Recently, I have read a few articles that reviewed the current state of video game journalism. They all seemed to conclude with each other. The headlines said it all: “I can’t stand the state of modern game journalism,” or “The Cautionary Tale of Video Game Journalism,” and “Why Video Game Journalism is Failing the Industry.” I tend to agree with these conclusions, but how do we, as journalists, fix these problems?
Thinking about the challenges that video game journalists face, I began to think about what it takes to be a science writer or an environmental/science journalist. Beyond untangling massive amounts of science jargon that a non-science reader wouldn’t understand, the writer must work closely with the scientists, who should help the writer truly understand what is going on to prepare the information into a more digestible medium.
Paralleling the image of a scientist and journalist working closely, how does a video game journalist obtain that type of access in a world where video game studios do their best to operate under secrecy? And there are plenty of reasons that a video game journalist would not be welcomed into the interior of a game designing world, beyond the neatly wrapped PR packages and really awesome looking booths at E3. While a climate change scientist might welcome a journalist into his lab to help spread factual information and new findings, the video game industry has much to hide.
This article by Polygon exposes how over-worked game developers were at Epic Games following the mind-blowing success of Fortnite from 2017 and into 2018 (and still in 2019) as the game became a pop culture phenomenon in only a matter of months. And Epic Games isn’t the only game studio that has committed such a sin as expecting designers and programmers to work grueling hours, living and breathing the game constantly. This article notes that developers at Rockstar Games put in 100 hour weeks to prepare Red Dead Redemption 2 for its fall 2018 release. A simple Google search of “overworked game developers” will bring up plenty of examples.
Overworked game developers are only the cherry on the cake. What if a game is in the middle of being created, but then suddenly the plug is pulled or it is delayed? (Hello Metroid Prime 4 and Animal Crossing: New Horizons) In my opinion, video game studios want to operate in a very Apple-like way, in complete secrecy. The antithesis of journalism. This article promptly wraps up all the other woes that the industry faces, including but not limited to, an industry that faces click-bate problems, video game reviewers (video and writing) that are often pressured into giving favorable reviews via a free game ahead of an official release and rewarded with money under the table, and concurrently, reviewers who also are racing against the clock to publish a review in a matter of hours after a game release, so that they can be the *first published* review online (often resulting in those reviewers not even playing through half of the game, but releasing a review score that thousands of consumers might consider before they buy the game.)
Let’s not even get into loot box issues that, in my opinion, can destroy a game that could have been really awesome, an issue in the game industry that Belgium decided is illegal and detrimental to consumers. A prime example of clearly ripping off a gamer was EA’s Star Wars Battlefront 2, in which the gamer had to pay extra money to play as normal, common Star Wars characters, such as Luke Skywalker (or spend a ridiculous amount of time “earning” those characters and other items.)
So, now that we know this, doesn’t it make sense that video game journalism is lagging, as this Medium author states in his article? How do we strengthen relationships with gaming studios and companies and create great-quality journalism for all gamers? How do we get video game reviewers to slow down and play through an entire game before publishing a highly regarded review score? And if video game companies moderate hours worked by developers and therefore must push back the release date of a game because they are moving slower, how do we force everyone else associated with the industry to not react negatively? (A full guess on my part on why Nintendo might have delayed the heavily anticipated Animal Crossing, resulting in a decline in their stock value.)
The conclusion to these problems? Video game journalists will need to aim for quality, but also act as a watch-dog for the industry. Isn’t that the goal of journalism overall, in any industry? Writers, reviewers, and those that make videos covering the gaming industry will need to slow down, remain fair and balanced, and clear-headed.
Most importantly, video game journalists will need to look beyond the PR packages and press releases that gaming companies put out, in hopes that those will appease content creators. Reviewers, writers, and YouTube sensations with millions of followers will need to no longer accept bribes from gaming companies and also educate themselves on what a great game is. Finally, journalists will have to do what journalists do best. Good ol’ fashioned sleuthing to keep video game companies honest.