What is journalism? This is a question that will invoke different answers from various people, however we would all agree that it involves some degree of digging deep to find information to either report said information or give opinions on it. Often, both will be done in the same article. There is an argument, however, to be had as to when a news publication goes from producing what is considered ‘real journalism’ to becoming unpaid marketing for companies. This conversation is at its liveliest when it comes to games journalism.
To pick a less well-known example of this to avoid saying anything controversial early on, let’s explore a reaction to Tuesday’s announcement at Konami’s Digital Next conference. You may be wondering why you’ve not heard about this conference – well that is because it was only a conference to announce updates to the Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game (TCG). The biggest announcement there was that of Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel. Finally, Konami were launching a digital simulation of their game to rival what Magic: The Gathering Arena has done for its corresponding TCG.
The article is fine to quote what was said in the conference and reproduce other facts about the conference, however there is no word on what was left unsaid. While some gameplay was shown off in the trailer, there was no release date, no show of what the structure of the game would be like and most critically, no word on how the game would be monetized. As someone who plays the physical game itself, I have no desire to pay for cards twice. Also, it is one thing to open a physical pack where you can resell the contents, however the loot box controversies from Star Wars Battlefront II and the FIFA franchise make translating the physical experience to a digital platform also seem far less palatable. Can we really call this article ‘journalism’? It has told us nothing new and nothing that Konami’s own advertising would not tell us either. Is it just glorified free advertising for Yu-Gi-Oh?
A large portion of today’s games journalism is just glorified PR
I imagine IGN doesn’t rock the boat in an article such as this, or other articles regarding game announcements, due to how lucrative it can be to advertise games on their website. Currently, Monster Hunter Stories 2 and New World are both games being advertised on their website. The phrase “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” should come to mind…
While this sounds, to the wilfully blind, like conspiratorial thinking rather than the making deductions from knowing the mechanisms of running a company, there’s certainly further evidence that comes from knowing how big publishers send ‘review guides’ along with codes for games on the cusp of release to be played by those reviewing them. Recently, geek culture outlet The Escapist’s flagship series ‘Zero Punctuation’ ran into an issue – Sony would not provide a code for the latest Ratchet and Clank game, due to believing that the “focus and tone” of the coverage wouldn’t be what the publisher wanted.
For those aware of independent games journalists, James Stephanie Sterling is notorious for being blacklisted among a number of companies. This is not because they have been outrageous in behaviour towards them, it’s mainly been due to the fact that they’ve been incredibly critical about them during their time at Destructoid and The Escapist. They recall frequently on their YouTube channel about how quickly publishers were to not provide any codes after they became independent.
While individual journalists may care about criticism and more in-depth articles, when you’re writing for a big-named paper, market factors are going to come into play
A large portion of today’s games journalism is just glorified PR, because these are massive entertainment news companies that require early access codes and access to industry events such as E3 to remain one of the biggest go-to places for readers when they want the latest coverage. Consequently, the quality of the coverage and criticism is watered down massively. While individual journalists may care about criticism and more in-depth articles, when you’re writing for a big-named paper, market factors are going to come into play. It is simply better business for the game publisher and the media outlet to minimize the number of negative reviews and do what the publisher tells you to respectively.
How many publications have casually forgotten about Ubisoft’s workplace scandal – remarkably similar to Activision-Blizzard’s ongoing scandal as well. Real journalism, in my opinion, is holding those in power to account and playing Devil’s advocate no matter what they say, dissecting everything we’ve been told to find the information relative to the reader. This is a far cry from what gaming journalism is at the moment. The only way this could ever change is a massive cultural shift from readers and writers alike – no matter what section we’re talking about.