Follow this link

If you have ever wondered why people like me, people who write about video games for a living, are often so very inexplicably jaded and unhappy about this supposed “dream job”? Please read this very fine Gamasutra article. (I don’t know if registration is required, but if it is, it’s free, so register already.) I know some very nice PR people, and I think about half the people in the gaming press end up marrying PR people. But as a whole, they collectively serve to make our lives very miserable.

(There’s a joke about the marriage thing here, but I’m too nice to make it.)

Todd Zuniga’s comments about working at Rockstar are particularly amusing, at least to me. The bit about every half-point counting. He was there during the launch of GTA: San Andreas, and Rockstar exploded with fury when I scored the Xbox and PC versions of the game a half-point lower than the PS2 version due to issues of interface (Xbox) and stability (PC). Fortunately my superiors believe very strongly in protecting individual writers from publisher wrath, but even the splash effect was epic in its corporate madness.

Which isn’t to say the press isn’t pretty stupid, too. And honestly, PR frustrations aren’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, since it’s not like writing about video games is a particularly crucial endeavor. Or maybe that’s my ennui talking. I dunno, I’d rather be creating video games than writing about them — receiving scathing critiques rather than penning them. If forum ‘tards are going to hate me, I’d prefer they hate me for making a crappy game than for reaming someone else’s crappy game. Puts a more personal touch on the “GET AIDS AND DIE” posts, you know?

Right, right. I should get to work, then.

25 thoughts on “Follow this link

  1. scroll down the main page a few posts.

    and as for the gamasutra article, it highlights one of the main issues of the industry–game journalism depends on publisher hand outs for all of its information, and there’s no way around that. You can’t be an independent maverick, or no one will talk to you. and if you wait till the game is on shelf, your info is dated, and your pub won’t sell. The consumers don’t care where the info comes from, or that it’s totally slanted, they just want to know if x game is worth their money or not, and they want to know today, not tomorrow, and not when the game comes out.

    and publishers need mags to get that info out. its a strange and far-too-often talked about symbiotic relationship…

    …that i really want to be a part of again.

  2. So, um, do you like cake?

    Anyway, re: making a game as opposed to writing about them: yeah, I can see that messing with your head. But at least when you write about them, it’s more interesting/entertaining/humorous than most. That’s the reason I kept coming back to this site in the first place. Well, not that you’ll care or anything, but I’m just saying. But yeah, I guess no matter what, if there’s something you want to do and you’re passionate about it, you really can’t settle for anything less and you’ll just be dissatisfied if you do. I’m working through that now, myself. So heck, I hope this game thing turns out better than you expect it to.

    Oh, nevermind. Disregard this. I’m trying to be nice because I feel like I sorta understand this, but I’m sounding like a chump. Advice/encouragement is so not my strong point.

    I do like cake, though. (Oh, and hopefully this didn’t post twice. Think my browser’s weirding out on me)

  3. While I usually don’t reserve my scorn (and that’s only because, guys, come on! Everyone could be doing so much better please guys interactive storytelling has bucketloads of untapped potential) I’ve gotten a lot of sympathy for the gaming press recently. (Funnily enough, I’m doing PR these days!)

  4. I’d say that article there is accurate for the mostpart, but really, in my experience, negative press causes more problems with the general public than with the publishers a good deal of the time… and so does good press. The real key is whether it’s a high profile game or a low profile one. Here’s a few examples.

    I wrote an absolutely scathing review way back when about the absolutely wretched Pokemon clone that is Robopon. For instance- “Although Robopon is not entirely unplayable … there is simply no reason to purchase the game.” The head of Atlus USA’s response upon seeing this review? He thanked me for actually bothering to play the whole thing through and writing a review. If anything, it improved our relationship with them.

    Then on the other end of the spectrum, there’s my review of Chrono Cross. If you don’t recall, pretty much everyone was whipped up into a frenzy over this game back when it was first released, and it took quite before people were able to look back at it and see any of the problems it had. I was somewhat guilty of this mentality myself, so I wrote a glowing review, just barely mentioning that it was a pain to rearrange all your spells whenever you switch out party members. First, my proofreaders were all absolutely horrified and forced me to downplay the point even more than I already had. Then when it finally went public, while Square had no problems with it, the site I was writing for was suddenly bombarded with angry letters from people demanding I be fired. Some from fanboys, some from other reviewers, some from the same site I worked for. Doing so was actually seriously considered by one or two people I believe.

    Then of course, there’s the one review I wrote which actually did get me into serious hot water with a publisher… and not even the publisher of the game in question. When DQ7 came out, it was very much not an anticipated game in the U.S. I started in on it for the review expecting it to be awful, was pleasantly surprised, wrote a review to that effect which went up on release day, and for the sake of the thousands of people who never actually read reviews, up in the corner I stuck a little 7 out of 10, which basically translates as “Fairly fun, but you’re not missing anything if you skip it.” A couple days later I check my e-mail and once again, here’s a bunch of people calling for my head, and someone points me to a message board post by Victor Ireland (of Working Designs, who thankfully didn’t hold the grudge long) more or calling me a horribly corrupt monster. Some of this was due to a rumor some disgruntled ex-employees of my particular news outlet started that I was the one who’d translated the game into English (reality- I knew a couple people who applied to work on the translation, handled about 3 dialog boxes, and wound up not taking the job, plus I believe I called the translation “passable” in that review), really though, the issue was that I had a positive take on what most people were assuming would be a piece of garbage.

    Oh, and oddly enough, a later review of a game, which really was entirely locallized by someone I know (and reads this page last I checked), and which even contained an NPC with my first and last name hovering over his head as a recurring boss (who later dresses up as Sailor Moon and sings Cruel Angel’s Thesis) didn’t stir up a single bit of controversy.

    So in large part, as a member of the press, it’s less a question of being in the pocket of the publisher, and more a question of having to perpetuate the publisher’s public image. Same net effect, less actual bullying.

  5. I like to think ZD is setting a high mark for game journalism with 1up. You guys seem to have a great deal more free reign to be opinionated, and let’s face it, downright saucy in your reviews and blogs. The part in that article about “cutting out the middle man” made me stop and appreciate “real” journalism for video games. The potential for a shift towards removing earnest opinions from the equation makes me queasy.

  6. Sure, ZD is doing pretty well on the whole. I wouldn’t mind seeing a little less knee-jerking in some of our freelanced news articles, but I guess blurring the boundaries of various content forms is what 1UP is about. Games for Windows never ceases to amaze me with its willingness to take their corporate sponsor to task. Reading some of Jeff’s editorials about the state of MS’s GWF initiative is like watching Colbert’s White House press corp talk — painfully honest to the point where you kinda want to cringe.

  7. Some of this was due to a rumor some disgruntled ex-employees of my particular news outlet started that I was the one who’d translated the game into English (reality- I knew a couple people who applied to work on the translation, handled about 3 dialog boxes, and wound up not taking the job, plus I believe I called the translation “passable” in that review), really though, the issue was that I had a positive take on what most people were assuming would be a piece of garbage.

    Jake, really? Hrm. That’s not how I remember it in the slightest; I never said you personally translated the game, and I was certainly never an ex-employee of RPGamer. But the column in question is here:

    That said, while it’s true gaming journalism has largely been in the thrall of corporate PR people, the degree to which that’s true is still fairly surprising. It’s perhaps worth comparing the gaming press to, say, the television press, who are also entertainment journalists who can’t function without official PR-sanctioned access to preview tapes, cast and crew interviews, etc. And yet, while there certainly are screaming fanboy TV magazines desperate to hype the latest plot twists and upcoming episodes, there’s also quite a bit more calm, rational criticism and genuine insignt into the medium as a whole from TV critics than I’ve seen from the gaming press. Maybe that’s a function of TV’s relative maturity, or size, but I’d still like to see the gaming press move away from the EGM model and more towards, say, Tim Goodman (SF Chronicle) or James Poniewozik (Time Magazine).

  8. Speaking as just a lowly gamer I long have had no interest for game impressions delivered by gaming media. 90% of reviews just report what the expected opinion is. When a game is not being evaluated honestly there is an extremely palpable sense that something is wrong. You can tell without even knowing about the rabid fans or PR people, it is in the way words are written.

  9. While I do listen to reviewers when a new game comes out, if they don’t like a game I like, it’s no skin off my back. I don’t take it as a personal insult. Unless they say something like “anyone who likes this game is a ‘tard.”

  10. I’d still like to see the gaming press move away from the EGM model

    Most people laboring under the EGM model would like that, too. Certainly most people I work with would like that. But when you try, you fail. Even something a simple as dropping numeric scores in reviews — GFW tried it in their final issues as CGW and it was almost universally reviled. Ultimately the press is limited to what’s viable and profitable, and the sad fact is that not enough people want to read intelligent writing about games to make it work for anything but a niche. You might notice that much of the best game writing comes from non-gaming publications, because — infuriatingly, ironically, ineffably — those writers have far more freedom from audience expectations.

    Maybe when Nintendo’s old people revolution grows large enough, things’ll change. But as long as the only people buying gaming pubs are “core demographic” users who want to gawp at screens and numbers and have none of their expectations challenged, don’t hold out for a miracle.

  11. JP, definitely – I’m definitely not blaming the rank-and-file review or feature writer for what we’ve got. I do agree with you that it’s all about growing the right market for smart commentary, but I don’t think merely growing the demographic older is what’s needed – a 30 or 40-year-old playing WiI Sports or Wii Yoga or whatever is still just playing WiI Sports and Wii Yoga, and you can’t write penetrating commentary on those games any more than you can write terribly interesting copy about Deal or No Deal.

    Not to get too pretentious here, but I think a lot of this goes back to Scott McCloud’s artistic hierarchy from understanding comics. Most games now, and most gaming journalism, as a result, is focused on relatively ephemeral stuff – surface and craft – rather than the deeper issues of form and idea. I’d like to think that when you have enough genuinely meaningful, innovative games – the gaming equivalent of The Wire, or The Office – then there’ll be plenty of smart journalism to comment on it, and plenty of readers of whatever age to consume it. But it really is the gaming industry, rather than the gaming journalism industry, that needs to improve in my view.

    In other words, more Shadow of the Colossus type stuff, please, if the gaming gods are listening, thanks.

  12. Well, yeah, I was being kinda glib about the old people thing. I absolutely agree that games don’t actually lend themselves to intellectual discourse — I mean, fine, you can talk about the Skinnerean positive feedback of Super Mario Bros. or whatever, but in terms of actual content, story and presentation, mainstream games have a long way to go before they find their Michael Gondry.

    No, Hideo Kojima isn’t it.

  13. Isn’t there a world of smart commentary in between “don’t challenge expectations” and “analyze games as art” though? Was that not what was being discussed or did I misinterpret something?

  14. I don’t have anything particularly interesting to add to the conversation, but I find the discussion so far to be fascinating. By the way, the “crappy game” link in the post itself is a 404 error.

  15. Ah, but without writers like you, we wouldn’t have good sources to decide whether a game is good or not without going and spending time playing it ourselves.

  16. I read something on the internet saying that the reason gaming journalism is at a practical standstill is because all the best graduates of journalism are going into things not game related. I wasn’t around before Rolling Stone magazine but was music journalism really mainstream before Rolling Stone mag?

    The people that seem to have the most freedom about how they cover the industry would be bloggers because they tend to lack the big corporate backing. Are there really any repercussions for a blogger calling out a company?

  17. I’m probably still on a PR blacklist or two. But that’s probably more related to not following-up on material presented to me rather than bad reviews…

    (The heady, early days of web journalism…)

  18. ‘The people that seem to have the most freedom about how they cover the industry would be bloggers because they tend to lack the big corporate backing. Are there really any repercussions for a blogger calling out a company?’

    Well, I can’t think of one, except that a blog written by a normal human probably won’t get much readership. Just look at 1up: there are countless blogs that go unread, while the editor and developer blogs easily get over 100 comments. But can either of those groups bash the industry? Not too often, no, for the same reasons listed in the article above.

  19. Eh, I thought better of it. My making random cusses seems out of place here after ten years of polite language.

  20. “scroll down the main page a few posts.”

    I was actually referring to the broken link that was supposed to go to the 1up Ultimate G’n’G page. Funny review, that.

    Personally I don’t hold non-gaming sites/publications in very high regard, barring any contributions from respected journalists, because they tend to limit themselves to the more high-profile stuff, particularly the likes of Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. And given that they review lower profile stuff from other media (movies, music, etc.), it’s another sign of how much further video games have to go before they are met with the same kind of regard.

  21. Guess what happens when you promote something cool and quirky in the place of high-profile content? That’s right — no one clicks on it. This is not a guess, nor is it merely conventional wisdom; it is a depressing observation based on years of watching our traffic. The press has to pick its battles if it wants to stay in business, and sometimes you gotta give the people their glut of Halo 3 news when you’d rather be going on about Etrian Odyssey.

  22. Too true, Jeremy, but what I was referring to were the Entertainment Weekly(s) and the Rolling Stones (the mag in plural form, NOT the band), which hardly give out any space to game coverage to begin with, leaving room for nothing but the big names. Not even one passing mention of Trauma Center: Second Opinion during any of the Wii roundups within the past year. (Three years ago in the fall, neither Metroid Prime 2 nor Paper Mario were mentioned in their previews, when even LotR: the Third Age showed up.)

    Bottom line: within the foreseeable future, the (hard)core periodicals are essential reading for anyone who doesn’t want to miss out on anything aside from the usual suspects.

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