The sorry state of Video Game Journalism

Last week VideoGamer.com published an article claiming that the Dead Space franchise had been canned by publisher EA due to poor sales. A mere few hours later  Dino Ignacio, the UI lead at Visceral Games (developer of the Dead Space franchise) sent a tweet denying the story.. Later, a statement EA made a statement claiming that the article was “patently false.” The same day, Peter Moore, Chief Operating Officer of EA commented that the article was an example of “shoddy journalism” and a desperate attempt to earn advertising revenue. In response to this, VideoGamer stated that they took every precaution to verify their source and that they gave EA multiple chances to confirm or deny the story, none of which they took. They claim that EA only commented on the story after it was published. This is an important event, not because one side might be lying but this story is an example of legitimate video game journalism. Something that there isn’t enough of in the industry.

The current state of journalism on the video game industry is an absolute joke. The majority of journalism content related to video games are product reviews. There are so many issues that occurred in the past calendar year that were left unexplored by popular sites like IGN and Gamespot. Think of the controversial ending to Mass Effect 3, or hell, even the closure of THQ. Next to none of mainstream websites conducted an interview, or at the very least explored what these events mean for video gaming. The Mass Effect 3 controversy was an interesting example; just about every Youtuber who reviews games had something to say about the ending. Yet it took a while for any of the media outlets to produce so much as an opinion piece on the issue. There are websites that actually conduct journalism like Kotaku and Eurogamer, but these aren’t enough. There needs to be a legitimate, North-American company devoted to the purpose of video game based journalism.

There doesn’t exist a single gaming blog or website that does not feature reviews to some extent (even I’m guilty of this). I don’t expect this to change but this fact creates a problem. An overwhelming majority of attention is focused on reviews of video games. This means that journalists who cover video games act, not as public watchdogs as other journalists do, but as marketers for upcoming releases. The truth is, there are very few mainstream websites that review games for the benefit of the audience; most reviews benefit the developer. The fundamental flaw comes from a very simple fact: the average score of a video game in the mind of the reviewer is an 8/10. This is true for just about every single website you can find and it does not make an iota of sense. It certainly doesn’t help that websites like IGN give games like Halo 4 9.8/10 (higher than their rating for both the Walking Dead & Journey).

According to IGN, this game is better than: Batman Arkham City, Bioshock, Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption, Portal 2 and Skyrim.

I don’t have any issues with expressing an honest opinion; I can accept that someone’s are going to differ from mine. What makes it a problem is that writing a review this way satisfies the person writing it, but not necessarily the person reading it. A website as popular as IGN has marketing power; if they rate a game 10/10 chances are, the sales of this game will increase. This means that IGN owe it to their readers to be as honest and truthful as possible. Users on Metacritic (a website devoted to compiling review scores) gave Halo 4 a user score of 6.9/10 (compared to IGN’s 9.8/10). This is a drastic difference in opinion. User reviews typically deviate from critic scores on Metacritic, but not to this extent. The majority of people of played Halo 4 did not agree with IGN’s review. This is a huge problem because Halo 4 was one of the best-selling titles of 2012 (it made $220 million in two days). IGN’s review played a part in this. I’m not saying it’s bad for a game like Halo 4 to do so well, but it’s quite obvious that IGN produced a review that did not at all reflect the opinion of the public. It should be obvious that this form of journalism benefits people who makes games, so it follows that a company which publishes video games might want to keep things that way.

Coming back to the VideoGamer article, this entire situation boils down to someone’s word against someone else’s word. It’s not entirely clear which side is being honest. VideoGamer.com is the only website that reported on the supposed cancellation of Dead Space 3; this could mean many things. Maybe their source was made up, but it also be that other outlets picked up on the story but, given the hostile remarks from EA, decided to stay out of the proverbial “line of fire.” On the other hand, EA’s comments are (unsurprisingly) ambiguous. They have not clarified which parts of the article are incorrect, or if the Dead Space franchise is indeed canned.

I’m not going to take sides but I think there’s an even greater meaning to all of this. EA don’t exactly have a transparent relationship with video gamers. For whatever their reasons, EA is a very secretive company and they are able to stay that way because there is simply no investigative reporting going on. Nobody is digging deeper, and I think EA likes it that way. If people want companies like EA to be exposed to the public eye, or otherwise unable to keep their secrets hidden, it’s up to us gamers to call for better journalism in video games. There needs to be a desire for honest and investigative reporting because the sad truth of the matter is that there just isn’t any right now.

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About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on March 13, 2013, in Editorials and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The interesting thing about the ME3 ending controversy, in terms of journalism, is that Forbes.com covered it more, and better, than any of the actual dedicated gaming sites, at least for a while. When the gaming sites did talk about it, it was mostly to heap scorn on the Retake movement.

    The big problem is that the same sites reporting on games are also getting a lot of advertising revenue from developers. This creates a conflict of interest – how are they supposed to report honestly on the people giving them money? How can IGN say anything bad about EA, when EA is helping to keep IGN operating? It can’t. Because as soon as IGN says something negative about EA, EA will threaten to pull its advertising, and IGN will fire the guy who said negative things to keep that money from leaving.

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