Lectures
mags
Rest In Print Gaming Journalism

The film industry, the music industry and the gaming industry – three factions of entertainment in the throes of a vicious and unbridled tyrant. The internet is a toddler with a handgun, and its whims shall be met and with great abandon. It can be a source of great wealth or utter failure. But what seems to be so striking is the fact that no one seems to be seriously taking the necessary precautions to ensure a smooth and prosperous transition. I’m of course talking about doing away with the middle man. The gaming magazine.

1. The gaming magazine is haughty

Have you managed to read some of the recent editorial comments in a few of them? For a dwindling medium, the writers of these magazines tend to insult and talk down to their readers. Sure you are entitled to some privileges being in the “press,” but its those same privileges that give you a deeper understanding of what’s “going on.” They make the mistake of considering themselves irreplaceable. Anyone with as much insider information as these people could reach the same exact conclusions. It doesn’t take a Michael Pachter to figure out that any third year college student can dress up a forum rant with a dozen *checks thesaurus* big words. Treating a paying customer like a fool when you fill your magazine with a thousand subscription cards makes Plaxico Burress look like a war injured POW.

2. The gaming magazine is selfish

No one particularly expects to get something for nothing. The reason the game magazine has existed for so long is for its exclusives. Interviews, reviews, hands-on impressions – the staple of the gaming magazine is an iconic character striking a pose amidst a minimalist font. Recently the Playstation blog has been organizing a reader question and answering session live with their developers. A trend that should be made more prominent for the success of game developers and gamers alike. Finding out what everyone wants never hurt. But what is the motivation when the gaming magazine is willing to pay and provide a 95/100 review score? The more this continues, the longer it will take for developers and gamers to have real time interaction which brings me to…

3. The gaming magazine is tardy

Being ahead of the game with scoops and insider tips will help you most of the time, but when your deadline and print date is so long after the story has broken, what happens when you’re wrong? You print a retraction or a notice in the next issue that’s put on a page that your readers are designed to miss. With online interaction, an article can be instantly updated – I don’t have to tell you this.

4. The gaming magazine is afraid

– but it is not alone. Although it is far more timid than the online publications, it is this way because it understands it is not long for this world. With its influence it manages to fill and fluff the game market with hyperbole and hypocrisy. It is afraid of biting the hand that feeds it. Game publishers dole out millions for their game’s image, creating a concept in your mind solidified by a numerical score. Do not get me wrong: most of these games are well deserving of their acclaim. But let me ask you, when was the last time you read a preview that wasn’t afraid of stepping on a developer’s toes? Overwhelmingly positive, even when the game turns out to be a horrible mess of code. There’s a reason gaming press are only allowed behind closed doors.

5. The gaming magazine is overpriced

It has to be. What value does a magazine have when it’s a year old, and all of the titles featured within it have come to realization? They work in the here and now, without any lasting value. The same content, or at the very least the same information, can be found online with little hassle. This stems towards the reason why the game magazine must maintain its exclusives. It must attract you now or it will lose you. At newstand, the prices are ridiculous, but even still the subscriptions are no better. For a magazine that is comprised primarily of advertisements, articles aimed at game promotion, and a shrivel of good old fashioned journalism, one can’t really comprehend where the value is in these 100+ page, colorful ad books. And when did we decide it was a good idea to allow those who get their games free from the publishers to tell us the value of a game?

Is the gaming magazine necessary?

Yes. But you might ask how could something with so many flaws be of any use in this day and age? My answer will remain the same now and forever. To keep us entertained on the toilet.

13 comments
deftangel
deftangel

"You might see the announcement of a game on a website, but the preview in print might (and should) offer more or different insight. And it can. When it doesn’t, that’s the problem." Completely agree. The issue is that increasingly, that is the problem. The amount of bad games writing on the internet positively dwarfs that of what's in print but the good stuff? I wouldn't say it's far off being an equivalent amount. In the online world, it doesn't matter if 95% of the output is bad. The more pressure which is put on print as a business model, the less quality writing it can afford. Some of the UK PC magazines for example, are complete shadows of their former selves. "So far this sounds like the sin is on the publisher’s side, not the press. The publishers can ask for that stuff, but does that mean the press does it?" You are right of course but the fact that it was suggested is undermining and it's the perception that is key. Some reviews for Arkham Asylum were indeed published before the embargo. We've no way of knowing if that's relevant or not (the game is certainly impressing some, more than the RamRaider would have suggested arguably) but I would be minded to avoid the exclusive coverage and read a later review. That's an unfortunate waste of an exclusive. I wouldn't want to question anyone's integrity but if the publishers are willing to try this sort of thing, what does that say about where the real power lies? Any gaming magazine needs the support of publishers to survive in this day and age. It's very viability is now intertwined with that of maintaining these relationships. It's immediately compromised with far less room to maneuver when it needs to tell a publisher to "do one". I don't want to overegg that side of it. IGN, GameSpot et al are just as compromised in their own ways. I don't read them either. Somewhat ironically EDGE is the one thing I read every month, mainly for the articles (though I will flick through the reviews). It's an example of a gaming magazine done right in my opinion though many older readers will tell you it's gone downhill. The circulation figures would seem to side with them. If they are struggling, what price the others?

Dan Amrich
Dan Amrich

There's a lot on the table here so please excuse me if I am selective in my answers -- it's not an intentional slight. When you say, in relation to #2, that print is static as soon as ink hits the page...this is all of print, of course. This is newspapers, books, anything on dead trees or any physical medium -- music, movies and TV shows, too. Once they are made, they are static statements of their moment. But does that make them inherently worthless? I don't think that's what you're saying, but the shift in information collection and distribution has already gone online and will be forever. That does not mean that other, more traditional forms of communication cannot still be effective or interesting or high quality. They simply can't be as fast or as current as the newer ones. But print can still be responsible in its old age. We've had prices and game names change between the time we ship and the time we come out. We run corrections and updates. We also check our stories and cite our sources. We have good habits that the next generation should be expected to adopt. As long as that continues to happen, I feel better about the inevitable. And for the record, I do not think anybody is suggesting that print should be consumed alone. Print knows its audience also exists online, also reads from other sources. When you hear about a new game coming up or a major news announcement -- let's take the Ozzy-at-Blizzcon leak as an example -- do you stop at one source? Most people I know look around for multiple accounts. If those multiple accounts are stealing from each other, it's not worth much. But print and online, together? They chase the same information from different angles using different methods. You might see the announcement of a game on a website, but the preview in print might (and should) offer more or different insight. And it can. When it doesn't, that's the problem. Now, you brought up a good example here about ethics and exclusives: "Eidos has been called out on requiring gaming magazines to give them a high score if they’re going to release a review before the NDA breaks. I believe Konami was caught on this too or something similar. They wanted the reviewers not to mention certain aspects at all that I thought was downright shady." So far this sounds like the sin is on the publisher's side, not the press. The publishers can ask for that stuff, but does that mean the press does it? I've been in situations where requests of this nature were made and the response from the publication was "no." I almost fell for it once myself, and then realized, oh god, what am I doing? And I had a good discussion with my editor, and we talked honestly about what was going on and why we should never be led that way. That was seven years ago. (And yes, that was at GamePro.) So again: Is the problem that the print press exists, or that the publishers are trying to manipulate them? And what led you to the conclusion that the publishers' tactics work? The suggestion that because there is a shady deal being proposed does NOT mean the shady deal was accepted. This is one of the most dangerous assumptions I see on this topic, and it's why I ask for people to provide some sort of proof. When nobody has proof but repeats the unproven allegations, it's effectively libel. But libel is a term used in journalism, and that opens up a can of worms about what is a journalistic outlet in the age of online change. This is also why I think it's interesting to hear things like "let's get rid of that middleman." So the company can sell to you directly, without a consumer advocate filter? They already do that. A demo is an ad, a very compelling ad and one that I value too! As the saying goes, there is no substitute for experience, and as much as I believe in the written word, I think you can learn more from playing the game yourself than you can from reading someone else's account of playing it. But the print press is not currently standing in your way of getting "the truth" from a downloadable demo. Why do they have to die? (What's more, that demo is a carefully constructed vertical slice of the full expereince, much like a movie trailer -- sometimes what you play is fun, but it's not fun for the length of the game. So even the demo is fallible, and we all accept that.) One more aspect of this: Above, you are associating the demo with the magazine. I don't make demos; I make magazines. If you look at OXM or PTOM and only see the video/disc elements, then you're not really critiquing print at all. You're associating the value of the mag+disc package with just the disc, and if the disc is devalued in the age of direct downloads, then the print must be worthless too? No, that's not fair, let alone logical. The articles I write aren't about the disc content; it's great when they complement each other, but "print is dead" is a very different statement from "covermount discs are dead." I suppose another element at work is why a person picks up a game magazine. Is it for reviews? Is it for news? Online does those faster, maybe better, maybe worse (it comes down to the writer and their ability to communicate, regardless of the medium). And if that's the case, then yes, print is not valuable to you. But if you like features, interviews, historical accounts, or design/layout, then often magazines still have value. Some of that historical information is online and will continue to be online, but our readers say (and I say "our readers" being no longer an employee of OXM, but you know, it's still fresh) that it's not what we offer so much as how we offer it. They still fundamentally like the print approach and they like how we deliver the content. They know they can get it somewhere else. They choose to get it through us as well as the other sources. They do not feel that we have to be buried simply because there are other options available to them. And I've never taken offense to the toilet jokes. It's a reality. I read on the can too. Interesting stuff. Obviously a huge topic we all feel passionately about. :)

Phaethon
Phaethon

Hi Dan, The three magazines were for a placeholder effect, overlaid against the iconic display of 1984's "Big Brother" stage. Not singling anyone out but needed to make a point. #1 Is primarily derived from what I've read revolving the controversy of Left 4 Dead 2. I don't agree that the content on display justifies the turn around time or the price point of the sequel, and this issue was argued in an editorial in Game Informer. The writer went on to berate the commenter and those who shared his opinion, and while the original statement might have been organized poorly and even laced with immaturity, it did not warrant the response the writer was given. #2 Gaming magazines are a business after all. They get exclusive screenshots, interviews, stories, etc. But when it comes down to it, once the ink hits the page it really lends itself to be more of a piece of history than evolving content. The interviewee has no real sense of gauging the response towards what he was quoted for or perhaps misquoted for. It's a stagnant method for getting information out, and the gaming magazines insist on it for their bread and butter. Eidos has been called out on requiring gaming magazines to give them a high score if they're going to release a review before the NDA breaks. I believe Konami was caught on this too or something similar. They wanted the reviewers not to mention certain aspects at all that I thought was downright shady. #4 I partially agree with what you're saying. But I remember watching Denis Dyack on the 1up Show and reading articles present in EGM on what Too Human was doing. They genuinely seemed to be eating it up, even criticizing other publications on their inability to critique the game properly. At the end of the day, EGM gave it a very low score and had little positive things to say about the game. To me that's a complete shift in journalism to praise a game because it's not finished but fault it for its same ideas upon completion. #5 I believe it's overpriced because it doesn't offer the same dynamic interaction of an online site, it doesn't reach the same number of masses, and it costs money. When it essentially boils down to publishers marketing their games, I don't see why we should pay to get their advertisements. That's the reason I'd never buy something like Qore. Even OXM has seen their business take a hit due to XBLM and PSN. When the demos are on download for free, it doesn't "pay" to pay. And it's in the best interest of the publishers to get their demo into the hands of the gamers, not the middle man.

deftangel
deftangel

Dan, thanks for taking the time to comment. I didn't write this post but did read your blogpost cited on Slashdot which likely led you here. Completely agree on that front, incidentally. Anyway, I won't speak for the author but to follow up on #2, direct evidence of this is going to be difficult to come by. I would say the it's become a popular perception gradually over time as readers have felt their trust has been undermined. There was the Gamespot/Eidos/Jeff Gerstmann fiasco a couple of years ago with Kane & Lynch & recently some slightly questionable PR practice regarding reviews for Batman: Arkham Asylum. As I tend to follow the industry as much as the games themselves, I can see both sides of the coin but when gamers read articles that consist of nothing more than bragging about how awesome the PR trip was and no caution at all as to whether it will be any good or not, it's not surprising some get suspicious. I think N'Gai Croal's editorial post the Gerstmann thing also gave a few people different perspective on things. Briefly on #4 - I also see a fair few of unfinished games. Builds that aren't even meant for hype generating previews either so I'm always cautious as to rip it a new one for things that I know are likely being worked on

Dan Amrich
Dan Amrich

Pretty succinct summary! I'd like to address each one. #1 is all up to the editorial staff in question. It's been a problem for years -- are you talking with your readers or at your readers? It's something I've focused on -- getting the hell out of that ivory tower. Playing a game early doesn't make a person awesome, even if they think it does. #2 contains a common comment, but can you cite some facts to back up the "paying for a 95/100 review" thing? Because in 15 years, I've never been told to give a game a specific score. I think it's a popular thing to say, but it's not a popular thing to prove. I put thought into the words I put on the page, even if all anybody sees is a score. I don't know why people don't want to believe that people are fighting the good fight, but some of us are. It's easy to assume "they're all corrupt" based on rumors and wishes, but my experience is different. What can I say? I drive a 96 Geo. Is there a special line I should stand in to get the kickbacks for good reviews? #3, well, sure. It is the nature of the medium, and magazine abandoned doing "news" before most people abandoned reading them. Print delivers something different -- and if you're going to be late (it takes a few weeks just to print and deliver the magazines, even after the editorial staff has finished writing and designing them), you have to be saying something of value. If you can't be first, be insightful and more entertaining. Maybe it's not about timing; I think it's about what gets delivered after the inevitable delay. It can be late but still not worth the wait. If it's not, your point makes more sense. As for #4, I write most of my previews as positive because the game is unfinished, and I know that going in. I realize that what I am seeing is often well ahead of finished -- three months, six months, maybe a year in some cases. So many things can and do change in that time -- I'm not going to slam a game in preview for something like frame rate if frame rate is the last thing they optimize. I'm not going to bring up the missing voice-overs if I know the game is not designed to ship with silent cinemas, or if the current voices are placeholder. You see it as unethical to not bite the hand that feeds; I see it as impolite and irrational to find fault with something that's still in development. If you were baking a cake and someone took it out of the oven when you were 60% through the process and declared it to be lousy, would that be fair or helpful to the cake-consuming audience? And #5, overpriced...well, only if they don't deliver. I think Edge is a good example of a deluxe magazine experience that's worth its price (if you're in the UK anyway) -- it's enjoyable to read, it's been crafted with care, it's on good paper...it feels like you bought something of value, and you spend time with it. Overpriced in the context of "not giving me enough for my money," I can see. Subscriptions, however, are not overpriced -- if one issue of OXM costs $10 and 12 cost $25, I think $2.50 a pop is reasonable. But even that doesn't fit in with everybody's budget, and I don't blame anybody for that. You make good points but you haven't cited any sources; are you talking about the three magazines pictured,or is this a hodgepodge of feelings over a long period of time? How fresh are your examples, and could you cite them for clarity? I'd be curious to know which magazines and issues led you to your conclusions.

deftangel
deftangel

You can get a fair amount of EDGE's content over at their site now. They tend to put online some of the stuff from the latest issue over the course of the month. http://www.edge-online.com/ Of course, that they are using the site as an attempt to "upsell" the magazine illustrates just how they're still tied to the "old" business model they still are. Though to be fair to them, that's not *all* they're doing.

The Czar
The Czar

Edge is great. I wish it was cheaper over here.

Phaethon
Phaethon

Mike, I think we agree here. Throughout my post I slammed the industry pretty hard, so it was only fitting that my only positive point was their use is to be entertaining on the toilet. As stated above, I believe the sooner game developers have purposefully built channel for getting the word out on their games and an avid ability to hear the voices of their consumers the better off games will be. As it stands the publisher is the one doing all the talking through advertisements.

deftangel
deftangel

See the interesting thing is, I still make a point of reading EDGE each month. Now, I don't have to pay for it granted but I think I would miss thumbing through it and would at least thinking about getting my own subscription should I change jobs. Best of a bad bunch and a long way from it's heyday it might be, I still find it enjoyable. The biggest problem is that almost all of the problems above are transferable to online games "journalism". There is just as much a dearth of quality content online amongst the "first! to! post! PR!" linkblogs.

Mike
Mike

"Is the gaming magazine necessary? Yes." I have to call "bogus" on this. A game magazine is one of the least "necessary" things I can imagine. They're little more than full-color stroke magazines for a very narrowly focused audience. Practically no one buys them, even hard-core gamers. What does that indicate for their future in an increasingly non-print world? Are they interesting? Maybe. Are they useful? Perhaps (but doubtful). Are they relevant? Less and less with each passing day. Just my 2 cents. -Mike

Dave Taylor
Dave Taylor

Interesting post, and one that we recognised many of the truths behind several years ago which is why a bunch of us who had been behind many of the well known print games magazines set up some free digital games magazines instead. Print is a struggling medium, but there are many elements of print magazines that I can't help but love. For example, the ability to design in high-res, and constrain that design so that we know that the reader sees the articles as we intended, which is difficult to do on a website. Additionally, the time to write an article, in a considered manner, rather than having to be first, which is what matters on a website. There are reasons why print is good, but we thought that digital magazines allowed for the best of print, but partnered with digital distribution. Best part for the readers is that they are free, because you can't charge for content on the web, even though they cost a lot of money to put together. Still, I think there's life in the magazine format, just not in print.