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Where are all the editors?
Until this editorial started brewing in this brain of mine, I’d carefully been avoiding public statements about the state of E3 this year. I have many reasons: I’ve not yet completed our coverage; this year was such a departure I am not comfortable making comparisons when I think the changes are still a work in progress; I think that much of what has been said has been said and said and said...
But, as I was doing research to fact check an article by a staff writer I encountered a small preview on a very large site – ok, the largest – that just made me stop. Literally stop.
I wondered. Where was the editor? This may take some explaining.
First, E3 wasn’t optional for the members of the ESA. If a company supports the gaming industry through membership in the ESA, that company was required to attend whether it was affordable or in the best interest of its product lineup.
How could it not be in the best interest of a company or its product? Consider. You’re a small publisher who specializes in children’s titles, A, or even B list games. There is a considerable market for your products and in years past, E3 was the event to exhibit your products to retailers like GameStop, Best Buy and the emperor Wal-mart.
During this period you also asked press from small, niche sites to view your product. These sites are called Tier 2, or B and C sites. GamersInfo.net is a Tier 2 site. We have no corporate sponsorship; subsist solely on our own revenues; the majority of our writers are volunteers; but we are a company.
When defining sites by letter it has more to do with quality of presentation and dependability than economics. In this case, we are a B site. Our presentation doesn’t use the cutting-edge technologies but neither are we a static web page; we update daily; we have relationships with publishers that we seek to maintain; and we have an internal code of consistency that we use for our reviews.
More often than not, C sites are fan sites, devoted to a single genre or title. Often they are managed by a few people (if that) and dependability on their existence is tenuous. The goal is for each to move up the ladder to become the next B or A/Tier 1. There are very few Tier 1 sites. IGN/Gamespy, Gamespot, and 1Up are the largest and most well-known mutli-platform entertainment sites. Beneath this are many very very good large sites that won’t reach this same level simply due to lack of economic space.
At the GamersInfo.net level, the competition is fierce and we tend to come and go very quickly. A C site that is paid for on $35/month bandwidth can survive far longer than a Tier 2/B site. But, we exist for a very specific reason: we cover everything that isn’t the Top 100 games of the year. The other 3000 titles that make up the industry.
Without us, budget titles, children’s games, Indie titles, downloadable titles, niche games...none of these would be covered. Why? To be honest, they’re just not exciting. The games are good, they’re necessary, they’re fun! But being corporate owned means you’ve got to get as many views as possible. So, are you going to cover Guitar Hero III for the Xbox 360 or Hannah Montana: Music Jam for the Nintendo DS? The latter is an exceptional music simulation game that teaches about chord structure and writing music...but, which one will get you views?
Back to our problem...E3 and editors. Every member of the ESA had to attend E3.
This year’s E3 was invite only for the press. The majority of the publishers who are members of the ESA are very large publishers with very expensive, hot titles - Sony, Microsoft, EA, Activision, etc. These are the vendors whose titles are most often reviewed on Tier 1 sites. This is not to say that we here at GamersInfo.net would never review Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4, but pre-release copies and priority goes exactly where it should – to those sites with the most eyes.
When the invitations were submitted, they submitted names, not outlets. To give you a very specific example: Microsoft asked me directly how many people I would be bringing. I stated that in years past we’d brought 12-15, this year I imagined it would be 4-5. I received my invitation. Only I was invited. In the past, that was all that was necessary and I added staff. We all learned this was not so this year.
Two people total from this site attended. Most of my peers had no invitations because there was simply no room after the initial round of invitations was released to the sites with the most eyes.
Please, understand, I hold no bitterness towards this. I understand the economics of it and from a marketing standpoint and the way E3 was arranged, I do not see how it could have been any other way...which leads us to the problem I’ve been working up with all the words I’ve been so diligently typing.
Not all of the publishers that are members of the ESA are large publishers. Some of them support the organization because they believe in its mandate. E3 is nothing more than a side-effect of being a member. The ESA lists it last on their website as their directive – as an “also”.
The ESA offers a range of services to interactive entertainment software publishers including a global anti-piracy program, business and consumer research, government relations and intellectual property protection efforts. ESA also owns and operates the E3 Media & Business Summit.
You now have publishers of what we’ll call “secondary” titles – publishers like Majesco, Atlus, Crave, Akella, 1C and others – who have been forced to attend an event that has no benefit for them. The retailers are not attending; very few Tier 2 press members are invited; no C list press have been invited at all.
Press members who have little to no experience with secondary games, the demographic, or the design are now viewing preview code and expecting to be “wowed”. I mean, isn’t that what E3 is all about? Impressing the press?
Buyers from retail companies read what we write. They look at our reviews and trust us. It’s rather daunting if you think about it. The 500 words I write (coupled with that from two-three other writers), about a simple racing game could affect how many are purchased for the entire of the United States.
Do my peers realize this? Sometimes I wonder...
As an editor, I’m happy and even encourage our writers to review games that are outside their comfort zone. Finding something unexpected and fun in a genre you didn’t enjoy is why I do this!
Previews are entirely different. Previews are usually unfinished code. They may be buggy, are most certainly feature incomplete. And you can damage the success of a title before it even hits the streets if you don’t understand what you’re doing.
Unfortunately, reader, previews are more important to you than reviews. And everyone, from the publisher to the buyer to the press knows this. *grins*
I would be irresponsible if I assigned a writer to a children’s game who usually covers action. I would be equally irresponsible if I were to cover sports games as I can only tell you what I see and not whether the game is actually any good. Because of this, I worked diligently to ensure that the two of us who attended E3 saw those games that we could best represent. And when neither of us could adequately cover a game, we told the publisher we weren’t qualified. I made sure SeanMike, my writer knew this.
Even knowing this, even scheduling carefully, mistakes slipped through. After having seen more than 40 games in 2 ½ days, SeanMike was tired. On the final day, in the final two hours he made the effort to view to first-person shooters that I did not view because I had told a publisher I wasn’t qualified. They were on the floor, with no demonstrator to help, the code was incomplete, it was loud...it was not optimal conditions.
The preview I received was not his best writing. And, it broke two cardinal rules of this site: it compared the game to another (and Call of Duty 4 at that!) and it stated that the game felt unpolished and was missing something – it was incomplete code! As his editor, I struck the lines, cleaned the text and posted what was actually a very good and informative preview.
This is my job.
Remember back at the beginning of this monologue? The fact checking? I visited a site and read a preview of a game by a writer who knew nothing about the genre he was looking at. I read a preview that had inappropriate commentary about incomplete code. I read a preview that insulted the PR company, the game and the publisher.
This was posted on a Tier 1 site. This will be seen be innumerable people – most of who won’t care about this title – but some who will determine whether it goes into stores based upon what this writer said and the responses of the readers. I wondered...
Where was the editor? How did this person get assigned to this game? And if there was no other person available, how did this writing get past the editing stage?
Games journalists are looked down upon in the media industry. Online journalists, too. And online games journalist? We’re pariah in media. We’re considered mediocre, irresponsible and uncultured. I’ve never wondered why but I grow tired of the label.
Where are all the editors? And reader, why don’t you demand better of us?
I am appalled at the state of the videogames media, to be honest, which has largely been established to feed on the teat of the marketing departments of the larger corporate entities. Independence is not obviously valued. Neither is independence of thought valued. In fact, most magazines seem to have the basic role of getting excited about the new big releases. This is not what I call journalism.
But then, if this is what the purchasers of game magazines want, then who am I to complain about it? If their needs are being met, I don't feel justified in intervening, even were it plausible for me to do so.
So I just choke back the bile when I attempt to read the magazines and accept that one must choose which battles are worth fighting. This, I think, is not my battle.
But it may yet be yours.
I may work half the night after my day job (most of us do this on a volunteer or semi-paid basis) and submit an article which I think is "polished" then am appalled to see the number of typos in it when it is published the next day.
Interestingly enough, many readers are criticizing the writer rather than the editor when they read articles with typos and mistakes in them. In my time, I've seen my writing published with duplicated paragraphs, links that went no where, and when some editing actually does take place... words replaced with others from the editor's spell checker.
Indeed... where are the editors?
Unfortunately, as we know, editing takes time. It takes time for the poor, overworked editor to review the writing and make necessary comments. So, you get an article that's written fast, edited lightly, and put online ASAP to get the scoop, to use archaic terms.
This is why I value a site like GamersInfo.net. Unfortunately, it's also the reason why you'll probably never grow into a Tier 1 site. But, I think the site would lose a lot of its value if it did.
Anyway, there's my thoughts on where the editors are. They're sacrificing to the great god of speed, much to the detriment of gamers everywhere.
So I think most of the times the guilt goes to the Top 10 gaming websites. Of course that we can culture our readers but I don't put my money into succeeding that.
Where are the editors? Perhaps time will tell....
You both are game makers, albeit not "visible". Why, from a game-maker's point of view can you not demand (ok, suggest) to your publishers that they work with media that take the effort to get to know your games better?
I may be missing the point here, but are you saying that concealing the fact that a game is unfinished when you preview it is somehow more professional? When you talk of being considered "irresponsible", are you therefore speaking about responsibility to the industry, rather than the reader?
Ben, I'm confused. If I indicated at any point that this should be done, please point it out to me. Previews are always listed as previews and for reasons that surpass my personal understanding, readers tend to value them more.
The games are unfinished and as reviewers we cannot in good faith call a game "bad" when it is incomplete. We can only report on what we see.
A full review after a game is done is really the best way to learn about a game - as is done in the music, book and film industry - but this is simply not what is valued by the consumer regarding games..
But never, do we call a preview a review. It is a preview and as such has a different set of criteria by which it is judged and a limited number of people (on this site) who are even allowed to write it.
It seems quite clear that you would want to strike out criticisms of problems seen with preview code on the assumption that such issues will be fixed. Thus, you are not truly commenting on 'what you see', but on a selective section of what you see.
If readers do actually value previews more, you'd think this would imply a greater need for transparency when an imminent game feels unfinished to a reviewer, rather than a greater effort to paper over these cracks.
I don't believe "commentary about incomplete code" is inappropriate, if a journalist has enough experience to spot just how incomplete it is. In some cases, 'damaging the success of a title before it even hits the streets' is not just possible, it's arguably your duty. Unlike most films and books, games are often clearly released prematurely, so this is a genuine concern for consumers. Yet you seem more proud of the fact that buyers for retail companies trust you. And of course they will, if you talk up a preview to make a game sound better - and sell better - than it will eventually deserve.
However, on a single-player title, when you're handed a bug sheet that says "these items are currently not complete but will be by launch", it has 60 days until gold - meaning printing - and games launch incomplete because they know between gold and ship they have 30 days to make a patch, how CAN we state that something is incomplete?
The truth is, PC games take a LOT of time to play and require thoughtful analysis, hence why we receive the code early. Because they are closed systems (unlike an MMO) a LOT of work is done at the end of the development cycle. So, what we get is a working game with zero polish.
All we can report upon honestly is the gameplay. It's an ugly vicious cycle. And what hurts it most is this idea of pushing a game out before it's complete and patching during that 30 days.
Gold should BE complete. What we previewers should have is the current gold standard and the developers should be working on that final list of bugs WE find. But, tis not the way with things.
And it sucks.
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