From reporter to salesperson: the potential fall of games journalism

 [Ed. note: this article has been edited to remove an error of fact.]

Games journalism is a scary place to be right now.

Not in the sort of way that makes hopeful writers run away and choose a new career, but in the way that makes trained writers uneasy and question what it is they do with the words they write.

Robert Florence, a columnist for Eurogamer, wrote an editorial piece on Wednesday criticizing some of the behavior of his fellow games journalists. He noted that some bite quite regularly at the chance to win free games, consoles and other merchandise from PR representatives out of various development houses, particularly in a contest held on Twitter.
This is the image that drove Florence to voice his controversial opinion.

I must admit that I am guilty of the rush for swag at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Comic Con and other such conventions. I also accept the criticism that participating in that type of behavior brings, and have been stirred to rethink what it means to be a games journalist.

It is the duty of a journalist in any field to report the news, and in our case critique art, and remain objective above all else. Going to E3 and snagging a bunch of free lanyards and flash drives branded with “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” on them and then writing about what a great demo the game had is not a perfect example of journalistic integrity.

Sometimes it can be very difficult reporting on video games without being influenced by PR reps because those are the people that deliver information to press from developers. 
Games journalists don’t call up Ken Levine or Cliff Blezinski and ask how the latest project is coming along. A public relations expert compiles the necessary information for optimum potential audience excitement, and they tell these figureheads of big games what they can and cannot say to which media outlets.

Now that the Internet has made it so simple for so many avid gamers to become freelance games journalists, and a select few have garnered enough of an audience to warrant the stream of free games and swag from PR teams, it seems to have turned into a mad dash to fluff up the most popular games in an attempt to get free stuff.

I’m just afraid that video games journalism in on its way to becoming the largest public relations effort in recent history. A branch of journalism that serves only to hype and fluff, and never to call out or criticize.

It’s important for those of us writing about these games to remember that journalism is not gushing about your favorite franchise and talking trash on those games you don’t like. And the ability to spell and form grammatically correct sentences is another important requirement that many seem to forget.

Let’s not sell the games we love. Let’s not let ourselves be used by the people helping to create them. Let’s use our voices to make the medium better by saying what is true, and not what is expected.

2 thoughts on “From reporter to salesperson: the potential fall of games journalism

  1. You’re right. And I do contradict the statement I made with that paragraph in the paragraph directly below it. I was wrong. Good on you for catching it, and thank you for the correction.

  2. While it’s quite true that game companies do bribe both the press and the public to both play and review the games they develop and produce, I’d like to clarify a little bit of the process. The reason IGN gets the exclusives is because they get the hits. In Press, the game review sites are classified as Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 sites. IGN is a Tier 1. You never give an exclusive to anything below that since it’s not worth the traffic. IGN reliably gets hits and people consider it a reliable source of news. Sure, it’s not always perfect – none of them are. But a true gamer will also site surf. They might check in with friends, the sites that they have determined are most in line with their opinions, and go from there. The line “They get it because they will give ad space to the publishing company, and both parties come out of the deal with something they want: consumers.” is a complete fabrication. IGN, Gamespot, and all the rest choose based on what they consider to be newsworthy for what shows up on the front page in hotboxes and what not. When it comes to actual ad space, all of that is purchased separately by the game publisher – it isn’t part and parcel with any sort of review. The reviews themselves bring hits, but the actual adspace is money out of the publisher’s pocket for dates and times to have skins. No reviews included.

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