In this issue:
- Do We Need Physical Conferences in a Digital World?
- How the Spike TV Video Game Awards Are Hurting the Game Industry
- News Bytes
- Quote of the Moment
The idea behind the next great experiment in reviving the American videogame magazine didn’t come from the board room of a powerhouse publishing giant. It wasn’t spun off from an existing lifestyle magazine or adapted from a successful Web property. It wasn’t the product of a focus group or a marketing survey or a know-nothing middle manager trying in vain to capture younger readers by focusing on a medium he knows nothing about.
Instead, Kill Screen magazine started out as the subject of idle chatter over Indian food.
Covered in this issue:
- Activision’s unorthodox early review access
- On the spoke missing from IGN’s MusicHub
- News bits
Can a review-aggregation site actually shift the focus away from numerical scores and toward the critics themselves? CriticDNA aims to find out.
Review aggregators like Metacritic and GameRankings have a bit of a mixed reputation in and around the game industry. Millions of gamers love aggregators for distilling dozens of reviews into a single number that can aid in their purchasing decisions (and their message-board arguments). Publishers love aggregators for providing a concrete metric by which to rate the quality of their developers and PR units. Those same developers and PR units, of course, often hate aggregators for passing judgment on months of hard work with no real context. And the critics often hate aggregators for reducing hundreds of words full of personality into just another statistic to be lost in the crowd.
A new Web site is looking to solve that last problem, at least, by helping people get to know the critics behind the numbers a little better.
Head on over to the iTunes Podcast directory and search for “video games.” Pick one podcast at random. Ninety-nine times out of 100, that podcast will adhere to a certain standard format: a bunch of videogame fans sitting around a microphone and rambling about videogames. Likely they’ll talk about what’s in the news that day or week, review games they’ve been playing recently, and maybe answer some letters from readers. If you’re lucky, they may talk to a game developer or touch lightly on some larger themes surrounding gaming culture or the industry. If you’re really lucky, they’ll avoid the kinds of inside jokes and rambling asides that make most gaming podcasts hours-long bores.
But if you’re extremely lucky, that videogame podcast you picked out at the beginning will be the one in 100 that doesn’t fit the standard formula. If you’re that lucky, you’ve probably stumbled upon Robert Ashley’s “A Life Well Wasted.” (ALWW)
More than just a gaming podcast, ALWW is, as the tagline puts it, “an Internet radio show about videogames and the people who love them.” Rather than just jawing about whatever comes to mind with other game journalists, Ashley actually tracks down and and interviews gamers inside and outside the industry, on subjects ranging from game journalism to game preservation, independent development to fan fiction, hardware hacking to cosplay. Ashley then snips the best parts from the interviews and cuts them together with music from his band, I Come to Shanghai. The result is a roughly hour-long audio story that resembles public radio shows like “This American Life” or “Radiolab” more than other gaming podcasts.
How do PR people decide which journalists get early copies of games for review? Press Pass investigates.
When I was growing up and dreaming of a position as a game journalist, I envisioned three primary perks to the job: 1) getting to play games all day, 2) getting to see games months early at the Consumer Electronics Show (the precursor to today’s Electronic Entertainment Expo), and 3) getting to play early review copies of games before they reached store shelves.
Of course, now that I’m a full-time game journalist, I know the somewhat disappointing reality behind of all these perks. Yes, I get to play games during the work day, but more of my time seems to be spent writing about them, which is the part I actually get paid for. Yes, I get to go to E3, but after a while the show seems less like a massive, freeform arcade and more like an endless, hellish slog filled with massive lines and boring appointments. And while I do get access to plenty of reviewable games before release, getting such access from public relations departments has sometimes been a struggle, especially when I was just starting out.
In an ideal world, there would be enough early press copies of a game available to satisfy every legitimate journalist with an interest in writing a review. In reality, though, almost every journalist I’ve talked to says they’ve gotten some form of the “we just don’t have enough copies available” excuse when requesting a game for review. And the public relations people I’ve talked to say that’s the line isn’t just a copout.
The consensus seems to be that right now is not a good time to be in the print magazine business. Across the industry, newsstand sales fell 6.3 percent in the first half of 2009 and overall circulation has been flat. The narrower gaming niche is still reeling from the January shuttering of Electronic Gaming Monthly after a successful 20-year run. All over the media landscape, you don’t have to look very hard to find people proclaiming matter-of-factly that magazines are dead.
So it seems an odd time to announce a new 148-page quarterly magazine, focused on a single game, with no advertising pages, no newsstand sales and expensive, high-quality paper stock. Yet that’s exactly what Future Publishing is doing with World of Warcraft: The Magazine (WoW:TM), announced last week at Anaheim’s BlizzCon fan festival. What’s more, Future is doing it with a unique editorial and business plan that might just be crazy enough to work.
I was bit surprised to see last week that Bitmob’s Dan Hsu had compiled a list of the Top 10 Bad Things the Internet Brought to Gaming Journalism. Sure, the list made some good points, and was generally fair about considering opposing points of view. But overall, focusing a list solely on the problems caused by the Internet presents a pretty skewed picture of how the medium has changed game journalism over the last decade or two.
The simplest way to correct this skewed picture is obvious: a similar list of the top-10 good things the Internet has brought to game journalism. And here it is:
While two Electronic Game Monthly readers had very little chance of interacting with each other (unless they happened to meet in real life), two readers of a videogame site can easily connect and share their common interests through comment threads and message boards. Sites like Destructoid and 1UP (and Bitmob itself!) work hard to cultivate this community, and make themselves into places people come not just to get information, but also to share their passion with like-minded people.
On the other hand: The “communities” surrounding many sites are either eerily silent or filled with trolls and fanboys that seem unable to carry on a serious conversation.
What do you do when you’ve spent nearly a third of your life writing about games for a single company, only to see that company decline and be sold off as a faint echo of what it once was? If you’re Dan “Shoe” Hsu, the answer is simple — take a short break, then finally go into business for yourself.
An 11-year veteran of Ziff Davis Media, Hsu rose to be editor-in-chief of the magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly and editorial director for 1UP.com before leaving in April of 2008, just months before the magazine was shuttered and 1UP was sold to UGO. Since then he’s dabbled in freelancing for G4, launched a gaming video series with his girlfriend, and started a personal blog called Sore Thumbs with former EGMer Crispin Boyer. Then, just before E3, Hsu revealed his long-planned mystery project, Bitmob, a game site that relies on a mix of professional content from Hsu and some fellow Ziff Davis alums and community content written by Bitmob readers.
I talked to Hsu about his thoughts on the post-departure Ziff Davis, his vision for Bitmob and the future of the game journalism in general.
Matt Clark is a 29-year-old union staff representative and gamer from Dayton, Ohio. Like most gamers, he’s always dreamed of being able to go to E3. Unlike most gamers, he actually got to live out his dream this year.
Clark was one of a handful of gamers that won the chance to help cover E3 as part of contests held by major media outlets. He earned his chance to help cover the show for 1UP.com with a tongue-in-cheek blog spot that made merciless fun of his fellow entrants. At the show, Matt filed dozens of blog posts on everything from his favorite games to goofy, man-on-the-street interviews about a fake game.
Clark said he’d been following E3 closely for over a decade and considered it “a gaming mecca.” Even after years of mental preparation, though, he said he still wasn’t totally prepared for his pilgrimage. “I guess I didn’t anticipate the enormity of it,” he said after the show. “I mean, it’s just so much to take in. I felt like I had a serious ADD spaz-out the first half of the first day. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was going to be huge … I guess I just never imagined how hard it would be to try and see everything.”