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f13.net  |  f13.net General Forums  |  News  |  Topic: Kotaku posts an entirely unoriginal article. Problem: They stole it from me. 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.
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Author Topic: Kotaku posts an entirely unoriginal article. Problem: They stole it from me.  (Read 1745 times)
Posts: 57970

on: March 13, 2006, 04:06:21 AM


By Wagner James Au

The games writer for Salon and the embedded journalist in Second Life rallies Kotaku readers in a war to save games from their worse enemy—the gaming press. This is an expanded version of a talk delivered March 11 at South by Southwest’s ScreenBurn Fest in Austin, Texas.

Why do games, for the most part, unrelentingly suck such ass? If you happened to hear veteran designer Greg Costikyan’s acclaimed rant last GDC 2005, you’d think the trouble was due to the rising cost of development, and outdated distribution models. He is right as far as it goes— but right in a way that doesn’t leave much hope for change.

After covering the game industry for some five years, I think I’ve found the primary source of the trouble. Not the only source, but the weakest link in the greater chain of suck—and more key, the one that can be hammered at by blogs like Kotaku.

I found it at an E3 cocktail party in Beverly Hills, shortly after I’d begun introducing myself not as a journalist but as a writer with the virtual world Second Life—not a game per se, but close enough, evidently, for folks on the business end of the industry to lower their shields. The topic was the gaming press, and on that subject, the opinion of a top exec from a major publisher was decidedly bottom line.

“Press previews are very important to our sales,” he casually mentioned to me over martinis, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Retailers don’t know anything about games. So we show them previews of our titles from the game press, and they reserve shelf space for our games on the strength of those.”

And just like that, the gaping mouth of suckage was staring me in the face. Or rather, it had always been there, but I just hadn’t noticed until then.

For the thing of it is, game magazine previews are almost uniformly positive, even for the most undistinguished titles. So it unrolls thus: publisher makes mediocre game; press previews depict mediocre game as being good or at least worth a look; excited gamers read previews, foolishly believe them, start making pre-sale orders of mediocre game; driven by preview press and pre-sale numbers based on that press, retailers stock up on mediocre game; publisher makes money from mediocre game, keeps making more games like it.

And the circle jerk is complete. All started by the gaming press, in their preview section.

Consider these excerpts selected at random from game magazine previews from last year:

Batman Begins and The Incredible Hulk – “No longer are you limited to just reading about your favorite superheroes – for once, you truly are the superhero.”

Rainbow Six: Lockdown – “… we’re quite certain that the new online career mode will justify a purchase.”

Call of Duty II – “We don’t need any more convincing [on the studio’s qualifications to make this game.] The hard part now will be waiting until this fall, when Call of Duty II hits shelves.”

These aren’t impartial descriptions, let alone critical evaluations. These are words that directly drive sales. None of these previews had a single critical word to say either, except perhaps to point out easily fixable technical issues and missing content.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever read anything like the following in a preview:

“While technically impressive, there’s really no design feature here which hasn’t been done before in previous games.”

“The story looks like one more series of boring cutscenes you’ll be skipping past, since they’re pretty much derived from a dozen movies you’ve already seen.”

“If one more slightly different looking set of futuristic weapons is so goddamn important to you that you’re willing to part with $50, why, this is the game for you!”

None of this is meant as a slam at all individuals in the gaming press, many of whom are personal friends who have my respect—and sympathy. Generally they are just as pained by the compromises they feel they must make by running non-critical game previews. (I’m not claiming purity for myself, either; in retrospect, for example, I regret over-praising a technology demo of Molyneux’s Black and White without ever asking uncomfortable questions such as, “Where’s the, um, game?”) I don’t even think the press does it in exchange for all the free trips, gifts, and other benefits that publishers ply them with. They do it for fear of losing early access to games and their developers, and endangering their advertising revenue.

But they are gamers, too, and they must feel just as keenly the indignity of hyping crap. Like any dedicated gamer, they can tell when a game is fundamentally bad or undistinguished, even in Beta; they know that a game with unoriginal gameplay will still be unoriginal, after all the bugs are rooted out and the unfinished levels completed.

Talking with them, I can sometimes seem to see a mortified look in their eyes, a kind of “Stop me before I hype again!” plea. We saw an example of this personal tumult in recent months, when Electronic Gaming Monthly editor Dan Hsu unleashed a rant about fellow editors who sold coverage for ad space—a groundbreaking story that most of the gaming press cravenly failed to follow up on. It’s gotten so bad, members of the game industry are themselves begging for the press to reform—witness God of War’s David Jaffe much-discussed critique of the gaming media. (Both Hsu and Jaffe’s editorials, it’s worth noting, didn’t show up in game magazines, but in their personal blogs.)

If editors were to break this unspoken agreement they’ve made with publishers to write groveling previews, they’d be heroes to gamers everywhere. They’d also be out of a job. Which is why it’s up to gamers to save them from themselves—and in the process, to help save games.

This is where blogs like this come in.

Starting in April, Kotaku will launch a regular feature called “Preview Ho of the Month”, and the object is to name and shame.

“Preview Ho” will be a compilation of the most egregious, blatant promotion for unreleased games from across the gaming press. We will challenge the editors of these magazines and websites to justify their hype on behalf of their advertisers’ products. We will ask them why they gave so much glowing press to games that were so unfinished as to be design documents with conceptual art, or gave any attention whatsoever to yet another movie spin-off with no perceivable originality at all. In doing so, we will go after previews as they exist now for what they are: the mortal enemy of good games.

This is a task that will require the help of every reader of Kotaku who also reads game magazines. Go hunting for these handjobs, clip them out, and e-mail (au@kotaku) the text to us. Help us find the biggest Hos and win public praise—and the satisfaction of knowing you helped create a future of better games.

Think what a gaming press which no longer acted as the publishers’ fluffers would look like, where journalists felt free to state their actual impressions of a game in preview Beta. There would be some pissiness in the beginning, yes; some publishers would threaten to yank their advertising, after particularly harsh previews. All for the better: this would push magazines to court more non-gaming advertisers, and thereby, expand their audience demographic. The less dependent on game ads for revenue, the more editorial freedom they’ll have, in future issues. No longer able to rely on the gaming press’ booster-ism, publishers would be forced to take more creative risks. They’d also put more effort into creating playable demos early on in the development process, to generate a fan base the old-fashioned way, by earning it.

Meanwhile, the gaming press would actually become a genuine force for good and innovation in games; honestly harsh previews would kill or suspend projects in early development, or force studios to rethink crucial elements of the design. In the same way, honest positive previews would build up buzz for the titles that deserved them. We would see more games like Katamari Damacy, which began its life in the US on a single demo machine on the E3 floor, while the publisher devoted its promotional resources to less worthwhile games—only to see gamers (largely gamers who blog) drag it into the spotlight.

Bloggers have transformed the mainstream media (think Dan Rather and those fake memos), US politics (think Trent Lott’s hasty retirement after praising a segregationist), and Hollywood (think Ain’t It Cool News, an ur-blog that forced the film industry to improve their “geek” genre films.) It is time for blogs to do the same thing for the game industry, breaking the closed circuit of suck once and for all.

Previews are always positive? I hadn't noticed. I've cut and pasted the entire article because they don't deserve the viewership.

Needless to say, Kotaku probably won't change their practice. On last count by the way, the last issue of Game Informer said roughly 40 upcoming games would be more than worth their purchase for having 'x' features.
Staff Emeritus
Posts: 39827

Prevent all damage that would be dealt to you and other troops you control.

Reply #1 on: March 13, 2006, 10:22:22 AM

I want some of what he's smoking.

This is not news. Shit, it's not really even worth writing about. Most previews are shitty, sloppy knobjobs and a lot of reviews are too. I have a better solution.

STOP READING GAMING MAGAZINES. They've been irrelevant since at least the turn of the century, thanks to the Internet. The only reason the magazines ever have anything worth looking at is because the devs/publishers hold back screenshots/videos/builds purely for the magazines. Otherwise, all that shit is better disseminated through the Internet to a wider audience, for less money.

Posts: 57970

Reply #2 on: March 13, 2006, 10:50:41 AM

This isn't news. No. It wasn't news when I wrote it and it wasn't news when he wrote it. But he's from a bigger site. And it was a sunday, a notoriously slow news day. So his shit got passed around. Also, he apparently gave it as a rant at SXSW. Which doesn't change the fact he's an unoriginal schmuck.
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