What is games journalism? Is it supposed to tell you every little detail about an upcoming game? Are we supposed to check out games and provide you in-depth previews of what we played? Are we supposed to provide you with stories about the people and the games within the industry? Everyone seems to have a different answer about what games journalism is supposed to be, and this makes our jobs incredibly difficult.
Over the past year, I’ve tried to mold OnlySP into an outlet that provides you with stories, rather than looking out for the latest rumors and providing you with every detail about an upcoming game. It has been mildly successful, even though we’re behind our traffic levels of last year. I’m heading into my seventh year as an amateur games journalist, and over the course of this year I’ve never been more confused about what I’m actually supposed to be doing. Hell, I even just switched majors from Business Management to Multimedia Journalism to try and figure out exactly what I want to do in this field.
At times, I honestly feel like we’re just an extension of a game’s marketing campaign, making pennies a day for what marketing personnel are making thousands of dollars for. Every day when I look through my Twitter feed I see comments from people lambasting games journalism. We’re constantly being yelled at for writing hype pieces, misinformed articles, making behind the scenes business deals with publishers, and writing what quite a few would describe simply as junk.
I’ll be honest: I hate modern journalism. I don’t like the in-your-face style of journalism that I see on CNN every day. I want no part of that. I don’t want to be the first one at the scene of a tragedy asking people, “how do you feel about this situation?” My greatest fear as I’m nearing my final year in college is ending up at an outlet that makes me do that kind of reporting. That’s why I’m trying my hardest to provide you with something different here at OnlySP.
As crazy as it sounds considering I dislike much of what Polygon does, their feature articles were a big influence on OnlySP’s move from focusing on rumors and news to providing you with features every week. It hasn’t paid off just yet as most of our colleagues tend to ignore those posts – even though they’re chock full of information. It’s actually rather hilarious to see outlets pick up little interview snippets from sites who focus on the simple details of a game and share that, over providing their readers with more in-depth info about a game. Don’t take this as me being entitled to our content being shared, it’s just the tendency of the industry to focus on the little things over the larger picture.
The main reason for me writing this post is because of an article released on Kotaku this week. This article talks about their blacklisting from major publishers like Bethesda and Ubisoft because of the leaks Kotaku has published over the past couple of years. According to readers of the article, “if you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing your job right”. In my opinion, that’s bullshit. Complete. Utter. Bullshit.
Investigative journalism is supposed to attempt to bring out the truth. According to the Center for Investigative Journalism, its “purpose is to uncover corruption, injustice, maladministration and lies. As a duty to readers and viewers as well as self-protection in a hostile legal environment, investigative journalism seeks above all to tell the documented truth in depth and without fear or favour. It is to provide a voice for those without one and to hold the powerful to account. It’s to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Sorry Kotaku, but unless I’m missing something here, sharing details on a yet to be announced project like Assassin’s Creed: Victory/Syndicate is NOT investigative journalism. There’s nothing corrupt or unjust about a company working on a project that’s not ready for the public to see yet. What if someone published a big EXCLUSIVE story you were working on before it was ready? If you can explain to me how that wouldn’t piss you off, I’m all ears.
The only reason for a publication to post leaked information about an upcoming project is for traffic. That’s it. There’s no justification behind it other than the fact you will bring your website thousands of visitors. The last time we posted a leak the information turned out to be completely false. We amassed 35K visitors in one day because of the supposed leak, which was quickly debunked. Did we make some good ad revenue for that? Sure. Did I feel like shit for posting false information that I had to go back and tell everyone was false? You bet I did.
After that debacle, I haven’t bothered posting leaks, other than potential rumors, speculation, or material that was released by sources outside of OnlySP. That line may seem a bit “grey” to you, because it most certainly is. Hypocrisy is one of the hardest things to avoid if you want to be successful in games journalism these days.
Just the other day for that matter, we shared the leaked video for the supposedly cancelled Jurassic World game. It was providing us some good traffic, but when the developers politely asked that we take it down for the sake of their careers, I promptly removed it.
I removed it not because I’m afraid of being blacklisted by a developer or a publisher, or pissing someone off. I removed it because I don’t want to be the reason someone lost their job or had their careers affected in a negative way. That’s not my job as a games journalist. My job is to inform you about games that you and I are both interested in. My job is to provide you with material that you want to read, that is truthful and unbiased. I’m not entitled to review copies and I’m not entitled to exclusive coverage. It’s also not my job to decide what developers and publishers share about their projects.
Investigative journalism has a place in games journalism. It’s our job to uncover corruption in business, and get to the truth of sticky situations (like the recent Konami / Kojima fiasco.) If you’re blacklisted by a company for pissing them off in the way of providing people with the truth, then so be it. But if you’re going to make the decision to post leaked information about a project in development that the developers have deemed unworthy of the public eye, then don’t be surprised when they refuse to share information with you.
It’s not about “getting in bed” with publishers or developers and following their marketing plans. It’s about respecting the privacy and work of others. We can have positive and constructive relationships with publishers and developers without stomping on their toes. If a story needs to be told, then tell it. But when it comes to posting about leaked information, there’s no other agenda than to provide your site with a boost in traffic and revenue. We don’t need the approval of publishers to run our stories, but don’t expect them to invite you in with loving arms if you reveal their secrets.