Mr. Amrich talks about publication editors and their function which might shed light on the topic of why people enter this profession:
"Editors have to represent the publication at industry events, meet with companies to demo upcoming products, arrange features and interviews, and work with a full-time staff as the core team.

Most importantly, editors actually create the voice of a publication; they dream up and then create the content that defines a magazine or website. They are the ones who haggle with game publishers for exclusive previews, brainstorm cover stories for magazines and front page events for the website, and then make them reality. And, of course, editors read everything that will be published with a critical eye; they are the arbiters of quality, and it's their responsibility to change, fix, or completely rewrite things as they see fit for the good of their outlet. It's a lot of responsibility."
So, when we look at why people enter this profession in any capacity, it really boils down to the love of the game. Editors of games media likely started because they wanted a shot at getting triple A games before others. It is my belief that Jessica Price originally began writing for games because she loves to tell stories. The fact that she felt like a target of sexism is horrible to say the least, but then to use the media to attack content creators and the company she worked for, while managing to take down a colleague, is worse than anything in my mind.

Final Thoughts

The reaction to games journalism has been eye opening. Instead of articles that critically looked at bigger issues in video gaming, one voice was loudly echoed. Instead of initiating dialogue on topics using facts and proper citation, the media regurgitating information provided by a 'victim'.

It has been difficult abstaining from attacking the industry, but I need to remind people that there can still be well written game journalism articles. It stands to reason that editors in general need to see past the heaps of garbage. To do otherwise would doom games websites to be the loudest voice in a mob.

While I still have hope for games media, I've found myself at odds with the notion of applying to some of those paid sites. Because if the integrity and the love of writing and video games cannot be retained by those sites, games media will die off.

All told, my expectation is that games media will learn from this whole situation. Otherwise, it will continue to be the laughing stock of the public. But then, it's all for the views, right?

Until next time.


Article by Susan N.
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