6 January, 2010
One problem that the game industry has is that game journalists sometimes lack a sense of professionalism. Many journalists are enthusiastic fans who land a "dream job" related to games; journalism might be as close to the ultimate goal of game development as some people will ever get. The dream of getting paid to play games is probably better realized as a typical journalist than as a game developer.
Unfortunately, this lack of professionalism hurts the game industry. We need more real game journalists who do a good job covering the industry and showing what is really going on. Sadly, this is all too rare and most game "journalism" fails spectacularly.
Why journalism matters
Why get all worked up over game journalism? It's my old friend legitimacy again. Without real journalists and critics, we don't move forward as fast as we might otherwise to gain more acceptance as an expressive medium. If we have too many "journalists" that just read press releases and give unfaltering praise to big games (reserving scorn for smaller games with little advertising budget), then we reinforce the same patterns that already dominate the industry.
This is also the reason why it's not entirely hypocritical for a crass game developer to point at a journalist and ask them to be professional. ;) What I sometimes lack in decorum I make up for by trying to move the industry forward in other ways.
And, I don't believe journalism can be completely replaced by blogging. As much as I love bloggers (being one myself), we just don't have the impetus to do the real work needed. Blogs are often good at lightly covering topics, or being quick to pick up on an interesting story. Real journalism digs deeper into the story and verifies facts.
I think that everyone, especially game developers, need to start appreciating good journalists more in order to move the industry forward. Real journalism takes time and effort, and has a potentially lower return on investment if we don't give them support. It might be nice to have a popular site willing to regurgitate press releases, but it's better to have critical insight. While I don't appreciate Roger Ebert's perspectives on video games, it's not hard to see that critics like him have had a tremendously positive influence on movies.
So, let's look at an example of "game journalism" over at Joystiq about NDS closing down. Here are some of the inaccuracies in a two-paragraph blurb:
"We don't blame you if you can't remember Near Death Studios..."
Except that the company is newsworthy enough to get coverage on the front page of a major news site.
"...which today announced..."
Actually, the blog post referenced was dated the 31st of December, while this article was posted on the 5th of January.
"...nine years spent trying (and failing) to make money..."
Actually, we made a fair amount of money. Enough to pay five full-time employees at one time. Not luxurious wages, but about what my blue-collar father made when I was growing up. The problem is that we stopped making money just this last year and I didn't want to put the game in financial risk.
"The now-ironically named developer..."
That's not what "ironic" means. Unless you're talking about dramatic irony, in which case we got the joke because we picked the name in the first place.
"We can't help but wonder if changing the company name might have helped "Near Death" earn more confidence from prospective financial partners."
Let me end your wondering: No. Just like nobody turns away from Blizzard because they're afraid of being buried in snow. Coming from the Midwest, "blizzard" is most definitely a negative term for me.
And this is an article posted on the front page of one of the largest game sites. What's really unfortunate here is that this reflects typical attitude for large sites toward small developers: smaller developers get thinly veiled contempt. A topic that some other sites have handled with some delicacy becomes the target of mockery. It doesn't matter because I'm not likely to make a huge ad buy from a site like Joystiq. (Compare the tone of a story the previous day about EA shutting down multiplayer servers for old sports games. Less mocking there probably because EA will buy a large amount of ads when a new game they want to hype is coming up.)
A bitterly funny interlude
It sure is interesting that NDS is getting all sorts of attention these days now that it's ending. Few people took so much interest when it was still running. Props to the people out there who did pay attention and give it coverage before this announcement.
All is not hopeless
Let me give a counterexample about why we shouldn't give up on game journalists entirely. One journalist from GamePro actually contacted me by email to clarify some of the information for a story being written. Although the email got most of the information right, it was nice to see a journalist actually trying to do a good job. The article posted is pretty accurate and even includes a nice quote at the end from me. I appreciate the extra time it took to send an email before rushing to get a story out. Again, we should take time to appreciate people who do actual work to investigate a story.
A call to action
So, let's start putting this into action. Post in the comments if you've seen any particularly great or poor examples of game journalism out there. Let's start recognizing and rewarding the good people and sites with positive attention and shunning the poor ones. We may not be able to do much individually, but together we might have an influence, and that influence can spread.