I just finished reading the “We Need Better Video Game Publishers” essay that was posted by an anonymous developer earlier today. After visiting a few other sites like I normally do it feels like this sentiment seems to be making the rounds like a flu outbreak. I really feel like this is exactly the discussion that the industry needs to be having right now as it feels like a breaking point may be coming, but even though it is clear that bad management at these publishers is doing much more harm than good, there is a particular part of that post that strikes me as particularly problematic.
The developer talks about how the big publishers are directing the overall conversation about video games down a path that is at least misleading and at worst damaging to public perception of what games are. There is no doubt that they are doing this. There are people who are saying that single player games are dead or “needs to go away,” mobile gaming on phones is the way of the future, day one DLC is expected from customers, or any number of completely ridiculous ideas spouted from people who are in frighteningly powerful positions in the industry. Every time I read a statement like this I go through the emotional gamut. First I’m pissed that some one feels like all games need to be the like the ones they are making. Then I feel irritated that this person is clearly trying to cover their ass on why the bad game they just published failed (of course it isn’t that the game was junk... it couldn’t be). I then go on to sheer terror at the though of this person making game design edicts to their development stable that they have to include whatever it is that fits into the story that they created so that they are not to blame for the company under performing (because all games need to have multiplayer and microtransactions to be successful). And thus the rather on sided conversation on what is and isn’t successful in the industry has been set without most of the people who are involved in the industry (the customers) ever actually being involved.
I have to think about why it is that the conversation is so tightly controlled by the few people, especially considering that they are not the ones who are giving me this information. They didn’t call me up on the phone, email me, or tell me over dinner. They didn’t write the post I read on x gaming site. Why is it that when some one is spouting nonsense, there is no one calling bullshit on them. Their words are being put out into the world without any one ever challenging the position and asking them the simple questions to get them to back up their claims with real information. No one who is relaying their words to the end user a)stops to ask questions or b) contemplates that if they can’t ask questions maybe it isn’t worth posting, out of, what I can only assume is, fear of losing access.
This is surely not just a gaming industry problem. It is rampant in political news, financial news, really just about everywhere where the people in power want to control the information to their own benefit. Access is of course the one thing that they the people making the news have to leverage against the people reporting the news, and unfortunately the people reporting the news tend to cave to the pressure far more often than not. If a journalist asks a politician tough questions, well guess who that politician will never talk to again. That is why the news networks are utterly useless; they never pose the questions that might paint these people in a negative light so that they can get them in the studio again next week.
The people who run the news sites need to own up to the responsibility that they have taken on, and damn the consequences. The responsibility to get the information, not just regurgitate the press release, and give some type of contextual framing in order to, hopefully, foster deeper conversation bolstered by a greater understanding. Keeping in mind that these news sites are a MAJOR piece of the marketing campaigns for these publishers, the EICs at these site need to stand up for their place in the industry. The publishers need you as much as you need them. Without you, who is going to get the people fired up about the next cool thing. No one is going to go directly to the publisher because there is no context there.
So if all of the gaming news sites are reporting the same sound bites and little to nothing else, we the readers need to start questioning. Is there more to this? What information are we not getting? At what cost to the story is this information coming to us at? Is this news or is it marketing dressed up as news? Does the person writing these even know? Why are we going to them if we could get the same information from executive x’s Twitter page?
I know it is easy to point out these issues out and demand that they are handled better and it is another thing entirely on how it actually gets done. It can’t be done by one site alone. There needs to be a sea change primarily among the largest outlets so that one site doesn’t get shut out in favor of the others who will only lob softballs. Much like the article I mentioned earlier said that we deserve better publishers, we also deserve better press. Without stronger press to essentially hold their feet to the fire in a very public way, the people in charge of these companies will continue their shenanigans to the detriment and potential crash of the market.
It feels like there is a bit of an awakening going on right now. People are starting to put 2 and 2 together and realizing that the developers are not necessarily the one who are dragging the industry down, as the publisher executives would have us believe. The real pertinent information is being hidden by these people and they will never be straight with us unless they are pressed.