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Sunday seems to be the perfect time to sit around and think up interesting, chatter-sprouting topics. Usually such topics turn into full blown editorials that headline aggregators and get people re-tweeting like rabbits mating on a hot summer afternoon. This time, however, the topic at hand is the gaming journalism bracket itself and how gamers feed off of it.
A new editorial over at BitMob challenges the equilibrium of game journalism. There seems to be this fine line between reporting news honestly and regurgitating PR fluff. In result, it definitely leaves gamers in the position of whether or not they want the truth about a game or simply want to read the PR fluff.
The editorial comes in result of an interview over at GamaSutra, where contributing editor Brandon Sheffield tossed some hard questions at id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead and game artist Andy Chang. The questions started off like the typical, static PR exchange most gamers are used to, but then Sheffield began questioning Hollenshead and Chang on the very things that most intelligent gamers noticed right away with the newly released id FPS, RAGE. For example, when Hollenshead states that RAGE is a unique and visually distinctive title, Sheffield asks the following question…
Sheffield: I don't actually feel like it looks unlike every other game. It does kind of look like Borderlands or Fallout to me. I mean, I'm sure when you really get into the tech, it looks different. But it does have a similar kind of look and feel.
Andy Chang: It really came down to the approach of how we constructed the landscapes and stuff. Rather than using procedurally generated mountain programs or stuff like that, we developed our own technique of making unique geometry and used the stamping system to make sure it didn't apparently look like things were tiled and stuff like that. So that's kind of the approach we took to making it unique.
Sheffield: Do you think people will really notice? I mean, on the consumer side?
AC: We notice, and we're gamers. We make an effort to make sure it's visually excellent, so that's pretty much my train of thought on that.
The GamaSutra interview continues on in that manner, with Brandon challenging Chang and Hollenshead instead of simply asking a question and letting the PR regurgitation take effect. Readers over at GamaSutra were angered that it came across as Sheffield was attacking id Software and was being too harsh. Obviously, the integrity of gaming journalism hinges on reiterating press releases and asking safe questions to developers then, yeah?
Here at Gaming Blend, Pete and I had a similar discussion about RAGE regarding the exact same topic. I felt like RAGE was just another shooter while Pete felt it was a stepping stone for id Software since it was running on a new engine. I suppose it's one of the reasons I don't like reviewing games anymore, to me most newer games look trite and derivative and games that usually score high marks bore me after a few hours, leaving me questioning how it could receive such high marks.
I'm also usually questioning if the people who paid $60 for some of these titles feel like it was actually worth it, because oftentimes while reporting on these "high profile" games I sometimes find the information repetitive and the game itself very uninteresting. Although, ultimately it boils down to what you feel the gaming industry should be and what you get out of it. As consumers you obviously have a say-so by using your wallet and voicing opinions on public forums such as this one.
Now some comments over at BitMob really hit the nail on the head about gaming journalism, though. A reader, Jason Lomberg, made a very poignant observation about where journalism stands in the industry, stating that…
The biggest problem I have with games journalism is the overall lack of real critical inquiry. The lot I've seen act less like journalists and more like giddy fans. This type of attitude doesn't serve their readers (who look to the journalists for editorial integrity -- yeah, I know, radical concept), and it doesn't serve the industry as a whole.With Activision selling 20 million units a year of Call of Duty and EA trying to manage the same thing with Medal of Honor and Battlefield, it’s easy to see how the industry for top-tier publishers has turned into a numbers game. Nevertheless, gamers don’t really care about the numbers they just care about the game, and whether or not the game could be better or should be better never seems to come into the discussion since most gaming journalists, as Lomberg so blatantly said above, act more like giddy fans, maintaining a constant air of positivism. It’s only when a game fails to meet the expectations of fans that there seems to be some outcry from the community for change, like what happened with Smackdown vs Raw, The Need for Speed or FIFA.
However, where were all the critical interviews before when RAGE first came onto the picture looking like a more detailed version of Borderlands meets Fallout? Or rather, where were all the challenging articles and interviews about Modern Warfare 3 looking identical to Modern Warfare 2 in just about every shape and form? With that being said, have there been any interviews out there lately with the Infinity Ward team, asking them what makes this year’s iteration worth $60? I mean, that’s what gaming journalism is for, right?
Although, truth be told, this is an industry where most blogs and sites are trying to pull in any and every reader within the demographic associated with video games and the main hook for most articles is an air of praise to make or keep readers happy, even if the game seems, looks and plays fail-worthy. Maybe it's just me but a lot of websites look more like video game commercials than actual video game news sites. It seems like no matter what the game is or how dated the mechanics are of said game, gaming journalists will cover, promote it and praise it without question until it's review time.
This actually reminds me of a PS3 gamer who wrote in to EGM many years ago asking why they didn't publish any honest previews of Lair, and why they didn’t warn readers beforehand that the game sucked. EGM’s response? Well, it was simply stated that previews are just that…a preview of what’s to come and they felt it wouldn’t be right or fair to pass judgment until the final review. It’s obvious, though, that bugs and glitches aside, if a game usually sucks in beta it’s going to suck in the final version.
What’s more is that most sites, blogs and print publications don’t want to get on the bad side of top-tier publishers and potentially lose out on preview, review and swag benefits, and most publishers don’t want bad or honest things written about their games because it could potentially cost them a lot of sales revenue.
Ultimately, though, it boils down to each and every gamer and what they want to know about the game. Most fanboys don’t want to read about anything negative for their favorite titles, such as Halo, Call of Duty or Dragon Ball Z. However, is it fair to the non-fanboy that a game is propped with PR fluff from gaming journalists to seem appealing to a majority of gamers even when it may not be? And with that said, do gamers prefer PR fluff or the truth?
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