Who Matters In Today’s Games Media?

It seems there’s been a lot of conversation online recently about the nature and business of games journalism. I guess I should say something here as well, since it’s a field I’m trying to break into.

A nice culmination of this conversation has been Keza MacDonald’s Gamasutra piece reflecting on the whole purpose of games journalism. It asks questions pertinent given the changes going on today.

A big point is the rise of voices totally unaffiliated with the “traditional” games press — blogs (like this one) and especially video like Let’s Plays and streams. It’s definitely no longer the narrow information channel of the print magazine era. Information on games is far more available than ever. The producers of games also now have a greater ability to send their message directly to customers. That get’s people to wonder why “traditional” journalists are needed anymore.

I think one factor that needs to be remembered is credibility. When a voice matters it’s because that person has credibility — the audience has reason to take what they say into account. That’s how writers and video produces are able to ask for money for what they say and write. Personally, the reason I haven’t tried to monetize anything I write here is because I don’t feel I’ve quite reached the level of professional credibility as some journalists.

I’m not saying the people who start out blogging and making YouTube videos can’t build credibility. Many already have. Many have already developed and displayed considerable skill in producing content and have proven they have interesting things to say (or are just plain entertaining). I like to hope that ends up being the ultimate filtering device for credibility — whether or not people are willing to listen to what someone puts down, but maybe I’m underestimating the volume of what’s out there.

Part of the reason that’s possible is because big websites have lost credibility with some people. Dwell forums long enough and you’ll find plenty of people who just don’t trust traditional game websites anymore. They believe they’re too lenient on any game with a large budget, or that they may even be paid off by publishers. It used to be the major publications were trusted because they were middle-men — a third party not affiliated with publishers. Now a lot of people think they’re mouthpieces.

A lot of people on NeoGAF just about only trust news from GAF, and don’t trust any traditional game reviews anymore. The “7-10” review scale meme has become popular because of how many people mistrust “professional” reviews these days. I think this turn of public opinion has helped people like the YouTubers, who come off as more down-to-earth when they talk about games. Watching their videos or reading blogs feels like getting the opinion of an average customer.

That brings me to one interesting point MacDonald makes in her article — how the press tends to stop covering a game after it’s out. For a while now I’ve wondered why more coverage isn’t done for the communities that pop up around games post-launch. Theoretically it frees a publication from publishers’ information gatekeeping and is more relevant to what people are playing right now instead of what they will be playing. That’s almost the bread and butter of the YouTubers.

Twitch streamers are already taking advantage of these communities, especially the ones in the world of competitive gaming. Maybe I look in the wrong places, but I don’t see very much coverage from the big games press on happenings in eSports. There are probably specialist sites, but you’d think IGN or GameSpot would have eSports specialists.

Traditional press coverage of living games is becoming a bit more prevalent and necessary as games take on lives after launch. Battlefield 4’s post-launch problems have gotten continuous coverage. PC websites commonly talk about the latest mods for games like Skyrim. More things like that are obviously welcome, as the video and blogging audiences are already receptive to it.

Ultimately, I think it’s less about who’s transmitting the message and more about who the audience trusts to deliver it: the publisher, a salaried journalist, or your favorite YouTube producer. I think all of them have a place somewhere and all of them have audiences that trust them. Each one could probably learn from the others too.

BULLETS:

  • One game I really want to see succeed is Interstellar Marines. http://t.co/g1scXP1ubf
  • In case you’re looking for the best quality version of that 30-minute gameplay video of Metal Gear Solid V at 60 frames per second, Gamersyde has an uncompressed version up for torrent. Beware though, it’s 6 gigs. http://t.co/o2PMy9UsGC
  • Badass of the Week – Date Masamune: http://t.co/xR2JVJZFJ7
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