Monday, May 02, 2011

The Storm (part two)

On April 18, I published a post titled "The Storm", in which someone I respect above almost all others wrote about a systematic plan by the two biggest game publishers to starve any part of the traditional gaming press who they were unable to control. Here's an excerpt:
The traditional games press is in the process of being starved out of business by the megalith game publishers and one can only conclude that it is in an effort on the part of the major publishers to continue to "control the message" as much and as often as possible. As the games press has become more objective and independent over the past several years, the publishers have become more iron-fisted with assets and access.

This wasn't an empty allegation. There were descriptions of specific behavior and plenty of detail about what was happening.

I thought it was explosive.

Those of you in the gaming press generally agreed, and added several independent corroborations as well.

Here's what surprised me, though: no one else gave a shit.

90% of the e-mails from people who aren't in the gaming press basically said this: the gaming press blows. Let 'em die. Feed 'em all fishheads.

What surprised me is that the "traditional" gaming press isn't particularly homogenous, at least not in my eyes. This isn't in reference to the part of the gaming press that is blindfolded and firmly clenching a ball gag in their mouth (not to mention any names--IGN). This was coming from the non-shitty gaming press--you know, people who can actually write and have thoughtful, interesting opinions.

So I'm curious, really. I wouldn't even notice if IGN and Gamespot shut down tomorrow, but what about Eurogamer? Game|Life? The Escapist? Why would anyone want them to wither and die?

I'm not even talking about the excellent sites one tier below (Rock, Paper, Shotgun, or Gamers With Jobs, to cite only two examples), because as far as I can tell, they're not threatened. But if this is happening up high, how long will it take before it filters down?

I remember mentioning last year (either in reference to Madden or NCAA reviews) that most of the reviews seemed like they were half-written from the preview. Now, though, I think it's a safe conclusion that much of the common text comes from the publishers themselves in the form of features that must be mentioned (as part of a larger set of requirements that must be fulfilled in order to publish a review before the game's release date). Believe me, when NCAA comes out this year, I'm going to look at the pre-release reviews and share with you their uncanny similarities.

One more note from my anonymous source, after I sent him this post as an update:
As for the issue facing us here, I suspect that the "they brought it on themselves" crowd is failing to distinguish between game journos with principles and those who are, in effect, part of the problem. Those, like Wil Wheaton, who claim that they don't pay attention to published reviews anymore because they are "all bullshit" are ignoring the great and honest work being done by a multitude of reviewers at outlets like the ones you've named. The game journalists whom everyone claims to despise have never been a problem for the publishers for the exact same reasons for which everyone despises them: they are lazy, malleable and implicit accomplices in the system by which publishers maintain control over what is said and when. The journos who are actually causing headaches for the publishers are the ones who have values, ethics and integrity. The ones who say "no" to lavish care packages, all-expenses paid junkets to posh resorts and attempts to influence their copy. These journalists - whom audiences claim to support - are causing major problems for publishers because they are trying to give audiences what they say they want - honesty - and fighting back against the influences to feed audiences what publishers want them to see. These are the journalists who the fans of games should be fighting for. If they go out of business as a result of being squeezed by game publishers, after years of having struggled to raise the level of conversation about games from debates over the gayness of videogame characters to something more approaching what the maturing medium deserves, then it will be the audience who will have gotten what it deserves.

Site Meter