How To “Fix” Games Journalism

There’s been a lot of talk recently about what’s wrong with games “journalism” (I don’t always like the term journalism, but it works as a nice shorthand) and how it can be improved. Now I don’t necessarily buy that the field really needs much improvement, as with all forms of writing there are good and bad examples.

There is the problem that some of the worse examples can be picked out of the biggest sites, but that’s certainly true of more mainstream media (take the Daily Mail for example) so why wouldn’t it be true here?

However, if you want to try something genuinely new, something different then I have some pretty simple ideas.

You don’t need the backing of someone trying to form a new media empire, you don’t need to become part of one of the world’s most popular web comics and you don’t need to be told what to do by someone who runs a different web comic (albeit a pretty good one).

Hell you don’t even need to be told what to do by me, it’s perfectly possible to do something new without listening to me, but these are a few basic ideas.

  1. Don’t Cover the News - This may sound absolutely crazy, and, to be fair, I don’t mean ignore all the news out there. However there are sites out there who can probably provide better coverage you can on most things, and it can divert resources and attention away from your best pieces when you spend too much time covering the news.

    The simple fact is you’re unlikely to be the only site someone visits. They can get news other places if they want to. 
  2. When You Do Cover the News, Make It A Story - Like I said you shouldn’t ignore everything out there, there are stories worth covering. This is an element that sites like Giant Bomb do very well, and I have great respect for Patrick Kleppick’s ability to not just put out the same story everyone else is (at least generally) and to cover the news that “matters”.

    This doesn’t mean you should only cover the big stories out there, it simply means you should cover the interesting stories, the ones that let you dig deeper and show people something they may not have seen before. 
  3. Don’t Roll Over for PR - Let’s make it clear, the job of PR is not to help those writing about games. It may seem that way, and I’d say at least 75% of the time they’re attempting to help. However, their job is to make their game (or their client’s game, whatever) look as good as possible. They want it to get maximum exposure, that’s the simple fact at the end of the day.
    What a lot of people forget is that you don’t have to listen to them, it’s a choice on an article by article basis. A good PR will understand that, and won’t accept your co-operation on everything.

    Should you break embargoes and NDAs? No, of course not. Should you agree to ones you find unreasonable? No. If you don’t like the terms of an agreement then don’t enter into it. You’re guaranteed to lose out on coverage, but that’s not always the point.

    Publications have done this multiple times in the past, and have been cut off by publishers. I don’t know of anyone who’s actively cut TSA off, so I can’t speak as to if this type of decision is worth it, but losing the contact isn’t the end of the world. This flows over into my next point nicely:
  4. Don’t Take Review Copies - This is my most controversial point, and I honestly don’t actually know if it would ever work in the real world. It’s certainly not something I think we could do at TSA, at least not easily.
    Why is this controversial? Because many will assume that I’m saying current outlets are corrupt and the fact is that I don’t, I never have. There have been isolated cases where reviews have been “intersting”, but I honestly don’t think corruption is by any means widespread.

    What refusing to take review copies does is three things. Firstly, it lets you take away any suspicion of corruption. Would that change anything? I don’t know, but it’d be a fun experiment.

    The second element is one that I’m even more uncertain of. By removing review copies you remove any sub-conscious bias that may exist amongst reviewers. I have no idea if any bias exists, although I don’t think it does. I know I consciously don’t give a damn about where games come when I’m reviewing them, but I don’t know if that goes all the way down to my subconscious.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it may establish more of a connection with consumers, the ones who are (hopefully) reading your reviews. You’re paying for the game, just like they are. It’s your money that’s gone out, and I do wonder if people would feel more aggrieved by bad games if they’d paid out their own cash for it.

So there you are, those are my thoughts. I’m not saying I’m write, I’m not saying this would really improve anything, and I’m not sure it would work for any site that currently exists.

I suppose this sounds like do as I say, not as I do, and maybe it is. But if a new site was to start up it could be interesting to experiment with some of these ideas, just to see if they do make any changes. Can you build an audience when your reviews are always going to be later than everyone else? I don’t know, but I’d like to see.

I’d also like to make it clear that these are my views, and really not the views of TSA or any other site. They’re just what I think, and as I said I don’t know if they’d really improve anything. They’re more a like a set of interesting experiments to see what would happen if you did this sort of thing.

Also props to Peter Willington for talking about some of these ideas with me in the past. He’s a very wise man.