Is There a Monopoly On Games Journalism?
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 Is There a Monopoly On Games Journalism?

Now I know that writing this article is risky, mainly because within the realms of casual gamers there isn't much heed paid to what goes on behind the curtain. The majority of gamers are passive consumers who tend to only care about whether a game is good or bad. Among this core of gamers there is little interaction with the inner workings of the industry beyond a comment here or there on game trailers or high profile hot topic issues. So the biggest issue about writing this article is whether or not people will even care.

Independent Journalism vs 'The Mainstream'

To begin with I think it has become the norm to under appreciate the guys and girls writing reviews and analyzing the products that you might be tempted to buy. Essentially, in the best case scenario, these journalists and commentators are your consumer guardians, they're the front line on your purchase decisions. However, in this age of digital revolution, independence is slowly becoming the only reliable source of fair analysis. Previously we were only able to get access to reviews of the latest and not so greatest video games through print magazines, however thanks to the internet age, opportunity and opinion is around every corner.

Despite this new found independent revolution, there is still a war raging between independent games journalists and the often criticized mainstream sources like IGN and Polygon for example. There are some independent journalists, whether they personally identify with the term or not, who I believe have become champions of consumer rights. Notable characters like TotalBiscuit, Angry Joe Vargas and Jim Sterling are the names that jump to mind whenever I hear the term consumer rights. But what exactly makes these names more trustworthy and reliable than highly professional publications like the aforementioned IGN and Polygon?

In a matter of personal opinion I believe it is as simple as journalistic integrity. I cannot remember a time before the rumor mill began churning out accusations of IGN being paid to produce positive reviews and not so rumorous examples of outright contradiction and hypocrisy. The main difference between these two parties, I feel, is the objective outcomes of the content they produce. It is not uncommon for certain games publishers to blacklist journalists who produce unfavorable content pertaining to their product, which may well be a driving force behind the motivations of these journalists. Despite the impending doom of being blacklisted for being critical of a company's product Jim Sterling, Joe Vargas and TotalBiscuit do not shy away from giving unrestrained critical analysis on products for the benefit of their viewer bases. This is the where the divide is formed between the mainstream media outlets previously mentioned and the new wave of independent product reviewers and journalists. The objective of fully informing the consumer vs the need to generate profits and maintain good working relations between the companies who 'pay for' favorable reviews and finally protecting future advertising deals with those companies.

Of course it would be naive to suggest that the figures I've so far gushed over do not ever produce paid promotional content or receive luxurious offers of being flown around the world to gaming events at company expense. However, on a surface level it seems that their integrity always prevails, with many Youtube personalities adopting the mindset of "sure I'll produce a video show casing your content, but I wont say what you want me to say." This independence allows them to act in ways that journalists employed under the large mainstream media outlets just can't, because they don't answer to an editor or to anyone at all. Does this all mean that I feel the journalists employed at these outlets are inherently immoral or bad people? Not at all. Do I feel that they are doing a disservice to the consumer and potentially misleading them into purchases they may regret? Absolutely.

Monopolization of  Games Journalism

Now that I've somewhat fleshed out both sides, let's explore what I mean by the (possibly melodramatic) monopolization of games journalism. As I've already mentioned, it's been heavily suggested that certain outlets will pander to a game publisher's will in order to secure future benefits from them. These benefits range from things like pre-release review copies of upcoming titles, securing large advertising deals for their websites, access to contact with industry professionals and the occasional all expenses paid trip to any number of world wide destinations. These benefits are essentially used to socialize and condition organizations and journalists. I know it's probably rather demeaning to use this metaphor, but it's like training a dog, if they preform a trick you treat them so that they understand what is expected of them in the future.

Journalists with the integrity to defy this type of controlled PR are occasionally met by a fire wall of blacklisting. To those like Jim Sterling, who has often stated he doesn't mind paying for his copy of games when publishers refuse to release pre-release versions, this isn't that large an issue. However to smaller critics like myself, this can cause serious issues. Thank goodness that so far (touch wood) I've not encountered any sort of backlash from any of my not so favorable reviews, but as an independent start up early in my career, blacklisting from any number of development or publishing companies could easily cause issues for my career in the future.

Whats more is that I do not often have access to some of the more premium titles pre-release because I do not meet the analytic requirements to receive them. Of course I understand that these companies need to make a profit, they need to assess the slash radius of my content to maximize exposure, they have families to feed and bills to pay after all. What's worrying is even I, who receives around five-hundred to a thousand clicks an article, occasionally do not get the opportunity to produce content in which I can fairly inform my audience on the products they might wish to buy. This of course means aspiring start-ups and independent journalists are stunted as the resources they need to produce the content they're passionate about are just not afforded to them. Essentially, many development and publishing companies favor larger more popular and easily influenced outlets as they are bonafied businesses. Profit takes a precedent over the passion of the trade and the obligation and responsibility of consumer safe guarding and the protection of their rights.

To round off this lengthy post, I'd like to personally thank the developers who have been actively supportive of my efforts. Companies like: Insomniac, Undead Labs, TotalMonkery, Warhorse Studios have been invaluable in giving me the opportunity to grow this website. What's more is that I haven't yet been penalized for my content, good or bad, but I am sure that day is soon to come.

How do you feel about the current state of games journalism? Do you agree or disagree with the points made above? Got some thoughts of your own you'd like to share? Tweet at us @GameSplashUK
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